Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Guest, Steve Turnbull - The Culture in Worldbuilding - #WriterlyWednesdays 19

I very much hope you will join together with me today to welcome author Steve Turnbull to Tasha's Thinkings to talk about the mysterious culture of world building.

The Culture in Worldbuilding
by Steve Turnbull

When I built my first fantasy world for a book in 1992 I had already asked myself the question: "Why, in Dungeons & Dragons, if there are spells that can determine whether someone is telling the truth, is society still typically feudal? Wouldn't the fundamental nature of society be different?"

To which the answer is: "Yes, of course, it would. The ordinary man and woman would be enslaved."

What would a society be like where someone in authority could know the truth of your words with no real effort? You can't guarantee the goodness of those casting the spells. Nor whether they tell the truth themselves.

Here's a practical example of how the rules of a world affect behaviour: My wife and I ran fantasy Live Role-Playing events for six years. That involved us organising adventures and people dressing up and going on those adventures. Like a murder-mystery party but in forests with swords and magic.

In the world system there were the warrior types and there were characters that could heal damage. And, as time went on, a system developed for battles: The big powerful warrior (the "tanks") would go into battle with their own personal healer (maybe more than one) who would keep pumping spells into the warriors to keep them alive while they took down the bad guys.

Individual behaviour and social structure is a product of the rules of the world (also geography, weather and belief systems). And that leads us to the question of borrowing from other cultures…

Cultural misappropriation

Tea Ceremony by Chikanobu Toyohara 1838-1912
Cultural misappropriation is a thing, and has a definition: "elements are copied from a minority culture by members of the dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressed, stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture." (Wikipedia)

While you can simply yank something out of one culture and slam it down in the middle of another one, it instantly loses its meaning. Cultural entities do not exist in a vacuum. They are defined, supported and enhanced by the structure from which they come.

Cultural entities (whether a Japanese tea ceremony, or Native American Wendigo) cannot simply be transplanted, they have a value and meaning in the culture from which they spring, if you take them out of the framework they mean nothing. A "Japanese tea ceremony" among wizards in Monte Carlo would not carry the meaning it has in its own culture.

This means that if you are building your own culture it needs to have its own framework for the construction of its rituals, concepts and symbols.

Baking your own

I do not hold with the idea that a writer cannot write outside his personal experience. In fact it would be impossible to be a good writer if you didn't do that.

Male writers can write female characters, and vice versa. Young writers can write old people. Personally I write about cultures I have barely experienced and places I have never been to. I have not had any complaints (as yet).

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror writers do nothing but write about things outside their (or anybody else's) experience.

When you create a new world you define the rules by which it works. Those rules have consequences both personal and cultural.

Worldbuilding is a matter of consequences and constantly asking the question "Why?" along with the equally important "Why not?"

In my Patterner's Path fantasy series everything in the universe is built from patterns. Magic is a fundamental part of that universe and patterns can be manipulated with magic if you know how.

For example, I stated that magic is a fundamental part of this fantasy universe. If that's the case, why can't animals do magic? Why not indeed. But if they can what can they do and what restrictions are there?

Clearly an animal does not have abstract cognitive thought so any magic would be at an instinctual level. So I have many living things that use magic as part of their evolutionary process. Wolves, as pack animals, have a strong mental link to one another. As a consequence they are effective hunters—and silent, they have no reason to bark or howl. On the other hand they cannot be tamed (so no tame dogs in this world) and if all but one of the pack dies the final one goes mad from loneliness.

Does this have a cultural effect? Yes, these wolves are so dangerous the packs must be wiped out if they stray into human territory—of course that is done by the well-armoured nobility of the land.
So we create a creature that is product of the rules of the world, and social behaviours of the humans it comes into contact with.

Know your fundamentals

I can challenge anyone to ask me any question about any one of my invented worlds and I will know the answer. This is not because I've thought of everything already. Worlds and Universes are big places and you can't know everything about them.

But if you understand the rules of your world and someone poses a question—or a question is posed through the writing process—you will know the answer because it comes from the rules. However it's your world and you're free to modify the rules to produce the outcome you desire (as long as you remain consistent).

I have spent two years writing steampunk stories set in a single universe where history starts to diverge from ours in 1843 (when partial anti-gravity is discovered). I have stories set in 1857, 1874, 1896, 1903, 1908-1911 and 1933. At each stage the difference in history and technology increase, and by the time we reach 1933 the world we know is barely recognisable.

This is only possible because I know the basics of my universe.

Fear not the change

Over the past year several other writers have been writing stories (for an anthology) set in the same universe. I have had to be able to answer their questions about the technology and the state of humanity from Czarist Russia to mining stations in the Asteroid Belt. It's been a challenge, particularly as I did not want to interfere too much with their story ideas.

So I changed things. As long as I did not damage the continuity of the existing stories I was free to make any changes I wished. For example, when I began I had only a vague idea of how the antigravity worked but now I have a very clear idea. To the point where even flying mountains become a possibility.
It's a wrap

I've mainly focussed on SF/F/H in this article, because that's where most obvious worldbuilding happens. But every story has some worldbuilding, the setting up of rules for the world in which the story is set. Sometimes the genre itself sets those rules. And once they're set you can't break them.

The keys to worldbuilding are consequences and consistency. Get those right and you'll have a world people can believe in and trust.

Author Info 

Steve Turnbull has been inventing worlds for over forty years—but writing about them for only half that. By day he works in software development which is another exercise in consequences. He is married with two grown children. He's counting the minutes to the day they can keep their parents in the lifestyle to which they wish to become accustomed.

Mailing list:
Amazon author page:
Book Info

Patterners' Path (fantasy)

Elona (

Two thousand years ago, fleeing their Slissac masters, the Taymalin stole a new land from its indigenous people.

A descendant of those invaders, ten year old Lady Elona of Corlain finds herself bound by a prophecy that says she will defeat an invading army. But that’s impossible: she’s just a girl.

Her betrothal to the Prince solves the paradox for the nation’s leaders—she can produce the heir to fight the prophesied war—at the cost of political enemies for Elona.

But six years later, as Elona’s behaviour becomes erratic, her carefully planned future shatters.

Voidships books (steampunk)

Broken Vows

And a free short story on Medium: After Curfew

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Comic Book Mini Figures - Oh the fun :)

So my darling husband bought me one more Christmas pressie that only arrived today - 32 mini comic book figures :) He knows me so well!

The were late because they came from China... which should give you a hint that they are Chinese knock offs rather than official Lego figures or similar :).

You can also tell this because if they thought the character didn't look dangerous enough, i.e. they had no obvious weapons, they gave them some. I think Hulk and Superman probably didn't need the guns they were given ;).

I honestly have no idea who some of the figures actually are (I only know the really famous characters) and, as I am sure we can all tell, there is a mixture of Marvel and DC :).

My fingers are now very sore because they all came in little bits and Rob and I assembled them. The hands were really tough to get on the arms! Fun though :D.

Somewhat disappointed that out of 32 figures only 3 are female, but at least some of them are I suppose. Of course it says everything that there are 2 Wolverines and 2 Hawkeyes, but no Black Widow at all!

All of them are now taking up shelf space in the library guarding books :)

Who can name all 32 figures in the piccie? :)

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas One and All

May the joy of the shepherds and angels,
the love of the Holy family,
and the peace of the Christ child,
be with you all this Christmas time.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season whether you are celebrating Christmas, another holiday or simply enjoying the good will that tends to spring from this time of year.

If you are in a situation which means there is no joy to be had, I wish you peace and hope that things improve for you soon.

Love to you all.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A Christmas Carol - "Bah," said Scrooge, "Humbug." #WriterlyWednesdays 18

It is not Christmas unless I have seen A Christmas Carol at least once, preferably several times in several incarnations. So of course I had to talk about it for Writerly Wednesdays 18. Quotes are thanks to this Goodreads page.

A Christmas Carol
"Bah," said Scrooge, "Humbug."

First of all I have to admit I am not usually a Dickens  fan. Probably because of being forced to read him at school, but I find most of his stories tedious. Oliver Twist is okay, but A Christmas Carol is the only one I really, really love.
"Marley was dead, to begin with ... This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate."
 I suppose the fact it is a ghost story helps and Soph tells me I need to read his other ghost stories, because they are great too. However, I think it's the whole redemption arc that really does it for me. This story is the epitome of Christmas. It takes an old miser of a man, whose heart is all but shrivelled and not only brings him to wish to help others, but returns to him not only the joy of Christmas, but the joy of life.
"Come in, -- come in! and know me better, man! I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Look upon me! You have never seen the like of me before!"
The other thing I have to admit is I rarely read it, I watch all the adaptations I can get my hands on. I love that there seem to be some quotes that have to be included no matter who is playing Scrooge. If the quotes aren't there, even a little doctored, it's just not A Christmas Carol :).
"If they would rather die, . . . they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."
Scrooge really is a horrible, horrible man at the opening of the book. We despise him. Yet as he meets the Ghost of Christmas past we see the begins of the reason for his descent to this state in the neglect of his father and the loss of his sister. He becomes a man obsessed not with humanity, but with money, folding in on his own greed.
"If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should."
Then we have Bob Crachit, Scrooge's ill treated, under paid clerk, who, even though his circumstances are dire, is still a happy, giving man. Where as Scrooge's nephew Fred is the opposite of his uncle, Bob is the real foil, the man who has to stand up to Scrooge in small ways all the time, although he manages it rarely. And of course with Bob comes his family and Tiny Tim, the personification of goodness in the story. Forgive me, but in some adaptations I do find Tiny Tim just a tad annoying :).
"He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see."
My favourite filmed version of A Christmas Carol had to be the Patrick Stewart version with Richard E. Grant as Bob, closely followed by Scrooge staring Alastair Sim. The Muppet Christmas Carol is such fun to watch and so is the musical Scrooge with Albert Finney and Alex Guiness. However, I do have to admit that I think Mickey's Christmas Carol cut out too many of the important parts and missed a lot of the point of the story. The Disney version with Jim Carey is much better, but still not as good as some of the others.
"It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!" 
Then of course we have the modern re-tellings and the use of the story, but with different players and plots. My favourite of these is the one with Ross Kemp as Eddie Scrooge (2000), a mean loan shark in London who is shown the true meaning of Christmas. I also remember really enjoying Ms. Scrooge with Cicely Tyson when I managed to catch it once. Of course I couldn't leave this section without mentioning Scrooged with Bill Murray, however, I am going to cause trouble now and say I don't like it that much, I love the ghosts, but I think Bill Murray's ego got in the way of some of the other parts. It's entertaining, but I think there are much better re-imaginings.
"And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!"
So there you have it, my fav (almost) secular story of Christmas. Merry Christmas to one and all, I hope your holiday preparations are going well if you are celebrating, and that you are enjoying the good will this season tends to bring out even if you are of a different persuasion.

So are you a fan of A Christmas Carol? Which is your favourite version or re-telling?

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Cover Reveal - Sacrifice of An Angel (Cozy Mystery)

Welcome to the cover reveal for the re-release of 
Sacrifice of An Angel (The Haward Mysteries #1).

Sacrifice of An Angel, new cover 2016
Sacrifice of An Angel was one of the first books Soph and I published back in 2011. We have learned a great deal since then, and we decided this murder mystery entwined with magic deserved some more love.

Hence, in January 2016Sacrifice of An Angel is getting a relaunch, which includes a re-edit and this much more striking new cover.

Inspired by both the Golden Age of Detective Fiction and our love of contemporary fantasy, Soph and I like to think of the background to The Haward Mysteries Series as Midsomer Murders meets Harry Potter, which, basically, puts it plum in the middle of the cozy mysteries genre, something we had never heard of when the book was first published, but now we feel this series has found its true home :).

14 Christmas Tips for Making it Through as Sane as You Went In - #TipsTuesdays 18

Welcome to my blog this festive season. So today I have gathered together just a few of the small things I have learned about making the holiday period that much easier for Tips Tuesdays 18.

14 Christmas Tips for Making it Through as Sane as You Went In
It's the Little Things
  1. Always write a shopping list in advance for that last shop before Christmas Day or you will forget things. Keep it with you for a few days before the shop and add everything that pops into your head as it does so, so you don't miss anything.
  2. Sprouts taste much better with pancetta (or lardons), pecans and maple syrup than on their own or with just pecans and maple syrup if you are vegetarian.
    * Cook the sprouts as normal until just under done and drain.
    * Cook off the pancetta or lardons until crispy.
    * Add sprouts, pecans and maple syrup to the frying pan with the pancetta or lardons and toss together.
  3. Prepare as much food in advance as possible - the less you have to do on Christmas Day, the less stressful it will be. All the veggies can be prepared the day before and left to stand in cold water ready to be cooked the next day. So can sausages in blankets and stuffing, just leave in the fridge, but remember to get out about half an hour before cooking so they come to room temperature before cooking.
  4. Always have two rolls of tape - we are all bound to lose one, it's a rule of something ;)
  5. To get a crisp edge when wrapping parcels, fold under the edge of the wrapping paper before sticking it down. This hides any mess the scissors may have made of the edge of the paper.
  6. If your wrapping paper won't quite go round a rectangular present, turn the present at an angle, it should give you the few extra millimetres you need.
  7. A snowball really helps stress levels :)
    * Mix equal parts Advocaat and lemonade in a highball glass.
    * Use a straw to drink :)
  8. Singing is good for the soul, belt out those carols and/or Christmas songs on the radio!
  9. Did you realise at the last minute you forgot to buy someone a gift? Vouchers for online retailers like Amazon and Google can be purchased in minutes and emailed or printed out in an emergency.
  10. Need gifts for a group of people, but have few funds? Hand made peppermint creams are really easy and just made of icing sugar, egg whites and peppermint oil/extract/essence and can be made in large batches, then just put in sandwich bags and finish with a bow. Here is Mary Berry's recipe. I've been making a variation of these since I was small and still love them. If you want to make them even posher, drizzle them with dark chocolate once they are dry.
  11. Roast potatoes can take up to an hour and half to crisp up - never underestimate them.
  12. Do not stuff your whole turkey, it will slow down the cooking time enormously and can make the breast dry. Put aromatics to your taste (lemon or clementines, herbs etc) in the main cavity and only stuff the neck. You can cook the rest of the stuffing in balls or a tray, but still have some from the bird for those who love it like that.
  13. A really nice way to make sure the legs of your turkey are succulent and wonderful and so is the rest of the bird is not to cook them together. You can, but we have found that slow cooking the legs in our slow cooker with white wine and a few herbs makes for the most amazing, soft, dark meat to go with the juicy white meat from the roasted rest of the bird. Not totally traditional, but, oh my, so lovely.
  14. And finally ... Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes! (Thank you Bill and Ted)
Holiday cheer to one and all and I hope, to all those who celebrate the big day, your preparations are going really well.

Any holiday tips to share? Please do so in the comments, I would love to hear other people's holiday bolstering techniques.

And while your here, you might like to check out a cover reveal today for Sacrifice of An Angel.

Monday, 21 December 2015

The Grinch - A Christmas Monster in Green - #MonsterMondays 28

Welcome to Christmas week in my blog where all posts will have a holiday theme. For monsters I had to go with Dr Seuss and the Grinch.

The Grinch
A Christmas Monster in Green

Did you know that the name Grinch come from the French word grincheux, which means grumpy? Nope, neither did I, thank you Wikipedia  for that titbit of information :).
The Grinch from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Directed by Chuck Jones
Wittegen Press
$3.29 | £2.19
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Now our family were not big on Dr Seuss, Soph and I had The Cat in the Hat and  Green Eggs and Ham, but they weren't great favourites (we were more into traditional fairy tales at that age) and I had never heard of the Grinch until they showed "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", directed by Chuck Jones with Boris Karloff doing the narration, on UK TV one holiday season, and I remember loving it. I can't remember how old I was, but that cartoon has never left me.

I loved the animation and the voice over and the music. Although there have been live action adaptations of Dr Seuss I think his characters and craziness do lend themselves better to animation. I enjoy Jim Carey in many things and his live action version of the Grinch is great, but I still prefer the cartoon :). How about you?
Jim Carey as the Grinch

The Grinch is totally Scrooge, but he goes one further than scrooge, he actually steals Christmas from the Whos of Whoville. How evil, how terrible to steal Christmas!

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$6.79 | £5.69
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I also love the fact he is a terrible person, but he still has his dog, Max, even if he does make him be a reindeer.

Of course it's a Christmas story, so it's all about redemption. Well done Whos! And of course it's all about how all the things at Christmas aren't the important part, which I think we all forget from time to time. The holiday season is not about all the presents and all the food, it's about the love and the joy. I hope we all have plenty of those this year.

My must see Christmas movie is A Christmas Carol (all versions ;)), but I do like finding the Grinch on telly as well in all his Scrooge-like glory.

Who is your favourite Christmas monster, the Grinch, Scrooge or an even eviller one (say that when you're been at the Christmas cheer ;))?

Friday, 18 December 2015

Star Wars - How Could I Not? #FanFridays 13

Welcome to Fan Fridays 13 and after the release of the latest Star Wars film, how could I not choose Star Wars for this week? Today I will be waxing lyrical about the original trilogy, so, don't worry, no spoilers for the new movie.

Star Wars - How Could I Not?

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I am a big fan of the original three Star Wars movies and they encapsulate so many of the wonderful things I remember from childhood. I am sure we all have our favourites from when we were younger. The kind of movies that make us feel warm inside and all nostalgic. Star Wars does this for me.

Now my parents were not big cinema goers, nor were they sci-fi fans, so they had absolutely no idea that when they took me and Soph to see The Empire Strikes Back, it was a sequel. We were only 8 at the time and we couldn't go on the afternoon part of a school trip because they were going to the beach and we had plaster casts on our feet - sand and plaster casts are a bad combination. So the school gave my parents permission to take us off somewhere else. They took us to the cinema.

 I blame The Empire Strikes Back for many, many of my hot buttons in fiction, but the two biggest are the following:

  • My love of hurt/comfort:
    Thanks to Luke, that cave, the beast, Han, the tauntaun and then that medical tube thing they had Luke in, I am a complete sucker for all things hurt/comfort. That whole section climbed into my psyche and stayed put forever and ever :).
  • My pathalogical need to know if something has a happy ending before consuming it, be it film or book:
    I was only 8, I had never seen a film where the goodies didn't win outright. The fact that Han was encased in carbonite, Luke lost his hand and the rebels were basically on the run just totally blew my mind. This film and a book I once read where the heroine turns into a tree at the end for no reason I could fathom are why I have trust issues with media and flick to the last page of the book or look up spoilers before I engage too deeply :).
Empire was my introduction to Star Wars and it grabbed me and refused to let go. I had the photo story book, which my parents bought for me from the book club that used to come to school, and it was a very good thing it was well put together because I read it so much. The toys were too pricey for our little family, so I never had any of them, but I never really knew much about them anyway, so it wasn't a great loss. That book was awesome.

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We then saw Star Wars, A New Hope when it first showed on UK TV in 1982. Finally a few of the things from Empire made more sense ;). It was just as amazing as Empire and kept me and Soph completely hooked. It was after this I think we found ourselves a copy of Splinter of the Mind's Eye, a very good Star Wars novel by Alan Dean Foster, which is in no way canon, but a great book anyway.

At this point my favourite character was Luke and I thought Han was a bit of an ass, but as I have grown I have come to appreciate them both equally. Of course Leia is utterly awesome and should never be forgotten and I love her to pieces, but I don't fancy her and I did mention the whole hurt/comfort kick I have going on right, and the tauntaun? ;) Totally my favourite section from all three of the films.

Finally we saw Return of the Jedi on VHS. We didn't have a VCR at the time, but a friend who was staying with us was a school headmistress and, for safety, they always used to have someone take the AV equipment home during the school holidays. We were lucky enough to look after their VCR and I remember watching RotJ four times in one day when my father hired it for us.

I know some people hate the Ewoks and think Jedi is too cutesy in places, but I loved it then and I still love it now. I adore the Ewoks, I think the fight between Vader and Luke is simply amazing, and I never get bored of the film. In fact I never get bored of any of the original Star Wars films.

I am pretty sure that the new Star Wars film is amazing, since I have heard no ranting at all yet. I will be going to see it once the Christmas madness is over and I have high hopes. I really enjoyed most of Episode 1, but hated 2 and 3, so I have my fingers crossed for The Force Awakens. I hope everyone who has already seen it has enjoyed it enormously.

Here's to the bright future of the Star Wars franchise; may it last for a long time now in our galaxy not so far away :).

Which is your favourite Star Wars film?

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Seeking Pre-Release Reviewers for eBooks

Seeking Pre-Release Reviewers for eBooks

If you are here for Writerly Wednesday, today's post is a guest interview with the lovely Dorothy Massey and may be found here.

So Sophie and I are currently looking for people who would be willing to be pre-release reviewers for Wittegen Press. Before you click on to another page, this involves FREE books :).

We are seeking individuals who would be willing to read and give honest reviews of advanced copies (ARCs) of our books prior to general release. If you would be interested please:
  1. Fill in the Google Form at the bottom of this post.
  2. If you are accepted we will then add you to the Wittegen Press Reviewers mailing list.
Don't worry, people on the mailing list will NOT be expected to review all books. We totally understand that there are times when we all do not have time to drop everything to read a book or a particular book may not be within our genres of choice.

The system for reviewing will be as follows:
  1. An email will be sent to the Wittegen Press Reviewers list with details of the book to be reviewed.
  2. Those interested in reviewing it will respond by filling in a Google form for that book.
  3. We will select a group of reviewers from the pool.
  4. Those selected will be sent an ARC of the book in their format of choice with the proviso they will read it within a certain time, which will be stipulated with each book.
  5. If we have more reviewers than required, those not selected in that particular instance will be notified.
  6. Individuals will then give an honest review of the book at Amazon and any other places they frequent on the web.
Many thanks to all those who are interested.

Guest Interview: Dorothy Massey - #WriterlyWednesdays 17

Please join with me to day to welcome fellow author Dorothy Massey to my blog for Writerly Wednesdays.

Interview - Dorothy Massey

Can you tell us a little about yourself? 

I live in a small town in the Northeast of England with my football-crazy husband, rock guitarist son, and a collie cross rescue dog called Zero. I remember writing poems and stories when I was still in primary school, and when I went to secondary school, regularly contributed to the school magazine. I also remember presenting the latest instalment of a hopelessly soppy play to my best friend on the school bus as well as writing and performing a speech about earthworms! Many years later, after publishing a few poems and articles in magazines, a short story competition entry led to a commission to write three stories featuring mischievous twin ghosts, Wiggle and Woo. I’ve since had more short stories for children published both in print and online. Recently I’ve enjoyed both reading and writing picture books and poems on the website Storybird as doromass.

I’m self-employed as a tutor of literacy and English, which means I’m able to share my passion of reading and writing with others in the evenings and still have free time to write during the day. I’ve authored several educational resources, including a guide to creative writing workshops and a couple of poetry study packs.

My family loves rock music and we enjoy concerts, gigs and festivals. We also enjoy the beautiful British countryside, despite the rainy climate. At this year’s Download rock festival an overnight downpour resulted in a leaky tent and very little sleep. Most of our belongings were soaked, but rather than miss our favourite acts we spent the second, slightly less uncomfortable, night in our car. A much more pleasant experience was a short break in a roulotte, or traditional gypsy caravan, in the Scottish Borders. Here we were able to enjoy the sound of the rain pattering on the wooden roof without getting wet.

Tell us about your book? 

Red God/Black God is my first published children’s novel.  A contemporary real life drama, with a target audience of  upper Middle Grade, it’s creating a lot of interest among adults too. The novel explores family relationships and the transition into early teens through the eyes of a young Maasai girl, Neema, whose tribe is undergoing a parallel transition - attempting to uphold traditional values against the encroachment of modern-day advancement. The warring red and black gods of Neema’s favourite legend represent her own individual struggle to make sense of what’s going on around her and gain a much-desired education.

2.2. Do you believe contemporary fiction is a valuable educational resource?

I believe fiction, and not just contemporary fiction, is a valuable asset to people’s lives in many ways. Fiction provides a vehicle with which to learn about other people’s views, culture and issues; it allows us to visit other times, places, experiences and cultures. Moreover, exploring fictional worlds and identifying with fictional characters enables the reader to explore his/her own world, beliefs and emotions. Children’s and young people’s fiction is becoming more diverse and experimental which can only add weight to its value.

However, there is a danger that overexpressing the educational value of a piece of fiction could take away from the sheer enjoyment of  story. Writers, educators and parents should encourage and allow children and young people to read for pleasure. The educational value should be a bonus; the fiction a catalyst for further exploration.

What is the hardest part of a book to write, beginning, middle or end? 

Undoubtedly, the middle. For that reason I’ve developed the habit of writing the beginning of the novel, then the end, leaving the middle until last. Having written the end helps me to focus on taking the plot towards the resolution. I also reread and edit as I go along. I know a lot of writers believe you should complete a full draft before editing, but that doesn’t seem to work for me.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

If you truly want to write something, don’t let anyone or anything prevent you. You will find a way. Gather a carefully chosen group of people who support you and continue to build a firm relationship with each of them. Make sure you support them constructively in return.

How did you decide on the topic for your current book? 

I was studying for my MA in Writing for Children at the University of Central Lancashire and was given the amazing opportunity to visit both Zambia and Kenya. Those visits gave me insight into many aspects of African life, including the education system, where the poverty divide was painfully evident. I was impressed by the African people’s determination and ability to make the most of whatever resources they had, no matter how limited. Shared values and interests, especially the tradition of storytelling and strong sense of community were key inspirational and motivating factors in writing Red God/Black God.

How do you publish, print, ebook or both?

I’ve written educational resources for publication in the traditional way, but have also embraced digital publishing. My stories for children have featured in print anthologies as well as online downloads and podcasts. Deciding to self-publish, edit and market my début novel was a bit of a rollercoaster ride and I learned a lot along the way. Formatting the novel for different types of publication, for example, was extremely frustrating and time-consuming. At times, when challenges and setbacks occurred, I wondered whether I’d been over-ambitious, but having people read and give feedback on my book has made it all worthwhile. Being shortlisted for a Children’s Novel Award recently was a wonderful and unexpected bonus.

Do you ever get lost down the research rabbit hole ... just one more click? 

Yes.  Previously, when I heard writers talk about researching their books I used to picture them in stuffy offices, pouring over piles of academic books gathering and checking facts and figures. It was not an inspiring picture. In practice I’ve found research to be exciting, enjoyable and fun. Research for Red God/Black God involved a trip to Kenya, where I stayed at the Maasai Centre and visited a market (both of which feature in my book) and the discovery of  interesting and informative books, blogs, legends, photographs, videos and more. At first, while I was looking for inspiration, I researched widely, but as I began to write, the research became more specific as I knew what I needed to know and found innovative ways of obtaining it. The process by which the research assimilates itself into and enriches the story, taking it in new and unexpected directions, is amazing, even to the author.

If you could invite one character from someone else's books to dinner, who would it be?

I couldn’t chose between Katniss Everdeen (the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins) and Mina from (Skellig and My Name is Mina by David Almond). Both are strong female characters with qualities I admire – intelligence, guts and determination. They’re both outdoor types too so we’d eat in the wild - a meal we foraged and cooked ourselves - and talk for hours round an open fire.

Do your characters ever run away with the plot when you're not looking?

Yes, and they’re usually seemingly minor characters whose importance to the plot unravels and develops as I write. For example, in Red God/Black God, I’d intended the visitor in the jeep to be Aunt Sifa. Instead the jeep arrived in the village with a completely new character. Likewise, in the novel I’m currently writing, The Forest of Imaginings, I’d never intended a meeting between the two main characters, Tarnock and Viola, but the plot veered in an unexpected direction and there they were, together.

If you could pick one person from history to have a chat with, who would it be and why?

Believe it or not, I’ve already talked with Mary, Queen of Scots. Many years ago, as a budding magazine journalist, I interviewed one of my favourite writers, the Scottish author Liz Lochhead. Her play Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Knocked Off was featuring in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at the time so I asked Liz if she’d like to be interviewed as Queen Mary. It was a fun interview, and I couldn’t wait to get home to transcribe it for the magazine. To my horror, the tape was blank. In my nervous excitement, I’d failed to press the correct buttons on the tape recorder. I phoned Liz and told a little white lie, explaining that the quality of the recording was poor (well it was!). Liz invited me to meet her at the theatre where rehearsals were being held and I got to interview Mary Queen of Scots (aka Liz Lochhead) for the second time. I doubt whether the real Queen Mary would have been so obliging.

Book Information

Red God/Black God
by Dorothy Massey

Becoming a teenager is always involves challenges and Neema seems to have more than her fair share. She wants a secondary school education like her brother, but their father has more traditional plans for Neema’s future. Her mother’s mysterious illness and aunt’s strange message make her wonder whether her family has indeed been cursed by the vengeful Red God.

In standing against Maasai tradition, Neema risks the wrath of her father and community. With determination and the kindly Black God on her side, can Neema finally find a way to continue her education and break the family curse?

About the Author

Dorothy Massey lives in a small town in the north-east of England where she writes children’s fiction and educational materials. She has published several short stories for children in print and digital media and has won several competitions. Red God/Black God is her first published children’s novel.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Howto: Tassels - Everyone Loves Dangly Bits - #TipsTuesdays 17

Everyone Loves Dangly Bits

Wittegen Press
$3.29 | £2.19
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So my darling twin decided in her infinite wisdom that for Christmas this year we would make all our friends scarves. I can reveal this now because we had our annual party last weekend and, as a group, most of us opened our gifts from each other, so that cat is already out of the bag. Since I am not revealing specific details, those who didn't open their pressies are still safe :).

Now Soph has a knack for crochet, where as I totally suck at it! I cannot crochet to save my life, please mourn with me a while ;). Hence Soph made the scarves and I had finishing off and tassel duty. These skills I am now a master at. Since I had absolutely no idea how to add tassels to a crocheted scarf before I started, I thought it might be fun to share the technique.

You will  need:
  • Wool
  • Something stiff the length of your tassels like card or a DVD case
  • A crochet hook, or other hooking device suitable for using with wool

1. Cut Your Wool to Length

The easiest way to do this is to find a piece of thick card, a book or a DVD or something which is the same length as you want your tassels. Make sure it is tough enough not to bend.
  1. Wind your wool around your frame the number of lengths you need for your tassels. (I found 6 lengths was a good number for each tassel, because each length of wool gives you 2 strands in your tassel - of course it will depend on the thickness of your wool).
  2. Cut your wool along the edge where the first length began.
Now you have all your wool for making your tassels.

2. Fold Your Tassel

Since each length of wool makes 2 strands in your tassels you need to fold them all in half.

  1. First of all take 6 strands and make sure the ends lines up.
  2. Fold all strands in half, lining up to the shortest length (your lengths will all be about the same length, but there is usually a margin or error).
3. Thread Your Tassel

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Now you need to thread you tassel onto your crochet.
  1. Choose which edge stitch you wish to attach it to - a tassel every 2 stitches works well with double ply wool.
  2. Push your crochet hook through the stitch.
  3. Out the fold of the tassel over the crochet hook and hold taut.
  4. Pull the tassel back through the stitch. The secret is to keep it taut all the time so threads do not fall off. If they do, rehook them and pull them through.

4. Finish Your Tassel

The last part is very easy, to complete your tassel.
  1. Make the loop you have pulled through the crochet large enough to get your thumb and forefinger through - if the tassel is too small use the crochet hook for this bit, but it's fiddlier.
  2. Pull the long strands of the tassel through the loop.
  3. Gently pull taut, so the loop closes around the strands.
And there you have it, the easiest way to do a simple tassel. It works for small ones, huge ones and everything in between.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Birthday Bargains! 50-100% OFF eBooks

Birthday Bargains! 50-100% OFF eBooks

It's my birthday :)

Coincidentally it's also my lovely twin, Sophie's birthday too, shocking I know ;), and we have decided to celebrate by giving back to our readers and having a 1 day sale on our eBooks.

Most of our 99c books are FREE today and our other books are all 50% off.

The links will take you to Smashwords where you can use the code below each book at the checkout stage and it will give you the listed discount. Smashwords has formats for all eBook readers.

Instructions for those unfamiliar with uploading files to their eReader:

Kobo | Kindle | Nook (FAQ Library 12.)


50% OFF
Code: YK56E ($2.99 $1.50)
Code: NL76B ($3.99 $2.00)
Code: RC88P ($3.29 $1.65)
Code: TW59A ($2.99 $1.50)
Code: NK42G ($2.99 $1.50)
Code: JH96V ($3.29 $1.65)
Code: HY46X ($1.99 $0.99)
Code: AB22K ($1.99 $0.99)
Code: HQ98K ($1.99 $0.99)
Code: EL44K ($2.99 $1.50)
Code: UK22K ($3.99 $2.00)
Code: FS25R ($1.99 $0.99)
Code: EU58T ($1.99 $0.99)
Code: DB24G ($2.99 $1.50)
Code: TR76G ($2.99 $1.50)

And of course there are still our permanently free books as well.
Permanently FREE

If you would like 2 more FREE eBooks, just subscribe to our Wittegen Press Newsletter using the form below. If you were already a subscriber you would have had all this information earlier to give you more time to pick up the bargains.

We'll send you details of book releases, competitions and other news from our authors, BUT we WON'T spam you, or pass your details on to anyone else.
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