Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The Insecure Writer's Support Group - Finding Time...


The Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG) stated purpose is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Where we can post our thoughts on our own blogs. Talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. Discuss our struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Plus, a question is posed, and this month's is: How do you find the time to write in your busy day?


The answer, sadly, is that I don't manage it all of the time, especially if work has been fraught and all I want to do is collapse and sleep when I get home. However, I do try to be bite-size, and I make sure I write at least once a week with The Drabble Cascade, a flash fic challenge that I and my sis, Tasha run over on our erotic romance blog, Fantasy Boys XXX. It only takes 100 words, maybe half an hour a week, so it keeps my writing hat weathered. (I have to admit here that there have been a couple of weeks recently where I totally forgot due to life challenges, but they are rare misses).

My favourite time of the day for creative thought is actually early in the morning, just after I get out of bed, when sleep has gone away, my brain wanders over ideas. Sometimes, when I am really inspired I do write when I'm on my exercise bike (I have a little tray designed for hanging off the back of car seats attached to the bike where I can put my Surface).

I also have my Surface open when I'm watching TV in case the muse strikes. Although with the TV on, that usually leads to notes for when I next sit down and write.

Finally, I work 4 days a week to earn a living, so that means of the working week I have one day when I am a writer. Some of this day is spent with marketing and networking, but I do make sure I have at least a couple of hours for writing (most weeks, that is, because sometimes life gets in the way as it has a tendency to do).

Anyone got any good tips on how to fit it all in?

Insecurities:

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I mentioned last month that I don't think  I'm not writing enough and I'm not achieving my goals. And to sort this out, I've given myself a list of goals and I promised to keep everyone up to date, so here it is:

My goals list progress:

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  • Finish Ghost Blood Draft #1 - only 2 out of five scenes left to go, which is pretty crap for a whole month, but I'm getting there and it's better than the previous month!
  • Rewrite the start of Sacrifice of An Angel
  • Finish Bonds of Fire Extended Version
  • Take The Case of the Cursed House plan and turn into Draft #1 


Friday, 2 September 2016

Recipe: Creamy Lasagne


Creamy Lasagne
So, I had to make a lasagne last week and this is what I came up with. My family liked it, so I thought I'd share it with everyone. :)

This recipe makes a large Lasagne of 27x27x5cm, feeds 6-8.

Ingredients
Red Sauce

  • Oil for frying
  • 2 small, or 1 large onion (I used red onion, but you can use whichever onion you prefer)
  •  680g of turkey breast mince
  •  2 beef stock cubes
  • 500g (1 pack) passata
  • 2 large field mushrooms
  • 2 small roasted red peppers
  • 1 courgette
  • 3 crushed cloves/(tspns) garlic (paste) – keep 1 helping separate
  • 1 tspn oregano
  •  A dash of chilli paste
  •  2 tblspns of sweet sherry

White Sauce

I like this shop variety creamy lasagne sauce, of which I purchased 1180g. Yes, I know it's cheating, but I really like it.

However, if you want to make your own, it's just a matter of making a white sauce with butter, flour and milk. Sorry, I have no idea about quantities, except that it's about 1:1 butter to flour.

Lasagne Compilation

  • ~15 Lasagne Sheets - the exact number depends on the shape of your lasagne dish
  • 75g Mozzarella (grated)
  • 75g Cheddar (grated)


Equipment

  • Frying pan and fish slice
  • 1 large lasagne dish 27x27x5cm, or several small ones
  • Knife and chopping board
  • Small bowl for setting aside ingredients
  • Measuring jug and small measures
  • Spoon
  • Mandolin (for slicing the courgette), but you can use a knife if you don’t have one


Preparation
Red Sauce

  • Chop the mushroom in bite size pieces and fry on a low heat in a little oil with 2 cloves/tsps of garlic until mushrooms begin to soften, then put in a bowl and leave to the side.
  • While the mushroom is cooking, chop the onion finely and then, in the same unwashed pan that you cooked the mushrooms in, fry over a low heat until soft and translucent

  • Return the mushrooms to the pan and cook for 2 mins
  • Add the turkey mince and cook on medium to high heat until it all goes beige, i.e. it’s cooked through
  • Add the stock cubes to approx. 100ml of cold water and dissolve, then add this to the pan, stirring in and cooking through for a couple of minutes.
  • Chop the red peppers finely. Now you can go about roasting red peppers if you want, but I found a great cheat, buying them in a jar in brine.
  • Add the oregano, remaining garlic, chopped red pepper, passata, a dash of chilli paste to your taste, and the sherry
  • Cook on a medium to high heat for about ten minutes and then taste: add more of the herbs or spices as you see fit.
  • Leave the sauce to reduce on a low heat, and meanwhile, slice the courgette finely and fry in a little oil until it begins to colour (this may sound like a faff, and if you’re like me and only have a little second frying pan, you might have to do it in batches, but OMG, it adds flavour)
  • Add the courgette to the red sauce and cook for a minute or two


Compiling the Lasagne

  • Start by covering the bottom of the dish with lasagne sheets (break one up to fill in the gaps that will undoubtedly be left), I used 4 and a half sheets
  • Put in a layer of half the red sauce about 1cm thick to cover the pasta sheets

  • Put on a layer of white sauce to cover the red, this should be about ⅓ of the white sauce
  • Repeat steps 1 to 3, this should use up all your red sauce.
  • Put on a final layer of lasagne sheets, I used 6 on this layer, because
    • My lasagne dish gets slightly bigger towards the top
    • I filled in the gaps more thoroughly on the last layer, because I like a bit of extra pasta in the top layer
  • Add a final layer of white sauce covering the entire top
  • Sprinkle with the two cheeses
N.B. My family loves creamy lasagne, so this is heavy on the white sauce. If you prefer it tangier, then just reduce the amount of white sauce, perhaps leave out the second layer of white sauce and just put it over the final layer of pasta.


Cooking
Bake the lasagne in a pre-heated oven (160°C Fan) for 30-40mins, until the top is golden and the lasagne is bubbling.

And finally...
This is a very large lasagne, it will feed 6-8 people depending on what you are serving it with, but it also freezes well. I wait until the lasagne has gone cold and then divide it into portions to suit family size, put it into takeaway containers and then freeze. Just defrost and reheat in the oven, or microwave and it is great (I personally love twice baked lasagne :))

So, I hope you enjoy this recipe. Let me know how it turns out it you make it.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Black Cat Appreciation Day 2016!

So, I couldn't miss today, Black Cat Appreciation Day, to celebrate Black Cats, because I have an absolute darling of a kittie called Binx, who is my own little black panther; this is a picture of her (above) as she was rolling around on our decking in the sun.

When I adopted her and her mum, Silver (not a black cat, but still wonderful), from the brilliant rescue centre, Happy Endings Rescue, they said they have difficulty re-homing black cats, because people are superstitious about them, but I've always loved the melanistic little beasties :).

Binx was only 7 months when she moved in with us, and she was a pretty little bundle of nerves, but after a year with us, she is just such a loving little lady. She's always happy to see you, and if you call, she comes trotting up, tail straight up in the air. And she adores a good scratch on the top of her head.

I love my sweet little black cat, and I think everyone else should love her too :D.

If anyone is interested, this picture of Binx is available on Society6 as a print, plus all sorts of nifty accessories like phone and laptop cases, T-shirts, throw pillows, and much more, 

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Insecure Writer's Support Group - My First Post & My First Piece, where is it now?


I have recently joined The Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG), whose stated purpose is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Where we can post our thoughts on our own blogs. Talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. Discuss our struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Plus, a question is posed, and this month's is: What was your very first piece of writing as an aspiring writer? Where is it now? Collecting dust or has it been published?


Well, the first piece of writing I had an aim to publish was way back when I was 11 years old. Having grown up watching British and American Sci-fi and Fantasy TV and film, Dr Who, Star Trek, Star Wars and some others which have been consigned to the dark vaults of history, I wrote a sci-fi extravaganza of bold young agents in an intergalactic (possibly interdimensional, I don't think I was all that clear on that point) force who fight the worst of the worst baddies with their laser pistols and psychic powers.

Well, as you can imagine, I am very, very glad the internet did not exist when I was 11 and that rather purple set of prose is now consigned to my very own 'history' drawer never to see the light of day again. :)

However, I did really, really want to publish it when I was 11, but, rather than send the manuscript to anyone, I sent letters of inquiry to publishers (I found their addresses on their books) to ask how to go about getting published. Some of them were wonderful people and took the time to write back. I can never say how grateful I am to those folks who took those few minutes to put together some words of encouragement that kept me, a child, interested in publishing. I didn't publish anything else until ten years later, when the internet gave me access to fanfiction mailing lists, but I have never forgotten those letters.

What came of your first pieces, my fellow insecure writers, did they lead to anything, or were they just good practice?

Insecurities:

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What's been bothering me for a while is that I'm not writing enough and I'm not achieving my goals. I haven't published a novel since The Burning Web, and I think I'm getting anxious, because I am getting close to finishing another, which is the sequel to Night Blood, but I've been close to finishing it for over a year!

I have been writing; blog posts mainly, which includes this year's A to Z Challenge, where I planned out an entire detective novel, The Case of the Cursed House. I have 2 novels over 50% complete, Ghost Blood, and an extended version of my novella, Bonds of Fire, plus I have a rewrite of the start of Sacrifice of An Angel to do. I think I'm getting anxious because I have so many irons in the fire, and now I just need to pick one and knuckle down and do it. Maybe that's what I need to do, admit to myself that I've been prevaricating way too long and get on with things. I'm going to write a list here and now:

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  • Finish Ghost Blood Draft #1
  • Rewrite the start of Sacrifice of An Angel
  • Finish Bonds of Fire Extended Version
  • Take The Case of the Cursed House plan and turn into Draft #1 

Now let's see if I can keep to it - I'll post an update next month.


Monday, 18 July 2016

Review: Ghostbusters - Awesomesauce!


Okay, so I may have revealed my opinion in the title of the post, but let me explain why I loved Ghostbusters (2016).

Now, I have been a fan of the original two movies since I was young, in fact, after seeing the new movie, I went back and re-watched the original Ghostbusters just for old times' sake :). Still good! But, ever since I first saw the trailers for the new movie, I have been waiting with excited anticipation for the reboot.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big paranormal fan - give me a movie or show with a ghost in it, and I'm there. Give me a movie with four kick-arse ghosthunters in it as well and you just made it a certainty I'm going to at least give it a visit at the cinema. However, that doesn't mean I wasn't nervous about this movie: there's been so much controversy about it, much more than other reboots that have slipped onto the scene, or blasted in some cases, I mean, Spider-man is about to launch into it's third since 2002 and no-one seems to mind, but Ghostbusters has drawn some vitriol.

So, I toddled off to the cinema with my sister, eagerly anticipating this reboot and hoping that it was going to reinforce my love of the original while giving me something new to love about this franchise. I have to say, in the first 15 to 20 minutes, I wasn't so sure. The jokes were cliched and dull, with only a few moments of excellence; the opening section in the Aldridge Mansion is classic Ghostbusters, but after that, I would say to everyone, give the movie time to start properly.

Once the movie did launch, about the time that the gals start ghostbusting and Patty enters their lives, then there was no let up, I laughed, giggled, and snorted my way through the rest of the movie. It was AWESOME!


These ladies here, as much a bunch of misfits as Egon, Ray, Venkman and Winston, had me smiling like a loon. I loved them all. Patty Tolan is a no nonsense, sassy woman who knows all there is to know about the history of the city of New York. Abby Yates has never wavered from her conviction that the paranormal is real and her one-liners are genius. Erin Gilbert tried to leave the paranormal behind, but in the end, has to embrace her inner ghostbuster; she's dorky, intelligent and I love her. And Jillian Holtzman - she has to be my favourite special little snowflake, who's into particle physics and engineering and doesn't give two hoots what anyone else thinks.

This quartet of lovable nerds yank the Ghostbusters franchise very firmly into the 21st Century.

The story is not a remake of the original Ghostbusters, although it gives a lot of nods to its predecessor. This is a good thing. This story picks up the legacy of the original films and runs with it into a new space. There is a new bad guy, new tricks and tools in the Ghostbusters' arsenal, and a fun twist on the modern need for governmental cover-ups. Plus, there's Kevin.


Kevin is not a gender-swapped Janine Melnitz. Just like all the other characters, he owes his existence to the original movie, i.e. there was a secretary in the original, but Kevin is his own little bundle of laughs - and yes, I'm understating it, some of the jokes linked to Kevin had me crying with laughter. I will say no more, you have to see him to believe him.

You may have gathered that I thought the acting in Ghostbusters 2016 is excellent. The effects are fantastic too. Like everything else, the ghosts take their inspiration from the look of the originals, but then 21st Century computer graphics up the ante. The interactions with the ghosts are much more visually sophisticated and make the fights scenes at the end stupendous. Friends of mine have mentioned they might have been cheering out loud during the movie, and I can guess where. All I will say is, these ladies kick arse!

So, I'll stop now with a final word: ignore all the controversy and hype, go see this movie as a fun Summer reboot and you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Happy Camera Day!


Happy Camera Day!
29th June

I have to admit, I found this out by accident, but hey, I'm a keen photographer, so the day has inspired an impromptu post :).

I've always been the one behind the camera in my family. If you look at our holiday snaps from when I was a teenager, I'm not in most and that's because I was taking them. And since digital photography came to fruition, I've become an even keener photographer.

I began by buying a little Sony point and click, which was sweet and easy, but only had a digital zoom, which is advertising talk for the fact if pixelates like hell if you want to get a closer shot of anything. So, once I had the digital bug, I quickly moved on to investing in a Canon 400D, an SDLR which, with it's telephoto lens, was a monster of a camera, but which I still love to pieces. I dragged that camera round tourist attractions, to concerts, and I have some lovely shots from it. 


I also have loads of terrible ones as well ;P, since I have a bit of a shake and only one of the lenses had a stabilizer, and that didn't always work. But that's the joy of digital - if it's crap, you haven't wasted film :).

However, technology has moved on, and I now have a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7, which is a compact camera with 4K technology. It is tiny compared to the Canon and the picture quality is amazing. I have 2 lenses, a telephoto which manages distance shots and macro, and a normal wider angle lens for landscape. I am tempted to get a separate macro lens as well, but that's for when I have saved up!
I have 2 favourite types of photography. The first one is macro photography, which is closeup and details, and the Lumix is great for me since the tech has inbuilt stabilisers. I do lots of photos of flowers and insects. But I also love landscape photography as well, especially water - if I can stop and stare at a river, or look down into the rippling calm of a lake shore, I love it and I'll snap it :).

Recently, I've decided to try and make some money from my photography by uploading my photos to Society6, a place where they'll take your art and put it onto everything from a fine art print for the wall to a duvet cover and t-shirts. One of mine, a garden spider, is below (it makes a very interesting T-shirt ;P):

https://society6.com/product/spider-on-web-vb7_all-over-print-shirt?curator=sophieduncan
Do you have any hobbies that the digital age has transformed?



Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Society6 & My Photos (plus there's free shipping worldwide until 5th June)

So, thanks to buying A to Z mugs this year, I found a really great site called Society6, which is a site where artists can upload their own designs and have them sold as prints and all sorts of other wonderful things like laptop sleeves, mugs and t-shirts.

Now, I'm a photographer as well as a writer, and so I decided to join up as an artist and publish some of my photos. It takes some time to prepare the images for the site, so I only have two photos up so far:

Stones in Melting Ice
Dandelion 2016

But even if you're not into my stuff, there are some other great pieces of art on the site as well and there's free shipping on everything worldwide until 5th June 2016. So I recommend checking them out for some unusual and interesting designs.