Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Amma gonna go all Smaug on yer arse

This week I read an article online that actually made me want to get all Smaug on the writer’s arse. Said individual was having a go at the fantasy genre, pretty much bitching about the standard tropes of elves, orcs, wizards, et al, and how set in its ways the fantasy genre has become. Blah, blah, blah, dwarves are boring etc etc. That whole vibe.

                                          Image: Wiki Commons
The writer bemoaned the fact that there were so few authors willing to push boundaries, and yes, to a degree I’m tempted to agree. Tropes exist. But here’s the rub – it’s what  the author *does* with these tropes that matters.

(Some fellow authors might also sympathise when I mention about going too far out on a limb, and encountering reader resistance to ideas that are just so far off the beaten path.)

To this end, I feel it’s important that all established and aspiring fantasy writers should read widely within (and outside) their genre. Know your classics. Go look up the less mainstream material too. If a book has many negative reviews not related to grammar gremlins, ask yourself why is it that a book is controversial. Go read the book yourself, and make up your own mind.

(I did that recently with Karen Miller’s Empress, and I fucking loved the book. Ditto for everything of Mark Lawrence’s that I’ve read so far. None of these are everyone’s cup of tea.)

Hell, for good measure, load up on non-fiction too. A subscription to National Geographic will expose you to so many ideas. Keep up to speed with current affairs. Watch documentaries. Challenge yourself with ideas that make you uncomfortable. Ask yourself why you are uneasy. Then see if you can channel some of that into your writing.

Now, if you’re absolutely hellbent on writing about dwarves, elves and orcs, ask yourself this: what can you bring to the trope to make it uniquely your own and not some thinly veiled Lord of the Rings fanfiction with the serial numbers filed off (though fanfiction has its place, no matter what the critics say).

Tropes offer us a recognised framework upon which we can hang a story. If we look at Joseph Campbell’s conception of the Monomyth or how folk tales often have common occurrences and themes, we have shining examples of why touchstones of familiarity are so important. They satisfy a deep-rooted need for those who engage in the appreciation of storycraft. Take those away, and it becomes difficult to relate to a story.

You might whinge that as readers and writers we’ve become lazy, but I’ll argue that we need our shared themes as common ground and a launch pad for the worlds we build. While fiction plays with alternative realities, it is in and of itself not necessarily an accurate depiction of reality.

Real life doesn’t always tie up neatly. The hero doesn’t always slay the dragon. Sometimes the princess is an evil, conniving bitch. When we read (or write) fantasy, it is because we wish to escape from the mundanity our day-to-day existence. We therefore (often) seek some sort of ideal.

Our needs for particular stories are also different. there are days when I’m up for a challenge, and something radically different from the norm (like Storm Constantine’s hermaphrodite Wraeththu) is exactly what I need. Other times I want my dragonriders flying across Pern’s skies or even a few sneaky hobbitses, no matter how many times I’ve read Tolkien’s words.

Yes, I think there are some fantasy novels out there that wear their influences on their sleeves (hello, Terry Brooks, Raymond E Feist) but I’ll still dip into their worlds from time to time and enjoy myself, despite the obvious parallels. Or I can hit up Ursula K Le Guin and have my world stretched to the point where nothing is familiar. You have to consider the context. And also, bear in mind, that certain *types* of fantasy fiction will naturally be more accessible to particular readers more so than others. You opt for terra incognita or stick to the well-worn paths. To say that one is inferior to the other is missing the point.

In closing, I’d like to charge you with the command to write the stories *you* want to read. That’s what matters, ultimately. Also, don’t apologise for your choice in reading or writing matter, and if you want vampire elves riding unicorns, DO IT. Life’s too short and brutal to pander to others’ whims.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Magic of Thieves by C Greenwood #reviews

Title: Magic of Thieves (Legends of Dimmingwood #1)
Author: C Greenwood, 2012

Ilan is orphaned at a young age, and though author C Greenwood doesn’t exactly name Ilan’s race, the pointy ears and ability to do magic all point at elves. Though Ilan’s parents try to get her to safety, as a last-ditch attempt to protect her when soldiers come to hunt them down, things go wrong. Instead of reaching a haven where Ilan might be afforded the opportunity to enjoy a relatively normal upbringing, Ilan ends up at the mercy of the thieves of the Dimmingwood when the peddler with whom she is travelling is ambushed.

And that is how Ilan becomes a mascot of sorts, for a band of thieves, and has a thoroughly unconventional upbringing for a young lady. She might be well versed in the ways of the forest, but she lacks social graces until she intercedes to save the life of a young priest – and an unlikely friendship comes into being.

There really isn’t much to book one of this series other than offering readers an origin story in which we are introduced to the protagonist, and get to share her back story. This might bother some, but I enjoy this sort of detail. Greenwood’s writing is a little clunky at times, and I often found myself wishing the author would go deeper with the layering. Events, like the time Ilan finds herself a McGuffin, she acts but doesn’t question her motivations, which I felt moved a bit quickly for what was in fact a momentous event. Also the world building remains frustratingly light. I wanted to smell the leaf mould, hear which birds were singing, and see how the sunlight dapples the forest floor. This sort of detail, in my mind, is intrinsic to fantasy, and I wanted more of it.

Yes, Ilan can be a bit of a brat, but that’s understandable considering her circumstances, and I really took a shine to her despite her mood swings. She’s a teen, and acts it.

On the whole, this was a fun, engaging story that shows plenty of promise. If you’re looking for a light fantasy adventure with a strong, morally ambiguous female protagonist, then this might be your thing. Though I’m not experiencing a burning rush to go out and immediately buy the next novel, my interest is sufficiently piqued that if book 2 were to land on my desk, I would go on with the story. This one's a free read, so give it a shot.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human #review

Title: Apocalypse Now Now
Author: Charlie Human
Publisher: Umuzi, 2013

In Apocalypse Now Now, we discover right from the opening chapter that Baxter Zevcenko is, to put it mildly, not a very nice boy. At the tender age of 16, he is already a porn-peddling kingpin involved with school gangs, and he’s quite unapologetic about his calling in life. In his mind, everything’s perfect. He has enough cash, he’s manipulating others to do what he wants them to, and he has a hot girlfriend, Esmé.

Of course this is where everything starts to go south. It begins with the threat of a serial killer looming, and gets personal when Esmé goes missing, presumed kidnapped by the serial killer. Baxter’s only clue is a mysterious, glowing tooth found in Esmé’s room.

What follows is Baxter’s descent into the Mother City’s supernatural underground. Everything that he thought he knew is overturned. Fortunately, he’s not on his own, as he teams up with a mystical, ex-special forces bounty hunter, Jackson Ronin.

Their quest sees them tangling with elemental spirits and zombies, and Baxter gradually comes to realise that he stands at the centre of an eons-old conflict between a mantis and an octopus god—shades of HP Lovecraft much?

Baxter is not the hero we asked for, but he’s only one who’s going to take the blame for averting an impending apocalypse – a task for which no one will thank him due to what he has to do in order to come out on top.

Apocalypse Now Now is a gritty, action-packed quest that playfully subverts many of the tropes we encounter in popular urban fantasy, from zombies to dwarves, and generous lashings of local flavour when we encounter creatures such as a springbok faun and tokoloshes. It’s easy to see where the “Tarantino meets Neil Gaiman” applies, but I couldn’t quite help thinking of fun films like Men in Black. And, in a similar fashion, Apocalypse Now Now doesn’t take itself too seriously.

With that in mind, if you’re looking for a madcap romp filled with plenty of pop culture references and sometimes dizzying plot reversals, then you’ll likely enjoy sinking your teeth into this one. Though you may want to sit down and catch your breath afterwards. It’s a helluva ride.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard #1) by Scott Lynch #review

Title: The Lies of Locke Lamora
Author: Scott Lynch
Publisher: Gollancz, 2007

This is one of those books that has created quite a bit of buzz online, some praising it and one or two absolutely slamming it, so I felt compelled to add it to my reading list. Not only that, but it was recommended to me by an author friend who said it was a good example of fantasy literature where the protagonist is more of an anti-hero.

Locke Lamora is a thief and a liar, and as Scott Lynch paints him out, Locke is the best thief and liar in the city of Camorr. He doesn’t operate on his own, however: Locke has his coterie of “brothers” (and one, absent “sister”) and they style themselves as the Gentleman Bastards. They consider themselves to be consummate con artists rather than ordinary thieves. Their depredations on the wealthy of the city have led to the rise of the legend of the Thorn of Camorr.

Even Barsavi, the de facto leader of Camorr’s underground, is unaware of how fabulously wealthy the Gentleman Bastards are: For all their diversity, Locke, Jean Tannen, the twins Calo and Galdo Sanza, and the young Bug, as well as Sabetha (whom I hope to meet soon) are a devastating team and their exploits are both audacious and hair raising.

And should the Gentleman Bastards be unmasked as preying on the wealthy of Camorr – and that they are contravention of the Secret Peace that protects the upper crust of society – they would be in a world of trouble.

Of course Lynch is a masterful spinner of webs that, as the story progresses, grow gradually more tangled and complicated. I often paused and tried to imagine how the hell Locke and his companions were going to extricate themselves from their muddles.

The book does get off to a bit of a slow start, and I will admit that the writing style nearly put me off completely. But I’m glad I pushed on through, because I can state with all confidence that Lynch is one of the very few authors out there who can successfully write a stunning, slightly omniscient third-person point of view.

You get the idea that it’s Lynch telling the story while it unfolds, often digressing to fill in with a bit of back story to give context, before going on with the epic. This hopping between past and present may annoy some, but I loved the bigger picture it offered. Lynch feeds his readers just enough hints and tidbits to give sufficient depth to the characterisation and narrative.

The world building is breathtaking, tactile and vast in scope. The city of Camorr reminded me of Venice, and such magical elements as there were, didn’t overshadow the storytelling. But, be warned, Lynch pulls no punches, and if you take a leaf out of the Great GRRM’s books (A Song of Ice and Fire style), don’t get too attached to characters.

The moment I finished, I thought, wow, this would work as a film, and though I see it’s been optioned, nothing much has happened. The Lies of Locke Lamora may take time to get up to speed but it’s nail biting at the end. This is fantasy at its best, and it’s the kind of book that I’ll reread at some point.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

String Bridge by Jessica Bell #review

Title: String Bridge
Author: Jessica Bell
Publisher: Vine Leaves Press, 2013

Let me start this review by saying this book resonated with me hard, from the moment I picked it up. Melody gave up what could possibly have been a highly successful music career in order to get married and have a baby. Now thirty, she is involved in educational publishing while her husband is an events organiser. Her four-year-old daughter Tessa is the apple of her eye.

Yet Mel is consumed by a nagging discontent of what might've been if she'd not given up her music. Not only that, but she's also looking at further career opportunities that might require her to leave Athens. And this is a source of conflict between her and Alex.

Things certainly don't become easier for Mel, as her attempts to regain her mojo result in her life becoming more and more complicated. Every decision she makes will result in further problems. Must she be sensible or dare she risk it all for her dreams that have been put on hold for four years?

On top of it all, Alex's behaviour – see-sawing between brutish and caring – makes things incredibly difficult for Mel. Though she wants to find herself on her own terms, she can't escape the fact that she still loves her husband and must acknowledge the bond between them in their daughter.

Jessica Bell writes from the heart. She made me care about Mel and her loved ones right from the get go. Mel is completely relate-able, and her turmoil was immediate. I wanted her to succeed in all spheres of her life. I wanted her hurt and confusion to be resolved. Just when I thought things were fixed, Bell then went and pulled the figurative rug from beneath my feet – and I hurt some more, along with Mel.

This is a beautiful, tragic and inspiring story. If you've got a dry eye by the time you reach the end, you probably don't have a heart. But then, I definitely think I was the intended reader, especially as someone who sits with one foot in the publishing industry, and the other in music. And now I'm going to stop gushing otherwise I'll sound like a complete frothing fangrrrrl. If you love music: *THIS BOOK*. That is all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Outlander by Diana Gabaldone #review

Author: Diana Gabaldone
Title: Outlander
Publisher: Dell, 2005

I must state from the get go that I read this book mainly because many of my friends and fellow authors have – so I wanted to see what all the hype was about. (And this is very much like that time all those years ago when I inflicted the Twilight* books on myself.)

First off, Outlander wasn’t horrible. Far from it. Gabaldone has done a really good job bringing the past to life, and the sheer amount of detail goes a long way to making me feel that the setting is authentic. The characters are fun, and many of the interactions between them provided me with sufficient entertainment.

But… and I’m sorry, there are going to be several buts (and not the Kardashian kind, either).

The protest I hear the most often from Outlander fans is: “B-b-but… Jamie…” (Followed by lip-trembling.)

Here’s my take on it. It’s a pure case of BBFS (book boyfriend syndrome). The same way female readers gush and get moist panties over the Edwards, Jacobs, Wraths and Christians out there. They’re not the kind of guy we’d date, but we’d like to fool ourselves into thinking they’d make good life partners because they’re soooo not like the men we ended up with. Oh, and washboard abs.

So, I suppose if you’re only looking for an unlikely hawt twenty-three-year-old virgin, be my guest. And nope, I didn’t buy that shtick about Jamie waiting one day until he got married…

One of the initial problems I had with the story was its pacing. About halfway through the book I was still waiting to find out what was going to happen – was it going to be a massive showdown involving Randall  or was it all going to be about Claire trying to go home to her own time. Both are equally good premises that, by the time we reached the end, felt to me as if they could have been executed with a bit more oomph and focus in order to heighten a sense of urgency, which I felt was lacking throughout.

Perhaps my biggest gripe was Claire herself. Okay, so we suspend disbelief that she’s somehow fallen back in time – but she takes her changed circumstances way too calmly. No panic. No freaking out. More like, “Oh, look, this is Scotland during the 1700s, now ooh, look, pretty red-haired man in kilt… Washboard abs...”

I get that things between her and her husband of seven years back in post-WWII England weren’t that exciting, but not once throughout the book did I gain the impression that she was overly concerned about being separated from him. In addition, the effortlessness in her getting married to Jamie on a relatively flimsy pretext irked me. Washboard abs much?

The whole vibe with Claire nearly getting raped numerous times didn’t bother me nearly as much as how she dealt with the Very Bad Thing that happens near the end. A lot of what goes on with her seems too convenient – like how she’s apparently unable to conceive, which is just peachy keen for a woman of modern social mores in an environment that lacks adequate birth control. Added to that, she’s a nurse too. Wow. Clan of the Cave Bear much? (For anyone who remembers Ayla’s doings back in the Palaeolithic.) Super, super convenient.

And possibly a case of washboard abs.

But, jawellnofine. Don’t mind me. I finished the book. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t want to throw my iPad at the wall (okay, well, that’s just stupid but I’m sure you get what I mean). But I spent a large portion of my time reading muttering, “Oh, really?” under my breath. I’ll also most likely watch the TV series because I admit I have a thing for men in kilts. And washboard abs. ** And, yes, I have a passing fondness for Scotsmen. Some things are unavoidable, like the need to rubberneck when driving past road accidents.

* And in case you were wondering, no, I did not read the Fifty Shades of Grey books. That’s a bridge too far, IMO.
** And yes, I’m a sad, sad puppy.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Books of Khepera special offer until December 1

Here's your chance to read *both* my Books of Khepera for free, gratis, sweet fark-all. All you need to do is visit the books at Smashwords, and enter the coupon codes below.


Khepera Rising (#1)
Coupon: VN99J

Khepera Redeemed (#2)
Coupon: JW66C

And, if you loved the books, all I ask in return is that if you have the time, please go rate and review them on Amazon and Goodreads.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

This Day by Tiah Beautement #review

Title: This Day
Author: Tiah Beautement
Publisher: Modjaji Books, 2014
Reviewer: Nerine Dorman

Possibly the worst has happened to Ella. Not only has she lost her small son Kai under tragic circumstances, but she has also lost her husband. Bart might be there physically, but his spirit is locked away in a profound depression. Though the couple wants for nothing when it comes to their material needs, they no longer have much in the way of a relationship. Ella sits by helpless as Bart seems to drift further and further away, and the therapist isn’t helping.

At the heart of the matter, Ella is lonely, and at her wits’ end. In her self-imposed exile caring for Bart and his depression, she has become incapable of connecting meaningfully with other people. On top of that, she is unable to process her own grief and look after her own needs – simply going through the motions though on the outside she seems to be coping better than her husband.

Some of Ella’s behaviour might, to an outside observer, even seem bizarre – for instance her habit of digging in portions of her son’s cremated remains with the vegetables that she grows. In her own way, Ella is trying to bring Kai back to life.

She might be lonely, but Ella is not completely alone. Her friends care, and in their own ways try to get Ella to reach beyond herself and her diminishing orbit around Bart. His depression is an almost palpable entity that has taken on a life of its own, and has displaced their relationship. Bart uses Ella as a shield between himself and the real world, and Ella enables him by constantly trying to anticipate his needs.

No one talks about Bart’s depression, but they’re all aware of it.

Threaded throughout the novel is the theme of water – at first benign and life-giving, but then the separator, that takes her son away from her. The ocean is forbidding and a barrier that prevents Ella from confronting herself. It is something vast that she must face, and immerse herself before she can attain acceptance.

Ella must let slip some of her need to control before she can make peace with the fact that there are aspects of her life that remain forever altered – her son’s death and her husband’s psychological state. It’s how she chooses to engage with the ebb and flow of the tides that matters.

This Day is a bittersweet moment in time that Tiah Beautement has captured beautifully. Although the story is slow-moving, it is beautifully rendered and, like water, is reflective and steeped in emotion.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The City by Stella Gemmell #review

Title: The City
Author: Stella Gemmell
Publisher: Transworld Publishers, 2013

Some may have already encountered Stella Gemmell’s writing – she is known for having helped complete her husband, David Gemmell’s, Troy: Fall of Kings, after his death. The City is her first solo effort, and this tome is a big book in more ways than one.

The City, ruled by a supposedly immortal emperor, has been at war with neighbouring nations for so long no one truly remembers a time when there was peace. The City has stood for eons, with each age building on the ruins of the past. An air of decay and dissolution permeates everything, with the sense of a golden age that has passed.

The Reds try their utmost to defend the City from the invading Blues, and there are those on both sides who realise that this constant warfare must come to an end. But no only does no one really know who the emperor is, he is also ably defended by his guards and protected by the ruling families who lord it over the common folk.

The story unfolds over years, as we follow in the footsteps of a large, varied cast that includes sewer dwellers, disgraced soldiers and an exiled general – all who are fighting for survival and for a way to end the conflict.

Gemmell’s ability to hold together so many narrative threads is masterful. Not only that, but her attention to detail paints a vivid picture of the setting and its people, that unfolds gradually to create a magnificent tapestry of a saga. Even the tiniest detail is important, and Gemmell shows that she can hop from a tension-filled battle to a tender moment between lovers without faltering.

Mostly, The City is a story about those who are called to heroic acts, that on their own might seem like they don’t amount to much. When considered in their combined effect, these acts illustrate that these sacrifices do make a difference.

The only downside that I can think of is that readers don’t get enough time to deeply identify with any particular character, as there is so much going on. That being said, this novel is, as its title suggests, more about the war for a city’s heart rather than the individuals who bleed for it.

Lovers of epic military fantasy will be right at home with The City, which will toy with readers’ loyalties as characters’ allegiances shift, and battles are lost and won. The ending itself brings with it mingling disappointment. I asked myself, “Is this all?” but then I thought about the turn of events, and the fates of those who lived, and felt satisfied by the outcome.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Dead Days Omnibus by Marcus Sedgwick #review

Title: The Dead Days Omnibus (The Book of Dead Days and The Dark Flight Down)
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Publisher: Orion Children’s Books, 2006

Although this is marketed as two books, I’m going to treat it as one volume, since that’s how I read it – a nice-looking hardcover edition too.

Boy lives in the City, which exists as an amalgamation of a number of different European cities, presided over by a distant emperor. Boy has no idea who his parents are, and for the first few years of his young life, grows up on the streets. This is until the stage magician Valerian takes him in.

For a while, Boy is Valerian’s assistant for his show, which he gives as a highlight of a slightly down-at-heel theatre in the city. This is also where Boy encounters a girl – Willow – who assists one of the other performers. A hesitant friendship develops.

Of course if this were to be just a story about what happens at the theatre, there wouldn’t be much of a book. Soon enough, there’s a murder, and Boy, Willow and Valerian embark on a quest after a McGuffin – and the clock is ticking. They have until midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Marcus Sedgwick introduces us to a host of fascinating characters in a suitably gloomy and gothic setting. There really isn’t much substance to book one other than their quest, and an examination of the complicated relationship between Boy and Valerian. In my not so humble opinion, this relationship is straight-out exploitation.

As for the ending of book one, I gained the impression that Sedgwick wasn’t quite certain *how* he was going to finish, so the conclusion felt a bit convenient to me. Cataclysmic, yes, but I felt it was a bit abrupt. Ditto for the second book.

Boy and Willow are swept along by the adults’ machinations, and don’t seem to be all that active in affecting change around them – though they certainly aid or hinder the adult secondary characters.

That Boy is somehow special, there is little doubt, but it is only in book two, where I saw the final revelation coming from a mile away, that we realise exactly how special he is. More than that I won’t say (for the sake of spoilers).

In essence, we mix a dangerous McGuffin with a mad emperor, ambitious men, a whiff of brimstone and a suitably scary “Phantom”, and you end up with a bunch of disparate elements that are vaguely linked and don’t *quite* hang together.

So I’m basically sitting on the fence with this story. The Dead Days Omnibus is not a bad tale – not in the least. Though he has a tendency to randomly wander into omniscient third person (a personal bugaboo for me) he holds my interest, and I thoroughly enjoyed the mood and setting. I just felt that throughout this story that Boy was too accepting of his lot (I mean, he’s fifteen, and I remember all too well what I was like at that age) and that the plot of this story itself did not go beyond the obvious, linear. Elements like the Phantom could have been tied in stronger (this threat remains hanging around the edges but never quite resolved until the end).

Yet this *is* a lovely read, however, and especially thanks to the imagery, though I couldn’t truly engage with the characters in a meaningful way. But if a taste of the gothic is what you’re after, then you’ll gobble this up nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Write the Fight Right by Alan Baxter #review

Title: Write the Fight Right
Author: Alan Baxter, 2011

Short and to the point, Write the Fight Right says exactly what it does, and Alan Baxter offers a valuable resource to any author who might need to write combat scenes.

Though real-life experience will always beat theory hands down, there is enough information here, presented in a highly accessible, no-nonsense style, that clears up many areas that might be an issue in fiction.

Baxter really takes a broad view – talking about movement, blocking and how fighters’ physical attributes matter. He gives a breakdown on how a real fight is not the same sort of clean, linear type of situation as one expects after having seen movies. Fighters’ concerns are not limited to opponents, but also to the potential dangers apparent in their environment.

People who fight get hurt. If you take a hard enough knock to the head, there’s a chance you might experience concussion – and you’re certainly not going to bounce right up like a jack-in-the-box to carry on fighting as if nothing is the matter.

Baxter touches on the psychology of fighting, and also how the addition of weapons can change the game considerably.

Having hung out with martial arts and weapons enthusiasts, I already see much of what Baxter shares as common sense. What I did like was how he’s ordered the information, so this slim volume is a good refresher, and it certainly helps to have all the information laid out so clearly.

If you’re looking for a *very* basic introduction to hand-to-hand combat, then I recommend this book. It’s certainly proved to be a useful reminder because there’s no way in hell I’m going to try any combat classes – I’m much too much of a shrinking violet for that. (And, besides, getting beaten up is what the characters in my novels are for.)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Review: The Bro-Magnet by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Title: The Bro-Magnet (Nice Guy #1)
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Publisher: TKA Distribution, 2011

Johnny Smith’s the guy who gets asked to be the best man at his mates’ weddings, and always seems to say or do the right things so far as they’re concerned. But when it comes to the fairer sex, it would seem that his luck has permanently run out.

Basically, Johnny is very much a man’s man. He loves his sport – and specifically supports supports the Mets, who seem to be experiencing a losing streak. Johnny’s regular poker evenings with the boys are, from what I gather, pretty legendary.

Just when Johnny fears that he will never find the right woman, chance lets him cross paths with the rather vivacious Helen Troy, a district attorney. From the outset, the pair seem to be completely incompatible. Johnny is a painter and Helen is at the top of her game in the legal profession.

Yet… Despite this, there is a spark, and Johnny isn’t one to let their vastly different backgrounds act as an impediment on the path to true love. He is way out of his depth, however, and so doesn’t want to muck up this opportunity the same way he’s wrecked previous attempts at having a long-term relationship.

Johnny’s a resourceful kinda guy, even if his solutions can be unorthodox (just ask Fluffy the cat about learning to walk on a leash like a dog). Johnny therefore enlists the help of his friends, and based on their advice sets about changing himself into the man he thinks would snag Helen’s heart.

Already there I could see trouble brewing, and some of the unintentionally hilarious and cringe-worthy results of Johnny’s quest to be Mr Right make this book.

For someone who is every dude’s best friend, Johnny is gloriously inept when it comes to his own affairs – yet his intentions are in the right place. He is not a bad bloke, and I was rooting for something to eventually go right for the guy.

All I will say further is that I saw hints of the final outcome from quite far off, even if Johnny remained maddeningly oblivious, and was happy with how the author resolved everything. Yeah, yeah, I know, this is so not my usual reading fodder, but I totally enjoyed this light-hearted, humorous romp.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Exposed to Passion with Gemma Brocato

Today I've got Gemma Brocato visiting, and we're talking about her latest, Exposed to Passion. Welcome, Gemma!

Tell us a little bit about yourself? 

I’m a huge reader, so any type of book, any genre works for me. I love a great mystery, epic love story, classics and even the occasional biography. For a long time, I’d read ten works of fiction then force myself to read a biography (you know – to broaden my horizons). The first book I read that made a huge impact on my perception of the world of words was Little Women. It remains a favorite even today.

Tell us a little bit about your book? 

Exposed To Passion is the third book in the Five Senses Series. I’ve based this novel on the sense of sight. My heroine, Rikki Salerno is a photographer who curates a traveling art exhibit. After she is knocked into a salt marsh by a student, high school teacher, Sam Kerrigan leaps to her rescue. She ends up helping with his photography club and getting to know Sam a whole lot better.

Why do you love your characters so much? 

I’ve loved Sam’s sense of humor since he first appeared in Cooking Up Love, then again in Hearts In Harmony. He’s the kind of teacher every student should have. A real champion. Rikki is messy and passionate, but unafraid to help a student face down bullies. Together, the two are magic.

What challenges do they face? 

Sam despises liars because of an experience from his own days in high school. So when Rikki lies by omission, Sam is beyond angry. Rikki’s dealt with bullies as a young girl and hates that one of Sam’s students faces the same situation. And to keep things interesting, the villainess of the book is a woman who was a bully herself and hasn’t really outgrown the tendency. She exposes Rikki and Sam’s intimate moments, and Rikki’s secret in one fell swoop.

Who'll enjoy reading this book?

A reader who loves a heroine or heroine who is willing to champion the underdog, or wants to see the characters get their happily ever-after would enjoy this book.

Blurb: 
They walked through the shadows individually. Will they emerge into the light together?
Leading a vagabond life as a curator for a traveling photography exhibit translates to a lot of bad days for Rikki Salerno. But her trouble doubles when a careless high school student shoves her into a marsh. Being rescued by teacher Sam Kerrigan should have made things better, but Rikki’s inability to confess her true identity casts a shadow over their budding affair.

When Sam refuses an overly aggressive parent’s marriage proposal, she’s determined to ruin him. Not only does she doctor photos to make it look like Sam’s behaved inappropriately in front of students, she hacks the foundation website to reveal Rikki’s true identity. Faster than the blink of a shutter, Rikki’s focus changes from pursuing her full-color future to the black and white necessity of clearing Sam’s name.

Excerpt:
Sam’s attention wandered yet again off the homework papers he was supposed to be correcting. The universal law of gravitation wasn’t nearly as riveting as the memory of Rikki Salerno wearing a purple jacket and tight running shorts in the early morning sunlight. He’d resisted the urge to wrap her in his arms when he’d run up on her in the park that morning. A fiery halo had lit her hair, glints of red winking in her messy ponytail. The sight of her when she turned back toward town and ran ahead of him! He’d have been happy to follow her for all twenty-six miles of a marathon. But, his need to talk to her overruled his desire to watch her spectacular behind, so he’d quickened his pace to catch her.

Rikki had tensed when he’d started ranting about Marguerite Sims. Without knowing how, he’d made her angry again. He didn’t understand it, but she seemed defensive when he’d made disparaging remarks about her boss. He was going to have to watch his comments about the pampered princess when he was around Rikki.

And, if wishes did come true, there would be a whole lot of around Rikki time. Her image in his mind’s eye—exotic, interesting, and intriguing, all wrapped up in one sexy package…. He fidgeted in his hard teacher’s chair, suddenly uncomfortable with the tightness of his khakis. Thank God, there weren’t any students in the room. That’d be a hell of a thing to explain to a bunch of horny teens.

Buy Links
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Kensington


a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author: 
Gemma's favorite desk accessories for many years were a circular wooden token, better known as a 'round tuit,' and a slip of paper from a fortune cookie proclaiming her a lover of words; some day she'd write a book. All it took was a transfer to the United Kingdom, the lovely English springtime, and a huge dose of homesickness to write her first novel. Once it was completed and sent off with a kiss, even the rejections addressed to 'Dear Author' were gratifying.

After returning to America, she spent a number of years as a copywriter, dedicating her skills to making insurance and the agents who sell them sound sexy. Eventually, her full-time job as a writer interfered with her desire to be a writer full-time and she left the world of financial products behind to pursue an avocation as a romance author.

Social Media Links:
www.Gemmabrocato.com
https://www.facebook.com/gemma.brocato
https://twitter.com/GemmaBrocato
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7229886.Gemma_Brocato
http://www.wattpad.com/user/GemmaBrocato
https://plus.google.com/+GemmaBrocato/posts

Also By Gemma Brocato:
Cooking Up Love
Hearts In Harmony

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

African psycho: a new voice in South African speculative fiction


When you meet David Horscroft in the flesh, it’s really difficult associating this fresh-faced, well-spoken young man with the main character from his debut novel, Fletcher, which comes out this month via Fox & Raven. The problem is that one can’t stop wondering how Horscroft has come up with this rather charming classic sociopath who makes our favourite serial killer, Dexter, seem like a kindergarten teacher.

Horscroft also hasn’t come up in the authorly ranks as one would expect, which he freely admits.

“I’m a bit of a strange specimen,” he says. “I have a wide variety of interests, from reading and writing across to biochemistry, psychology, forensics, computer science and genetics. I somehow managed to wrangle an honour’s bachelor of science in medicine, specialising in bioinformatics last year, and for the majority of this year I’ve been working as a software developer.

“I love being busy. Boredom is my greatest enemy. I always have to be doing something, reading something, playing something, drinking something. It’s probably a little manic, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Informed by his interests, Horscroft developed a love for reading from a young age, that led him on his path to eventually write his own stories.

He adds: “I’d devour books by the day. I absolutely loved reading. I still do, but unfortunately I just feel like I have less and less time as more and more people are foolish enough to give me ‘responsibilities’. I was especially enamoured with the Redwall series [by Brian Jacques], as I recall. With this came the crazy desire to write. I was probably a pretty typical precocious 12-year-old: I was convinced I’d write something and it would be amazing and I’d be super famous and meet all my favourite celebrities. So I guess that’s where I first got the desire to write. As I went through high school and broadened my literary palate, I also found I wasn’t awful at English either. I started with little things – small 1 000-word scenes, psychotic Valentine’s poems, the like – and slowly realised that I really, really enjoyed writing.”

With regard to specific genres, he says: “I don’t know if I’ve actually chosen a genre yet. Like I say, I started on horror, with some flash fiction pieces published in an online horror magazine and anthology. Fletcher isn’t so much a horror as it is a thriller, despite the protagonist being pretty horrifying. I guess I really like deception and mysteries, which exist in both genres: the whodunit elements of thrillers and the what-is-it element of horror. I especially adore HP Lovecraft for his ability to maintain mystery.”
Fletcher, otherwise known as K, is a character who is capable of acts of extreme violence yet there’s a peculiar rationale to Fletcher’s behaviour.

Horscroft elaborates: “Fletcher is, in some ways, a classic sociopath who acknowledges that the social contract exists, but never hesitates to point out that there’s nothing really holding us to it. Another common sociopathic trait is a predilection towards boredom: being surrounded by people living common lives, doing common things, all because of this feeling of ‘we should’. ‘We should’ earn money, ‘we should’ treat others with respect, ‘we should’ try to act unselfishly. Fletcher doesn’t stand for this blandness, so you have this very twisted monster getting up to very twisted things just because there’s no good reason not to.

“The driving force behind the character’s behaviour is an equal blend of curiosity, boredom and spite. I’m not sure if it constitutes as a rationale, in so much as an almost-instinctive call – a bored, reckless force of nature.”

The world Fletcher inhabits is a lot like ours, yet things have gone horribly wrong. It’s not completely post-apocalyptic, in that society hasn’t quite disintegrated, but things have become pretty bad.

Horscroft says: “I first started writing Fletcher in 2010, believe it or not. It took a long time to finish it, but when I started, I had this question on my brain: what if 2012 actually was the apocalypse? Not in the biblical sense, but what if the fear and expectation had turned the world upside down? So that’s kind of what happened: all the wheels have fallen off. A deadly virus scourges the globe (note that this part was written before the current situation in North-West Africa) and, by the time the book takes place, the world has only just started to steady itself. Cities, even countries, across the world, have been devastated, quarantined and cordoned. And with this fear, comes false-positives: chaos that was triggered out of fear of this virus rather than the virus itself.

“America has been crippled, China has gone dark, and large swathes of Europe have descended into outright civil carnage. And where you have corpses, you have carrion-feeders; that is, those looking to take advantage and make the best of the situation, at whatever cost. That’s why Fletcher is so comfortable in the ‘New World’: it makes sense. Fewer people are respecting the social contract, and K finds that fascinating and fun.”

Fletcher is not for the squeamish – possibly the understatement of the year. The story is drenched in violence and bloodshed, to which Horscroft adds: “There are some pretty heavy scenes. I generally try to use violence as a means of conveying something and I guess that if it succeeds, it’s not gratuitous by definition. It all depends on the context of the scene: for example. I’ve personally never really understood long, winding descriptions of violence in combat scenes. It’s combat: of course it’s violent. The reader doesn’t need to be reminded of this by a three-page explanation of exactly how someone’s skull exploded.

“Other times it’s very necessary, since different kinds of violence tell us a lot about a character and their current mood. The existence of drawn-out violence can be used to demonstrate a whole range of things – sadism, regret, incompetence, doubt, anger and fear – so it’s important to use this contextually. Especially in the first person, it strikes me as strange when violence isn’t expounded upon sometimes, since it’s clearly what the character is focusing on. A watchmaker won’t skimp details with a watch, so why would a sadist skimp details with a particularly fun murder?”

Monday, October 27, 2014

Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage trilogy book #1) #review

Title: Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage trilogy book #1)
Author: Brian McClellan
Publisher: Orbit, 2013

With main characters stating early on in the story that “The age of kings is dead…and I have killed it,” I knew immediately that Promise of Blood, by Brian McClellan was going to go places standard sword-and-sorcery fantasy novels don’t. Well, move over swords, and make space for gunpowder, bayonets and, as the title suggests, plenty of bloodshed.

A new breed of magic has arisen, in the form of powder mages, who manipulate gunpowder to devastating effect. It seems almost a natural development that these same powder mages end up central to the plot to overthrow a corrupt, decadent nobility.

We follow the story primarily from the point of view of three main characters. Field Marshal Tamas understood that his task as the mastermind behind the coup would not be simple, but from the moment the king loses his head, plans for the military man hardly ever come to fruition as initially intended.

That’s where the detective work comes in. Adamat has a magical Knack – he has a perfect memory – and while intrigue stews and war brews, he has limited time to unravel plots that threaten to undermine all of Tamas’s attempts to right past injustices.

Taniel, also a powder mage and Tamas’s son, has an added burden – at a battle front and faced with a challenge he cannot hope to overcome. He has allies, however, and his journey is perhaps the most fascinating of the three story arcs, because it goes into unfamiliar territory.

With the three primary characters in mind, it is perhaps easy to find a little something for most readers here – be it Tamas’s incredible ability to survive attempts on his life; Adamat’s detective work and slow uncovering of intrigue; and Taniel’s quest up mountainous region reminiscent of Tibet – there is a lot going on in this story, and McClellan keeps up a relentless pace yet masterfully holds the narrative together so that the tension is just right.

This is fantasy that blends various genres with a visceral degree of realism. Some elements, like the cave lions and Taniel’s final challenge, did feel a bit awkward to me in execution, but that might just be personal taste on my part. Mihali the master chef with his magical cooking was a wonderful touch, as was the savage Ka-poel, both of whom I’m sure will be further developed in subsequent books.

Characters are flawed and often face seemingly impossible choices, in a world that is gritty and violent. I gained the sense that McClellan draws on many historical influences, such as the French Revolution and the American Civil War, which will offer a touchstone of familiarity to readers.

Tightly plotted and fast paced, this novel is only disappointing in that I reached the end of book one far too quickly.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Heart Of Fire looks at life and death… and things that make us what we are by J Damask

Today I hand over my blog to the wonderful J Damask, author of the Jan Xu Adventures that I had the privilege of working with many years ago when I was still editing for Lyrical Press. This month, J Damask is celebrating the long-awaited continuation of her Jan Xu stories, Heart of Fire.

Heart Of Fire has had an exciting journey. Third book of the Jan Xu Adventures series, it was first accepted by Masque Books and then later by Fox Spirit Books. Its publishing journey is parallel to its gradual transformation from concept to story.  It has been a journey of ups and downs.

Writing the book took a lot from me. I explored issues that impacted my life: Buddhism, Chinese traditions and customs, and death. I wanted to explore the cycle of life and death as part of the story. It is an urban fantasy novel, but it also weaves in things that matter to us, to our hearts and identities as human beings. The songs that sing to us might just be universal in the end: love, family, trust and compassion.

In this third novel of the series, Jan is confronted with more trouble. She rescues a foreign wolf, setting off a series of events and incidents that affect her health, her family and her pack. Throw in the machinations of Chinese vampires and the Western drakes – and Jan has to fight for her life, literally.

The book starts with the celebration of the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, one of the festivals I love as a Chinese girl growing up in Singapore.  I have always enjoyed the eating, the feasting, the variety of food, and (when I was a little girl) the red packets filled with money. Now, since I am married, I have to give the red packets to children. There are families getting together to have the reunion dinner and share stories while they eat. My own memories consist of going to my grandparents’ and playing with my cousins. The same goes with Jan and her large pack-family. Family, in her case, is the bonding factor that keeps her going.

Life is then followed by the grim reality of death. Someone in Jan’s family suddenly dies and she grieves deeply. How does she deal with the pain of loss? This is where I weave in Buddhism. My father is Buddhist and I grew up listening to his chanting at nights.  The mantra I use in the novel is om mani padme hum, the “jewel in the lotus”.
But, of course, there will be action in the novel. The political and manipulative drakes begin to assert a stronger influence in the story. Familiar characters will also appear, causing no small amount of head ache for Jan and her pack, testing her leadership and straining the ties in her family.

Heart Of Fire can be purchased from:
Amazon UK, Amazon US, Spacewitch

Bio:
J. Damask (Joyce Chng) lives in Singapore. Heart Of Fire is the third book of the Jan Xu Adventures series. She blog at A Wolf’s Tale and tweets at @jolantru

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Goodbye, my precioouuusssssss...

Wearing the editor hat doesn’t necessarily guarantee that my writing is perfect once I don the author hat. Granted, I am the first to admit that I am an anally retentive fruitbat have wicked self-editing skills and I catch *most* gremlins. But my writing is filled with unicorns and rainbows *does* need work. Problem is, I’m often so close to my own story that I can’t see the obvious issues with, say, characterisation or pacing.

Case in point…

A few months ago I got a request for a revise and resubmit (R&R) from a prominent publisher of quality LGBT fiction. I read the letter. Saw the editor in question mention that she hated destroying authors hopes on Twitter knew she meant me and that I suck donkey bollocks, then promptly did *absolutely nothing* about the manuscript for half a year.

I went through a whole range of responses, shock, denial, despair… and now, eventually, acceptance. And contemplated throwing myself off the top of the Absa Building in Cape Town's Foreshore.

This week I opened that R&R letter and agreed with absolutely everything that editor said.

I’ve heard some authors whinge and moan about losing their artistic integrity, and that’s all fine and well. Keep your words. Hell, you might just step into Anne Rice’s shoes one day, and that’s absolutely fine. For you. After being convinced that I totally suck donkey bollocks spending time to let that manuscript lie fallow (which I totally advise to any author who’s serious about his or her craft), I’ve got the necessary distance to objectively consider that editor’s opinion.

When I look back at my older writing, it’s not bad. Not by a long shot if I consider some of the documents I’ve encountered in the slush pile. But too many times in the past I’ve suffered because I’ve been precious about my words and unwilling to make drastic changes. If I look at some of the authors who’ve really pushed boundaries, they’re the ones who often revise until they’re ready to jump off a high place. Again and again.




They will cry, and whine, and moan, but they’ll revise. And, guess what? They eventually get those contracts with the publishers of their choice.

Not that I’m slamming self-publishing, but I’d like to point out that when an author publishes his or her own work, there’s a real danger that an author will believe that they poop rainbows will not be hard enough on their own words, that they’ll indulge themselves and turn out a substandard work.

Granted, there’s place under the sun for loads of different novels, be it easy-reading animal stories to fairytale romance or eloquent litfic. Thank fuck it’s not a cookie cutter process. And readers have vastly different tastes.

But there are some stories that can only become better if an author is willing to put the work through the crucible; be honest about why your precious words suck.

This week marks my return to The Jackal, my post-Z m/m thriller. I have thrown away a second draft (yes, this is actually the second R&R for this story) and I’m starting fresh. I am scared and thrilled and dying to get started, and you know what? I’m looking at it this way. None of those 95k-odd words of the second version were wasted, because I’ve laid the groundwork for a compelling setting filled with diverse characters.

And there were some very odd words there.

Except now I can zoom out and focus on how I can make the story and the characterisation so much more powerful. And hey, maybe even play with deepening themes.

So, thank you to the wicked editor out there who wasn’t afraid to tell me where The Jackal is broken. I’m going in with scalpel blades, and even if this ends up being an out-and-out rejection eventually, for whatever reason, I’ll have learnt something from the process and had an amazing time playing in that world.

I am not precious about my words anymore. That is all.


THEN... GOOD NEWS EVERYONE
Dawn's Bright Talons is going to be available in print within the next week or so. If you know not of what I speak, then get your posterior over to the Goodreads page and go have squizz.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

War Stories: New Military Science Fiction with Andrew Liptak and Jaym Gates

I like Twitter. A lot. I've made some really schweet connections via social media, and running into editor Andrew Liptak via Twitter when he was finalising the War Stories: New Military Science Fiction anthology with co-editor Jaym Gates was one of those strokes of good fortune. Andrew and I chatted a bit, I turned the idea over of writing military SF with my own spin on it... And I figured out my story, "Only the Void and the Stars Between". I was, of course, totally stoked when they offered.

So, to share in the happiness and bubbles of the recent release of this fabulous collection of short fiction, I've invited Andrew and Jaym over for a little Q&A to look a little deeper into what went into this book.

Welcome, Andrew and Jaym!

What is it that you love the most about the military SF genre? Understandably it's quite a specialised niche in the genre, so what were some of the characteristics you were looking for in the stories that you selected for inclusion?

Andrew: I've been drawn to it for years because I've been fascinated by military history for a long time. I don't mean that in a way that I'm necessarily pro or anti war: it's a human behavior that's reprehensible, but sometimes necessary. Military SF is sort of the same thing: it's an interesting way to examine the morality of conflict.


What I personally enjoy is the idea of people making decisions while caught up in these major conflicts, and where we get to see how technology aids or hinders us, and how often, the role of the soldier's story changes very little from war to war (historically and in fiction.)

Jaym: I love the sort of pressure cooker of any fiction dealing with large-scale conflict. There are so many elements that most people either don't know, or don't stop to consider, and so we were aiming to bring some of those to light.

You've also aimed for diversity in the anthology. Can you give us a few examples of some of the contrasting stories and focuses? 

Andrew: Well, we wanted to explore some of the non-US voices here, because conflict appears throughout the world, and people approach it differently. One great example was Rich Larson's story, "Ghost Girl", which blends some elements from Africa with a style of warfare that really doesn't mesh with how we see it in the US. Here, I really got the sense that we have a historical background that the US doesn't share, which I found fascinating to read.

Jaym: One of the things I love most about this collection is that we have several stories that probably wouldn't count as military science fiction by normal standards. Thoraiya Dyer's story is about two female snipers – both with very distinct goals and drives – and the political and social currents surrounding them in a far-future Beirut. Mark Jacobsen's main character is a woman who used peaceful means to protest war, and, after her son is killed by the occupying forces, she uses that peaceful activism to draw attention to their plight in a very vivid, horrifying way. Ken Liu's main character struggles with the ethics of war – is it better to sacrifice one, or risk losing many?

At the same time, we have James Sutter and Maurice Broaddus with full-on combat stories, and Janine Spendlove's heartbreaking look at what rescue pilots have to deal with. Taken as a whole, I think we were able to bring together a very cohesive – if necessarily quick – look at the issues that are so very relevant today.

What are some of the challenges contemporary authors face in the SF genre – especially in the face of so many changes in technology? (There is always a fear, in my opinion, that writing can date easily.)

Andrew: Specifically with military SF, it's trying to imagine how war will happen with contemporary blinders. Starship Troopers is a Korean War novel. The Forever War is a Vietnam novel. Embedded is an Afghanistan war novel, and so on. The trick to imagining future war is to understand that it'll be completely different from any past experiences we've had with war – all the while, soldiers caught up in it hold the same role as they have for thousands of years.

Jaym: We've been working on this for just about 2 years now, and in that time, there have been tremendous leaps. Several of our stories have been requested by governmental, private, and corporate interests for use in dealing with current and extremely near-future military concerns. In ten years, we may be in a society where those stories are absolutely obsolete – something that SF frequently struggles with.

However, I don't believe that all work should always be completely technologically relevant for all of the future. Sometimes it's enough for a story to be highly relevant for a year, if it changes technology or society in an important way.

And, to be honest, it is bloody terrifying to think that we've published stories that are are being used in considerations potentially involving the life and death of other people. When you're writing, be very mindful that fiction can be absolutely transformative, for good or ill, so consider your words!

For those who're planning on writing SF for the first time, what sort of tropes do you feel they should be aware of (and avoid)? What are some of the tropes that you see the most often, and what would you like to see more of?

Andrew: Again, with military SF, I think that the big trope to be aware of is how war is seen from other sides – it's predominantly seen as a sort of conquest or colonization mechanism, and a certain enthusiasm or unawareness of this comes across as championing such actions. It's also good to realize that military SF (or military actions in general) aren't inherently a liberal or conservative issue.

Jaym: PTSD is a huge one. Veterans get treated badly by media as a general rule. PTSD is portrayed as an aggressive, violent, reactionary mental illness, when it is more likely to cause extreme depression and introversion. The stigma of PTSD damages the support and recovery of people who are already fighting an uphill battle.

The glory of combat is another. It's not glorious to go to war. It's awful. And even if you make it through unscathed, you've lived with a certain stress and uncertainty that changes your perspective a great deal.

Purchase War Stories on Amazon, Kobo or Nook

Thursday, October 9, 2014

This Day with Tiah Beautement

I recently had the opportunity to have a sneak preview of Tiah Beautement's novel, This Day, before its launch at Open Book here in Cape Town, and while it's not my usual fodder when it comes to literary tastes, I was nonetheless immersed in the story. Of course I had to have her over to chat about her novel, and some of its imagery. So, a big welcome to Tiah!

What struck me about the story was the authenticity of your voice, and the sensitivity when approaching the topic of a child's accidental death, as well as depression. Care to elaborate? 

I listen to people. I’m terrible with names, but I’ll remember certain aspects of a person: foods they dislike, if they have pets, what makes them laugh, what drives them bonkers. I hear what they thought and felt. Science can tell you facts and theories backed up with research. That’s useful for writing, too. But to understand opinions and emotion, one has to listen to why people feel they way they do. Debating why a person prefers the yellow necklace over the blue one, is rediculous, unless they are forcing you to wear it. Listen to why that person likes yellow, even if you do not. I don’t believe in taking over a peron’s personal experience for my work. That story is their own. However, when I’m getting into a new character’s head, the thoughts and feelings are traced to having emapthy of the tales that naturally are told through living life.

Which means my own life, too, contributes towards the narrative. Depression runs in my family and has afflicted more than one member. I have also found myself grappling more than once with it. These experiences are not This Day, but they did feed into it.

In dealing with her husband's depression, as well as her own grief, Ella has become isolated. Would you say that she's in a way responsible for her own loneliness, or is she in her own way not coping with the situation?

Ella’s story highlights a tendency in this modern age to demand that those who struggle have an obligation to put on a brave face for the benefit of us, for society. It is, somehow, unsporting to still be not cured of an illness, still be grieving for a lost loved one, still be struggling to sleep after a horrific event. If, after some societally proscribed time, a person fails to plaster on a big smile and report that she is fine – just be positive – she will be shunned. There will be whispers of how she is just not coping well, whilst she is quietly overlooked on the guest list for the next braai. ‘She’s such a downer.’

This allergic reaction to life’s realities – that aspects of living stink – further isolate the very people who need help. It is as if we – the collective we – are afraid we might catch the so-called bad luck.

The theme of water runs throughout the story: both life-giving, a vast, hostile environment, and deadly. What are your own feelings in regard to this?

My fascination with water started as a child, both the science of it (thanks grandpa!) and the joy. I grew up in a small sea-side town of about 3 000 people, and oh, how I loved playing in the icy-cold Pacific. But living in an area known for sneaker waves, undertow and a treacherous bar (where boats cross from the river into the open sea) there was respect for water’s power. And when somebody dies in a small town, there is a personal connection. You might not be acquainted yourself, but you’ll know a person who was friends with the deceased.

But in the case of This Day, the theme of water can mostly be blamed on what was occurring while I tried to write the book. Mossel Bay had only recently emerged from a drought when my health started its rocky slide. I went from being hyperaware of saving every drop – quick showers, no baths! – to doing physiotherapy in a pool most days of the week. Water was a key part in my being able to physically finish the story, and I was using it lavishly.

Can you share some of your own experiences in the creative process behind This Day?

Misery loves company? The story was written during a very challenging part of my life. I was in a lot of pain and losing functionality. For a while, nobody knew what was wrong with me. Life is so interesting, and I’ve embraced many activities and hobbies. So! Much! To! Do! But it became clear that I needed to make choices.  Doors were shutting fast. What did I really want to do with my smaller world? I wanted to be there for my children. I wanted to write. Yet the stories I had wanted to write didn’t no longer appealed. I manage much better these days, but during the time I wrote This Day, every word was accompanied by hurt. That kind of pain…you become selfish. Focused. What sort of story is worth this much shit? Ella is everything I envied – financial independence and brilliant health – and I made her life stink. Then I cheered for her, word by word, as she picked herself up and tried again.

The story itself is open-ended, as all life situations are. Ella realises that she can only live day by day, according to the tides of life. The acceptance of her innate loneliness is perhaps the most heart-wrenching – that she can't get her son (and husband) back. This picture is perhaps bleak, but can you share some of your own thoughts with regard to this?

I adore Ella and Bart. I got them through another day. The rest? I have hope, but tempered. The Bart-from-before will never be again. But that’s as it should be – because the Ella-from-before is gone, too. People evolve, even while seemingly staying the same. This is also true of storytelling.

For those that can’t find This Day at their local book store, it can be bought online via Kalahari, Loot, Exclus!ves or contact Modjaji directly. Coming soon is Amazon (paper and Kindle) and other ebook formats.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen #review #horror

Title: The Great God Pan
Author: Arthur Machen

My first encounter with Arthur Machen’s writing was in a (now) quaint selection of classic horror, and from my meanderings in the interwebz, his name just keeps cropping up. He’s considered one of the grandpappies of authentically modern horror, and knowing what I do about HP Lovecraft, it’s clear Machen had a huge influence on the man.

Those who’re into their esoteric vibe will also recognise Machen in connection to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn courtesy of AE Waite – the two were buddies. Also, the Great Beast himself was quite the fan of Machen, among others. (Though apparently Machen didn’t think much of Mr Crowley.)

Since I’m on a trip of digging deeper into the source material for so much of our modern genre fiction, Machen has been top of my TBR list for a while now, and I’m really glad that I’ve finally had the opportunity to read The Great God Pan.

For those of you not in the know, Project Gutenberg is a valuable resource as a digital library, and this is where you can go pick up your copy of The Great God Pan for free. If you’re feeling especially benevolent, do consider donating to this worthy organisation that strives to keep public domain works available.

The Great God Pan is a novella that has been described as fitting into the decadent horror genre of the late 1800s, and there’s quite a bit going on here. First off, Machen’s love of the natural world and its beauty shines through the prose. His descriptions are vivid – deft without being heavy handed. Also to consider is the theme of the content which in present times might be construed as being misogynistic. One must bear in mind that a story shouldn’t be judged through a contemporary lens, especially if one considers that the concept of a sexually liberated woman during the Victorian era could only have been viewed quite literally as the Devil’s handmaiden by many.

The underlying theme is clear: Man cannot comprehend the full magnificence that is nature, and to do so will drive him completely mad. In the novella, three men are left to untangle the threads of a mystery when scientific experiment goes wrong. An enigmatic young woman is taken advantage of by a doctor, and this cruel procedure gives rise to a great force that enthrals men and leads them to suicidal despair.

An alchemy of spirit made flesh takes place, for which our rational Victorian gentlemen are ill prepared. Machen touches on the concept of divinely inspired ecstasy at the heart of ancient pagan practices long forgotten – and our inability in modern times to come to terms with these primal aspects of our natures.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Wolf Tickets by Ray Banks #review

Title: Wolf Tickets
Author: Ray Banks
Publisher: Blasted Heath, 2012

From time to time I make a foray into a genre I don’t ordinarily dip into, and this is one of those occasions. Wolf Tickets is a short, fast read wherein we get to know two real lowlives and, as the book’s description suggests – all-round scoundrels.

Sean Farrell is not the sort of guy you’d invite over for tea. His steel-capped boots are often put to use for their intended purpose. When his girlfriend runs off with his money and his favourite jacket, he’s pissed off and bent on getting his stuff back.

Cobb, on the other hand, seems well satisfied with his dingy life. Ex-army, he’s ill-suited to civilian life and indeed any form of legal occupation, and he prefers to spend his days drinking and shoplifting.

From the outset, these two don’t seem like the type that’d even get on, but they’ve got a history together and they’re tight, despite not having seen each other for years. Neither is all that successful in their criminal lifestyle but there’s a kind of disturbing charm in how they go about trying to find the missing Nora who’s got the money.

The setting Ray Banks dumps us into is the seamy underbelly of the UK, and I can safely say that there is not a single likeable character in this story. But that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the ride.

Wolf Tickets is violent and bloody. Things get ugly, very quickly, yet there is an undercurrent of dark, dark humour in how Farrell and Cobb interact with each other and other folks who cross their path.

I don’t have much to compare this with except for the type of stories presented by Irvine Welsh. Only I find myself liking Banks a helluva lot more than Welsh.

Using broad brush strokes, Banks paints a suitably grimy, vivid and awful world, and I could easily visualise the people and places – and suspect this story would make a most excellent film too.

There you have it – my opinion. I’m not au fait with noir as a genre on a whole, but really enjoyed this little excursion.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Burning ... with Joan De La Haye

This isn't Joan De La Haye's first time here, and it's most certainly not her last. She's a fellow South African author who's been around for a while now, and is known most notably for her horror. Today she's subjecting herself to a little Q&A here at my spot, as we look at her latest release, Burning. Welcome, Joan!

Firstly, I love the cover. Did you have a hand in its design? Can you share a little bit about what choices went into its creation? 

Thanks! I also love the cover. It was designed by Dave Johnson, who also did the cover for Shadows. Dave is one of those artists who actually reads the book first and then comes up with a few concepts that Adele Wearing, my publisher, and I get to choose from. He gives us loads of different options and all of them tend to be amazing, which makes choosing incredibly difficult. If Adele and I have trouble making a decision we get him to wade into the conversation. His input always seems to make perfect sense and makes the decision process somewhat easier. But what is great, is that I get to make the final pick.

With Burning we’d whittled it down to two choices. The one with the tarot card - the lovers, which was the final cover. The other had a ceremonial dagger and was far darker. In the end we all felt that the burning tarot card was just more representative of the book and the story.
I think we made the right choice. It’s a stunning image and makes for a wonderful cover.

Can you tell us a little bit about how your witches operate? What do you love about writing witches? 

What’s not to love about witches? Witches are awesome and under-utilised in horror fiction. The witches in my story are not the all-powerful ones you often see in fiction. These are your run-of-the-mill kitchen witches and wicca practitioners who dabble with forces they can’t control and get their fingers burnt, quite literally.

Who is Marcie Grove? Was she always a witch? Is this something she had to have a talent for?

Marcie Grove is a nurse and a witch searching for more profound magical experience. She wants to experience true power and goes looking for it within the pages of an old magical text. She’s also lonely and horny which, let’s face it, often leads to very bad decisions. She wasn’t always a witch; she found wicca and witchcraft later in her life. She’s not a powerful magical being. She isn’t supernatural in any shape of form. She’s just a normal woman dabbling with magic.

Were there any scenes that were particularly tricky to write? 

Yes! The sex scenes. I always find sex scenes difficult to write. I never know how graphic to go or where to gloss over things. I also think finding a balance with sex scenes is difficult. You don’t want it just to be a blow-by-blow description or one of those badly written sex scenes where you can see that the author was uncomfortable writing it, or one of those overly romanticised sex scenes which make you want to throw up just a little bit.

What are some of the underlying themes in your story? 

I think the themes at the heart of the story are sexuality, obsession, and addiction.

Excerpt:
The coven surrounded the altar. The flames from the tiki torches flickered in the breeze. The circle had been cast and the quarters called. Ghosts began to gather at the edge of the circle. Sandra's Shaman with dreadlocks down his back stood beside Raven, who held the ancient tomb open at the requisite ritual. Marianne, the midwife, stood in front of Marcie, holding her knees apart. Greg stood next to the altar holding Marcie’s hand while another contraction wrenched her insides. A scream erupted from her core. It was all wrong. This was not how her vision had looked. The Shaman had not been there and Greg had been outside the circle. Marianne had not been there to help her give birth. It was all terribly wrong.
What if it wasn’t all wrong? A voice at the back of her mind penetrated through the pain. What if this was how it was supposed to be? What if the vision was just one alternative future she had seen? What if this was right? What if this was the only way she and the baby would survive? Hope flooded through her. She grabbed onto the feeling with both hands. It was like nectar to a person dying of thirst in the desert. But the feeling of hope dwindled with another contraction that made her feel as though her body was splitting in two.
Blood flooded the altar.

Author Bio:
Joan De La Haye writes horror and some very twisted thrillers. She invariably wakes up in the middle of the night, because she’s figured out yet another freaky

way to mess with her already screwed up characters.
Joan is interested in some seriously weird stuff. That’s probably also one of the reasons she writes horror.
Joan is deep, dark and seriously twisted and so is her writing.

Buy Burning on Amazon Kindle and Amazon print.



Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Rhino and the Rat: Further Memoirs of a Vet #reviews

Title: The Rhino and the Rat: Further Memoirs of a Vet
Author: Mike Hardwich
Publisher: Tracey McDonald Publishers, 2013

Those of you who grew up reading the semi-autobiographical exploits of James Herriot, a British veterinary surgeon who featured in a series of books, will be on familiar turf. South African vet Mike Hardwich shares his own experiences with the people he met and the animals he treated, in this, his second book which follows on from The Lion and the Lamb.

Hardwich practised chiefly in KwaZulu-Natal and the Isle of Man, and he treated many different critters, great and small, from ailing rats to retired circus elephants. All through his career, it is evident that not only does he love his patients, but he has a great appreciation for the owners too, and an understanding of the bond that forms between man and beast. Over the years he has collected many stories – all fascinating, with some humorous and quite a few that left me feeling teary eyed.

What becomes immediately apparent is that veterinary work is not for the faint of heart, because not only did Hardwich have to contend with some large animals, such as horses, cows and even a giraffe, but he often had to work in less than ideal situations to get his patients out of life-threatening predicaments. One of the challenges of being a vet, he writes, is that the patients are not able to tell what’s wrong with them.

While reading, I gained the impression that Hardwich never lost his passion for his work, even when it required him to make difficult decisions, such as having to put animals to sleep.

Hardwich’s writing is accessible, entertaining and informative, and should appeal to a broad range of readers, especially those who have an interest in animals. He combines facts with anecdotes, and this is not so much a story about being a vet, as also offering a snapshot of the different times and places where the stories took place.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Pretoria-based author debuts with epic fantasy

While South African authors are making waves with speculative fiction, it’s heartening to see yet another bring epic fantasy on the market. Dave-Brendon de Burgh joins the ranks with other South African authors such Greg Hamerton, Cat Hellisen and TC Southwell, who’ve all created magical worlds populated with unforgettable characters.

De Burgh’s debut novel, published this year by local small press Fox & Raven, submerges readers in a realm wracked by ancient conflict involving humans and the elf-like Elvayn, the latter which have been enslaved. As for what got De Burgh started as a storyteller, he shares: “Around that time that I read and finished Steven Erikson’s Memories of Ice, I put the book down, wiped my eyes again, and told myself that I wanted to and would be a story-teller.

“I had passionate and accommodating English teachers in high school; one of the people I dedicated Betrayal’s Shadow to – Celeste Botes – let me daydream and write in class as long as I got the results in tests and exams. She never restricted me, and encouraged me to write – even though the stories I wrote back then were gruesome.

“I took part in a creative writing course which Random House Struik (at that time) and GetSmarter partnered on; I wanted to get a handle on the tale I wanted to tell, because I had more than a hundred thousand words already and hadn’t finished a single story. I was beginning to irritate myself, and I was losing hope that I would ever be able to finish writing a story, never mind complete a novel. So, taking part in that course really focused my mind and taught me about what constitutes a story or a tale.”

Like many fantasy authors, De Burgh grew up on many of the genre classics, which laid down fertile ground for the first story seeds that he cultivated.

“I’ve been reading epic fantasy since early high school,” he says, “and I knew I wanted to write a story that included the – for want of a better word – epic aspects of epic fantasy; the battles, the magic, political intrigues, complicated yet dramatic character-arcs, and worlds that are familiar yet different. I had been writing for eight or nine years before I began writing the novel, so there are many unfinished and scrapped scenes, even characters.”

Central to the conflict of his novel are his magical Elvayn, and De Burgh says that they are his answer to the standard elves found in the fantasy genre. “Particularly elves as they are portrayed on-screen,” he adds. “Seems a bit strange to tackle it that way, I know (instead of book-elves), but the visual aspects are what stick in most people’s memories. They are noticeably not human – so there’s no long, flowing hair and perfect features, and they also don’t use swords or shields or bows. They’re a philosophical people, more prone to think than to act.”

Apart from writing, De Burgh has been a bookseller since 2002 and his career has given him an advantage. He says: “Being a bookseller has taught me not only to identify trends in what people are reading but to also anticipate what they might like to read next. And being a bookseller forces you to explain a book’s plot to a browser without giving anything away – you want to hook them, get them to read a page or two, without making them feel as if you want them to buy the book.”

Like many authors, he faces daily challenges, like finding them time to write. De Burgh adds: “Even seeing my novel on the shelves every day doesn’t help my motivation; it’s very easy to want to relax after an eight-hour day at work, instead of making the time to sit down and write those thousand words. Also, ironically enough, reading can be a problem, but only if I read as a writer and not as a reader.”

Despite the current publishing industry operating in a state of flux, De Burgh remains positive on the role of small presses leading the way: “Smaller presses will definitely be the leaders when it comes to epic fantasy, science fiction, horror, and similar speculative fiction (specfic) genres. The fact of the matter is that the bigger guys don’t have specialists, or even specific imprints, that focus on specfic. South Africa doesn’t have its own Orbit, Tor, Gollancz or Del Rey; yet the book trade makes quite a bit of money from specfic titles. At the moment, specfic writers in South Africa have to deal with the mother of all Catch-22s – our tales aren’t published because there aren’t sales to base such an important decision on, but the writers can’t get those sales because their work isn’t published here.

“Lauren Beukes’s work is a good example of how strange our industry can be; although Moxyland was published by Jacana Media, the title didn’t really start gaining ground until Angry Robot (an excellent UK publisher) picked up the title. By the time Zoo City arrived, many more thousands of people were talking about Beukes’s work, and when The Shining Girls hit the industry, readers went nuts. Our industry seems to be reacting, not creating. Fox & Raven Publishing, Crystal Lake Publishing, Something Wicked and WordSmack (to name but a few) are the presses that are giving writers the chances, precisely because the bigger publishers don’t and aren’t equipped to do so.

“Our industry also needs to understand that finding South Africa’s Tolkien or Martin or Jordan isn’t the answer – we shouldn’t be looking for equivalents. We should be looking for tales that are well told and which showcase the talent and imagination of our writers, regardless of where those writers come from or which connections they do or don’t have – and the smaller presses are the only publishers who are doing this. The scale at which they operate is also smaller, more focused, so they’re able to keep prices relatively low, and unfortunately the book-buyer is buying less because prices are skyrocketing. So, where does the buyer look? Online. People are using their tablets and smart phones as ereaders, and the smaller presses are taking advantage of that while also doing all they can to get their books onto shelves in stores.”

(As appeared in the Pretoria News on September 29, 2014)