Friday, 30 December 2011

2011 in the rearview mirror

My fave Eyecandy of 2011. Probably.

Blimey, I don't know about you, but 2011 seems to have shot past for me. No word of a lie, I still have a Xmas card from 2010 by the phone, which says "We must meet up again in 2011: ring this number and we'll sort out dinner sometime." And no, I never did get round to it. Bad Janine!  :-(

Anyway, here's the annual roundup...

Best movie? Not a bad year for the cinema at all - I saw 31 films and though there were a couple of disappointments, the quality of entertainment was pretty good overall. The ones I enjoyed most were...

127 Hours (I loved this film!)
Sucker Punch (which wins the prize for making me think most)

Best Music?  I have to confess that the CD I listened to most all year was The best of Simple Minds. And I like them more now than I did back in the '80s!
The new song that had me dancing in the (supermarket) aisles was this, rather bizarrely:

Best book?

Tales of Wonder by Jane Yolen. Somehow I managed to miss this completely when it first appeared in the 1980s, and now it's out of print. Found in a charity bookshop, and oh - what a find! I think her short story skills are incredible.

Best TV?

It has to be Spartacus - first Blood and Sand, then Gods of the Arena, which was even better. Loved it to bits. How could it be possible to have more fun in front of a television, eh?

2011 was also the Year of Fruit. Thanks to an incredibly early Spring here, and a summer of sun and showers, I managed to harvest wild plums, chequers, raspberries, blackberries and cob-nuts. An amazing bounty :-)

Here's hoping for a fruitful 2012 for all of us!
Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

He knows the score

I went to see Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People again this year - and LOOK!  IT'S ALAN MOORE!

I had a nerdgasm :-)

Monday, 26 December 2011

Eyecandy Monday

 "Ooh, I could just do with a bit of Xmas pudding now."

How are you, peeps? Survived Xmas okay then? We ate way past the limits of sanity, I'm afraid. Mango & nut roast, and asparagus loaf and all the trimmings ... followed by two puds.

Here's the recipe for Mr Ashbless' Annual Xmas Lime Pie, made on special request for Lucilla, who doesn't do other desserts. It is simple, yet wonderful:

  • 200g packet of ginger biscuits (ginger snaps?)
  • 50g butter
  • 500g marscapone cheese
  • 40g icing sugar
  • 2 limes
  1. Crush the ginger biscuits, using either a food processor, or extreme violence and a rolling pin. 
  2. Melt the butter and mix with the ginger crumbs, then press into the bottom of a flan dish to make a base. Mr Ashbless goes for a 24cm dish but you may prefer your pie deeper and narrower.
  3. Zest and juice the limes.
  4. Beat together lime zest and juice with the cheese and sifted icing sugar.  Spread over the ginger biscuit base.
  5. Chill for 30 mins.
  6. Decorate with grated chocolate. Or sugared white grapes. Or don't bother, just eat :-)

This is the only thing that the dogs never get to taste at Xmas, because there's never any left over.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Xmas!

Careful with those hot bulbs...!

Here's wishing every one of you a happy holiday period, with warmth and joy and peace, and a whole New Year to look forward to.

I'll leave you with that rarest of things - an Xmas song that's actually really good. It's by Chris Squire and Alan White of Yes and it's twenty years old - so how come I never heard it until yesterday?

Thursday, 22 December 2011


In Heart of Flame my hero, Rafiq, is based on the archetype character Sinbad, so I thought I'd post some eyecandy Sinbad pics from various movies. In the original stories from The One Thousand and One Nights, he's a merchant with a habit of getting shipwrecked and not making it home for years. In the film and TV interpretations he's rather more heroic and less incompetent. And he always gets the girl :-)

This picture shows Douglas Fairbanks Junior from the 1947 Sinbad the Sailor, in seriously dodgy technicolor. Hot Hero Rating: Ugh. Why did heroes in those days look so old? (He was 38 when this was made. He just looks like a bank manager in his fifties.) Monster rating: there aren't any in the movie.

Dale Robertson in 1955 movie Son of Sinbad (also called Sinbad, ahem). Hot Hero Rating: Um ...okay. Monster rating: none, still, and much of the content of this movie can be surmised by this shot of sidekick hero Vincent Price trying to free this young lady from her pointy-breasted harem outfit and even more unlikely shoes.

Woohooo! Sinbad leaves home! Ray Harryhausen hoves into view!

Kerwin Matthews in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). Hot Hero Rating: Um ... okay. Monsters: Yes! Giant two-headed rocs, an animated skeleton, a dragon and a cyclops!

The dragon and the cyclops fight! Oh, I'm in stop-motion heaven.

John Philip Law in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974). Hot Hero Rating: Yeah, pretty hot actually, although the medallions are getting insanely big by this point. Monsters: a cyclops/centaur, a giant animated statue of Kali, some other stuff but nobody remembers what, because we were all staring at CAROLINE MUNRO'S COSTUME:

Holy cow. My eyeballs have melted. Let's just sit here for a few moments...

Patrick Wayne in the 1977 Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. Hot Hero Rating: Oh good grief no, not with that hair. He's not even as hot as the Minoton, and he's only mechanical:

Phwor. Another nail in the coffin of my sexual conformity.
Monsters: under-used.

Zen Gesner in The Adventures of Sinbad (1996-8). Hot Hero Rating: Please, bring back Xena: warrior princess.

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003). Hot Hero Rating: Hell yes - despite the peculiar lack of underarm hair. And he's got Brad Pitt's voice! Monsters: Didn't notice anything but the Sirens, because I was too busy grousing that SINBAD IS SUDDENLY NOT ARABIC ANYMORE, IS HE? HE'S GREEK, EH? WHAT, WE'VE DECIDED TO PRETEND THE MIDDLE EAST NEVER EXISTED, JUST BECAUSE WE'VE INCONVENIENTLY GONE TO WAR THERE?

Manu Bennett in Sinbad and the Minotaur (2010). Hot Hero Rating: Look, it's Crixus from Spartacus! I've seen his willy! Monsters: It's not a minotaur, it's a bull. And I haven't watched this DVD because I saw the trailer and it looks crap.

Elliot Knight in this, due out from Sky TV in 2012, I believe. Hot Hero Rating: Looks interesting ... but why does he look so young?

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Heart of Flame - excerpt

Yes, it's out today! Heart of Flame is now available in a range of electronic formats (including Adobe and  Mobipocket/Kindle) from Samhain Publishing, for $3.85.

Am I happy? Yes I am! This is my first publication through Samhain, and it's also my first adventure-romance novel. Yes, that's right: it's not erotica. Which means, for those of you who are familiar with my other work, it's not wall-to-wall sex scenes. I mean, there is still quite a bit of sex, and that sex is hot, but there's also much more room for plot. And frantic running around the Middle East, trying to stay alive and get to the next bit of the plot. And monsters.  

There are many monsters. That makes me happy.

I wrote this book imagining how it would look if it were filmed in a good old-fashioned Thief of Baghdad style, with awesome Technicolor matte scenery, and stop-motion effects by Ray Harryhausen :-D

And yes, because it's one of my romances, the heroes and heroines get the stuffing kicked out of them on a regular basis. But it's rather more upbeat than The King's Viper, in case you were worrying!

So here's an excerpt from near the beginning of the book. Taqla the Sorceress has just fallen in with handsome merchant-traveller Rafiq, whilst wandering through the bazaar in Damascus. They get into a brawl with some of Rafiq's rivals and she helps him, before they flee together over the rooftops. The thing is, Taqla is in magical disguise as a man. Rafiq doesn't know who she really is, and can't be allowed to find out.

Nobody can ever be allowed to find out...

“Where—where now?” A glance told her that this was a big building they were on, square in form but hollowed around a central courtyard. There was no obvious stair down. And their pursuers had not given up. The head of their leader bobbed into view over the first roof.

Rafiq didn’t answer. He just went to the edge overlooking the central courtyard, squinted down, then turned and dropped to his belly and slid his legs over into the void. He hung there for a moment, lurched down until he was hanging by his hands, then disappeared from sight.

What? Taqla mouthed, aghast. Is this normal? she wanted to demand—Did every Dimashqan man take to scrambling over the rooftops like an ape at the slightest provocation? Was she just supposed to follow him?

She didn’t have much choice. Gritting her teeth, she did as Rafiq had done—and found, below the roofline,  complex decorative piercework in wood, which allowed her to swing down onto the upper-storey balcony below. She nearly pulled her arms from their sockets doing it, and she cursed her sheltered upbringing.

“Quick.” Rafiq signalled her into a doorway and they plunged into the building’s interior. The shuttered rooms were in darkness and filled with sagging baskets and dusty bales, the finely tiled walls not making up for the reek of rat urine. Taqla knew what was going on—there were many grand old houses like this in the city nowadays. When the seat of the caliphate was moved from Dimashq to Baghdad, many of the wealthiest families had abandoned the city, locking up their houses and leaving them to decay under the care of a lone watchman. Squatters had moved into some buildings, others were used as storage spaces or stables. This one looked and smelled like it was full of sheep’s fleeces all quietly rotting away in the gloom.

Voices and scuffling suggested their pursuers were not far behind. Rafiq drew his scimitar.

“No!” breathed Taqla warningly.

“No witnesses here,” he whispered. But he relented with a shrug and pushed her into the angle behind a cupboard door in a dark corner, backing in after her as the voices grew louder. It was almost pitch black, to Taqla’s discomfort, and a shelf dug into her spine. Worse, it was an extremely confined space. As Rafiq squeezed in after her with his scimitar held at the ready, his back pressed up against her chest, radiating heat. She could smell his skin and his sweat over the general miasma of dry rot, and it smelled good in a way she was not ready for—hauntingly, disconcertingly good. She could feel the movement of his muscles through his clothes and it made her own muscles quiver and clench. She shrank away desperately, trying to minimise contact, but it was too late, her panicked mental efforts were not enough. Even as they both held their breath and as footfalls echoed in the chamber outside, the spell of shaping cracked into a thousand pieces and the form of Zahir abd-Umar dissolved into her own. The pain in her ear vanished. Bones shortened. Male muscle softened to feminine curves. Her bare nipples pressed against his shirt and she felt them pucker and harden at the contact.

Taqla prayed that Rafiq wouldn't notice.

Copyright © 2011 Janine Ashbless

Another excerpt is available on the Samhain site too.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Eyecandy Monday

Ludwig Deutsch: A Palace Guard (1892)

Heart of Flame is published TOMORROW!
I'm ...scared ... but happy. Oh so happy! I want to give this book a big proud hug :-)

There will be a blog tour - two blog tours, in fact - but not yet. I'm not cluttering up your Xmas internet/headspace with my wittering on. That all kicks off in January once everyone is fed up of snow and turkey and gin, and they might be in the mood for sand and Turks and djinn.

In the meantime, there's the book itself ... and an excerpt on this blog tomorrow.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Sale! - Red Grow the Roses

Finally, finally, finally - I have signed the contract for my erotic vampire novel Red Grow the Roses. It's going to be published in 2012! I am so pleased I could bite someone!
(And no, I still can't tell you who with...)


Also this week - I finished the first draft of erotic fairy novel Named and Shamed. Woooohoooo!
I've got paranormals coming out my ears at the mo :-)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

When I was 44...

Heh heh.

Belated, of course, but I still wanted to do my traditional birthday round-up post. This is where I log all the things I did for the first time in the previous year, just to make sure I'm not sitting in a daze on my midde-aged arse.

So, when I was 44, for the first time...

  • I went to the Alps, and climbed about in the snow on really really high mountaintops, and walked inside a glacier.
  • I found out what snowblindness is like.
  • I bought a laundry basket. (My lack of a laundry basket was regarded by my mother as a sign of my wild bohemian eccentricity.)
  • One of my books  featured in a porn clip and I got a mention on the Maxim website, lol! ... thank you Jenny!
  • I smoked a clay pipe, and chewed coca leaves.
  • I rode in a red sports car with the top down (BMW Z4, I believe). (I'm no car-slut, but it's a pretty cool car. Sadly I disgraced myself by screaming "OH FUCK NO!!" as we overtook into oncoming traffic...)
  • I pogoed! It was at my first Big Country gig. I also saw Simple Minds and Hayseed Dixie, live, for the first time.
  • I met a whole slew of wonderful smutwriters at a public reading at Sh!

  • I went canyoning. Okay, so it was a small, English, canyon, but we did have to leap into icy rockpools.
  • I harvested chequers. Yum.
  • I went to Maelstrom, the LARP fest.
  • I played Call of Cthulhu via Skype. Go technology!
  • I had my official photo taken as part of a professional portfolio.
  • I went on a romance writing course, and it was excellent.
  • I got caught short on the motorway, and had to pull in on the hard shoulder and dive over the barrier and down a bank to pee. (This is not such a good sign.)
  • I got over my kissing phobia. With help ;-D
  • I went to Bologna in Italy - where I was also subject to my first attempted pickpocketing.
  • My first Ellora's Cave romantic novel, The King's Viper, came out.
  • I sold my romantic Arabian Nights adventure, Heart of Flame, to Samhain.
  • I tried a Hollywood wax. (It was the shock of my life when it grew back black, instead of ginger.)
  • I wrote an e-signature. (I'm left-handed. Weirdly, I have to fake my own signature with my right hand, when using a mouse to write.)
  • I filed an American tax form.
  • I had champagne (and only champagne) for lunch. (Result: terrible sunburn.)
  • I went to Peru! Where I went sand-boarding, walked in the Amazon jungle, and fed piranha. I saw wild condors and sea lions :-)

And I sold 5 short stories - down on last year, because I've been writing and editing novels instead. But not bad.
All other Firsts this year are filed under "Classified - restricted personnel only."
Looking forward to being 45!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Eyecandy Monday

I am too good at procrastination. Give me an internet connection and a long enough period of time, and I will move ... absolutely nothing.
I want to go back to my isolation cell :-(

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Card-carrying Samhain writer

Look - Samhain Publishing actually sent me a birthday card!

That is how you cultivate writer loyalty, you other publishers - not by planting horrendous tie-in clauses in your contracts.
Just saying.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Away with the fairies

8pm, and there I was still in pyjamas...
Note my cheery "Piss off, I'm writing" expression :-)

In 7 days I did 19,000 words. The longer it went on the easier it got, and the weaker grew my grip on reality. On my best day I managed 5,000 words!
Also, I broke my record on Tetris ;-)

So, basically, I have one chapter left to go on Named and Shamed. Wheeeeeee!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

In retreat

For my birthday treat, I'm getting a week in solitary confinement :-)

Well, not quite solitary (Mr Ashbless is allowed conjugal visits, at his own risk). But, a rented apartment far far from home. No dogs, no housework, no visitors, no shopping, and almost no Internet. If I can't get this novel nailed down in that time, there's something wrong with me.

I'll be back on the 9th December, assuming it's not actually possible to die from writing sex scenes.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Eyecandy Monday

I'm taking forever to wake up this morning. I could probably do with some coffee...

A shower would help...

But really, I just need to pull my finger out and write.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Ol' Man River

It's a beautiful song, but you sure shouldn't listen to it if you're feeling down, because it's really bleak. Existential despair for the musical-going audience.

Luckily for me, I'm having a happy week, so I can listen all I like :-)

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Wielding the sword on Heart of Flame

It doesn't mean anything. It's not an official review, and it'll never appear on any public romance site. But my editor at Samhain passed on this note from the Final Line Editor, about Heart of Flame, during prep for publication:

"Fantastic storyline. The world-building and mythos were extremely well done. The pattern of the writing was flowing and in keeping with the storyline. One of the most unique ebooks I’ve had the privilege to not only work with but read."

Which made me happy!

In case you're interested in the nitty-gritty of the editing process...
At each stage I have to read through and okay the changes. We've been through 4 stages in the last month, speeding up as we went along, until it's been a gallop over the last week:

  • 1st edit: Switching UK punctuation to USA (' to "). Dedicated editor checks word choice and continuity, suggests clarifications for meaning or plot. A million semicolons die a bloody death. Commas disappear from before "then" and reappear before "and". Much muttering from the author about "crazy American punctuation."
  • 2nd edit: Same again, but more stringent. Second round of spelling conversion - I had a lot of "honour"s and "colour"s that needed their "U"s culling."Caliph" and "Amir" lose their capitals.
  • Final Line Edit: New, specialist editor, mostly checking punctuation and fiddly technical stuff like margins and spacing, I think. Lots of "try ands" converted to "try to"s.
  • ARC edit: This is to check that the text, which has now been re-formatted into an e-version, hasn't had any lines deleted or transposed by digital formatting. No, I don't know what "ARC" means! At this stage you can correct typos and mistakes, but no further tweaks of the text.
I'm knocked out by the high standards demanded by this e-publisher. The book has been polished to within an inch of its life ;-) And yes - I now have the final PDF version in my (virtual) hands!

Oh - and what did my lovely and incredibly hard-working editor think of the novel?

"You must be so incredibly proud of this story – the world building, the characters, two love stories running simultaneously, and not a single flat spot in 93K. It is quite simply amazing!"

Yeah .. I think I am proud. Exhausted and a bit shell-shocked too, but happy. Samhain rocks.

Heart of Flame out 20th December 2011 from Samhain as an e-book
6th November 2012 in paperback

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

USA Today

HOLY COW!! I couldn't wait untill Wednesday to post this!
My e-novel The King's Viper has had a great big mention (with picture!) in USA Today!

Raelene Gorlinsky, publisher at Ellora's Cave, says:
"The first and last chapters, which frame the story, sold me on the whole book when the author submitted it. It's a dark, angsty story. The hero starts out not very likable or admirable, but the reader comes to learn about him and his life as the heroine does so, and by the last chapter you'll love this tortured, honorable, loyal man."

Sunday, 20 November 2011

TftD: Strong

I've just written a (future) post snippet on balancing strong female and male characters, and I was reminded of this. Go Joss!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Homework crisis

Heart of Flame is out on the 20th December, and Samhain prodded me till I squealed and agreed to do a blog tour for publicity purposes. In fact I'm doing two, in parallel. But not starting on 20th December - who the heck is on t'internet trawling for books over the holiday period? It all kicks off in the New Year.

This one is being organised by Goddess Fish, who - thank goodness - know what they're doing far better than I.

Of course I have to write all the posts (topics set by the hosts) well in advance and get them in ASAP. Which leaves me in the peculiar position of writing a post about my New Year Resolutions in November! It's like being back at school again and trying to get my homework in for all these subjects at once...

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Witch Wednesday ... part 2

John William Waterhouse: Jason and Medea (1907)

So here we are for a second week with Victorian and Edwardian witch paintings.
Having paid our respects to Circe, we're still with Greek mythology for the moment, but looking at an even scarier witch. Medea was actually Circe's niece, a priestess of the underworld/witchcraft goddess Hecate, and daughter of the king of Colchis (now Georgia). When Jason and the Argonauts arrived at her father's palace in search of the Golden Fleece, Medea fell in love and agreed to help him.

Anthony Frederick Sandys: Medea (1868)

She brewed up a sleeping potion to defeat the dragon that guarded the Fleece. What I like about this particular picture (which has some great magical detail, like the toad with the stone in its forehead, and the circle of red thread) is the sense of premonition - the look on Medea's face suggesting she sees the dark events ahead. The bright necklace suggesting blood.

Herbert Draper: The Golden Fleece (1904)

Fleeing with the stolen Fleece, the Argonauts are pursued by Medea's father. To slow him down, she kills her younger brother - in some versions she hacks him to pieces as they will take longer to retrieve - and dumps the body overboard, knowing that the king will have to stop and give the corpse a proper funeral.

Medea is brick-hard. To the Victorian artist she epitomises woman as terrifying, psychotic and ruthlessly possessive,

Alphonse Mucha: Medee (1898)

This is an episode from nearer the end of Medea's story, as depicted on a theatrical poster. It's Art Nouveau style rather than Pre-Raphaelite. Medea finds that Jason has deserted her for an advantageous marriage to a princess. So she kills both their children as an act of revenge, and flies off in a chariot drawn by dragons. I've got a full-sized repro of this poster on my stairs at home!

Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898): The Beguiling of Merlin

Moving on from Greek myth to Arthurian legend, the witch Nimue comes a bit of light relief, relatively speaking. She seduces the wizard Merlin, learns his magic, and uses his own spells to bind him forever into a tree. I used to love this picture (I think Merlin looks hot!) until I realised how distorted are the proportions of Nimue's body. Sadly, I can't stop noticing that now and I find it just too irritating to look at :-(

I used this legend as a central plot device in my novel Wildwood.

Anthony Frederick Sandys: Morgan le Fay (1864)

This is Morgan le Fay, another Arthurian witch: Arthur's antagonistic half-sister and the mother of Mordred, who kills him. Blimey, standards of behaviour in the Good Old Days...

Take a look at the embroidery on her overdress. Those are genuine Pictish symbols copied from standing stones in Scotland. I presume the artist used antiquarian travel-books as his source, but it's still a splendid piece of research.

John Collier: The Oracle or The Priestess of Delphi (1891)

The Pythia - the priestess of Delphi - wasn't really a witch, more a shaman-type. She would sit on the tripod chair as depicted, breathing in the poisonous fumes from  a fissure in the earth (supplemented by the burning of laurel leaves sacred to Apollo, also poisonous) and - completely stoned - she would prophesy in ecstatic gibberish which was interpreted by priests, to enquirers, in exchange for cash.

John William Godward: The Delphic Oracle (1899)

I think Godward has pretty much abandoned all pretence that the interest in these depictions lies in mysticism and ancient history. 

George Wilson: The Spring Witch (1880)

Ditto Wilson. Interesting that the background is almost medieval in style - reminiscent of Bruegel.The witch is depicted as a semi-divine figure bringing Spring to a wintery world.

Arthur Wardle: The Enchantress (1901)

Whereas this is most reminiscent of a Sunlight Soap advert. I think her flushed face would probably have been considered rosy and attractive at the time.

John William Waterhouse: The Crystal Ball (1902)

Of course Waterhouse would have to make an appearance in this post somewhere! In fact, twice. The subject of the painting above is definitely a witch and, judging by her accoutrements, not necessarily a very nice one either ... just the way Waterhouse likes them. Actually, it may have been a a bit too menacing for some tastes - in the 1950s a purchaser of this picture had the skull painted out! This was discovered by use of X-ray in 1994 and it's been restored since.

John William Waterhouse: The Magic Circle (1886)

But oh, this is my favourite witch painting. The realism, the detail - note the ancient Greek style figures embroidered on her robe, and the wild herbs she's gathered - the grim Mediterranean setting among the tombs and discarded bones, the sense that she really means what she's doing. See how the magic circle burns as she inscribes it! Just a brilliant picture. And she doesn't even have the usual Waterhouse Face.