Friday, 23 December 2016

Joyous Yuletide!

... or whatever you decide to celebrate (or not); enjoy, relax, read books and eat chocolate!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Holiday preparations

It’s that time of the year again, with Winter Solstice only two days away, and preparations are under way... or should be; sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed (can you be “a little overwhelmed”?) by everything that needs to be done, but then I remind myself that we have our daughter’s gifts sorted out, we have bought lots of chocolate, and I know which books I’m going to read during the holidays. The rest is just... details. :)

I’ve mentioned before that I tend to be rather particular about my holiday reads, and this goes especially for Yule, because, well, spending lots of time reading books and eating chocolate is just what we do then (it may be the best part about the holidays, if you ask me or my DH).

This year, I chose “Children of Earth and Sky”, the latest by Guy Gavriel Kay, who, these days, is about the only fantasy author whose books I still read (and re-read). It is a nice, thick tome, but it will not be enough, of course, so I picked one of the Medieval adventures by Kaari Utrio as well – this one is set in the 14th century. Neither of these is a re-read, and I’m really looking forward to the day when I can start celebrating (= open the first book).

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Honorary award for "Musta Susi" - our werewolf story

Something soft and furry touched him. He screamed, smelled blood and sweat. Panting, clutching his dagger, he stumbled around in the small space. Where was the exit? Where?

An item stolen from the Royal Palace of Stockholm ends up in the hands of Caribbean pirates. [...] The adventure, set in the 17th century, has many plot twists and is rigorous in its historical detail.

Above is an excerpt and the judges’ description of the short story “Musta Susi” (“Black Wolf”) that my DH and I submitted to the competition organised by the Science Fiction Society of Tampere. The judges decided to give our pirate/werewolf adventure story an honorary award! Last night, we attended the awards ceremony in Tampere. The story, set in the 17th century, will later be published in “Portti”, a science fiction and fantasy magazine. You can read more about the competition and our story over in Marko's blog.

(Photo by Varpu Susimetsä)

Now that my husband and I have been writing together for some time (our story "Entombed" was published in "666" horror anthology), people often ask us how that works. Writing is a creative process, after all, so how do two people collaborate on it? I mentioned some of the benefits earlier, but how it works in practice is something like this:

Usually, one of us has an initial idea. We develop it together and draft some kind of an outline, sometimes more, sometimes less detailed. Then we decide which chapters/scenes/parts each of us would like to write, or at least to start with, and do that. (Eventually someone does have to write the scenes neither of us was too keen on, so then there’s nothing for it; we have to do it.) Anyway, once we’ve written the first draft of a scene/chapter, we give it to the other one who then reads it and rewrites it.

To be able to do that, you have to trust the other person completely. You have to trust that they’ll see what you’ve been trying/wanting to do with the scene, to improve the parts that need improving and to enhance the parts that already work. We keep cycling the scenes/chapters back and forth, each of us making changes and rewriting in their turn – and often getting new ideas from what the other one has done with the scene.

This approach has worked well for us, probably because we have very similar ideas about what sort of stories we want to write, what – for us – makes a good story. Another thing that helps is that we have fairly different strengths: my DH is the logical one, he can see the story as a whole and this makes him a better plotter. I tend to focus more on feelings, both in terms of what the characters are going through, how to show that, and in terms of the feel of the writing (tension; how to express atmosphere etc.). Since we write historical fiction, we have to do research – and it helps when there are two of you. While there are things we both need to know, our interests also diverge a bit, so that Marko is more interested in, e.g., how muskets work, while I’m more interested in, say, what people wore and what they ate.

So, we keep working on individual chapters until we think we have all the scenes, which is when we put it all together. Then we take turns rereading and rewriting the whole story.

In addition to a similar idea of what we want to write, there seems to be one topic we’re both drawn to again and again: werewolves. Or werewolves, wolfmen, shape-shifting into wolves... My DH’s previous werewolf story “Susiveri” (“Wolf Blood”) received an honorary award in the same competition in 2014, while my shape-shifter story “Surunkantaja” (“Sorrow Bearer”) set in Viking Age Finland received a second prize in Nova short story competition in 2013 (more here), and another one I wrote about a werewolf theme got shortlisted in the same competition earlier this year. One of the competition organisers remarked yesterday that we might consider putting together an anthology one day... Well, who knows!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Review: Milka Toffee Whole Nuts

This isn't exactly new, but Toffee Whole Nuts from Milka is one of my favourites, so I wanted to introduce it here. Well, you might guess it's a favourite of mine: after all, it's milk chocolate with hazelnuts, ”caramel flavoured filling” and actual caramel! Sounds good, doesn't it?

It is also a rare treat; I haven't been able to find Milka Toffee Whole Nuts anywhere in the shops and supermarkets in this part of the world, only in tax-free shops, which I don't often have a chance to visit. That is really too bad... but every time I get to buy some, I do! Last time, I only bought three bars (300 g each) – it seemed like a lot at the time, but now I regret not listening to my DH who wisely asked, ”Are you sure that's enough?” It was not.

Now, this is one of Milka chocolates, so the wrapping is the typical bluish colour with the milky Milka logo (and the cow). The picture of the bar on the wrapping gives you a fairly good idea of what's inside. The bar itself is divided into smallish squares, like this:

You can't see the toffee in the picture, but trust me, it's there.

The scent of chocolate is fairly mild, as is typical of milk chocolates. There are, however, definite warm, sweet notes of caramel in there.

And the taste! The milk chocolate is pretty good, very milky, smooth and sweet. Every square contains a whole hazelnut. To be honest, I could do without them, but they do add a nice crunch and balance the flavours by reducing the overall sweetness of the bar. For, in addition to chocolate, there is a white, creamy layer of that caramel flavoured filling, which is sweet and milky and melts in your mouth. And to further add to the sweetness, there's golden caramel. It's sweet and buttery, not too runny and not too sticky. Delicious!

This is a very sweet chocolate, so if you're not into that sort of thing, this might not be for you. For me, however, this is close to perfection!