Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Separation Anxiety (and Dracula Untold Review)

Well, I logged in this morning to write a review of Dracula Unbound, but what I got was a dose of separation anxiety! I couldn't get into my blogger account, because Google+ was temporarily down, to which my blog is linked. It showed me just how attached I am to my blog, because I was initially a bit peeved that I couldn't do what I wanted, and then I really began to worry - how long would it be down, was it just me, had I been hacked?

I felt a bit better on checking twitter and finding out there was a global problem, but it still left me feeling twitchy for the half hour or so I was waiting for the boffins at Google to fix things. I think part of it is that this blog and my Google+ are not just social for me, they're part of my work, my writing, they're how I reach my readers as well as my friends, but that wasn't all. Since the error was also affected my gmail contacts, I was also really worried I was losing them, all my friends, all the people I talk to, and some that I don't very often.

All I can say is, I'm glad it's been fixed!

Anyway - on to my thoughts about Dracula Untold.

'As his kingdom is being threatened by the Turks, young prince Vlad Tepes must become a monster feared by his own kingdom in order to obtain the power needed to protect his own family, and the families of his kingdom.' - IMDB
I enjoyed this movie, it played to my expectations, there were no surprises, but it was an enjoyable fantasy. I would hesitate to call it an adventure movie, because it was on the dark side for that, but I did get the feeling they were trying for a 12A certificate at times, because, although it ended up with a 15 rating in the UK, the action was fairly close in and there was not much gore. I expect it got the 15 rating for the unavoidable impalings that went along with Dracula's historical character. Compared to some of the 12A movies out there, though, e.g. James Bond and the Bourne movies, I did think the violence was more fantastical and therefore this might have deserved a 12A rating.

The plot itself, well, it's a fair attempt at an origin story. I mean, we know what has to happen by the end before we start, so, if you were expecting Dracula not to end up as King of the Night, then you're going to be disappointed ;P. I was slightly concerned before I went to see this movie that we'd have this long, long, angsty build up to the whole vampire thing with a bit of vampirism at the end, and for a few minutes at the beginning there, I was still worried, but actually, they paced the film about right.

There's a build up of tension in the first half hour, setting the scene, giving you Prince Vlad's background as a child warrior for the Turks and his continued servitude to them to maintain a peace which is very one-sided in favour of the Turks. And the concept that he already knew what it meant to be a monster while fighting for the Turks before becoming a vampire was underplayed, but in a good way, only really coming out in the climax at the end.

The cast is a who's who of British Character actors, and I mean actors in the male sense, because if you want to watch female roles, don't go near this movie. Only one woman has a speaking part (as far as I remember) - that is Sarah Gadon as Vlad's wife, Mirena, and her role is a typical male catalyst role, I won't say what happens to her, but can you guess? I won't say the movie has any stellar performances in it, it's more about the plot than the characters, even the Turks, who, as bad guys, might have had more gutsy parts, are actually quite bland. Vlad is angsty and brooding, as expected, Mirena is loving and supportive, but they're all a bit remote. In fact, I think Art Parkinson, who played Vlad's son, Ingeras, probably did the best job of emoting and making contact with the audience - his performance in the scene where Vlad is being forced to hand him over to the Turks as a royal hostage is very well done.

So, in summary, not a stunner of a movie, but worth a watch, just don't expect too much, it is an origin movie after all. If they make #2, which they set up at the end of the movie, I think it will be much more interesting, because they won't have to stay within so many boundaries. Charles Dance's evil Master Vampire, who doesn't even have a name yet, has made promises of machinations and plots, which could ignore the Dracula story altogether, and I would look forward to that kind of movie :).

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Zen and the Art of Plot Navigation - pantsing by a planning writer ;P (plus All Hallows' Read)

After having stop/start writer's block for the last week, where I was struggling to get out a couple of hundred words at a time if I was lucky, I dumped the story I was working on and started a new one. I wrote 7K words today, 5.5K of which was the start of my short horror story for giving away for All Hallows' Read - I might actually make the end of the week deadline to get it to my editor :D. If you don't know what All Hallow's Read is, check out their website - encourage reading in everyone!

Only thing is, I did a little more than pants the story so far, I literally just wrote with no idea where I was going and let Zen and the Art of Plot Navigation take me. It really worked, I think I have a great horror story coming on, but now I have to round it out - I think I know how it's going to go, but it's been a long time since I just let the characters lead me.

This is going to be an interesting adventure!

~

And  now an outrageous segue to plug my new book :D - this is a horror story I've already finished, my 5-star ghost story:

The Burning Web.

The Burning Web by Sophie Duncan
Is it symptoms left from his brain haemorrhage, or a guilty conscience that is making Tristan McCall see things no-one else can?

Forced out of the police by scandal and illness, Tris is trying to rebuild his life through the renovation of the home he hopes to share with Xander, his husband. A sprawling Gothic pile, Berwick House is in need of attention, but Tris soon realises the attention is not all one way. Faced with a presence in the house only he can sense, Tris must decide if his damaged brain is playing tricks on him, or if Berwick House really holds a dark and dangerous message from beyond the grave.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Recipe (great for Halloween treats): Maple Syrup & Dark Chocolate Cookies

Recently, a lovely friend of ours, who came visiting with her daughter from Canada, brought us some lovely maple syrup biscuits. Needless to say, they didn't last all that long! Well, I love maple syrup, so I decided to go searching on the web for a maple syrup cookie recipe that I could try making. I found loads :). I also have a penchant for chocolate chip cookies as well, so I decided to combine both my loves into one cookie. And below is the result. These are lovely on a chilly evening with )if you're a Brit anyway) a nice cup of tea - they'd also make great treats for a Halloween part (bat-dropping cookie anyone? ;P).

Maple Syrup & Dark Chocolate Cookies
Maple Syrup & Dark Chocolate Cookies

Soo, in case you want to make these rather yummy cookies, here's my recipe, it makes 60 cookies of about 2.5 inches round:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup / 227g / 8oz butter or baking spread, softened at room temp
  • 1 cup / 227g / 8oz caster sugar (US granulated sugar is fine) - if you want an even richer flavour, use brown sugar instead
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup / 237ml pure maple syrup (no getting the blended stuff)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups / 908g / 32oz self-raising flour (if using all purpose flour then add 2 teaspoons of baking soda)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup / 200g / 8oz dark chocolate chips (optional, but I like chocolate) 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees C / 350 degrees F & grease your cookie sheets (if you're like me an have a small oven, you will have make more than one batch (3 for me), so you'll be washing and re-greasing your sheets several times)
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar (I used an electric whisk for this, you can do it by hand it you want to build up your arm muscles, or put it in your mixer)
  3. Add the egg, maple syrup and vanilla extract and mix until you have a light brown, soft and airy paste (it will be quite sloppy at this point it needs to be to take all that flour)
  4. Sift the flour and salt (and baking soda if you need it) into the bowl and also add the chocolate chips if your're using them. Stir until all the flour is blended in.
  5. Using a teaspoon take a heaped spoonful of the mixture and place onto your baking sheet, repeat this procedure leaving 1/2 an inch or so between cookies to allow for spread - see image below.
  6. Bake for 10 - 15 minutes, or until golden brown (depends on your oven).
  7. When you get the cookies out of the oven, leave them on the sheet for a couple of minutes, this allows them to harden a little so you don't squidge them out of shape when getting them off the sheet. Then, using a fish slice, lift each cookie onto a wire rack to cool.
Laying out cookie mixture on baking sheet
~

Something else you might like for Halloween, my 5-star ghost story, The Burning Web.

The Burning Web by Sophie Duncan
Is it symptoms left from his brain haemorrhage, or a guilty conscience that is making Tristan McCall see things no-one else can?

Forced out of the police by scandal and illness, Tris is trying to rebuild his life through the renovation of the home he hopes to share with Xander, his husband. A sprawling Gothic pile, Berwick House is in need of attention, but Tris soon realises the attention is not all one way. Faced with a presence in the house only he can sense, Tris must decide if his damaged brain is playing tricks on him, or if Berwick House really holds a dark and dangerous message from beyond the grave.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The History of Gothic Literature in England (British Library from 3rd Oct 2014) - I prefer ghosts to monsters!

There's a new exhibition on at The British Museum, examining the fascination of Gothic Literature in England (although they also mention Poe, because who can get away with talking about Gothic Literature without including the most macabre of them all). There a full article about it here on the BBC News Channel. They have everything from:

a vampire hunter's kit

to

an animated were-rabbit!
They also have more sophisticated exhibits, such as an annotated manuscript of  Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. 

The article is interesting in the fact that it talks about the current fashion in Gothic literature, saying that vampires are over and zombies are now in. Well, vampires were done several years ago, thanks to the flooding of the market from Twilight, although some of us are happily still writing them. The same is now happening with zombies. I can't turn around without there being another zombie apocalypse novel gracing my dash :). However, unlike the vampire flood, I can't say I'm interested this time. Zombies just don't do it for me. I chuckled at Warm Bodies, but that's about it. I'm not a Dawn of the Dead kinda gal, so I'll be watching this craze sail on by. 

My favourite horror will always be ghosts and I think that's due in part to the old tales I grew up with. If you look at Brtiish Literature and our folk tales, we've always favoured spooks over monsters. While Europe had their vampires and werewolves, the Brits have filled their fireside tales with vengeful spectres and messages from beyond the grave. There isn't a castle in the country without its own personal ghost, mostly more than one, in fact. 

Ghosts and their tales go back a lot further in Britain than the Gothic horror which the exhibition traces back to Horace Walpole's 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto. I read them (check out my A to Z posts for 2014 if you want some of my author recommendations), and I write them, my latest book being a ghost story, The Burning Web. I just love being scared by the shadow in the corner and feeling the trepidation as I follow a character up those old wooden stairs, not knowing what they will see when they reach the top! 

The ethereal presence of a ghost is much scarier to me than any physical monster. What about you, what's your favourite fear?

~



Is it symptoms left from his brain haemorrhage, or a guilty conscience that is making Tristan McCall see things no-one else can? Forced out of the police by scandal and illness, Tris is trying to rebuild his life through the renovation of the home he hopes to share with Xander, his husband. A sprawling Gothic pile, Berwick House is in need of attention, but Tris soon realises the attention is not all one way. Faced with a presence in the house only he can sense, Tris must decide if his damaged brain is playing tricks on him, or if Berwick House really holds a dark and dangerous message from beyond the grave.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Burning Web (Ghost Story) by Sophie Duncan AVAILABLE NOW only $3.99 - Perfect for Halloween!

My newest release, The Burning Web, a spooky ghost story perfect for anyone getting into the spirit of Halloween, is available to buy now at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple for only $3.99/£2.49.

Something more than guilt is haunting ex-copper, Tris McCall, when he and his husband, Xander, refurbish a crumbling Victorian mansion, Berwick House. Faced with disbelief and medical explanations for the spectral visitations from both his doctors and his partner, Tris must decide if it is the damage left by the brain injury he has suffered, or something darker that is speaking to him. Can he trust his own senses, and if he can, what are they telling him?

~

I really enjoyed writing this book. I might have even scared myself a few times when I was editing it late at night at home alone! ;P I am a big, big fan of ghost stories: I read and reread the likes of Susan Hill and M R James when I want a good scare. That traditional, Gothic style of story with old houses, dark shadows and vengeful ghosts is my kind of book and The Burning Web is my tribute to those terrifying masterpieces. 

I've written paranormal novels (The Night Blood Chronicles) before, and I have dabbled in horror short stories, but The Burning Web is my first novel-length foray into the ghostly genre. I wanted more space to explore the idea of what a haunting can mean to modern people, and I wanted to add that rational doubt to the Gothic feel of my plot. Tris and Xander are a modern couple, dogged by trouble. 

Tris is an ex-police officer, who left the force after a shooting incident, the stress of which led eventually to him suffering a brain haemorrhage. The guilt of his mistake has followed him out of the force and renovating Berwick House is his means of escape from the past. 

Xander, Tris' husband, is a trauma surgeon and has become Tris' carer during Tris' recovery from the debilitating stroke. Part of the story examines how that responsibility has affected the relationship between the beleaguered couple as they start to emerge from what they think are the dark days behind them.

It is onto this backdrop of Tris and Xander's relationship that I have overlaid  the ghost story. On his first night in Berwick House, Tris begins to sense something is amiss, but can he trust what his damaged brain is telling him? I will leave that up to anyone who reads the story to decide :).

Do you like a good ghost story? Share your favourites :).

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Burning Web (Ghost Story) by Sophie Duncan Cover Reveal & Pre-Order Information

As promised, it's cover reveal time for my new book, The Burning Web. The book is a ghost story following ex-copper, Tris McCall, as he tries to rebuild his life after a shooting incident that cost him his career and his health. The consequences of his actions have changed Tris' perspective on life in more ways than he knows when, still recovering from a brain haemorrhage, he begins visiting Berwick House, the rambling Victorian pile he is planning to make a family home with his husband, Xander. he quickly discovers that the house holds secrets that force him into keeping some of his own.

The book has a fair collection of scares and spookiness, so I hope the cover reflects that. So, here's the cover in all its creepy glory :)

The Burning Web is NOW available for Pre-order too.
Through Amazon, Kobo & Barnes & Noble

Monday, 25 August 2014

Express Yourself Meme - Name ONE cancelled TV Show You Would Love to See Back

The Express Yourself Meme is hosted by  Jackie @ Bouquet of Books and Dani @ Entertaining Interests. And their 'question' this week is Name ONE cancelled TV show you would love to see back on your boob tube with NEW episodes?


I would love to see new episodes of Sapphire & Steel, a Sci-Fi/Fantasy show from the early 80's. I have all six adventures on DVD and I watch them over and again whenever I want a challenging show. Unlike most 80's TV shows, it's not exactly good guys verses bad guys, because I wouldn't call Steel (played by David McCallum) a good guy. He's an agent of an unnamed organisation whose job is to stop time breaking through and doing damage in the universe and he will do whatever is necessary to achieve that aim. Sapphire (played by Joanna Lumley) is his partner, a warmer character with a conscience, but she takes Steel's lead.


It would be a perfect series to bring back for the modern era, it wouldn't need much revamping, since it already has a very modern feel to its writing not being so cut and dried about good and evil and examining a situation practically. I'm thinking that Tom Hiddleston would make a good Steel, he has the right mix of cool Britishness and bite, you could be rooting for him and slightly afraid of him at the same time. Gemma Arterton, or maybe Billie Piper would make excellent Sapphires, mature enough to hold their own against Steel, but with a soft side as well. 


Any favourites you'd like to see with new eps?

~