Five things – lockdown style

I liked this meme from a friend’s blog. Travel has not been easy for any of us this past year. Anybody who wants to play is more than welcome and I look forward to hearing about some of your own areas.

The header picture is a vastly photoshopped and cropped picture of the centre of Chester. I can’t find the original (taken by me) and had to wrestle with this version which I’d turned into an online birthday card…

1) What’s the furthest place you’ve traveled to in the last 12 months?
Dorset, which is on the south coast, from Manchester in the north west. We managed a week in a self catering cottage just before Manchester locked down again.

2) What’s the most interesting small town within driving distance?

I think Chester though I’m not sure it counts as small. (Think cathedral, mediaeval buildingings, Roman stuff, river). If it doesn’t count, then Buxton: Georgian spa town in the Peak District.

3) What’s the coolest tourist attraction in your city?
Depends on you! Roman stuff, canals, Gay Village, neo-gothic town hall, museums and art galleries including The Lowry and the Northern Imperial War Museum though I think they’re on the Salford side of the river. Still, Salford and Manchester are intertwined.

4) What was your favorite road trip you took as a kid?

We used to spend days getting from Newcastle upon Tyne down to Newport, Gwent, (to visit relatives) and we’d stay in various places like York and explore on the way.

5) How often do you feel like you’ve got to get away?

I used to feel desperate to get away when I was working full time. Now I just feel desperate for decent weather so that I can spend time in the garden.

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.

First post of three in an ‘interests’ meme

Some friends on Dreamwidth were ‘playing’ with a meme where if you answered a post they chose three of your interests for you to write about for them. I answered, and the friend who was finding interests discovered I’d only listed two very general ones, travel and writing. So they looked at my tags and chose the following:

Being Human

Politics

Fantasy

I’ll write about them in three separate posts. If I try to do very long blog posts I end up with less time for my fiction writing. I also end up with nothing to blog about another day!

Being Human was a very British TV series between 2010 and 2013 featuring a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf who became flatmates and attempted to live in the mundane world. I loved the concept of the three trying desperately to maintain a ‘human’ facade, and I thought the acting was extremely good. The scripts, in the first season especially, were excellent. Once the original three characters had been replaced because of various events, I lost interest in the storyline so I didn’t follow the series through all its seasons. I had talked about the series at some point so the tag (only used once) was still there. Let’s just stress that: once! A fleeting though genuine interest, abandoned some years ago but kept on file by my social media account.

I am not particularly interested in ghost stories though I have read some very good ones. Nor do I usually like vampires. I do, however, love werewolves and shifters of any kind. I will seek out shifter stories but will only read ghost and vampire tales if they’ve been specifically recommended by people whose general tastes I trust or share.

However, in the series, I really liked the way the ghost and vampire characters were explored, with the idea of ghosts being unable to move on into the light until they had dealt with unresolved issues, and the way vampires coped with age, the need for blood and vampire politics. I also liked the interactions between the different types of paranormal beings.

I have to admit I would watch Aidan Turner in almost anything – though I didn’t watch Poldark since I didn’t like the books. In Being Human he made a very attractive vampire.

I loved the werewolves, particularly the way Russell Tovey’s main werewolf character tried so hard to be ‘good’ and not hurt anyone. He was so invested in ‘being human’.

In my own writing (in my Living Fae series) I have a werewolf character who interacts with the fae and is not in the least bit dangerous to those he cares about though he is fierce when dealing with anything that threatens his extended family. He tries, quite hard at times, to ‘be human’, or perhaps to be fae.

For anyone else who loves shifter stories I can recommend Eli Easton’s Howl at the Moon series which features the town of Mad Creek where many of the inhabitants live a double life as dog shifters.

Can you cook?

A friend on Facebook asked if people could cook and gave a quiz. It’s a little US-centric so some of my answers show my Brit perspective. I love cooking – I hate having to plan a meal every day, but the actual preparation is fine. Anyway, on to the questions:

HAVE YOU EVER?

1. Made biscuits from scratch? Yes Both Brit biscuits (UScookies) and US biscuits (Brit scones)

2. Fried fresh okra? No. Not too much fresh okra here. I’ve had it but I think it was steamed.

3.Made sourdough bread? No – don’t like it much. I’d rather have multi-grain types.

4. Fried chicken? Yes although I prefer to roast it.

5. Made spaghetti sauce from scratch? Yes, Every time I make sauce it’s from scratch

6. Made any kind of yeast bread? Yes. Nowadays I have a bread machine and experiment with stuff (I can’t cope with too much kneading) but I’ve recently made Irish soda bread, banana bread, and pizza base from scratch.

7. Baked a cake from scratch? Yes.

8. Made icing from scratch? Yes – butter icing, frosting, royal icing…

9. Cooked a pot roast with all the veggies? Yes. I have a slow cooker, a tagine, a domed enamel roaster, etc. etc.

10. Made chili from scratch? Yes, but I go easy on the chili. Too much and I can’t taste anything else.

11. Made a meatloaf? Yes though rarely because it isn’t our favourite.

12. Made scalloped potatoes? Yes

13. Made mac/cheese from scratch? Yes. I don’t like the tinned or shop made kind.

14. Made a jello salad? I assume this is an aspic salad. Don’t like it much but have made jellied beetroot which is nice.

15. Made peanut brittle? Don’t like it so no.

16. Made fudge? Yes but it was a failure.

17. Made cookies from scratch? Yes see #1

18. Cooked a pot of beans from dried beans? Yes

19. Cooked a pot of greens? Yes

20. Made cornbread? Not sure what cornbread is.

21. Make a pie dough from scratch? Yes. Not always because I’m lazy.

22. Cooked a whole turkey? Yes but not often because I prefer chicken or duck.

23. Snapped green beans and cooked them? Yes. We grow our own.

24. Made mashed potatoes from scratch? Yes

25. What’s the most people you have prepared a whole meal for? 12 but I had help. Also, party buffet for far more.

26. Poached an egg? Yes

27. Made pancakes from scratch? Yes, always, but Brit pancakes, not US ones. I think theirs are what we call drop scones and if so I have made those too.

28. Roasted vegetables in the oven instead of boiling them? Yes, frequently and I never boil them, I steam them.

29. Made fresh pasta? No – don’t see the point. I can’t tell the difference in taste.

30. Made croissants from scratch? No, not keen on croissants and they’re cheap.

31. Made tuna salad? Yes – had it last night, in fact

32. Fried fish? Yes – I usually make my own breadcrumbs and fry with those and egg, but sometimes I bake fish in the oven (in foil) with herbs and/or e.g. chili dipping sauce.

33. Made baked beans? No though I know you can. But there are more interesting things to do with beans.

34. Made ice cream from scratch? Yes. Most recently, one with yoghurt and juice from our red currants. I have the kind of ice cream maker you have to freeze in advance but as a child I recall stirring the mixture in a cold double pan, with salt.

35. Made jam or jelly? Yes. I like using the microwave and making small quantities.

36. Zested an orange or lemon? Yes. I seem to have at least three zesters in the small equipment drawer.

37. Made grits from scratch? What are grits?

38. Made an omelet? Yes, regularly, but we spell it omelette

39. Lived in a house without a dishwasher? Yes, growing up, and when I was first married.

40. Eaten a bowl of cereal for supper? No – prefer it for breakfast!

The photograph shows our Christmas dinner 25th December 2020.

Roast chicken

Pigs in blankets (bought ready to cook)

Roast potatoes

Roast parsnips (bought ready to cook)

Sprouts (steamed)

Bread sauce

Cranberry sauce with port

Sage and onion stuffing (added extra onion to packet mix)

Red cabbage salad

Gravy (bought ready to heat)

The things bought ready to cook were all things I can cook, and have done in the past. The choice of ready items was just dictated by time, oven and stove top space, and pans. I should probably add that our dishwasher chose Christmas to die so the pan situation was crucial. The problem with a dinner that includes a lot of ‘trimmings’ or side dishes is getting everything ready, hot and fresh, to serve at the same times. I managed it, but only by judicious choice of ready-made ingredients.

The Four Places Meme

Once upon a time, DJ Jamison posted this meme on FB and I finally got round to playing! Only about a year late. I can’t find my UK photographs. I’ve hidden them so safely in the cloud that they’re inaccessible. So I’ve used a montage of Manchester (where I currently live) from the internet.

Four places I’ve Lived
1. Newcastle upon Tyne (UK)
2. Ilford, Greater London (UK)
3. Greater Manchester (UK)

4. Oliveira do Hospital (Portugal) – and no, I have no idea why Word and WordPress insist on a line space.

Four places I’ve worked:
1. Birmingham (North Birmingham Poly)
2. Durham College of FE
3. Tameside Multicultural Support Service (Greater Manchester) 
4. Redbridge Language Centre (Ilford)

Four things I love to watch on TV:
1. Spiral (French cops and lawyers drama)/Line of Duty
2. Scandinavian detective dramas 
3. BBC Parliament 
4. Grand Designs

Four places I’d LOVE to visit (but haven’t yet):
1.China (especially those spiked mountains)
2. Greece
3. Southern Poland (Krakow and area)
4. Japan

Four things I love to eat:
1. Chocolate (especially with salted caramel added)
2. Brie (and yes, I eat the white mould)
3. Avocados
4. Pasta

Four things I like to drink:
1. Coffee (espresso)
2. Ginger beer (with or without alcohol added)
3. Fruit tea (no strawberry, please, because I’m allergic)
4. White Port (chilled)