Filling the Creative Well

I’m a big fan of Joanna Penn from the Creative Penn, and lately Books and Travel, and she often talks about filling the creative well. Joanna lives my best life – an escapee from the corporate IT world, now a full-time author who resides in Bath in the UK, she often goes on research trips to Europe, Asia and the US, and takes frequent days off to visit art galleries, museums and Gothic graveyards. Joanna says it’s important to do things that inspire you.

I’m inspired by travel. All my urban fantasy stories are set in places that I’ve been to or like to visit someday, and even my fantasy settings are informed in some way by places in the real world. Each installment of my Mythical Menagerie series is set in one of Europe’s great cities – so far London, Paris, Cardiff and Rome, with more coming – and even its prequel, Keeper of Exotic Animals, which is set in an undisclosed mountainous location, reminds a little of Alpine country.

My husband and I used to travel quite a lot before our little one arrived. Living in South Africa, overseas travel is an expensive luxury that most people can’t afford, but we decided from the start that it would be a priority for us, and so we set our Rands aside and we do without fancy cars, a grand house or designer clothes, and we take our lunch to work in Tupperware boxes and drink coffee from the office supply. But once a year, we get to go somewhere exciting.

When the baby arrived, all of that went out the window. I’m not brave enough to endure a 12-hour flight with a toddler, so for four years we stayed put, biding our time, scratching our itchy feet by watching the Travel Channel or reading books set in exotic locations. And writing them too, in my case.

But now my son is 3.5 years old, my 40th birthday is a couple of weeks away and it’s time to fill that creative well again.

In a few days’ time, we’re hopping on a plane that will take us to Zagreb. We’re hiring a campervan and doing a three-week tour of the Balkans; starting off in Slovenia, winding our way down the coast of Croatia, exploring the mountains of Montenegro and discovering the history of Bosnia & Herzegovina. It’s a part of the world that I know very little about, but I expect it will be an amazing experience.

Will I come back inspired with new ideas and new stories? Probably. But most importantly, I’ll have filled the creative well again, one that has been running on empty for quite some time now, and I couldn’t be more excited about that.

If you want to follow along on our travels, follow me on Instagram where I’ll share daily photos of our time in the Balkans, or read along on my blog, which I’ll start updating once we get home again.

Are you inspired by travel? What is your ultimate bucket list destination?

On Changing Mailing Service Providers

I received an email from Mailchimp last week that stated that their terms of service would be changing. As I normally do, I just deleted the email, assuming that it would probably be something minor that would hardly affect me. I’m happy with Mailchimp – they have been my mailing service provider from the day I realised I needed to have a list of subscribers and send them email on a regular basis.

Much to my dismay however, the indie author community immediately erupted over the changes being implemented. Read David Gaughran’s very comprehensive post here.

The most notable change for me is that the Chimp has moved over from list subscribers to list audiences – meaning where I once would have paid only for the people subscribed to my list and not for those who choose to unsubscribe and no longer want to hear from me, I now have to pay for the size of the entire audience, both subscribers and unsubscribed. Mailchimp’s reasoning behind this is that they keep the details of people who have unsubscribed in their database and it can be used for target marketing. My argument is that I do not want to market to people who have already indicated that they are not interested. It seems spammy to me and I’m pretty sure it also goes against the GDPR regulations. Either way, from a practical point of view, if someone has unsubscribed from my mailing list, then I don’t want to bother them anymore and I most certainly do not want to pay for them being in my supposed audience.

This is particularly pertinent to newbie authors such as myself who have to first gain an audience by making a free book available to anyone willing to give me their email address in exchange for it. Inevitably I get lots of bargain hunters subscribing and then unsubscribing (sometimes almost immediately, before even reading said book and deciding whether or not it would be worth staying on my list to learn more about me and my books). It’s bad enough that I’m giving my hard work away for free, it’s absolutely unacceptable that I now have to pay for these email addresses who don’t ever want to hear from me again.

As someone who is currently still within their previously free plan (less than 2000 active subscribers), there are even more changes that affect me too:

  • I now have to pay extra for my automation sequence (the most important part of the list building toolkit)
  • email templates and custom branding are out the door
  • segmentation is on the highest paid plan
  • no more audience insights
  • no more dedicated customer support
  • only 1 audience (so no more multiple lists for my multiple small businesses)
  • I now have a cap on the amount of emails I get to send per month (i.e. 10k emails, which is used up quickly if you are a weekly mailer, even with a small list)

There are probably a few smaller things that I’m unaware of right now too, but which will inevitably trip me up just when I want to use them.

I am quite disappointed. I’ve been using Mailchimp since 2017 and have become comfortable and knowledgeable with its interface and features.

Although I am still on the free plan, my first full-length novel is coming out at the latter end of the year and I was hoping to increase my number of subscribed users to a significant amount before then. With these kinds of changes, Mailchimp has made it practically impossible and a lot more expensive to do so.

Please note that I’m not opposed to paying for a service – I just want to get my money’s worth when I do. Especially since I earn ZAR and have to spend USD. The more I have to spend, the longer I have to stick with the (soul-destroying) day job.

I have one more mail going out with Mailchimp at the end of the month. After that, it will be time to move to a new service provider.

Are you adversely affected by Mailchimp’s changes? Are you planning to change service providers? Who would you recommend instead?

What I’m Currently Working On: Yep, You Guessed It

Hi! My name’s Suneé and I’m a slow writer.

And when I say slow, apparently I mean glacially. Dinosaurs have lived and gone extinct in the time it takes me to write the first draft of a novelette.

Dinosaurs watching a meteorite passing by | The Good Dinosaur | Disney Pixar

So yeah, I am (still) busy writing Part 4 of my Mythical Menagerie series. All sorts of things have conspired towards making my attempts to catch up on my self-imposed deadline almost impossible. I’m not making excuses – I know I should get my lazy ass up out of bed at 4 AM in the mornings because writing should be that important to me, and yet I don’t – I’m just stating the facts. I’m behind my schedule. I’m trying to catch up. But if I miss that deadline – oh well. I’d rather have a quality product than a rushed one. I want to be proud of my work, and if it takes a little longer than expected, I’m sorry, but there it is. Maybe it would go quicker if I were still writing full-time, but unfortunately you need to be a prolific writer with a big backlist to make a living from writing and I am neither of those things. Yet.

Also, ALSO, I’ve received the e-book cover for the complete novel from my incredibly talented cover designer, Tallulah, and IT IS AMAZING! I just want to show the world! But I’ll keep my enthusiasm contained for a proper cover reveal when the time is ready. For anyone who’s forgotten – I am no longer releasing individual installments of the novelette series (for reasons), but am holding it all back until the entire series is complete, after which it will be published as a full novel. Only 1.5 installments to go.

Plus, my friend Schalk, who is the most amazing composer you’ll meet this century, sent me the final version of the music he composed for my book trailer! It makes me squeal like a toddler finding a hidden Easter egg whenever I listen to it. You guys, I don’t know how he managed it, but this music is perfect for the tone of the book! So… I am about to start the process of creating a book trailer. Yay! (Listen to the music he made for me for the book trailer for my short story, Spirit Caller.)

On a more personal side, my birthday is looming and we are now counting the days until we jump on a plane and head for the Balkans for a three-week jaunt in a campervan. I’ve been in a spin trying to sort all the visas and things out (the joy of travelling on a South African passport), but most of the admin is now done and we basically just have to pack our bags and set off. I lie awake at nights thinking about this holiday – it’s been way too long since we’ve gone anywhere remotely interesting. If you’re into travel, follow me on Instagram where I’ll be sharing the pictures of our trip from mid-June to early July, and you can check out my (somewhat neglected) travel blog if you like to live vicariously through others. If you’ve read Beginner’s Luck (and the other two installments while they were still available), then you’ll know I’m inspired by travel. Who knows what will come from this trip?

Otherwise, I’ve been reading good books (I seriously recommend Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer, go check it out), watched the end of a Marvel era unfold and tried my hand at mosaic art.

Enough about me! What have you been up to lately? Did you watch Avengers: Endgame? Are you as traumatised as I am? Are you a travel junkie? Where are you heading to next? What good books have you read recently and want to recommend? Let me know in the comments below.

Tears for Notre Dame

Imagine my distress when I logged into social media late night on 15 April, only to be confronted by a slew of images of the Notre Dame on fire. I’m not embarrassed to say that I was in tears. I spent the rest of the evening in a shell-shocked state, watching footage of the fire raging, of the enormous cloud of smoke billowing into the sky, and finally the spire tumbling to the ground.

I was devastated.

I first set foot in its hallowed halls when I was 18 years old. It was my first visit to Europe and I was awestruck and wide-eyed the entire time, but never more so than inside that glorious Gothic cathedral. I gaped at the intricate carvings of saints and sinners, at the beautiful woodwork and stonemasonry. I admired the vaulted ceiling high above, the pillars that lead the eye up to Heaven. I stood in dappled light as the sun fell in through the Rose window.

And then something amazing happened. A voice – pure, angelic – lifted in song. The words of Ave Maria echoed through that vast space.

Everyone stopped and stared at the young woman, her eyes cast upwards, her face beatific.

Goosebumps raised on my arms then, and now, while I’m recalling it again.

The girl finished her song, the last notes drifting through the air. Her mother hugged her tightly. We all wiped away tears, before the subdued bustle of hundreds of tourists continued again.

That is how I remember the Notre Dame. It holds a special place in my memories.

Suneé in front of the Notre Dame, many years ago…

I’ve been back once since then, and I’ve wanted to go again for a long time, but now it lies in ruins. I’m incredibly thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to see it in its full glory. There are surely millions of others out there, some in Paris right now for the first time, who are not so lucky as I have been.

If this is not a lesson in living your best life now, while you can, then I don’t know what is.

It took 200 years to build this magnificent cathedral.

It stood for 850 years.

It will stand again.

Join Ambrose Davids, Freelance Procurement Specialist, as he travels to the City of Love to forget about love, and instead finds illumination beneath the shadows of the Notre Dame.

Banshee’s Wail, part 2 of the Mythical Menagerie series. Complete novel coming soon.

April Freebie Month

No, this is not an April Fools joke, although you probably won’t believe your luck when you see what’s in store for you below.

I’ve joined a number of promotions over at Book Funnel and Prolific Works and in all of them you have a plethora of free fantasy, urban fantasy or paranormal books to choose from! No strings attached, you don’t even have to give your email address to an author to get these books. All we ask is that you try them out, see if you like them, and then consider joining our newsletters – I mean, if you enjoyed the book, you’d want to hear more from your new favourite author, am I right?

So without further ado, please click on the image links below and have a look see if there’s anything that interests you. You’d be a fool not to give it a go.

Are you a freebie hunter? Which favourite new author have you discovered this way?

Tangled’s Problematic Mother-Daughter Relationship

Disney’s 2010 animated film, Tangled, is one of my favourite movies ever. I can easily watch it every weekend. I love Rapunzel and can identify with her on so many levels. I think Flynn Rider is a hottie, especially when he forgets about smouldering and shows his more sensitive side. Plus Pascal and Maximus are two of my favourite sidekicks. And, let’s not forget about that amazing score and soundtrack. I even listen to it in my car on the way to work some days.

But, I have a major issue with Rapunzel’s relationship with Mother Gothel.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, go do so now, because SPOILER ALERT coming in …




Rapunzel shows no remorse whatsoever when Mother Gothel dies.

Okay, I get it. Their relationship is incredibly dysfunctional. Gothel is her kidnapper, for heaven’s sake. BUT – Rapunzel only finds this out at the very end. For 90% of the film, Rapunzel believes Gothel to be her real mother. Yes, a manipulative narcissistic one who points out every real and fictitious flaw Rapunzel may have (seriously, why the girl doesn’t have major self-esteem issues is beyond me), but her mother nonetheless.

We see real affection for the girl as Gothel raises her from infancy, tender moments where they brush Rapunzel’s ridiculously long hair together. They even have the cutest ritual I’ve ever seen between mother and child onscreen:

GOTHEL: I love you very much, dear.

RAPUNZEL: I love you more.

GOTHEL: I love you most.

Even if you consider the fact that Gothel might actually only be referring to Rapunzel’s ability to keep her young here, to Rapunzel this is a loving exchange, and one that she has taken part in all her life.

So to me, watching the only mother you’ve ever known turn to dust before your eyes (even if you recently found out that she had stolen you as a baby) without so much as a pang of dismay, seems just a little callous.

Even if said mother had just stabbed your first ever boyfriend.

What do you think? Does Mother Gothel deserve at least a tear or two from Rapunzel, or is the teenager right in pushing all childhood affection aside so easily?

What I’m Currently Working On: Mythical Menagerie Part 4

In theory, I’m busy working on Part 4 of the Mythical Menagerie series. In practice… erm, not so much. It’s been a really bad writing month for me. I plotted out this next installment, jumped into the first draft guns blazing… and then, about 1000 words in, I stopped.

I hit a difficult scene that stumped me, and then my situation at work changed, which meant my whole routine was suddenly thrown out of whack, and then the scene became a mountain which I am yet to scale. In between, I’m also trying to organise new passports for my husband and son, both of whom have dual citizenship (which just means double the trouble, if you ask me), since we’re going on an epic holiday later this year. Plus, my son also turned three years old (cutie pie!) this past weekend and I spent all my free time planning and organising his first ever birthday party.

Not as good as the Pinterest cake we tried to emulate, but the little one loved it, which is all that matters 🙂

All of this combined to leave me with almost no writing done this month. I at least managed to complete the short flash fiction piece that goes out monthly to my newsletter subscribers, but other than that, the only words I’ve written have been emails and technical specification documents that even had me nodding off!

I also made a huge mistake that left me feeling like a fool for a few days. I finally had the opportunity to take Beginner’s Luck, Part 1 of the Mythical Menagerie series, out of Kindle Unlimited and made it available wide, for free. In a fit of misplaced optimism, I assumed that Amazon would immediately price match and make the novelette available for free there too. So I let all my subscribers know, and then watched in horror as the emails arrived one after the other to tell me that it’s not free on Amazon. I asked my writing group and they said that it could take Amazon anything from two weeks to a month to update the listed price. You could hear me facepalm all across the plains of Africa.

Needless to say, I then had to send out another email to everyone to apologise and enlist their help in reporting the novelette as free elsewhere to Amazon. The friendly support staff at KDP then sent me an email to let me know that they acknowledge the price change and they will get back to me by 28 Feb. Here’s hoping. Live and learn, I guess.

While I haven’t done anything concrete yet, listening to Joanna Penn’s mini-podcast about narrating your own book has reminded me that I still want to get more active on YouTube. For now, all I want to do is narrate one of my flash fiction stories to see if I can actually do audio and to see how people respond to my weird accent, which is a Frankenstein’s monster that is unsure whether it should be English with an Afrikaans South African, American or Welsh twang to it. Really, my husband giggled when I recorded a sentence the other day, so I’m not sure what listeners will think. But I’m interested to find out 🙂

And that’s all my news for now. Fingers crossed that March will be a more productive month. I have a deadline to hit, after all, and I am by nature a deadline-driven person, so sometime soon that compulsion to get cracking will kick in and I’ll tackle that scene that’s stopped everything in its tracks. Any day now…

What do you do to get your creative productivity back on track again?

Beginner’s Luck Now Widely Available – For Free!

The Mythical Menagerie series was envisioned right from the start as a short story series that I would release in a serialised fashion. Many short installments would make one large coherent whole in the end that you could binge read the way you would binge watch your favourite TV show on Netflix.

As it turns out, that plan was a little flawed.

Firstly, when I started writing the series I was taking a sabbatical from my full-time job and had lots of time to write in. Now that I’m back at work, and have been for almost 1.5 years already, my speed of writing has slowed down tremendously. Leaving such long gaps between publication dates meant that readers forgot what happened in previous installments and little clues that I dropped along the way went right over most people’s heads.

Secondly, although I’ve had tremendously positive feedback in general, almost everyone complained that the stories were just too short. They wanted more. That’s a very nice problem for me to have, but it’s a problem nonetheless. I want my readers to be happy.

And lastly, I think it might just be a little unfair to charge readers $0.99 for every short installment I release. I have six installments planned for Series 1, so after a while that adds up and turns out to be a pretty steep price for what will eventually amount to a standard-length novel.

So… my plans have changed. I have unpublished Banshee’s Wail (Part 2) and Asrai’s Curse (Part 3) to prevent anyone from buying these installments individually. I will not release any other installments until the series is complete, and then I will only make it available as a full novel (my deadline date for this is the latter half of 2019).

Get Your Free Copy of Beginner’s Luck

As part of this change, Beginner’s Luck (Part 1) is now no longer in Kindle Unlimited and I’ve made it available for free across a variety of popular platforms (Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc). If you don’t have a copy of it yet, grab it at your favourite online store now!

Amazon Price Match

To date, Amazon is yet to price match the other platforms and make the novelette available for free in its various stores. I’ve been told that the best way to expedite this process is for as many people as possible to let them know that it is free elsewhere.

If you want to help out with this, please do the following:

  1. Click on the image below and navigate to your preferred Amazon store.
  2. On the book page, scroll down to the Product Details section and underneath the Amazon Best Seller Rank you’ll see a link called “Would you like to tell us about a lower price?”
  3. If you click on that, a pop-up asks where you saw the lower price. Click on Website.
  4. The pop-up expands to ask for a URLPrice and Shipping Cost. Please enter this link ““, 0 and 0 again.
  5. Submit the feedback.

Claim Your Discount

If you’ve bought Banshee’s Wail (Part 2) and/or Asrai’s Curse (Part 3) already – thank you!!

It would be ridiculously unfair to make you pay full price when the complete novel comes out, so please, please, please send me proof of purchase and I will arrange a discount or promo code that you can use at your Amazon store of preference, when the time comes.

Do you think changing from serialised installments to a complete novel is good idea? If not, please let me know why in the comments below.

The Women of Disney’s “Moana”: A Feminist Viewpoint

I recently watched Moana for the first time. It’s not my favourite Disney movie by far, but there are some aspects of it that I can really appreciate. The animation is gorgeous, of course, but what really set me thinking is the way women are represented in this film. Other reviewers have called Moana a redemption story, or the tale of a young girl on a journey to find herself, or even an environmental warning – and it is all those things, but to me the most important message is how women are depicted within the confines of a patriarchal society.

Spoilers abound below, so if you haven’t seen Moana yet, go do so first.

The Goddess

Te Fiti, the mother goddess of creation is problematic. She has her heart stolen by a man and immediately turns into a lava-spewing rage monster. She’s unable to move past her anger and hatred until her heart is restored and the man apologises. Only then can she return to her loving (and dormant) self.

To me, she is the clichéd woman that men both fantasise about and fear – the voluptuous beauty who can bring forth life, and the evil Other who brings about destruction. In her malevolent form, she causes Maui’s downfall, stripping him of the fishhook that is the source of his power and banishing him to a desert island. But once her heart is returned to her, she becomes passive again, literally falling asleep with a contented smile on her face.

Te Fiti is a patriarchal society’s typical female. Bring her a bunch of flowers and tell her you’re sorry -she’ll come to her senses again, and she’ll even restore your symbol of power.

She is woman as myth.

The Mother

Moana’s mother also fulfils a traditional role. She is a wife and a mother and she abides by her husband’s laws. We don’t really know much about her and I had to look her name up on IMDB – it’s Sina, apparently. She does what’s expected of her, admirably, and there’s nothing wrong with that. She is content with her life – and who doesn’t want to be content? Like a good mother, she wants what’s best for her child, even if that means defying her husband’s wishes, so she helps Moana escape the island. At the end of the film, when Moana’s people set sail again, we see Sika learning to tie knots, determined to be useful as a sailor.

Not much to be said about Sika, except that she is a woman who is comfortable within the role that society has placed upon her.

She is woman’s present.

The Grandmother

Moana’s grandmother, Tala, is an interesting character. The movie opens with her telling a scary story to the village children, showing us that she is her people’s keeper of past knowledge and traditions.

Yet she is anything but traditional. She is the free spirit who doesn’t sing along with the other villagers, preferring to dance by herself next to the ocean. When she dies, she takes the form of a manta ray (a traditional Polynesian symbol of graceful strength and wisdom that teaches one to stay true to oneself) to become Moana’s spiritual guide. She is also the only one who encourages Moana to follow her dreams.

And yet Tala calls herself “the village crazy”, which is unfortunate. It sends the message that a woman of knowledge who is unusual and interesting and lives outside the defined structure of society cannot possibly be in her right mind.

And although she is the one who spurs Moana on her journey, her advice was to get Maui on her boat so that he can save them all. Tala still sees the man as the saviour, while the girl is merely there to help him on his quest.

She is woman’s past.


From a very young age, Moana wants nothing more than to set sail and explore the ocean. She feels stymied on the island, especially since her father forbids her to ever venture beyond the reef that protects their confined home. So she resigns herself to becoming her people’s next chief. This in itself is unusual, as she seems to be the first female in a long line of male chieftains who have placed their slabs of rock on the mountaintop.

When her village is threatened, Moana follows her grandmother’s urging and goes in search of Maui, even though she was chosen by the ocean to save her people. While she tries to convince the demigod (an arrogant ass if there ever was one) to step up and help her, she learns all the skills she needs and eventually acquires the self-confidence to save the day.

She returns to her village, a saviour and a leader, and becomes her people’s wayfarer as she leads them off across the ocean in search of a new destiny.

She is woman’s future.

What are your thoughts on the women of Moana? Do you agree that this movie paves the way for young women to shake of the traditional feminine roles of the past and embrace independence as the creators of their own destiny?

The Magical Negro Trope: How Best Intentions Can Sometimes Go Wrong

A few months ago I wrote about my journey through uncharted waters and how I was completely planning on avoiding dangerous topics in my writing. This post referred to the most recent installment of the Mythical Menagerie series, in which I’ve made Amari Kerubo, a black woman, my main character. After completing this novelette, I patted myself on the back for successfully avoiding the quagmire of racism and sexism (although I’m still awaiting feedback from my beta readers) and I was quite pleased with how that story turned out.

My idea of what Amari Kerubo looks like | © Unknown

However, while recently listening to a back list episode of the Writing Excuses podcast, the presenters were talking about story tropes and they mentioned one that immediately turned my veins to ice (much to Ambrose David’s amusement, no doubt). This particular trope is called the Magical Negro and refers to a person of colour appearing on the (often white and male) main character’s journey to give them some sage advice that will help them in their quest.

And I couldn’t help but wonder – was Amari a Magical Negro?

After all, she did come into Ambrose’s life when he was struggling to make ends meet and set his feet on the path that would eventually lead to fulfilling his quest (well, the quest for Part 1, it gets more complicated later on). Did I make the mistake of unwittingly writing a stereotype, when all I really wanted to do was to write inclusively, to create diverse characters? Have I internalised society’s view of black people to such an extent that I unsuspectingly made the same mistakes as my predecessors – all with the best intentions?

TV Tropes defines the Magical Negro as a character from a minority group, usually black, who “step[s] … into the life of the much more privileged (and, in particular, almost always white) central character and, in some way, enrich that central character’s life.” This black character has spiritual wisdom and/or supernatural powers, and yet only acts in a guiding role, leaving the central character to save the day.

Wikipedia says this type of character exists because “most Hollywood screenwriters don’t know much about black people … [s]o instead of getting life histories or love interests, black characters get magical powers.” Furthermore, “[t]hese powers are used to save and transform dishevelled, uncultured, lost, or broken whites (almost exclusively white men) into competent, successful, and content people within the context of the American myth of redemption and salvation.” They continue: “[a]lthough from a certain perspective the character may seem to be showing blacks in a positive light, the character is still ultimately subordinate to whites.”

This worries me, because upon first glance, it does seem like I’ve stepped into this trap: Amari is a black woman with supernatural abilities who supports Ambrose, a white male, on his journey to redemption.

But I think I’ve delved a little deeper in Part 3.5, where she has become the protagonist. We see Amari struggle under white authority, but we also see her rise above it. We see her history, where she comes from, what it’s like for her as part of a diaspora, and how important her culture is to her. We see her affinity to nature, but we also see her use both magic and technology to achieve her goals. Above all, we see her as a leading lady who tackles her own quest head-on, while ultimately still supporting the journeys of the other characters around her.

Have I managed to rise above the stereotype? I don’t know, but I hope so, and with this new knowledge of this particular trope, I will definitely endeavour to do better next time.

Can you name an example of a character that an author wrote with the best of intentions, but that fell into the stereotype trap? How would you advise writers to steer clear of clichéd tropes to create characters that are truly diverse and inclusive?