Happy New Year! I hope that you all had a great Christmas or a happy holiday, however and whatever you celebrate.
In the last couple of days, I have been obliged to welcome a house guest. After spending a lot (and I do mean A LOT) of time waxing lyrical about the virtues of Alexa, my husband ordered an Echo Dot.
Personally, I've never been entirely comfortable at the thought of a little AI sitting in my house, "listening" to what goes on. My house is meant to be my haven from the world. I started thinking about how I felt about this new gadget and my thoughts led me on an interesting meander via a variety of places. It was prompted by the lights on the Alexa, which flashed on and off. "What's it doing?" I asked my husband.
"Breathing," was his smartarse reply. Not exactly reassuring. It does rather look like breathing....
Looking back, I recall being very anti mobile phones when they first came out. I didn't sign up to Facebook for years. I love gadgets, but I didn't want tech invading my life and I definitely didn't want some huge corporation collecting data on me so they could sell me stuff (and TBH, I still feel exactly the same way).
Yet analysing my response to these two examples made me wonder if it is, perhaps, that response which needs to be challenged, rather than the tech in and of itself. It's not the 90s any more. Tech affects almost every aspect of our lives and will only increase over time. Do I just need to suck it up and move on?
In the beginning, when I was first given a mobile phone in the late 90s, I found it both useful and an intrusion - an opinion which has not changed. As an author with the omnipresent need to market my published work, as an actor, as a parent... the mobile phone is an asset. I can contact my daughter quickly and easily when I need to, as she begins to explore her new, partial independence; the reassurance is comforting. I wondered if I should be treating tech a bit like a newly independent child, accepting that I need to relinquish some control. (NOTE: Not gonna happen. Not regarding the tech, anyway). Tech is the future, after all - is my opinion just outdated?
I could go on at length about spyware and malware, the harvesting of our personal information and how much that data is worth in today's capitalist world. But what I ended up thinking about, perhaps unsurprisingly, was conspiracy theories.
We all love a good conspiracy theory, don't we? And they are everywhere - from the Bible to the moon landings to aliens in Area 51. A quick glance at the Twitter hashtag #conspiracytheory told me that there had been 230 tweets in the previous hour using that hashtag on subjects such as aliens, terrorism, the Illuminati, Marilyn Monroe and Russians.
I found a GQ article from 2016 by Tim Baker, author of Fever City, who had compiled a list of some conspiracy theories he'd encountered while researching his novel. Right at the top of the list is 9/11, followed by the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963. Both are well known - certainly more familiar to me than the one suggesting a famous footballer was allegedly poisoned hours before the 1998 World Cup Final in order, ultimately, to boost France's GDP.
Back to Alexa. What's really going on with her? Remember the fault where she would suddenly start laughing randomly? I've watched a video of some examples and have to say that it's one of the CREEPIEST things I have heard. If ours starts doing that, it's going straight to the recycling centre in pieces. LOTS of pieces.
That particular fault was fixed and no longer seems to be an issue, but it increased scepticism about having an always-on speaker in your home, collecting data about your private life. Yet is it so different from the mobile phone? Let's look at that.
We interact with Alexa intentionally and it responds appropriately to the commands it is given (well, ours has, so far). It records a few seconds of audio before the wake word is given, apparently, but the audio files can be viewed and, perhaps more importantly, deleted, via the Alexa app. Yes, your info floats around on the cloud for a while, but as far as I can tell from my limited experience, you do at least have a degree of control about how long it floats around for. With the mobile phone, however, is that actually the case? I've often wondered why certain apps need to access the microphone and/or camera in order to function correctly when neither the microphone nor camera is central to their main functionality. I have no idea what my phone records, or how to view/delete those records. That may just be my own current lack of knowledge, but it has certainly made me glad that I used the Christmas break to distance myself from my mobile even more than usual.
Yet tech can be brilliant - I'm talking now about people for whom tech enables them to navigate daily life independently, or gives them a means of communication they otherwise wouldn't have. Even though some of that tech undoubtedly does similar things to Alexa, I don't have a problem with it because its benefits are clear and unequivocal. Even Alexa has a function where, when activated in an emergency, she can talk you through CPR after you have contacted an ambulance.
I've found today's train of thought both interesting and challenging and I'll definitely be looking into the tech behind Alexa in much greater depth. I'd like to see if there anything she can do to help me when I'm writing (apart from playing background music), although I suspect that my writing habits are too ingrained and once I get going, I'll forget all about Alexa and her creepy laugh...
Oh, my word, this blog has been horribly neglected this year! I've been working on Dragonheart, writing talks, my Moorlander column, the Circle of Spears audiobooks I narrate and the live theatre we produce. My show WITCH enjoyed a fantastic London premiere last month, and we had some wonderful feedback from the performance. October was a crazy busy, hectic, wonderful month and I enjoyed every moment - but I have to say that I'm enjoying the more relaxed pace of November!
Now that my speaking engagements are finished for the year, and we are winding down the theatre events to focus on our current audio projects, I've suddenly got a bit more time on my hands, so I have been using some of it to rediscover other people's blogs. I am not an experienced blogger, as I am sure you will have realised - my approach is rather scatter-gun. I do enjoy other people's blogs, so I thought that I would share some with you.
First up is the utterly superb Bang2Write, run by author/screenwriter/script reader and all-round powerhouse Lucy V Hay. It is a writer's treasure trove of no-nonsense, practical, sweary advice from someone who knows exactly what she is talking about. If you are a writer, and you haven't checked this one out already, what are you waiting for?? (PS there is free stuff to download, too!)
Next is Jenny Kane's blog, a wonderfully varied selection of writing tips and insights alongside a cracking guest blog feature called Opening Lines, where writers from every genre present the first 500 words (precisely) of one of their books. I've discovered new voices from reading this blog, as well as appearing on it myself back along, when I shared the first 500 words of my Lovecraftian horror story Dark Words. Like Lucy, Jenny is a formidable writer whose mind is teeming with ideas and who produces a staggering amount of top quality books under a number of aliases. Jenny is also a writing tutor and I have taken several of her classes, all of which were inspirational and from which I have learned many useful tips to put into practice in what passes as my day-to-day writing "routine".
For those of you who don't know me personally, you're probably not aware that I like to knit. A lot. Particularly socks. So as well as seeking inspiration from other writers, I also like to find inspiration in the act of creating. I have recently found this fun blog Knit Om, which attracted me because the knitter is a doctor, specialising in internal medicine. This blog has a mindfulness element to it which I like, particularly at the moment, when I am focusing on winding down a little at the end of a busy summer season. I am really rather bad at self-care, so tying it in with something I love to do may help me improve!
Next is another hugely varied blog, belonging to author Richard Dee and which I featured on some time ago. Richard shares a lot of fascinating insights into how he writes, where his inspiration comes from, and recipes - he used to be a baker! (He also used to be a Thames pilot!) Richard's stories are always innovative and the guest blogs he features have helped me to find new voices to enjoy.
I'll be sharing another set of interesting blogs soon. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy checking these ones out!
I recently had the pleasure of being "grilled" by fellow author James D Mortain's fictional Detective Deans - check out the results of my interview here. You can check out information about James's fantastic books at the same time, as well as reading about the other authors Deano has "grilled". Thanks for hosting me, James!
I have been rather neglecting this site recently, as I have been extremely busy with all the projects I'm currently working on. I've been finalising the research for my non-fiction, ensuring that my folklore articles are submitted to The Moorlander on time and trying to navigate an unexpected twist in Dragonheart - those pesky characters have minds of their own and clearly have not read my chapter plan!
You may be aware that, when I am not writing or undertaking some form of historical research, I'm an actor. I split my time between voice acting and theatre, mainly as part of Circle of Spears Productions, the theatre company and indie audio production house that I co-run with my husband Mark and our colleague Sam Burns.
Today, Circle of Spears had some fantastic news. My historical drama WITCH has just been confirmed by the Culture Bite festival for a performance at The Great Barn, Manor Farm Site, Bury Street, Ruislip on 30th October. Not only will this be the show's London premiere, it will also mark our 75th performance!
You cannot imagine how exciting this is for me. When I wrote the show back in 2016, which seems a lifetime away now, I never imagined that, three years later, we would still be performing it regularly. I never imagined that it would be used as Theatre in Education for Year 8/9 students and undergrads. I certainly never imagined that we would have our 75th performance in London. Writing has taken me to some wonderful and unexpected places and I can't wait to see where it takes me next!
Tickets for the London premiere will be managed by Culture Bite and I will post details as soon as they become available, so please do keep checking back.
Right, time for another coffee and to work out what these elves are up to!
One thing I enjoy very much is listening to people talk about the things they love. Seeing that gleam in their eye and how their entire being lights up as they enthuse. That's one of the reasons why I especially enjoy listening to other authors and why the monthly meetings of the Exeter Authors Association are so inspirational for me.
We have two meetings each month - a members-only "business" meeting where we plan our various events and The Devon Authors Group, a social meeting, which is open to anyone interested in writing. We chat, share advice and suggestions and, if we are so inclined, bring along some of our work to read. I have just submitted a social history column for a local publication, so for today's meeting, I left The Septillion of Hheserakh behind and took the column along instead. I've just got home and, once again, I find myself enthused and inspired by what I have heard from the other attendees.
There were a couple of new faces today, which is always brilliant, so after the introductions and chat, some of the group shared the work they had brought along. And what an eclectic mix we had! There was rogue fungus (yes, really - it was intriguing), adventurous children, elegant stags, life-saving disguises, earthworms (that was mine - long story) and how looking at a cockerel can influence your chances in the marriage stakes.
As everyone took turns to share a little about their writing, I kept thinking what an absolute joy it is to be able to do what I do - to be able to sit down with some incredibly talented people and listen to them talking about their inspiration and how they work. There is always a new tip, a new suggestion, a new idea to pick up. Everyone does things differently and because writing is, for the most part, a solitary job, it's easy to become slightly blinkered and entrenched in your own methods. That's one of the reasons I love listening to other authors. Regardless of what you are going through - writer's block, the euphoria of seeing your new book in the flesh for the first time or the satisfaction of writing yourself out of the plot hole that has been bugging you for days - there will always be someone who has been there and done that - or who is going through the same thing. The groups I am in are full of people who not only have a wealth of experience, but are also more than happy to share that experience with others.
That's why I love listening to other authors. Not only will I undoubtedly learn something new, but I also have the pleasure of seeing them in their element, fired up and enthusiastic - and that joy and inspiration is infectious.
Shortly before Christmas, I gathered up WITCH, Sammy's Saturday Job and The Septillion of Hheserakh and joined about two dozen author colleagues from North Devon at a brand new event. Literary Fusion’s “Meet North Devon Authors” saw us take over one of the function rooms at The Pier House in Bideford for three hours of all things book-related. The event was designed to connect readers and authors and showcase the talent North Devon has to offer, and there was also a raffle raising money for Action Medical Research for Children.
We were an eclectic bunch, covering pretty much every genre. Devon is a real magnet for writers - the county’s varied landscapes, beaches, modern cities and beautiful villages offer limitless inspiration. Personally, I’ve always been hugely inspired by Dartmoor, although recently, I’ve been studying forests in order to ensure that The Great North Forest of the Hheserakhian Empire is as realistic as possible (in the context of a fantasy novel, anyway!)
I spent a while people-watching during the course of the event and found that attendees and authors alike were moving from table to table, engaging in conversation and networking. Obviously, it helped that this was an event targeted at book lovers, but it made a refreshing change from seeing browsers’ eyes slide over authors, which often happens at events. We had been allocated tables randomly rather than in genres, which encouraged browsers to move to every table, rather than homing in on a particular area and ignoring the rest.
There really is no better way for a reader to find a new voice than to spend a while chatting with an author about what they do. As I reader, I think the love and enthusiasm authors display when talking about their work is a joy to see. As a writer, there is nothing better than having someone show genuine interest in how and what I write.
During the course of the evening, eight of us participated in two author panels hosted by James D Mortain (find out about his books HERE). We chatted about how and where we work, where we get our ideas, how to get published and audiobooks, amongst other things, and there were some great questions from the audience. I had initially wondered how many people would turn out on a dark Sunday evening, especially as the weather on the day was absolutely foul, but I have to say that the attendees were a genuinely interested, engaged crowd, not about to be put off by a bit of bad weather!
The panels were very informative for readers and authors alike. There is always something new to discover at events like this, whether it’s a new author to read, or how to avoid a pitfall when submitting a manuscript to an agent, or a time management tip. If you are a writer and have reservations about taking part in author events because you aren’t sure if it’s really for you, I would urge you to give it a go. At the very least, you will make some new contacts and at best, you will hook up with new readers and make some sales.
Many congratulations to organiser Nickie Baglow for creating such a fantastic event, which I greatly enjoyed. I’m very much looking forward to the next one!
I am delighted to be guesting today on the Indie Showcase, a fantastic blog run by prolific Brixham-based indie author Richard Dee. Like Jenny Kane's Opening Lines blog, it's a fantastic way for authors to share their work with a wider audience and for readers to discover new books to read. Check out my blog post here!
On the Indie Showcase, I am sharing a short extract from The Musician and The Candle-Maker and chatting about some of the folkloric creatures which I have interwoven into the magical world of Koreswen and the Hheserakhian Empire itself.
I am delighted to have featured recently on my lovely author friend Jenny Kane's fantastic blog, sharing the first 500 words of my Lovecraftian short story Dark Words in her series "Opening Lines". This is a series where authors can share the first 500 words of one of their works - no more, no less, even if it means stopping mid-sentence! It's a brilliant way to find new authors to read. It gives you just enough to get into the story and then stops, leaving you wanting more (hopefully!). There is so much on this blog - it will keep you reading away for hours, so I highly recommend getting comfy and having a coffee to hand before you get going!
If you haven't read any of my other work before, you can enjoy the beginning of Dark Words here and find out how the story came to be written and what inspired it.
Dark Words originally appeared in Secret Invasion, a charity anthology raising money for MIND which will appeal to fans of horror and Lovecraft. It has since been published in Fairy Tales and Folklore Reimagined, so if horror is not your thing, you can enjoy Dark Words in a different way!
This is a picture I took last year of the medieval pack bridge at Fernworthy on Dartmoor, England. This is one of the artefacts generally submerged beneath the waters of the reservoir, some of which feature in Dark Words. This was the first time I had ever seen the bridge with my own eyes - and it was wonderful to be able to actually walk across it, too. I had never seen the water levels so low. In the past, all I had glimpsed was the very top of the bridge just breaking through the surface, because the reservoir is a lot deeper than you realise. It's always fascinating when you discover something like this is hidden away, just waiting for the conditions to be right so that it can be revealed. It makes me wonder what other incredible things might be right beneath your feet, waiting for someone to find them.
However, some things are best left undiscovered, as the characters in Dark Words find out....
I am delighted to announce that I have received the first copies of The Septillion of Hheserakh, a collection of legends from the Hheserakhian Empire. The Septillion is a companion book to the main series and features some of the Empire's creation myths. These are stories that Aamena Hinnorwen would have heard in her childhood, such as The Musician and the Candle-maker, which tells how the Elves got their pointed ears. I'll be sharing some of the legends at this year's Chilcompton Fringe Festival on Sunday 26th August 2018 - check out the Dates for Your Diary page for more details.
As well as pointed ears, there is a cursed artefact, a standing stone, a strange encounter in the forest, thwarted love, an over-eager suitor, dragons, a mother's love, a father's folly, and the most beautiful love ever to bless the universe.
I took much of my inspiration for the stories from folklore from around the world. The Great Forest of the North, Aamena's home, has strong Norse influences, so there's a little Norse mythology, a Swedish folk figure and a touch of Dartmoor (south-west England) woven in amongst the dragons, elves, goblins and trolls....
At the moment, the books are available exclusively from me - they are not yet in ebook format, although they will be in due course. The paperbacks will be available to buy from Sunday 26th August, so if you can get to Chilcompton that day, head over to the Dates for Your Diary page and check out the festival details so you can pick up a copy!
For today's food and frivolity post, I'm chatting to Mike from CornishMikey Painting. I met him at last year's Armadacon, a brilliant by-fans-for-fans volunteer-run con in Plymouth. I have always been a fan of minis, so I was drawn to Mikey's stall like a bee to honey and came away with a Predalien and Hogswatch Death, which now grace the fireplace in my living room. You can check out the CornishMikey website here and Mike's Facebook page here to see other photos of his work apart from the awesome images in this post!
Mike does commissions, so I quickly arranged for him to paint a custom mini of Aamena which had been gifted to me a while ago, but which I hadn't dared touch. I have painted minis in the past (mostly skeletons, actually) but I knew that my skills were not equal to the task of making this particular figure look as awesome as she should. So...over to Mike and his magic brushes!
TN - Thanks for agreeing to be part of the Fire-Eyes blog, Mike! First, can you tell me how you got into painting miniatures? What was the first figure you ever painted?
Mike - Blimey, that's going back a few years....I was in my third year of secondary school reading Judge Dredd 2000AD when a classmate said, "Oh, you know you can get figures for that." I didn't have a clue. He brought in a leaflet the next day and we posted off the order form with a cheque written by his mum. I had Judge Death, Fear, Fire and Mortis...can't remember what he ordered, though. Judge Death was my first painted mini - poster paints and a hideous nylon brush that looked more like a chimney sweep's brush than anything useful. Interesting fact - I'm still friends with the classmate over 30 years later.
TN - How long have you been doing this?
Mike - On and off, thirty years. From school through college, a few years when I was a chef. Gave it all up - and sold all my classic metal minis, now worth a small fortune! - to try and take over the world through music. The world still isn't ready for Cornish thrash punk...
After I came to my senses, the aforementioned classmate got me back into gaming and painting. I turned professional painter just over ten years ago.
Dark Judges Fear, Fire, Death and Mortis by CornishMikey Painting (image copyright M Rothery)
TN - Do you have any particular favourites that you really enjoy working on?
Mike - Yep, female figures. As the majority of wargaming figures are male, it makes a nice change to paint up some women. There's a lot more female minis now than there was a few years back - and the quality of the sculpting has improved hugely. I can remember when a female mini was identical to a male mini, except for two improbably large footballs on her chest.
The kids from the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon from the 80s, by CornishMikey Painting (image copyright M Rothery)
TN - What are your must-haves in terms of paints and brushes?
Mike - Vallejo paints mainly. I have got some odds and sods from other companies (freebies, tester pots and what have you), but I keep coming back to Vallejo. Rosemary and Co brushes are the best I've found, Series 33 pure kolinsky sable. For large scenery pieces, B&Q tester pots are fab and cheap brushes from B&M/Aldi/Lidl are very cost effective...you know the thing, ten brushes for £3.
Chief Judge McGruder, Judge Dredd and insane Judge Cal with Judge Fish (2000AD) by CornishMikey Painting (image copyright M Rothery)
TN - Soooooo....what has been your worst/most amusing painting disaster?
Mike - For me, the worst thing was painting an Ancient Roman army of 6mm high minis. Normally, not a problem. Painting them when I was suffering from hayfever? Yeah. On the next to last strip of figures - as they're so small, they're cast in strips of four figures, about a centimetre and a half long - I could feel a sneeze brewing. Now, a normal person would have put the minis down, sneezed, cleaned themselves up and carried on. I sneezed, heard a 'ting' as they were blasted out of my fingers, hitting the lamp, knocking over a figure of Arwen that was on my shelves, before disappearing completely. I searched for an hour and haven't seen them since. In a bit of a grump, I started on another strip, felt a sneeze coming again...and inhaled and swallowed them. Hospital trip and x-ray...they showed up beautifully! Lesson learnt there.
Mad Donna from Games Workshop's Necromunda game by CornishMikey Painting (image copyright M Rothery)
Rosie the archer from Wargamers Hot and Dangerous series by CornishMikey Painting (image copyright M Rothery)
TN - And what's the best compliment/experience you've ever had?
Mike - A while ago, I painted a Games Workshop Space Marine on a Thunderwolf. Bashed it out in half an hour and stuck it on ebay. I had around twenty messages from all over the world saying the paint job was so much better than the official Games Workshop pics. I took them all with a hefty pinch of salt, but it did get me thinking, "Hey, I could do something with this..."
TN - What advice would you give someone who is interested in taking up miniature painting?
Mike - Good paints, good brushes, decent lighting - if you're right-handed, paint with the light coming in on your left, so your hand's shadow won't get in the way. Start selling on ebay, as you're pretty much guaranteed a sale, and have fun!
TN - And what's next for CornishMikey Painting?
Mike - A holiday! Or a day off, at least...Hell, I'll take a lie-in....
Thanks so much for chatting to me, Mike, it's been a real pleasure - and thanks for sharing these fantastic images of your work. I wish you every success for the future - and I expect I'll see you at Armadacon 2018!
And finally, the big reveal - here is the superb paint job Mike has done on my mini of Aamena! I'm absolutely delighted with it and can't wait to put her in pride of place with my other CornishMikey figures.
Who is Blogging Today?
Sometimes it will be me. At other times, you may well be treated to one of Duseena Lorafiel's herbal remedies, or perhaps Zilyana Yllayra's etiquette tips. Aamena Hinnorwen may pop in to talk about a new skill she has learned. There is always a chance that we may be graced by the presence of His Imperial Majesty the Emperor, who likes nothing better than to discuss the many benefits of the land he rules. There will be maps, sketches, photos, news, character information, guest blogs from other authors... all sorts of different ways for you to delve into the world of the Chronicles.