Monday, 15 February 2021

Virtual Reality

I don't know about you but I'm finding the constant zoom calls and video conferencing exhausting.

Silly, isn't it? It's hardly manual labour. But a lot of my work has moved online and there's something about spending hours speaking to people 'virtually' that leaves me jaded.

And it's not just work, of course. These days, internet is the only way to see friends and family. And yes, you can make it more fun with a cocktail or two... but it's not the same. Even talking to loved ones on a zoom screen can leave you exhausted.

And I'm not alone. Apparently 'zoom fatigue' is a thing, and it's something to do with having to focus on one small space for a prolonged period of time. Normally in a work meeting we'd be doodling or checking emails or having a side conversation with a colleague. But now we're all sitting in front of a screen hoping our other halves or our cat doesn't make an unexpected appearance in the background.

Sometimes I feel as though I'm glued to my laptop. When I'm not talking to it, I'm writing on it. I've managed to produce a novella, a short sequel to my urban fantasy Mark of the Djinn. It's called The Prince and his Thief and it's available to order now on Amazon. Check it out by clicking here.

I have two more virtual conferences this week and I'm strongly tempted to superimpose a virtual background for them just to liven things up. I have the TARDIS and the Liberator from Blake's Seven. What do you think? I reckon that might combat my zoom fatigue a little!

So what do you find hardest about online working? The lack of social interaction? The fact that your home is now your workspace? The extended screen time? Comment below, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Delayed Reaction

In 2001, I went on my honeymoon to Capri off the coast of Italy. In a sea cave known as the Blue Grotto, I nearly drowned.

I had swum inside the cave to find a young man treading water. He had been unable to find his way out  (the cave exit was beneath the waterline) and he was tired and in distress. In his panic, he tried to grab me and use me to keep him afloat. But of course his weight simply pushed us both under. 

I remember the air leaving my lungs and the strength leaving my limbs. The only reason I found the energy to break free was because I knew it would be horribly embarrassing to die three days into married life.

Luckily my husband was outside the cave and he was able to send in some life jackets to rescue the young man. At the time, when I’d recovered my composure, I just filed it away as a funny story to tell at dinner parties and put the whole thing to the back of my mind.

Or so I thought.

Several months later my husband and I were in Australia on a scuba-diving trip. We hadn’t dived for ages and I was really looking forward to it. We’re both qualified; in fact I’m a certified PADI Rescue diver.

But as soon as we entered the water, I panicked. The waves splashed against my mask, and I felt my chest close up. I couldn’t breathe, and I had to abandon the dive and get back on the boat.

What happened? It was a delayed reaction from my near-drowning months earlier in Capri. Something that I had laughed off as a strange experience suddenly resurfaced in the most dramatic way, and it was some time before I could dive again without hyperventilating.

The point of this story is that things can affect us even when we think they haven’t. And as we approach 2021, we need to be aware of the long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our mental health.

Lockdown, social distancing, isolation – all have taken their toll. According to the president of the Royal College of Psychiatry, the coronavirus pandemic is the biggest hit to mental health since World War 2. And according to the charity MIND, there’s been a 15 per cent increase in urgent referrals of people suffering mental health crises since March. Even when the pandemic is done, many of us may continue to feel the effects for a while longer

So my New Year’s resolution is to take more time to check with my loved ones on how they're really doing. To not automatically accept their ‘fine, thanks’ at face value. And above all, to let people know it’s okay not to be okay. Because sometimes we aren’t, and we shouldn’t try to dismiss it.

 I’m also going to try and read more books. I see on Goodreads people reading 200, 300, 400 books in a year. I mean, how are you doing it? Do you speed read? Have you got ten books on the go at any one time? How do you concentrate? With that kind of laser focus, shouldn’t you be breaking codes for national intelligence or something?

 Anyway, for readers in the US, there's a fab competition running right now for fans of Mortal Instruments.  

If you love Cassandra Clare, Shadowhunters, urban fantasy or paranormal romance, click on the picture or for a chance to win gifts and books including a box set of ”The Mortal Instruments” Series, a hardcover copy of ”The Shadowhunter’s Codex”, a paperback copy of ”From Blood and Ash” by Jennifer L. Armentrout, & a $20 Amazon Gift Card. Closing date is January 5th  2021 at 11.45pm UTC.

 I hope you all managed to have a decent Christmas, despite the obvious limitations. And I hope 2021 will bring us some respite from the COVID crisis. In the words of Nina Simone, we’re all hoping it’s going to be a new dawn, a new day, a new life, and we’ll be feeling good.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

December Tidings

 'Tis the season of good cheer. Not that we've had much to cheer about in 2020, have we? But now with news of one or more coronavirus vaccines on the horizon, next year is already promising to be better.

For my readers, I have a gift. The first book in my paranormal romance duology, Kingdom of Salt, is free to all from December 2nd to 5th inclusive. If you like fantasy kingdoms, feisty heroines, smouldering guys and slow-burn romance you can download your ebook by clicking on the cover.

AND as an added bonus, the sequel Realm of Sirens is now available to order. Click below to be taken to your local Amazon site. It has a good old Happy Ever After, which I think we all need more of right now.

It took me longer than expected to get the sequel out, I'll be honest. It was harder to be creative with all that's been going on. Not just coronavirus - I've also been hooked by the US Election. Whatever you think of Trump's presidency, it's never been short of drama, has it?!

I've also been watching a lot of Netflix. Some great series are on right now - The Queen's Gambit was a favourite, and I'm part way through the second season of The Mandalorian. I'm also enjoying Star Trek Discovery. Star Trek is one of those series that has managed to constantly reinvent itself, both on TV and on the big screen. 

I suspect reinvention is what a lot of us will be doing next year. How we work, how we shop, how we learn, how we spend our leisure time. Let's hope 2021 is a better year for all of us.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

It's Aliiiive!


I love October. Starbucks breaks out the Pumpkin Spice Latte, the lawn is covered in a red-gold carpet of leaves, and the spooky-shaped chocolate goes on sale in time for Hallowe'en.

I'm guessing Hallowe'en is going to be a little different this year. No door-to-door trick or treating, which is a shame as the whole coronavirus-mask aesthetic really lends itself to Hallowe'en. Scream, Mike Myers, Jason - all fabulous horror movies where the chills are intensified because the slasher is wearing a mask.

What's your favourite horror movie? Comment below. When I was little I loved the old classic Hammer Horrors, featuring the likes of Dracula, Wolf Man and Frankenstein's Monster. 

Then in the eighties, as a teenager, Freddy from Nightmare On Elm Street scared the bejesus out of me. 

These days, wolves and vampires are way sexier. Even Frankenstein's monster got a makeover in 2014 when he was played by the easy-on-the-eye Aaron Eckhart. 

So in the spirit of monsters-who-aren't-really-evil, here's a selections of books in Kindle Unlimited to prepare you for Hallowe'en. Vampires, wolves, dragons, demons, witches, you name it. And if you're not in KU, most of them are the price of a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte with whipped cream! Click below for the bundle.

Happy Hallowe'en!

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Genie Magic


My latest book is available for pre-order on Amazon! 

Mark of the Djinn is an urban fantasy romance chock full of magic and adventure, inspired by the stories of Aladdin and the Arabian Nights. It features Samira, a snarky pickpocket who has a strange ability to control the air, making her a super talented thief. And her nemesis Dhav, Prince of Ashfahaan, who doesn't trust her one bit but has to work with her to stop an ancient enemy from returning.

Prince of Persia meets Indiana Jones with a big splash of romantic tension - suitable for young adults and above.

Mark of the Djinn is scheduled for release on 31st August. But my newsletter subscribers can get their hands on a FREE review copy before then.

If you haven't already, please sign up to my newsletter for reviews/samples/giveaways. The form is at the bottom of the blog post, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Djinn or djinni, as any fantasy aficionado knows, is another word for 'genie'. They entered our lexicon with the popularity of tales from One Thousand And One Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights, which gave us the likes of Aladdin and Sinbad. 

Everyone will be familiar with the big blue genie from Disney's Aladdin, voiced by the late great Robin Williams. But who remembers these other magical lamp and bottle dwellers?

'Shazzan' was an American animated TV series that ran 1967-68. Shazzan was a genie who helped two kids who flew around on a magic camel. As you do.

'I Dream of Jeannie' was a romantic comedy series starring the gorgeous Barbara Eden as the eponymous Jeannie, a 2000 year old genie, and her master, an astronaut played by Larry Hagman. It ran for five seasons on NBC as a rival to ABC's Bewitched. Countless  arguments have been had about who would win a magical battle - Jeannie or Samantha?!

And my favourite...
This was my staple Saturday morning TV treat in the early seventies. Little known fact: the voice of Corey, the kid who finds Jeannie's bottle, was provided by Mark Hamill (AKA Luke Skywalker) in his first voice-acting job.

My genie is a little more sassy and streetwise than the ones above, but the inspiration for her obviously comes from my childhood! 

Mark of the Djinn is available for pre-order now. Click here to grab your copy. Thanks for your support!

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Magical Beasts

Why do we love magical creatures so much?

Every country and every religion has its share of legendary beasts. Some of them are cross-cultural – dragons, or versions of dragons, turn up nearly everywhere. Human fascination with mythical creatures has persisted for centuries.

My love affair with magical animals started with Carbonel, a witch’s cat who could talk to you as long as you were holding the witch’s broom. Then there was Mr Tumnus in CS Lewis’s Narnia – a faun (part human, part goat) -  and the glorious Fledge, originally a cabby’s horse called Strawberry who was given wings by Aslan (a talking lion, obviously).

Maybe this is what we love about them. The ability to be more than just an ordinary creature. Maybe we all wish we could sprout wings or breathe fire. And maybe it also explains why we love vampires and werewolves so much.

Originally they were created as creatures of horror – let’s face it, Nosferatu was no-one’s idea of a romantic date. But they later morphed into love interests. These fantasy figures of terror became the heroes, not the villains. Even the less aesthetically-pleasing supernaturals have had a makeover of late. Terry Pratchett made an orc a hero in one of his last books, ‘Unseen Academicals’.

In writing, fantasy tends to go through trends. Maybe it’s witches and werewolves one year,  vampires and fae the next. But the fascination persists with creatures that are more powerful, more beautiful and more seductive than we are.

I’ve put fantastical beasts into all my books so far. My last book, Kingdom of Salt, was based on mermaids. My latest urban fantasy Mark of the Djinn is due out in August. It not only features a – the clue’s in the title – magical djinn (or genie), but there’s also another mythical creature which plays a small role. I won’t spoil the surprise, but it’s a legendary beast that fascinated me when I was a kid.

 If you want to get your hands on an advance copy of Mark of the Djinn, do sign up to my newsletter by clicking here.

 What are your favourite mythical creatures? 



Friday, 22 May 2020

The Day(s) The Earth Stood Still

Children, Tv, Child, Television, Home, People, Boy
It’s official – Groundhog Day exists, but without the entertaining presence of Bill Murray. The lockdown continues with mind-numbing tedium, so much so that I have trouble remembering if I’ve brushed my teeth, am constantly plundering the fridge, and wonder if anyone notices when I wear my pyjamas all day (answer: no.)

Online schooling, Zoom chats, Google hangouts and House Party are now an accepted part of daily life. The husband and I even share meals via Skype. (I should point out, he’s in Qatar and I’m in the UK. I haven’t banished him to another room because I’m sick of him). What on earth would lockdown have been like with out the internet? Thank you, Tim Berners-Lee – you envisaged a world where everyone would communicate freely with everyone else, and here we are. Bet you didn’t think a virus would underline your monumental contribution to the world.

And thank goodness for streaming services. Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video et al must be making daily ritual sacrifices to their entertainment gods for the massively increased revenue generated by coronavirus.

So what are you watching to beat the lockdown tedium? I know many people have blogged about what to watch, but I’m going to jump on the bandwagon. Because I'm bored and I have nothing else to do.

The Mandalorian (Disney+)
Star Wars: The Mandalorian and Clone Wars, what we know - CBBC ...For Star Wars afficionados, this is set after the events of The Return Of The Jedi when the Empire has fallen. For those who aren’t nerds, it follows the adventures of a supercool bounty hunter in a galaxy far, far away. Mando is a warrior who abides by the strict rules of the Mandalorian Code (“it is the way”) who brings in the universe’s Most Wanted for a living. Then he’s tasked with delivering a ‘package’ which his moral compass won’t allow him to hand over. No surprise, when his client has ‘EVIL’ practically stamped on his forehead. Oh, and the ‘package’ turns out to be a Baby Yoda. You don’t have to be a Star Wars fan to enjoy this.

Sex Education (Netflix) 
Review: Netflix series 'Sex Education' - The YorkerAh, the agonies of 16 year old Otis, whose sex therapist mother constantly tries to have frank chats with him about masturbating and intercourse. In a twist of fate, he ends up as a councillor to his fellow school-goers thanks to the business skills of his secret crush, badass Maeve. Warning – some scenes are excruciatingly embarrassing to watch with your teenage kids and it’s probably not suitable for under 15s. But it’s a glorious series, funny, moving, utterly absorbing, with outstanding performances by the cast.

Goliath (Amazon Original)
Goliath TV Show - Season 1 Episodes List - Next EpisodeBilly Bob Thornton won a Golden Globe for his performance as a washed-up attorney, his glory days behind him, who suddenly finds himself in the middle of a high-octane case that threatens those around him. Thornton plays the anti-hero Billy McBride perfectly, a beguiling mix of fiercely intelligent lawyer and low-life scumball in this clever, twisty legal drama.

After Life (Netflix)
Join Ricky Gervais in the Cast of Netflix Drama 'After Life 2'A dark comedy from Ricky Gervais, who plays Tony, a man sent spiralling into misery and depression after his wife dies of cancer. If that sounds like a downer, don’t worry. There are enough laugh-out loud moments to save this show from being a maudlin tearjerker. It explores grief, yes, but also hope and humanity.

The Good Place (Netflix)
Did THE GOOD PLACE fork itself? - Dans Media DigestAnd the total opposite of After Life is The Good Place, a feelgood comedy about heaven and hell. It follows the adventures of Eleanor, the kind of person who sells fake medicine to the elderly for a living, who ends up in heaven. A clerical error, surely, and she spends most of season 1 trying to hide the fact from angel Michael played by the fabulous Ted Danson. But then there’s a twist…. A heart-lifting piece of escapism about a band of lovable misfits trying to become better people. What’s not to like?

So what are YOU watching to beat the boredom?