Sunday, 9 June 2013

Book Review - A Princess of Fae, by Bob Craton

This short novel appears to be an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Terry Pratchett. Although it is reasonably entertaining, the writer lacks Pratchett's formidable experience in his craft, and dare I say, also his commitment to quality. Of course, a writer published by a major mainstream publishing house has access to editing free of charge, something for which an independent author must make his own arrangements, but regardless of the cost of having one's work professionally edited, one cannot but feel that it is money well spent.

Specifically, the work lacked focus and structure, and there was virtually no character development; the characters are flat, like comic book figures. The references to other fantasy worlds were entertaining, but rather repetitive, and it all began rather to pall after a few chapters. I felt this book would have done better as a short story.

This said, there is certainly something there, and it would be worth persevering with; basically, though, I don't think the work was ready for publication.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Excerpt from King's Ransom

Here is an excerpt from my work in progress, provisionally titled King's Ransom:

The sun was low in the sky when John awoke. He lay still for a few moments, savouring the looseness of tired muscles and the cool play of the breeze, refreshingly chill on the damp patch on his face.

The damp patch on his... the damp.... what? John sat up uneasily, putting a hand to his cheek, which felt vaguely slimy. He looked suspiciously around the tiny glade.

Tall oaks rose majestically towards the lavender sky, in which the first faint star of evening was almost, but not quite visible. A single willow leaned gracefully over the chattering brook, seeming to sip daintily from the cold pure water. John had drunk from the brook earlier, and had washed the day’s sweat from his face, enjoying the fresh tang, so much better than the flat stuff from the castle well.

Everything seemed normal. The grassy sward ran down a gentle slope to the brook, unmarred by weeds or any blemish. A chaffinch trilled from somewhere nearby. From the edge of the clearing, a monster glared at him.

Adrenaline surged into his blood like a kick in the stomach. He struggled frantically upright, grabbing at his sword, which he was not wearing. The groping, panicked fingers encountered only a small knife, suitable for trimming quills. John froze.

The monster was large, grey and attenuated, about half again the height of a wolf, with madly staring eyes. A huge mouth gaped open, crammed with rows of enormous, needly-looking teeth. John cast about frantically for a means of escape, wishing he had stayed in the solar with his books, or could fly, or had not been born. The monster moved, angling towards him on long, stick-like legs. Its action was rather like that of a praying mantis, John decided, the thought floating transparently across the surface of his stalled mind.

Could he get to his horse in time? John cast frantically about. The horse was nowhere in sight. Besides, he’d loosened the girth when he stopped here. What about leaping up a tree? He glanced upwards, hopefully, and saw sky. The monster was between him and the trees. It was edging closer. John took a step back and fell into the stream.

The stream was cold; not deep, but unpleasantly lined with pebbles. John scrambled to his knees, tugging desperately at his penknife. Water! Perhaps the monster was a troll and could not cross running water. Holding up his now saggy breeches, John lurched across the stream and squelched out, almost losing a shoe.

As he turned, he was just in time to see the monster sail gracefully across the stream.

“Ave Maria, gratia plena -” was all John could get out before the monster was upon him. It fetched him a mighty blow with its foot. John, overwhelmed, fell over. The monster leaned over and licked his face, delicately. Its beard was slimy. John screwed his eyes up tightly and commended his soul to God and St Wulfstan.

He waited to die, cold, alone, and damp. The sun had gone right off the ground now, and it was quickly becoming quite chilly. There was no priest to hear his confession and bring him the comfort of the church in his last moments. There were no wailing maidservants. There was no trouvère to immortalise his dying battle. Perhaps just as well, John thought ruefully, becoming aware that once again he had failed to Measure Up.

A volley of loud clopping sounds assailed his shrinking ears. Well, John decided, at least he would die with his eyes open, thereby not being totally shamed in his own eyes and those of the world. Not that there would be anything left of him to find; the monster had definitely looked as though it needed a square meal.

He edged his eyes open a tiny way and squinted out. The monster was lying down a few feet away. The noise was made by it rapidly snapping its ferocious jaws together, quickly and repeatedly, as it tossed its head about. John opened his eyes the rest of the way, forgetting to be alarmed in his astonishment. This was nothing like the behaviour he had been led to expect from monsters. First they roared, then they ravened, then they either devoured you or were vanquished in single combat and their heads stuffed and hung in the hall. There might be details about their eyes gleaming like the coals of hell, hot sulphurous breath, etc etc.

John sat up cautiously. Catching the movement, the monster crawled over towards him, dragging itself along on its elbows and belly, and whining. It put its head down on the grass and stared up at him, making him feel that something was expected of him. This was nothing new; John had spent his life with a vague feeling that something was expected of him and he had no idea what.

Well, he was going to die anyway. Probably going to die, a small voice of hope whispered to him. Almost certainly going to die, he corrected it sternly. He reached out to pat the monster’s head. It whined again, and licked his hand.

A friendly monster? John supposed there must be such things, but he had never heard of one. He looked again. Viewed with calmer eyes, it was rather an ordinary-looking monster as these things go. There were no twisted horns dripping gore, or extra heads, or bats’ wings. Lying down, it really looked more like a pile of dirty rags than anything else. And wasn’t there something teasingly familiar about the position in which it had arranged itself? With one front leg sticking out and the other hidden? Didn’t it really look a bit like a hound, sort of? John just wasn’t sure.


Excerpt - King's Ransom

King's Ransom excerpt, continued....

Of course, if the monster were really friendly, as it now seemed to be, John faced a really horrifying dilemma, worse in some ways than if it were ravening. There was no precedent in any of the tales and songs for dealing with a friendly monster. Of course, you killed monsters, but then they were always trying to kill you. Might it not be dishonourable to, as it were, murder one? On the other hand, it was practically a Sacred Duty to slay monsters. God’s Legs, they practically existed to be slain. It might be a craven and cowardly act not to kill it. On the other hand, it was looking at him so trustingly, he didn’t think he could do it even if armed with the sword that in his minds’ eye he could see so clearly, propped in a corner of the solar, the cheerful flames dancing off its gleaming scabbard from the fireplace.

Suddenly John wanted a hot bath more than anything in the world.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Interview with Patti Roberts - on writing episodic fiction, and the Witchwood Estate series

My guest today is Patti Roberts.
Ms Roberts is the author of the well known Paradox Series, and the phenomenally popular new Witchwood Estate series.

TC: Welcome to my blog, Ms Roberts, and thank you for coming.
In your new series, Witchwood Estate, you've departed from the conventional novel format. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Patti Roberts: Well, sometimes I think people just enjoy a quick read - nothing too overwhelming - the young and the not so young.

TC: And this new format, episodic fiction, certainly provides that. How did you come up with the idea for it?

Patti Roberts: I love TV series, so I thought that I would like to use that same format in ebooks - I believe episodic fiction is perfect for the ebook format. I think the series would also adapt into a great graphic novel, or comic - not to mention a TV series.

TC: That's an intriguing thought - a TV series. These Witchwood books are very visual, and would adapt well to a television format, I'm sure. Whom would you get to play the leading roles, if you had the choice?

Patti Roberts: That’s a very good question. The first actress I thought of for a Witchwood Estate character was Aria Montgomery, from Pretty Little Liars, to play Kat Abbots.

TC: And how about the big one - Alexandria? Any candidates in mind for her?

Patti Roberts: You know, I haven't had time to source any others yet - Kat's character just jumped out and me when I saw a pic of Aria on facebook - I said Yep. That's Kat! I would love readers to let me know who they think would make a great actress to play Alexandria - blond and sweet - maybe Britt Robertson, from Secret Circle, and for River, Chris Zylka from the same show.

TC: Well, there you go, readers - your opportunity to have your own input to this phenomenally popular series when it's televised!
So, from the point of view of the actual craft, how does writing this way, in episodes, compare with your previous experiences of writing more conventional novels? How has your work style had to change to accommodate the new format?

Patti Roberts: It hasn't changed that much at all, other than working to a shorter deadline. They are shorter stories, so for that reason it takes less time to finish an episode. I'd really like to bring out a new episode every six to eight weeks, but due to other commitments I can't manage that right now. Soon, hopefully, because I really love writing this series. It also really helps having them edited as I go, then a final edit at the end just before publication.

TC: Yes, and I'm sure your readers appreciate your commitment to quality in your work. So, what would you say are the main benefits to working this way?

Patti Roberts: I like to think I work better under pressure. I love knowing that the next instalment is only months away at the most - not a year as is quite often the case with larger novels. And so many more opportunities for cliffhanger endings - I know some people hate that, but I am not one of them.

TC: And the downside, if any?

Patti Roberts: In my opinion none! I way prefer TV series to movies - they last longer, and you have more opportunities to bond with the characters. Although I do understand that some stories suit a movie version rather than a TV series.

Interview with Patti Roberts - On Writing Episodic Fiction, and the Witchwood Estate series - part II

TC: Indeed! And is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers today? Anything perhaps about your coming episode, or anything at all?

Patti Roberts: Just that I am so thrilled with this new series! An author friend of mine (Patricia Puddle) asked me today - "Do you ever take a day off for fun?" my answer was ... "Writing is fun. And taking a day off from it is not." I may not write every day, but my mind is constantly ticking over with new ideas, new twists, new plots, characters ... cliffhangers - now that is FUN! I love brainstorming with Leslie Hansford - we have spent hours doing that. FUN! Book 3 has a few new twists. A death ... and another new main Character introduced to sweep our leading ladies off their feet ...
Oh, and I can't finish without mentioning my wonderful team that help me make each episode of Witchwood Estate a reality:
Tabitha Ormiston-Smith - Proofreading & Editing, Leslie Hansford – Proofreading, Plot and Storyline Assistant, Chris Taylor (The Pagan Wildwood) – Poems, and Kathleen Evans (RavensWing), Advisory Witch.

Well, there you have it, readers - could episodic fiction be the next big thing to hit the publishing world? It certainly worked for Mr Dickens. Send your thoughts on this to me at
And if you have an opinion on who should play Alexandria in the television series of Witchwood Estate, send your nomination to Ms Roberts at One lucky reader will win free e-copies of episodes 1 and 2 of Witchwood Estate.


And finally, here is the author's dream cast.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


Another of the errors that I often see is inappropriate word choice following from an apparent failure to understand the difference between "in" and "into", and between "on" and "onto".

This difference is actually quite simple, and can be summed up by saying that where there is a "to", there is always movement. It's quite logical, isn't it - when you move, you go from one place TO another place. Hence, whenever you are writing about some situation where there is movement, whether implied or express, then "into" and "onto" are the go. When the situation is static, it's "in" and "on".

For example, consider the old and popular saying, "The cat sat on the mat." A cat sitting is not going anywhere. Therefore "on" is quite appropriate. "The cat sat onto the mat" is just wrong, right?
However, this isn't where the majority of people go astray. The common mistake is in using "in" or "on" when the situation is dynamic.

Consider this sentence: "He placed his gun on the desk."

This is another of the same form as "The cat sat on the mat." When you place something somewhere, there it sits, static and unmoving. "On" is therefore quite appropriate - but look at what happens when we change the verb to something that indicates movement.

"He slid his gun on the desk."

Now this is the single most common mistake that I see being made in this context. Let's look at why it is wrong. The sentence now shows us a man sliding a gun about on the surface of a desk - but that is not what the author meant - the sliding was to be how the gun got from his hand to the desk - he slid it on. Do you see how using the wrong word has completely altered the sense of the sentence? If we say, more correctly, "He slid his gun onto the desk," we see, as we are meant to do, the man sliding the gun onto the desk.

Similarly with "in" - I very often see sentences like "She walked in the room." This is particularly rife among American writers, and of course their spoken dialect allows this usage in casual speech, at least among certain groups. But in narrative, again, it distorts the meaning of the sentence away from what the writer intends. "She walked in the room" is equivalent to "she walked in the garden" - i.e. she was in the room walking about. But when the sentence is meant to depict the person entering a room, it is misleading, and if despite this the writer's true meaning is evident from the context, it looks rough and illiterate.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Hyphens Made Easy

One of the most common problems that I encounter in my work is a lack of understanding of what a hyphen is for, and a resulting inappropriate use of it.

In the most common situation in which there is an opportunity to use a hyphen, there is a noun and two adjectives. For example: silver-haired gentleman. Late-blooming flowers.

The hyphen is used to show more clearly the relationship between the noun and its accompanying adjectives.

In order to know whether to use a hyphen or not, you need to establish what these relationships are. There’s an easy way to do this.

For each adjective, ask yourself whether the adjective describes a quality of the noun, or is there to modify the other adjective.

EG: silver haired gentleman. In this case, we ask ourselves: Does the gentleman have hair (haired)? Yes, he does, so “haired” modifies the noun.
Is the gentleman silver? NO! He is not. It is the HAIR that is silver. Therefore, silver goes with haired, and a hyphen should be used (silver-haired).

In the second example, “late blooming flowers”, the same process is used. Do the flowers bloom? Yes, they do! So blooming modifies the noun. Are the flowers late? NO! It is their blooming that is late. Therefore, late goes with blooming, and a hyphen should be used.

There are some cases where this does not happen. Consider, for instance, “big strong man”. Is the man strong? Yes. Is the man big? YES! Therefore, you see, BOTH adjectives go with the noun. In this case you do not use a hyphen; they are two separate attributes and so each stands alone. Just separate them with a comma: “big, strong man”.

Ask yourself these questions every time you have two adjectives with a noun. After a while, it will become automatic and you won’t have to think about it.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Now I Have Seen Everything!

I opened the little gold box with some anticipation. It had been a gift from my niece, part of a gift basket, and I'd been saving it for some special happy occasion. Tonight, on the eve of my birthday, seemed like the right time.

The soap didn't look like anything special - in fact it looked exactly like the udder soap my school friend used to have on her dairy farm. That udder soap, though, I remembered, was great stuff. We used it to make our hair shiny.

I smelled it, wondering if it would go with either or both of my current perfumes. There's nothing worse than a nasty clash between your soap and your cologne. It didn't smell like anything particular either. That surprised me; with a pretentious name like Solid Gold, I expected it to be scented at least. I looked at the box. Solid Gold bath soap, weight when packed, 100g. OK. I turned the box over. It was a product of a company called Universal Brands Pty Ltd - an oxymoron if ever I'd heard one. I was looking to see what it was supposed to smell like, if anything. Then I read the following:

Directions: Work soap into a lather, smooth on body with moistened hands or wash cloth, then rinse.

Is this what we have come to? Where people need directions on how to use a bar of soap? This scares me worse than the terrifying list of chemical ingredients.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

FACING THE DAY 101 - For when you just can’t.


OK. You're majorly depressed. You cannot face the day or your life. You have been staring at the ceiling for 2 hours without mustering the ability to leave your bed unless bladder pressure got you to the bathroom.

I want you to do one thing. Just one. Get up and make your bed.

Do not take this as a sign to yourself that you have to stay up. Once your bed is made, you can get right back in and stay there all day if you still want to. I will not say anything.

Making your bed is a little gift to yourself. You are making that bed a haven, pleasant and comfortable to get into whenever you do decide to. Whether it is in 5 minutes or 16 hours. Remember - it is your bed and you can get in it any time you want.

Smooth out the bottom sheet and arrange the pillows nicely. Tuck in the blankets if you have them, or just lay out the doona. Whatever it takes. If you are really at rock bottom and there are no sheets on the bed, go and get some and put them on.

There, you have done it. Take a moment to admire your work. DO NOT look around at your messy room. We are focussing on the bed here. It is really nice and it is all for you because you deserve it.

Right, now you can get back in bed if you still want to. But perhaps you feel you might be able to manage a small step forward? If so, read on.


We are heading for the bathroom. Brush your teeth and get under the shower. This is not the time to save water. Be generous with the hot water and let it relieve your kinked shoulders and aching back. Wash your hair if it needs it. It probably does. When you get out, don't just dry off and leave it there. Get yourself up as if you were going out or to work. Use your gel, mousse, blow dryer, whatever you use to make yourself look nice. Put on makeup if you wear it. Use your moisturiser. Shave if you're a guy. Spray on scent if you have it.

Don't you feel better?

Don't stop here, go back to your room and get dressed. Really dressed, in clean stuff from your closet, not trackies from the floor or under your bed. Jeans and a t-shirt is fine, but they should be clean ones, and you must wear your shoes. Don't be afraid to wear your shoes, you can take them off just as easily as you put them on. Get out a clean handkerchief if you use them.

Now take a look at yourself in a mirror. A full-length one if you have one.
Smile. Come on you can paste one on your face. Notice how nice you look. Remember you are not looking and comparing yourself to someone you saw in some dodgy fashion magazine. You are comparing yourself to what you saw when you first walked in the bathroom (if you even let yourself look :)) Don't worry about what anyone else thinks of your looks. How dare they even have an opinion?

You will notice two things. One is that you are way, way better looking than you thought you were. The second thing is that you are a lot more capable than you thought half an hour ago.

There; you have done really well. Now, if you still want to, you can go back to bed.