Saturday, January 29, 2011

No Fear!

Just by accident I stumbled on the No Fear blogfest, by Dominic at Writes of Passage.

The task is to post a passage in which your MC (or your favourite fictional character) shows their bravery. It might be in the face of physical danger, or peer pressure or personal sacrifice. It might be epic bravery or bravery that goes unnoticed by anyone but us, your devoted readers.

This sounded like fun, but as time is short, this is going to be a bit of a shot in the dark. The passage that came to mind is from my current WIP, where assassin Shayla Carver faces her nemesis, who also happens to be her mother. The bravery comes in with the act of mercy she must make when things go pear-shaped.

I haven't reviewed this passage for over a year and I suspect it needs tidying up, but here goes...

The beam lit the room, almost blinding Shayla. With a jolt she understood the sacrifice Finn had just made. She fired, aiming more from memory than anything else, but her aim was true.

Jasmina shrieked, a sound choked off as paralysis gripped her. Her eyes widened and her face contorted in agony.

"Nacrolin," Shayla snarled. "This dart I had reserved first for the Emperor, then for Ivan. It has now found a more fitting mark."

She glanced at Finn. Lifeless eyes stared back at her from where he lay.

She turned her attention back to her mother, sinking slowly to the floor, hands scrabbling feebly at her chest. "The dose was set to give at least a day of unbearable torment before the release of death."

Shayla stepped forwards, face close to her mother's. "You know well what this poison does. The pain will grow, hour by hour, as your nervous system disintegrates. There is no hope for you, save that someone might show mercy and finish it more quickly."

Jasmina's hand flashed in an arc past Shayla, inches from her face. The movement caught Shayla by surprise. So quick was it that she leapt back only just in time.

Crap! Where did she get the willpower to move like that?

But that effort spent Jasmina's last reserves of resistance. She fell backwards, writhing slightly and moaning under her breath. She was fully in the grip of the poison now. Almost completely paralysed, submerged in her own private hell.

Heart thudding, Shayla noticed that someone else was screaming her name.

"Brandt!" She turned.

He gazed at her, eyes clouded with tears, face a rigid mask of pain and terror. In mounting horror, Shayla's eyes followed his right arm down to where his hand clutched his leg. She knelt, and carefully drew out the dart. The dart her mother had plucked from her chest and tried to scratch her with.

"Oh Brandt, I'm so sorry." Tears ran freely down Shayla's face.

"Shayla," he whispered, "what's happening to me?" He grimaced at the effort of speaking.

"It's a poison. Part of my armoury. One of the rarest and most feared." Her voice seemed to belong to someone else. Someone speaking from another room. Another world.

"There could only have been a tiny amount left on the needle. It will take longer to work. Longer to paralyse. Longer to kill."

But kill it inevitably will!

She nearly broke down, consumed by grief as the implications came real to her.

I must stay focussed. I must detach myself from my actions.

"The most frightening thing about nacrolin is that the tiniest dose is fatal. The smaller the dose, the longer and more agonising the death. And there is no antidote."

Shayla spoke gently, trying not to look at the gathering pain clouding her brother's eyes. She directed her actions on autopilot, trying not to think about what she was doing. Trying to defer judgement.

"I love you Brandt. Please forgive me." She cradled his head in one arm. His face lit briefly as the beam drilled his heart. Jasmina's pistol dropped from Shayla's hand and clattered to the floor as she hugged Brandt.

Her head arched backwards, sightless eyes gazed at the ceiling, her mouth hung open. A long howl pierced the air.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Liver pate

Yes, banner art is back again. Thank you Blogger techies!

Here's another little favourite treat that I like to make on a quiet weekend. It's also great to serve as a starter if you're throwing a dinner party, with toast, a few shreds of salad, and a dish of port & redcurrant sauce on the side.


4 oz butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 - 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 lb liver (whatever kind takes your fancy)
1/2 pint beef stock
Salt, black pepper, Italian seasoning to taste
Dash of cream

Note on quantities

This is another very forgiving recipe, good for seat-of-the-pants cooking. There's a lot of butter, which is what helps the pate set. If you end up with a bit too much or too little liquid, all that will happen is it will end up a bit on the soft or firm side. No real harm done. And you can deal with that by adjusting the simmering time to reduce to the right level.


Melt the butter in a large saucepan, and gently fry the onions until soft. As with most dishes that start with frying onions, I usually go for the long and slow approach. About 15 minutes in this case.

Add the garlic and liver, and fry until the liver changes colour.

Add the stock and seasoning, bring to the boil, and then cover and simmer for between 1 and 2 hours. Check on the pan occasionally and stir to make sure nothing sticks or burns.

The time is not too critical. The liver should be very well-cooked, enough to break apart easily with a wooden spoon, and the stock should be reduced to a sludgy oily soup. It won't look particularly appetising at this stage. Don't worry!

When the liquid is considerably reduced, take off the heat and leave to cool a little. You don't want it to cool completely, just enough so as not to curdle the cream.

Pour the contents of the pan into a blender and blend until smooth. Add the cream and blend again.

The results should be a very thick liquid. It should pour, but reluctantly, and there should be lots sticking to the sides of the blender that you'll want to scrape off. Don't add so much cream that it gets runny or it won't set properly.

Pour into a bowl, leave to cool, then refrigerate for a couple of hours to set.

Try not to eat it all at once, or you'll be sick!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Honey, I shrunk the header

Regular visitors may notice that my artwork is conspicuously absent from the header right now.

At the weekend, I thought it was about time for a change of view.

Loaded a new image.

Checked the results.

Checked own pulse after mild heart attack.

The picture was about half the size it should have been, sitting all lonely in a big brown background. It looked crap. I removed it and tried again. Same result. I decided maybe there was a problem with the image, so put back the old one. Still crap! Now I can't even get back to what I had before.

Went to the "report issues" link only to find that you can't actually report an issue to someone who cares. All you can do is bleat about it on a message board and hope someone will notice. Someone had already bleated about this problem. Several people, in fact. Well, I can take comfort from knowing that it's not my image that's the problem. Blogger has screwed something up somewhere.

Bad Blogger!

So, until they put right whatever they screwed up, my header is pictureless. For now I've added the image I wanted to use to the Words and pictures tab.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The floppiness of time

Is it only two weeks since I posted something about progress, and regaining some sort of control in my life?

It feels so much longer ago.

I get that a lot these days...thinking back to something that seems ages ago, and realising that it was only a matter of days.

So (before I get on with the point of this post) how's it going? Well, a cautious "so far so good". I do seem, by and large, to be getting on with things I choose to. I've certainly succeeded in limiting my online networking, as you can tell by the reduced frequency of posts and comments. Sometimes I don't even think about my blog for days on end. I do wonder, though, just how much of a good thing that is, because this is a great community to be part of.

But my thoughts two weeks ago seemed to have struck a chord, and many people are talking about how little time they have these days. Here we are, in the twenty-first century, all wired in and surrounded by labour-saving devices, and yet we seem to have less time than ever before.

These paradoxes (lack of time, and the mixed-up perception of time) prompted some thoughts about time itself. Here they are, utterly random and with no real structure...

Labour-saving devices aren't always labour-saving.

With all this technology around us, why do we seem to have so little time? Well, sometimes the technology is simply crap. We have dozens of computer systems at work. They can certainly speed up lots of tasks and convey vital information to where it needs to be, and keep track of things that would be laborious by hand. But we also have dozens of unconnected systems and invest huge amounts of time doing nothing more than keeping them fed, and passing information from one to another because they don't talk to each other gracefully.

And then, there are systems that are simply ill-conceived, that take more time to work than the work itself would have done. Grrr...

But sometimes you've just forgotten how it used to be.

Many years ago, in another life, bean-counting consultants were sniffing around my department on a mission to prove that we were an extravagant cost to the business.

Luckily, those were the days when there were still folks around who remembered life before computers, and were able to remind the bean counters of the armies of clerks who used to be needed to perform the most basic drudgery just to keep records straight. Now, a much slimmer and more expert workforce was delivering far superior customer service. If you only ever see the cost and effort of modern offices, you can easily forget the benefits that everyone now takes for granted. So a lot of systems have actually saved a lot of time, we just don't always recognise it.

Our expectations have changed, too. In the days when letters, reports, and essays had to be written out by hand, you spent all your time working out what you needed to say, and relatively little time actually saying it. Now, with all the glitzy tools available, you can easily spend ten times longer finding just the right font, tweaking the layout, adding graphics...

Then, there's the distractions of games and blogs and...focus!...where was I?

Do we really have less time than people elsewhen in history? In the rush of modern life, I ask myself how did they ever find the time to build the pyramids, or raise gothic cathedrals, all without the benefit of modern engineering? Well, I suggest that they worked long and hard and steadfastly. Bloody hard, in fact. The simple answer is that they didn't know what "free time" was.

So for us to complain about having no time these days is actually bunkum. We do have time, we just maybe don't always choose to use it wisely.

Then, of course, Parkinson's Law kicks in and soon finds new uses for all the time we manage to save.

Then we come to that other paradox...
why does a week never seem like a week?

Well, I think people like to think of time as some sort of absolute and unchanging flow. It's not.

No, I'm not going to go all Einstein on you with deep physics. This is simple psychology.

I've come to realise that, alongside the tick of the clock, the steady (ignoring relativity for now) objective time, there are several other kinds of time that are all in the mind.

First, there is our perceived time. How fast does time seem to pass as we experience it? That varies. You know how an hour of history class can drag on for a lifetime, while a fun-filled vacation passes all too quickly? I think we see the passage of time differently depending on how engaged we are with whatever's going on around us. There's no mystery. The more fun we're having, the faster we perceive time flying by. Ain't that a bitch!

But then there's our personal historical time. For me, this is affected by how many distinct memories we lay down between one moment and another. If you've been super-busy and done a lot of different things in a day, it will feel like a long day, no matter how quickly you perceived it passing at the time.

And here is the answer to that paradox, because these two times work independently of each other. So, if you are going through a fun and eventful day, it will seem to pass quickly (perceived time), but when you look back (historical time) the start of the day will seem a long time ago.

And, of course, the opposite is true. When your life is in a rut, time seems to drag. But all of a sudden you are wondering where the year has gone and it only feels like a blink of an eye.

And isn't that a sad thing to have happen to you? It's your life, after all. You only get one shot at it. So you owe it to yourself to be as engaged as you can be in your own life, before it's gone.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

100 words

If anyone happens to be visiting from Elena Solodow's 100 words blogfest, my entry is starting to get buried under more recent posts so follow this link to save you scrolling down to unearth it.

More progress

Another little bit of progress to check off the list (I'm very much a lists person, by the way). The lanterns on the stern posts add some finishing detail to the pirate ship.

You can see I had a bit of sunshine to work in. In between showers. And I was working outside in t-shirt and shorts today, after we had snow earlier in the week. What a week of contrasts.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ghosts of blogfests past

I can tell that life is getting back to normal again.

We are back to Mayhem Monday, and another world-famous Botanist curry is doing its hubble-bubble-toil-and-trouble thing on top of the stove.

But in between various kitchen-ey things I wanted to find time to share this.

I can't believe it's only three weeks since I took part in Jen and Melissa's Be Jolly By Golly blogfest. Follow link here to my post, which links back to the owners' blogs and all the other entrants.

We have actually used two of the recipe suggestions now. First off, the frozen cranberry ice cubes (sorry, I can't now find who suggested that) went a treat at Christmas in our celebration fizz.

Then yesterday, I dug out L'Aussie's toblerone cheesecake recipe. I decided the recipe looked simple enough even for me, but I only got as far as the base before Ali pitched in and carried on with the topping. Probably just as well. I deal with a lot of the savoury specialities, but Ali is the undisputed pastry chef and dessert queen.

We then had a tough time for the rest of the day defending the fruits of our labours from marauding fingers until after dinner.

So, let's ask our tasting panel what they thought of it...

Yep. I think that is two cheesy grins and one big thumbs up!

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Life in the new year is slowly settling back to normal. Ali's parents made it safely back to the UK after an unfortunate delay in Paris, courtesy of bumbling Air France staff, the kids are back to school, and things are picking up again at work after weeks of blissful quiet.

I'm maintaining a determined optimism about retaining control and focus in my life, both at work and at home, and am looking forward to making progress on several fronts. To that end, I need to rein in social networking a bit, so blog posts and visits will likely be slightly sparser than last year.

I'm in the middle of a few weeks of intensive preparation and critiquing, as the first big chunk of Ghosts of Innocence goes through the wringer.

I've had lots of encouraging feedback overall, which is good, but also a couple of common themes in serious need of work. The main points are: connecting better with the main characters, and improving pacing/tension in some of the sections. After the intensive work I put into chapter one last summer I know this will be a long haul, but I also know it will be worth it. These points, so early on in the story, would be more than enough to discourage agents from reading further.

Once the submissions I've now queued up have made their way through the queue, I'm going to take a break from the critique queue to give me time to work through the feedback. Then it will be on to round two.

Meanwhile, there's still plenty to sort out on the pirate ship. I've added another tab up in the heading to track that project, which I'll update from time to time.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

100 words

Here we are in January, typically a time when people announce resolutions or goals for the year, which I am not going to do because I don't believe in resolutions and I regard goals as double-edged swords, great for motivation when used at the right time and for the right reasons, but more often tyrants that turn pleasant tasks into chores, so instead I am posting my entry to Elena Solodow's 100 word blogfest, a sentence based on a key transition in Ghosts of Innocence, where Shayla completes the first part of her journey and embarks on the next.

The Vantist Temple at Hawflun is a revered holy site, a destination for pilgrims from all over the planet, which makes it an ideal place for Shayla Carver, master assassin hell bent on revenge for the destruction of her home world, to murder and assume the identity of a civil servant from the Provinces who is paying her religious devotions before taking up a prominent role in the Imperial hierarchy in the capital city, because the normally stringent Imperial security is unusually inattentive at Hawflun, being corrupt, superstitious, and fearful of upsetting such a powerful body as the Vantist Church.

The rules of the blogfest are to write a single sentence of 100 words (with a 5 word margin). I've done my best to nail the 100 words exactly, and to make it a proper, grammatically correct, sentence. If you're observant, you'll notice that, just for fun, the introductory paragraph is also a 100 word sentence.

Please visit Elena's blog here to see the other entries.
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