Thursday, November 29, 2012

To be... Aidan Whytock #guest

Aidan Whytock

One thing about being nominally involved in South Africa's indie film scene is that I get to meet and work with some pretty darn interesting folks. My husband's film company, BlackMilk Productions has brought out bunches of award-winning indie films that have made waves locally and overseas. One of the repeat offenders we keep working with is Cape Town-based actor Aidan Whytock, who's a fabulous darling and I absolutely had to have him over for tea. (He had the starring role in Alone, which was very well received at this year's South African HorrorFest.)

Aidan, you've recently starred in a stage production, I Am Hamlet. Can you tell us a little bit about the play and audience's response to it? 

I am Hamlet is a new take on the well-known Shakespearean play Hamlet. When a theatre director loses his lead actor just before opening night he scrambles to find a replacement. A mysterious young man, Simon, comes to audition for the role but seems to know nothing about Hamlet or acting, until he reads the prose. It transpires that Simon has more in common with the Prince of Denmark then he is letting on.

It's a great comedy with a thrilling twist. The comedy comes from this seemingly ignorant chap being put through the challenges of an audition by a completely over-the-top theatre director who thinks he is God's gift to Shakespeare.

We were truly stunned by the audience's response: the Cape Times and Die Burger gave us glowing reviews, as did every other review. Cape Talk made us Pick of the Week and just about everyone didn't see the twist coming. Overall the city responded very well and really enjoyed the comedy and the massive shift the play takes in the last 10 minutes.

I'm glad the play was so well received. So, how do you feel about everyone's favourite Danish prince? Were there any aspects of the role that you feel were particularly challenging?

Ah Hamlet. I've spent a fair amount of time with him in the last few months and have come to the decision that I don't like him. He's a cowardly little spoilt brat who is so self-centred he hardly considers the impact his self-serving plans for revenge have on those he loves.  I get the impression he had a perpetually running nose and a snotty sleeve.

That said, the man could talk.

Due to circumstance we didn't have long to prep the play so I had three main challenges. The first was coming to terms with Shakespearean prose. Beautiful, but deadly to the unfamiliar actor. I was very much an unfamiliar actor: I hadn't read Shakespeare in ten years. I try to make my performances as believable as possible, which means believing what I am saying. So it was critical that I understand the prose and deliver it whole-heartedly. I translated it all into modern English and learnt that first. Then I started substituting the new for the olde. That said that may have been one night where I went completely blank: one of the most terrifying moments of my life I can safely say.

The second challenge was to act at acting. My character (this chap called Simon Prentice) is doing exactly that - pretending he can't act. So that was a fun challenge: to shift from acting badly to acting well (or trying to) and back.

Finally was to get into the headspace of a psycho. I ended up developing a pre-show ritual that helped me shift from me into the introverted, awkward shell that the completely bonkers Simon was hiding in. Music was vital to helping me do this.

Haha! You said the magic word. What music did you listen to for inspiration? Very curious to know. Also, would you say that as an actor you put a mask on, or do you delve deep into your psyche to dredge up archetypes? 

I had two genres to tap into, depending on how I was feeling that day. The backup playlist was Portishead – Roads and Radiohead – All I need. I would feed into them if the primary tracks didn't quite get me there, which were The Narrow – She went away too soon and Slipknot – Vermillion. The lyrics of 'she went away too soon, she went away so soon' and 'I won't let this build up inside of me' and 'she isn't real, I can't make her real' really helped me have a conversation with Simon's dead mum.

As for the mask versus the psyche: I think it's a combination of the two. As I've said I try to believe everything I'm doing and saying. So for instance if I'm killing someone what part of me can believe that? There is definitely an element of me that believes, in the appropriate context and situation, I'd be capable of doing that. So I tried to find how I'd feel in that moment.  Then I'd put on the mask of Simon which I'd spent a bit of time building and layering.

As much as I'd like the process to be cognitive and step-by-step I've realised it isn't: it's fluid and emotional so all I tried to do was be truthful to whatever I was feeling.

And the road ahead? A while back you let me listen to some of your band's tracks. Tell us a little more about your music ... and future acting endeavours.  

On the music front I realised that I miss it a lot so I'm trying to get producer to free up his manic schedule to get us back in studio to start jamming again. I'm still very curious to see if the tunes coming out of my head have a place in this world. I'm experimenting with heavy blues and a lot more synth at the moment. I've no idea what will come from it. Time shall tell I suppose. As for acting I'm doing a play in February called Feb 14 and another in April called Lady Luck.

Stalk Aidan on Twitter @aidanwhytock

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers #review

Title: AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers
Edited by: Ivor W Hartmann
Publisher: StoryTime, December 2012

It’s always gratifying to see literary offerings that give genre fiction’s upcoming talents more exposure; of all the continents, Africa presents us with a very different lens with which to view the world—especially refreshing for those of us who’ve grown up with a US- or UK-centric world view.

The AfroSF anthology brings together a broad cross-section of writing, ranging from first-timers to seasoned African writers, with tales ranging from stark, dystopian futures to rollicking space operas. There’s a little bit of everything here, for sure.

Moom! by Nnedi Okorafor tells of the natural world’s revolt against mankind’s oppression, from the perspective of a marlin or swordfish (from what I gather). Okorafor’s descriptions are quite lyrical, and I could clearly picture events as they transpired.

Sarah Lotz never disappoints, and Home Affairs strikes a chord with anyone who’s ever had to deal with bureaucratic queues – hell on earth doesn’t even begin to describe it. As always, Lotz offers her signature brand of black humour and a tale that one hopes will never step from the realms of fiction into the real world.

Five Sets of Hands by Cristy Zinn takes us to Mars, where one race has enslaved another, digging for ancient artefacts in the dirt. Zinn comments on slavery and lives that are outcast and untouchable. This is also a touching story of courage, and an individual acting to bring about change in the face of injustice.

A theme that recurs in a number of stories is that of pharmaceutical corporations holding society to ransom. New Mzansi by Ashley Jacobs is one such, delivering a dystopian vision of a possible future that might already be unfolding. This is a discomforting read.

As always, Nick Wood delivers a treat. He is a master of evoking environment, and the complex relationships between people, place and history. Azania takes us with an expeditionary crew travelling from Earth to a new planet, and the complications they face, cut off from their past by time and space.

Notes from Gethsemane by Tade Thompson plays on the horrors of biological warfare as the main characters find themselves affected by the malevolent and mysterious Pit. I felt as though I wanted a bit more of a punch from this story, but its ending was nonetheless suitably discomforting.

The aliens are coming, and they aren’t all friendly. SA Partridge draws on popular culture’s fascination with UFO lore in Planet X and gives us a possible reaction to an alien invasion that is uniquely South Africa. In doing so, she comments on our own notions of xenophobia.

Lovers of Star Wars and Firefly-esque SF will no doubt perk up and enjoy Chinelo Onwualu’s The Gift of Touch. This is space opera territory, and it’s sufficient just to sit back and enjoy the ride. Some lovely one-liners are passed between characters (“It’s a very big gun” is a classic example.)

The Foreigner by Uko Bendi Udo returns to xenophobia and cultural identity. I feel this story could have been developed further and needed a bit more voema, although it has a great premise.

Warfare is never pretty, and it’s perhaps even more horrific when the opponent is inexplicable. Dave de Burgh’s Angel Song drops readers directly in the thick of conflict and offers a hopeless struggle. The tension in this tale is unrelenting, crisp and well executed.

Biram Mboob examines possible conflict between Africa and the Orient in The Rare Earth. Traditional African culture transform modern technology. I wasn’t sure what to make of this story, to be honest, and am tempted to wonder whether the author couldn’t have pushed the story a bit more.

Terms & Conditions Apply by Sally-Ann Murray is another tale offering pharmaceutical companies in the role of antagonist. Although the writing is crisp, I didn’t take to the premise.

In Heresy, Mandisi Nkomo takes a sly, humorous stab at South Africa’s political climate. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’m not going to go into details, but if you’ve ever been frustrated with our politics, past and present, this story will resonate with you.

The opening line of Closing Time by Liam Kruger pretty much sums up the story: “I drew the connection between alcohol and time travel pretty late in the game, all told.” This nasty little tale will leave you scratchy behind the eyes. Kruger’s worth looking out for.

Masquerade Stories by Chiagozie Fred Nwonwu touches on traditional African values vs. modernity, and the possible conflicts that ensue. This is an engaging tale, and I honestly did not expect how it would conclude.

Joan De La Haye’s The Trial is a claustrophobic glimpse into a dystopian future we do not want to consider, where the government has the power to cull the population. She asks what makes a person valuable, and it’s easy to see a little of ourselves in her narrator.

Brandy City by Mia Arderne sees society descend to a form of indentured servitude supported by a dop system. Characters’ lives are miserable, and even those who have the means to pull themselves out of the mire are themselves prisoners.

Ofe! By Rafeeat Aliyu changes the tone to a futuristic thriller, where two unlikely allies must work together to outfox the schemes of a scientist who has sinister intentions. It’s an enjoyable, fast-paced read and although the ending could have been more dynamic.

Martin Stokes delivers commentary on the issues of poaching of wildlife vs. supply and demand in Claws and Savages. The story is a straight-up revenge drama, painted in visceral, graphic detail.

To Gaze at the Sun by Clifton Gachagua examines how the patterns of humanity’s sense of obligations, of parenthood and the relationship between children and their parents balanced by our need to conform to society’s expectations – another discomforting read.

Proposition 23 by Efe Okogu is a novelette that quite clearly references William Gibson’s Neuromancer and The Matrix. The author keeps readers constantly off guard, and touches on the concepts of terrorism, virtual reality and artificial intelligence. This story is also a suitably impactful ending for the anthology.

While I feel that some of the stories in this anthology are clearly stronger than others, I still recommend this collection to anyone who has a love of Africa, or a deep, abiding curiosity to encounter writing in the SF genre by Africans. Hartmann has selected a diversity of tales here, some of which will remain with me for a while.

Having recently read a collection of classic SF novels, I found this collection to be especially pertinent, particularly in the light of how our relationship with technology has changed since the mid-1950s. Those early writers certainly hadn’t envisioned hwo social media would shape our way of interacting with others, and what’s certain is that we face many further developments. Importantly, some of the stories in this collection highlight such issues as privacy and individuality, and how we are, as a society, giving away our freedom in an era where it is easy to fall under the illusion that we have more freedom than ever.

Many of the stories also initiate a dialogue with readers about what it means to be African, in a society where there is often conflict related to a clash of traditional values vs. the West. Africa’s people are not a homogenous nation. We bear the scars of slavery and colonialism. How we move ahead into the future and what we make of all the opportunities presented to us, is another matter.

May it be so that some of the realities portrayed in this collection never come to pass.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Jeremy Wagner – heavy music meets dark fiction

Today I've got none other than Jeremy Wagner stopping by, and he's one of the rare breed who combines two of my favourite things: heavy music (the band, Broken Hope) and dark fiction (The Armageddon Chord). Welcome, Jeremy!

Heavy metal tying in with an infernal apocalyptic flavour is a theme that recurs often. You've added a dash of Indiana Jones with the Egyptian archaeology twist. If you had to sum up The Armageddon Chord in 16 words or less, how would you do it? 

The best summary is, "The Armageddon Chord is Indiana Jones meets Spawn with a heavy metal soundtrack."

If you could create a compilation soundtrack to accompany The Armageddon Chord, do you have a list of top 10 favourites you'd see on one album for folks to listen to while they read?

The soundtrack would have to have Slayer, Metallica, Steve Vai, Broken Hope (of course), The Cult, Dimmu Borgir, Sisters of Mercy, old Van Halen, Type O Negative, and some Skynyrd.

You've recently announced that Broken Hope is going full steam ahead. Tell us a little about the band and what 2013 has in store. 

We just signed to Century Media Records and we will release a new album in 2013. As I do this interview with you, I can tell you that we already have five solid songs written. Our goal is 10 to 15 new songs for the new album. Broken Hope will go on to play Extremefest in Germany and Maryland Deathfest—both of these fests in May 2013. After that, more summer festivals worldwide, US tour, album release, more tours, and from then on, Broken Hope is here to forever write/record/release albums and tour year after year! We are not going away again.

You mentioned recently that there's another book brewing. Is everything heavily under wraps or can you give us an idea of what the story's about? 

I have two new books done. The first of two is nearing the final edit/polish. It's a post-apocalyptic tale that's kinda like The Road meets Zombieland. The other novel is about a man-made monster and takes place in Chicago. Though I'm not saying too much, I can tell you that they are 100% brand of horror.

You wear the author and musician hats. How do you strike the balance between these two creative outlets?

I just try and make time each day for both. Writing fiction and writing music take a lot of time and creative energy...they both are needy passions, but having a schedule in place for both helps make it all work. When a new book is done, I have to dedicate time to promoting that, just as I need exclusive promotion and tour time for my Broken Hope albums. It all works out.

And, lastly, for the fun and somewhat creatively crazy question: If you had a big budget, and were given free rein to produce a movie, what would it be and who would be part of your creative team (cast and crew)?

I'd make an EPIC horror movie about something crazy (I have no idea what it would be yet...haha!) and I'd hire my favorite actors and actresses of course. Above that, I'd want a creative team of ME, along with Tarantino, Scorsese, Coppola, John Carpenter, and Spielberg to make this monster. Hey, you said "big budget" with "free rein" to produce, so I'm going ALL THE WAY.

Jeremy on Facebook
Jeremy on Twitter
Jeremy at Publisher's Marketplace

Friday, November 23, 2012

In the shadow of Devil's Peak – Th'Damned Crows

Over the past few months I've been privy to the formation of one of Cape Town's latest sounds, Th'Damned Crows. Featuring Ronnie Belcher (drums), Zoltan Tibor Szabo-Taylor (harmonica), Liam McDevitt (double bass/vocals) and Sven Duncker (guitar), Th'Damned Crows have seriously started rocking the Mother City and gaining quite the following. Today we've got Ronnie over to chat about the band...

First off, if you have to describe Th'Damned Crows in no more than sixteen words, what would you say?

Th' Damned Crows are a rockabilly band formed in the shadow of Devil's Peak, South Africa.

How did you, Liam, Zoltan and Sven connect? Tell us a little more about the chemistry of the band.

Zoltan and I spoke for a while about starting a band in this genre. After about a year we connected with Liam (KC Royale introduced us via Facebook). I connected with Liam and then we started jamming together with in May this year. It was magic from the first note and drum hit. We wrote 10 songs in a few months.

We auditioned many guitarists, but when we met with Sven (I have known him for many years), it was perfect. He also plays for The Pits, and we have been fans of his for a while.

The chemistry is awesome, we are slightly older and wiser, so no bullshit.

Yeah, the chemistry on stage is pretty apparent, especially the balance between Liam's singing and Zolty stealing the limelight with his harmonica. You've played a couple of gigs here in Cape Town already, and the atmosphere in the venue has been electric. What feedback have you received from folks? 

It has been very positive. For a band that is still in its infancy, we have subsequently been asked to play festivals, and high-profile gigs. Our fan base is growing daily, with every show. We've even had a few panties thrown at us, and that was only at our second show!

The music might be quite upbeat with a devilish rockabilly edge flavoured with voodoo blues, but your lyrics can be considered quite dark. Care to give us a sample of the words? And tell us more about the particular song quoted? 

Lyrics for Heat & Haze & Mescaline:
Driving through the desert with a Colt .45.
A body in the trunk and The Devil Inside.
A rattle-snakin’, titty-shakin’ Mexican bride
And a bottle of tequila came along for the ride.
Heading south of the border in the blistering sun,
A body full of mescaline and I’m on the run.
My foot is on my pedal and my hand’s on my gun.
Having serious second thoughts and a whole lot of fun.
A sassy senorita stole my heart in Antone.
I woke up in a motel room and I was all alone.
Took my car and took my money and she left me with none.
Through the heat and haze and mescaline I found she was gone.
I’m gonna find empty solace in a bottle of fire.
In a fly-bitten bar I’ll take it down to the wire.
Revenge is on my mind and its burning a hole.
The violence starts to stir deep down in my soul.
So it’s just me and the bottle and the open road.
Gonna hit her with the sin which The Lord has forebode.
To unburden my conscience of this heavy load,
I’m gonna leave her in a hole in the side of the road.
Walking through the desert with the sun to my back.
Dehydrated, start to feel my senses under attack.
The Law ain’t gonna find me, got them on the wrong track
And her wicked plan for me have started showing the cracks.
Well she can try to outrun me but it ain’t no good;
Got a Chevy V8 engine running under the hood.
She better hope The Police get to her before I do,
There ain’t no telling what a wicked mind like mine might do.

Ronnie Belcher, Sven Duncker,
Zoltan Tibor Szabo-Taylor and Liam McDevitt
The seeds of inspiration for Heat & Haze & Mescaline were sown while driving through the Karoo desert and the overwhelming feelings of desolation that come with such a experience. The sense of isolation is all-consuming and combined with the narrative of a dangerous liaison in a small backwater town, the song tells a uniquely South African tale of one urban man’s naïve shortcomings in the desert’s vast, uncharted territory, and man’s capacity for evil and deception.

The song evokes images of shimmering heat, long straight roads, an unending horizon and the hallucinogenic effects the desert can have on one’s mental state; the strain on the man’s physical and mental strength taps deep into his subconscious and leads to erratic behavior, uncharacteristic of a typically urbane man, reducing him to psychotic episodes of split-personality and violent fantasy.

And a last word from you as to *why* people haven't lived until they've seen Th'DamnedCrows? 

Th’ Damned Crows play it damn loud Th’ Damned Crows own the night, and Th’ Damned Crows will prove to you that the dead can dance...

Now is your chance to be part of Th' Damned Crows...
The band has set up an Indiegogo page to help raise funds for its highly anticipated debut album. And, trust me, I've been to several of their gigs. The sound is wild, rocking and ultimately gets your feet tapping. 

Go check out the indiegogo here.
The campaign is running until March 13, 2013. 

Check out their website here...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cover reveal: Khepera Rising rebooted

So yeah, finally I'm kicking myself into gear enough to get to the point where cover art is finalised for the Khepera Rising reboot. (Time to stop talking about doing stuff and actually *doing* it, hey?) Next up will be book two and, it can be hoped, me finding the time and the wherewithal to finish book three, which is currently in its final throes of the grand finale where all hell breaks loose.

So, without further ado, here's the blurb:
Jamie Guillaume is the man your mother warned you about, and South Africa’s wickedest man is about to raise more than hell. Haunted by the sinister Burning One and hunted by a pack of religious extremists, Jamie’s neck-deep in trouble.

Who does a black magician turn to when it seems like his carefully constructed world’s about to disintegrate?

Cover illustration is by the fantastic Daniël Hugo, who did the art for Blood and Fire. (And yes, he's fantastically awesome.) and the actual cover design (and interiors) is Donnie Light, who handled the layout for Inkarna. Thanks, guys, I hope to plague you with more work soon.

Want to know what Khepera Rising is all about? Here're some comments from folks on Goodreads who read the novel in its earlier incarnation:

Greg Hamerton: "Jamie is suitably tormented by his lack of evil intent and vacillation in the face of his growing dilemma. The detailing of Cape Town is convincing and the dark underbelly of the city disturbing in its believability."

Sonya Clark: "The further I got in this one the more I liked it. Set in South Africa, the main character is black arts magician James Guillaume. James starts out as a thoroughly unlikable prat but as he gets more than his fair share of bad luck and trouble thrown at him - deaths, beatings, being targeted by religious fundamentalists - despite his best efforts I found myself liking him."

AJ Hayes: "There are mysteries aplenty, villains both human and in/un-human, dirty deeds done dirt cheap, magic, murderous thugs in a VW Golf waving crosses and baseball bats. Beautiful girls, hookers, kindergoths and one love of his life. Aw heck, just read the thing. It's a grabber from page one to the end."

Dom with a Safeword #review

Title: Dom with a Safeword
Authors: Cari Silverwood, Leia Shaw and Sorcha Black
Publisher: Wicked Cucumber, 2012

I’ll come clean from the start and say that I was a beta-reader for this novel, and loved every minute of it. Three authors might seem like a bit of a handful when it comes to writing one story, but Leia Shaw, Cari Silverwood and Sorcha Black certainly have chemistry and sparks in all the right places.

Although there were a few times where I did notice a bit of an unevenness in style, the ladies hold everything together masterfully. What I especially appreciated was the authenticity of the characters' voices. Each has a history, has hopes, aspirations. As readers, we walk with them on a path of self-discovery.

Jude must decide whether to follow in the footsteps of his father, and study medicine – and put an end to his somewhat bohemian lifestyle of renovating houses. Sabrina learns to step beyond her somewhat conservative upbringing and taste forbidden pleasures. Q’s dark past casts a shadow on her future happiness.

If you thought a couple had its complications, try a threesome – but this combination also tantalises the senses, and Jude, Sabrina and Q create a beautiful dynamic as they explore the boundaries of their relationship. Their interaction is an absolute treat to experience, and this is tempered also by a touching romantic subplot. The ladies have paid attention to detail to their setting and the support characters – and these small details help to cast their world into three dimensions.

I must make mention of the dialogue, and the instances where the characters to-and-fro comments made me smile. Another added quirk was Sabrina’s obsession with paranormal investigating, which added a fun, light-hearted angle, especially in the séance scene. I almost wanted there to be more of a mystery theme to the story, and further development of a narrative, but that would have driven this into the realms of a doorstopper, and not the hot, tasty bite this novel is.

The Dom with a Safeword is a sweet yet kinky read, and if this sort of stuff blows your hair back then I recommend this title whole-heartedly. Scorching hot at times, yet with a gentle touch. Perhaps what I appreciated about the novel in its totality is that the ladies kept it real. Jude, Sabrina and Q could be that curious trio living next door to you, while you had absolutely no idea what goes on behind closed doors.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Okay. I eventually caved. So I'll continue the meme but those whom I've tagged have probably already done this. Thanks to Louis Greenberg for making me get onto this.

What will be the next big thing in the world of fiction? Every so often a book, or a series of books, will come along and knock our collective socks off, be it Harry Potter or the Da Vinci Code or even Fifty Shades of Grey.

The Next Big Thing sets out to give writers an opportunity to nominate peers they think are worthy of your attention.

The rules are simple. A writer nominates you to answer ten questions about your current work in progress. You answer those questions and then in turn, nominate a further five writers to do the same thing.

Author of First Kiss, Last Breath, Lee Mather kindly nominated me. I first encountered Lee when I reviewed his story, The Green Man, and knew that this was an author I was dying to edit (okay, not literally but yeah I dig his writing). So, to cut a long story short, I encouraged him to submit his next manuscript to me when I was still editing for Lyrical Press and, as they say, the rest is history.

So, on to my interview:

1. What is the working title of your book?

I’ve got two manuscripts I’m currently working on. One is Thanatos, the follow-up to my novel Inkarna. I’m kinda stalling on it because this month I’m concentrating on sorting out this year's Bloody Parchment entries so they can go through to judging. In addition, I’m also working on a fantasy novel I’m writing just for myself, about a talking griffin. It’s tentatively called The Blackfeather Chronicles, but I’m sure I’ll have a proper name soon.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Thanatos follows the rest of the story of how Ash gets into further trouble. It’s a continuation of events that were set in motion in Inkarna. For the sake of not writing a doorstopper, I had to split the story at a natural pause. Similar idea for Blackfeather. I’ve tentatively planned a trilogy, and I’m essentially over the halfway mark for both manuscripts.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Urban fantasy for Thanatos, and secondary world fantasy for Blackfeather.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

If Daniel Radcliffe were willing to work out a little, he’d make a great Ash. I recently saw him in The Woman in Black, and he’s grown up quite nicely. I don’t think he’s quite tall enough but he has the right facial structure. And my ever-talkative griffin has none other than Johnny Depp as the voice.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Thanatos: Eternal enemies are not about to allow Ash his chance for a life of quiet contemplation.

Blackfeather: A young griffin finds himself cast into the role of an unlikely hero, but can he learn to fly in time to save his mistress?

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Thanatos is promised to Dark Continents Publishing, who brought out Inkarna. Blackfeather I’m self-publishing since I don’t think it’s going to have mainstream appeal. There are no love triangles…

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Too long, LOL. I’ve decided to write when I can without pressure of deadlines, so I manage anywhere between 2k to 4k a week combined. At a push I can do about 45k a month but I don’t feel like doing that right now. I just want to enjoy writing.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

My Inkarna-verse I’d lump with Alma Katsu’s The Taker or Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. Or even Poppy Z Brite’s Lost Souls or Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels. There are underlying themes that offer similarities in genre.

Blackfeather will appeal to fans of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern novels or Mercedes Lackey's griffins.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Real life is dull. I make up stories to pass the time. Also, I can't afford to pay a psychiatrist.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Here is a short excerpt from Blackfeather to sucker you in:

Like most of the strays my mistress brought home, I was one of the many she rescued from the market. And I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life, better than I do the events surrounding my initial capture. For certainly, as one belonging to the proud race of griffins—and Ravenkin no less—I should have some remembrance of a nest, of siblings and a mother. But, alas, those memories remain locked away.

The basket was small enough that I couldn’t turn, and the scraps of linen lining it soiled by my own waste. Terrible hunger blinded me to all reason—not that a griffin cub was wont to expressing any rational thought—but when I looked into Her eyes, the ravenous fires died back and, I’m later told, I stopped the incessant squawking and yammering with which I’d apparently been painting the very air blue.

Petite Anwyn had eyes like lapis lazuli, and her skin was bronzed—not from the sun but partially, as I later discovered, due to her foreign mother. And her hair. I always loved her hair—the palest gold, like corn silk. Eventually I would understand that her complexion was far too unusual to be considered attractive, but at that moment I gazed upon her face and I was lost. Some dim griffinish race memory stirred a resonance within me and I craned my neck so that I might be closer to her.

Her gaze was filled with compassion and I knew at that moment, even as I do now, that I belonged to her. Forever.

She didn’t have to haggle long to liberate me from the beast-seller. In hindsight I reckon the man felt, at that point, that he was well rid of me—a noisy, messy nuisance. Had he known my sheer magnificence once I’d fledged, he might have driven a harder bargain.

An unfledged griffin cub, I can guarantee, is nothing much to look at. Anwyn made many sketches of me when I first came into her care. A wide gape, almost bulbous eyes. Kittenish hindquarters unbalanced with the forequarters of a bird. Stumpy wings. Instead of glossy black feathers, I boasted a mess of vaguely charcoal-hued fluff. At this early age no one could really tell whether these would turn out to be pelt or plumage.

Griffins were almost unknown back then—and still remain rare—but when I was a mere cub no one knew enough about my race to know what to do with me. If Anwyn hadn’t come along I might’ve been pecked to death by the brace of basilisk hatchlings in the cage next to me or ended up in one of the labourers’ cookpots.

Instead I was given a name, a very fine name I might add—Silas Blackfeather—and took up residence in a small villa on the outskirts of the great city of Anfi, in the foothills of the Makarra mountains.


While I don’t expect these good folks to do The Next Big Thing (and some of them undoubtedly already have, I’m going to name some of the authors I’m close to and whose writing is absolutely marvellous.

Cat Hellisen is a close writing buddy of mine and she’s often delivered concrit just when I’ve needed it. I’ve beta-read her novel, When the Sea is Rising Red, and absolutely adore her "Hobverse". If I could write half as well as her I’d consider myself a great author.

Next up is Carrie Clevenger, with whom I’ve collaborated a few times. I edited her debut novel, Crooked Fang, and we’re writing buddies. I totally appreciate her eye-rolling when it comes to curbing my tendency toward purple prose. She also has a great love of music and has introduced me to so many new bands.

Then I need to mention Cari Silverwood. We’ve walked a long way together and I’ve edited one of her novels, Rough Surrender. She writes some of the most scorching scenes in BDSM erotica and I’m watching her career with great interest. She strikes the balance between writing heat and narrative.

Amy Lee Burgess is an old friend of mine and I remember ages ago begging her to write me something to edit. So she wrote about wolves, and her The Wolf Within series came into being. Seriously, if you’re looking for a wolf shifter story with a difference, go read her books.

I must make mention of Toby Bennett because he doesn’t make enough mention of himself. I first encountered him last year when one of his short stories made it into the Bloody Parchment anthology. But he writes books too, and he tells absolutely amazing stories. I’m looking forward to reading his novels.

My Goodreads author page...
Stalk me on Twitter @nerinedorman

Monday, November 19, 2012

Welcome to Chandra Ryan, author of Bond Betrayed #guest

Chandra Ryan
Today I welcome Chandra Ryan over to chat about her novel, Bond Betrayed.  For those who don't know the history, can you tell us a little more about the Community and how it functions? 

The Community is another race of beings that coexist with humans but, because they have magic, they try to keep their existence a secret. They are born with one of several abilities. Some key ones are fire manipulation, shape-shifting—they can change their appearance at will, some are empaths, and at least one is a seductress. Even though some humans know about their existence, they try to keep it to a minimum and so have their own police agents called enforcers. Nothing would blow their cover quicker than having a fire manipulator taken into human custody.

What was your favourite scene to write from Bond Betrayed

My favorite scene to write was the opening scene. Nikki and Isaac are meeting for, what she thinks, is the first time and he invites her back to his place for a quickie. Instead of entanglement-free sex, though, he bonds her to him because Nikki’s father has Isaac’s sister captive and Isaac wants to use Nikki as leverage. Both characters are so strong and have such full backstories that their personalities really jumped out while writing it.        

And your most difficult? 

It would have to be the confrontation scene near the end. I knew it was coming and I knew what had to happen, but I hated dragging Nikki through it. But it was important for her to face her demons. It had to be written.

And this is the fun question I love asking authors. If you were given the opportunity to do the casting for the film of Bond Betrayed, who would you choose for your lead roles? 

Hmmm….  I think Christian Bale would make an awesome Isaac. When his hair is longer and he’s a little scruffy he is very bad-boy yummy. For Nikki I think I’d cast Kate Beckinsale. She just has this naturally seductive quality and yet is still kind of dark and edgy.

What have some of your reviewers said about your writing?

Ink in the Blood:
“Ink In the Blood by Chandra Ryan was a dark, sexy surprise wrapped in a small package.”- Bitten by Books

“Ravenborne has everything I look for in a book: strong, likeable, honorable characters; compelling story line; and heart pounding romance based on mutual respect and love instead of mere physical attraction.”- Long and Short Reviews

“This tale is very imaginative.  I enjoyed the land and people that author Ryan created.  Sophie has a very strong sense of self which I applaud.  Reuel is a dragon unknowingly looking for a home and people that accept him and this inner conflict that he has makes him endearing.  Combined they make quite a formidable pair with lots of heat.” - I Read Romance

In short:
Favourite food for stormy weather... Pasta. Preferably with a cream sauce.
The movie that's your guilty pleasure... French Kiss.
Where do you keep returning to for your holiday... My hometown.
Which band's currently featuring on your sound system? Metric
Where do you see yourself in 10 years' time? Here.  I love where I’m at.

Check out Chandra's website at
Buy Bond Betrayed here 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Andrew Burt on ReAnimus Press #guest

A few words by way of introduction. Andrew Burt is the man behind the Workshop, an online writers' group that did much to help me fine-tune my writing and gain enough confidence to get my writing to the point where it was publishable. While I'm no longer an active member, this is one site that I send all aspiring F/SF/H authors if they're looking for a way to hone their craft. I've made many friends here, some of whom I've gone on to edit. 

Andrew Burt now has another project that's just as valuable as, and that is ReAnimus Press. So, without further ado, I hand over my blog to Mr Burt so he can tell us more. 

* * * *

ReAnimus Press is my new baby, which I founded to help authors get ebooks published.

I've been saying how cool ebooks are for years, since back when I was  VP of SFWA. I'd been reading on my phone for some time and loved how portable it was. Of course back then ebooks were like 0.01% of sales, mostly a few early small- and self-published books. Few folks could see them going anywhere. Things were so primitive I used to email authors I knew whose books I wanted to read and ask if I might have a copy of their manuscript so I could read it on my phone. I remember talking with Jeff Bezos of Amazon at dinner at the Nebula awards and encouraging him to look into ebooks. I doubt I had much impact on things, but lo and behold, ebooks have now become the top-selling format for books. That's caught a lot of authors and publishers unprepared.

Most authors don't exactly make truckloads of money, so the next logical step is for authors to decide how ebooks fit in to maximizing their income. The major publishers don't offer the greatest terms (not to mention that many books went out of print for a reason, i.e., slow sales). So there are millions of backlist and out of print books out there. Doing ebooks of those represents a huge opportunity for authors collectively.

The problem is that it's still not simple for authors to create ebooks of their work; especially if the only copy is in print. Even if they have a manuscript file of a book, they get edited, so authors usually don't have a digital copy of the final text.

Now, several years ago I decided I wanted to lighten up my shelf space. I had thousands upon thousands of books in the house, and a lot of them were down in the basement where it was inconvenient to look at them. So I started scanning them. I got pretty good at it.

My background is in computer science -- I was a computer science professor for a long time, as well as CEO of a tech company (and probably best known as the founder of the first Internet Service Provider, back in the day when folks couldn't get on the Internet and I thought that was a shame). So I started fooling around with improving the quality of the OCR scanning results. I scanned a huge number of my old books, just for my own edification.

You can see where this is leading. Now that ebooks are mainstream, and authors can benefit from having their work out there, I decided to start ReAnimus Press to help "reanimate" old books. As an author myself, I wanted to be author friendly, so we pay the highest royalty rate of any publisher I'm aware of, and we also offer individual ebook services at low cost for those who want to do their own ebooks, and just want help with certain hard parts of the process (scanning, or OCRing, proofreading, covers, etc.).

Since last year we now have over 60 books either already published or in the works. We work with folks like Ursula K. Le Guin, Ben Bova, Robert Silverberg, and so on, though we also work with lesser known and even as-yet-unpublished authors. While we're not a "science fiction publisher," since I know a lot of science fiction writers, we have a lot of SF/fantasy/horror in the mix; but we also have books on writing,
children's books, mysteries, romance, biographies, and so on. Any genre.

We've recently also branched out and release our first few new, never-before-published books. We have an amazing book on how to write science fiction story openings written by a member of my Critters Writers
Workshop, who analyzed 1400(!) stories, pro and non-pro, for how they constructed their openings; that revealed some really interesting patterns. We've also branched out in format, doing print books now also.

And just this month we're releasing the three books of THE SIGIL TRILOGY by Nature editor Henry Gee. I read a draft of Henry's book some years ago, and really loved it. The thing is, it's huge; it's one book at about 900 print pages. It's an incredible story, about science, humanity, love, pretty much everything that matters. I'm really pleased we get to publish it.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom #review

Title: The Lucifer Principle
Author: Howard Bloom
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997

Every once in a while there’s a book that keeps cropping up in conversations that I have with friends, and The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom is one of them. And I’m glad I picked it up. If Lyall Watson’s Supernature made an impact on you, then there’s a good chance you’re going to gobble up Bloom. In essence, the author offers a broad-sweeping yet thought-provoking Theory of Everything, with a vast collection of ideas and factoids that have been doing the rounds for ages.

Except, let’s take not at *what* Bloom’s saying but *how* he’s saying it and *why* he’s saying it in this glorious mash-up of history, psychology and biology. At the heart of it, Bloom looks at mankind’s innate propensity toward violence. He identifies in our behaviour similarities between other mammals. He discusses how a relatively “new” concept – the meme – goes about arranging individuals into groupings labelled as superorganisms. But if you look at the bigger picture, we ourselves, as beings are superorganisms consisting of many billions of cells.

Just as individuals will compete for resources and mates, so do superorganisms, such nations or religions. Bloom investigates what allows these to wax and wane, and discusses the motivations for conflict. Nothing he puts forward here is groundbreaking, but what makes this book important is *why* he’s stating the obvious.

Bloom spends considerable time discussing US vs. Islamic conflict and, considering *when* the book was first published (1995) this is quite ironic considering the occurrences a mere five years after publication. He highlights the dangers of a complacent West sticking its head in the sand, and stresses the danger of nations under the sway of militant religious fundamentalists.

According to Bloom, “evil” is inherent in our natures, very much encoded in our genetic make-up and, while I appreciate the exhaustive illustrations of the problem, I do feel he could have offered more by the way of solutions. That being said, this book is definitely one that needs to be read if we are to make others understand the importance of rational solutions to age-old problems. Yes, the author writes with a highly opinionated tone, and he’s full of rage, but he’s one of the few so far as I can see who isn’t afraid to call us out on what’s wrong with society today – and has been wrong since we first climbed down from the trees.

You *don’t* need to agree with this man, but I do believe his voice needs to be heard, especially in the light of so many people screaming ignorance in the media today.

Monday, November 12, 2012

On leopards, a chat with Fransje van Riel

Recently I had a chance to read My Life With Leopards: Graham Cooke's Story by Fransje van Riel. Since I was a wee sprog I've always loved real-life accounts of people's interaction with animals, and folks like James Herriot, Gerald Durrell and Joy Adamson often had me spellbound, even if many of the stories didn't always have happy endings. Today I welcome Fransje to my blog, because after reading My Life With Leopards, I absolutely had to chat with her about the writing process. Welcome, Fransje!

For any nature lover, getting the opportunity to write a book like My Life With Leopards is a dream come true. How did this project come into being?

I received an email one morning from Graham, who I didn’t know then, and it took me some time to understand that he was writing to me because he thought I was working with baboons. He had just read my first book, Life with Darwin and Other Baboons (also a Penguin title), and mistakenly believed that I was Karin Saks, who I had written the book about.

Graham Cooke and Fransje van Riel
Whilst I was figuring this out Graham sent me a second email which included his CV, which had a photo of him and Poepface on it. Naturally I was immediately intrigued and asking after it, I slowly learned that he had raised two leopards cubs in the middle of the South African bush. Since I am a huge cat lover, both domestic and otherwise, my senses were piqued and so I came to know more about Graham’s feelings for Boycat and Poepface and the sense of loss he still felt after all these years. When I suggested that he write a book about his experiences, Graham said that he had wanted to do so for many years but that it  had never come about. He had though written a 10 000-word manuscript which he sent to me for appraisal. I knew it wouldn’t work the way he had gone about it and suggested that I write it. And so we began talking, emailing and meeting. I interviewed and taped him for a whole week and then I had the nuts and bolts of the story, so I could begin to start giving shape to the story. This was followed up by countless daily emails until I had the entire scene in my mind and was able to ‘become’ Graham and virtually experience his life with leopards in a very surreal way.

Getting into the mind of someone who's had all these experiences must be quite something. Something that struck me while I was reading was that you managed to very vividly evoke the bush. Were you able to eventually visit Londolozi? How do you slip into a person's skin in this way? 

Graham with the two leopard cubs he cared for.
I liken it to playing an acting role. You just find out as much as what you can about the character and become the part. Only then do you ‘see’ in your mind what and how things would have transpired (according to the information provided by Graham) and translate that into words. I admit that the experiences felt so real that it is as if I was there and knew the cubs and the other characters as well even though I have never been to Londolozi … I was told by someone that the old Tree House still exists, although I am not sure in what state, but I would love to visit Londolozi and visit the exact place where Graham’s old camp stood. I can only imagine it to be a deep and very moving thing to be so close to something that is so intangible …

Well, you certainly did an excellent job bringing across the cubs' personalities, and the very strong bond Graham had with them. And yourself, have you ever had any close encounters with big cats? 

Thank you, Nerine. I have had a few interesting encounters, yes. I was fortunate enough to meet up close and personal several cheetahs that had been rescued from abusive situations and that were cared for by my friend Lise Hanssen, who now researches the demography of spotted hyenas and other large carnivores in the Caprivi. Was also privileges to be present when she darted a large female hyena that she wanted to radio collar to study her movements on Google Earth. Fascinating to be so close! Also just last year I was on holiday in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park on the South African side only to have a large male lion come up the dune slope and walk right past my unit at less than 4 meters distance without any fence. I was astounded afterwards to realise that I hadn’t been scared as the lion had no ill intent at all and just traipsed past as a short cut to access his pride over the opposite dune. It goes to show that as people we are so out of tune with nature that we find it difficult to perceive large cats as anything but dangerous. In a sense that is what I do hope the book will bring about; a sense of respect and understanding for animals such as leopards. Yes, they are proficient at killing prey for food and yes, in our horribly overpopulated world we compete with them for space, but given the opportunity they are as capable as forging a close bond and develop trust with humans as some other, more domestic type of animals.

Each book an author writes is a journey. Would you say that writing My Life With Leopards with Graham has changed you in any way? 

Not changed so much, but certainly enriched. I feel a depth; very strong emotional feelings for those two leopards and I often think about them. I ‘see’ Boycat and Poepface walking along the riverbed and even more so in Zambia. It is as if their energy has somehow infiltrated in some areas of my life and sometimes this can still move me to tears.

Yours is certainly a special gift – being able to step into someone else's shoes to allow readers to see the world through different eyes. Can you share briefly how you came to be doing this sort of writing? Are there any special qualities you feel an author needs? 

I think it is a combination of reporting on someone/something (I also like to write travel features and my own travel experiences) and share that which I see with others, combined with a very strong sense of awe and wonder I have for the natural world, and wanting to impart that on other people who are open to it. As a child I was always writing notes and little poems although I completely forgot about my early love for writing and headed in an entirely different direction; working for an airline. That indirectly though brought me to Africa and that inspired me to write again. When I moved to SA in 1997 I wrote a travel story and to my own surprise managed to sell it. That was the beginning of many stories (see

During one of my trips to Kenya (on a stay-over as cabin crew) I recall saying out of the blue that one day I was going to write a book. I had no idea where it came from, but many years later I did, with two more to come. I think as with everything in order to do something well you need to have a genuine love and interest for that which you do. Maybe a little skill and experience helps too J

The one thing I do know is that as an author you need a hell of a lot of commitment, dedication and sheer discipline. Add to that a sprinkle of doggedness and a good dose of stubbornness… Once the words flow it all seems so easy, but behind any line, paragraph, page and chapter lies an unseen world of hard work, frustration, joy and belief in that which you are trying to get across.

See the Facebook page My Life With Leopards  and my website

Fransje van Riel was born in Holland but moved to the UK where she spent the majority of her teenage school years in the rural countryside of East Sussex.

After her return to The Netherlands, she started working as a flight attendant for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Frequent flights to Africa revealed a long lost passion for wildlife, which culminated into resigning from the airline in 1997 to make the move to the African continent.

Here she embarked on a career in writing and, after publishing numerous wildlife and travel related stories for South African magazines, Fransje started writing Life With Darwin and Other Baboons, a book on Karin Saks, who dedicated her life to the welfare of primates and which eventually led to the production of Baboon Woman, a full-length British television documentary.

The book was published by Penguin SA and was translated in Dutch and published by The House of Books.

Fransje’s second book of non-fiction The Crowing of the Roosters was published in 2006 by South African publishing house David Philip and, consequently, in Holland by Arena Books. The Crowing of the Roosters was nominated later that year for Africa’s premier literary award The Sunday Times / Alan Paton Award.

In between writing freelance articles on wildlife, animals, travel and conservation issues, Fransje is active in raising awareness for several animal welfare projects, including rousing media interest for a local one-woman organisation called SAMAST, which is dedicated to consistent spaying of dogs and cats in Cape Town’s disadvantaged areas.

Fransje lives in a leafy suburb in Cape Town where she enjoys writing in the companionship of her three cats.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

On Penguins... #musings

Picture: Wiki Commons

When I was a wee sprog, one of my life’s ambitions was to be a game ranger. While I may not have gone on to study nature conservation, being a writer occasionally allows me to indulge in some of my childhood dreams. (That’s when I’m not chained to my desk as a sub-editor, which is what pays the bills.) I’ve been all over the place—have had a Guinness in the Gravity Bar, eaten swordfish in Mauritius and I’ve tracked white lions in the Karoo. Sounds glamorous, but the cool stuff doesn’t happen nearly as often as I’d like it to.

The other day I was chatting to some bookish folks on Twitter, and the subject of penguins came up, and yes, I have a penguin story for you today (because I have a habit of having the occasional adventure, okay).

Let me introduce Spheniscus demersus, otherwise known as the African or jackass penguin. In Afrikaans we call them the brilpikkewyn, which sounds way cooler, if you ask me, and they really do sound somewhat like donkeys. My ouma loved penguins, so much so that she was an avid supporter of Sanccob (, an organisation that rescues these wonderful birds.

Now back track to 2000 when the Treasure oil spill disaster struck the southern African coast. I mean, we get oil spills often, but this was one of the big ones. I had just graduated the year before, and was still looking for a permanent job, so my sister, a veterinary nurse, pounced on me and dragged me out to Sanccob’s headquarters on the West Coast. She was volunteering to help treat the oiled penguins, and they needed extra hands.

“Come clean penguins,” she said. Who could say no to a request like that? It was better than waiting tables. Luckily for me my boss at the restaurant where I worked gave me the week off. Penguin wrangling, here we go.

Suitably togged up in oh-so-sexy green oilskins (I felt like a fisherman), I rolled up my sleeves... and, oh, and thick rubber builders’ gloves were so de rigueur. Those damn birds’ beaks are razor sharp. And those oilskins are necessary ‘cos not only do you get smeared in oil, but penguins, excuse my French, don’t give a shit about where they shit. But don’t worry, after a day you don’t care about that. And everything smells of fish by the time you’re done. EVERYTHING.

When we started, volunteers had brought in about 3 000 or so oiled penguins in. I thought, “Gee wow, that’s a lot.” How the hell were we supposed to get through this amount? It seemed like an insurmountable challenge.

Our first task was to tube-feed charcoal and electrolyte solutions. This was to counteract the poisons from the birds ingesting oil while preening and also to rehydrate them (oiled penguins can’t go fishing, so therefore they can’t eat and slowly starve to death). Tubing is easier said than done. Our method involved a pair of volunteers. One to catch and hold a bird between his knees. The other to feed a plastic tube down the bird’s throat so that the liquids could be administered.

Well, you try holding a wriggling beastie the size of a muscular rugby ball complete with flippers. All while managing the sharp end. I very soon had beautiful sets of bruises all the way up both arms. Then I received bruises on top of bruises. And a few lacerations for my pleasure. A penguin bites with the same ferocity as slamming a door repeatedly on your affected body part. Only the beak concentrates the pressure. Pinch the soft flesh on the inside of your arm between index finger and thumb really hard. Hurts, doesn’t it? Now multiply that by ten and you’ve got an idea what it feels like to be bitten by a penguin. That’s when the little blighter hasn’t slapped you through the face with his flipper. And Dog forbid you bring your face anywhere near that beak like one unfortunate volunteer did. You can lose an eye.

I very soon learnt how to *not* get bitten—or at least minimize the damage by getting penguins to bite less sensitive areas. And there’s a whole technique associated with approaching a penguin, distracting it with one hand while grabbing it with another. If you’re lucky, you grab it behind the head and hold it much as one would a venomous reptile—the first time. Or you grab it by a flipper, wait for the damned bird to fasten itself to the offending hand, then grab it behind the head while it’s making a valiant attempt to crush the bones in your wrist.

On the second day that we were at Sanccob, we got a call from the folks at I&J. They’d just donated the use of one of their big warehouses in Salt River, please could we send a team of volunteers, as they had a few thousand penguins, and the South African army was now helping catch birds. A local company had donated portapools. Each portapool contained a hundred penguins. Never mind the 3 000-odd birds at headquarters, within three days we were treating more than 11 000 oiled penguins at the warehouse. And they just kept coming. I think by the time things were really in full swing there were more than 17 000 birds. I still get choked up when I think of how many birds would have died if we hadn’t given a shit about helping. Okay, so I love animals. A lot.

Thousands of penguins in a warehouse, in hundreds of portapools—try imagine thousands of donkeys braying at the same time, and people shouting orders. Chaos. Yes. But by now Sanccob was helped by a number of wildlife foundations. And volunteers were flying in from as far afield as the US and Europe. Yes, there was a bit of politics going on with trying to sort out who was in charge of this entire mess, but what amazed me was folks giving up time to just help. And businesses that donated food and supplies. Very rarely have I experienced such a sense of community spirit centred around one cause.

Feeding the penguins was another matter. For this, huge truckloads of frozen pilchards were donated (by I&J, I think, so kudos to them). Some of the penguins had experienced rescue before, and our first job was to separate birds who would feed directly from one’s hand from the ones that had to be force fed. Luckily, penguins aren’t too dumb, and many birds soon learn to take fish directly from your hands. They kinda sidle up to you, side-eyeing the fish until they grab it from your fingers and swallow it down. But getting them used to feeding from your hand results in quite a mess. I went home each night with fish entrails and scales in my ears, in my hair … even up my nose. Sometimes penguins would refuse to swallow a fish already halfway down—by vigorously shaking their heads and flinging bits of mushy fish…everywhere. To this day I still can’t really eat pilchards. A messy business indeed.

Washing a penguin is quite a job too. A big plastic washbowl is set on a surface and filled with warm water. One handler holds onto the penguin. The other wields the soap. The end result: sometimes the bird slips out of your grip but he doesn’t have anywhere to go but swim in tight circles *in* the washing bowl until you catch him again. “Slippery when wet” is an understatement in this case. But washing is perhaps the most rewarding part of the whole endeavour. A brown-black begrimed bird is revealed in his true black-and-white glory, and can happily preen himself.

Granted, he can’t go back to the sea yet—he has no oil on his feathers—but he is clean.

If another oil spill as horrific as the one in 2000 were to happen, I’d book time off work and be there at the drop of a hat. Working with penguins was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, even if it meant sitting on a crate in a guano-filled portapool with 100 miserable birds.

But I truly hope I don’t ever *have* to do this again. While thousands of birds were given a second chance, many died too, and the damage to our environment was horrific. As for the long-term impact? I don’t know. But I’m sure an environmentalist can fill your ears with horror stories.

Penguins? Well, I’ll always have a soft spot for these ungrateful little sods. Now I like to visit them at Boulders Beach ( and like to think that future generations of Capetonians will still be able to go check out these plucky little chaps in their tuxedos. And if you visit Cape Town, I hope you do too. They’re happy dudes who provide hours of free entertainment.

Camdeboo Nights cover reveal

This novel's been sneaking up on me somewhat. I wrote Camdeboo Nights many, many years ago, shortly after I sold my very first novel, Khepera Rising, back in goodness knows when (I don't really keep track of these things anymore). I wrote another novel between the two, but it will remain forever buried at the bottom of a box I kinda lost somewhere (and for very good reason). Camdeboo Nights is so old I'm already rebooting the Khepera books, but it's one of my favourites, and was a quarter finalist in the ABNA Awards thingie way back when (2009, I think, I might be wrong). Subsequently it did the whole submissions mill but then stalled when a publisher had it on full sub for half a year. They eventually said no... and then I just didn't do anything with the novel until Lyrical Press started accepting YA subs and it was a case of "Oh, ja, there's this novel on my hard drive I've done nothing with". (really, I forgot I had it--ooh, look! Bright-shiny.)

So here's the cover for Camdeboo Nights, to be published by Lyrical Press. I'll give you a little hint: I wrote part of it in Nieu Bethesda while on holiday with good friends. Incidentally, HJ Lombard, the photographer who provided the background image of the Karoo landscape, was on holiday with me at the time. (Thank you, HJ, for allowing me the use of the image, you're the best.) Now go check out his studio here. He's an awesome photographer.

Then, a little bit about the actual cover design. When I found out that Valerie Tibbs was doing my cover, I knew I was in good hands. She's done a number of covers for some of the authors I've edited, so I consider it an absolute honour to have her do the cover for this novel. Now, go check out her website here.

So, when's the novel releasing, and what is it about? I'll say this much: it's a YA urban fantasy road trip that involves an entire menagerie of supernatural oddness, that takes place in South Africa. I blend a little African myth and magic with the standard tropes we've all come to know and love. We're still busy with the edits (at time of writing, the MS has gone to line edits.) The release date will only be finalised once I've signed off on the galley, and that's a while yet. Good things should never be rushed. ;-)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling #review

I purposefully avoided most of the reviews written about JK Rowling’s new novel, The Casual Vacancy, while I was reading the book myself. I wanted to experience the novel without any of the preconceptions of others. To a degree I was successful, and in retrospect I’m glad I made the effort.

The author warned readers right from the start that this wasn’t another Harry Potter. Unlike a large number of angry and disappointed readers I was vaguely aware of on my periphery, I took Rowling’s advice to heart. As much as that wiggly little childlike voice inside me whined and moaned for more Hogwarts, I fed it some codeine tablets and a chocolate bar and laid it down to rest while the adult in me settled in a cosy armchair over a cup of coffee to read The Casual Vacancy.

This is not a very nice book. Which is precisely why I absolutely adored it. That being said, I’m also quite happy to admit that if Rowling had not been the author, chances are very good I would not have picked it up. I am unashamedly a fan of JK Rowling’s, the same as I am a fan of Neil Gaiman, Storm Constantine, Anne Rice or Poppy Z Brite, and will give everything they write a fair chance even if they’re writing outside of their expected genres.

But more about why I don’t like nice books – they don’t come across as being authentic. Real life doesn’t have neat, convenient happy endings and, as much as it can be argued that reading is often a lot about pure escapism, I like knowing that there’s always a chance that the character I’m rooting for will fail. So, it’s down to personal preference.

If you’re looking for a rose-tinted happy ending, then DON’T read The Casual Vacancy. If you’re looking for a story where the underdog is likeable, DON’T read this book. In fact, there are absolutely no likeable characters at all in this story. Yes, there are some I grudgingly kinda like, but no one for whom I’d willingly don a cheerleading outfit. I’m pretty sure that if Barry Fairbrother didn’t die in the start of the book, some of his dirty secrets would have come tumbling out before long too.

He’s the real hero of this novel, and he bows out early, so we never get an accurate idea of what his true character is like. We end up viewing Barry through everyone else’s somewhat rose-tinted glasses, and he is placed on a pedestal, as the only resident of Pagford who was able to dream up a bigger vision which expanded beyond the narrow-minded pettiness of the others. What Rowling says, at the end, is that the world needs more people like Barry Fairbrother, and though I don’t want to spoil, I’ll suggest that in the end we do encounter someone who will step into the breach and fill his shoes. And it’s not anyone you’d suspect, so shhh.

I’ll say this much, that I was pleasantly surprised to see this character grow beyond the societal pressures.

As always, what I absolutely adore about Rowling’s writing is her characterisation. Her prose might not be scintillating, but, much like Neil Gaiman, George RR Martin and Stephen King, she understands the rare art of storytelling, and of offering readers characters with whom they can identify – who hold up a sometimes dark mirror to our own reflections.

We all know people like Howard, Samantha, Krystal, Kay, Gavin and Simon; people who are more often than not blind to their own faults. They lie to themselves as often as they lie to others, and act short-sightedly. They’re human, like us, broken and sometimes bitter. If anything The Casual Vacancy is a cautionary tale, warning us to be more aware of our interconnectedness, and the web that glues society together. Despite the tragedy of the human condition, the novel also dares us to hope, and if there is ever to be any change in the world, it must first start with oneself.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Southern Bones by AJ Brown #feature

In the spirit of sharing about the works of my fellow authors, I've given a spot to AJ Brown today, author of Southern Bones.

Without further ado, here's the book's blurb:
Welcome to the South. Recognized for its traditions, beliefs and hospitality. The people are genuine and a helping hand and a home cooked meal are never too far away.

Welcome to the South. Where some traditions are better off forgotten. Where some beliefs are based, not on the Bible, but on what men want you to believe. Where behind the hospitable smiles are angry snarls trailed by the feral snaps of rabid people.

Welcome to the South. Where a house stands lonely on a hill, its owner a man deformed by life. Where children aren’t quite as naïve as they appear. Where the darkest secrets are found within its families, and where dying sometimes isn’t the end.

Welcome to Southern Bones, a collection of eleven short stories from the mind of AJ Brown.

And a little background on the Southern Bones collection, from AJ Brown:
Southern Bones is a collection of eleven short stories, all based in the south, though they really could be from Anywhere USA. They are considered horror, though I think that may be misleading.  All of the stories have horrific elements to them, but unfortunately, there is no horrific elements genre.

The stories range from a terribly sad incident involving beautiful horses and the little girl who witnessed it, to a family's trip to a carnival that doesn't end so well for a couple of the members, to two orphaned little kids taken in by an angry drunk in a poor town, to the delusions of babies needing to be set free from the world and its sins.

Several of the stories have religious undertones to it, somewhat darkly delicious undertones.

The writing style is relaxed, almost conversational at points.  There are two experimental pieces--one of which is probably the best story in the collection.

To be entirely honest, Southern Bones is not your typical action oriented collection of stories.  It is mostly character and visually driven--more so than action, action, action.

Southern Bones buy link 

About AJ Brown...
AJ Brown is a southern born country boy from a family of rednecks. He writes dark, atmospheric stories that doesn't so much scare you in the moment, but rather, creeps up on you and strangles you when you aren't looking.

Some of his stories can be found in Necrotic Tissue, Midnight Echo Magazine, Along the Splintered Path (collection) and Tales of the Zombie War, among others.

You can find him on Facebook and at his blog/website, Type AJ Negative.

And now, for an excerpt from The Burning Children:
Sitting on the steps of a rundown apartment building with busted windows on the first and second floors was another man, much younger than the bum on the street. He had his coat off and shirtsleeve rolled to his bicep. A belt was tied tight just above the crook in his elbow. Carney saw the syringe, the liquid heaven inside it. But, there was something wrong with that liquid. There was something in it—floating like a soul trapped in the cylinder. The needle went into the upraised vein and the junkie pushed the plunger.  The young man’s eyes rolled back, his head lolled on his shoulders.

A minute passed. Two more. Then five. The junkie’s eyes snapped open, his mouth gaping, a scream came out as nothing more than a whimper. The kid reached a hand out to Carney.  The hand turned into a claw as the kid grabbed at his chest. His back arched.

Carney turned away.

A block further a black woman with stockings all the way up past her thighs approached him. Her skirt was dirty and he could tell she wore no bra by the way her nipples tried to poke through the material.

“Five bucks for a blow,” she said, her voice scratchy, her eyes jaundiced and her teeth like crooked shards of metal in her almost black gums.

“No… no, thank you,” Carney said, his hands out in front of him in a warding off gesture.  He crossed the street in a hurry, trying not to run as he did so.

At the next corner, he stopped, took a breath and heard a familiar whisper.

Carney turned and saw it plastered against the wall, its grin a malevolent yellow, dripping with malice.