Cross stich covers

I’ve always enjoyed creating things and stories are not my only outlet. My main outlets, other than writing of course, are jewellery making and embroidery. A while ago, I came across Stitch-a-Photo from DMC. There are other programs out there for turning photos into cross stich charts, but Stitch-a-Photo was nice and simple. All I had to do was send them an image file and they would send me the patterns. I decided it would be fun to try turning my book covers into embroidery.

The first book I tackled was Between Yesterdays. This book had only recently come out when I embarked on my mission to turn it into embroidery so I started with it even though Shadows of Tomorrow is the first in that series. The process to sew the title took a while. Here’s a photo of the work in progress (albeit nearly completed):

cross stitch between yesterdays

And here’s the finished embroidery:

Between Yesterdays cover cross stitch

The second book cover I decide to tackle was Omega Rising, the first book in the Codename Omega series. I think it says a lot about the speed of progress if I say that my sister gave me the pattern for this one as a Christmas present. Here’s my progress so far:

Omega Rising cross stitch 1Omega Rising cross stitch 2  Omega Rising cross stitch 3

When I (finally) finish this, I’ll have to decide which book to transform next. It will probably be either Child of the Hive or Traitor in the Tower, which is the second book in the Codename Omega series. Any thoughts?

child of the hive cover Traitor in the Tower front cover

Review: Lost Stars

Lost StarsLost Stars by Claudia Gray is undeniably a book aimed at Star Wars fans. Many major battles from the original trilogy feature in the story and there are offhand references to events, locations, and characters from the films. Without a good recollection of the films, I imagine the book would get extremely confusing. If you are familiar with the original three Star Wars films, the book makes an enjoyable read.

The story spans more than a decade, staring several years before the events of A New Hope and continuing on for more than a year after the end of Return of the Jedi. It is a story of childhood friends turned lovers Ciena and Thane who end up on opposite sides of the war. That is the premise of the book and is given on the blurb, so I don’t feel it counts as a spoiler here, but it takes a very long time for the story to reach that point. Early chapters focus on their friendship, on trying to get into the Imperial Academy, on their training, on them becoming military officers and taking up their duties. It feels like it takes a very long time for the plot to start happening.

However, I’m not sure that’s a criticism. The slow build lets us see the relationship between Ciena and Thane. It lets us get to know them as people – how they work together and when they disagree. The length of time we see them as allies makes their later actions feel more plausible.

I was impressed with the character building, particularly of Ciena. The author did a brilliant job of creating a character who could seem noble and heroic, even idealistic, but who could plausibly fight for the Empire. Her decisions to stay with the Empire, first to keep her oath and then later to protect her family from repercussions should she dessert, felt very real. The motivations and desires of both characters are clear and compelling.

For a story that takes place in a war, a lot more emphasis was placed on the characters than the action. It feels more of an emotional romance than an adventure story. The characters in this book are new, with only passing mention being given to the main characters of the films.

I did enjoy this book, but I feel the appeal will be limited to those who are already fans of the Star Wars films.

Four stars.

Settle down with a bad book

When you’re reading a good book, it’s an enjoyable experience. You can get swept into a story and lost in the lives of the characters. Reading a bad book, however, can feel like torture. Sometimes you can be reading a book where the plot is dull, the characters are unpleasant, and the writing style makes you cringe. It can be tempting to put the book down and walk away – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. There are so many books in the world that it’s a shame to waste time on one you’re not enjoying.

However, as a writer, we can get a lot of benefit from reading a bad book. If you find yourself reading a book that you’re not enjoying, stop and think about why. What is it about the book that’s driving you away from it? The pace? The characters? The underlying concepts? If you think critically, you can notice the things which make this book one that you don’t want to read. Sometimes, I have been known to pull out a notebook and write down a bullet point for everything I disliked as I was reading a book I didn’t like. I wrote four pages of these notes for one book I disliked intensely.

The purpose of these notes is not to go and write scathing reviews on Goodreads afterwards, but to think about the elements that make up a book. When you come to your own writing, it will be easier to recognise the mistakes that drove you away from that other book, so you can stop them from creeping into your stories.

Even if you can’t face reading a bad book to its end, take the time to think about what it is that makes you want to put the book down. The more you think about the books you read, the easier you will find it to create a book that your readers won’t want to put down.

It’s worth noting that different books appeal to different people, so a book that you think of as “bad” might be another person’s favourite book. There have been books lauded as great classics that I haven’t got on with at all. Even a definitive list of “writing mistakes” is difficult to come up with, as I discussed in my post on breaking the rules. In the end all you can do is think about what’s bad for you, what drives you away from a story, because if you write a story that you will in enjoy, you can better odds of finding readers who will also enjoy it.

Codename Omega background snippets

omega rising coverThe first-person narrative style of the Codename Omega books, Omega Rising and Traitor in the Tower, is fun and an interesting way to tell the story, but it does mean that everything is from Jenny’s perspective. There are ideas I have for the other characters that are almost certainly not going to make it into the books because there’s no reason for Jenny to know and most of these things aren’t going to have any noticeable impact on the plot. I thought it might be fun to share some of these little bits of character background, so here is a list of background details. Most of these are never going to be mentioned in the books but one of them is surprisingly important. I’m not, however, going to tell you which of these things is the important one.

  • Thomas started playing D&D because he misunderstood what Matt meant when he said he liked roleplaying. Thomas has a reputation to maintain, and explains these evenings as a “discussion group on combat theory”.
  • Navy picked his codename as a tribute to Captain Scarlet, but he lets the rest of the team assume he’s named for the military force.
  • Bats and Navy still argue about the fact that Navy vetoed Batman as a codename.
  • Nuke’s codename was originally meant to be Nucleus, but Navy called him Nuke in combat because it was quicker to say, and the shorter name stuck. Traitor in the Tower front cover
  • When he was in his first year at uni, Navy successfully cooked Christmas dinner for twenty people using only two Baby Billing ovens, a microwave, and a kettle. He’s more proud of this accomplishment than he is of successfully teleporting a person to a moving spacecraft.
  • On the first Mother’s Day after they became a couple, Thomas sent Matt’s mum flowers and a card. Matt forget it was Mother’s Day.
  • Nuke doesn’t have a bed.
  • Princess chose her codename years before she met Nuke.
  • Blaze used to be in the army.
  • When Navy first found out about Nuke, Nuke didn’t want anything to do with him. Navy just kept bringing him food until Nuke accepted that he now had a partner whether he wanted one or not.

Review: The Defectives

The Defectives by Burgandi RakoskaThe Defectives cover is a story that manages to be both fun and deeply emotional. It made me laugh out loud in a few places and cry in others, sometimes only pages apart.

Juniper is a teenager with telekinetic abilities, all set to go to a prestigious school for superheroes – until she is left paralysed from the waist down in a car accident. She has to figure out who she is now that her expected future has shattered. Juniper is sent to a school for kids with disabilities as well as superabilities. At first, she feels that the school is like a prison, but she finds friends who can help her learn how to move forward.

The plot of the book follows a number of standard tropes, including the gruff mentor who turns out to have a heart of gold, and the protagonist who learns she’s no less of a person now that she’s disabled. Despite the occasional cliché, The Defectives remains an interesting read, with touches of humour in places, and some very genuine emotions in others.

The author is herself in a wheelchair which helps make Juniper’s experiences have serious impact. I really felt like I understood what Juniper was going through as the narrative explored her emotional journey. There are ups and down, moments of depression and times of joy, creating quite a journey that’s rooted in something very sincere. I can imagine readers who find themselves in a similar situation getting a great deal of comfort from this character’s experiences.

There are some background concepts that I wish were explored more. The story is set in a world where superheroes are common, and there are mentions of a war that took place without much explanation of its history or impact. At one point, it’s revealed that all people with superabilities have to take a test to determine if they will be heroes or villains. This seemed a very strange concept which is never really explained and I can’t imagine how the test could be administered accurately – people give the answers they know are expected to get sorted into the right house on Pottermore, so of course people would choose the “nice” answers to get tested as a hero. This whole idea jarred me out of the story because it seemed very strange and my questions about it are never addressed. I thought that the whole book would have made more sense if this aspect were just edited out. None of the other points jumped out as much as the morality test but there were elements of world-building I thought could have done with deeper explanations.

Where it does extremely well however is in how it addresses subjects of disabilities and accessibility in ways that would be relevant to the real-world. There are background details mentioned here and there, such as a bell tower chiming quarter hour marks to help blind students tell the time, that show how the school is built with accessibility in mind. There are moments when the disabled students show annoyance at how reporters ask a non-disabled person to speak for them instead of asking the students themselves, or when a character compares a broken leg to a long-term disability. All these touches add to the realism of an otherwise fantastic world.

On the whole, I did enjoy this story a lot. It’s a quick read that gets right to the emotions of the situation. Despite the gaps in the world-building and the occasional predictability, it’s still a book I would recommend.

Four stars.

Author Interview: Mina Kelly

tease coverPlease start by telling us a little bit about yourself. 

Start with the hardest question, why don’t you! I’m a writer, a reader, a knitter (I’ve made actual clothes now, so I feel I can say this even if I still don’t bother with tension squares!), an adoptive Northerner, a geek and a little overwhelmed by life 🙂
Now tell us a little about your writing. 

Most of my published work is romance, erotic romance, or erotica. A lot of readers who don’t read any of the genres might assume there was a large overlap between the genres, but they are more distinct that outsiders realise. It’s not just about how much sex there is, it’s about what drives the plot and where it ends. I’m happy writing most pairings – my work ranges from f/f to m/m/m and does include the occasional m/f for variety! – though I usually come back to m/m in the end.

You have just had a new short story published. What’s this one about?never before touched by cupid
So Never Before Touched by Cupid isn’t new, exactly, but was published a few years ago by Forbidden Fiction as a standalone short, and is now being republished by them in a classical themed anthology: Timeless Lust. It’s an approach they take with a lot of their works, allowing them to offer a subscription model for readers that want it while also making stories available to purchase. Never Before is a little piece of real person fanfic, essentially, but with real people that most readers only know as vague and distant names: Horace, Virgil and Propertius. I’m a latin geek, and started shipping Virgil and Horace some years ago. I was inspired to include Propertius thanks to the introduction to a volume of his poetry that waxed lyrical about how attractive and manly he was and how the other poets would have been filled with a mix of jealous admiration and fatherly pride when he entered the scene. I was… skeptical. So I wrote out my scepticism.

How did you pick your nom de plume? 

My online handle since my teens was been Minerva Solo – Solo for Han Solo, and Minerva from a time a friend assigned our group goddesses. I didn’t want to use it for my original fiction, but I took Mina from Minerva, and Kelly from Grace Kelly, because I’d recently watched Rear Window.

Do you have a favourite character in your stories? 
Probably Jared from Inescapable. He’s a risk taker with a strong survival instinct, someone who loves easily and lets go even more so. He’s currently a smuggler who specialises in biological material, but he’s turned his hand to a lot of things over the years, and has trouble admitting to himself that maybe he actually wants something a bit more stable, and legal, as he gets older.

How about a favourite moment? 
I don’t know that I can pick one. Jared’s escape from prison in Escapable. Toby chasing a car on foot in Flirt. Barnabas finding a naked man on the beach in Tease. Moments that change the direction of their stories or push their plots towards the conclusions.

Is there anything that’s surprised you since you got published? 
I think the speed with which the small ePress bubble burst caught me out, and not just me. Amazon took self-epublishing from a labour-intensive niche to the push of a button almost overnight, and it did strange things to the market in all directions. Competition splintered into millions of individual authors, instead of a handful of publishers, and once price stopped being dictated by retailers readers diversified in terms of what price they were willing to pay for what quality. I’ve loved working with small presses, but even the most established ones are closing down or collapsing under the weight of the competition, and I think it’s going to take some new and impressive tactics to stay ahead of the new market.

Are there any authors who particularly inspire you? 
I’m really into Courtney Milan’s historicals right now. She writes such a great, diverse range of heroes and heroines and uses them to explore pieces of history that often get overlooked in the genre. She makes me want to write one, but I’m still looking for the right plot (one which mostly plays to the historical knowledge I already have, so I don’t disappear down the research rabbit hole and forget to actually write the thing!)

What advice would you give to someone just getting started writing books?never before touched by cupid
Think about the career you want to have with them: where you want them to be available, what kind of control you want over them, how long you’re willing to keep going if no one reads them. It’s like snog, marry, avoid, except it’s art, career or hobby. You can do all three, write different books for different reasons, but remember to wear the right hat for the right book.

What are you working on at the moment?
Mostly knitting! I have various nieces and nephews on the way, so that’s taken precedence recently. My ‘to finish’ manuscripts folder at the moment includes an m/m football romance, an m/f holiday romance, and a third selkie book.

If you want to know more about Mina Kelly’s books, you can find them on her Amazon page. She also has a website at

Review: Improbables

Improbables coverImprobables by Jonathan Charles Bruce tells the story of Abigail, a newly qualified journalist who moves to a new town to start a job at the local paper. With her love of YA fantasy books, she can’t resist her curiosity when she takes a photo of what looks suspiciously like a werewolf. This leads her to investigate the mysterious loner who lives outside of town and draws her into a world of the supernatural, but werewolves and vampires are just the start. There’s something dark lurking near this peaceful town.

I enjoyed the book but it took me a while to reach this point. The story starts very slowly. First, we have a prologue which has no impact on the plot. We witness the birth of some of the key characters but this doesn’t add anything to the book. Then we get the exciting saga of Abigail worrying about finding a job, hunting for a job, finding a job, starting a job, trying to set a good impression at her new job… and eventually, finally, she encounters her first supernatural. Even when she meets a werewolf and vampire, the action of the plot still seems a long time coming.

These early chapters also include several moments where Abigail criticises, either in her head or in conversation with other characters, the supernatural books she supposedly loves. She describes it as hate reading at one point. These sections felt like the author reaching out of the pages to say, “My books are so much better than the usual rubbish in this genre,” while insulting the tastes of his target readers. The chapters are also intersperced with excerpts from an online forum in which a horrible man describes his acts of revenge sex on women who had scorned him in the past. These sections are unpleasant to read and it’s not until a good way through the book that it becomes apparent why they’re included. Combined with the slow start, these sections of writing almost made me put the book down more than once.

By the half-way point in the book though, I was gripped. The plot had taken off by then and I was drawn into the mystery of the source of the threat. The pace dramatically improved in the second half of the book and kept my moving forward.

I’ve spent a lot of time criticising this book, so let’s focus on some of the things I liked: I liked the character of Abigail a lot. She’s an interesting person, determined to prove herself. The fact that she’s young and trying to demonstrate her abilities in work shines through and it’s built on a very real foundation of having to prove her capabilities as a black woman in a largely white small town. Real world issues bled through into the supernatural adventure in places. She felt very real and I had a lot of sympathy with her.

The author created some unusual supernatural creatures. While the first two “improbables” encountered follow the tropes by being a werewolf and a vampire, the others show interesting novelty. I especially like Stevie – a compound creature made up of thousands of spores acting in unison.

I liked the villain of the story. Well, perhaps liked is the wrong word, since the villain is utterly horrible – but utterly horrible in a way that felt familiar and human. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I thought the way this was handled was extremely clever.

So, if you can survive the slow pace of the first half of the book, the second half makes a very enjoyable read.

Three and a half stars.

June’s Diverse Book Giveaway

In a previous post, I talked about the Diverse Book Giveaway that I’ve been running over on Tumblr. Every month through 2016 I am giving away a science ficiton or fantasy book I’ve enjoyed reading that showcases diversity in some form, ideally in multiple ways.

On the Edge of Gone coverIn previous months, I’ve given away Rivers of London, Adaptation, Shadows on the Moon, and other great books. June’s book is the fantastic On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis, which I’ve reviewed in an earlier blog post. I have also interviewed the book’s author.

If you have a Tumblr account, you can enter the giveaway simply by reblogging the giveaway post. The winner will be chosen on 1st July.

I’m still looking for suggestions of other books to include in the giveaway series so please leave me a comment telling me about diverse SF&F books you’ve read that you think should be a part of this project.

Writing games

A piece of advice that comes up again and again for writer’s block is to try and write through it. Sitting down and putting words on paper is a great way to actually get the creative juices flowing again (it doesn’t help if your writer’s block is because you don’t know how to proceed with a particular story, but that’s a post for another day).

There was a writing group I was part of when I was at university and in the second half of each meeting, we would play writing games. These were fun exercises where everyone wrote for about twenty minutes – we didn’t put a timer on it, we just went by gut feel – and then we went round the room reading out what we’ve written. No one expected these little scribbles to be masterpieces in that time, but everyone was able to write at least something and everyone could have fun it.

Once in a while, you’d write a piece in a writing game and think, “This actually could be something good.” When that happened, you could take your scribble home and expand it/edit it into a proper story. When it didn’t happen, no one felt they’d wasted time because they’d only spent twenty minutes or so on their piece.

The games took the pressure off the act of writing and allowed everyone involved to write for the fun of it. I’ve listed a few of my favourite writing games below. Feel free to try these out with your own writing groups, or maybe take some of my examples and write on your own. Just have fun with them.

Time and a Place

In your group, everyone should take two scraps of paper. On one, write down a time. On the other, write down a place. You can be as vague or specific as your like. Here are a few examples.

Time :

  • The distant future
  • 3:22pm
  • Thursday afternoon
  • Midnight on Halloween
  • Christmas Eve 1914


  • The bottom of the ocean
  • A dusty attic
  • Glasgow
  • Under the bed
  • A secret lair inside a volcano

Once everyone has written their time and place down, make a pile of the time bits of paper and a second pile of the place papers (you can use hats if you have them). Everyone grabs a time and a place and then you have to write something set in that place at that time.

Five random words

Similar to the example above, but this time everyone should write down any five words they like. Throw all the bits of paper in a pile and grab any five words out of it. Your task is now to write a story that includes all five of the words.

The point of the exercise is to have fun with it, so there are no penalties for swapping words with others in the group if you don’t like the combination you end up with.

Line from a song

This time, everyone in the group should write down a line from a song. Mix them all up, and then try to write a story with the line you end up with. A variant is to use the long line specifically as the first line of your piece. If you’re trying these by yourself, here are a few lines you might want to start with, or just put an mp3 player on shuffle and pick a line from the first song you get.

  • The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
  • You’re growing on me just like mould
  • Save your breath, it’s far from over
  • Pour salt into the open wound
  • It’s a good day to die
  • From the fading light I fly

[Thing] and [Thing]

The time and place example can be extrapolated. Rather than using time and place, as a group come up with two categories. These could be anything you like: animal, building, article of clothing, food, item of furniture. Once you’ve come up with your categories, everyone writes down one example of each and you throw them in the piles like the game I started with. You draw out one item from each category and have to write your piece to include both.

By using this rather vague version of the game, you can have infinite variety. Half of the games we played in that writing group could probably be categorised as [Thing] and [Thing]. Come up with your own categories and just have fun.

Review: The Song of Achilles

soaI didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did. I wasn’t even sure I’d enjoy it. I saw a few posts on social media about how great it was and figured I’d give it a go because I do like Greek myths. But I was already familiar with the story of the Illiad. How good could a book be when I knew the major plot twists going in?

How good? Heart-breakingly good.

If you know the story of Achilles and Patroclus your heart will be breaking by about the halfway point of the book from the sheer, unstoppable tragedy of it all. Song of Achilles is a re-telling of the classic Greek myth showing the relationship between these two young men, from their early lives, through falling in love, into the battle at Troy, and all the way up to their tragic ends. It is a deeply personal story that adds depth and fills in details of backstory that the original myth skims over.

And the book did manage to keep me guessing, because I know the story of the Illiad. I knew going into this book about Achilles having a major sulk when Agamemnon stole a girl from him and I kept wondering how on earth that would make sense in the context of this book, where it’s clear Achilles only had eyes for Patroclus. I was wondering that long before she ever showed up.

The pieces from the classics fit together in new and beautiful ways.

This book is amazing. If you like Greek myths, go and buy this book. And buy a box of tissues as well because you’re going to need them. Hell, I was ready to cry for Thetis at the end and she’s horrible!

Five stars.