Welcome to my Blogger page, thank you for visiting. This is where I will share my reviews of books, movies and other things I enjoy. If you would like to see my ramblings, fanfiction and other general posts, please visit my Livejournal: beren_writes. Visit my pages to learn about me and my books.
Top set of links above are external links, second set are pages local to the blog.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

5 Reasons Taking Part in Challenges on Wattpad is a Great Idea #TipsTuesdays


5 Reasons Taking Part in Challenges on Wattpad is a Great Idea

So with everything that's been going on at home lately I really have gotten much writing done. It also hasn't just been a matter of time, but of motivation. My spark dried up because my brain was too busy focusing on other things. It's back, but I decided to feed the flames and make it burn brighter. One of the way I decided to do this is by joining in Wattpad challenges.

Wattpad has lots of communities (even though it actually has no structure to cope, communities have found a way :)). These communities often run challenges where writers submit their writing and there are usually prizes for the best. At the moment @WattVampires is running their Summer Challenge - Vampires Everywhere. Each week they choose a genre and writers are asked to submit a flash fic of between 50 and 200 words with vampires in that genre.

The first week was sci-fi
my submission Sunlight is here
and this week it is the classics
my submission Traitor's Fate is here.

Taking part in these challenges is great idea for many reasons and here are five:

1. They're Fun

It's fun to just grab an idea and run with it without having to worry if it will fit with anything else, or lead on to more. The challenge is the challenge and does not have to have any consequences except making sure we read the rules and tag it correctly.

2. They Get the Creative Juices Flowing

Sometimes it's good to write something we hadn't considered before. Taking a challenge from somewhere else is good for our creativity. No matter how good a writer we are, it is all too easy to get stuck in a rut, especially if we are concentrating on a big project of some kind. Taking a momentary step back and writing something completely different can spark new ideas and new thinking, which can only be good for us.

Taking part in the @WattVampires challenge has me raring to go on my other projects as well.

3. Exposure

Wattpad does have some official clubs, which are basically like bulletin boards, which help get exposure for your fiction, but the communities actually work way better. I've found that a lot of people in the clubs just post and run, the engagement is better in the commnuities.

Taking part in challenges exposes our writing to lots of like minded people and the rules often state that the entries have to be short, so people are more likely to take the plunge to give our fiction a go.

Also there is often a prize for the best (usually a banner for the cover and maybe a interview or a spotlight on the community) and honourable mentions. This can give us even more exposure to like minded readers.

4. Good Way to Find New Fic to Read

There are always excellent fics submitted to the challenges. I haven't tried one yet that does not have some gems well worth reading. Communities offer an easy way to find the kind of fiction we really want to read. It's a win, win situation and I am sure many people see them the same way.

The creativity in the challenges is usually amazing. From the same challenge completely different stories appear. For this week's classics challenge at WattVampires there are already fairy tales, a historical insert and Shakespeare, and the prompt only went up yesterday.

5. Excellent Way of Making New Friends

As I have already mentioned the communities are full of people who like the same thing we do, or we wouldn't all be hanging about in the same place. Wattpad can sometimes feel like shouting into a void because it's so big and so diverse. Catching the eyes of readers can be hard.

Taking part in challenges waves at all those like minded people and goes 'look, I write about vampires or werewolves or romance or whatever the niche of the community is'. We write our fic, they write theirs and it is a great way to get talking to people by swapping comments.

For example WattVampires has 6.5K followers but only a handful of those enter the current challenge. It's an easy way to see who is active at the moment and who might like to chat about similar things.

If we're open and friendly and drop comments we are much more likely to make friends.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Those Mad Ideas #WriterlyWednesdays


Those Mad Ideas


You know sometimes we writers have mad ideas - oh boy did my darling sister (Sophie's Blog) have one :). She decided, in her wisdom, that it was time to create a database of all her fiction, from ideas through to finished novels, including fanfiction. So she jumped into Airtable with both feet.

Of course the next thing she did is drag me along for the ride ;).

It's actually a really good idea, because I had no clue how many drabbles I had scattered around this blog alone, let alone elsewhere. It's going to take work, but it will be so useful in the end.

So far I have learned one valuable thing - I use the name Jack for characters far too often. I don't think I have any major novel characters called Jack, but I have so many in drabbles and flash fiction. Clearly I like to abuse Jacks ;).

Do you have any names for characters that always pop into your head?

There's also part of me that loves cataloguing. I suppose it's my inner librarian - not that I have the skills and training that my friends who are actually librarians have :). My skills lie in databases since that was my speciality before this whole writing thing.

Do you have skills from your "proper job" that help with writing, be it for profit or for fun?

I like Airtable - it makes some things much easier than your average, from the ground up, databse. However, it does freak me out a little that it kind of pretends to be a relational database, but hides things like many to many relationships and indexes :). The fact that it pretends its primary key field is a name also rubs me the wrong way, but since it does not in fact have to be unique I know it has proper one hiding in the shadows.

Now all I have to do is convince my brain not to vanish into this database for days at a time. I shall have to be firm with myself and only do a little bit every day until it is done :).

What things do you have to ration so you actually do some writing/work?

My father has had his final round of chemo now, which means his treatment is finished and its all about recovery now. His consultant is incredibly pleased with his progress, which is a great weight off all our minds. I'm hoping to get back into the flow of proper writing and marketing and, y'know, all this author stuff again now. :D

To all whose families/friends are going through similar things, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I wish you love and hope and patience, as well as a healthy dose of good luck.

Best wishes to all. To the writers: may your words flow and the feedback be joyous. To the readers: may you find stories that fill your heart with wonder and enjoyment.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Banana Cupcakes with Vanilla Icing #TipsTuesdays


Banana Cupcakes with Vanilla Icing


This is another fabulous recipe that is one of my favourites, even though I now realise I haven't made it in ages :) *Makes note to buy some bananas* I have mentioned it before on this blog, but never posted the whole thing. This would undoubtedly be really nice if you added a tablespoon of rum to the bananas and took out a tablespoon of the butter milk too ;).

Equipment:

  • Large mixing bowl
  • medium missing bowl
  • Fork or mouli for blitzing 
  • Sieve
  • Two to three bun trays
  • Measuring equipment (baking is a science rather than an art so you'll need to measure)
  • Bun cases
  • Electric hand mixer
  • 2 teaspoons
  • spatula (not vital, but makes life much easier)
  • wire rack
  • Piping bag

Ingredients:

Cup Cakes
  • 255g (2 1/4 cups) of plain flour (sifted)
  • 110g (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter
  • 2 ripe bananas (the riper they are the better the cupcakes taste)
  • 55ml (1/4 cup) of buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 115g (1 cup) of sugar (caster)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 1/2 tsps baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Icing:
  • 440g icing sugar (confectioner's sugar)
  • 300g unsalted butter (softened)
  • 2 tsps of vanilla extract
  • Sprinkles to decorate

Instructions

  1. Preheat the over to 190C/375F/Gas mark 5
  2. Place bun cases in the bun tins
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda, along with the salt into a middle sized bowl and combine thoroughly
  4. Place the butter and vanilla into the big mixing bowl and use the electric mixer to whip together until creamy and light in colour (you can do it by hand, but it will take longer)
  5. Add the sugar bit by bit, beating so that the mixture becomes light and fluffy
  6. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating each in before adding the next
  7. Mash the banana (either with a fork or an electric hand blender)
  8. Add a little of the butter milk and beat in, then add in some of the dry mixture and beat in, then add some of the banana and beat in.
  9. Repeat step 8 until all the ingredients are combined.
  10. Using the two teaspoons, spoon the mixture into the bun cases (to just over half full – about two teaspoons full)
  11. Bake in the oven for between 18 and 20 mins until golden on top - they will rise into quite sharp mounds
  12. Take out of the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack
  13. For the topping put all the ingredients into a large bowl (I did it in two lots to make it easier) and combine using the electric whisk until they go light and fluffy
  14. Put the icing into a piping bag and pipe over the cooled cup cakes (you can spoon it on if you don't have a piping bag) - this is where the spatula comes into it's own to get the last of the icing from the bowl.
  15. Sprinkle randomly with petty edible things :)

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Mummy (2017) - Did they have to? (Review with spoilers)



Title: The Mummy
Cast:
Tom Cruise ... Nick Morton
Russell Crowe ... Henry
Annabelle Wallis ... Jenny Halsey
Sofia Boutella ... Ahmanet
Jake Johnson ... Chris Vail
Summary (from IMDB):
An ancient princess is awakened from her crypt beneath the desert, bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia, and terrors that defy human comprehension.

I will start by saying only one cinema near us is still showing this and now I know why!

Firstly, the good things. The effects are superb and the stunts are really well done. There are exciting sequences in the movie and parts will get your heart pumping. I love the look of Ahmanet and the double eyes are fantastic. If only the plot had held up to the effects.

My favourite character in the whole film is Vail (Jake Johnson). He's basically the reimaginining of Jonathan from the original 1999 masterpiece and he's a lot of fun to watch. His timeline actually makes sense and his story conclusion is the only really good thing about the whole sequence of the film.

Sofia Boutella does wonders with what she is given as Ahmanet, but her character is so badly written that it just doesn't make sense. She a pretty good baddy, but since this movie should have been called Cruise, not The Mummy, she doesn't have a who lot to work with. Her physical acting is superb, if only the film had actually been about her.

There ends the good.

This film is basically an attempt to start a new franchise about monster hunters, only in doing that it fails to do the Mummy any justice whatsoever. The rest of this review is going to have spoilers gallor, so be warned.

The first thing that really annoys me is the lack of any indepth Egyptology. The 1999 movie might have been a little dodgy, but they tried to stay true to the genre. Frankly in this version she wasn't really a Mummy, didn't need to be Egyptian and they just used whatever bits of Egyptian history they felt like, most of which made no sense.

Let's start with Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) herself. She is the sole heir to the Pharoh and is being brought up to rule, but Daddy falls for a new wife who gives him a son. Was she just the eldest of a whole host of girls? Was is just because she was the daughter of the Great Royal Wife? How come it took him so long to have another wife? How is she the sole heir? I need more explanation. Women could rule in Egypt, but Pharohs took having heirs very seriously, so where are the others?

Then their is her whole plot. She sees the new wife and new son as her downfall because the baby will inheret. She wants the ultimate power so she makes a deal with Set to become a monster. She kills her father and her brother and her brother's mother. Yay, ultimate power. Oh, but wait, part of the deal was to bring Set into the human world and give him a body ... Hang on, so she's going to give away ultimate power to a man. Didn't she just kill everyone for that?

Makes no sense!

Then they mummify her alive for her crimes before she can bring Set to this world and erase her from history - only they helpfully still put her name and her whole story on her sarcophagus? Seriously?!!!

Oh, and if you didn't want anyone to bring up the sarcophagus, Ancient Egyptians, why did you leave all the machinary in place to make it easy? Oh, and why no boobytraps? Could it be possibly because the writers don't give two stuffs about the Egyptian tomb part and it's all a quick way to get the Mummy out of Iraq?

I also have a question to anyone who may know - did the ancient Egyptians really believe mercury would contain monsters? All I can find when searching is that they used it in cosmetics. The whole power over evil thing is not something I had heard before, but not being an expert I don't know if one of the writers actually did some research, or just made that shit up :).

So, on to our hero.

You know how in the original 1999 movie Rick is a bit of a rogue, but a loveable one? Well Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is just an asshole. I disliked him from the moment he first appeared and nothing in the film ever redeemed him to the point where I actually liked him. He made me want to throw things at the screen. I was really hoping for something good because I've enjoyed some Cruise movies recently (Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow, the last 3 MI movies), but this is right up there with all those I have really disliked (first MI movie, War of the Worlds).

His story arc is so predicatable it's painful and when he actually becomes Set and end up possibly "the best hope" of the monster hunters, but of course only if he hangs on to his inherent goodness and does not give in to the evil, I was so not shocked. This film was not about Ahmanet or anyone else, it was all about making Nick a god so he can be the ultimate hero in the rest of the franchise. It's an ego trip.

We do have another female character in Jenny (Annabelle Wallis). Her first conversation in the film revolves around having had sex with Nick. I'll just let you guess what her character's all about for the rest of the movie.

The two female characters in the movie have one conversation together - just one. It starts off hopefully with Jenny speaking Egyptian to Ahmanet and asking about the old gods, of course it ends up about Ahmanet's chosen (Nick). So, yes, this movie fails the lowest bar possible for female agency in a movie the Bechdel Test.

They also Fridge Jenny to further Nick's plot - specifically to make him a god.

Then there is the whole Dr Henry Jekyll (Russell Crow) part. I believe my reaction was something along the lines of 'you have to be f***ing kidding'. They seemed to be trying to create a film that was of a cross between The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and The Mummy 1999 and it fell short of both. Given that I have never been overly impressed with tLoEG, that's not a high bar to try and improve on and they failed. I doubt they ever could have managed to match The Mummy 1999 though.

This film:
  • is full of cliches, 
  • has a plot that makes no sense, 
  • has no characters that we, the adience, can really root for,
  • fails its female characters spectacularly,
  • and is a reboot of a franchise that seriously DID NOT need rebooting in the first place.
I sincerely hope they never, ever make a second one.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Double Chocolate Fudge Cakes - Gluten Free


Now I've mentioned this recipe before, but it was linked to a Livejournal post of mine and I really don't trust LJ anymore, so I'm reposting it here. This recipe uses corn flour (corn starch) and ground almonds instead of flour so it is gluten free.

Double Chocolate Fudge Cakes - Gluten Free

I'm going to put two lots of ingredients up here - to make 12 small cakes or to make one large 3 decker cake. I've done my best to put in US cup/stick measures as well as the UK ones.
How the individual cakes come out.
Ingredients

12 individual cakes

For the cake
  • 200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids or above) (1 1/4 cups of dark choc chips)
  • 100g unsalted butter, cubed (just under 1 stick butter)
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 50g arrowroot or corn flour (corn starch), sifted (2/5 cup)
  • 175g icing sugar, sifted (1 2/5 cup)
  • 25ml rum or milk (1.5 tbsp)
  • 100g ground almonds (4/5 cup)
  • 1/4 tspn cream of tartar
For the icing
  • 100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) (2/3 cup dark choc chips)
  • 50g creme fraiche (1/5 cup)
  • 75g icing sugar (just under 2/3 cup)
  • something to decorate like sugared violets or silver balls or anything like that
~OR~

3 tier large cake

  • 300g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids or above) (1 4/5 cups of dark choc chips)
  • 150g unsalted butter, cubed (1 1/3 sticks)
  • 6 medium eggs
  • 75g arrowroot or corn flour (corn starch), sifted (2/3 cup)
  • 260g icing sugar, sifted (2 cup)
  • 37ml rum or milk (2 tbsp)
  • 150g ground almonds (1.25 cups)
  • 3/8 tspn cream of tartar
For the icing
  • 200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) (1 1/3 cup dark choc chips)
  • 100g creme fraiche (2/5 cup)
  • 150g icing sugar (1 1/5 cup)
  • something to decorate like sugared violets or silver balls or anything like that

Equipment

  • a large mixing bowl
  • a med heat proof bowl
  • small saucepan
  • metal spoon
  • electric whisk (or you can use a hand whisk if you are feeling up to it :))
  • rubber spatula
  • 4cm deep, 20x30cm baking tray (or 3 8inch/20cm sponge tins)
  • non-stick lining paper (greaseproof)
  • 5cm diameter round cutter

Instuctions

For the cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F (160C/320F fan/convection )
  2. Line the baking tray with the non-stick baking paper
  3. Melt the chocolate and butter in the heat proof bowl over the saucepan of simmering water or pop in the microwave on high for 30 secs, then check and keep going in 10sec intervals until chocolate is melting.
  4. Turn melted chocolate into big mixing bowl and allow to cool
  5. Beat in 2 whole egg (3 for large cake) and 2 of the yolks (3 for large cake), reserving the whites for later
  6. Beat in the arrowroot/cornflour, icing sugar, almonds and rum until smooth.
  7. Whisk the two egg whites with the cream of tartar until they reach the soft peaks stage.
  8. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture using a metal spoon or spatula.
  9. Spoon mixture into the lined baking tray (a spatula is very useful for getting it all) or equal amounts into the 3 lines sponge tins for the large cake.
  10. Bake for 15 mins until barely set
  11. Leave to cool in the tray(s).
  12. If doing the individual cakes turn the cold cake out onto a board and cut into 24 rounds with the 5cm cutter, for the large version just turn out the cakes from the sponge tins and remove the lining paper.

For the icing

  1. Melt the chocolate in the heat proof bowl over the saucepan of simmering water or in the microwave at first for 30secs then in 10sec intervals until chocolate is melted.
  2. Beat in the creme fraiche and the icing sugar until smooth (it may split slightly).
  3. Beat in a few teaspoons of boiling water until the consistency turns satiny.
  4. Working qucikly spoon a little of the icing onto each cake round, then stack two together to form 12 little cakes or Sandwich the three cakes together with icing and then use the rest to cover the outside of the cake (if I'm feeling lazy I just do the top, but there is usually enough icing to do the sides as well).
  5. Put on your decoration.
This cake is squidgy and delicious along the lines of a brownie. I only know one person who can eat more than a small bit at a time :).

Friday, 7 July 2017

Free Fiction Friday - Dance of the Dead by Natasha Duncan-Drake


Free Fiction Friday


From now on the 1st Friday of every month will be Free Fiction Friday over at Wittegen Press. This means we will be posting a new short story every month for our readers to enjoy.

These stories are exclusively for subscribers of our newsletter, but it is really easy to join.

It is completely free to become a member and all you need is a valid email address. Fill in the form at the bottom of this page and you’re done. Don't worry if you join after the 1st Friday, the password for the month will be included in the welcome email after you subscribe.

What we WILL DO for our subscribers:

  • Send you an email on the 1st Friday of the month to remind you about the short story and give you the password for the month as soon as the story goes live.
  • Send you information about new books, competitions and events, so you don’t miss anything.
  • Give you two Free eBooks just for joining.

What we WON’T DO to our subscribers:

  • Spam you with loads of random advertising.
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This Month's Short Story

Dance of the Dead
by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Genre: sci-fi, paranormal
Length: ~2K wds

Description:
A planet torn by war and a lost courier bring Jagati and her squad to a recent battlefield. The dead call to her, but she and her people have a job to do first.

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