Be blown away with paint!

The school holidays seem to be particularly dreary this year. The toddler seems to have fallen slightly out of love with painting so I decided to come up with a new method to renew her passion. 


This was a super-simple, fun and VERY messy project and one we both enjoyed. Seriously though, if you decide to try it, paint goes EVERYWHERE so make sure you put lots of paper down.


Those who know me, know I’m terrible at drawing (I once drew a stick an with three knees….) but luckily ‘Moon’ from the toddlers new favourite show (Sarah & Duck) is easy enough for even my cack-handedness to draw. I also did a few other simple outlines, including a tree, Spidergirl and a hedgehog.


Next, it was time to pour the paint. I bit of trial and error taught us that small drops, fairly close together worked better.


Then it was time to blow!


It was fun trying different lengths of straw and different ‘blowing’ techniques from short, sharp puffs, to longer blows while moving the straw around. They created surprisingly different results.


The tree is a little abstract.


Spider girl turned into a Deadpool/Venom hybrid. We used slightly too much paint on this one….


And here’s Moon, waving on his way to work.

Have you tried blow-painting? How did you get on? Let me know in the comments below! 

Things That Go Bump In The Night

‘Monster!’ Christopher pointed a small, pudgy finger towards the wardrobe, hugging his teddy bear tightly.

His mum, Sarah, lay him gently down in his bed. ‘No, sweetie, there’s no monsters in your wardrobe,’ she said, tucking his blankets around him.

Christopher sat up and pointed again. ‘Monster, mummy.’ Sarah looked into his saucer eyes and signed inwardly.

Forcing a smile to her face she rose and crossed to the wardrobe in the corner of the room. She made a dramatic show of opening the doors and rummaging through the few items of clothing hanging on their small hangers. She lifted out the boxes of toys and even lifted out his tiny shoes and peeked into each. ‘See? No monsters. Now, time for bed.’

‘Bed. Monsters. Bed, mummy.’ Christopher started waving under the bed, tears springing to his eyes.

‘That’s enough Christopher,’ his father, Mike, stood wearily at the door. Sarah threw him a sharp look. ‘What?’ he asked. ‘We go through this nonsense every night. There’s no monsters in the wardrobe or under the bed. Playing along just encourages him. Come on, you little monster. You’re the scariest thing in this room, so off to bed.’

‘Dr Jenkins said we shouldn’t dismiss his fears,’ hissed Sarah.

‘Well Dr Jenkins can spend three hours putting him to bed every night as I’m fed up with eating cold dinners.’

Sarah glared at her husband before quickly forcing a smile to her lips and stroking her son’s cheek. She reached under his cot and pulled out a stuffed toy. She brought it to her lips and whispered in its ear before handing it to her son. ‘Now Chris, I’d like you to meet Mega Mo. He’s a monster eater and I’ve just asked him to look after you all night, ok?’

Christopher looked at his mum, then at the toy. he chewed his lip as he studied Mega Mo. Mega Mo had a small, squat body, clad in denim dungarees. Small black leather boots stuck out the bottom, laces tied neatly in a bow. His arms were disproportionally long and muscular, the stitching etching out his fingers of his broad hands. However, it was his face that Christopher spent the longest studying – it was circular with two small, black eyes made from buttons, two cloth ears stuck out at 90degrees from his head and wool stuck out the top to form hair. It was his mouth which Christopher spent the longest looking at as it was overly wide, almost slicing his head in half. Velcro stuck his lips together, but it opened easily as Christopher pulled. Mega Mo’s mouth was empty, just a cloth bag.

‘As if he wasn’t already seeing monsters, you’re giving him one to sleep with,’ muttered Mike.

‘Dr Jenkins suggested it as a comforter. Mega Mo isn’t afraid of anything, Christopher and he look after you, ok? Now, lights out, time for sleep.’ Sarah rose and before Christopher could complain moved to the door, flicking off the light. His parents paused in the doorway, giving their eyes a moment to adjust to the assorted night lights Christopher insisted light his room. ‘Night, sweetie,’ said his mum.

‘Night son,’ his dad called, already heading to the kitchen.

Within a few minutes Christopher head the ping of the microwave as his parents reheated their dinners and the television as they flicked through the channels.

Christopher hugged Mega Mo to his chest as he sat in his cot. He knew they were out there, waiting. Every night since they had moved into the new house was the same: the monsters under his bed would wake him up. Christopher didn’t know why they did these things, other than to torment him. He’d hear them giggling, their long fingers curling around his blankets before dragging them off of him. He’d feel their breath on his face as they flicked his ears and their sandpaper skin as they yanked his feet. Christopher squeezed his eyes closed tightly and pretended to go to sleep. Sometimes they didn’t bother him if he was asleep. Sometimes.

The familiar scratching started at his wardrobe door, one long fingernail dragged across the wood, slowly at first, then in faster, shorter bursts until the door creaked open. A low buzz filled the room, causing the bars on Christopher’s cot to rattle. He closed his eyes more tightly, covering them with his small hands, fingers splayed over his face.

His cot was moving now, bouncing on the carpet as the creatures bounded out from underneath. Christoper started shaking. It sounded like more of the creatures were coming than had ever before. The giggling creatures moved around the room, their long claws plucking at the carpet as Christopher continued to shake, tears free-flowing down his cheeks.

The sound of velcro ripping made him pause. He desperately didn’t want to take his hands away from his eyes, but curiosity finally pulled them down to his sides. He started to reach for Mega Mo, only to discover the toy was no longer by his side. Christoper quickly scanned his bed, his blanket rumbled beside him, his bottle the other side, but the stuffed toy was nowhere to be seen.

A squeak from under the bed drew his attention. He hesitantly reached for the bars of his cot, but pulled back when he heard another squeak, followed by a thump. His cot rattled, then stilled.

Swallowing hard, Christopher peered through the bars. He saw Mega Mo on the floor, his broad arms swinging like a windmill, his club hands knocking the creatures down. He paused, scooping up several of the creatures and, grinning widely before opening his mouth and dropping the screaming creatures into the chasm. A blue felt tongue whipped around, licking his lips before he started chasing more of the creatures around the room, gulping them down as he caught them. Christopher watched as Mega Mo ate all of the creatures until there was one left, cowering in the corner. He chittered to Mega Mo who smiled before launching himself at the creature. In one fluid move he swallowed it whole. He stood upright and surveyed the room. Christopher followed his gaze and for the first time, he listened to the silence of his room.

‘Wow, I can’t believe he’s asleep!’ whispered Sarah, retaking the blankets that had slipped from around Christopher’s shoulders.

‘I know, he’d normally have screamed by now,’ muttered Mike. ‘Told you it was just a phase.’

‘Or Mega Mo helped. Where is that toy anyway?’ Sarah’s foot nudged against something. She looked down and saw Mega Mo. ‘What are you doing out of Christopher’s cot? I told you to protect him.’ She bent to pick up the toy. ‘Blimey, you’re heavier than I remember.’

‘Forget about the toy,’ hissed Mike, ‘Just enjoy the tranquility.’

Sarah tucked Mega Mo in next to Christoper who instinctively hugged him. He smiled in his sleep, dreaming of monsters, and those who ate them.

I’m The Big Interview: Lois Kay

It’s funny and ironic but some of the loveliest Brits I’ve met have been one my travels and this is true of Lois. We both worked in Spain and would celebrate the end of a working week each Thursday (Feliz Jueves!) as we worked our way along Calle Laurel, tasting pinchos and wine as we went. Happy days!

Lois recently undertook the ‘plastic challenge’ from the Marine Conservation Society where she gave up using single-use plastic for a month and spoke to me about how it went. Lots of hints and tips which I’ll be using for my Earth Day Pledges.

GCH: Can you briefly tell us about your no plastic challenge?

LK: Promoted by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) for the month of June 2017, I didn’t use any food, cosmetics, toiletries or cleaning products contained within single use* packaging http://www.mcsuk.org/plasticchallenge/

Together with the MCS I tried to raise awareness of the reality which is that many single use plastic items end up in our seas and on our beaches, where they persist and impact our marine life and that nearly of these items we really didn’t need in the first place.

*a single use plastic is anything which has a very short lifespan in terms of its usage. Think of a plastic bag containing rice which rarely would get re-used, pots of ready prepared sliced fruit with a plastic film over the top – not resuable at all.

GCH: What motivated you to take part in a ‘no plastic’ challenge?

LK: I wanted to see whether it was possible, to see what positive changes I might be able to bring about amongst friends and colleagues. I love snorkeling and swimming in the sea, and it makes me so sad to see such a beautiful natural environment often damaged by humans wastefulness.


GCH: Did you need to buy anything new to help you with your no plastic challenge?

LK: Yes a lot!

I generally cook with fresh ingredients so that was just making the change from convenience shopping where the fruit and veg is in packaged in punnets to buying loose and visiting local fruit&veg shops – which I really enjoyed, and wish I had done more of before.

But then I realised that food really wasn’t the main problem – my toiletries, cosmetics and cleaning products are all in plastic packaging. So…I made a lot of things from scratch, didn’t wear make-up for the month aside from my homemade mascara (burn almonds until charcoal, and mix with vaseline), and have now switched permanently to Lush shampoo and conditioner bars. I also invested in a metal safety razor to replace disposable plastic ones.

GCH: What’s been the most challenging aspect of the challenge so far?

LK: Snacks. Everything in the shop bar fruit is wrapped in plastic! There’s only so much fruit you can eat! Once I found cashews, pistachios and almonds loose in a local Asian shop together with dates it got a bit better, and I have made quite a few cakes, biscuits, and my mum did make a batch of homemade crisps for my birthday party!

I didn’t manage to find pasta or noodles not in plastic anywhere so went without one of my favourite meals – pad thai in June!

GCH: Do you think it will be easy to continue once the 30 days are over?

LK: A lot of things now seem so easy. The first few weeks giving up Singe Use Plastics were really hard trying to find alternatives to my normal shop but now I have figured out a lot of it, I am going to continue with switching away from plastics as far as possible.

GCH: Any hints or tips for people looking to do the same challenge, or to even simply reduce the amount of single-use plastic they use?

LK: The four big nasties ending up in the oceans are Plastic Bags, Plastic Bottles, Plastics Straws, and Plastic Coffee Cups. I ask everyone to really try and unless an emergency, find alternatives or just do-without.

  • Make it fun and not a chore, spend a Sunday exploring your local shops and see what plastic free products you can find. Find a how-to online and make your own soap or lipbalm.
  • Stock up on glass jars and containers for all your lovely homemade products.
  • Talk to people about what you’re doing, You will feel empowered, people can be inquisitive and perhaps defensive about their habits to begin with but once you sow the seed in their minds, you will get a lot of respect and more

GCH: What other things have you done/will you do to minimise your carbon footprint?

LK: Cycle as much as possible and not just for recreation. Since I bought a second hand bike with a pannier rack (I am a big fan of bungee cords now!) I can go on adventures around Greater Manchester and do my shopping. You can travel through parks and along canal towpaths – something which you definitely can’t do in a car.

GCH: You’ve travelled extensively. Has seeing how different countries approach recycling and refuse disposal influenced you?

LK: It was sad to see the state of some of the laybys and waterways in Cambodia and Phillipines filled with rubbish but they are some of the loveliest people I have ever met and also some of the poorest. If they had access to the same infrastructure and education we have here in the UK, they and their environment would benefit in so many ways.

In the flip side, I don’t know how England is so far behind some of our European neighbours who pay a deposit for plastic bottles and on their return, the bottles are re-used. Knowledge and awareness around packaging and recycling, and the benefits of the basics of reducing and reusing could be so much better here!

GCH: We’re constantly asked if we have a favourite country and it’s always so difficult to choose because everywhere we’ve visited has been special. Do you have a favourite country or place?

LK:
• Cambodia for beaches and rivers
• Barcelona for its architecture
• Bangkok for its amazing buzz
• Manchester – my home
• Greece – for the food and friendly people

GCH: You’ve lived abroad. Any hints for people planning to move to a foreign country? How do you integrate yourself with the locals?

LK:
• Speak the native language at every opportunity
• A smile will help overcome what may seem like many barriers in communication and will make you so many friends along the way
• Admit when you need help or even just a hug.

GCH: Where would you like to visit again?

LK: Budapest in summer! I visited in December, and the -8 temperature made sightseeing a little tricky. I’v also heard in summer they have amazing roof terrace bars. That said, one of my most memorable travel experiences was sitting in the dark in an outdoor 30 degree pool in Budapest whilst snow fell around me.

 

Have you done the plastic challenge? Let us know in the comments below.

The Big Interview: Kalkidan Legesse

One of the things I love about where we live is that there are so many independent shops selling a range of local, handmade and ethical products. One of my favourites is ‘Sancho’s Dress‘ which sells ethical and sustainable clothing. Co-owner, Kalkidan Legesse has a fantastic eye for fashion and all will fit you with the perfect outfit, either for a special occasion or day-to-day wear.

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I spoke to Kalkidan about her inspiration for Sancho’s Dress, how she selects pieces for the shop and what she has planned for the future.

GCH: Your inspiration for Sancho grew after your travels through Ethiopia. That’s an unusual destination for tourists, so what drew you to the region?

KL: Well the main reason is because I am Ethiopian. My family migrated to the UK when I was 5, and I grew up in Reading with a warm and family orientated Ethiopian community. We returned to Ethiopia for the first time when I was around 15 and then when I was 20 I returned again to work for the NGO World Vision Ethiopia for a 6 month period. As is the case for many first generation immigrants I sought to understand the country and culture that I was from to find some answers to the questions I held about myself. In Ethiopia I was first introduced to weaving, spinning, design and the textile markets of Africa’s largest outdoor market. I fell in love with the skill, the joy and the life of making and the independence and dignity of the makers themselves.

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GCH: Can you tell us a little about Sancho and its ethos?

KL: Sancho’s is a sustainable clothing company that helps people, mainly here in the UK, find clothing and gifts which have been made in a way that protects the environment and helps makers to thrive in their craft. We curate contemporary slow fashion pieces at affordable prices, striving to connect brands which are doing amazing work to you. We have jewellery made by communities who, before their current work, lived in the largest slums in the world. 90% of our cotton clothing is made from organic cotton, protecting land from deteriorating and farmers from cycles of life threatening debt. It all makes a positive impact in the world by fighting poverty and climate change.

GCH: Given the disposable, cheap fashion available in stores, how do you aim to change people’s perception of ethical, fair trade and quality clothes?

KL: I believe the most important thing is that we exist, we provide an example of an alternative, of clothing which is made to last and ethically made, clothing which of course is beautiful. Then people are put in the position where they need to make a decision, I think some people are more conscious of this than others, which is natural as with all social movements there are early actors and late actors and people who are never too keen.

I also think that we need to be working hard to provide options for people, we are working to carry larger ranges with more items in them..think swimwear.. so that people can choose.

Finally outreach is important, we use our instagram and facebook pages to talk about the ethos of our business and help people understand that organic clothing can be as significant as organic food and that fair trade is as powerful if not more so as aid in lifting people out of poverty.

Its all a work in progress but  I think we’ll get there.

GCH: How do you ensure your products are ethical, fair trade and organic?

KL: We have a sourcing criteria for the shop to make sure all the styles we carry are doing good in the world. The first is certification, there are some amazing audit bodies like GOTS, WFTO, BAFTS and the Fairtrade Foundation which set out a criteria for cotton farmers, and garment manufactures to follow in order to minimise their environmental impact and ensure poverty alleviation. These are often called the ‘10 Fair trade principles‘ and they protect the workers rights, ensure safe and fairly paid conditions and absence of forced work. We source 70% of our items from fully certified brands. The remaining 30% is sourced from designer-makers, usually made here in Devon. They are independent, and usually at least partially self employed, and their craft helps them to earn a portion of their living.

GCH: What makes you different from other stores on the high street?

KL: Profits are not the basis of our business, we are motivated by the belief that we can make a difference in the world by helping people to reduce their carbon footprint and to connect them with makers in the UK and in some of the most impoverished areas of the world.

We also spend a lot of time with our customers helping them to find items of clothing that suit them, make sense in their wardrobe, clothing which they can wear on a multitude of occasions and will last them at least more than 30 wears.

GCH: What’s your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur and working for yourself?

KL: I love that work is as serious or as playful as I need it to be, my partner and I can go from concentrating on strategic meetings to dancing to whatever is on BBC 6. There is a lot of joy in working with someone you love and trust, whose vision you share.

GCH: What would you say are the top three skills needed to be successful?

KL: I would say you have to be willing to learn, they are so many mistakes to make and you will probably make them all, and unless you can reflect on that and improve you’ll just go in circles. You have to be able to communicate your idea and the value of it, people are bombarded by different causes and worries in the world not to mention their own lives so unless you can speak to them you wont hold their attention. Finally, you have to enjoy your work, there is a LOT of hard and dull aspects of being an entrepreneur and unless you can find joy in them, or in between them you are not going to have much fun.

GCH: I love your Instagram account. How important is social media to your business?

KL: It is the primary way in which we communicate with our customers and friends so I would say it is of huge importance to our business. Social media is fantastic as it works to start leveling the playing field between huge companies and independents, it has allowed us to capture the attention of our customers in a way that other business on the high street, with less heart, can’t and something like a TV ad probably wouldn’t have.

GCH: What are your plans for Sancho in the future?

KL: So many plans, I want there to be a sustainable shop that everyone in the UK can access within the next 10 years. We’re currently laying down the groundwork for the next shop so we’ll see if we can make that dream a reality.

GCH: What’s your favourite or most meaningful piece you’ve sold in Sancho?

KL: What a lovely question, everything we sell is hand picked, tested and curated by me so I feel an attachment with all of it. The past few days, when I’ve been walking through town or by the river I’ve seen a few dozen people wearing items from Sancho’s, and each time my heart leaps. I never know if I should introduce myself or if that would be too weird, but yeah at the moment I don’t have a favourite item but I absolutely love seeing people wear our collections.

GCH: Who has been your greatest inspiration?

KL: Well I’m a fortified member of the Beehive and I am in awe of Beyonce’s bold and brazen power, creativity and femininity as the mug says ‘Beyonce has the same hours in a day as you’ so I try to remind myself. More deeply though I love and respect my parents and all that they sacrificed and invested in order to raise me and my sister in the UK. From my experience, migrating to another country is one of the hardest journeys to take so I see their strength and perseverance as a source of my own.

GCH: What drew you to Exeter?

KL: I came to Exeter university to study PPE and I stayed because of the amazing people, the liberal and inclusive community and the easy access to fish and chips by the sea!

GCH: It’s no secret that I love books and there are some special ones I always keep close by. Do you have a favourite book and why?

KL: I have to say I haven’t read a lot recently although I have 11 more books to read before the end of the year. Now that I’ve told you the context, I love the poetry of E.E Cummings, disjointed yet whole – it’s beautiful. I love Othello, the perception of black males in western society hasn’t moved too far forward and it is eternally relevant. I loved the vampire novels of Anne Rice I grew up with a crush on Lestat rather than Edward of Jacob. I’m reading a few management books at the moment haha, they are not so exciting. And if podcasts count, they count right? I’ve completely addicted to the Serial series right now.

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GCH: Your passion for your work is clear, but what do you do in your spare time? (if you have any!)

KL: In my spare time I like to run, to cycle, to see my friends to hang out with my boyfriend. We have this thing where we harmonise badly on acoustic songs which we enjoy a little too much. I’ve always loved writing poetry so I’m trying to do more of that. I love to travel, so I like to make plans in my mind and wish them into reality, I have 3 trips planned this summer so it’s kinda working.

GCH: Tell us a secret.

KL: Hmm, lets see… I a huge star trek fan and wish I got to speak about that more often. Does that count? If not DM me. (GCH. You all know we love our geek shows here! I’ll let you decide who the best ‘Enterprise’ Captain is, although I do love Picard personally)

If you’d like to know more about what Kalkidan is up to, check out her blog, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram

Writer Wednesday: The Battle In the Blue I Didn’t Win…..

I’ve been pouring over my assorted writings in an attempt to get organised and I came across this piece, written but never submitted for a competition/anthology (it was written a long time ago so I can’t remember which). For assorted reasons I never finished it and have never returned to it until now.

Sometimes a story comes to you and it’s easy, a joy, simplicity itself to write. The characters are chatting and responsive to your guidance, the landscapes pour onto the page and as always the villain gets their comeuppance after a suitably exciting battle. And then there are the stories which, frankly don’t work. There’s no one reason why: could be that the characters aren’t fully formed in your mind, or your plans just aren’t fusing. Could be that you’ve only seen one ‘scene’ and there’s not enough for a complete story.

And that’s the case with ‘The Battle of the Deep (or The Battle of Ineray)’. I remember the submission asking for a short story set under the sea. I immediately saw a battle brewing between different sea creatures, with two ambassadors trying to stop the battle. I think I was partially influenced by the Gungans undersea home from Star Wars: Episode One, the Phantom Menace (say what you like about the movie, some of the concept art for the sets was impressive) and ‘The Blue Planet’ BBC show, narrated by David Attenborough. The characters are fairly ‘flat’ by which I mean, I didn’t hear their individual voices, style of speaking but most importantly I didn’t hear what they wanted and needed to say to get the story moving. Whilst my ideas for the characters were only half-formed (I could visualise them and my description didn’t ‘fit’ or do them justice) I wanted a really bright, vibrant and critter-filled underwater world which again didn’t really work out. However, the main issue was that whilst my ideas were vivid, I had no realy story. All stories start with an event, then some action followed by a resolution and with many of my stories I may not have a full map but there’s more than a vague idea but here, nothing. And frankly, all these issues show. It was a struggle to write and while I have no plans to extend this piece at the moment, never say never! Perhaps a rewatch of ‘The Blue Planet’ will help.

The Battle of the Deep (The Battle of Ineray)

*Translated from ancient slan-garr

Viceroy Glimpt looked around him, taking in the encrusted walls, the high scalloped archways and the large open windows. By now he knew every crack, every piece of peeling paint like the back of his hand by heart. He cast a furtive look at the two guards at the end of the corridor and tried not to let his agitation show: his every movement would be reported back to those in charge and he could not afford to cause an incident. Looking at the guards they watched him impassively.

A slight noise to his left altered him to the arrival of the Clerk to the Council. The Viceroy forced his face into neutral.

‘They are ready for you, Viceroy,’ the clerks bulbous eyes stated calmly as he gestured with one of his many arms.

The Viceroy uncurled his long tail. He was long, even for a merman, and his chest was broad, his gills on his neck undulated, fins spreading out from under his arms, silver tail ending in a whip snap, covered in scales, ‘And in what mood is the Council today?’ asked the Viceroy, a snap of his tail bringing him alongside the Clerk.

‘Grey, sir,’ replied the clerk,

‘As bad as that? It does not bode well for our meeting.’ The clerk did not respond to the Viceroy as they reached the large doors which signified they had arrived at the Council Chamber.

The slan-garr were perched around a large table, shaped like a toadstool a single root going down into the ground with the domed top in shades of red. The slan-garr were similarly shaped, with a large dome shell of interlocking plates currently flaring different shades of grey.  Pin-like legs protruded from under the shell, continually moving and filtering tiny food particles from the water and easing them up and into their beaks.

‘The dragons are angered, Viceroy.’

‘What do the dragons care? They are creatures of neither sea nor land, but of the air.’

The king nodded his head solemnly, ‘Aye, but their spawning grounds cover both our lands. We have agreed to adhere to the old ways, honour agreements made by our forefathers. You cannot say the same.’

The Viceroy struggled to maintain his calm composure, but the knowledge that the dragons would fight on the side of the slan-garr turned his water cold.

He thought for a moment, then his predator grin slashed across his face.

***
If you’d like to read some of my completed work (with characters I really liked), why not check out my other works, including my novels ‘Akane: The Last of the Orions’, ‘Weird Wild‘ and my children’s book ‘Ghoulsome Graveyard’.

My Path to Publication

Geri meets Aggy

The publishing world has undergone a rapid shift in recent years, even in the time since I dipped my toes into the ocean of books, agents, ebooks etc. However, I’m often asked how I got my work published so I thought I’d share my story in case it helps someone else on their journey to publication and a few tips based on my experiences.

I’ve always written. One of my first memories was of sitting with my cousin, writing a very long and protracted story. I can’t remember all the details but I do remember it ran to about eight pages, quite a feat as I was only about 7years old! At college I’d written for our local paper and had written some short stories for myself. When hubby and I decided to take a gap year, I decided that would be the perfect time for me to get that novel out.

I remember writing the opening chapters to what would become ‘Akane: Last of the Orions‘ while on a beach in Brazil. Reading it to hubby, he was excited and I was keen to learn what happened to Akane and her friends but it would be another few years before I had finished the novel. In the meantime I undertook the London School of Journalism’s Creative Writing Course which gave me some useful guidelines and helpful feedback from the tutors. I also worked on a few pieces featuring animals and people we’d met on our travels. In theory I’d love to publish them one day, but I know they’ll stay safely in my computer.

I completed ‘Akane: Last of the Orions‘ as part of a National Novel Writing Month challenge but it needed a LOT of work. As an aside, if you’ve not completed NaNoWriMo before and are an aspiring writer, give it a go. It’s a fun challenge which can set you up with some good writing practices.

When we returned to the UK I decided to try and sell some of my work. I attended a writers conference ‘FantasyCon’ and was bombarded with information – ways to get an agent, ways to self-publish your books, reasons not to have an agent, self-branding, writing for YA, ensuring your book will be the ‘next big thing’. It was frankly too much and everyone I met had an opinion on how to do it ‘correctly’. I left slightly more confused than when I arrived, but filled with ideas. I had also met some funny, interesting and people who would ultimately help me on my writing journey.

I’d got chatting to Adele Wearing the first night of the conference and she contacted me a few weeks later to discuss a project she was putting together. That was the start of ‘The Girls Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse‘. It was a really fun project, one I hold very dear, and which allowed me to try different writing styles, from tongue-in-cheek articles, to opinion pieces, to short stories. It also gave me the confidence to submit my stories to websites and I’m still very happy that I won the poll on Fantasy Faction for my short story ‘The Last Dragon Keeper’.

My interest in writing grew and I helped to set up ‘Resident Writers’ which prompted me to write an assortment of pieces, including poetry which is definitely not my forte! I continued submitting to different websites In the meantime, Adele had decided to collate and publish a book called ‘Tales of the Nun and Dragon‘ and asked if I would like to submit. My short story ‘Into the Woods’ was accepted and I really enjoyed writing all the blood and guts. ‘Tales of the Nun and Dragon’ was well-received and launched at the next FantasyCon, with Adele deciding to set up Fox Spirit Books soon after. Further titles from Fox Spirit Books followed and Adele kindly agreed to publish my collection of short stories, Weird Wild, which included an adapted version of ‘Into the Woods’. The following year ‘Akane: Last of the Orions‘ was also published by Fox Spirit Books. All the while, I continued submitting my work, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so and writing on my blog.

I had a bit of a break when the toddler was born. The voices were still there, demanding attention, but not surprisingly there was a louder, more demanding voice who needed me, so my notebooks and ideas were put away. Although I still wrote a little, I had become rusty and my old website became slightly redundant. I briefly returned to work, but for a variety of reasons, decided to leave my job and devote myself to raising our daughter, trying my hand at crafting and focussing on my writing. In 2016 I took on the role of ‘Commissioning Editor’ for ‘Fennec Books’ an imprint of Fox Spirit Books and soon after my first pre-teen novel ‘Ghoulsome Graveyard‘ was published. I’m planning next year to try self-publishing so pop back regularly to see how that’s going and I’m also submitting to different magazines and publications, with a short story appearing in the June edition of Sirens Call.

So I’m by no means an ‘expert’ on getting published. My path is very different to other authors – I’ve met people who have agents but who have no books currently in print and others who’ve lots of work either self-published or published through small presses, I’ve met people who use Patreon and others who only show their work to family. However, I have a few suggestions (in no particular order) if you want to your your work out there.

 

  1. Firstly, make sure your MS is ready for publication. Get others to read it and offer suggestions (it’s up to you if you accept them). Check, then check again for grammar and spelling mistakes (you never get them all but sending something filled with mistakes with get your MS rejected as agents don’t have the time to sort your laziness).
  2. Sounds daft but be passionate about your book when discussing it. If you’re not excited, how will anyone else be?
  3. Ive been told that you need a minimum of 10k followers on Twitter, as well as an author page on Facebook. I’d agree and disagree about needing 10k followers on Twitter. I’ve met established writers who struggle to make 1000! However, most publishers or agents are looking for some sort of online presence and Twitter is great for that. Few pointers – it’s SOCIAL media. Don’t spam people with ‘buy my book’ ads-nothing will get you blocked faster. Engage with people and make it fun. I tweet about books (and promote my own) but also chat with people about movies, crafts, dogs, anything really.
  4. A blog is also helpful as it gets you writing regularly and improves your writing but you need to keep it up to date, which is why I took mine down after having my daughter as I didn’t have time to maintain it and it looked a bit shabby and unloved. Websites are easy to set up and you can make it engaging by inviting blog-hops (where others contribute content. I do interviews with inspirational women who had interesting jobs or were challenging the establishment) or a regular item – I do ‘Make It Monday’ and movie reviews. On my old website, in the run up to an anthology I was in being published, I did a month of promo, inviting contributions, which was really fun & got word out there about the antho but it was hard work coordinating so many submissions and getting them all scheduled so it’s not for the faint-hearted. Facebook is a good media but a) think about your audience – for example it’s not the preferred social media for under 25’s or over 60’s so may not reach your target audience and b) I struggle with private/public so some authors keep separate accounts (I personally don’t bother). There’s also Instagram which I’m learning to use and Snapchat as well as Reddit and more popping up regularly. All have their pros and cons. Whichever you choose, post regularly, engage with people and don’t spam!
  5. I’d recommend going to writing conferences. There are many which are genre specific (Romance, World Con, and FantasyCon are a few which spring to mind but there’s loads). I was lucky and met some great people at these conferences, who I’m happy to say are now friends. My first conference I met a lot of wannabe authors and it sounds awful but they smelled of desperation – they were buying agents drinks and generally sucking up to everyone. One man actually turned his back on my husband as soon as he learned he wasn’t in ‘the biz’. So just get chatting to people and you never know who you’ll meet. (We did the awards dinner and I accidentally sat next to an agent who after chatting about tv shows etc offered to read my novel.) These conferences are also great for learning more about getting published or just about your favourite authors or subjects so go and enjoy.
  6. Agents. There are a lot of pros and cons about agents. In theory they get your book into the hands of publishers faster, sort contracts and generally look after you. However, I know authors signed to an agent who haven’t sold any of their manuscripts so it’s up to you. If you’re going to approach an agent, check their submission guidelines CAREFULLY. Nothing will get your MS thrown into the slush pile faster than sending it in Word and they wanted it in Pages or set out incorrectly. This sounds simple but don’t send it to a wrong agent. Like readers, agents have their own interest areas so I wouldn’t send my horror story to a romance agent – it’s wasting both our time. As I said, follow guidelines and be polite – Twitter is filled with authors sending snotty replies to agents who they feel have taken too long or rejected their work. Publishing is a small world and you don’t need that sort of negativity against your name. You’re trying to sell your books, but also yourself so acting like a child throwing a tantrum is not professional. If they reject, say thanks for their time and that’s it. Take on board any suggestions they may make. If you want an agent, keep going – they receive hundreds of manuscripts a month so yours needs to really stand out.
  7. If you get an agent, or work with a small press, read the small print of any contract – check about foreign rights, who gets what if it’s sold to TV or movies, rights for audiobooks, how long you’re entering into the contract and who gets the rights to our work when it ends, who pays for editing and formatting, and what type of publishing will they do (print or eformat).
  8. Which brings me to small presses and self publishing. Some people dismiss these as vanity presses but in recent years they’ve been putting out some good work. As with agents, follow their submission guidelines and also check their contracts as above. For example my contract means my publisher gets the rights to print and e-format for a year, then all rights return to me & I can sell it elsewhere if I want. They’re fantastic for new authors, but their budgets are small so be prepared to do a lot of self-promotion.
  9. I’d also recommend getting your name out there by submitting short stories & articles to magazines. A lot aren’t accepting submissions from unknowns anymore (eg Women’s Own used to do periodical mags just of fiction but I think they’ve stopped them now) but there’s loads of online places to submit. As above, check guidelines, proof your submission and write a good story.

These are only a few suggestions, if you’ve got more (and I’m sure you do!), let me know in the comments below.

The Last Dragon Keeper

Dragon-Avatar

When I was first venturing into writing, I started submitting to different competitions. ‘The Last Dragon Keeper’ was submitted to the Fantasy Faction Writing Competition way back in 2012. I was amazed that people voted for it and I ended up winning that month! I keep planning to return to this world, with Eui and her brother Rowan and their voices have become a little more demanding of late, so you never know. Here it is ‘The Last Dragon Keeper’…..

The Last Dragon Keeper

Eui watched as the waves surged towards the shore. Ice had formed on the water, the motion turning it to mush as it covered the smooth grey rocks that acted as boundary between land and sea. She wrapped her arms around herself, trying but failing to keep out the wind which threatened to tear her clothes and pick at her bones. She knew that her mother would scold her for forgetting her jacket but in her desperation to get out of the house, she had left it, stowed snugly in her wardrobe. Eui stamped her feet to try and warm them but the wind kept forcing it’s way through her thick boots, biting her toes.

The ground began to shake. It started with a slow trickle of the smaller rocks which quickly blended with the mush of the ocean water. The larger rocks began to vibrate then roll down the hill and into the water. Eui stood her ground as rocks large and small snapped at her heels, flinching as the larger ones bruised her. Eui breathed deeply, inhaling the familiar ash scent which covered the island more deeply than the perma-snow.

The earth juddered to a stop and Eui carefully stepped out of the pile of stones which covered her feet. The icy slush boiled along the shore then all was still once more. Eui turned as she heard footsteps crunching on the gravel and smiled at her father.

‘Your mother is worried about you,’ he said, not looking her in the eye but focussing on the ocean.

‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I did.’ Eui risked a look at her father but could not read his expression. The silence settled over them, only slightly comfortable.

Finally, taking a deep breath, Eui said, ‘The dragons are dying father.’

‘As are we, Eui, as are we. We can only hope that they die before we do. A dragon alone in this world, without a Keeper, would soon fall prey to the blades of the Sagar.’

If they’re lucky, thought Eui, but she did not pursue the matter. Every Keeper knew the challenges faced by the dragons. The Sagars were hunters who sold dragon meat and their scales and teeth which held magical properties. For over a generation they had hunted and killed dragons, depleting their numbers in an unending quest for the perfect hunt: A mythical beast, defined by its purity and beauty. With each retelling of the myth, the dragon grew in grace and size until Eui, who had been told stories of the Sagar which had kept her awake at night, did not recognise the creature as being a dragon but an animal of pure virtue. Knowing no dragon had ever been born matching the myth kept the Sagars hunting and Eui from peaceful dreams.

However, the biggest threat was the dragons themselves. Females would lay between 15-20 eggs and would continually defend her nest from attacks by males. Of the eggs which survived, not all would hatch, with some being trampled. Finally the female, tired and undernourished, would die. If she was lucky, she might see the one or two of her offspring who would emerge from their eggs, snorting flames and growling to be fed.

In the absence of a mother, when the infant dragons smashed from their eggs, they would bond with a Keeper. The Keepers were almost as old as the dragons themselves but they to had slowly grown fewer and fewer until Eui and her brother Rowan were the only none bonded keepers. The last surviving female was guarding her egg, waiting to die.

‘It’s a very special time for your brother. He will be bonded, probably today,’ said her father, his eyes remaining on the waves.

‘And what about me?’ asked Eui. ‘A keeper with nothing to keep.’

‘Is that why you wish to leave?’ Eui flashed a quick look at her father. He would claim that it was the wind which brought tears to his eyes, but the clench in Eui’s stomach reminded her of the argument with her mother.

‘There is a world beyond the isle, father. I wish to explore and there is nothing here for me. There will be no more dragons once this has hatched and bonded with Rowan. A keeper with nothing to keep,’ Eui’s eyes flooded with tears which threatened to fall. Her father swung an arm around her and gently pulled her close for a brisk hug.

‘Come, Eui. They are preparing for the ceremony. I have to get to the Great Hall. Greeson and the elders are waiting for me.’ Together they walked slowly up the beach, slipping occasionally on the loose gravel. Kissing her on the head before gently pushing her towards the settlement, Eui’s father walked towards the mountain. Suddenly he called Eui and she ran to him as the wind stole his words.

‘Eui, Keepers are like the seasons. We are currently in the darkest winter we have known, filled with darkness and despair but after the winter, the spring warmth always comes. Remember, your name means spring in the old tongue. Wait, and you will see the beauty when we emerge from the darkness. I know you feel there is nothing for you here, but your brother will need your support and love. Being a Keeper is not easy and he still has a lot to learn.’

Eui gave her father a small smile, then turned and jogged into the settlement, flinging open the door. Her mother looked up from where she was sat by the table, her sewing needle raised. She regarded Eui with a stony expression.

Eui paused, looking contrite under the glare of her mother. ‘Father said you might need some help preparing for the ceremony,’ she said finally.

Her mother carefully laid down her needle. She studied the garments laid out across the table then quietly said, ‘Go and wake your brother. He needs to get dressed. The ceremony starts soon. The egg is hatching.’

Eui dipped her head and avoided eye contact with her mother as she wound around the large table and up the stairs. Launching into her brother’s room, she jumped onto his bed, bouncing up and down.

‘Wakey, wakey,’ she called as Rowan swatted at her.

‘Get off,’ he shouted as Eui continued jumping.

‘Mother says you have to get up. The ceremony is going to start soon so you need to get into your dress,’ teased Eui.

‘It’s a robe,’ roared Rowan, sitting up and pushing Eui off of the bed. She landed with cat-like grace, giving him a smug smile.

‘Whatever. The eggs hatching. You’re about to become a Keeper.’

‘Yeah,’ said Rowan without enthusiasm, pulling a t-shirt from the floor and sniffing it. Deciding it didn’t smell, he dragged it over his head, then ran his fingers through his hair.

Eui watched her brother. Three years older than her thirteen, his training made him appear older but seeing him first thing in the morning always reminded Eui of how young her brother really was.

Playfully kicking him, she ran from the room, calling ‘Your dress is on the table. Hurry up or I might spill my breakfast on it.’

Eui charged into the kitchen, Rowan a few paces behind. They both stopped when they saw their mother’s stern face.

‘Hurry up,’ their mother said, handing Rowan his robe. Smoothing her hair, she stood a little straighter and scowled at her children. ‘I will see you at the Great Hall,’ she said, leaving them.

Eui grinned at her brother. Rowan ignored her and carefully picked up the robes his mother had spent weeks embroidering. Slipping the delicate fabric over his head, he felt it cascade down his body. Checking the sleeves were straight, he tugged at the hem. Eui bit her cheeks to stop from laughing while Rowan slipped into his boots.

‘It’s a robe,’ he growled. Eui couldn’t contain herself and started laughing. Looking down at himself, Rowan sighed, then he started giggling. ‘Ok, it’s a dress. Can we go? I have a dragon to meet.’

Together they walked from the settlement towards the Great Hall, Rowan complaining about the cold and the snow getting into his boots. Entering the cave that would take them to the Great Hall they could hear the Elders singing, and the pained final breaths of the female dragon. The Great Hall was a large cave which had formed in the mountain, decorated by generations of Keepers. There were designs showing the bonding ceremony, the history of the keepers and dragons, with some designs used to train young keepers.

Eui and Rowan joined their parents, stood on a large platform just above the pit where the dragon rested with her last remaining egg. The female dragon was large, her scales a burnt orange turning to red on her belly and yellow on her wings. Her breath was shallow and laboured and the keepers knew that it would not be long before she would join her brethren in the flame halls of the underworld.

Eui stole a peek at the egg. It was about the size of a boulder, with mottled brown spots and she heard the frustrated squeaks as it’s occupier nosed its way out. The Elders stood on the opposite platform, their chants rising and falling with the breaths of the female. The large dragon’s head drooped, rose, then fell again.

Greeson silenced the Elders with a raised hand. ‘She has passed to the underworld,’ he said.

No one made a sound as they watched the dragon ease its nose, then it’s body and finally its long tail from the egg. It opened its mouth and coughed, sending a ball of flame harmlessly against the wall. Shaking itself its wings unfurled and the Keepers stood amazed. The baby dragon’s body was a paler colour than it’s mothers but its wings were pure white, veins highlighted in golden scales which caught the light. Shaking its head, it emitted a small bark before experimentally flapping its wings. Its dark green eyes took in the unmoving body of its mother before it spotted Rowan stood on the platform. Another flap of its wings and it was eye level with the platform, barking happily.

The Elders began chanting in the ancient tongue. Eui did not understand all the words but knew it was the song to encourage the dragon to choose its Keeper. Rowan grinned as the dragon looked at him and bowed deeply as he had been taught. The dragon started to dip its head when it caught sight of Eui behind Rowan. Cocking its head to one side it forgot to move its wings, flapping quickly as it began to fall. Rowan remained bowed, but his mother shifted nervously. Rowan dared to peek and frowned when he saw that the dragon was not returning his bow. Finally he stood and looked at his father, who shrugged his confusion.

Standing, Rowan blocked the dragons view of Eui. The dragon craned his neck to look around the boy. Eui looked back wide-eyed back at the creature floating effortlessly before stepping past Rowan and raising her hand towards the dragon.

The dragon swooped close, it’s sudden movement causing Eui to step back in surprise until the dragons long black tongue flicked out, licking her hand. Eui giggled, running her hand along the dragon’s muzzle as it growled contentedly.

‘The dragon has chosen it’s Keeper,’ called Greeson, his voice echoing.

Eui stopped playing with the dragon as the words struck her like a physical blow. She looked at Rowan, his face contorted with anger, her mother with her hand covering her mouth in shock and finally her father who was smiling at her. Stepping forward he lifted Eui onto the dragon’s back. Eui hugged the dragon’s neck as it rose and circled the Great Hall.

‘Spring has come with the last Dragon Keeper,’ Eui’s father said.

 

If you’ve enjoyed this story, why not check out my other works, including my novels ‘Akane: The Last of the Orions‘, ‘Weird Wild‘ and my children’s book ‘Ghoulsome Graveyard‘.