Sunday, 26 April 2015

Where was I? Visualizing...

Yesterday, Saturday the 25th April, I was writing my every-second-Saturday post at Writing Wranglers and Warriors Blog
Since we've collectively been doing the April A to Z challenge this year, and my letter yesterday was V, I've decided to REBLOG a version of it here because it covered some of my jaunt to the Scottish island of Mull last weekend - though some of the images used here are different. 

Can you catch all the words beginning with V- some are more obvious than others?

If you thought the letter V is one of the less used words of the alphabet then you’re likely to be inclined to vomit after reading this post as I describe a short vacation that I took just last weekend. I live in the village of Kintore, Aberdeenshire, north-east Scotland (marked with the neon green X) and the main venue for my short trip was the island of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland, accessed by ferry from Oban.

I’d like you to Visualize the shortest route that could be taken between the two mentioned places.

There are lots of mountains in between so taking a route directly south-west between the green cross and Oban isn’t possible- there are no direct trunk roads. There are some very minor roads, many of which are forestry tracks, but none that can be used without adding considerable time onto an already longish journey.

I’ve often gone north to Oban via: Elgin; Inverness; Loch Ness (waving to our famous Nessie monster); Ben Nevis (not climbing the highest mountain in Scotland, though I did that many years ago); and on to Oban. That route is just short of 200 miles and at best a 3+ hour journey, though more likely 4 hours since the roads are single carriageway (one lane going in each direction) for most of that route. However, my trip last week was a guided coach tour and the route was a bit different.

Can you visualize the approximately 270 mile trip as the 22 tourists joined the coach last Friday?

My husband and I boarded the coach at 6 am in Aberdeen, after a 4.30 am rise. From Aberdeen, we headed south to Forfar; Perth; Dunfermline (not on the map but ‘sort of’ close to Kircaldy (pronounced kir-kaw-di); Edinburgh; Glasgow and north to Oban. A 50 minute ferry took us over to the Isle of Mull, the arrival at our hotel around 6.15 pm.

Twelve hours on a coach might seem like a very boring journey, with only two ‘toilet/quick sandwich and coffee’ stops (the coach did have a toilet but, call me fussy, I prefer to use non-moving facilities) but it was a fantastic journey. It meant a sore backside but a lot of viewing! What made it a spectacular journey was the tour guide, Alistair Walker, who was a veritable mine of information.

Alistair pointed out  – historical buildings and historical data about the clans of yesteryear who inhabited the areas; geological features; farming and pastural information (like how old the new lambs were likely to be in the fields as we passed by); roadside sculptures (part of the regeneration of ex-industrial areas); new industries; railway information; with special emphasis on bird life to be seen from the coach – virtually everything of interest along the whole route.
ruins of the nunnery (13th century) on Iona
I’m not at all religious, but if I were I surely would have felt very blessed because the weather was so favourable for April during the whole trip. A solid blue sky and no Scottish mist or rain makes such an incredible difference to a visit anywhere!

The high level of entertaining and useful commentary continued as we visited the tiny island of Iona on Saturday. It was so easy to visualize what a great vantage point St. Columba had when he chose to build his monastery and abbey. The views up and down the sound of Mull are very impressive.

As the story goes, Columba had a very religious upbringing and was inclined towards the church when a boy in Ireland. Whether, or not, he actually did fall out with the other Princes of Ireland and left Ireland because of that, he came with thirteen of his followers to 'Scotland' in AD 563. Having made contact with the Gaels of Dal Riata, he was granted the island of Iona to site his early church and monastery.

Of course, those early buildings were nothing like what has been restored on Iona today. It's thought that the earliest church would have been made of wood and the other buildings were probably of a typical Celtic roundhouse contruction, his small community of monks living within a Celtic roundhouse settlement.

Monastery buildings on Iona. The 3 peaks of the Paps of Jura to the south are clearly seen near the centre of the photo, above the opposite shorline which is on Mull.
St. Columba’s wooden buildings, and the subsequent Benedictine Abbey, eventually fell into disrepair but by Victorian times it was noted as an area of great historical importance – for secular and ecclesiastical reasons. A little reconstruction work was started to secure the area and it’s stone treasures for the future. However, the main time of restoration came after the Second World War when the ruins were assessed and rebuilt as close to the Columban/Benedictine originals as possible by what became known as 'The Iona Community'  established by the Reverend George MacLeod in 1938. The abbey buildings now available to the public are great to wander around. The abbey graveyard is said to be the resting place of many early ‘Scottish’ kings- though actually how many remains shrouded in the mists of time. What is excellent is that definite records exist for the burials of various Lords of the Isles- highly important people during their eras.

There are a number of good sites on the internet for more information in addition to this one:
Abbey monastery buildings and monastery harb garden at left. Mull over the water..
In the original state, St. Columba’s monastery and abbey buildings; gravestones; and impressive stone crosses were protected inside the vallum. This was two high earthen banks with a deep ditch between, similar to the type which would have been used in early Celtic hillfort construction and ancient Roman encampments. On the island of Iona, the vallum also created the distinction between the monastery and the secular world beyond the grassy banks.

The photo above was taken from the top of a little mound -the Torr An Alba (the hill of Scotland) - where St. Columba was said to have sited a small hut. This was where he wrote his ecclesiastical works.

one of the large stone crosses at Iona Abbey
It’s interesting to add that a nunnery, an Augustinian convent, was established inside the vallum sometime after the foundation of the nearby Benedictine monastery in 1203.

The Abbey Museum boasts a wonderful collection of carved standing stones as well as the huge, carved stone crosses that are in situ outside– their Celtic designs being the originals which are readily copied in many contemporary crafts.

In ecclesiastical circles, there is some dispute over who created the famous illuminated Gospel ‘Book of Kells’ manuscripts. However, what is less in dispute is the fact that it's certain that the Book of Kells was produced by Columban monks closely associated with the early monastic community at Iona.

The Book of Kells manuscripts are based on a “Vulgate text (late 4th Century Latin translation of the bible which became the official Roman Catholic version), written on Vellum (prepared calfskin), in a bold and expert Version of the script known as insular majuscule”.
Wikimedia Commons

If you want to view the original Book of Kells, you’ll need to visit Ireland, and go to Trinity College in Dublin.

(image from Wikimedia Commons)

That's plenty of Vs for today.

When I get some more time I’ll be writing about the quick trip on Sunday to Tobermory (only 2 hours to wander) where I met up with another Crooked Cat Publishing author for a quick cup of coffee.

Yvonne Marjot’s excellent contemporary women’s fiction novel is called ‘The Calgary Chessman’ and is set on the island of Mull. It’s hard to see but there’s a copy of her book in the local Tobermory shop that’s behind us in the photo, Yvonne living not far away from it. (Calgary in Canada is named after Calgary Bay on Mull)

Till last Sunday, Yvonne was only a virtual Facebook friend so it was excellent to meet up with her ‘in the flesh’!

Nancy Jardine and Yvonne Marjot

I’ll also be writing about my sail to the Island of Staffa – the origin of Felix Mendelssohn’s overture The Hebrides, Fingal’s Cave in particular. The Scottish Gaelic for Fingal’s Cave is An Uaimh Bhinn meaning ‘the melodious cave’.

The sail was wonderful, the waters out to the Atlantic Ocean very calm…to start with. I acquired a lovely  sun tan during the 3 hour sail but unfortunately by the time we reached the island the surge of the waters around the rocky island were too high for the boat to berth safely. We had hoped to walk along the pathway and into Fingal’s cave but I didn’t fancy being stranded overnight on an island that’s only inhabited by puffins and guillemots.

My trip involved a lot of coach travel, the estimate being 800 miles in 4 days but it was so worth it. I totally recommend ‘brightwater holidays – quality garden & Special interest holidays’ to anyone who might like to visit the sights of Scotland. I also say a huge thanks to Alistair Walker and highly recommend him as a tour guide.

We also managed to pop in to Duart Castle, on Mull, before heading home on the Monday. Like many other Scottish castles Duart fell into disrepair but Duart was restored to a habitable condition by the Clan MacLean owners in the early twentieth century. More on that visit later!
Duart Castle

I love the area around Oban so much that I wrote about it in my contemporary humorous mystery novel Take Me Now which is being republished by Crooked Cat Publishing in ebook format on June 5th 2015. Look out for more information on the launch! I can, however, give you all a sneak preview of my new fabulous new cover for it!


Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Trancing The Tiger by Rachael slate

On my Welcome Wednesday slot, I'm pleased to get to know the work of a new author. Rachael Slate has come to share her fantasy romance - Trancing The Tiger.  

Read on for details of the story, a bit of getting to know Rachael, an intriguing teaser and the chance to *WIN* a $5 Amazon giftcard. 


Rachael has explored forgotten temples in Cambodia, kissed the Blarney Stone in Ireland, and stood inside the Roman Coliseum. She loves studying people and cultures, current and ancient. Her appetite for romance began with Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, which she later nurtured with a healthy dose of Jane Austen.

As an author of scorching hot fantasy romance, Rachael blends the lines between mythology, reality, and fantasy. In her worlds, you’ll encounter strong, sexy alpha males and the capable women who challenge them. If her heroines can’t meet their heroes toe-to-toe, then they’ll bring them to their knees.

No matter what torture she puts her characters through, true love will always prevail. Love is, after all, the most powerful force on Earth, and beyond.

Rachael holds an Honours BA in anthropology, as well as a CELTA. Her secret indulgence is her passion for baking, which she offsets with her addiction to running (she’s completed four marathons). She resides on the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada, with her husband, two children, and cat.

Find Rachael at these places: Website | Twitter Facebook | Google+ | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon Author Page

Trancing The Tiger is about...

Delve into a world steeped in tradition and superstition…
After her parents become infected with the Red Death, Lucy Yeoh flees to Malaysia seeking answers. Everything in this closed-off section of the world is paradise—from the lush tropical climate to her sexy new neighbor, Sheng…who just might be delusional. He claims the Plague God unleashed the Red Death and only a circle of Chinese Zodiac spirit animals can cleanse the Earth. Even more, he insists she’s one of them: the Rabbit. Long furry ears and fluffy bunny tail included.

He’ll show her how to fight to save the world…
As the Chosen of the Tiger, the burden of restoring balance to the world has fallen onto Li Sheng’s shoulders. When he discovers that the ally he’s long awaited, the Dragon, is actually just the Rabbit, Sheng is quick to dismiss Lucy. If only she’d stay dismissed. Lucy’s Rabbit refuses to cooperate, undermining the authority of his Tiger at every turn…and seducing him to the limits of his darkest desires. He’s not supposed to want her. Not when he needs the spirit circle complete and she’s their weakest link.

She’ll show him a love worth fighting the world to save…
Sheng’s enemies draw closer, and not everyone wants Lucy alive. Together, they’ll have to navigate a treacherous world where a line between duty and their hearts has been drawn between them. They must either sacrifice one, or find a way to surrender to both.

Buy Link: Amazon

And now for an excerpt from Trancing The Tiger...
Sheng grappled for control that seemed as fleeting as his sanity. Lucy was off-limits. He’d reminded himself a thousand times tonight. Yet when Tiger had pinned her to the ground, Sheng would have taken her. Right then, right there.

If not for the intrusion of his friends.

Worse, she’d melted right into him the moment she’d realized his identity.

She trusted him and didn’t even bloody know why. Once he got her somewhere safe, he’d enlighten her with the logic fueling her instincts.

Tiger puffed out in supreme satisfaction. He almost hadn’t caught her; she was so swift. If not for the inclined tree trunk providing a bounding point, he might have missed.

Sheng’s shoulders tensed, on alert for more of Snake’s “friends.” Penang Hill—behind them—served as the boundary between the Hai San and Ghee Hin territories. The Gardens were the gateway to the Ghee Hin Kongsi’s residence in the Batu Feringghi—the stretch of posh beaches on the north coast of the island. He had to get Lucy out of here before Snake caught sight of her and realized what she was.

Where she might have argued with him, she simply obeyed. Her light footsteps padded behind him. That blind obedience concerned him more than her bolting. She shouldn’t trust a stranger with such ease, certainly not one who looked like him.

He raked his hands through his hair to stop from lashing out at her…or drawing her into his arms and shielding her. He wasn’t sure which instinct would win.

Even more reason to hold his tongue.

He straddled his motorcycle, unclasped the helmet, and offered it to her.

She approached him, her golden eyes wide and wary. Great. Now she chose to be cautious. “Who were those men?”

“You wanna stay and find out?”

Her nose twitched. “Do you work for my uncle? Are you my bodyguard? Where are you taking me?”

“Get on.” He dismissed her questions and waved the helmet. No time for this, not here.

Her hands trembled as she accepted it and secured the strap around her chin. Without questioning him again, she slipped onto the bike behind him.

“Hold on tight.” He reached back, seized her wrists, and clasped her hands together around his waist. “I don’t do slow.”

He revved the gas, the tires squealing while they pivoted around and peeled away. Her body slammed into his, her grasp cinching tighter as they sped through the streets. Lucy’s slender fingers spread across his abdomen, causing his muscles to tighten and his cock to throb. Was she purposefully teasing him with her velvety touch?

She slid her fingers beneath the hem of his t-shirt and his abs jerked as though sparked by a live wire. He growled once, in warning.

“Sorry. My fingers are cold. Do you mind?” Her murmur against his ear spiked his blood.

Was she actually cold or did he detect a sultry note to her voice? Did she suffer the same raging attraction he did?

With his concentration on navigating the streets and his hands gripping the handlebars, she had him at a disadvantage against the fanning of her fingers.

Her warm fingers.

They rounded a corner, and her body crushed against his. She didn’t draw back, and the imprint of her full breasts branded his back. He swore he could even feel her tight little nipples rubbing against him. He fought the urge to swing around and take her on the motorcycle. To hell with crashing—as if they’d even notice. They’d both survive.

Your fault, Tiger. The beast practically heeled at her side. Like a bloody dog.

Was it Rabbit or Lucy, herself, driving them both to madness?

They squealed to a halt in front of a warehouse at the pier. He stiffened as he removed her hands from his waist and plucked her off the bike.

She regarded him, one hand grasping her opposite wrist while she scanned the dockyard and the scattered people milling around—mostly couples out for a midnight tryst or teenagers looking for trouble.

“Helmet.” He stretched out his hand.

She unclasped the strap and removed his helmet, shaking out those long, wavy locks. Tendrils curled over her breasts and down to her waist.

He licked his lips, his throat suddenly dry. His nostrils flared, inhaling her sweet, floral fragrance. Even caked in dirt, she was the most delectable woman he’d ever scented.

The helmet slipped from her fingers to his. The slightest brush of contact between them made him bite back a groan.

A knowing sparkle glinted in her eyes. Oh, yeah. She hadn’t missed his hard-on earlier and likely deemed she possessed an edge of power over him.

Foolish little Rabbit. Didn’t she know?

No one toyed with Tiger.

Thank you for visiting today, Rachael. My best wishes to you for great sales of Trancing the Tiger. 


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

A Wednesday Welcome to Scott Perkins...and Howard Carter Saves the World!


I'm so delighted that Crooked Cat Publishing have such a lot of talented authors because I'm getting the opportunity to meet lots of new CATS. Today, it's the turn of Scott Perkins. His debut novel Howard Carter Saves The World  launched a couple of days ago. 

Howard Carter Saves the World has such a fabulous cover. When I first saw it, I wondered just how relevant the name in the title might be. Read on now to find out a little about that and a lot more about Scott Perkins...

Hello Scott. Wecome to my blog. Which part of the globe are you from and where do you call home now?

I grew up in Missouri, which is about as close to the middle of North America as you can get. It was a great place to grow up, tromping through the woods and getting muddy and bitten by all manner of bugs, chasing frogs and snakes, blowing up army men with firecrackers... sometimes I felt like I was stuck in the 1940’s and sometimes the 1980’s and 90’s were very much present. At times, my life was an Archie comic ghostwritten by Ray Bradbury.  

I moved to Denver for art school and met my future wife there (she was in engineering school) and then we moved several more times before washing up on the shores of Seattle, Washington. We now live on a small island in Puget Sound (Our “Secret Island Lair” as we call it) which is about 26 miles from Seattle, which is exactly the right distance for me even when it’s a truly fantastic city like Seattle.

It’s beautiful here. We never intend to move again. 
Nancy says: I spent a few days in Seattle before and after going to Vancouver, Canada. It was a fascinating city. We took a cruise around Seattle but didn't quite get as far out on Puget Sound as you're describing. It is a lovely area to live in.
Tell us 3 more things about yourself that wouldn’t be covered in your bio.
1.      I’m a hand tool woodworker and have been since I was old enough to hold a hammer. I can build almost anything from a photo. My grandfather taught me because “That’s What Boys Are Supposed to Do” and I must confess that I absolutely love it. It’s a very useful form of sculpture, really, and as with everything I see it as another unique way of telling a story.

2.      In college some of my friends referred to me as “The Adventure Nerd” because I am an avid mountain climber and backpacker, but I would haul a stack of books with me no matter how far I was going to hike. I’ve climbed many of the tallest peaks in the continental United States and crossed the Grand Canyon on foot. That part of your brain that tells you to get back from a ledge or get down from a ladder? It misfires every time and instead I climb higher.

3.      I’m nuts about history and as part of that, I started doing historical baking demonstrations. Events hire me to come out and build a wood fired bread oven on their site and then I have a troupe of likeminded goofballs who come out with me and demonstrate baking and other foodways as they were practiced in England around the reign of Elizabeth I.  I love food and love to cook and bake and enjoy the challenge of taking away the modern conveniences to see if I can get by without them.
Nancy says: That sounds like great fun. Whenever possible, and practical, I used to plan for cooking during my class projects when I taught upper primary school classes. When doing Romans and Celts we'd make something suitable in class- like 'Fat hen soup' , or flat bread from spelt flour, and one time we had a Roman Banquet. Japanese traditional dishes like Miso soup and sushi were fun to make too. We cheated, though, and had to use an electric cooker since we worked under strict health and safety conditions. 
Your debut novel has just launched. What genre is Howard Carter Saves the World?
Science fiction… with an asterisk. I wrote it as an ode to all the great, fun, and mostly goofy science fiction novels that I grew up reading: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Ender’s Game, the Tom Swift books, the Mad Scientist Club and other books, most of which are considered YA these days.  But it’s more on the fantasy end of Sci Fi, as there’s some very fantastical science at play that is key to the story much as you encounter in Hitchhiker’s Guide, Doctor Who, or Star Wars.
Please tell us a little more about it.
Howard has an uncanny knack for robotics and engineering. He makes friends a little too easily, and because he knows how to create cold fusion from an ice confection called Frozen Funtime Pops, a little too powerful. Also, he never quite gets their brains to work right.

His antics keep getting him in trouble and his family has to move from one city to the next, but one night one of his old escaped robots tracks him down carrying a dire warning: The aliens are coming for him and the government is looking for him too. Before too long, he’s on the run from a secret government agency that wants his technology, an alien scout who learned all about Earth culture from watching children’s television, and a mad scientist who just wants to recruit him for his alma mater. Not to mention the approaching alien horde, a sentient lawn mower with an artistic streak, and family members from past and future ganging up on him!

It’s enough to give a kid a complex.
Were there any triggers which led to the plotline for Howard Carter Saves the World’?
Whoa, that’s a big question.  The short version is that my wife said “Tell me a story” and the whole thing came tumbling out more or less as it’s seen on the screen today. Unusually for me, it didn’t change much between idea and publication.

The long version is more complicated…
Four years ago, almost to the day, I was completely at loose ends in writing terms. My dad had passed away and I had been in a car accident bad enough to put me into physical therapy. It was a pretty dark time all around for me. I was at that age when you’re trying to sort out the things you were doing to impress or otherwise prove yourself to your family and the things you genuinely want to keep doing. My dad was the primary literary influence that I had growing up and more than a little of what I’d been writing up to that point had been very much written with the idea of “Dad is going to read this” in the forefront of my mind. Without that, I didn’t know whether I’d keep writing long-form stuff or at all.

One day I wrote a short story about a man my age who was bitter and angry that the World of Tomorrow he was promised as a child had never materialized and I named him Howard Carter. So he built a “Kill-o-zap!” ray gun in his room and went out to wreak some minor havoc. It was called “Howard Carter Invents the Future” and it was a very dark, cynical, almost dystopian sort of story and I didn’t enjoy writing it at all. But there was something to it that I couldn’t walk away from. I changed his age to eleven, gave him a pair of well-meaning-but-clueless parents and the entire demeanor of the story was altered to this silly, almost gleefully anti-dystopian story that I quickly became addicted to. It started out in a place of deep hurt and became something joyful and healing.

I wrote four Howard Carter short stories in a month, one after another. He built a robot, travelled back in time, cloned himself to get out of chores… all the things kids dream about but can’t do. I was just having fun and noticed that my wife in particular was really, truly, enjoying the stories. She’d say “Tell me a story” and off I’d go.

Scott Perkins
The time travel story hinged on a mix-up about his name (because of course he shares a name with the guy who found Tutankhamun) and my wife convinced me that it had legs enough to be the foundations for a novel. But a story like this begs to be taken in small bites and I always liked the idea of writing a serial. So when November rolled around, I signed on for National Novel Writing Month, set up a blog specifically for Howard and his friends and wrote three or four chapters a week, posting them unedited for the world to see.

It was incredibly liberating and I fell in love with writing again in the process. I don’t know that I ever want to do it that way again, but it was an amazing experience.
...I don't know if I have the discipline to do a NaNoRiMo and I presently don't have the time, but it's an interesting learning curve, I think!
How much general research did you have to do?
In a way, I’ve been researching this novel my entire life. I’m a sponge for the odd and the curious. I’m one of those people who never lose at trivia games. Even I don’t always know where I picked something up.
The only two things I remember specifically looking up was how to turn a Snickers bar into rocket fuel, (which is actually thing that is possible) and the bit about the RAND corporation study that pops up at the end, which is entirely real. So much of the really preposterous-sounding stuff in the book is the stuff that I didn’t have to make up.
What is your hero's biggest challenge?
Being a good kid and remaining a good kid in spite of his mad science leanings. Howard desperately wants to be a good guy and fights the whole way as the world seems bent on turning him into a super villain or at least a tyrant.  There comes a point in everyone’s life where you have to stand up for yourself to yourself, and for Howard that takes on a very literal dimension.
...a tough call, I think.
What was the hardest section of the novel for you to write? Why?
Any part when Howard interacted with his dad. I was still raw from the loss of my own dad and though their relationship is very different and the characters very different from me and my family, even brushing up against that relationship felt very… tender.
An author isn’t necessarily drawn to their main character. Who's your favorite character in Howard Carter Saves the World’?
Some people have an inner child; I have an inner mad scientist. Doctor Villainous Deeds, PhD is a strange sort of alter ego for me; I created him on Twitter long before I knew what I was going to do with him and at one point he had over 400 followers of his own. We bantered back and forth and insulted each other and it got a little schizophrenic at times because I never broke character. During his heyday, he interacted with some pretty big-name Twitter-folk like Maureen Johnson and told some very fun stories. One time I stranded him in Kansas and he walked back to Washington, live-tweeting the whole way.
... Keeping up with the twitteruniverse is still a mystery to me.
What are you working on right now?
I’m revising a mystery novel for submission and outlining the next Howard Carter story. These characters are too much fun to stop writing about them now!

Fantastic answers- thank you, Scott! 

More about...
Scott Perkins was born and raised in rural Missouri, dreaming about turning his grandfather’s tractors into giant robots and reading and absorbing the sort of classic science fiction and fantasy that was a little bit ridiculous, and a whole lot hopeful about the potential of humankind. This book is the result of that youth among books, robots, and tractor exhaust fumes.

Scott most assuredly is not a mad scientist living on a secret island fortress somewhere in the vicinity of Seattle, Washington with his wife and assorted feline lifeforms (which most assuredly do not have wings, though it’s not for lack of asking). As far as we know, he’s a writer, sculptor, and graphic designer who does an excellent job of pretending to be perfectly normal at all times..

Howard Carter Saves the World is a coming of age story with robots, freeze rays, pirates, mad scientists, sapient puppets, flying cats, secret government agencies, alien invasions, time travel, pistachio pudding, and jetpacks. Because what fun is a coming of age story without jetpacks? It's also a love letter and gentle satire of all the things that make science fiction fun.

Scott's BLOG
Thank you for visiting, Scott. My very best wishes for great sales of Howard Carter Saves the World.