Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Final Christmas trivia posting!

I talked about turkey in my last blog post, so today I’ll have a quick wander through the rest of what I think of as “Christmas” food. This is of course biased by my upbringing and tastes.


Nicely roasted potatoes, crisp on the outside and light and fluffy within, are my personal favourite accompaniment to roast meat. They’re a relatively recent addition to the popular diet in Europe, brought to Spain by the Conquistadors in 1536 and first grown in the UK in 1597.

Wild potato species occur throughout the Americas, from the United States to southern Chile. They were probably domesticated 7,000–10,000 years ago in present-day Peru and Bolivia. There are now about 5,000 cultivated varieties, 200 wild species and subspecies.

Brussell Sprouts

Forerunners to modern Brussell sprouts were probably cultivated in ancient Rome. Brussell sprouts as we now know them were grown possibly as early as the 13th century in what is now Belgium. The first written reference is from 1587. During the 16th century, they enjoyed a popularity in the southern Netherlands that eventually spread throughout the cooler parts of Northern Europe. They represent the love it or hate it aspect of Christmas for many. Personally, I'd be happy never to see one again, but there you go!


Cranberries are the fruit of low, creeping shrubs or vines with slender, wiry stems and small evergreen leaves. The berries are initially white, ripening to a deep red. Their acidic taste can overwhelm the natural sweetness, which is why they’re almost always sweetened.

Cranberries are a major commercial crop in some American states and Canadian provinces, most are processed into juice, sauce, jam, and sweetened dried cranberries. Cranberry sauce is an indispensable part of traditional American and Canadian Thanksgiving dinners and some European winter festivals. And my Christmas dinner!

Recently, the global “functional food” industry has marketed raw cranberries as a "superfruit" due to their nutrient and antioxidant content.

Christmas Pudding

When I was a child, we always had Christmas Pudding from a hand-written recipe tucked into an old cookery book. Sadly, this has long been lost. I don’t suppose I’m unique in not being keen on it as a youngster, but now rather enjoy it as my tastes have changed.

It’s still often talked about as “plum pudding” or “plum duff”, but it’s usually a boiled pudding with dried fruit. The recipe brings together what traditionally were expensive or luxurious ingredients, dried fruits, spices, candied fruits, sugar and treacle. Until the 19th century, the English Christmas pudding was boiled in a pudding cloth, which is why they’re often shown as round. The idea of ball-shaped puddings were introduced from Scotland by King George I (of England) VI (of Scotland).

The new Victorian era fashion involved putting the batter into a basin and then steaming it, followed by unwrapping the pudding, placing it on a platter, and decorating its top with a sprig of holly.

Eliza Acton, a cook from East Sussex, appears to have been the first to refer to it as "Christmas Pudding" in her 1845 cookbook, in a recipe familiar to us today. Her cookbook was also the first to list set quantities of ingredients, an idea copied ever since.
And “Mrs Beeton” obviously copied a lot of Eliza’s recipes into her own, better known book. Isabella Beeton (1836 – 1865) was the wife of the publisher of The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, which first published what became the Book of Household Management in instalments.
Mince Pies

The ingredients for the modern mince pie can be traced to the crusades, when Middle Eastern methods of cooking, combining meats, fruits and spices, became popular.

In Tudor England, shrid pies were made from shredded meat, suet, dried fruit and spices like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg

In 1615, Gervase Markham wrote a recipe telling us to take "a leg of mutton", and cut "the best of the flesh from the bone", before adding mutton suet, pepper, salt, cloves, mace, currants, raisins, prunes, dates and orange peel. Beef, beef tongue, veal or goose were also used.
Um, okay, I'll give it a go. After you...

By Victorian times, the fruit and spice filling might be prepared months before use and stored in jars, and meat was rarely used (although the use of suet remains).  

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice

Historically, sugar, spices and dried fruits were very expensive luxury items.

Cane sugar was first produced in New Guinea about 8000 years ago. It spread to India, Persia and then to the Mediterranean. It was grown in Spain and Portugal in the fifteenth century, then taken to the New World. The trade in slaves from Africa started largely to help sugar production in the Caribbean and South America.

Brown sugar (light, dark or demerara) is ordinary granulated sugar coated with molasses, a viscous by-product from processing sugar cane, grapes or sugar beets into sugar.

Treacle is any syrup made during the refining of sugar. The most common forms of treacle are a pale syrup known as golden syrup, and a darker syrup usually referred to as dark treacle or black treacle.

Pub general knowledge quiz trivia bonus! The first patent for sugar cubes was granted to Jakub Kryštof Rad in 1843.

Technically speaking, spices are aromatic or pungent flavourings made from the hard parts of some tropical and subtropical plants. Valued for culinary and medicinal uses, they’ve been widely traded for thousands of years. Bill Bryson talks about the spice trade in his entertaining book “At Home”.

The typical “Christmas” spices are nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Nutmeg comes from the seeds of the tropical evergreen tree. Cloves are the dried flower buds of a tropical evergreen tree in the myrtle family. These two were originally found on just a handful of islands in the Moluccas, an archipelago of 16,000 islands in the Far East. Ginger is a root originally grown in India and China. Cinnamon is the dried inner bark of shoots of a tropical bushy evergreen tree of the laurel family, native to India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

Raisins are dried grapes. Here in the UK, we use the word for large dark-coloured dried grapes, sultanas for the golden-coloured dried grape, and currant for the small Black Corinth dried grape. The word raisin, meaning grape, was adopted into Middle English from Old French. 

Oranges (or sweet oranges if you’re fussy) probably originated in South-East Asia and were being cultivated in China around 2500 BC. They were brought to the Mediterranean in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

Lemons may have first grown in southern India. They were grown in Italy during the first century AD, widely distributed around the Mediterranean and Arab regions by 1150 as ornamental plants.

The apple is one of the most widely cultivated tree fruits. They originated in western Asia and have been grown for thousands of years. There are more than 7,500 known cultivars of apple.

Merry Christmas?

Finally, do you wish others “happy Christmas” or a “merry Christmas”?

"Merry," derived from the Old English myrige, originally meant "pleasant, and agreeable" rather than joyous or jolly. The first known use of a specific greeting is 1565, in The Hereford Municipal Manuscript: "And thus I comytt you to God, who send you a mery Christmas."

"Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" is contained in the sixteenth century secular English carol "We Wish You a Merry Christmas".

The word "merry" began to take on its current meaning of "jovial, cheerful, jolly and outgoing" in the 19th century. "Merry Christmas" in this context was used in A Christmas Carol , written in 1843, and which was a very popular book.

"Happy Christmas" appeared in the late 19th century, a time where merry also meant "tipsy" or "drunk”. This might have jarred with the Methodist Victorian middle-classes and their ideas about wholesome celebrations.

Personally, I prefer Merry Christmas, as I might imbibe the odd small sherry at some point. And it means I can also wish you a Happy New Year without repeating myself.

Monday, 22 December 2014

So Why Do We Call It Turkey?

One of the things I've sort of wondered about is how the turkey ended up being called that.

The modern domesticated turkey is descended from one of six subspecies of wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo, found in present-day Mexico.

Genetic studies suggest it was domesticated twice, around 200 BC and 1000 AD. The meat and eggs were major sources of protein and feathers were used for decorative purposes.

And yes, wild ones do roost in trees, just like the one in this photo!

Turkey was first introduced into Britain in about 1523 with Henry VIII being one of the first people known to eat it as part of the Christmas feast. It was a little larger than the traditional goose, but with a lot more meat and a refreshing new taste.

It was brought to England by merchants trading in the Levant, or eastern Mediterranean. The English called them “Turkey merchants” because that whole area was then part of the Turkish empire. The new bird was called a “Turkey bird”, or “Turkey cock”. Although an expensive and exclusive meat, the turkey itself was clearly a familiar domestic fowl. Shakespeare knew his audience would understand the reference to the turkey’s display of aggression involving strutting and puffing out its breast when he described the posturings of Malvolio in Twelfth Night:
  SIR TOBY BELCH: Here’s an overwheening rogue!
  FABIAN: O, peace! Contemplation makes a rare turkey-cock of him; how he jets under his   advanced plumes!

Nearly everyone else, including the Turks, thought they originated in India, so it's widely called something like the “bird of India” (for example, indianischer Hahn in old German, and gall dindi, or bird of India, in Catalan). 

In a few languages, including Danish, Dutch, Finnish and Norwegian, the bird was named instead as coming from Calicut (Dutch kalkoense hahn, Danish kalkun), a seaport on the Malabar coast of India, the same place after which calico is named. This might have something to do with Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer, who landed in Calcutta in 1498, about 20 years before the bird was introduced to Britain. And this was a time when Central America was called "The Spanish Indies" or the "New Indies", which shows people might have been a bit puzzled about just where these new lands were. 

Domestic turkey breeds developed in Britain were introduced into North America by the colonists who settled New England and Virginia, who were apparently surprised to find it living there wild. But the tradition of eating turkey for Thanksgiving in the United States and Canada is apparently rather more modern.

While the tradition of turkey at Christmas spread throughout England in the 17th century, it was something of a luxury before the late 19th century. One of the sources of information on things like this is tracking when things appear in written records. In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol of 1843, Bob Cratchit's family had a goose before Scrooge bought them a turkey.
The popularity of the bird grew quickly, and soon, each year, large flocks of turkeys could be seen walking to London from Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire on foot; a journey which they may have started as early as August.

Turkey production in the UK was centred in East Anglia, using two breeds, the Norfolk Black and the Norfolk Bronze (also known as Cambridge Bronze) which arrived there the early 16th century via Spain. These would be driven as flocks, after shoeing (yes, they wore shoes), to markets in London from the 17th century onwards.

Intensive farming of turkeys from the late 1940s dramatically cut the price, making it more affordable for all. With the availability of refrigeration, whole turkeys could be shipped frozen to distant markets. Later improvements in disease control increased production even more. Advances in shipping, changing consumer preferences and the proliferation of commercial poultry plants has made fresh turkey inexpensive as well as readily available.

So, what did people eat at Christmas before turkey?

In North America, before the 20th century, it was probably pork ribs. Turkeys were once abundant in the wild that they were eaten throughout the year. Pigs were usually slaughtered in November, so pork ribs were rarely available at times other than the period between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

Among the British working classes, it was probably beef or goose. Or, for the poor, anything they could get, I guess.

Mass-produced turkey is available all year round and is less of a special novelty. Today, celebrity chefs encourage us to return to goose and to try other meats. I've had goose a few times, and it's certainly a tasty meat. But I only eat turkey at Christmas, so it's worth treating myself to a good quality one and cooking it carefully.

Wild turkeys, although technically the same species as the domesticated ones, reportedly have a more intense gamier flavour and almost all the meat is "dark", even the breast. Older heritage breeds also differ in flavour. I'll see if I can get one of these breeds next year and let you know if I can spot a difference.

So, the traditional British Christmas dinner is centred around a bird from central America, brought to us by traders from the Ottoman Empire.  

What about the trimmings? Potatoes, sprouts and cranberry sauce? And mince pies? Christmas cake? Christmas pudding? The butterflies in my head are telling me this needs some research...

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Okay, gold, frankincense and myrrh... Um, what's that all about?

I'll admit I've got a bit of a butterfly mind. Well, let's be honest, I can't really deny it...

What happens is that I hear or read something, then I realise I'm curious and want to know more. 

For this particular post, I can firmly blame Monty Python's Life of Brian. In particular, the sketch where the wise men turn up at the wrong stable.

In the Christian tradition, three magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. They’re also referred to as the three kings or three wise men, but there are no names or titles in the biblical story which has reached us. I believe there has been speculation that they may have been members of a Persian priestly clan, Zoroastrians, or astrologers from Babylon, who knew about the Jewish Messiah through Jewish exiles. 

Or maybe, since a lot of the stories in the bible are apocryphal, the events didn't actually take place?

Like the story about people returning to the towns of their birth to give a census return. The Romans were way too organised to think of anything so patently dumb as that.

So, the story must mean something, surely?

According to my brief researches into the Christian tradition, the gifts are symbolic. Gold symbolised kingship. Frankincense, as an incense burned in the Temple, symbolised deity. Myrrh, associated with death and embalming, symbolised death. 

So, even considering the short life expectancies at the time, not exactly a cheerful selection of gifts for a new-born baby, I guess...

So, what are these materials in the non-symbolic world?


Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Dense? A cubic meter weighs 19.3 tonnes. A cubic meter of water weighs 1 tonne. Malleable and ductile? Gold leaf can be beaten thin enough to become transparent, useful in radiant heat visors in heat-resistant suits and spacesuits.

This is what a tonne of gold bullion looks like. You could easily it onto a typical car seat, but that's well up the "don't try this at home, kids" list. 

Gold powder and leaf are edible - it's E175 here in Europe. Too soft for day-to-day use, it's typically hardened by alloying with copper, silver or other metals. The gold content of an alloy is measured in carats (k). Pure gold is 24k. Jewellery is typically 18k (ie 75% pure). English gold coins intended for circulation from 1526 into the 1930s were typically a standard 22k hard alloy called “crown gold”.

It's relatively unreactive, but it can be dissolved in aqua regia (25% nitric 75% hydrochloric acid). This was a little known fact that Neils Bohr made use of. He dissolved the Nobel Prize medals given to two Jewish physicists in aqua regia and left the solution in a bottle in a Copenhagen laboratory, to hide them from the Germans during their occupation of Denmark. The gold was later recovered, the medals recast and represented.

It's estimated that 85% of all the gold ever mined is still available in the world's easily recoverable stocks. The latest estimate for all the gold in the world is 171,300 tonnes, which could form a cube about 20.7m on each side. Or cover the centre court at Wimbledon to a depth of 9.8m.

It's clear that we've valued gold for quite a while. Some of the oldest known gold artifacts were found in Bulgaria, in graves built between 4700 and 4200 BC. What may be the oldest known mine is in southern Georgia, dating back to the 3rd or 4th millennium BC.
Gold and silver are extracted using sodium cyanide, sulphuric acid and a lot of energy. The gold for one ring generates thirty tonnes of waste used ore. 

This 860kg lump of ore contains around 30g of gold, which is the tiny spot in front of it.

The world consumption of new gold produced is about 50% in jewellery, 40% in investments, and 10% in industry.

About 50% of all gold ever produced has come from South Africa. India is the world's largest single consumer of gold, purchasing about 25% of the world's gold (approximately 800 tonnes) every year, mostly for jewellery.


Frankincense, or olibanum resin, is an aromatic material used in incense and perfumes, obtained from the trees of a few of the 15 species of Boswellia. It's tapped by slashing the bark and allowing the exuded resins to bleed out and harden to form “tears”. The trees start producing resin when they are about 8 to 10 years old and they're tapped 2 or 3 times a year. The current annual world production of frankincense is about 1,000 tonnes, most from Somalia.

Once one of the most valuable substances known to mankind, it's been traded for more than 6000 years, as far as China. In Roman times, some 7000 tonnes were being exported annually by sea just from the port of Dhofar. Moving the material across land may have been one of the reasons for domesticating camels.

Historically used in incense by the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and other cultures, frankincense is still used by the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

The resin is edible and was used in Greek, Roman and Chinese medicines. It's still used in various traditional medicines in Africa and Asia for digestion and healthy skin. Ayurvedic medicine has used it for centuries to treat arthritis, heal wounds, and as a sort of antiseptic. Indian frankincense has been shown to help Crohn's disease and is being evaluated as treatment for ulcerative colitis, asthma and arthritis.

Frankincense resin, like almost all natural materials, is a complex and variable mixture. It contains several complex acids and a range of other organic compounds including monoterpenese, sesquiterpenes, monoterpenols, sesquiterpenols and ketones. One of the chemicals it contains has cancer-killing properties. Burning frankincense repels mosquitoes, protection from mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria, West Nile Virus, and Dengue Fever. A component of Frankincence smoke appears to be psychoactive, relieving depression and anxiety.


Myrrh is a common aromatic oleoresin, a natural blend of an essential oil and a resin. The name derives from the Aramaic murr, meaning "was bitter". It's collected from a number of small, thorny tree species of the genus Commiphora. in the same way as frankincense, cutting the tree to the sapwood, so the tree bleeds a resin.
Myrrh gum is commonly harvested in Yemen, Somalia, Eritrea, eastern Ethiopia, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Arabian Peninsula.

Used throughout history as a perfume, incense and medicine. myrrh has at times been even more valuble than gold.

Myrrh was used by the ancient Egyptians with natron (sodium hydroxide) to embalm mummies. It was used in the consecrated incense described in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud. Mixed with frankincense and sometimes other scents, it's still used in almost every service of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and traditional Roman Catholic Churches.

In traditional Chinese medicine, myrrh is said to have special efficacy on the heart, liver, and spleen meridians, and has similar uses to Frankincense. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is ascribed tonic and rejuvenative properties.

In modern Western medicine, myrrh is an antiseptic, used in mouthwashes, gargles, and toothpastes. This bactericidal action is due to the sesquiterpene lactones it contains. Myrrh also has anti-inflammatory properties, currently used to treat abrasions and other minor skin ailments, bruises, aches, and sprain. Myrrh has also been used as an analgesic for toothaches. It has been shown to have potential in treating diabetes and help balance cholesterol LDL and HDL. The medicine Mirazid, a mixture of myrrh and essential oils, has been shown to be effective against some of the parasitic blood flukes which cause schistosomiasis.

So, maybe these traditional gifts might actually have been good choices. A valuable metal and two valuable traditional medicines with antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, one of which can be burned to repel disease-carrying mosquitoes. The modern equivalents, say bearer bonds, an insectide-treated mosquito net, antiseptic and ibuprofen, don't sound quite as romantically mysterious.

Thinking of Christmas has got my butterflies excited. Now I'm wondering why that big bird in the freezer is called a turkey...

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Chatting with British sci-fi writer Pippa Jay

I'm delighted to welcome Pippa Jay, a British writer of what I can only describe as sci-fi with a difference. I've read two of her stories, both of which I found fast-moving, engaging, intriguing and entertaining. I used to devour sci-fi in my teens, but I never found anyone writing like Pippa.

I've just finished reading When Dark Falls, which I can heartily recommend. Even if you don't think of yourself as a "sci-fi fan", but you like a good story which rattles along, I think you might enjoy reading it. It opened engagingly and immediately got me wondering what was going on. Things kept on happening, answering some of my questions and getting me asking more! Rotten trick... As was dropping me into a world where superheroes battled to the death and didn't always win. By the time I got to the ending, which came as a surprise, I was almost speed-reading to see where Pippa's imagination was taking me next. I've already bought more of her stories and look forward to reading them.

And it's not just me who enjoys reading her stories. She’s a double SFR Galaxy Award winner, been a finalist in the Heart of Denver RWA Aspen Gold Contest (3rd place), and the GCC RWA Silken Sands Star Awards (2nd place). And she's just been named as a finalist for an EPIC award for her book Gethyon.

There's more about When Dark Falls further down this posting.

As is my habit, and being plain nosey, I quizzed Pippa...

IS Where did the original idea for the story and characters in When Dark Falls came from? 

PJ It started as a line I felt more appropriate to a paranormal/urban fantasy story, an album called Living Things by Linkin Park, and a classic ‘what if?’ question - specifically, what if a superhero’s identity was soooo secret, even the superhero didn’t know about it?

IS What do you have in mind for your next writing project? 

PJ For writing, I’m considering a sequel to this story, but I’m on a promise to write the last two stories in a trilogy of YA dystopia romance for my publisher - Zombie Girl: Dead Awakened - part one of which comes out next April. There’s a lot of edits to be done before any of those, though.

IS How do you develop your ideas for characters? Are parts of you incorporated into any of them?

PJ I think it’s impossible to write a character without something of yourself in them, even if it then turns out to be the opposite of what I am. Usually I start off with one or more scenes involving my character, and how they react to that determines some of their main or dominant characteristics. The rest grows from there.

IS Tell us about the genre you write in. Why does this particularly appeal and how did you get into it?  

PJ Generally I write scifi, because that’s the genre I love the most. It really does allow me to step out of this world and into another, to create an entire universe that isn’t tied to my own world in any way if I want. I’ve been a lifelong fan of science fiction - my parents were too, so I grew up on a diet of Doctor Who and Star Trek - but it really grabbed me after the first TV showing of a film called Star Wars: A New Hope. I tend to blend in some fantasy and paranormal elements to my SF, and often cross the lines into other speculative genres.

IS Do you write in other genres as well? 

PJ I have written others, though I’ve never stepped outside speculative fiction as a whole. My YA paranormal - Restless In Peaceville - is written quite differently to the rest of my work. Partly because it took me a long way out of my comfort zone and was my most challenging to write so far - zombies, for one thing (quite a departure considering I’m not a horror fan), and only the second thing I’ve written in the first person (which is not my default setting) and the only one published written in that POV. On the whole, I don’t think my style or voice changes that much between genres, only when switching from adult to YA.

IS Do your stories ever seen veer off in an unexpected direction? 

PJ I’m a pantster, so my stories nearly always go off at a tangent. Quite often my characters will tell me what’s next once I’ve got them started. I think the most random thing that happened was when writing my debut when a giant automated guard marched into the story and attacked my hero - I hadn’t thought about it or planned it until it suddenly appeared on the page as I typed!

IS How long does it take you to write a book? 

PJ LOL, that’s a ‘how long is a piece of string?’ kind of question. It takes as long as it takes, and it depends a lot on the story, the amount of research, if I’m trying to hit a submission window, real life stuff... I’ve written three novellas as part of three separate NaNoWriMos, but the highest word count I’ve ever hit during the event is 36K. So I can’t write a novel in a month, that’s for sure. I would say at least two months for a novel, but even a novella will normally take eighteen months from start to a final MS fit for submission. Having said that, I did get a 45K novella written and contracted in the space of five months once. Not rushing to do that again though.

IS What are your ambitions for your writing career? 

PJ I’d like to be earning a living wage from it, which I’m not right now. But even if that never happens, I’ve written and published eleven titles, had mostly good reviews, and even a small fan following. I’m very happy with that.

IS What does your family think of your writing? 

PJ They mostly think it’s cool now. My kids used to refer to it as my boring writing stuff, right up to the point where their teachers and friends got interested, and suddenly I was ‘cool’.

IS What does your writing process look like? 

PJ Chaotic! I don’t plot, and I don’t write linearly. If I died mid book, I don’t think anyone would be able to finish it off for me because they just wouldn’t be able to make head nor tail of it.

IS What’s your passion in life? Other than writing? 

PJ Music, my family, and all the other creative things I do in my life.

IS Since When Dark Falls features superheroes, I've just got to ask what superpower would you choose? 

PJ I would love mind control. Okay, I’m a control freak. But sometimes I think the world could be a much better place if people could be made to behave and stop judging each other based on something like colour, sex or religion. My credo - as long as what someone does or is causes no harm to another (and simply making another person uneasy doesn’t count), then they should be entitled to live how they please. Talking of superpowers, can I be cheeky and ask you to mention my competition?

IS Consider it done! You've mentioned having published other titles. What are they?

PJ The Bones of the Sea, which is a free SF short story; Terms & Conditions Apply , another short story which is a hot scifi romance; Gethyon, a YA scifi adventure; Tales from the SFR Brigade, an anthology of eight scifi romance stories; Reboot, a short cyberpunk story; Tethered, a scifi romance adventure; Restless In Peaceville, a YA paranormal romance; Hallow’s Eve, a paranormal romance short; and my latest is No Angel, a futuristic urban fantasy short, releasing on 19th December.

IS Pippa, thanks for popping in an being a sport with my questions. Good luck with all your titles and fingers crossed for the EPIC award.

When Dark Falls

An alternative 1920s superhero romance, released by Breathless Press in November this year.

In a city where Dark Technologies Inc. now runs the show, Kadie Williams has more immediate concerns than the fall of Blaze, their guardian superhero. Almost every morning for the last few months she’s woken up with cuts and bruises on her body, and no idea how she got them. There are no nightmares. No evidence that she sleepwalks, or any sign of a break in. And nothing to tell her who’s been cleaning up after her. As just one of thousands of civilians conscripted to slave away in the labs of Professor Dark, she knew there'd be trouble ahead. But she never expected it to be so bad, or so personal.

Desperate for answers, Kadie looks to the new defender of the night, the only person who can hinder the total domination of Professor Dark—Nocturnelle. The mysterious vigilante superhero came from nowhere with her cybernetic sidekick Shadow, set on putting an end to the brutality of Dark's regime. But as his laboratories work on a new secret super-weapon, Nocturnelle and Shadow may not be enough to save Nephopolis...or to save Kadie either.


The roar of the cloudburner flaming into life woke her. The vibration as it powered up rippled through the building created a disturbance impossible to sleep through. No more being roused from sleep by the dawn chorus of traffic or a rowdy neighbor. Those days were long past. Everyone in Nephopolis woke to the sound of fire burning into the clouds, to cast a false darkness over the city. The shadow of Dark.

Kadie stretched...and froze. She stared at her left arm. A pattern of blue and purple covered her forearm, a harsh contrast to her otherwise pale skin.

She shuddered, turning her arm this way and that. Had she fallen out of bed? And if so, why hadn't she woken? She didn't remember catching it on anything yesterday that would have gone unnoticed and yet left such intense bruising. One day blurred into another now, but even so, surely she'd remember hurting herself that badly?

If I'd been conscious. She sat up and examined the bruise. It was the fourth injury in as many nights, and yet there'd been no dreams. No sign she'd left her bed in the night. Would she know if she'd been sleepwalking? After all, she lived and slept alone. Unless she was leaving her apartment to wander around in the corridors...

The idea made her stomach churn too much to consider it. Instead, she swung her legs out from under the duvet. Pale pink flannel pajamas clothed her, crumpled from a night's sleep but nothing more. Her bare feet revealed no signs of midnight wandering. What the hell had happened to her arm when everything else seemed so normal?


Nocturnelle perched on the carved griffin statue decorating the tower's cornerstone, with hundreds of feet of empty space between her and the ground below. Her second skin felt tight. It was a familiar sensation and yet always the first thing she noticed on waking, as if her body needed to remind her of the fact. She stretched and her outer skin crackled like leather. She flexed her fingers, the delicate oh-so-white digits a stark contrast to her black arms. Silver lines marked her left forearm, and she frowned at them. She was meant to be impervious to blades and bullets, and yet somehow, not too long ago, she must have injured herself.

As she rose, her skin creaked. She stretched again, and then tugged her hands through her hair, pulling the thick swathe of black silk from her face and knotting it at the back. Darkest Night forbid it should get in her way. The second skin pressed tight against her forehead, running around her eyes and mouth, cradling her chin. She ran her fingers around the edges, tracing the outline. Perfect. Her body tingled as though electricity danced in her veins, and she smiled. Breathed in the evening air. This was her time.

Viscous and reeking, the night sky hung over the city of Art Deco towers and buildings like an oil-slick. Behind her, the metallic chinking of the cloudburner cooling after a day spent scorching the sky ticked away the seconds like a clock.


The deep male voice sent a shiver down her back, and she turned. "Ah, my faithful Shadow. Ready for another night-time jaunt?"

A figure stepped out of the shadows to join her. He matched her for height; his whipcord frame clad in a charcoal-colored armor vest, black combats, and a hip-length military jacket. When the rooftop lights hit his face, the chiseled jawline showed; his skin a dark tan. He wore a mask over his eyes, but his teeth gleamed white when he smiled. And when he smiled, something inside Nelle set her heart racing.

"Ready and set, Nelle."

Buy Links:

Breathless Press -
Bookstrand -
All Romance eBooks -
Amazon US -
Amazon UK -
Smashwords -
Web page to other links -!when-dark-falls/cl15

About Pippa Jay...

After spending twelve years working as an Analytical Chemist in a Metals and Minerals laboratory, Pippa Jay is now a stay-at-home mum who writes scifi and the supernatural. Somewhere along the way a touch of romance crept into her work and refused to leave. In between torturing her plethora of characters, she spends the odd free moment playing guitar very badly, punishing herself with freestyle street dance, and studying the Dark Side of the Force. Although happily settled in the historical town of Colchester in the UK with her husband of 21 years and three little monsters, she continues to roam the rest of the Universe in her head.

Pippa Jay is a dedicated member of the Science Fiction Romance Brigade, blogging at Spacefreighters Lounge, Adventures in Scifi, and Romancing the Genres.

Her works include YA and adult stories crossing a multitude of subgenres from scifi to the paranormal, often with romance, and she’s one of eight authors included in a science fiction romance anthology—Tales from the SFR Brigade.

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Pippa's contest!

Open internationally until the 19th December 2014.

Pippa has donned her superhero guise, but still needs a name and supertalent(s)! If she likes it, she may include it in the sequel to When Dark Falls and credit you in the acknowledgements.

To enter, please put the name, talent, and your contact details in comments to this blog or contact her through her website. 

Please note - by entering this contest you are giving Pippa full permission to use the superhero name without any recompense to you, financially or otherwise, other than the acknowledgement, and you are waiving any rights to the name.

But you will get When Dark Falls in the digital format of your choice.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Is it just me being pedantic?

It probably is.

Um, what?

I enjoy reading stories where I feel engaged by the characters, that I'm seeing them interact and develop in a wider setting than simply their sex lives. And I try to write stories myself in which sex is part of the story, rather than the point of it. My interest in writing erotica developed from enjoying lightweight romantic fiction and wishing they weren't quite as prissy about the characters becoming lovers and how they enjoyed that side of their relationship.

Well, when I come across an erotic story based around BDSM, it's typically one where:
(a) the couple meet at a club or a party,
(b) he's the dom and she's the sub, and
(c) he instinctively knows what to do, and
(d) she has the time of her life and decides to devote herself to him.

I'll be honest here and say that I don't understand the reality of this sort of sexual relationship. I've never been in one. I can see the fun in playing at it from time to time, maybe even swapping roles, but you need the right sort of relationship for that.

But in real life, are doms (or dommes) psychic or something?

Yes, of course I can appreciate that an experienced lover may well have the confidence and a selection of techniques to help a partner go "oooh" and smile a lot, but they can't genuinely understand what that other person wants, needs or responds to without spending time getting to know them. Different people enjoy different things, after all. What makes one person go into a happy delerium might bore or even annoy another.

Take the famous (or infamous) Fifty Shades of Grey for example. I read the first book and then lost the will to live when I realised the other two were just as long... Even for a story, it just seemed unrealistic that a completely inexperienced girl would be willing to let this implausibly young billionaire draw her into a relationship like that. But all's well that ends well, I guess. The bad boy was cured by the love of a good woman...

In terms of a short erotic story, this sort of meeting lets the author cut to the chase and have fun writing the naughty stuff. And many people undoubtedly have fantasies about letting their hair down and completely letting go of their inhibitions.

But is this style of story completely honest? I can't help but wonder if it gives the wrong impression about BDSM relationships.

Personally, I'd have to really trust someone before I'd let them tie me up, even with the promise that they'd do nicely naughty things to me. Call me boring, but it's certainly not something I'd feel happy about on a first date. Yes, a guy wrote that. One who might admit to having had the occasional memorable first date.

I've read and enjoyed novels where the main characters developed sub-dom relationships. Yes, relationships. I could almost imagine them arguing about whose turn it was to do the shopping! Being the sub and the dom were roles the characters played in their lovemaking. And they agreed to play them, understanding that these were roles. In one, the dom makes a misjudgement which threatens the relationship and he has to re-establish the woman's trust in him. And in the real world, I guess trust is as important as attraction in this sort of relationship.

These novels left me thinking that they probably reflected a bit more of the reality of a BDSM relationship.

As Rachel Kramer Bussel wrote in one of her essays in Sex and Cupcakes, the dynamics of a given relationship may dictate the actual role someone might feel comfortable playing, sub in some cases, dom in others.

So, what were these novels?

Two were written by Amy Valenti, Not Your Damn Submissive and Not Your Damn Dom. The titles kind of give away the thrust of the storyline in each case. Undone, by Kristina Lloyd, was a bit different, the relationship developing around a sort of mystery/thriller.

And I enjoyed all three because they were erotic stories about developing relationships, rather than for the distinctly titillating sex scenes. Okay, maybe for both reasons.

And I'm happy to recommend all three to anyone who enjoys a good story. Well, a good story which involves fairly explicit sex from time to time.

These are my reviews as posted on Amazon (where they're all available for purchase)...

Not Your Damn Submissive

This made a smashing change from the usual dom-sub stories, so many of which trigger a sense of "here we go again" in my mind. The developing relationship between the two characters drives the story, with misunderstandings, mistakes and anxiety on both sides. At the end, I found it refreshingly honest about what it might be like for a dom, that you don't really know what you're doing, but hope for the best and stay projecting confidence and assurance. The only thing which made me doubt the storyline was their first encounter. Would he really push so hard without actually establishing her willingness to play? It bordered on non-consensual to me and I almost stopped reading at that point.

Not Your Damn Dom

Another excellent book from Ms Valenti, painting the opposite side of the sort of relationship in "Not Your Damn Sub". I enjoyed it, my sort of erotica. By which I mean a story which could still work without the explicit bits, and those were rather nicely done. In terms of a romance story, it's an entertaining variation on the "misunderstanding and poor communication" theme.

What I particularly like about both this book and the first in the series is that it paints a very plausible view of the development of a sub/dom relationship, one far removed from those fantasies in which the "dom" is almost psychic and does everything right all the time, without the couple actually appearing to develop a wider relationship. These stories are very much about developing a relationship which includes BDSM in their lovemaking.


I really enjoyed Undone. It’s an erotic thriller which kept me turning the pages to see what happened next. I read it over two evenings, and wished I'd started it earlier on the first day so I could have devoured it in a single sitting. The thriller side of the story isn't the main driver, but it provides a few key stressful points around which the story is told and their relationship evolves.

It's a first-person account as if written in a diary, which allows Kristina to mix conventional story-telling with a little more introspection and inner dialogue, which I found rather intriguing.

I was impressed by her character Lana's account of a newly-developing sub-dom relationship. Not just by her intense and exciting sexual experiences but also the emotional side of it, learning to trust and coping with her all-too-plausible anxieties and insecurities. This is something which is beyond my personal experience, but Lana's account left me feeling I understood some aspects of it a little better.

I was pleased to see her dom, Sol, make a momentary misjudgement and have to regain her confidence in him. Far too many dom characters seem to be just a little bit too perfect, so this made him seem true-to-life for me.

This was the first Black Lace book I've read. If this is typical of the standard of the work they publish, I might suggest they start a loyalty card scheme...

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Sex and Cupcakes? A blissful combination - discuss....

This post is a change from my more recent ones, and a bit shorter, as I've decided to post a review of a book I've just finished reading.

The book is Sex and Cupcakes, by Rachel Kramer Bussel.

Rachel's a prolific writer of erotica, a blogger and editor. She writes the weekly Let's Get It On sex column for Philadelphia City Paper. Her topics have ranged across sex, dating, books, pop culture, and hoarding. A former senior editor of Penthouse Variations, she's edited around fifty anthologies, written over a hundred stories of her own, and runs erotic writing workshops across the US.

Sex and Cupcakes is her most recent publication, a collection of nine essays.

Sex and Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays
But why sex and cupcakes, you might reasonably ask? An interesting combination, but perhaps a bit messy.

The truth, so far as I can tell, is less exotic... Rachel blogs about cupcakes at

The book blurb describes it as a collection "detailing her dirty and sweet sides as well as sexual adventures, politics, heartbreak, tattoos and more."

It's had a lot of very positive reviews posted on Amazon, a few giving four stars, the vast majority five. I really enjoyed reading it myself and gave it five stars.

As soon as I saw the contents page, I thought it would be well-worth reading. Well, with essay titles like I Have Trouble With Orgasms, I'm Pro-Choice and I Fuck, What Kind Of Submissive Are You?, I Don't Want Or Need An App To Measure My Sex Life, Champagne Sex and, of course, Sex And Cupcakes, anyone with a vivid imagination and a slightly dirty mind might be curious to dip in... Yes, I'll hold my hand up on both counts.

I thought these were interesting, intelligently written and thought-provoking essays, in which Rachel is very open about herself, her life choices and their consequences. This collection of nine essays almost certainly includes something for all readers and writers of erotica.

She discusses a lot of pretty personal things, not least of which is the challenge of publishing under her real name, which means she has a "public" self which is only part of her "real" self. Writing does not require the writer to reveal their true identity, and she estimates that over half the writers in her anthologies publish under pseudonyms.

Rachel argues that being "pro-choice" is almost always being "pro-life", despite what the more conservative US commentators might say. I liked her rather provocative suggestion that being pro-choice means being supportive of all forms of consensual sexual taste, from kink to GLBT.

I enjoyed her reflections on taking an internet quiz to determine how submissive she was. Interestingly, she found it thought-provoking, but pointed out that her responses at any given time would depend on how she reacted to the people she was with, taking roles anywhere on a scale ranging from submissive to dominant.

Thinking about an iPhone app designed to score your sexual activity, based purely on movement and how much noise you make, led her to ponder just what it is that makes sex "good".

Her longest essay is a wide-ranging one, which covers how she started writing erotica, where she gets her ideas from, and how her friends and family react to her writing. Her stories range from total fantasy to being heavily based on personal experiences, and everywhere in between. She offers an interesting exercise she uses in her classes for writers. And no, I won't tell you! You'll just have to read the book.

I completely agree with her that the best erotica combines sexuality and emotion, and that there's no such thing as a "typical" erotica writer. They earn money by their writing, not by telling the reader about their personal sexuality.

Fair enough. Would we assume that a thriller writer is admitting to having a career in espionage, crime or as an amateur detective?

If you'd like a collection of interesting, varied and thought-provoking essays ranging around sex and erotica, I'd recommend this one without hesitation.

Purchasing links:
- Amazon US
- Amazon UK
- iTunes

Links to Rachel's writer's pages on and