Monday, 25 May 2015

Monster Mondays - The Hound of the Baskervilles

If you want to share your own monster monday, pop on over here and put your post on the list.

The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first Sherlock Holmes story I ever heard of, because I watched the 1983 adaptation with Martin Shaw as Sir Henry Baskerville and Ian Richardson as Sherlock Holmes. The idea of a monstrous dog roaming the moor scared me as a child, and even if Holmes solves the mystery of the Baskerville's personal monster, there are many more versions of big black hounds haunting the English countryside, and seeing them is almost always a portent of doom.

Black Shuck is East Anglia's demon dog. He is said to have large, red eyes and a slathering jaw. Teeth that can rip a person to pieces, and yet, it is nearly always the sight of the dog that means death, not it's ghostly bite. Can you imagine riding over the low-lying country in the dead of night before our towns and cities lit the night sky with their polluting glow. Complete blackness, just you, your horse (if you had one), and the sound of the wild night around you. Is it surprising then that our ancestors saw this strange, otherworldly creature, stalking them through the dark hours, heralding ill luck?

I've borrowed this fabulous image from KillerShandy on Deviant Art

In the North, such a creature is called a Barguest/guist and Padfoot. And the Yeth Hound of Devon is supposed to be the spirit of an unbaptised child. They are creatures of pain and fear, and they are a great tale to share around a pub fire on a stormy night ;P.

Omens of doom come in all shapes and sizes, and from all cultures, do you have a favourite one?

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Monday, 18 May 2015

Monster Mondays - Jack The Ripper

Jack The Ripper, who terrorised London in 1888, is probably the most famous serial killer of all time, and the main reason - because no-on knows who he was. There's nothing so obsessive for the public imagination as a mystery of a killer who struck brutally and repeatedly for a 3 month period and then completely disappeared.

Jack the Ripper killed 5 women (some say more), all of them in the smoggy, dark streets of London. What caught the interest of the public was the fact that Jack mutilated his victims, the worst being the last officially attributed to him, Mary Jane Kelly, who was found in her room, her throat slashed so badly she was nearly decapitated, her body cut open and her heart and most of her other organs removed.

This monster was guilty of some truly horrendous crimes, although, compared to other serial killers, his kills were few and his time brief. It is the mystique that grew up around him that has led to his longevity. Was he a rich man, possibly a prince? Was he a poor tradesman? Did he really cut up his victim's with a doctor's skill, or was it more that of a butcher? Was there a conspiracy to protect the wealthiest in the land, or was it just bad luck that Jack was never caught?

We'll never know the answers to these questions. Even when DNA apparently narrowed down the identity to a polish immigrant barber, the results have been called into question, because it is too long ago. Time has washed away any proof that might once have been there to name the man behind the monster. And that is why there will always be another theory, another book, another TV programme claiming to have found Jack The Ripper. The mystery is now eternal.

Why do you think the public is so interested in serial killers?

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Monday, 11 May 2015

Monster Mondays - Parasitic Aliens

Last week, I chose to talk about a human monster, Obadiah Slope, a character from Trollope that I love to hate, but this week, I'm going to talk about a subset of monsters that give me the creeps, and, when I was a child, scared me an awful lot: alien parasites.

The first of these type of monsters I ever came across was in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a 1956 horror movie in which the residents of a small town begin acting strangely one by one, losing their emotions. Along with this, strange pods are appearing, and eventually, the local doctor begins to work out a connection between the strange behaviour and the pods. The townsfolk are being replaced by alien pod people. The pods are left under their beds and the pod person absorbs them, becoming them. It's this idea that truly horrified me as a child, and I spent the next few years looking under my bed every night, not like most kids, for the boogie man, but for a pod! ;P

Pod people scared me when I was a kid, but there's another version of this alien parasite that still gives me the creeps as an adult, and I can't watch the movie all the way through - that is The Thing. Scientists in the Antarctic are confronted by an alien that assumes the shape of those it kills. This sounds so unimposing written down, but on screen, as the creature absorbs the bodies of those it kills and can even split itself up so that at one point what had once been someone's head sprouts legs and heads off like a spider, makes my stomach churn, and not just from how gruesome the spectacle is. It makes me shudder just thinking about it.

And I don't think these kinds of science fiction parasites would be nearly so scary if it wasn't for the fact they exist in real life. Parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside caterpillars and they are consumed from the inside out. There are also parasites that take control of their hosts. A wasp again, lays its egg on a spider, this time on the outside of the spider's abdomen. The spider continues its life for a few weeks with the larva attached, apparently unaware it is being drained of its equivalent of blood. Yet, this isn't the worst part. Once the larva is full grown, it needs to pupate, and it wants a strong, safe place to do this. However, a spider's web isn't all that strong, so it injects a chemical into the spider which causes it to alter its behaviour, spinning a tough little web that is perfect for the pupating larva. The spider then just sits in the centre of the web, allowing the larva to kill it and consume everything before the larva then pupates. ::shudder::

So, you see, nature can beat science fiction for scares, hands down!

What monsters give you the skin-crawling creeps?

For more information about Sophie's books, sign up for The Wittegen Press Newsletter:

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We will also give you 2 FREE ebooks just for signing up.

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Friday, 8 May 2015

Guest Post: Interview with Samie Sands Author of Lockdown and Forgotten, The AM13 Series

Today, I am welcoming author Samie Sands, who has agreed to answer some questions about herself and her books. So, without further ado, onwards to the interview! P.S. Samie is also running a competition, read on down to find out more.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Until a few years back, I was a graphic designer, but I’ve always wanted to try writing, so as soon as the idea for Lockdown came into my mind, I gave it a go.

I have a degree in Media Studies and PR and currently live in a small seaside town in the UK with my family. I love to travel to gain inspiration from different places and other cultures.

Tell us about your book(s).

Lockdown is the first book in the AM13 series, and Forgotten is the sequel. I am currently working on the third and final book. They’ve been published by Triplicity Publishing.

The books are based in the zombie apocalypse, but they aren’t your traditional gore and action novels, they have a much more feminine touch to them. The characters in the books aren’t equipped for this world – they aren’t in the military, they don’t have medical knowledge – they are just your average person who has to survive.

Do you have a favourite character from your book(s)? Why?

Leah is the main character from Lockdown and I spent a lot of time with her, trying to get her right. I wanted her to be flawed, normal, easy to relate to and from the feedback I’ve received, it seems I got it right!

What's easier for you, action, or dialogue, or description? 

I actually find writing thought easier, which is why all of my books are from the first person perspective. I think you can really express how someone is feeling this way – particularly when it’s inner turmoil.

What is your favourite genre and why?

My favourite genre to write is horror because it’s a lot of fun to develop characters due to the horrific, life changing situations facing them. However my favourite genres to read are rom-com and dystopian fiction.

If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be?


Do you have any odd (writing) habits?

I write at odd times. Sometimes I’ll wake up at 2am with an idea that I just have to get down at that moment. It’s annoying because then I’ll be exhausted the next day!

What's your favourite colour, why?

Yellow because it’s bright and happy. You can never be miserable when wearing yellow!



Samie Sands

Leah's practical joke has spiralled way out of control. Now everyone seems convinced that the apocalypse is coming - in the form of zombies. The government is calling the virus AM13, and is advising – or more like forcing - everyone to stay indoors while they 'clean up the mess'. Leah tries to persuade everyone that it was all just a horrible mistake, however she starts to see there may be more truth to it all than she first thought.



Samie Sands

The Lockdown has failed. The AM13 virus is spreading out of control and there doesn’t seem to be any way of stopping it. The Government announces its new plan—a sanctuary in an area completely untouched by the infected—as long as you can get there unscathed of course...


Book Samples:

About Samie Sands:
'Lockdown' - the first book in the AM13 series - is Samie Sand's first novel. That and the sequel 'Forgotten' have been published by Triplicity Publishing. She is currently working on the 3rd and final installment.

Aside from her novels, she has had a number of articles published in e-zines including one of the most popular pieces in Zombie Guide Magazine. Samie has also had a number of short stories published in a wide range of very successful anthologies.

Samie has a degree in Media Studies and currently resides in a small seaside town in the UK. She loves to travel to gain inspiration from new places and different cutures. To find out more about her, check out


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 4 May 2015

A to Z Emotional Reflections 2015

So, the A to Z Blogging Challenge is over - congratulations to those who got through the entire month, it was fun, but exhausting, wasn't it :).

For those wondering what I'm blathering on about, the A to Z Challenge is a blogging challenge whereby anyone mad enough signs up to blog every day for the month of April (except Sundays), and each blog post is inspired by a letter of the alphabet.

This is my 3rd year doing the A to Z, and it is always great fun. It's hard work preparing the posts, and a lot of effort goes in to visiting other folks' blogs, making friends and joining in the main part of the challenge in April.

There are two things, I think, that helped me this year: preparation and a theme. I had three blogs in the challenge, this one, which is my personal blog, Fantasy Boys XXX, and Wittegen Press, both of which I run with my sister, Tasha, and each of them had their own theme. I and Tash actually started discussing the A to Z in February (yes, that is how much prep goes into the marathon that is April A to Z). We decided on our themes, and we started making lists of words and ideas that went with those themes. On the sites that we shared, we them divvied up the posts so we had half each to work on.

Once the themes and post titles were in place, then we started designing banners and formats for each theme which would draw each post together and give them a common identity, and created the skeleton posts. These skeleton posts gave us permalinks we could put into the Theme Reveal posts in March. I also designed the emoticons that I used in my posts, since I wanted them to be unique and fit with the colour scheme.

Only then did I start writing my posts and I spent the end of Feb and all of March dipping in and out of them, because I have a day job and only so much time to work on the posts. That meant, that when April came around, I only had to concentrate on visiting other blogs and answering comments on my own, which took me about two hours a day.

Lesson Learned: with three blogs each (four between us in total), I think Tash and I could have done a better job of making sure the daily load for each of us was more even. Some days, I'd have all three blogs to respond to as my posts all came up on the same day, and other days, only my personal blog, because Tash had the other two common blog posts. If we'd been more organised we could have made sure that we had opposite days on Wittegen Press and Fantasy Boys XXX.

Blogs I visited and enjoyed (in no particular order). I'm sure there are some people I've missed out, because even though I kept a list, I wasn't perfect, especially towards the end - just know that if I left you a message on one or more of your posts, I liked your blog, thank you for making my April unusual and entertaining :). There was such a wealth of different subjects this year. I learnt about Cornwall, I read lots of wonderful flash fiction, I learnt about beads and what an obsession they can be, and those are just a few of the subjects, along with disasters and photo-thoughts and music and many more.

Well done to everyone who took part. 
Thank you to all the teams of supporters and organisers. 
See you again next year!

Monster Mondays - Mr Obadiah Slope

My sis, Tasha, has decided that Mondays should belong to Monsters, whether that is talking about our favourites, drawing them, writing fiction about them, or even inventing them. And, in that vein, I thought I'd join in her new venture, Monster Mondays :). If you want to join in too, then just click on the banner and head to Tasha's blog to add you post.

So, for my first Monster Monday post, I am going to introduce you to a human monster, someone who has made themselves a monster by being the most odious man in Anthony Trollope's Barchester, Mr Obadiah Slope.

Mr Slope arrives in sleepy Barchester as chaplain to the new Bishop, Proudie. He is young and full of zealous ideas, which upsets the stalwarts of Barchester's clergy - he is a cat among the proverbial pigeons. However, what sets him apart from other young men of God is his utter self-serving ambition. Mr Slope is the slimiest, most callous, manipulative toad I have ever had the joy to read, and he is also played to perfection by a young Alan Rickman in the BBC's 1982 adaptation, The Barchester Chronicles.

Mr Slope (whose name is best pronounced by Geraldine McEwan, who played Mrs Proudie, with a long drawn out 'sl', a disdainful 'oh' and a precise 'p!', sl - oh -p! :) ) conducts himself as if he speaks for the bishop in all things. He stirs feelings, he lauds his position, and he is not afraid to ruin others' lives if he thinks it will further his own position. And, worst of all, he sets his conniving cap at Mrs Eleanor Bold, young widow of Barchester and beloved daughter of Mr Harding, a soft-hearted and dear, dear clergyman! Where will his loathsomeness end? Will the lovely young widow, whose income is all the scheming chaplain is after, fall for Slope's wiles? You'll have to read, or watch Barchester Towers to find out! ;P

Tell me about an odious character you love to hate.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Mature Cheddar & Caramelised Onion Swirl Bread Recipe (This is heaven on a plate!)

I've been keeping myself busy this weekend, and one of the things I've been doing is baking. A friend, Paul, gave me this recipe for mature cheddar cheese and caramelised onion bread, and it is about the tastiest bread I have ever eaten :). So, I thought I'd share how to make it.


Bread Mix:
500g Strong Bread Flour
2 tsp Salt
12g Fast Acting Dried Yeast (approx 2 sachets)
40g Softened Butter
200ml Tepid Water (approx - you may need a little more, or a little less)
Olive oil (for kneading and non-sticking)

200g Mature Cheddar
1 Red Onion
1 tsp of Balsamic Vinegar (the syrup is great)
1/2 tsp of Brown Sugar

A large mixing bowl
A jug for the water
Cling film (plastic wrap)
A tea towel
Baking Tray x2
Baking Parchment if the tray is not silicon.
A knife
A rolling pin


Combing the Dough:
Place the flour, salt and yeast into a bowl, ensuring the yeast and salt do not touch before mixing (the salt will kill the yeast). Break the butter into small knobs and drop into the dry ingredients, mixing them all up with your hands until everything is distributed through the flour evenly. Then begin adding the water a little at a time, combining all the ingredients into a soft, but not sticky dough. If you add a little too much water, just add a smidgen more flour.

Kneading the Dough:
Once the dough is formed, spread a teaspoon of olive oil on your kneading surface with your hand, then take the dough and place it down on the surface. Fold it over and turn 45 degrees, repeat another three times so the dough is very lightly coated in the oil and then begin to knead the dough until the gluten has developed properly and you have a springy dough (about 5-10 mins). Of course, if you have a mixer with a dough hook, you can leave it to do your kneading for you (about 5 mins again). 

Prove #1:
Fold the edges of the dough under and pat it round with your hands to form a ball. Then oil your mixing bowl and place the dough into it. Oil a piece of cling film and place over the top of the bowl, sealing it. Place a tea towel over the top of this and then leave in a warm place for 1 hour (or until the dough has doubled in size, which can take slightly more, or less time depending on the warmth of your proving place). I turn my oven on low (60 degrees centigrade) and leave my bread dough in front of it with the door open.

Preparing The Filling:
While your dough is proving, chop your onion very finely. Place a teaspoon of olive oil into a frying pan over a low heat and add the onions. Sweat them down for 20 - 30 mins, until they are translucent and soft and their natural sugars have been released. Then add the balsamic vinegar and the brown sugar, stirring them in and cooking for another 5-10 minutes. Leave them to cool.

Grate the cheddar and put aside a little for garnish.

Shaping the Bread and Prove #2:
Once the dough has doubled in size, take it back to the kneading surface. Roll out the dough using your rolling pin, into a rectangle. The exact length is up to you, and will depend on the size of your baking tray, but finish rolling the dough with the longest side at right angles to you. Scatter the cheese and onion evenly over the rectangle. Then, beginning with the side nearest you, curl the dough over and roll it away from you until you have a bread swirl (like a swiss roll), finishing with the open edge underneath the bread. Turn each end under and lift the bread onto your baking sheet. Cover with the cling film and the tea towel and put back into your warm place to prove for another hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Baking the Bread:
Place an old baking tray at the bottom of your oven (I stand mine on a cooling rack) and preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade. 

Once your dough has doubled in size, remove the cling film and, taking a sharp knife, make shallow diagonal slices over the top of the bread. Then sprinkle on the cheese you kept aside for garnishing.

Pour cold water into the tray at the bottom of the oven (this generates steam and helps with the crust of the bread), and then place the bread into the oven. Cook for 30 minutes (or until golden). You can check the bread is done by lifting it and tapping the underside. if it sounds hollow, the bread is ready.

Serving Suggestion:
This bread is best served warm, but you can cool and then reheat, or even toast it later. Try it with a cheese board, or olive oil and balsamic vinegar dips for a great starter, or just a snack.

Yes, I know, I had a bit of an air gap in my swirl
- that's because I didn't let the onions cool down!
The bread still tasted fantastic though :)
Mixing It Up

I used a standard white bread recipe for the dough, but, as they say, variety is the spice of life, and the strong flavours from the cheese and onion, I think, could take a different type of dough, rye, or spelt. Also, you don't have to caramelise the onion first if you don't want to, just make sure it is finely chopped. And, if you don't like cheddar, why not try a different cheese, or another filling, I might try garlic and herb soon.

If you do try out this recipe, or tweak it, I'd love to hear about your results.