Ambrose’s Cardiff

In ASRAI’S CURSE, the third installment of the MYTHICAL MENAGERIE series, Ambrose Davids races against the clock to try and find a cure for the curse that is turning his veins to ice. He travels to Cardiff, land of daffodils and dragons, chasing a slim hope of finding a relic that could save his life.

Cardiff, capital of Wales, is a city close to my heart, since I spent two years living and working there many years ago. I wrote about my most recent visit on my travel blog here, and those of you who’ve read the novelette will recognise many of the sights Ambrose encountered in one memorable day I’ve had. It’s a city many neglect when they visit the United Kingdom, but it’s one of my favourite places on earth.

Here are a few of my favourite images from across the web showing scenes of Ambrose’s Cardiff to get your imagination going. Enjoy!

© Cardiff Castle
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© The Travel Tester
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© Suneé le Roux


(PS: These images are plucked from Pinterest, so I don’t know who the original copyright belongs to. If you do, please contact me and I’ll gladly credit the correct source.)

Are you inspired by travel destinations? Do you like to read stories that are set in places where you’ve been or where you’d like to go? Have you ever been to Cardiff?

My Five Favourite Dragons in Literature

When someone asks me what my favourite genre is, I always reply with: “As long as it has a dragon in it, I’ll read it.” I don’t know what it is about these scaly reptilians that I love so much, but they fascinate me. Winged, wise and sometimes wicked, I can’t resist a good dragon story.

Hear me roar! © lin wu / ArtStation

So here are five of my favourite dragons. For this list I stuck to named dragons only and I left out any from books that I haven’t read in years and can’t remember well (such as George RR Martin’s dragons in A Song of Ice and Fire), and there are many that probably deserve to be on the list but that I haven’t been acquainted with yet. Most importantly, the dragon has to have personality like any other character to make this list.

Without further ado, here are my top five literary dragons:

Temeraire – Temeraire (Naomi Novik)
Who doesn’t immediately fall in love with the little hatchling that bonds with Captain William Laurence and becomes one of the Aerial Corps’ best fliers? I also love the relationship that develops between dragon and dragon handler throughout the novel and the alternate historical setting in which their story is set.

Kalessin – The Farthest Shore (Ursula le Guin)
The eldest dragon of Earthsea, possibly the creator of the world, who carries Ged on his back and deigns to speaks to both Tenar and Tehanu. Magnificent and daunting, yet kind and trustworthy, Kalessin is what all dragons should be like in my mind.

Falkor – The Neverending Story (Michael Ende)
I have yet to meet a child of the 80’s who doesn’t adore Falkor. The fluffy luckdragon is Bastian’s faithful companion on a quest to save the Childlike Empress. But more importantly, we all just want to cuddle him.

Toothless – How to Train Your Dragon (Cressida Cowell)
I’ll admit, I haven’t read the children’s series yet, and I imagine the story probably differs tremendously from the 2010 animated film (which I adore), but Toothless needed to be on this list. One of my favourite dragons, this night fury is the goofy and fiercely loyal best friend we all wish we had.

Smaug – The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien)
Of course, no list like this would be complete without the real King Under the Mountain, Smaug the Chiefest of Calamaties, the Unassessably Wealthy. Arrogant, vicious, incredibly intelligent and proud, Smaug is probably the most memorable dragon of our times.

And as an added bonus, I’ll add Angharad, the Welsh dragon from Asrai’s Curse, the third installment of my Mythical Menagerie short story series. Why? I guess you’ll have to read and find out…

Did your favourites make the list? If not, let me know about them in the comments below!

(Please note: This post contains affiliate links. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but if you choose to buy by clicking on a link I will get a small commission to buy more books with. Yay!)

Recommend a Book

All writers started out with a love for reading and I’m no exception.

Some of the best writing advice I’ve been given is to read widely and so I do try to read quite broadly (good chick-lit is one of my guilty pleasures and my Bachelors degree in English has forever instilled an appreciation of the classics within me), but fantasy will always be my first love.

Book love | © Kate Ter Haar / FlickrSince

I know exactly how important word of mouth and book recommendations are, and because I think sharing is caring, I’ve decided to highlight a few of my favourite books in a regular series. If you follow me on Facebook, I try to post a recommendation every Tuesday, so have a look there, and I’ll do a short roundup in a blog post every once in a while.

These recommendations won’t be limited to the fantasy genre, because I think most readers like to read broadly as well, but they will definitely be books that I enjoyed and rated 4 or more stars on Goodreads. I’ll also try to highlight indie authors, but you can expect some traditionally published books to be in the list too.

So without any further ado, here are some books that I loved and I think you should check out if you want to add something to that never-ending TBR list.

High fantasy lovers, here’s an indie book I really enjoyed. It’s not often I give a 5/5 star rating, so you’ll know I mean business with this one. Add Ben S. Dobson to your favourite authors list today. If you like portal fantasy and Arthurian romances, then I think you’ll enjoy this book by Suzannah Rowntree. She has such an amazing style of writing, lyrical and evocative – I loved it! (And her newsletters are pretty interesting too.) I absolutely adore this book! It’s YA and there’s no fantasy in it, but it’s based on The Little Mermaid and is proudly South African, set in Cape Town. Devoured it in one day and scored it 5/5 stars. Joanne Macgregor is one of my favourite local authors. Do yourself a favour and check this one out.

(Please note: This post contains affiliate links. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but if you choose to buy by clicking on a link I will get a small commission to buy more books with. Yay!)

Have you read any of these recommended books yet? What did you think of them?

Ambrose’s Paris

In BANSHEE’S WAIL, the second installment of the MYTHICAL MENAGERIE series, Ambrose Davids is in Paris to try and forget about love. Will he succeed? With an ex-girlfriend stalking him via text messages and a new romance blooming, our intrepid Freelance Procurement Specialist definitely has his hands full.

Between dodging the deadlier denizens of the City of Love, our hero somehow still manages to take in the sights of this beautiful French city. Here are a few of my favourite images from across the web showing scenes from Ambrose’s Paris to set the mood. Enjoy!

© Unknown
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© Avenly Lane Travel
© Dario Trimarchi

 

(PS: These images are plucked from Pinterest, so I don’t know who the original copyright belongs to. If you do, please contact me and I’ll gladly credit the correct source.)

Are you inspired by travel destinations? Do you like to read stories that are set in places where you’ve been or where you’d like to go? Have you ever been to Paris?

Winning the War

Two weeks ago I wrote about writer’s anxiety and how it was keeping me from sitting down and getting the words on paper. I realised that it was fear that was preventing me from doing that which I love most – telling a story – and I knew that the only way of overcoming this fear was to face it and give it the finger.

I haven’t done that yet. Oh, I’ve made some progress, but by and large, I’m still losing the battle.

I won’t lose the war.

Over the years, various friends and creatives whose blogs I follow have mentioned a book that has spurred them on and given them the courage to pursue their dreams. For whatever reason, I’ve resisted reading that book. Until now.

Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art is a quick read (it took me two hours) with a high price tag (for an e-book), but it was just the thing I needed to read right now.

He talks about Resistance, a force driven by the Ego that prevents the Self from reaching its true potential. It’s something experienced by anyone who’s trying to reach a higher plane of existence or understanding, someone who feels the need to be creative or to do something that will better humanity. It’s what forces us to procrastinate and ultimately leads to all the vices that keep us from being happy, including addictions as innocuous as a couple of hours of playing Sudoku while the little one binge watches Paw Patrol or The Lion Guard.

Many creatives struggle with anxiety and/or depression, myself included. A recent discussion in my writer’s group confirmed that we’re all fighting our own internal battles every day. Sometimes we lose, and sometimes we win. I know for a fact that a day on which I’ve written, even if only as little as 300 words, is a good day. It’s a day on which my soul soars. A day on which I have done the thing I was meant to do.

So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to write.

I might not write on my PC every day (because honestly, the computer room is cold and dark and a huge deterrent 90% of the time) and I may not write the story I’m supposed to write, and I may not write more than 100 words in total… but I’m going to write.

It makes me happy.

What makes your soul soar? What prevents you from doing the thing that makes you happy? What are you going to do about it?

Writer’s Block vs Writer’s Anxiety

I don’t really believe in writer’s block.

To me, writer’s block is a name given to the situation in which I’m stumped because I haven’t done enough research. I usually find that if I just sit down for a while and think hard about my story, the pieces fall into place and I can get cracking again.

I don’t have writer’s block.

I have writer’s anxiety.

I know what I want to write, I just can’t get myself to sit down and make those words happen. Oh, I have a weekly writing date with myself and in that hour I spend at the coffee shop I’m quite prolific. And I’m also psyched during and afterwards – writing makes my heart soar.

But I just can’t seem to make myself write any other time. I had ample opportunity for writing this weekend. The little one was out with his grandmother for most of Saturday and took ‘n 4-hour nap on Sunday. Plenty of time to write.

And yet, I didn’t. In fact, the mere thought of sitting down to write gave me anxiety attacks – you know: elevated heart rate, cold sweats, spinning room, nausea, immediate headache.

I asked for advice from my writer’s group and the responses were extremely helpful for someone suffering from writer’s block:

  • Break down the tasks into smaller, more doable, pieces
  • Write every day to take the pressure off the one writing session
  • Incentivise and give yourself rewards for achieving small results
  • Withhold a particular treat until the writing is done
  • Make yourself accountable by sharing your targets with friends or on social media
  • Consider the time spent thinking about your story also as writing time well spent
  • Think about the places where you get stuck until you have answers to unstuck yourself
  • Sit your bum in the chair and coax a sentence or two out until the flow comes

All very good and valid advice if you’re stuck in a writing slump.

But that’s not quite my problem. My problem stems from something very specific. And that something is the first draft of the third installment of my urban fantasy series.

I had trouble writing the second installment too, and I think the problem I have now builds from that. Part 2 was well-received, some readers claiming it was even better than Part 1, which is great, but it means I am now under an enormous amount of pressure for Part 3. It has to improve, yet again, upon its predecessor. This, I think, is what’s causing my anxiety.

What if I don’t succeed? What if this story is boring as hell? What if my characters are paper-thin clichés with no agency? What if I let my readers down?

I’m told this is normal, part of the up-and-down cycle of a creative’s life.

It sucks.

I’ll get through it, I’m sure, but right now it sucks big time.

I have only a few days left before my self-imposed deadline for finishing this first draft is due (we won’t discuss the previous two deadlines that whistled past like high-speed trains at a non-stop station). Will I make? Should I even try to, given that it’s causing me such severe anxiety?

I don’t know, but I do know that I’ll push on regardless. This story wants out and one way or another, it will get written. It may just take a little longer than expected.

What I do know, however, is that I’ll think twice before attempting another series again…

Do you get writer’s anxiety? How do you deal with it?

Flash Fiction Now Subscriber-Only Content

I’ve been posting a monthly flash fiction story on this blog since December 2017. I’ve had loads of fun learning how to cram extremely short stories into less than 1000 words (one of them was even under 300 words!) while still ensuring that there are both character development and an intriguing plot in these pieces. You can read all the stories here.

© Pixabay

However, I’ve decided to make my monthly flash fiction piece subscriber-only content from now on. After all, my subscribers are my biggest supporters and I believe they need some special treatment and a little extra fun in their inboxes each month.

So if you’ve been reading along and enjoying the stories, but you’re not a subscriber yet, then do consider signing up for my mailing list. Not only will you get a monthly short read straight to your inbox, you’ll also get a free copy of KEEPER OF EXOTIC ANIMALS thrown in as well. You can always unsubscribe later on if you realise my stories aren’t really for you, but I’ll hope you stay, of course.

I’m still thinking of a replacement for this series of regular posts. Perhaps a list of book recommendations or reviews? What would you be interested in? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

The Return

© Unknown

A thousand hearth fires winked at him from the valley below, like stars in the endless sky above.

Regan glared down at his erstwhile home. Ten years. And look how they’ve grown. Flourished. While he had been banished to walk the wilds, living from hand to mouth, killing to survive, surviving to kill, his little village had grown into a city.

His right hand itched towards the jagged blade strapped to his waist. He longed to hear the rasp of steel on steel, to feel the warm spurt of blood as it ripped through bone and entrails alike, to see the life leaving his enemy’s gaze. And he had many enemies down there.

He stepped forward and swore as his body barrelled into the barrier, invisible, yet solid as a stone wall. They had not forgotten about him, either, it would seem.

Time changes everything, and a man does not survive for so long without learning many new skills.

Regan shed his clothes as a snake sheds its skin. Naked, he howled, first in rage, then in pain, as his body contorted. Limbs elongated, claws ripped through fur-covered paws, fangs ruptured from his upper jaw. Where once a man stood, a monstrous mountain lion now prowled the perimeter.

Tentatively, the feline tested the barrier. Nothing. Its lips parted in a snarl. With a powerful leap, the beast jumped through the invisible wall and bounded down the hill.

Paid Book Reviews – Dream Job or Frustrating Time Sink?

I mean seriously, can there be anything better than having someone pay you to read books? For those of us who love reading, that’s a dream job, and they’re scarce as chicken teeth, so if you get an opportunity to get paid to read, you grab it.

A gift horse | © Unknown

But… here’s the thing: I don’t get to choose the books that I read. Sure, I pick a book from the available list in the genre that I prefer, but other than that, I have no say over which books I spend my evenings with. And this is … problematic.

The books that I have to read and review are all written by indie authors, such as myself, and since I’m also independently published I don’t want to flack others who choose to follow the same route. However, by and large I am increasingly disappointed in the quality of these books. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I am trained to read critically (I have a Bachelor’s degree in Publishing and a postgraduate degree in English Studies) and many of these books read like first drafts, something the author slapped together, decided was brilliant as is and then let loose upon the world with nary so much as a spellcheck or a decent critique from anyone other than their mother. This tends to make me grumpy and overly critical.

The last thing I want to do in my precious free time is read a book that’s not ready to be read yet, no matter how much potential it may have. In the time I spent getting frustrated by a badly-written book I could have been reading an awesome book instead or, even better, writing and improving my own.

So here’s my dilemma – should I give up the dream job?

While I have discovered a few really amazing books and their talented authors this way, in general, the books I’ve had to review have been a chore to read. Sure, getting paid a few dollars for reading is nice, but is it really worth the time, effort and aggravation? What do you think?

What would you do? Would you grin and bear it and learn from it, or do you also think that time could be spent better? Do you think I’m being overly critical and should stop looking a gift horse in the mouth?

What Are Your Thoughts on Audiobooks?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m late coming to the bandwagon where audiobooks are concerned, but it seems to be a very popular, growing format these days. And it seems like everyone who is anyone is involved in podcasting in some form or another.

I’ve only recently started listening to podcasts, for years having preferred to consume information via my eyes rather than my ears. However, I’m slowly starting to realise the benefits of audio products. For one thing, it enables you to multitask, turning otherwise dull and mundane tasks into informative and entertaining sessions where your hands are routinely busy, but (gasp!) your brain is stimulated too. I’m fortunate to have very good eyesight, but I would imagine for someone with failing visual capability, audio entertainment is heaven-sent.

Entertainment on the go | © Philips Communications

In fact, the only downside to audiobooks I can think of is that, if I’m not careful, my mind starts to wander (either because an interesting idea was sparked or because I’m busy trying to write a complex piece of code at work) and I find myself ten minutes later without any idea of where I am in the narrative or how I got there. I suppose concentrated listening is a skill that needs to be learned.

In either case, I’ve lately played with the idea of converting some of my stories into audiobooks. My husband is wonderfully well-spoken (with a sexy Welsh accent to boot!) and would make the perfect narrator. I can only imagine hearing my stories in this medium would be incredibly satisfying for me personally, and would also allow a larger audience to get to know my work.

So, I have a few questions for you, consumers of audiobooks:

  1. Do you prefer a straightforward reading of a text, or do you like the narrator to give different voices and accents to individual characters?
  2. What are your thoughts on ambient sounds, such as birds tweeting or background music?
  3. Would it be disconcerting if the viewpoint character is female, but the narrator is male?
  4. Is there anything specific that puts you off an audiobook immediately that we should avoid at all costs?

I would really appreciate your thoughts and advice. I’m actually quite excited about the idea and would love to try it out, while at the same time making the product as professional and listener-friendly as possible.

Which format do you prefer – books or audio? Why? Do you have any examples of great audiobooks that we can use as reference?