A Writer’s Voice – The Shepherd’s Crown

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Many apologies for my extended absence this time. I still don’t want to talk about it though. Life happens all the time, to everyone, and whining doesn’t do much for me most of the time. Onward and forward is my preferred go-to. My other go-to is reading. I’ve read some fabulous books these past months, which I will post reviews for later-ish, as well as doing a big comment catch up, but for now I’m thinking about how unique us scribblers are.

Real readers are a discerning bunch. They’re just as much of a tribe as writers are, and it’s not easy to pull the wool over their eyes. They know what their favourite authors sound like. They know what the worlds in their favourite books look and feel like. They recognise the voices coming off the pages, and a lot of the time, if those voices don’t seem quite right, they will go to a lot of trouble to investigate and find out why. A lot of readers can research a lot of writers under the table. Sometimes they will be outraged when they find out the reason for their suspicion and dispense with a one star whopper of a scathing review. But sometimes they’ll just have a good cry, and keep a ten star review forever in their heart when they learn the reason for a book that doesn’t sound or feel as it should in some places.

Reading The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett was a very strange experience for me, and to begin with had me thinking that the publishers should have distributed the original unfinished manuscript to some of his die-hard fans to have a go at before sending it to professional editors. Any professional editor that read the finished book would probably have had a couple of issues anyway, even if they’d never read any other Discworld book before, but still, I thought that a couple of us Pratchett groupies would have done a better job at putting words in some of the character’s mouths. But then I completely changed my mind. The Shepherd’s Crown is perfect exactly as it is.

The thing is, it is full of Pratchett, and reading it from cover to cover, knowing that it is his final book—his swan song—was one of the most moving experiences for me precisely BECAUSE of the places where his voice was missing. It broke my heart, but in a comforting way. It was the only Discworld book that made me cry more than it made me laugh. I don’t want to put any spoilers here, but there was one huge thing that happened in the beginning of the book that was so right (even if it would have been fleshed out a-la-Pratchett a whole lot more if he had had the time to finish this book) for this final tale. You can just see “her” settling down next to him wherever he is now, nodding, accepting a cup of tea, and then heading off into whatever adventures are happening in that new to them world.

I haven’t posted a review for this one on Amazon or Goodreads yet, but I have read a lot of the ones already there, and they are so poignant and loving. How could any Terry Pratchett lover post a bad review for The Shepherd’s Crown? Of course I give it ten out of five stars, and of course I’ll read it again, just as I do all of his other books. A most fabulous and fitting end to the writing of a true legend.

It does just go to show though, how very powerful a brilliant writer’s voice can be. In my “day job” editing the books of Indie authors, I try to be as gentle as possible when it comes to their very unique voices, even if my fingers burn to advise a change to something that I would never dream of writing myself. Yonks ago, when eBooks were still only science-fiction, I remember being about twenty pages into The Running Man by Richard Bachman, when I thought, “This is Stephen King!”, and I was right. You can’t pull the wool over real readers’ eyes, and you really shouldn’t try to.

Thank You and a Few Freebies

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A massive thank you to all who shared my cover reveal post for The Secret Life of People and the request for answers to questions. There has been a HUGE email response and I am very busily answering everyone as well as requesting interviews for future posts with some truly amazing people – and catching up on comments and posts too. If I haven’t answered you yet I promise that it will be by no later than tomorrow. Thank you very much to all of you!

At the same time I am rearranging the layout of the book and adding the results from all of your answers to the questions. I do think that I should have added another question to “Do you believe in life after death?” in the form of “What do you believe happens after death?”, so if anyone feels up to answering that one in the comments or privately it would make me a very happy bunny indeed.

In the few weeks leading to the launch of The Secret Life of People I’m going to be dusting off some of my older books and shorts and putting them on either free promotion or Kindle Countdown deals for anyone who hasn’t read them yet. Currently Echoes of Narcissus and Nkoninkoni are free and African Me & Satellite TV will start its 99 cents Countdown Deal sometime tomorrow if anyone fancies a read. In case you think that Nkoninkoni is some kind of foreign, an especially huge thank you to the very popular author Kevin Cooper for his review of it, which can be found here. While you are there I thoroughly recommend that you start on his own list with a download of Miedo – absolutely brilliant!


What is the Most Horrible Illustrated Book Ever Written

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Any writer who doesn’t collect books is lacking in the tools of their trade in my opinion. No matter how many degrees you have, or how many times you can insert the words thus and henceforth into your manuscript, if you don’t read a whole lot you are missing in your writerly education. Seeing the words thus and henceforth would stop me reading anything by the way, but that could just be a personal weird quirk I suppose. Chuck Wendig thinks that reading The Lord of the Rings is tantamount to the worst kind of abuse with all the oldy worldy stuff, so I’m not in bad company. Loved the movies. Chuck is fabulous in general and in his honest originality – poop bits notwithstanding. I tend to avoid people who use words like that. Go away users of the word thus!  I have a huge collection of books. More than 3000 in my Amazon Cloud alone. The paperbacks that I have are all special though, given that space no longer allows for the piles I had previously accumulated.

I will beat old ladies with sticks at boot sales to lay my hands on a first edition of any sort of recipe book or children’s illustrated book. Among other ancient collections of receipts, as recipes used to be called, I have a first edition Mrs Beeton which is much loved. Apart from the dead parrot recipes and lark’s tongue bits, I love it. Lark’s tongues on the menu – seriously? They are rare (the books – and the lark’s tongues I expect) but finding a really old children’s book in good condition is a much rarer find. Children tend to be a little rough with their books, so they don’t tend to survive as long as recipe books. Looking in general at the children’s books that are most sought after online the other day – as you do, I opened a list of “the most horrible children’s books of all time” thinking that it might be good for a laugh. It was. Then I found lots of people listing The Giving Tree as the most horrible. I had to look.

I tried to read it with an open mind. Some people said that it was a lesson in selflessness. Others said that it had been banned in schools – or libraries – I forget – because it was sexist. I tried really hard to wear my “what we writers write is our business and if you don’t like it you can lump it hat” but I couldn’t keep it on. Adults can mostly see the truth for themselves, apart from those who still think that 50 Shades of Gray is still the best book ever – but children learn from books. In The Giving Tree, the tree loves the man so much that she is prepared to give him anything. He is not backward in coming forward with requests, and soon he has taken her apples, branches, and finally her whole trunk. The fact that the tree is a she and the human is a he might have some meaning, in which case, it is indeed sexist. Finally, the poor tree is left as a stump, and the final illustration in the book is of the man sitting on it.

The overall message I got from this book was that it is loving to be a doormat and take any abuse coming. It is loving to let someone take and take until there is nothing left of you, and then to finally disrespect that nothing by plonking his backside on it. On the other side of the issue, the lesson is – it is fine to take as much as you want from someone who loves you enough to be prepared to give it, no matter how big of a tool you are, and then – when they are all in – it is fine to sit on the bit of them that is left after your selfish depredations. A horrible book indeed.

A couple of years ago I wrote a children’s book (Winnow and Blooey)  – even got around to illustrating a few pages – about a little boy who learns how to respect and care for his badly neglected budgie from a fabulous wild canary after getting lost in the woods, and accidentally shrunk when he got hungry enough to eat a wild mushroom. Yes – I know – magic mushrooms are probably not the best subject for kiddies. When I really got around to thinking about it, I was so terrified about leading young minds in dodgy directions that I trashed it right away. Now I am very happy to illustrate for children’s authors who know what they are doing, but not at all ready to take the chance myself. Whoever published The Giving Tree hopefully meant it for adults, although what the actual message was still eludes me. Also – children like picture books if they can lay their hands on them – no matter who they were intended for, so it is generally dangerous to leave lying around. It has 2659 five star reviews on Amazon – over ninety percent loving readers, but so far, it is the first book, ever, that I have considered giving one star. That seems too much to me so I am going to give it my newly minted MINUS TEN STAR PANTS award. Hopefully it will teach the people who read it that it is a book about how not to behave – both as the tree and the human.



Whacky Books

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I haven’t at all gotten to answer any comments in the past couple of weeks, and I’m SORRY, and I will get there – promise. It’s taken me a whole lot longer than I expected to get back to blogland, and I’m only starting in properly now. It’s been a bit surreal around here lately. I had TWO nasty surprises in the past six weeks, with members of the local bands of rotten criminals trying to open windows at three in the morning, and me seeing them through the windows BOTH times. That brings the number of attempts by them to get in to four altogether, so I must admit that the last one on Good Friday morning knocked me off my perch a bit. There’s something horribly personally, and somehow violently, invasive seeing an actual person right there on the other side of the glass, even if they do run away. Needless to say I haven’t been sleeping the sleep of the just that I so richly deserve, so I’ve been rather bleary. I’m a whole lot better now though, and waiting with eager anticipation for the riot control self defence kit that I ordered, the very presence of which will guarantee me some good snooze time I think.

Other than that I’ve had some lovely work coming my way with many, many thanks to my wonderful supportive friends here, especially Sally Cronin and Chris Graham. I want to give an extra BIG thank you to Chris – The Story Reading Ape for designing my fabulous new logo for my Indie Support Services.

Jo Logo 01
Don’t forget that there are all sorts of things other than covers that he can do for you Indies. From video trailers to banners, maps, and logos like the perfect one he designed for me. Zoom on over and follow him if you aren’t already – he is a wonderful font of help and support for all authors.

It’s so good to be able to finally start getting back to the books I love in all their forms. I found a particularly interesting one called The Voynich Manuscript that I’m sure a lot of you will find fascinating too. It’s been carbon dated to the early fourteen hundreds (1404 to 1438) and is named after the man who bought it in 1912. It’s written in an unknown alphabet – one that to this day has yet to be deciphered even though the most talented code-breakers and linguists have tried since its discovery. It’s filled with drawings of the craziest alien looking plants you could imagine, as well as pictures of women zooming through what appear to be tubes. Then there are astronomical drawings, and finally a couple that look like a combination of plants, the tube zooming females and the astrological designs.




The mind boggles. My mind does anyway. A lot of very staid and well educated personages have found all sorts of realistic explanations for this book, but I’m a writer so not apt to head straight for the boring. I reckon the writer of this most peculiar tome was either from the fourth planet from the central star in the Zerg galaxy, trying to draw a map home because her peers had found a fabulous way to use whacky plant tubes as interstellar transport (I deduce that said writer was female and the reason for the book was that said peers had decided to search for more plant-worthy men on another planet and forgot her behind) or that it was written by an aspiring adult comic book creator born before his time.


Either way—interesting stuff. If you want to download the PDF for a bit of nutty inspiration you can get it at Holy Books. The download is quite big though—over 50MB.

The Amazon Review Policy Elephant in the Room

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The whole Amazon review policy debacle that started a while ago is not going to go away, so we should probably make firm decisions as to the way forward as far as how we are each personally going to review books in the future. There’s a great post covering the whole subject very thoroughly on Anne R. Allen’s site right now – definitely a must read for anyone not a hundred percent sure about what is going on with this issue. I’ve posted on this briefly over at Lit World Interviews a while ago but it’s worth revisiting on a personal level. Anyone with published books on Amazon needs to take this seriously.
Firstly, we must accept that Amazon can, and does, remove books for sale on their site if they feel that the author has violated their terms of service. Many of us have over the years reviewed books by others who have also reviewed books by us, while still blissfully unaware that this was not acceptable by them. Because we zoom around in the same writerly circles it’s inevitable that we’re going to spot and buy books written by authors that we follow online – especially in blogland. I reckon that an author is much more likely to leave a public review of a book that they’ve read. Leaving a review would probably not occur to the majority of readers, and logically in the writing world, reviews from your peers are gold.  Not according to Amazon’s rules though. Now that we are aware of this, and we have seen the review takedowns and author warnings, we have two choices. Continue posting reviews to Amazon for books whose author’s we are online “friends” with, and risk serious repercussions as far as the potential for Amazon closing our KDP accounts is concerned, or only post reviews there for books by authors that we have no contact with at all.
It’s a bit of a mess as far as I’m concerned. I very often seek out the authors of books that I’ve liked, read, and reviewed. I then proceed to follow them all over the place. Reading their blogs inevitably leads to commenting and also quite often, making “friends’. I’m not taking those reviews down after the fact – or any reviews I’ve published so far.  Now that I am aware of what’s going on, I’ll be more careful.  The online writing community is a wonderful place. Writers are different – different in the nicest possible ways. There are some not so nice writers out there to be sure, but they’re generally zooming by at a rate of knots on Twitter demanding that you buy their books and like them on Facebook right away, while not listening to or looking at anyone else, so unlikely to be chatting with anyone who isn’t perceived as some sort of possible benefit to them anyway.
Apart from the good that will come from zapping the real crooks as far as reviews go, this is a shame and a blow for all decent scribblers.  The writers I know are nice – honest, and mellow. Kind, thoughtful and understanding of others. Writers are special. They are broad-minded, funny and so, so truly clever. Adventurous and stubborn in good ways – ways that learn the things that seem impossible to understand to begin with. Sometimes when you look at the torrent of books floating around the ether these days, it’s easy to forget the small core of the real deal scribblers riding the waves in there. You guys who never give up, and keep on writing because you don’t understand not writing, even when your royalties barely keep you in toothpaste. When your book is reviewed by one of your tribe, it’s common for such a kindly soul to be filled with gratitude, and if the reviewer is also a published author, to reciprocate, buy their book, and leave a review if you like it.  That’s become a bit dangerous to do now.
It’s understandable that Amazon want to remove fake reviews, and good news for any potential readers who could be duped into buying something nasty on the strength of them.  It’s also understandable that it would be very difficult for them to process each review individually.  So, sad to say, I don’t think that they can change this stance, or stop the ongoing takedowns. I don’t consider myself a book reviewer, and I don’t review a lot of books publicly, and those mainly for Feed My Reads SA. I also as yet haven’t actually ever posted a review of less than five stars – not because I’m lying – when I don’t think a book deserves a five star review I don’t post it. I don’t want anyone to see me as a book reviewer and I don’t want to post bad reviews. That’s just me though. I honestly think that I should be allowed to post a public review of every book on my Kindle that I’ve legally bought from Amazon, whether I “know” the author online or not
I really don’t think that it’s a good idea to poke a hippopotamus with a stick though. Those guys don’t always behave logically but if they bite you, you’re going to feel it. Same with this situation. Don’t poke that Hippo unless you’re prepared to lose your right to publish your books with them. I think that it’s much wiser to post reviews for the books of your online “friends” everywhere that you can online, except as an actual review on Amazon. You could post the review in the Customer Discussions section on the book’s landing page on Amazon though – that is allowed. As I said, I’m not going to take down any of the reviews I’ve already posted, because each and every one of them was posted in good faith and honestly written about books that I’ve read, but if they do get taken down then there’s not much to do about it. I also have some books on my Kindle that I’ve already bought specifically to review for Feed My Reads SA, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t post those on Amazon on behalf of FMR as I always do.  Not sure now. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t with some of these “rules”.
Definitely have a read of this Amazon FAQ if you’re still not sure where you stand on this subject.


Image Courtesy: Pixabay

I,Asimov Quote Day

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In 1977 I wrote my autobiography.  Since I was dealing with my favourite subject I wrote at length and ended up with 640000 words
Day two of my quote challenge.  Yes, I know that the first one was ages ago.  I’m going to go with another favourite author – Isaac Asimov.  I’ve put a comma instead of a full-stop between I and Asimov by mistake in the image here, and I’m not in the mood to make it again.  So.  Apologies to IA.
Being the memoir junkie that I am, I’ve got rather a large collection of them on my Kindle, mostly by authors, but also others by people I find generally interesting.  I.Asimov is a pretty massive book, and so far I’ve been chapter hopping the titles that have been grabbing my interest, rather than reading it straight through.  He’s jolly lucky that he’s not being paid for pages read.   From a writer’s point of view as well as a fan’s point of view I’m finding it rather fabulous.  He doesn’t at all see any point in being humble in areas of his life that are about his genius, because that’s what he is, but he’s far from being a narcissist.  Ahem.
“Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do – I. Asimov”
He’s hilariously humble about other aspects of his life and personality though, and the bits about his fear of flying and fear of heights really resonates.
As far as I’m concerned, I get the biggest adrenalin rush when a plane takes off – I really do love that feeling of speed and power zooming up into the sky, but you can keep all the rest of the flying malarchy, especially the rottenest bit – THE LANDING.  All not things I’m fond of at all unless couraged up with copious amounts of wine, which is fodder for a whole other true story.  But the heights thing—.  No indeed.  I remember on an outing when I was little, the way some adults reckon that they can just jolly you through your fear, a friend’s mother managed to force me onto a narrow set of stairs between two high buildings.  I got to the middle and looked down.  And down, and down.  I very carefully lay down flat on my face, and ended up losing a fingernail during the following hour of various people trying to pry me loose and carry me to the other side.  Even looking at pictures of heights freaks me out, so just sharing this one has me trying to hold on to the floor with my toes.
 Person of a high mountain ledge
Image Credit:
Here’s a few other little gems from the book:
“Believe me, I’m an acrophobe – I. Asimov”  (I hear you Isaac – me too)
“The instant the roller coaster topped the first and highest rise and began to swoop downward, I reacted like an acrophobe.  I screamed in terror and I hung on desperately to my date, who sat there stolid and unmoved.  I got out of the roller coaster half dead, and if I had been older and had had a less youthful heart, I’m certain it would have killed me.  I. Asimov”
“As the workman staggered back, I reacted like an acrophobe, emitting an unearthly scream. I. Asimov”

Not Dead Yet

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Right. Moving on. The last couple of days have been really interesting – not interesting in a great way though. Directly after the eyeball incident, I cleverly sliced the whole top of my knuckle off with my very strong and sharp kitchen scissors. It was still attached by a thread of skin, so I stuck it back on again and plastered it up with a big pile of Betadine. It’s finally stopped popping open now, so that’s out of the way, but now I have an awesome toothache and I look like a chipmunk, so…. whoever’s sticking pins in a doll that looks just like me, kindly desist.

I missed posting my Ode to Terry Pratchett, and now I just want to catch up again, preferably without incurring any further injuries. All part of this weird collection of tiny injuries coming my way, and Terry Pratchett departing this old rock on my mother’s birthday, and me normally being sad on her birthday because she died so young got me thinking that Terry’s life – my mom’s too – should be celebrated with laughter, quaffing, and ….. stuff….. rather than too much sadness. Death is a trip we’re all going to have to take, and there’s no point in railing against it when it happens. Death is a natural part of life.


What happens on the other side? I’m sure that something happens. I know that a lot of people think that the end is the end – life extinguished – nada. Not me. I don’t believe that our lives are senseless, and I would be well chuffed to be collected by Discworld’s DEATH when it’s my turn to depart this mortal coil. Hey Ho Binky!

We all run from it – avoid it – fear it, and mourn those who are taken by it, often forgetting to appreciate the life that we have right now. Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in seemingly huge problems that we forget to live. Right now I’m grateful to be alive – I plan on having as much fun as I can too. After decades of giving me laughter and comfort, both in good times and bad, Sir Terry Pratchett’s final gift to me seems to be the gift of gratitude. Not only gratitude that I’m alive and well (sort of), but also that by his example I realise that anything is possible if you set out to do it. So in honour of my best loved writerly person, I pledge to appreciate all the days I have left, to do the best that I can, and be the best I can be, and to always remember to laugh. And to scribble – a lot. His having published seventy books is definitely a goal to aim for.

Bon voyage Sir Terry – you’ll be with us always – in laughter, joy, risqué bits and fabulous wisdom. See you on the other side. Rock on.

Dragon Star (2).jpg12

Now – back to living – I’ll be in catch up mode for a couple of days zooming around your blogs – much safer here at my desk – I hope.


Image Credit: Paul Kidby

Terry Pratchett

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I’ve been in love with this man ever since I was a teen and read The Carpet People. I’ve read every little thing he’s ever written multiple multiple multiple times too – they grow my soul and make me laugh like no one else has ever done. Right now I have to take my eyeball to some place where it can vegetate in the closed position, but old one eye or not, I’ll write my tribute to the greatest comedy fantasy writer of all time tomorrow. It will be EPIC. It will be VERY LONG. It will be full of love, and rude humour. In the meantime, I’m pretty sure our Sir Terry had some awesome rat-on-a-stick nibbles out for the reaper, and some knock out Ankh Morpork booze. So sorry that your next book will be written amongst the stars, but those of us who believe in the great A’Tuin – that the turtle moves – know that we will find you again some day. We’ll read your next book there. With me always Sir Terry Pratchett.

Rest In Peace and Never Leave Us.

Photo Credit - The Guardian
Photo Credit – The Guardian

Colleen McCullough

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Colleen McCullough, author of The Thorn Birds died at the age of seventy seven on the 29th January. The Australian wrote this as part of their obituary:

“Australia’s bestselling author was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was nevertheless a woman of wit and warmth.”


Use whatever words you like, but you clearly just called her not pretty and fat with a nice personality in her OBITUARY. That’s where you say nice things people. She’d be charmed I’m sure. I loved The Thornbirds, both the book and the series – the drama, the forbidden love, the serious crush on Richard Chamberlain who played the priest, and the devastation when he came out and I realised we could never be….. Ahem. Colleen McCullough was a stellar author, incredibly intelligent, and nice too. Twitter is currently abuzz with hilarious rude fake obits on the hashtag #myozobituary from all sorts of people including writers like Neil Gaiman. While this is funny, I’m not sure about how appropriate it is for humour to overtake the actual loss of a great writer. No more books from Colleen McCullough.  No more magic will flow from those fingers.

It’s nobody’s business if you’re fat or thin, gorgeous or have the face of a vampire bat sucking a lemon. What you look like shouldn’t define you. What defines you is who you are, what you do, and again, who you ARE. Obviously your looks are important if you’re a model, but even so, those looks aren’t who you are – some very pretty shells cover some very ugly inners.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder anyway.

As a writer I’m hugely offended at what was said in that obituary. We write for you – what we look like has no effect on what or how we write, and most definitely not appropriate to mention in any sort of insulting way. Even if when I die my obituary begins with something like “She was gorgeous till the end, which was only to be expected….” I’d still be hugely offended – even though it’s so obviously true. Writing is an art and our craft. It’s a special craft – it consumes us, and takes over our lives. Give proper credit where it’s due, and not facile allusions to irrelevant perceived faults. Shame on the writer of that sad and shameful sentence – the shame is his, and not on anybody’s body shape. RIP Colleen McCullough – a truly great author and human being. download.jpgCC Photo copyright Louise Donald courtesy Simon & Schuster


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Today is Read Tuesday. There are loads of special deals on offer for those wonderful things that we readers love so much. Books, books, books! My books are priced at .99 cents for the event, and if anyone fancies them just click on the covers in the sidebar on the right.

Definitely make a point of checking out all the fantastic deals and freebies over at the Read Tuesday catalogue though, and build up your pile of reads for 2015.