Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Happy Readers

About a month ago, I posted on my Facebook page about a Free International Shipping deal on my print books.

One of my fans took me up on that offer and bought a couple of my books. As it happens, she bought two of each of my colouring books, and two of my fiction books. She also promised to send me pictures when she received them.

Well, yesterday was the day, and these pics arrived in my e-mail Inbox:

She said her girls loved their colouring books... and aren't they the cutest little girls you've ever seen? (Mom's not bad looking either, but dad might have a thing or two to say if he knows I said that.)

I must admit, I was having a bit of a bad day at work, but receiving these pics put a smile on my face that nothing's been able to wipe off.

If you've read any of my books, please let me know - pics are appreciated, but not necessary. Make an author's day; you have no idea how much seeing feedback from readers means to me!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Igloos in the Summer by Kieran Jamie Lee (Book Review)

About the Book

The blurb, the blurb is not to be mistaken in the lack of informative souls. What was the once famous saying? ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ what are you doing right now? Why did you divert your eyes to the swannings of the River Tyne, was it something different, something unique, or something more powerful than ever with a touch of home?

My Review (3 / 5 Stars)

First impression? The author is very brave. This story just has that deeply authentic feel to it: I'm sure there's more than an element of truth in here!

It's billed as a romance, but it's properly a modern day tragedy, in the vein of some of Shakespeare's greatest works.

The story follows our hero, Rupert. Nothing ever seems to go right for poor Rupert. He loses his best friend, everybody around him keeps dying, and he struggles with self-harm. Okay, I made that sound quite comedic... although there's some humour in this book, it's not really meant to be a funny story at all. It's meant to be a gut-wrenching, depressing journey, and it certainly succeeds in that. Even me, a big strong man, felt tears welling up in my eyes more than once.

It's written in a very (very) contemporary British style, and there's lots of slang that I had to read a few times to figure out. That in itself is not a problem - it's actually quite charming, but overall the writing's in serious need of some copy-editing. There are lots of incorrectly used words, missing words, duplicate words, and punctuation problems.

I'm not sure I'd recommend this book, as such, because it is so depressing and out of the ordinary for modern readers, but it will definitely touch you deeply. If you've been looking for something different, and love Shakespeare's tragedies, give it a go.

Click here to find out all the places where you can buy the book.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

What Does the Big Mac Index Have to do with E-Books?

If you don't know, the Big Mac Index is an attempt by some pretty smart economists to come up with a realistic estimate of purchasing parity, that you can't get by looking at official currency exchange rates.

In a nutshell, it compares the average price of a McDonald's Big Mac burger (which is available in pretty much every country in the world) in different countries, and uses that to try and figure out how much each currency is worth. If you know how many Big Macs you can buy with $1 in the United States, and how many Big Macs you can buy with R1 in South Africa, you in theory know how much your Rand is really worth in America.

According to official currency exchange rates, the dollar is worth just less than R14 in South Africa, but I recently read an article, saying that according the Big Mac Index, it should be worth more like R5.

That got me thinking: because of the nature of indie publishing, the base price of all my books tends to be in US Dollars, but when you convert that to Rands, it makes those books very expensive. And since I am, in fact, a South African author, that's not fair. So I decided to do something about that.

Out of all the stores where my books are available, only two of them allow me to directly set the price in South African Rands. I went and worked out what the Dollar price would be in Rands, if I used the Big Mac Index, and of course it's significantly lower than it would be if you used the official exchange rate.

Take a look for yourself, if you're in South Africa. Click each link below, then scroll down and click "See Stores" to see the list of stores where each book is available. Then click either Kobo or Google Play (the only two stores which allow me to directly set the price in Rands). Pretty cheap, huh?

I didn't just do it for South Africa, of course, so if you're in any other country besides the United States, you should notice the lower prices too. You just need to click on a store that has an official presence in your country.

So what this means in practice is that, on Kobo or Google Play, all books except Stingers cost only R9.99 (Stingers costs R10.59).

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Stingers Will Be a High School Set Work

I have some news that I've been bursting to share. I've been holding back for a few months now, because it hasn't been confirmed yet.

Now, I can finally talk about it.

I am ecstatic to announce that my book, Stingers, is going to be a set work for the Grade 9 English class at Bracken High School in Alberton, South Africa, next term!

To have something I wrote studied, interpreted, and picked apart by students is the most exciting thing that's ever happened to my writing career. It's scary too, to be honest, and I hope I get to hear what the kids thought.

Let me explain briefly how this came about. My brother's girlfriend is a teacher at the school, and she read Stingers as an e-book around the end of 2015. She absolutely loved it, and immediately ordered a print copy for their school library.

Since then, she's strong-armed most of the faculty at the school into reading it, and they've all been very impressed. So last year, when it came time for them to choose set works for 2017, one of their choices was Stingers.

Apparently, the education department has a requirement that all South African schools focus more on books by South African authors and, well, I'm a South African author, and I was top of mind.

Besides, Stingers is about what happens when High School bullying goes too far, and what could be more relevant? In fact, it fits well with the subjects of both English and Life Orientation (both of which are required subjects in Grade 9).

I'll definitely post more when they start next term, and I hopefully get to find out how it's going.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Book Review: What Fears Become (An Anthology from The Horror Zine)

About the Book

From classic horror and pure suspense to Twilight-Zone-style dark fantasy, WHAT FEARS BECOME relentlessly explores our basic fears and leaves you with twisted endings that will make your skin crawl…

This spine-tingling, international anthology contains contributions from the critically acclaimed online horror magazine, The Horror Zine, and features bestselling authors such as Bentley Little, Graham Masterton, Ramsey Campbell, Joe R. Lansdale, Elizabeth Massie, Ronald Malfi, Cheryl Kaye Tardif, Melanie Tem, Scott Nicholson, Piers Anthony, Conrad Williams, and many more.

Edited by Jeani Rector of The Horror Zine and featuring a foreword by award-winning, bestselling author Simon Clark, it also contains deliciously dark delights from morbidly creative writers, poets and artists who have not yet made it big―but will very soon.

Come and discover…


My Review (3 / 5 stars)

Like most anthologies, this one's a bit of a mixed bag.

Some of the stories were scary as hell (I especially remember the one about the Ouija board). Others, I didn't find particularly scary, but I thought the stories were excellent, just the same. I think they weren't scary for me because I'm so desensitised to horror; I'm sure many of them would give other readers nightmares.

Still other stories - there are LOTS to choose from in this collection - were kind of... "meh". I remember commenting to my wife that, strangely, most of the stories I didn't quite like were from highly prolific, multi-award winning authors. That made me think that the big dinosaurs have had their day, and it's time for young blood in horror fiction.

The artwork is both scattered throughout the stories themselves, and contained in an entire section all of their own. And some of it is spectacular!

On to the poetry. Hmm.... Well, let me say, that I just don't "get" poetry. I read a few of them, but I only really enjoyed the ones that rhymed. And not all of those, either. After that, I skipped to the end of that section. I DID try, but I don't think I'm equipped to appreciate all the nuances, and I don't understand the rules. So my impression of the poems in this anthology hasn't factored into my rating; it just wouldn't be fair. Still, if you love the art form, you'll probably appreciate at least some of them.

The stories, though, are all well edited, and lovingly collected. If you like horror, and you like short stories, I'd say pick it up. The stories you do enjoy will probably outweigh the ones you don't.

Click here for a list of places you can buy the book.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Things you were taught at school that are wrong

I recently came across this article on the interwebs, talking about the things you learned about writing and the English language, which are actually just plain wrong.

These things included:

  1. You can’t start a sentence with a conjunction
  2. You can’t end a sentence with a preposition
  3. Put a comma when you need to take a breath
  4. To make your writing more descriptive, use more adjectives

Forgive me if you weren't taught these things. Maybe it's a South African thing, but I remember learning every one of them. And they are, in fact, just plain wrong.

The reason why I say they're wrong is this: There are no "rules" in the English language. There are what you might call "guidelines", yes, but no rules. This is because English is and has always been constantly evolving, and (unlike, say, French) there is no official body governing its usage.

You should probably start sentences with conjunctions, end them with prepositions, and use adverbs sparingly, because of the images they conjure up in a reader's mind. But in my books, I've done all of those things and more.

Remember, writing (particularly fiction, but to a lesser extent, any kind of writing) is all about making the reader feel something, so if there were any "rules" in English, I would say those rules are all about thinking carefully about the reader's expectations of what is "correct", and the emotion you want to create in the reader's mind.

"No rules in English, you say? Tell that to thesis moderators!"

Well, let me elaborate a bit on that "rule":

When you're writing for an audience, it's important to think carefully about that audience's expectations. If you give them something blatantly contrary to their expectations of what is "correct", your actual message will be lost on them - which in the case of a thesis or other academic paper, may result in a fail, and in the case of a work of fiction, may result in a negative review or even a refund.

Unless you're deliberately trying to be ironic. But if that's the case, you need to make sure it's clear that's what you're doing (without actually saying so, of course - it's an art). And bear in mind, humour is difficult to convey and many people just don't "get" irony under any circumstances.

What do you think? Did you get taught any of these "rules" when you were in school? What other ones can you think of?

"Don't split infinitives" comes to mind, too. I remember hearing that one, years ago, and it used to be quite popular. I haven't heard it in a while, though - Stars Trek broke it, to spectacular effect; I think that's many of its proponents up!

I'm sure similar things will happen to all the other rules on this list, given a few years/decades....

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Day Job Beckons

As you may or may not know, the vast majority of authors also work day jobs, sometimes completely unrelated to the world of writing and literature. In my case, I'm a computer programmer.

That doesn't mean our books aren't just as good as the likes of Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or James Patterson; it just means we haven't yet reached the level of critical acclaim that those literary rock stars have.

Anyway, since I didn't win the Lotto in December, and didn't make enough in book sales to cover a year's salary (if you'd like to help with the latter, by the way, feel free to buy a book), it was back to the grind for me on Monday.

I must say, I'm kind of looking forward to it. I've been gone for three weeks, and although I've received a couple of e-mails and phone calls from clients in that time, I'm keen to go see if the place is still standing. There are also plenty of new challenges and lots of new code to write.

What about you? Are you back at work yet after the December break? Or did you even have a December break (my wife didn't - she worked right through, only taking weekends and public holidays off).