Merry Christmas? #3LineTales

It’s been a busy few weeks while we’ve been off for the summer holidays. I sent my children’s book to several agents…I can now consider myself alongside the likes of JK Rowling as I’ve had my first rejection email!  Woohoo!

I’m currently working on a ‘cosy mystery’ novel, trying to fix some major plot holes before I hand it over to my editor at the beginning of October.

Less than two weeks to go before school starts. Chances of me signing to an agent/finding freelance work/winning the lottery before then??  Answers on a postcard etc etc.

In the meantime, here’s a quick Three Line Tale using the photo prompt below:

Merry Christmas?

Jeff bounced up and down on his chair, clearly desperate for me to open the oddly shaped present, covered in Santa wrapping paper. ‘Careful! It’s fragile.’

I gently pulled off the paper to reveal the hideous remains of a horrible snake type creature, its huge jaw lined with ferocious sharp teeth. ‘I got it off Ebay. Emily’s going to love it; it’s amazing!’

Emily did not appear amazed, choosing instead to suck on her toes. ‘Well, it’s certainly unusual, Jeff,’ I said, ‘but I’m not sure it’s quite appropriate for our six-month old baby’s first Christmas.’

photo by Samuel Zeller via Unsplash
Photo by Samuel Zeller via Unsplash
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Visions of Zarua #bookreview and Honey Cake recipe

So today we have a guest post from the lovely Suzanne Rogerson as part of her World Blog Tour to promote her epic fantasy book, Visions of Zarua.

Visions of Zarua 2016 Blog Tour Schedule
Suzanne is a real life friend of mine (I do have some…) We met at a Creative Writing course about five years ago. But whilst I’ve been scratching my arse and talking about finishing my novel (with a brief move to Italy in-between), she actually got off her backside and published a fabulous book.

I’m not usually a fantasy reader but I enjoyed reading about wizards and magical kingdoms. I thought it would be rather hard going but it was actually very easy to read with some light-hearted moments. The writing was very strong, the characters likeable and the intertwined stories kept me gripped until the end. I recommend, even if you’re not a fantasy fan.

Now then, onto Suzanne’s post.  Yay – finally a new post…and I didn’t even have to write it!

Visions of Zarua by Suzanne Rogerson:

visions-of-zarua-book-coverTwo wizards, 350 years apart. Together they must save the realm of Paltria from Zarua’s dark past.

An ancient darkness haunts the realm of Paltria.
Apprentice wizard Paddren is plagued by visions of a city on the brink of annihilation. When his master Kalesh dies in mysterious circumstances, the Royal Order of Wizards refuses to investigate.
Helped by his childhood friend, the skilled tracker Varnia, and her lover Leyoch, Paddren vows to find the killer.

The investigation leads Paddren down a sinister path of assassins, secret sects and creatures conjured by blood magic. But he is guided by a connection with a wizard from centuries ago – a wizard whose history holds the key to the horror at the heart of the abandoned city of Zarua. Can Paddren decipher his visions in time to save the Paltrian people from the dark menace of Zarua’s past?

The female lead character of Varnia is often misunderstood. She is a hunt mistress, stuck in a man’s world with no family but her surrogate uncle, Reaun, to rely on.
A strong willed woman, who doesn’t let anything get in her way…but can also be prone to sulking. However, one thing guaranteed to get her out of a sulk is the Honey Cake at Redstone Manor.

I thought it would be fun to recreate the cake using a traditional recipe I found in ‘A Taste of the Border Country’ cookbook. I’ve given it my own tweaks as I always try to use gluten free flour and prefer self-raising to plain flour & baking powder. I’ve also added fresh ginger, which I believe complements the honey and lemon flavour.


Ingredients
8fl oz clear honey
3 oz butter
12oz self-raising flour (gluten free)
Pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3 eggs
3 tbsp milk
Grated rind of a lemon
Grated fresh ginger
(I omitted from the original recipe the mixed peel and didn’t add the flaked almonds on the top, but I can see they would work well with the rest of these ingredients).

Instructions
1. Melt the butter and honey over a low heat.
2. Beat the eggs and milk. Add it to the cool melted butter and honey, along with the ginger.
3. Mix the flour, salt, lemon peel and cinnamon in a separate bowl.
4. Add the melted ingredients to the dry, a bit at a time and mix well. It has quite a liquid consistency.
5. Pour into an 8-inch square greased baking tin. Cook for about an hour on 150 fan.

The old recipe suggests poking holes in the cooked cake and adding another 3 tablespoons of honey over the top. I experimented with and without the extra honey, and found the cake quite dry without it. However, the flavour was good and tasty, and surprisingly it wasn’t too sweet.

I wonder if Varnia would like my version of Honey Cake?  Maybe she would wash it down with a goblet or two of mead.

Find out more about Suzanne:2015 author photo 2015
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Buy Visons of Zarua now!!
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U is for Urn

What’s a Greek urn?

About 1000 euros a month…

Yes, I know the picture is the yet another type of ‘Urn’, but it makes me laugh almost as much as when Top of the Pops showed a backdrop of darts champ Jocky Wilson to Dexy’s Midnight Runners song, ‘Jackie Wilson Said’.

I particularly like this sort of urn.

5-2L-ELECTRIC-TEA-URN-CATERING-URN-BAR-BOILER

I don’t like this sort of urn.

mth-551-a

And this sort of urn would just freak me out.

rings-of-time-hourglass-keepsake-urn-b81

The website says, “The Rings of Time Hourglass Keepsake Urn is a wonderful way to reflect on the sands of time and the time that you and your loved one shared.  The hourglass is the ultimate symbol of the passage of time.”

No shit, Sherlock.  Imagine using your loved ones to time your boiled eggs in the morning.  I’d just be thinking, ‘Mmm, soft boiled eggs…ready in two minutes…time is going so fast…where does the time go…I feel so old…WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!!!’ before needing to go back to bed for a lie down.

Let’s return to this type of urn from those naughty Greeks to get all thoughts of death out of our heads.

slide_325098_3110946_free

R is for Renegade Writer

Another story (well, the first chapter) for today’s A-Z Challenge or rather #atozchallenge – I’m trying out Twitter…

Typewriter-730x364

Renegade Writer

Arnold took the final sheet of his 90,000-word novel, Strike Hard, from the printer and added it to the rather impressive looking stack of pages on his desk.

It had taken over eight months of trying to fit in writing around his full time job. Eight months of getting up at 5.30am, turning down social invitations and letting the house fall apart around him – all of which caused his wife, Jen, to constantly nag at him. He’d become adept at letting her discontented voice drift around him like spring blossom dropping from the trees, gently blowing in the breeze, occasionally landing on ones shoulder before falling to the ground, not making any impact on anyone or anything who lay in its path.

‘You’ll never finish it, Arnold.’

‘Don’t know why you’re bothering, Arnold.’

‘It’s all about who you know, Arnold. You won’t be able to find a publisher for it.’

Well, she could stick the proverbial pipe in it now.

Because, finally, he’d finished. And, if he said so himself, it was rather good. A twisted thriller in the style of Harlen Coban or James Patterson. Ok, so it wasn’t a great literary novel or one that was going to be up for the Booker Prize. But he was pretty confident that it was gripping story that could keep the reader up late at night; desperate to find out what happens next to the hero, George Striker, who is forced to become a vigilante after the police refuse to take the disappearance of his wife seriously.   Arnold had put in plenty of twists and turns, a few red herrings and a surprise ending.

Arnold glanced at the clock. Almost 7pm. Jen should be back from work at any moment and – damn! He’d just remembered that she’d asked him if he could have dinner ready for when she returned. Stuff it. He’d get a takeaway to celebrate and open a bottle of wine. She’d stop complaining once she saw the completed book. He’d do one more back up onto his USB stick and then he’d ring for a curry.

Back up done, Arnold whistled merrily as he perused the Indian takeaway menu. Mmm, chicken jalfrezi with saag aloo or maybe a prawn balti? So many delicious choices.   Jen, of course, would just have a korma, as usual. She didn’t like to try anything new when it came to food. Or, indeed, life, now that he thought about it. She was still working at the same branch of solicitors where she started as an office junior at 16. Office junior: did they even exist anymore? He couldn’t see some stroppy school-leaver being happy with that title nowadays. They were probably called administrative executives now.

He phoned through the order and opened a bottle of white wine.   Just a small glass before Jen got back. Flicking on the TV, he distractedly took in the tiny portions and ridiculously fancy food on some cookery show as he pottered about, getting out cutlery and setting the table.  He topped up his glass and put the wine back in the fridge. No more until Jen came in. Where was she? It was 7.30 and the curry would be here any minute.

Arnold texted her mobile: Curry on way. Wine open!

The cookery show finished to be replaced by a DIY show. What was it with modern TV? Where were the decent dramas and comedy shows of his youth? Maybe Strike Hard could be made into a three-part drama? Now there’s a thought. He pondered who could play the lead role as he took the wine out of the fridge and added a splash more to his glass.

The doorbell rang as he was deliberating between Colin Farrell or Ross Kemp for the role of George Striker. Nope, definitely Colin Farrell. He paid for the curry and carried the plastic bag into the kitchen. The spicy aroma smelt good and his stomach rumbled hungrily.   Come on, Jen.

Arnold rang her phone but it went to voice mail. He left a message, checking that she was on her way. He’d just have a couple of poppadums to tide him over.

Twenty minutes later, the DIY programme had finished and Arnold had eaten most of his jalfrezi, half of the rice and all of the saag aloo.   The bottle of wine was almost gone and Jen still hadn’t returned.  This wasn’t like her at all. She had a set routine on a Friday.   She finished work at 5pm, went to her aerobics class for an hour and was back just after 7pm. Regular as clockwork for the last twelve years.   Arnold’s stomach felt slightly queasy and he didn’t think it was just down to the wine and curry. Should he be worried about Jen’s lateness?   He rang her number again.   Still no reply. Who did she do aerobics with? Was it Sandy? Did he have her number? He looked in the leather address book that Jen kept by the phone. Yep, there it was, trust Jen to keep the book up to date.

‘Hi, Sandy, it’s Arnold. Jen’s husband.’

‘Oh, hey Arnold. Hope Jen’s ok? Not like her to miss the class.’

‘She didn’t go to aerobics?’

‘No, I rang her phone but she didn’t reply. Is she ok?’

‘Um, I’m not sure, to tell you the truth. She hasn’t come back from work yet. I assumed she’d gone to her class as normal.’   Ok, it was official. Arnold could start to worry.

‘Maybe she went round to Pam’s?’ said Sandy. ‘You know Simon’s had some sort of fling at work? Pam was trying to get me to go around tonight but I’m off out in a minute. She probably rang Jen too.’

Of course. Pam had rung Jen two or three times last night, in tears about Simon’s affair. That’s where Jen would be.

‘Cheers, Sandy. I’ll give her a ring.’

Pam hadn’t heard from Jen since last night, but had Arnold heard what a bastard Simon had been? It had been going on for months, some medical rep tart, apparently, all short skirts and too much make-up…Arnold tried to extricate himself from the conversation several times before successfully managing to hang up on Pam.

Should he start calling all of her friends? Was it silly to think about calling the police?   Oh, come on, Arnold, she’s only an hour late. Probably got caught up at work and then stuck in traffic.   Work: of course, Rita! She and Jen shared an office so she’d know if Jen was late leaving work.

‘Rita, it’s Arnold Cooper, Jen’s husband. I just wondered if she was working late tonight?’

‘Jen? She didn’t come in today. She sent a text this morning to say she had flu and wouldn’t be in until Monday.   Where are you? Aren’t you with her?’

‘I’m at home. She’s not here.’ Arnold was now having a major panic attack. ‘She left for work at the usual time this morning.’

‘Oh my god. Have you checked the hospitals? Maybe she fell ill on the way to work and texted me from a hospital?’

‘I’ll call them now. Gotta go, Rita.’

What the hell was going on? Jen had left for work at 8.15, the same time as she did everyday. She’d followed the exact routine as usual. Up at 7am, shower, dressed, breakfast (two Weetabix and a cup of tea) whilst listening to Radio Two.   Then they’d left the house together, before getting into their separate cars and driving to work.   Nothing out of the ordinary at all.

He opened up his laptop and googled local hospitals.

To be continued…

Paperback Writer

Thank you to the very funny Jim at Gingerfightback, who was not only kind enough to read the first draft of my children’s novel and give me some great feedback, but has now invited me to take part in The Writing Process Blog Tour.  The tour asks writers to answer a few questions about their work.  I don’t normally get involved with all the blog events that do the rounds (I shudder at the word meme) but I’ve been suffering with a bad case of Blog Bleh recently and have been a bit slack on the blogging front so I thought this would be the kick up the backside I needed.

  • What am I working on at the moment?

Flitting around quite a lot, instead of just concentrating on getting one thing finished…I’ve been:

1) Revising my children’s Time Travel novel

2) Writing a short story about a writer whose wife goes missing and he’s the main suspect

3) Writing a comedy diary about a character who keeps getting involved in robberies and murders – the lovechild of Miss Marple and Adrian Mole

4) Waiting to upload a blog post about the Italian Lakes as I can’t access my photos from the external data storage that HWW (aka The Geek) has installed

5) Reading crap on the internet

True dat...
True dat…

 Note to self: JUST BLOODY FINISH SOMETHING

  • How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Who knows?  Does it differ?  Should it differ??  If I’m reading a thriller, I kinda like to know what I’m getting.

  • Why do I write what I do?

I guess I like to read fast-paced, fairly light novels so that’s what I aim to write.  I tend to skip description when I’m reading (apologies to all those authors who poured their heart and soul into building beautiful images with their words…I just don’t read ’em) so I don’t go overboard on the description in my writing.   I like good ol’ double-entendres so I always like to squeeze one in if I possibly can.

  • How does my writing process work?

If you know me, it might not surprise you to hear that I can be a tiny bit disorganised…

I plan best on paper with drawings and mind maps so I’ve got hundreds of bits of paper and notebooks full of ideas and notes.   Then there’s lots of random stuff on my computer – including some stories that I lost for about a year.   I tried writing my novel saving each chapter as a separate file but kept getting muddled with which version of which chapter I was on so I put the whole thing into one huge file.  Then I email myself regular copies in case of computer failure.

Note to self: BE MORE BLOODY ORGANISED

I find it difficult to write if I’m hungry, tired or stressed – which in Italy is quite a lot of the time.  There’s also the fear of failure to overcome which is really at the heart of most writer’s block and procrastination.  As Stephen King says, ‘The scariest moment is always just before you start.’

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com.

And now I nominate a couple of writers, whose blogs I always enjoy and are really worth checking out, to participate in the tour:

Claire @ The Grass is Dancing 

Jackie @ Jacqueline Cango

Samantha @ FarmerFarthing

MM @ Multifarious Meanderings

If you accept my nomination, please use the questions below to prompt a post and nominate a couple of bloggers to continue the tour.  No worries if you don’t want to do it, I totally understand!

What am I working on at the moment?
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Why do I write what I do?
How does my writing process work?

 

The Mighty Pen

 This is a short story that I wrote a couple of years ago for a creative writing course.  At the end there’s a plea for help… 

The Mighty Pen 

The printed sheet of A4 paper held disdainfully between his thumb and forefinger, Sebastian tossed it dismissively across the seminar room.  It competed briefly with the dust motes dancing in the late evening sunshine before falling gracefully to the floor, where it offered itself up to the class: the physical evidence of my literary failings.

“Writing is hard, Rosanna.  A real writer reaches deep into his soul, drags his demons out, screaming and kicking, before stabbing them through the heart to the page.  Every word is agonizing.  Every sentence drips with the blood of torment and pain.”

The other students were motionless, hypnotised by Sebastian’s words.

“Puns? Jokes?” He spat out the words with disgust, as if he couldn’t bear the taste of them in his mouth for a moment longer than necessary.  “A year into your degree and this is still your idea of writing?  A ridiculous story of a kitten who gets trapped in a photocopier?”

My voice was quiet and I couldn’t stop it trembling as I attempted to defend myself against Sebastian’s vicious tirade, “I worked really hard on it. You said we could write in any genre about what we wanted.”

The last few words disappeared in a high-pitched squeak as my courage drained away.

Sebastian narrowed his eyes and looked down his long, thin nose at me.  “This is a programme for serious writers and it’s better to tell you now before you waste any more of your time – or mine.  You have no real talent or depth in you.  I’d like you to leave my class.”

My cheeks burnt and the tears that filled my eyes threatened to reveal the extent of my humiliation. I didn’t trust my voice not to betray me so I gathered my notes in silence and left the room, my head bowed and my incriminating tears hidden behind large, tortoiseshell sunglasses.

What right did Sebastian have to criticise me like that? So my stories weren’t as emotional as Matthew’s pieces about the Jewish refugees or Emma’s account of her painful divorce.  But I’d liked my Copy Cat tale and a few students had laughed in the right places.  They’d stopped smiling once Sebastian had launched into his diatribe against me, not wanting to be seen to have a different opinion. They were just as bad as Sebastian, sucking up to him so he’d give them good grades for their mediocre degree at their mediocre university.   Well, sod the lot of them.

***

Sebastian poured another cup of coffee and broke off a piece of croissant. He popped it in his mouth and savoured the buttery taste as he sank back into the silk cushions of his armchair, his feet raised to the warmth of the log fire. Relaxed weekend mornings were a welcome respite from the constant student interruptions that plagued his working week.  He picked up the Sunday supplement and idly flicked through the pages.

An involuntary jerk sent his coffee cup and saucer crashing to the floor.   The magazine ripped as he clutched it towards a sudden stabbing pain in his chest.  The offending article, lying face-up on the luxurious Oriental rug, was the last thing Sebastian saw as his vision faded away, the words mocking him:

Number one on the Sunday Times Best Sellers list: Punning for Gold by Rosanna Bennett.

Martin Amis reviews the debut novel from this talented young author: “Bennett shows real depth and emotion in this incredibly well written journey through a beautifully constructed linguistical playground. In fact, Punning for Gold is just like anti-gravity – impossible to put down.”

Writing is easy

If you liked this, I’m looking for beta readers (yes, I hate that expression but it seems to be what they’re called!) for my children’s novel.   I’ve finally finished the first draft and really need a couple of avid readers (or writers) to look over it. It’s aimed at 8-10 year olds, is roughly 40,000 words and could be summed up as ‘Five go Time-Travelling’.  I’m not looking for a detailed grammar/punctuation/typos edit, but more what works/what doesn’t work/plot holes/continuity issues critique.  I hope the request isn’t too cheeky but every writing website I’ve seen says that beta readers (ugh) are vital – then doesn’t tell you how to find them!  I’m more than happy to do the same if others are also looking for readers.

Let’s Do The Time Warp Again…

confused time travel chicken‘What do we want?

‘Time Travel!’

‘When do we want it?’

‘It’s irrelevant…’

Time travel.  It’s a tricky one to get your head around.  In fact, every time I think about the mechanics, ethics and illogicalities of it, I get a migraine and have to lie down with a nice cup of tea and a chocolate digestive…although I was sorely tempted by an opened bottle of white wine when I opened the fridge for the milk this morning (obviously, I was getting the milk out; I wasn’t opening the fridge for the milk).  That can’t be a good sign.

So why in the name of Gallifray, have I chosen time travel as the basis for my children’s book?  Science was not my specialized subject at school.  My talents lay in eating Monster Munch behind the lift-up lid of my desk, back chatting teachers and trying to copy Chemistry homework off the class brainbox.  My highest school-leaving qualifications were in Ceramics (yes, this was a genuine O level) and English Language.  My biggest success in Physics was convincing the teacher that my friend’s name was Lesley (it wasn’t) and laughing at her having to answer to that for the next two years.

But time travel provides so many opportunities for great adventure and conflict, so that’s what I went for.  The story is based around a school for trainee time agents with all the ensuing fun of bizarre lessons, mean teachers and historic escapades.  And, no, it’s nothing like Harry Potter…

There are many (so, so many) theories, concepts and philosophies put forward about time travel.  Is there a single, fixed history that is self-consistent and unchangeable?  Or is history flexible and subject to change?  Maybe there are alternate timelines, so that if a traveller goes back in the past, they create a new timeline but the original timeline doesn’t cease to exist?  Or perhaps a parallel universe opens up each time a past event is changed??  I’ve also got problems such as avoiding glitches caused by the agents bouncing around history, blending the various plot lines together and making the storyline consistent from past to present to future.  Not to mention adding tension, mystery and urgency to the story.

For example, in Chapter 11, the young heroes have just heard that Dad is going to be sacrificed by the Pharaoh at the Opening Ceremony of the Great Pyramid.  Obviously they need to get to Ancient Egypt immediately to save Dad.

‘But why do they need to hurry?’ asked HWW.

‘Because Dad’s about to be killed,’ I replied.  Like, duh.

‘Surely, they could wait another year, another ten years even, and still go back in time to just before Dad is sacrificed and save him?’

‘Yes, but, but…that wouldn’t be very exciting, would it?’

‘And why don’t they go back in time to before Dad went on his time trip to Ancient Egypt and just tell him not to go?’

‘Oh, shut up.’

Honestly, do the writers of Doctor Who have all these difficulties?

timey wimey stuffI’m trying to come up with some rules that the characters in my book are bound by, to help the story make sense and overcome some of the major incongruities – y’know, the Grandfather Paradox or triggering too many parallel universes.   Even if my characters don’t always uphold these rules or attempt to break them, I’d still like them to be written down in a Time Travel Rule Book – or a Timey Wimey Rule Book as the 11th Doctor (who breaks all the rules willy-nilly) might say.

THE BARBEDWORDS RULEBOOK FOR TIME AGENTS:

Be prepared: ANYTHING could happen.  Seriously, always wear a clean pair of knickers and keep a bag of nuts in your bag – it could be a long time till lunch.

Always find an empty space for transporting through time.  You don’t want to materialize during a WI meeting; being pelted with jars of loganberry jam really hurts.

Don’t try to rewrite history.  History can be changed but we don’t know what the impacts would be on our universe so we want to keep things on as even a keel as possible.  For example, if you were to warn the Captain of the Titanic about the iceberg, it could cause catastrophic changes to every iota of history since then, open up parallel universes or possibly cause cracks in time and space.  Things may be bad now, but who knows how dreadful things could be if we make major changes to our collective past?  Plus it would be really hard for me to decide how history was going to go in this new timeline and I don’t think I can be bothered to rewrite history at the same time as attempting to write a children’s adventure book.

NB I’m pretty certain that your 21st Birthday Party doesn’t technically count as ‘shared history’ so if you’d like to go back and change past events so that you didn’t drink too much snakebite, snog Billy Matthews on the kitchen table and then throw up in your mother’s bread maker, this should be ok.

Only a select few can know about Time Travel.   There are baddies out there who want to change history for their own evil purposes – TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD, MWAHAHAHA and for all we know, they’ve already changed certain events in history but we just don’t remember it.  Also, we don’t want Liam Gallagher heading back to the 1960s, trying to get into the Beatles or get off with Brigitte Bardot.

People and objects can’t be brought back from the past/future to the present.  No stocking up on vases from the Ming Dynasty.

You can only do a limited number of trips a month because each trip has a negative impact on the body.   This stops those who’d like to live in Ancient Rome and commute to work at the BBC every day.

Totally gratuitous picture of David Tennant...
Totally gratuitous picture of David Tennant…

You mustn’t kill anyone.  Or do something that would result in someone’s death.  Conversely, you can’t prevent someone from dying who was supposed to die so I’m afraid that goldfish you got from the fair in 1985 will not be given another chance to live longer than three days.

Try to blend in to your chosen era.  We don’t want you moping about in Medieval England, moaning about the stench, looking for a flushing loo and suggesting the peasants try a splash of Old Spice.

All time travel trips are to be authorized and you must return to the location where you began your trip.  No heading off to 1980, stocking up on Apple shares then disappearing into the roaring ’20s to live it up with the Great Gatsby, thanks very much.

Obviously, these rules are for Time Agents only.  The Time Warriors (the baddies) are crazed outlaws, who blast through time and space doing what they blimin’ well please.  And it’s the Time Agents’ job to stop them.   But only after 200 pages of electrifying, nail-biting adventures, of course.

If you could time travel, what would be your first destination?  What would you do (after finding out next week’s winning lottery numbers and buying the winning ticket naturally)?   I’ve already put my name down to go back in time to nab David Tennant before he gets married, so you’ll have to come up with your own ideas.