Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Some Wednesday fantasy for you



Wednesday Welcomes are extended to my one of my cat friends at Crooked Cat Publishing - Vanessa Knipe.  

Unlike most of my cat-mates at the Crooked Cat cattery, I had the pleasure of a real live meeting with Vanessa for a little while in Edinburgh last summer. I find it's always a great feeling when I can talk face-to-face with someone rather than the virtual 'avatar' meetings which are a lot more common. Vanessa's agreed to put herself on my interview chair today and has given us fantastic answers, so let's get to know her a bit better and about the genres she writes in...


Welocome, Vanessa! Tell us a few things about yourself that aren't covered in your bio below.
Here’s something I don’t tell everyone. In order to research A Date with Darkness, one of my Urban Fantasy books, I signed up to several online dating websites to see how they worked. And you know, they really would be a perfect place for vampires to hook up with dinner dates. I virtually met some really odd men. One had a hair fetish (I have waist-length hair) and another was a religious – well probably not a religious manic, but certainly very religious. When I had finished, I deleted the profiles and felt a tinge of conscience: had I been fair to the men I flirted with? That’s why the hero taunts the heroine with “And that’s fair to the men is it?” 

That was definitely research in depth! Not everyone would go to that length, Vanessa. Is your current favourite reading genre the same as your favourite writing genre?
My favourite reading genre is travelogues. When I am down or sad there’s nothing I like better than to take a virtual holiday reading about somewhere far away. For writing, I tend to stick to Fantasy and Science Fiction which could be considered travelogues in imaginary worlds, but that’s probably stretching it a bit. Except for the Epic Fantasy I’m currently writing; all epic fantasy requires a quest and a lot of travelling around.

The readers/reviewers of my contemporary novels seem to love that I've included wonderful world-wide locations, but those mystery thrillers aren't in any way travelogues. But onto the next question. What do you find the most appealing aspects about writing a mix of fantasy and horror?
I think horror writers would take exception to calling my work horror. At best it’s Horror-lite. I like to give my Fantasy stories a bit of an edge of danger and that has got to be ‘monsters’ of some kind or other. While in Pill Wars there are obvious ‘monsters’ in the form of the monster-addicts, the real monster is the creator of the happy pill that turns people into addicts; he cannot see that he has done anything wrong in not having enough medicine despite knowing the side effects.  There has to be a surprise way to solve the problem that is actually very ordinary – for one of my Urban Fantasy stories the ghost could be revealed by throwing talcum powder in the air or the Yeti defeated by frozen peas. It’s finding the surprise in the story that I like best.

Do you think your imagination is the most important element in the creation of your novels, or have there been stages where you’ve had to do a lot of research as well?
Research is the most important part of my stories. I get the idea but there has to a basis in reality or how are readers going to get that thrill of fear – This could happen to me! For Pill Wars, my medical background was a great help. As a Biochemist I am always interest in new medicines but in many cases the Pharmacological company that made the drug doesn’t have to publish any of the negative results from their drug trails – so doctors often don’t learn about side-effects until their patients start to suffer from them. I had to learn all about the campaign to get better reporting. I also learned about ‘just in time’ manufacturing so that stock is never kept on the shelf. It is always delivered, just in time. It is a regular concept in modern manufacturing and sales. There are about three days of food available in each city in the country because of this principle. Unfortunately when that system breaks down there can be consequences, as shown in Pill Wars.

Every writer's reasons seem so different, but what trigger got you into the business of published writing?
The death of my husband in 2001 was the main trigger. I could no longer work in the NHS because I had a child and no one to help with babysitting to cover any night or weekend shifts. Then my son was diagnosed with Autism and I had to be ready at any time to dash to school and help calm him down. So in order to keep occupied I turned my hobby into a career. I’ve always been writing. My mother died when I was 17 and after her death I discovered she had kept a collection of my short stories and cartoons that I had written from the age of six or seven and I had never known she was interested.

I turned my hobby into my career in the properly scientific way by taking courses with the Open University and learned all about editing and then in 2006 I had my first collection of short stories published. I chose to go with ebooks because I saw how people read books on their phones on their commute to work.

Describe a typical day for my blog readers.
At 6.30am the dalek alarm clock drags me out of bed by threatening to exterminate me, if the cat hasn’t been purring around my head for half an hour before that. I get up and make tea. I take a cup in to wake my son at around 6.45am. 7-ish am we are downstairs having breakfast. He catches the 7.25 bus to his school across town. I take my second cup of tea to the computer and take half an hour to catch up on emails, facebook, twitter all those things. Between 8 and 10am depending on the day, I am busy with housework and shopping. The remaining time in the morning is spent either making up promotional posters or doing critiquing of other writer’s work if there is any for the inbox. Lunch for the cat is 12-noon – or she gets very loud. Lunch for me is 1pm. After lunch there is 20 minute brisk walk to whichever music is the soundtrack to the writing I am working on. Afternoon, up until 5pm is mine for my writing or editing. My son is home by 5pm most evenings and while he is doing his homework I can do a little bit of not-to-deep work. I have caught him looking for military airports on Google before now, not realising with his Autism how bad that is, so I have to keep a close eye on his computer use. His computer is in full view of mine – we both have desks in the dining room. After 8pm my son will go and listen to his music or watch Top Gear reruns. At 9pm the television is mine for an hour. After that it’s bed.

Of course that is an idealised day. Mostly I classify it a good day if I get an hour or two of writing done amid all the procrastination. Daydreaming is writing too, honest gov.

What do you do to escape the routine aspects of writing i.e. escape the promotional tasks that are part of the writer day?
Oh but I love making posters for promotion. I’ll do that over writing and editing any day. And most of the other promotional tasks, such as Facebook and twitter are procrastination and I should be writing to avoid them.


I love the diversions (I call them procrastinations with an outcome) of poster making as well! Have any particular authors, or indeed any novels, been formative in you developing your personal writing style?
Andre Norton was always my first love. From her I learned the bad habit of failing to stick rigidly to a genre. The current publishing fashion seems to be for endless series with one central character, such as the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher or the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne – both of which I thoroughly enjoy I hasten to add. But I find that too difficult with my butterfly mind.
Even in my Urban Fantasy, the Theological College of St Van Helsing series it’s not just one character taking the lead in the stories. I switch characters; the only constant is the College. With Pill Wars I am planning a sequel, but Jessica Fleming is not going to be the main character in Stellar Parallax, it will be her granddaughter Emily Oakwood who takes the lead.


What are your most recent releases and what’s next on your writing plan?
I had two releases last year. The first was a collection of short stories in my regular College of St Van Helsing Series from Booksforabuck.com called Shadow and Salvation. And my latest release was a very different direction. Pill Wars is post-apocalyptic thriller, from Crooked Cat Publishing with some almost-zombies called Monster Addicts.

I have second book coming out this year with Crooked Cat Publishing called Last Days Forever which is a post-apocalyptic, time travel thriller as disgraced guardian angel, Jack Foyle, barges through time trying to find his girlfriend and triggers some of the most momentous events in history like the invention of the two-thread sewing machine. I hope to have another of my St Van Helsing books out this year as well. The novel, A Knight of Wolves, is in the final edit stage. I’m writing the second Jack Foyle story, Midnight Angel, and I’m editing an Epic Fantasy called A Place of Mud and Bones, which I hope to find a place for.

That all sounds like an excellent plan, Vanessa.  And now some quick question/answers for fun:

What’s your most favourite place to visit?
I don’t really like travel, yes I know I’m addicted to travelogues but arranging the tickets and packing the case and taking the cat to the cattery etc really stresses me out. I do an annual pilgrimage to Texas to visit my father and brother. My son usually manages to squeeze another short break out of me to either Cornwall or Edinburgh but besides that we do daytrips. I love visiting all the waterfalls in Yorkshire – Ayesgarth Falls is one of my favourite. They have a tearoom there with cheese on toast to murder for.

I know you’ve done a lot of canoeing and maybe other sports, but what's been the most scary activity that you’ve ever tried?
I’ve done a few activities, I’ve been pot holing, climbing, and abseiling down a gorge and of course my beloved canoeing. I’m not really a risk taker, but when I was teen I took to canoeing alone in the alligator infested bayous near my home. Not only did they have alligators – rarely seen and generally removed by the park keepers as soon as they appeared – they had alligator gar. Gar are prehistoric fish with a snout like an alligator. They bumped up against the canoe as I paddled between the banks full of Live Oak trees hanging with Spanish Moss. If you want to look them up you’ll see they can grow as big as eight feet. Shorter than my canoe, but still pretty scary. 

Wow! That certainly beats any canoeing that I did, years ago, in Scotland. Thank you for those wonderful answers, Vanessa.


Buy information for Vanessa's novels: 


Read more of her work at her 




More about Vanessa:
Born in Malaysia, moved to Australia, Vanessa first saw England at 3 years old. As a teen, Vanessa learned her love of canoeing in the alligator infested bayous of the Texas Gulf Coast. Now back in her favourite place in the world, Yorkshire, she watches the River Ouse rise every winter and wonders if she needs to revive an old skill: so far she and her son have been lucky. When not writing, she juggles fighting for a decent education for her autistic son with wrestling the Creatures of the Night, though that’s not a nice thing to call her cat.
Vanessa has concentrated on her writing since becoming widowed in 2001, as being a single mother of a disabled child made it impossible to work the required shifts in NHS Biochemistry laboratories. 2006 saw her beginning her writing career proper with the publication in the US of Witch-Finder, a collection of short paranormal adventures. Since then a further collection of paranormal short stories, Hard Lessons and a related novel, A Date with Darkness, have also come out.
The dystopian fantasy novel Pill Wars is an exciting new direction. It was released in the summer  of 2014.


Thank you for visiting, Vanessa. I wish you mega success with all of your writing! 

Slainthe!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Rachel Brimble's brought a bit of the seaside today!



My Monday Moments are with romance author - Rachel Brimble - who's come back to update us about her recent releases.

I first met Rachel online a few years ago and she's always been a very busy lady, her romances gracing many shelves in stores all around. She's here today to tell us about her Templeton Cove Series with Harlequin. I've only read A Man Like Him,  so far, and it's a great read. Let's learn about them all.
 
Welcome to Templeton Cove…


Hi Nancy, it’s great to be here today and have the chance to tell your visitors a little bit about my fictional UK seaside town of Templeton Cove. The fifth book set in this small town is sitting on my editor’s desk as we speak.

It has always been a dream of mine to write a series of books set in the same small town…due to my obsession with many Nora Roberts series, Jill Shalvis’ Lucky Harbor series and Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series. All of these books influenced my love of small town romances and creating a huge cast of characters.
 
The debut book in the Templeton Cove series is Finding Justice. When my agent submitted this book to Harlequin, I was already writing book two, A Man Like Him, with the hope both books would just be the start of a series. These books were soon contracted…you can imagine my hysteria when Harlequin offered me a contract for a further three! (What Belongs To Her & Christmas At The Cove also available to buy now)

All the books can be read stand-alone and are a mix of mainstream romance and romantic suspense stories. I have some main recurring characters who pop up in, if not all, then most of the books. The most popular of these characters with me, and my readers, is the town’s matriarch, Marian Cohen. She is feisty, fun and has a heart big enough to hold the whole world – she is the oracle, the one all the young hero and heroines…and secondary characters go for when they need help, comfort or advice. She is a joy to write every time!

The more Templeton Cove books I release, the more people seem to enjoy them and I have at least three more book ideas written in note form and ready to go…I am not entirely sure when I will ever consider the series finished and, for now, I’m just enjoying the ride. 'J'

If you like small-town romance, with a cast of quirky, fun and sentimental characters with lots of laughter, tears, suspense and adventure, I’d love you to give my Templeton Cove series a try!


All Rachel’s books are available on Amazon, B&N and Harlequin.com – for blurbs, links etc, visit her website…

Rachel lives with her husband and two teenage daughters in a small town near Bath in the UK. After having several novels published by small US presses, she secured agent representation in 2011. In 2012, she sold two books to Harlequin Superromance and a further three in 2013. She also writes Victorian romance for Kensington--her debut was released in April 2013, followed by a second in January 2014 and the third is released Jan 2015.

Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and Romance Writers of America, and was selected to mentor the Superromance finalist of So You Think You Can Write 2014 contest. When she isn’t writing, you’ll find Rachel with her head in a book or walking the beautiful English countryside with her family and beloved black Lab, Max. Her dream place to live is Bourton-on-the-Water in South West England.
She likes nothing more than connecting and chatting with her readers and fellow romance writers. Rachel would love to hear from you!

Links:

 I bet that photo shot with Nora Roberts caused quite a stir! 
Thank you for coming to visit again, Rachel, and my very best wishes for the continued success of your writing.

Slainthe! 

News Extra!   

Rachel sent me a signed paperback copy of A Man Like Him  as a little prize for being a part of Rachel's Readers on Facebook. I've finished the novel and here's my thinking on it....



This is an engaging romance with a lovely feel-good factor to it. The flood provides an exciting beginning and the setting is perfect for writing about a smaller scale disaster zone: highly dramatic things happening at the fictional English seaside town of Templeton Cove. 
Chris seems very quick to forget his past when he first encounters Angela though winning her love isn’t achieved so instantly. It’s good that he’s such a patient man because I think, were I in his place, I would have found her reticence a bit too much of a challenge. 

Though a well written and well developed character, I was drawn less to Angela than to Chris- though her past is portrayed as more troublesome than his and partly explains why she’s so able to keep a gun at the ready. 

The rest of Rachel Brimble’s Templeton Cove series is on my TBRS – to be read soon- pile! I thoroughly recommend A Man Like Him and I rate this with four and a half stars! 

NB. I was given a free copy of this novel to read and give my honest review of.



Thank you, Rachel. That was a lovely quick read and just perfect since I needed a bit of escapism from the disappearing snow in Aberdeenshire. Templeton Cove was just the very place to hop down to!  

Sunday, 25 January 2015

That bard Rabbie and his haggis!



Happy Burns Day everyone!

I thought I was going to a Burns Supper a few nights ago but for various reasons it didn’t happen.

I wouldn’t have been going to have an annual taste of haggis because we eat haggis, neeps and tatties all year around. I’m totally delighted that my grandchildren both love haggis…and they’ll be also be raised well in the tradition of the bard - Robert Burns.


It’s Sunday 25th January and we plan to have haggis for dinner, tonight. Although we’ll have no additional guests, that I know of at present, I might just sneak in a wee bit of a Burns Night tradition and have a wee song and a taster from Burn’s ‘Address to a Haggis’ - Even if I have to sneak out of the room and sing tunelessly to myself!
Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been asked before if I’m a fan of Robert Burns and the answer has to be a resounding yes. Yes -  because I grew up hearing his songs sung around me: at my school choir, and in my home since my father was a big fan of the bard.(There are previous posts about this on this site)

A long time after I learned to sing my first Burns song, when I reached the ripe old age of approx 15 years, I was one of the delighted ones who found that the work of Robert Burns needed to be studied for my O Grade English Certificate. Not every Glasgow schoolgirl or schoolboy wanted to learn about a ‘long dead poet' but I certainly did.

I absorbed many of his poems and learned many facts of his life - though it has to be said that my English teacher glossed over the facts about the Bard’s prolific sex life, those imagined encounters and the real ones. It wasn't the done thing to properly refer to sex in a classroom back in1966 or 1967, though most clued up pupils understood the hinted references. Sadly, I was pretty naive and had to have a friend divulge what they referred to.

Although my school was a Comprehensive Senior Secondary School in Glasgow, which meant it was a co-ed facility with equality of learning opportunities, the reality was that it had a large enough pupil roll to have segregated classes for many subjects. English, Maths History, French, Arithmetic...were all subjects where I was in 'girls only' classes till I was in my 5th year at school. My Physics and  Chemistry were the only mixed gender classes that I had till I was 16.

Back to the preparation for my English O Grade exam. This included being able to recite/ regurgitate a number of Burns poems since there were a range of possible themes which could come up in the exam and we were geared to learn sufficient to cover answering all of those possibilities.

I knew many of the more famous songs words already but chose to learn the WHOLE of Tam O’ Shanter. This was an amazing feat since even then my memory was rubbish. What I could do was CRAM for an exam and be able to spout for around a month before it faded into the recesses of my memeory banks. Even now, I can remember the first stanza and can continue on a little bit more with prompts. This is a skill that many people deride now as a wste of time but I think differently. I don't think the minds of youths are extended sufficiently nowadays- though I acknowledge they use their capabilities in different ways from my generation.

I find it incredible that at the same time I had to be just as well versed in reciting chunks of Shakespeare, and the works of essayists like Addison. We also had to write a story – our ‘composition’ from a choice of themes given on the exam day; and interpreted a passage of prose/ text.

I must research to find out if those O Grade and Higher level papers are still able to be viewed. I think the 'English Language and Literature' students of today might be shocked at the volume of work we had to cover.

But back to this Burns night…

Which song might I give my best rendering of?

John Anderson My Jo is a nice short one that I know the tune of… but I’ve mentioned that one before on this blog. So, I might sing a couple of verses from this one instead.

Is There For Honest Poverty

Is there for honest poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that?           hangs
The coward slave, we pass him by –
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an a’ that!
Our toils obscure, an a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.           gold


What though on hamely fare we dine
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a’ that?           course grey wool
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine –
A man’s a man for a’ that.
For a’ that, an a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an a’ that,
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie ca’d ‘a lord’,       fellow  called
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that?
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a cuif  for a’ that.               dolt,  fool
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind,
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.
 
Wikimedia Commons
A prince can mak a belted knight,
 A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that!
But an honest man’s aboon his might –     above
Guid faith, he mauna fa’ that.                   must not
For a’ that, an a’ that,
Their dignities, an’ a’ that,
The pith of sense an’ pride o’ worth
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may
(As come it will for a’ that)
That Sense and Worth o’er a’ the earth
Shall bear the gree an’ a’ that!              have the first place
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that,
That man to man the world o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that.

And the bit of the Address to a Haggis? It’s impossible NOT to start at the beginning, anything else is unthinkable. *insert smiley face here * since the beginning few words are the most famous.

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest sonsie face,                     jolly
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,                   Above
            Painch, tripe or thairm:                        paunch, … small guts
Weel are ye wordy of a grace,
            As lang’s may arm.

NB: I've never yet used my mother's inherited Burns plates (possibly made as early as 1910 by Staffordshire Potter 'Ridgeway') to present the haggis but there's always a first time!






The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,                       buttocks
Your pin wad help to mend a mill                  skewer
            In time o’need.
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
            Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,                   wipe
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready slight,                       skill
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
            Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
            Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:   spoon
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes believe           bellies; bye and bye
            Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive.           burst
            ‘Bethankit!’ hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,                          sicken
Or fricassee wad mak her spew         
            Wi’ perfect sconner,                            disgust
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
            On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! See him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,                        weak; rush
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
            His nieve a nit;                                    fist; nut
Thro’ bluidy flood or field to dash,
            O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,                       ample; fist
            He’ll make it whissle,
An’ legs, an arms, an’ heads will sned            crop
            Like taps o’ thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware,         skinking
            That jaups in luggies;                          splashes; porringers
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
            Gie her a Haggis!

John Anderson my Jo has had many interpretations. It could mean the passing of time between a weel-kent aging couple or others favour the idea that it represents ‘Boozin’ Cronies- i.e. drinkin buddies who have been sloping down to the pub for many years- from the black-haired youth into white-haired old age. I’ve learned that the tune favoured for this song is a very old bawdy one so the ‘drinking’ reference might be deemed more appropriate. Whatever the interpretation, the words are poignant and the tune simple but eloquent.

John Anderson my jo, John,
When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw,
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson my Jo!

John Anderson my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither,
And monie a cantie day, John,
We’ve had wi’ ane anither;
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we’ll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson my jo!

Our haggis is likely to be washed down with a wee sip of the traditional whisky by my husband and son-in- law but sadly, though I love all things Scottish, I'm not a fan of whisky. I'd maybe have a little Drambuie- a whisky liqueur if we had any but truht be told - I'm likely to have a sip or two from my Cointreau!( I know that Auld Alliance thing!) 


Whatever you're doing, join me in raising a glass to the Bard! 
Slainthe!