Last month’s fanfiction reviews

I should say before I begin that other than dragonflower1 whose other work I don’t know, these authors are friends of mine, online and in one case in rl too. But then I met them via fandom and I usually only make friends with people whose work I enjoy!

Anyone who is a fan of SGA might like to look at the secret santa stories from Christmas 2020. You can find the whole collection here: https://archiveofourown.org/collections/sga_secret_santa_2020/works and it contains a story by me (the author reveal was on Christmas Day). I wrote: Not Elves Exactly…

But here are my favourites that might well be accessible to non-fans. You can find them all in the collection.

lock it away (keep my heart at your place) by nagi_schwarz*****

In an accident, John is locked into a coma where he retreats into his dreams. Rodney is able to penetrate those, and gradually gain John’s trust in order to bring him out of the dream and the coma. The dreams are based on the world of Harry Potter, with all the magic implied, plus John’s love of music. Readers only need to know that Rodney is a scientist and John is military leader of the expedition to Atlantis.

A Matter of Trust by dragonflower1**** John/Todd

I felt almost obliged to read this, because I wrote John/Todd for an auction fic. This was much more strongly based on canon than my story, and had an open ending so that the reader could continue the tale themselves. (You can read my story here: Enemy Mine https://archiveofourown.org/works/26286616)

To access these stories you need to know that the Wraith are predatory enemies of the humans in the Pegasus galaxy and feed on their life force, and that Kolya and his men are human enemies of both Wraith and Atlantis.

Feel the Magic by Brumeier*****

A delightful introduction to a new ‘verse by the author, whose work I like. The SGA characters are recast in a special detective force, MagiCorps, which deals with magical crimes on this world rather than alien events on Atlantis. I’m hoping for more cases.

Not that kind of task force by Brumeier***** (find it via her dashboard)

Because of the MagiCorps story I wandered off to reread this one by the same author. The paranormal investigations here are for H5O, not SGA so the ‘verse has more canon elements, but is just as fascinating and again I want more.

Both these are AUs in that they take place in worlds with magic, not something that occurs in canon.

A deal to be made by pushkin666 ***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/28816863?  

The author was unable to resist a bdsm approach to the Johnson/Van de Leyen standoff. Hilarious (and very short) I think this is a perfectly valid use of real person fiction – not unlike cartoons and satire shows like Spitting Image.

The header picture is my current membership icon for OTW(AO3) which for those of you new to the fanfic world is Organisation for Transformative Works and one of their projects, Archive Of Our Own which hosts fanworks on ‘our own’ servers which means they’re not at risk of deletion. The OTW also campaigns for the legitimacy of fanworks and will defend them in court when necessary and appropriate.

Book giveaway

I’m giving away the first volume in my Living Fae series this week on Smashwords (but not Amazon) in the hope that it will encourage interest in the rest of the series. Just go to the buy link using the tabs above and enter PZ65N at checkout for a free copy. Offer ends 28th February.

It’s the first part of the story of modern fairies who live in Cheshire UK (near where I live). It’s told in diary form by the main character of the series, Harlequin, who grows up on Werneth Low. He then moves to Alderley Edge where he meets his partner Yarrow, leader of the local unicorn troop. Their relationship forms the background to the four volume series. You can find out more about it on this website using the tags. Enjoy!

What I abandoned last month and why

The header picture is an enlarged version of a social media icon by nomnomicons. Sometimes I feel like that puppy – ready to rip pages apart!! It isn’t always a criticism of the book (or film) because other people might well enjoy what I hate. Just as I hate rice pudding and my husband loves it! So for some of you these comments might serve as recommendations!

On television

Willie Nelson and Friends: Outlaws and Angels

Some time ago I dithered about booking for an expensive concert in Manchester featuring Willie Nelson then decided against it because I realised it was entitled Willie Nelson and Friends and I had no idea how great a part the friends would play. I’m so glad I didn’t pay out for something like this! I still love Willie Nelson, but his friends are a very mixed bunch and although some of them are talented and some are to my taste, those two qualities don’t always overlap, and then there are others who are neither. I got tired of watching and listening and felt I could always listen to his albums without being asked to listen politely to his friends as well.

Arctic Murders

This was the series set in Iceland which we thought would be interesting though I had a suspicion it was based on a book I’d tried and abandoned. The detectives themselves were not especially exciting, though one, borrowed from Norway, had some strange family problems. They did, however, get themselves into ridiculous situations. After a while, it gets tiring trying to send some kind of psychic message to a fictional character telling them not to go into a dark house alone etc. My husband continued to watch the series so I kind of saw it out of the corner of my eye while reading a book.

The Investigation

This was another my husband watched but I got carried away with something else on my laptops with my headphones on. It was based on a true story about a Danish journalist who was found murdered and I vaguely remember the case, but the way it was told was so slow I just couldn’t be bothered with it.

Dawn French Live: 30 million minutes

I like Dawn French as a comic actress, for example in The Vicar of Dibley. This was more of an autobiography and I got thoroughly bored very quickly.

Books 

A picture perfect holiday by ZA Maxfield

This was told in first person and was, I’m sure, realistic, but since I don’t like listening to too much swearing in real life or reading too much of it on the page I quickly decided the narrator was not someone I wanted to follow. I am not, please understand, particularly prudish. I’m as likely as anyone to swear if provoked. However, although I know there are people who use swear words every other word, I don’t have to listen to them – or read about them. I usually like and recommend this author and was sad when I found this book not to my taste.

Hold Still by Lisa Regan

This was a book borrowed from the Amazon Prime library and I was glad I hadn’t paid for it. I found it slow and confusing and gave up after a couple of chapters. I now have no memory of what it was about except that it involved a boring American detective.

Lunch: a flashfic for Valentine’s Day.

Steve had suggested a day walking in the Peak District and had hoped against hope that Matt would agree. They had parked near Lord’s Seat and wandered upwards, leaving Mam Tor, with its carefully engineered steps, to the tourists. They were tourists here too, of course, but they knew the area well and considered themselves locals even though they lived and worked some miles north on the outskirts of Manchester. There were no hang-gliders or paragliders today; although the sun was glorious the wind was wild and cruel. Matt’s hair danced in the gusts and the grass whispered beneath their feet.

He had offered to bring a picnic. A flurry of shopping in Tesco’s followed by a session in his small kitchen had produced a mini-feast of delicate smoked salmon sandwiches, asparagus spears with a mayonnaise dip, tiny, bite-sized quiches and some chocolate truffles to go with the flask of coffee. There was wine, too, a South African Chardonnay that he knew was good but had chosen mainly for its easy screw top. All luxuries. He knew Matt probably expected ham salad muffins and a couple of cans of beer. The actual contents of his rucksack should help to give a message if he lost his nerve. He had brought plastic wine glasses as well and had made sure that there was plenty of food. Quantity as well as quality would be needed to sustain them. He hoped they would stay all day; that Matt would not leave when he realised what Steve wanted.

They sat at the top, looking out over Edale, listening to the sheep. There were early lambs, calling constantly for their mothers to watch their games. If you knew where to look,the start of the Pennine Way was visible. Maybe another time. He hoped there would be another time.

They were silent, tired from the climb but content. Would the content last when Matt understood what lay behind the invitation? Recently Steve had thought his overtures might be accepted but maybe it was all wishful thinking.

He unpacked the food, concentrating on what he hoped would be a calming task. He was supposed to have psyched himself up for this, but now that the moment had come his nerves were back in full force.

Matt opened the wine, a strange look, almost a query, on his face as he filled the glasses. He sipped slowly, watching Steve lay out the food on the lid of the container he had brought.

Steve opened the pack of asparagus and the mayonaisse. He dipped a pale green spear in the sauce and held it towards Matt with a questioning half-smile.

Matt’s answering smile was broad and seemed to light up the hillside. He accepted the offering and their fingers touched briefly, sending a spark flickering across Steve’s hand. Matt brought the spear to his mouth, still smiling, and licked the creaminess from the tip with slow, careful movements then let the tip of his tongue linger on his lips.

January short stories and other reading

I’ll start with a cartoon book because I’ve used the cartoon I talk about as a header image.

Rattling the Cage****

This is a book of cartoons by Bob Starrett and includes the cartoonist’s explanation of how he came to produce them and the significance of the various cartoons. I’ve had the book since I was working on some anti-racist educational materials and had to ask Bob’s permission to include one of his cartoons. He gave it gladly and it’s still the one that stands out for me. A comedian is shown on a stage saying, “And there was this thick Paddy,” whilst the walls behind him are papered with posters advertising the works of Yeats, Joyce, Wilde, Shaw, etc. I had forgotten, or had perhaps never read (?) the accompanying text – life was very busy at the time – and it was interesting. However, most of the cartoons in the collection were very dated as they related to British politics pre-1990. He is currently drawing cartoons related to the pandemic which are worth researching.

Short stories

The excellent

Ring in the new by Charlie Cochrane. *****

A bittersweet story of a hopeful new year – 1914 – for the Cambridge Fellows, Jonty and Orlando. I enjoyed it, but having read the books that deal with the aftermath of the war, I wanted to cry. Recommended but you’d need to know the series to appreciate it.

The Holiday Collection by Beth Laycock****

Two very pleasant and well written holiday themed novellas: Miracle on Three Kings’ Day, where Lev and Alex meet in Spain (which celebrates Epiphany more than Christmas) and Thrown by Love in which Charlie goes to pottery classes to make a secret santa gift and meets tutor Josh. I read them, appropriately for the first, round about January 6th, and for the second was immediately reminded of The Great Pottery Throwdown which we are watching.

 The poor

Criminal Shorts**

This is the UK Crime Book Club’s anthology in aid of Red Kite, a special school charity. I’m a member of the FB group/club and in any case, did not grudge the price because it all went to charity. However, I didn’t enjoy the book. The standard was mixed, as is the case in most anthologies, but almost all the stories were told from the point of view of the criminal. It’s not something that appeals to me, however good the writing is. I wouldn’t even recommend the collection to anyone who does like that angle – the writing, while mostly competent, was nothing special and none of the stories was memorable apart from one (actually told from a police viewpoint) set in rural Ireland, and that wasn’t sufficient to justify a recommendation.

And other things

Two recipe books which I was given for Christmas.

I expected to be more interested in the Persian one, having been to Persian restaurants, but in fact preferred the Palestinian book.

Palestine on a Plate by Joudie Kalla****

A fascinating account of Palestinian family cooking. I found myself bookmarking a lot of recipes and will be trying some of them this year. There were interesting snippets of information on how things that are popular throughout the Middle East either originated in Palestine or have been subtly altered there.

From a Persian Kitchen by Atoosa Sepehr***

A very beautiful book with gorgeous photographs of ordinary life in modern Iran, taken by the author. The recipes were not as inspiring though I want to try a couple that make liberal use of pomegranates. Too many began: ‘this is not traditional’ or ‘this is how I do it in London’ or ‘my English friends like this’. There were references to Iran but some of those recipes were basically just instructions on how to cook e.g. steak and add a few herbs or spices. There is a recipe for rice that sounds incredible but I won’t be experimenting. It ends up with a crust at the base but doesn’t say how many saucepans you wreck before you achieve perfection.

Lazy cooking in February

Comfort stew with dumplings. Very easy but takes all day.

I usually make this for two of us but you can make it for a bigger family or even for guests, which works well because the last stage is happily cooking while you meet and greet.

I use diced beef (a supermarket pack or maybe whatever you would normally ask for at the butcher’s – I tend to ask for ‘enough for two’ and my butcher reads my mind) but you could substitute lamb, pork, chicken, etc. or just add extra root veg or pulses. I don’t think Quorn pieces (meat free stuff available in UK) would work because it needs much shorter cooking time. You can add sausage such as chorizo, sliced.

I normally use my slow cooker. Before the wonders of modern technology reached my kitchen I used a heavy lidded casserole dish, or sometimes a heavy metal roasting pan with a domed lid. The latter is better because the dimpled dome encourages all the liquid that’s trying to escape as steam to fall back into the pan. A tagine would do the same. Those, obviously, need oven space and can be left to cook on a lowish heat for hours.

Start with a large onion (colour is irrelevant). Chop it fairly finely. If onions make you cry, copy my daughter and buy frozen ready-chopped ones, or copy me and wear glasses. You can brown the onion and whatever meat you’re using in a frying pan for a few minutes and it helps caramelise things, but if you’re in a hurry it isn’t essential. Add garlic at this stage if you like garlic. (I do.). Add more onion for a large family.

Once the onion and meat are in the pan/dish add some peeled and chopped root veg. Carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, ordinary potatoes – they’re all good. You can also add things like butter beans or tinned kidney beans. Green veg are not a good idea because they cook too quickly but a little hardish cabbage is probably OK. Tinned new potatoes are a good addition too. I also add mushrooms – chop big ones or add button ones whole.

Now add liquid. You need to have your pan or dish about a third full and it’s preferable to cover the meat completely though veg don’t mind as much. If you’ve added tinned beans, add the liquid too as part of that third. If you’ve used water, fine, but add a spoonful of marmite/vegemite (or whatever you have in your country) and a splash of wine vinegar. I have been known to use a can of Guinness. Anything will do to reach the level, and the flavours can be varied but bear in mind that too much seasoning too early in slow cooking is not a good idea so add salt and pepper to taste later at the dumpling stage..

I set the slow cooker at high, but the oven, if that’s what I’m using, fairly low. You know your own oven but I wouldn’t recommend going over 160C. Once upon a time I had an oven with a slow cooker setting. Maybe start at about 160C and turn it down later. Now go away and leave it all for at least six hours. The kitchen will, by the way, smell inviting and people will ask when it will be ready.

After six-eight hours (depends what else distracts you) put your stew in an ovenproof dish, or if that’s what you’ve already used, take the lid off. Turn the heat up to 200C. Add seasoning at this stage – maybe some herbs or whatever spices you fancy. I tend to put Italian or Provence herb mix in everything – or mixed fresh herbs in summer – plus perhaps some smoked paprika. Possibly salt but maybe not if you’ve added marmite. Stir very gently.

Add dumplings. You will already have made these at some point during the cooking time. (They keep OK uncooked and covered in the fridge so you can make them while you feel fresh and raring to go in the morning.)

You can use either ordinary or vegetarian suet plus self raising flour (the kind you need for cakes) and some seasoning like salt and herbs. The quantities are roughly twice as much flour as suet so it depends what you’ve got and how hungry you are. Mix with a fork then add cold water a splash at a time and keep mixing till you have a stiff dough. You can mess about and put that on a floured board and divide it up and make beautiful little balls or, like me, you can just divide it in your mixing bowl, using your fork like a knife. (Make an even quantity or risk dumpling wars.) Whichever, place the dumplings gently on top of the stew (you want the tops to stay dry) and return everything to the oven for about 30 minutes or less. Check after 20 minutes because you don’t want the dumplings to burn, you just want them crusty. Use a skewer and if it comes out clean they’re cooked and you’re just trying to achieve a crust.

This is a one pot dish that provides its own gravy. One of the joys of it is that you get glimpses and scents all day but you can go and do other things like reading, writing and social media. If there’s anything left over (depends how hungry people are), transfer it to a clean dish because you need to soak the cooking dish straight away to make it easy to wash either by hand or in a dishwasher. Then you either have tomorrow’s dinner sorted (maybe with more veg) or you can freeze it. (Don’t forget to label it if you freeze it.)

If you absolutely must have green veg, make a salad to have separately but personally I’d rather have fresh fruit for dessert.

Pear and ginger tarte tatin. Quite easy. Takes about an hour altogether.

This is also a comfort dish but I don’t recommend having it the same day as the stew because it’s quite filling. Have it after something lighter, e.g. fish.

Any pears will do, though Conference are especially excellent. You can use fresh ginger (peel it if you feel you must, using a teaspoon and scraping gently, then grate it) or bought ginger paste or whatever you have. I use bought puff pastry but other pastry works too. I only ever go to the bother of making my own shortcrust and could do that for this dish if I had to. Most chefs on TV or in books tell you to buy puff or filo pastry rather than making it. Quantities are basically what you have…

Quarter the pears (at least three but more are good) and remove the core. You can leave the skin on. In fact, you probably should because peeling pears is messy and loses a lot of juice. Now slice them and put the slices in a pan (non stick if you have one) and cover with e.g. apple juice. Don’t go mad – you don’t want too much extra liquid. Add ginger and sugar. Any sugar will do. Simmer till the pears are soft then remove them with a slotted spoon and put them straight into a pan that can go in the oven (I have an old German cast iron casserole pan that is perfect but whatever you’ve got…metal is better than glass/pyrex/pot). Now add more sugar – at least two tablespoons – and boil the sugary gingery liquid hard till it starts to reduce in quantity. Also put the oven on and heat it to about 180C. Meanwhile, you can mess about and make a pattern with the pear slices or you can just read a recipe book. (Guess what I do.) Pour the reduced liquid which is now a kind of liquid ginger caramel, over the pears.

Put a circle of pastry, about half a centimetre thick, on top of the pears and sauce. Put the pan in the oven and check it in 30 minutes. As with the dumplings in my comfort stew, if a skewer comes out clean all is well.

Take the tarte out of the oven and let it cool a little. You want to eat this lukewarm and anyway, it’s easier to turn out when it isn’t too hot.

Run a knife round the tarte just in case any pastry is sticking – if your pan is non-stick like mine, it shouldn’t, but you never know. Find a plate slightly bigger than your pan. Put it over the pan like a lid and turn pan and plate upside down. Shake gently. Remove the pan and you should now have a circle of pastry on the plate with pears and ginger caramel on top. Eat with Greek yoghurt, or cream, or anything else you fancy e.g. ice cream. It will keep a day or two, but the caramel might go like toffee – I like this, but I’m just warning you. For the same reason, you should soak the pan you cooked it in straight away.

January reading

 I’ve read a lot this month – but then that’s often true at this time of year when it’s cold and dark and Christmas etc. is all over.
The illustration is an enlarged version of an icon by magic_art used on my LiveJournal and Dreamwidth journals.
 

The doubly excellent

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman***** illustrated by Chris Riddell*****

Yes, two lots of five stars. This is a glorious book. The story, which twists and weaves versions of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White into a fresh tale with strongly feminist threads, never fails to delight, as expected at Gaiman’s hands. Then there are the illustrations by Chris Riddell. These are stunning black and white pictures with lots and lots of detail and very restrained but breathtaking gold highlights. Get the printed book (I got the paperback as a Christmas present) – you won’t regret it because although the story is not very long you’ll want to re-read and you’ll want to linger over the pictures.

And the ‘normally’ excellent

A Book of Christmas by William Sansom*****

Sansom unpacks Christmas and relates it to all kinds of other festivals of light, birth, etc. He looks at the way it’s celebrated in many and varied places. Fascinating. Although the book has a focus on Christmas it respects other beliefs and shows how festivals of all kinds develop and how humanity celebrates. It’s out of print but there are second hand copies available at a reasonable price.

A String of Lights by Alexa Milne*****


Lovely and seasonal story featuring Dev, an electrician, who travels south to put up the village lights for Henry who is manager of the local ‘big house’. Or is he? Buy it for next Christmas!

Pretty Pretty Boys by Gregory Ashe*****

The title is the name of a bar in the story. I’m not sure how to categorise this. It’s a cop buddy story, it looks at homophobia both within the police force and in a ‘bible belt’ area, and it’s a nail-biting crime mystery. The UST is almost unbearable and I need the sequel soon (as in when I’m allowing myself to buy books again). Extremely well written with excellent world building and character development. Not many mm romance/mysteries succeed at so many levels. Highly recommended,

Gideon by RJ Scott***** (Boyfriend for hire Bk 3)

The concept of the ‘boyfriend for hire’ business is a delightful background to this story where the owner/manager finally finds love despite his inability to understand or meet his own needs. The series is lovely with endearing characters.

Red Dirt Heart by NR Walker*****

A slow burn romance set in the Australian outback. A ranch owner has to come to terms with the way he has internalised his father’s disapproval and homophobia as he realises he cares for an American agricultural student spending time on the ranch. The Australian landscape is evoked in glorious detail.

There were no four star books this month

The readable

Away with the penguins by Hazel Prior***

This had rave reviews and it was a sufficiently intriguing story to keep me reading to the end but only just. This story of an elderly lady dropping everything to spend time in the Antarctic with a group studying penguins was quirky but not stunning. There’s a unexpected romance too (not the ‘heroine’) and of course the penguins are charming.      

New Hope for the Little Cornish Farmhouse by Nancy Barone***

I got very tired of Nina and her inability to form sensible relationships with family, friends and lovers. I think I have less patience with ‘stupid’ heroines than their male counterparts.

Playing it out straight by Andrew McQuinn***

I can’t remember anything about this book other than the names of the main characters so it can’t have been very good.

Bound by Rhys Ford*** Chinatown Demons Book 1

I found this fantasy cop story disappointing. It started well with good world building and character development but the case was unresolved and the UST remained unresolved. I don’t mind some aspects of a tale being held over to volume two but this seemed altogether unfinished as a novel.  

Shatterproof Bond by Isobel Starling*** Boxed set of 3.

I usually like this author but I am not really a fan of spy stories and this alternated almost unbelievable Bond-style spy story with a lot of explicit sex that did not further either the plot or character development. If you’re a Bond fan and you like very steamy mm romance you’d probably enjoy these and I think there are more to come. Just a warning – the proof reading is not up to this writer’s usual standard. Probably not her fault but still something else that put me off.

Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier by Terry Darlington***

I adored the first two books in the Narrow Dog trilogy. I was disappointed in this final volume. The author alternates autobiography (not desperately interesting) with two canal trips in Britain (instead of France and America). The main problems were that as a result I never really got the sense of place that he brought to the French and American trips, and inevitably we saw less of the whippet, the narrow dog of the title.

And the less than stellar

Undermined by Ripley Hayes** subtitle: A Gay Mystery.

I think this is meant to be the first in a cop buddy series. I won’t be reading any more. The characters were two dimensional and the plot was unsatisfactory with an unbelievable solution to the mystery. The writing was technically competent, I suppose, in that the grammar was fine.

I’ll reach short stories etc. and fanfiction in a later post.

What I watched in January

Obviously, in lockdown, everything is watched on the small screen but apart from news and politics programmes I rarely watch anything at the time it’s aired. Catch-up services of various kinds are my friends. Absolute favourites last month were Spiral (cop drama), Whisky Galore (classic comedy) and the New Year concert. By the way, it appears neither Word nor WordPress approve of the Brit spelling of ‘favourite’ – I can assure them (and you) that it’s correct.

TV series:


Crime favourites

Spiral Season 8. *****
(ten one hour episodes shown 2 at a time on BBC4) My all time favourite cop show. I think it’s all currently available on iPlayer (UK) but be warned, there are 8 seasons, you need to watch them in sequence, and iPlayer sometimes removes things at the drop of a hat. I’m devastated that it’s all over. Because there was no filming some years, and the show started in 2006 so no wonder it felt like part of my life. For anyone who doesn’t already know, it’s a French cops’n’lawyers saga (with subtitles) with both groups trying to protect Paris from a very seedy underworld by sometimes rather shady means. Although there are various romance elements from time to time, the main focus is on the relationships between Laure and Gilou (cops) and Josephine and Edelman (lawyers). The brilliant judge, Roban, was written out of the final season. A few cops and lawyers were written out earlier. The complex characters and the gritty criminal cases made for compulsive viewing as did the brilliant acting and direction.

Traces****
We really enjoyed this six one hour episode Brit crime series on BBC1. Since watching, we’ve learnt that although ostensibly set in Dundee it was in fact filmed in North West England. It’s based on a book by acclaimed crime novelist Val McDermid, and the main focus is on the forensic teams rather than the police though Martin Compston from Line of Duty makes a good policeman character again. Available on iPlayer in UK. I read yesterday that another show based on a McDermid book set in Scotland is being filmed.

The Bay Season 2 ****
Another Brit series set in Morecambe Bay. I abandoned the first season because of unbelievably stupid policing, but husband liked it so I gave the second season a chance and quite enjoyed it. Available on ITV Hub (UK) and you don’t need to watch Season 1 to make sense of Season 2. Six  one hour episodes per season.

All the Sins Season 1 ****
Finnish detective drama on Channel 4 with very flawed detectives: a gay man who has been abusing his partner and a woman who shot her abusive husband then left their daughter to be brought up by her grandmother. Interesting serial killer case set in Finland’s ‘bible belt’ with lots of discussion about rights both re religious belief and re feminism. Nice shots of the apparently very flat Finnish countryside and some exploration of Finnish culture. Six 45minute episodes, in Finnish with subtitles, and there is another season but it seems it’s a kind of prequel, with a different detective pair so I haven’t decided yet whether to watch it. Both seasons are currently available on All4 (UK)

Drama favourites

Whisky Galore ***** (rewatch) The famous Brit comedy about a shipwreck off the Hebridean coast during WWII. Black and white, with lots of actors you’ll recognise including a young Gordon Jackson and a middle aged James Robertson Justice. Hilarious, beautifully timed comedy. This must have been the original inspiration for Dad’s Army. I thought it might not be as good the third time round but if anything it was better. Still available on iPlayer (UK) for about a fortnight but you can’t download, just stream. About 90minutes.

Revolution of the Daleks**** The New Year Special episode of Dr Who. I suppose it was all right. I like the current Doctor but find her surrounded by far too many extra companions. I’m not sure I wanted yet more daleks.

Comedy favourite 

The Vicar of Dibley in Lockdown**** Three ten minute episodes with the vicar trying to do everything via Zoom. Very funny and available on iPlayer for another 10 months.  

Music favourites

New Year Concert from Vienna***** Gorgeous. Previously reviewed separately in more detail. (No longer available to download or stream)

Dolly Parton: 50 years at the Opry**** I enjoy Country Music and I admire Dolly Parton. This was a nice way to spend an evening – 75 minutes on BBC 2 celebrating 50 years of Dolly and her music. However, I would have liked to hear more songs in full. The programme is available for another couple of months on iPlayer (UK)

The photograph is of January skies in Aachen from a friend’s house. No photoshopping other than cropping and resizing.    

January – and beyond

Two and half thousand words of blog post. Plus just under seven thousand words of WIP. That’s nearly ten thousand in the last week. An average of two thousand a day with weekends off for good behaviour. I’ve also been adding to my reviews of everything I’ve watched and read so that next month’s review posts will happen. I think I’ve been too ambitious. I set off, inspired by my daily music posts in December, with the intention of posting every other day, and didn’t really mean to get involved with very long pieces every time. But somehow, I invariably ramble and also need to look things up (like the names of authors or artists I like) and it all takes for ever. I suspect I could write more of my WIP if I was a little more laid back about the blog posts. So in February I intend to reduce the endeavour to a post every three days. Over the course of an average month that should mean four or five review posts, a meme, a couple of things that are bugging me, news about my writing (or a poem) and maybe a cookery post. That’s the idea, anyway.

When I post about cookery, be warned. I love cooking (though not planning a week’s menu, or shopping) but I’m a rather haphazard cook. My husband follows recipes religiously, and has been known to visit at least three supermarkets to get the right kind of kale. I tend to subsitute whatever I happen to have at hand. I don’t measure for a lot of things (though I do for baking) and I look for alternatives, short cuts, etc. As a result, after years of practice, I find most cooking easy, and will share my findings with you. If you want accurate quantities etc. please look elsewhere. If you want to feel confident about basic cooking – and some ‘party’ dishes, follow me! I also enjoy recipe books and will share new discoveries with you. Oh, and I cook in UK using scales that show grammes, a fan oven that uses centigrade temperatures, and most of my recipes are for two, with leftovers to freeze. Some of my recipes are vegetarian – we don’t eat meat every day – and where meat is in the dish you can substitute extra veg. I will give warnings etc. We are not, however, vegan, and nor are our extended family (though some are vegetarian). So expect butter, cheese, milk, etc. I have no idea how or whether the recipes would work with vegan substitutes.

The header photo is from my site header/banner/whatever. I created it using, as a base, a photograph of a violet in our garden. The violets could be out again soon!

Fantasy: third post in the ‘interests’ meme

An interest in fantasy. It’s hard to ‘unpack’ because fantasy is a huge multi-faceted genre and means different things to different people. It is often assumed to include sci fi and although I also like sci fi I don’t find the two similar at all.

It is often thought to include the paranormal: witches, ghosts, shiftes, vampires etc. operating in the mundane world. There are aspects of that kind of fantasy that really appeal to me. Examples of shows and books I have enjoyed include Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series (a changeling private eye also works for the faerie courts), Grimm ( a traditional grimm or hunter is a police officer dealing with cases that resemble fairy tales and often have were-creatures as the criminals), A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (romance between a vampire and a witch that includes time travel), Laurell Hamilton’s Merry Gentry series ( a fairy princess tries to settle in the modern world, helped and hampered by her lovers, who are all fae), Labyrinth (where a child needs to be rescued from the goblin king after a wish gone wrong) and Eli Easton’s How to Howl at the Moon series (dog shifters in the fictional town of Mad Creek). There are more but I’m sure you get the idea. In this type of fantasy I prefer to have at least one or two paranormal characters. I am less keen on series like Gabaldon’s Outlander books where the only fantasy element is the time travel. I love werewolves (and other shifters), particularly when they are involved in police work or romnce or both. I like witches, especially when humour is the focus. I adore unicorns. I am less keen on vampires and ghosts but couldn’t really tell you why unless it’s because they seem to have an unfair advantage when interracting with the mundane world. I think this interaction is at the core of my liking for books and shows like this. My brain asks things like: what if one of the police partners turned out to be actually a werewolf and could follow the scent of the murderer? (That’s one of the delights of fanfiction that takes known characters down a fantasy rabbit hole and gives them magical attributes.) The best of these ‘urban fantasies’ not only describes our own world in detail but also builds equally intricate fantasy worlds that exist in tandem, inhabited by fae, by shifter packs, by vampire families. I think a childhood favourite, George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblins falls into this genre, as does Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Market although in this tale I have to say my interest is mainly in the various styles of illustration. I never enjoyed Alice in Wonderland but I loved the Pooh books. I think even at an early age I wanted to enter another world, one with magic of one kind or another, without an omniscient narrator telling me what to think. In Alice, I felt there were too many moral judgements.

Then there are the fantasy worlds that have no real connection to our own. My all time favourite has to Lord of the Rings with its saga of Middle Earth, but I am rarely as thrilled by the other high fantasy ‘quests’ that publishers assure us will appeal to lovers of Tolkien. Some that are less well known but equally loved by those like me who have found them are series like Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and Felicia Davin’s The Gardener’s Handbook. The only TV shows I can think of in this category are Carnival Row (a Victorian-style society which treats fae from its conquered colonies badly) and The Dark Crystal, both Hensen’s original film and the recent ‘prequel’ series. I suppose I’d include the film versions of Pratchett’s Discworld, though not the Harry Potter films which belong in the urban fantasy genre. These pure fantasy books and shows create complete and complex worlds with huge histories and multiple characters. Here I think my liking stems from being able to view a totally different society and then return to my own with some new perspectives. In this one respect it is similar to my love of sci fi. I never want the creators to insist on a particular viewpoint or morality; I do want to ‘watch’ the behaviour of intelligent beings unconstrained by the limits of my own reality. I am more than capable of reaching my own conclusions.

I also, of course, simply like magical beings. I have always been intrigued by folk tales, adored Arthurian legend, and wanted there to be ‘more’ out there while at the same time not believing in it in the least. I don’t want my fairies twee, like Tinkerbell in Peter Pan (I never liked the book or the play) and I am not convinced by Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies though I learnt a lot of botany from her books. Fairies need to be capable of ‘passing’ as human, even in other worlds though I admit to liking stories like The Borrowers and The Carpet People. I want my werewolves to be complicated people rather than vicious beasts. I like seeing the results of other people’s wild imaginings, and I also love fantasy art. For instance I like the drawings of Arthur Rackham, and the modern paintings of Amy Brown and others.

I write fantasy. My own work falls into both ‘urban fantasy’ and ‘other world’ fantasy in different stories. Naturally, I read,.watch and enjoy a lot in what I think of as ‘my’ genre. Some writers may have influenced me though I think their main contribution has been to give me the confidence to write what I enjoy and share the results with others.

The photograph is of a metal unicorn that graces the grounds of a fascinating forge outside Leatherhead just south of London.