Saturday 24 October 2015

Giveaway prize winners

The giveaway finished on Friday afternoon, but due to work and other stuff (I edited and submitted a short story last night), I didn't get around to picking the winners until just a moment ago.

Drum roll please...

(BTW this draw had pictorial evidence, but Blogger wouldn't let me upload them!)

Cat and The Dreamer... Miriam Drori
Miriam was the only person to choose Cat, so there's only one winner.

That Sadie Thing... Hilary Melton-Butcher and Gwen Tolios

Our Beautiful Child... Michelle Wallace and Murees Dupe.

I will be contacting all the winners (within the next half an hour, so I don't miss Doctor Who).

Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway.

Ooh, look at that... this is post 501!

Friday 16 October 2015

500 posts!

On Monday 26th July 2010, I wrote my first ever blog post - a post which, sadly, received no comments.

I'd been reading some blogs by my favourite authors, and decided I'd like to have a go. If nothing else, I thought, at least I'd have a record of my journey towards my Man Booker-winning novel in 2030...

And today, I am writing my 500th post.

I've been pretty active, writing-wise, in those five years and three months - I've had three books published, with another on the way next year. I've written a novel which I'm currently submitting, and I'm writing some short stories for a new collection.

But most of all, I've met lots of wonderful writers, many of whom I call friends.

I've been writing for a very long time (my first two short stories were published 21 years ago, which makes me sound very old, even though I'm not!) and in those days prior to the internet, writing was a lonely business. Indeed, authors were remote and awe-inducing because you couldn't just phone them up for a chat, or read about their daily lives - connections on Facebook and Twitter mean you now can. How brilliant is that!

As a thank you for reading my blog - new and old alike - I'm giving away two copies of each of my books. Cat and The Dreamer is an ebook, but the others are available in paperback too. Just comment with the book and format you'd like - I'll choose winners at random next Friday, 23rd October.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Help! World-Building!

In a very occasional blog series, I reach out to bloggers and yell "Help!" In this case, I had a speculative fiction idea, but the whole world-building element scared me.

"Gwen Tolios," I said, "how do you world-build?"

And she said... 

My World Building Secret - Pretending I'm Five by Gwen Tolios
When Annalisa asked me to do a guest post on world-building, I was so excited. Because world-building is my favorite part of the writing process. I like naming things, drawing maps, figuring out how things work.  To me, it's no different then going to a new city and hitting the streets to explore. Instead, I'm just hitting the keyboard and peering into stories.

So how do I world-build?

I ask my favorite question - why? - ten million times.

For example, in my current WIP I am running with the idea of humans being modified for space colonization instead of the planet. But this just can't happen, oh no, there has to be a reason.  So why did it happen? Is it cheaper? Faster? A science experiment?  Or maybe something a little more dramatic, such as the disastrous Moon Failure that highlighted just how risky living in artificial environments were.

The thing is, the world your story takes place in might be fictional, but it still has to function as a real one. It's real to your characters and it has to be real to your readers. And here in the real world, there is always a reason. Why aren't airships a thing anymore?  It has to do with the dramatic intersection of incidents like the Hindenburg and the improvement of airplane technology. Why did Westeros build a giant ice wall? To protect it from the White Walkers.

It's often not just one thing, one reason.  If I've learned anything in life it's how interconnected things are.  America has a problem with obesity and it's because there are lots of fast food chains. But fast food is also cheap food and it can be the only way for low income families to get a full meal. Eating right and healthy is expensive and out of reach.  So obesity is a poverty issue. Or maybe a cultural one, because America is a car culture that's also addicted to TV and the Internet. Or a social one, as social movements preach body positivity and more and more people are okay with being overweight.

Things can get messy, but that's life, and often times in your fiction that same thing has to happen.

Take the Hunger Games. Why do those Games even exist? It's a way for the government to install fear and control over the Districts. It is symbol of how a previous uprising had tried pull down the Capital, but didn't. It is a show of power. It is a distraction and entertainment for those in the Capital. It's a way to pit districts against each other. It gives the average citizen a rare chance at getting a better life.

Why is a minority treated harshly? Their country attacked this one 50 years ago, but lost, and it's the remnants of the army that live in the slums and fill the bars. Why must wizards use wands? They need its a buffer, because channeling magic through the body can be deadly. Why is do people never address gods by name? It draws their attention, which you might not want. Pick a part of your world, or even your plot, and ask why?

Dig deeper and deeper, asking questions, and before you know it you'll have a world with a history and a reason for why things are they way they are. 

Thank you so much, Gwen. I love asking myself What If...? but now I know I need to ask Why? as well.

About Gwen Tolios
Gwen Tolios hails from the American Midwest and uses her experiences abroad to shape her speculative fiction. Author of Flicker, she's currently working on YA SF story inspired by her time in Ethiopia.
Gwen blogs at Fulfilling Dreams.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

How NOT to make a cheesecake

I'm over on the Really Real Housewives blog all this week, sharing tips and ideas. When the lovely Housewives approached me, I knew I had to include a recipe, because they really love their food over there.

Before you read further, check out my post on the Really Real Housewives blog...

Done that... Okay, good.

So, the problem with a recipe: I am not a good cook.

Solution: Wing it, and share my mum's really simple cheesecake recipe...

Or, at least, that was the plan.

It starts off well. I crush up the biscuits like an expert, while the butter melts under a gentle heat (note: mutli-tasking, people. Aren't you impressed?)

However, I read the recipe wrong and only melt 28g of butter. I pour it into the biscuit crumbs and notice (observant) that it isn't coating the crumbs at all. I slice off some more butter, melt it, pour it in. It still doesn't look enough, but that's the recipe, so okay... I put the base into the cake tin, press it down, put it in the fridge.

I open my laptop to change the recipe, and realise I should have put 85g of butter. So - with 28g plus an undetermined amount already mixed in - I'm now melting more and hoping it will come out somewhere near the actual 85g it should have been.

Next, I tip the soft cheese into the bowl - two small tubs, so I know I've got the right amount there - and start to weigh out the yoghurt.

Except... the scale isn't switched on. So now I have to pick up the (luckily, quite solid Greek) yoghurt with my fingers while I turn the scale on.

Next, to whisk. It's an electric hand whisk, so I clip the mixer blades and turn it on. One falls off straight away and another isn't working. I unclip the blades, by now covered in the mixture, and reattach. And repeat twice more until it inexplicably starts to work.

And as a final flourish, after I've put the mixture into the tin, I realise I completely forgot to add the sugar...

I contemplate pouring myself a glass of wine to recover, and remember it's only 10am (responsible).

Moral of the story: Don't ask me to cook, anything, at all, ever!

To make me feel better, I'd love you to share your kitchen disasters.
And then, remember to visit me at the Really Real Housewives blog.

Monday 5 October 2015

I'm a housewife really...

... Well, I must be because the lovely ladies at the Really Real Housewives blog have asked me over for the week.

I promise to be a good guest, tidy up after myself, and cook dessert on Wednesday!

Pop back here on Wednesday, though, when I will be sharing just how brilliant at dessert-making I really am.