Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Tuesday Tales - 2nd Time Winner!

I am totally thrilled for the second time in seven days to have been awarded the winner's palm for @theglitterlady's Tuesday Tales, over on the Glitter Word blog. The judge was Patti Larsen, a sharer of wisdom and an exciting author of young adult paranormal fiction.

Patti's kind words were as follows:

I love everything about this image–the colors, the feel of the waves. the feeling of hurry without hurrying. The intimacy of the writing. So little written but so very much said. Lovely short sentences that hit the heart. I can feel her anguish. Wonderful. Bravo to @charitygirlblog !

This week's inspiration, provided by the Glitter Lady was the following image:

And the special word chosen by the judge was: dissemble (to hide one’s true intentions).

Here is my entry:

He looks out across the sea, lit by the blood red death of the evening sun. “It’s just for a little while,” he says. I hear the rush of waves on the bone coloured beach below, hurried, too hurried. I look down at my hand, at the gold band. He glances at me, sidelong. “Really.”

I smell it then, the sea. Taste the primal tang upon my lips. It’s easy to feel insignificant, faced by its boundlessness. And I do. “Of course,” I dissemble. “Of course, just for a little while.” It’s the sea I taste, not my tears. Really.

I love the Tuesday Tales contest because it's amazing to see how a diverse group of writers responds to the same stimuli. This week's stories ranged from vampires to assassins, from man-eating plants to poignant senility. But don't take my word for it - go and read them for yourself: Tuesday Tales Challenge 4.

My absolute favourite was by @_rosie_lane whose honeymoon beginning ends with a classic horror suspense ending!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Women of Greek Myth: Medusa

I'm working on a short story series about Women in Greek Myth. This is Medusa's story.


I smell him before I see him. Hot blood, salt tang sweat. Dust stirs beyond the dark pillars. Death has come, as I knew it would. It lies in the shaking hand of a boy hero sent by grey-eyed Athena, the tireless one, the hope of soldiers.

The curse of women.

My life is hers, of course, sworn in blood on her chaste altar. Hers to hold in her pale hand, the daughter of Zeus.

I cupped the flickering flame of her votive candles, bound my potency to her divine service. Until I brought shame. Until Poseidon saw the white twist of my ankles, the fair cheeks beneath my virgin veil. Until he seized and took what was sworn to her, stole my gift away. I still smell his salt, hear the roar of the ocean mingled with my screams.

There is a clatter close by, an overturned urn. His sudden silence is as loud as an echo. Fear. It is palpable, in him, in me. I cover my face, feel the scrape of scales against my cheeks. Snakes hiss in chaotic agitation, coiling around my once smooth shoulders.

This was her punishment, bright-eyed Pallas; her curse on the daughter of Keto, whose virgin blood outraged her untouchable shrine. I am a monster, unclean. Banished to the fringes of Hades, beyond the black river.

Waiting for him, her chosen one.

“Medusa!” His voice vibrates with uncertainty. I see the flash of his burnished shield.

Not again. I will not be used again, my potency subsumed. I am Medusa. I am death to all who I behold. No man will spill my blood again. I open my eyes, stare into the darkness.

The sword whistles.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Supersonic workaholic

Since I became a working mum there's a curious alchemy that can happen in my brain. It's to do with a combination of sleep deprivation and work pressure. Sometimes it's pressure that I put myself under because I want to perform to a high standard, to do the very best I can.

When I'm averaging 5-6 hours of sleep a night and yet need to step up and deliver, it's as though my brain delivers a great rush of adrenalin. A hyped up high. I think at 100 mph, talk nearly as fast and burn through work at supersonic speed. I get frustrated at delays, impatient.

I feel almost superhuman. But as with all these things it comes at a cost - the risk of burn out.

This is how it feels:

Too Close to the Sun

And then I feel that this is the thing. The overriding thing. The state of being everything thing. The great granite monolith, the burgeoning sun. And sometimes it's a you and sometimes it's a that, but what it always is, is a blurring. It's the wave that crashes over the sea wall, the weed that chokes the native oak, the floodlight that overpowers the stars. It's a spreading inexorable crimson tide that fills me to the point of nauseation. It's a supersonic curse. I'm transfixed on a starlit point, all my appetites consumed. It's the words that I speak, the thoughts that I think. It's everything.

Singed wings, dripping wax. I smell burning and the skies recede. Too high, too far, too fast and fear grips.

Fear of falling.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

On the Prom

I'm somewhat beset by memories this week, recollections of moment's shared with a dear friend I lost last year and thoughts about her experiences. It's a difficult week for all the people who loved her. The 100 words piece below is a verbal snapshot of one of an hour we spent together in her last year.

Her eyes are dull, dry wood in a desert white face. “I’m not myself,” she says in a faded voice, staring out at the sea.
“No,” I say, helpless. “I can see that.”
She lifts her cold hand and I see it tremble. She huddles within her coat, a matchstick girl, too thin and wasted.
“I need to be free,” she says. “I need to be in the mountains.”
“I know,” I say. “Be patient.”
Her red woollen hat is bright, livid against her dark hair, a smear of scarlet, a slash of blood. Jocularity in sorrow, a hidden laugh.

In Memoriam

Nearly a year ago someone I loved died of bipolar disorder. By that I mean she took her own life. After experiencing a very extreme high for a prolonged period, she fell into a cycle of very rapidly cycling mania and depression.

She could move from a mania, where she rushed through the world at 100 mph filled with rage at her own impotence to do what she wanted to do, to suicidal depression. It could happen in minutes, seconds, in the click of your fingers. There was a psychotic edge to her experiences. She heard voices, demons. It terrified her. It went on that way for months.

She was a spiritual girl, a creature of nature. She was half buddhist, half pagan, a writer, a poet, a dancer, an actress, a musician, a teacher and a storyteller. She was brilliant academically, talented creatively. She adored children, made friends in seconds. She burned so brightly, it hurt your eyes.

She spent most of the last year of her life in a psychiatric hospital. She hated it, like a wild creature trapped in a cage. She hated the treatments she experienced, lithium, antipsychotics, ECT. Powerful cocktails that stripped her personality to keep her alive.

They gave her the shakes, made her voice tremble and her eyes dull. She hated them, hated the psychiatrists and nurses who had to make her take them. But it wasn't up to her. She was under section, a state owned property. We, the world, had intervened because we didn't want her to die. But she did anyway, in hospital.

Suicide is a terrible tragedy. Cliched words for something that is true. There are no winners. No questions answered. Just loss, guilt and grief. Every single person did what they could. Her family, who had suffered agonies for years, the medical team, and she herself - taking treatments she hated, forcing her demons out through art and writing, talking.

It seemed inexorable, implacable, the thing that took her from us.

I believe the treatment does not yet exist that could solve the complexities of her interconnected problems.

I believe that one day we will look back at the treatments and attitudes which do exist now and say "Did we really do that?" Because it will seem medieval, brutal and barbaric.

I believe that by bringing light, air and discussion to what is still one of society's big taboos (mental health and suicide) we can find better solutions.

Mental illness are frightening, not just for the sufferer but for their friends and family too. They are isolating. People shy away, don't like to ask.

Ask. Talk. Be kind.

De-stigmatising mental illness will make it easier for people to admit when they're ill, suffering, having problems. It will make it easier for them to seek treatment and for their families to get support.

And mental illness is common. Lots and lots of people experience it at some point in their life. It WILL touch someone you know. It may touch you. So reach out and talk.

This is for Lulu:

Racing Faster Than the Clouds

RAGE. Flowers in my throat, floods my veins. All power, charging. Wiring me like Christmas lights. Don’t LOOK at me, stupid. I’m super human. Thoughts racing, light speed, supersonic. I can solve the problems of the world, why CAN’T I? You won’t let me. Out of my way! Look out the window, see trees, whispering woods a whole world. Restless, need to be out of here, need to go now, now, now. The door’s ajar. Stupid, stupid can’t hold me! And I’m out, out, running, running. Wind on my face, I’m fast, motoring, a galloping horse, a speeding train. Out of my way! Euphoria. Glory. Angels singing in my blood. Sky is blue, blue, blue. Free! And the thoughts keep coming thick and fast. Loud. Too loud. PANIC. I glance over my shoulder. Faces? They’re coming for me, demon faces in the trees. Not angels, not angels, devils. Voices now, crowding my head. I’m going to burst. Agony. Unbearable. Go away! Voices, voices. Must leave, must leave now. Please. Stumble to my knees. Hold myself, arms tight to my body. Hold them in, don’t let them get me. Please.

You will never be forgotten.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Tuesday Tales - Winner! Wahey!

Yesterday I posted my entry to the Glitter Lady's Tuesday Tales contest. You can read my story here and what inspired it in yesterday's post.

The judge, lady of darkness Diana Trees. Diana is the author of Divine Wine - in her books vampires don’t sparkle, they eat people. Go check out her reviews!

To my surprise and delight, Diana chose my story as this week's winner, saying:

“The Feeling of Life – This is beautiful done, a lovely story in just a few words. I feel much of the relationship, and this appeals to all of my senses: I smell, taste and touch. For me, as a reader, I feel as though I’m getting the chance to see inside this woman’s head, and I better understand her decision.”

YEAY! Thank you Diana! And thank you to Stevie AKA the Glitter Lady for kick starting the whole thing and inspiring her fellow authors.

Please do go and take a look at the other entries. There's a lot of awesome sauce poured over them there words.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Tuesday Tales #3 - Cops and bloggers

As you might have gathered, one of the reasons I nominated Stevie McCoy AKA the Glitter Lady for a Liebster Blog Award was because of her launch of Tuesday Tales, an instantly popular flash fiction challenge.

This marks the third week of the Tuesday Tales and this week it is inspired by an image of two motorcyclists and a cop and the word sparkle. Week three's judge is Diana Trees a YA author with a difference.

Here's mine:

It was the drone that she hated. The engine noise, the nauseating screech of brakes. She heard his low, gaseous laugh, the belching belly chuckle that came from four cans of Red Stripe. Her lips tightened. Cop shows. He loved them. Loved watching those riders brought skidding down by a thick-headed officer of the law. That’s what their evenings were about now, the constant drone of motorbikes, the squeal of sirens. She was invisible, her voice suffocated by engine noise. She looked down at her hand, saw the sparkle of the ring. She dropped it in his beer and left.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Liebster Award - a Reward for Nosiness

Twitter rewards nosiness. It's the ultimate curtain twitchers' paradise, allowing you to eavesdrop on hundreds of thoughts and snippets of chit chat simultaneously.

Serendipitous nosiness as it happens, because one day it led me to stumbling across Lady Antimony's blog which was a beautiful and fortuitous discovery. Lady Antimony is an online superstar for three reasons:

1. Lady A gives of herself. She shares it her darkest moments and her brightest ones, which helps other people to give voice to theirs.

2. Lady A builds communities. Thanks to Lady A I became involved in two blog challenges, which introduced me to some really lovely and talented writers. For that, I am forever in her debt.

3. Lady A shares her talent. If you want to read some lovely poetry and skillful prose, head on over to Thoughts, Musings and Broken Promises to read some of her work.

I'm delighted to have met her and proud to count her as a friend.

Anyways, this week Lady Antimony was kind enough to bestow the Liebster Blog Award to me and others. The award is intended to highlight less well known blogs who have something great to share. The rules for the Liebster Blog Award are as follows:

1. Accept the award and thank the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Pass it to 3-5 blogs with less than 200 followers and tell them that they've received it.
3. Link back to the person who gave it to you.

To share the love, I've tried not to nominate the same people as Lady Antimony or the wonderful poetry and prose writer Bryce Daniels who nominated her, but I'd recommend taking a look at Lady Antimony's nominations like Jeffrey Hollar (the Latinium Vault), Emilia Quill (My Imaginary Beings) and Rebecca Clare Smith (Rebecca Clare Smith's Journal). If they weren't on her list, they'd have been on mine, as would Bryce. So here's my selection:

1. Stevie McCoy - Glitter Word - @theglitterlady
The Glitter Lady is a top class flash fictioner and another champion builder of online communities. She's got a real talent for inspiring creativity in other people, as evidenced by the rather marvellous Tuesday Tales. If you're feeling a bit uninspired, pop on over to the Glitter Word blog on Tuesday and have yourself a challenge.

2. David A Ludwig - - @davidaludwig
David is another flash fictioner and an imaginative fantasy writer who lets us right into his worlds and his world building. He's also a generous writer friend, who is always willing to read work and give comments. You can read his work on his blog - the Lost Girls Society series is just starting.

3. Patricia Clift Martin - Unwinding Slowly
There's nothing in the rules about nepotism right? Which is good, because I want to bestow this award on my little sister's blog, Unwinding Slowly. Devoted to knitting, crafts and cake it's a happy place to go. When Gill (my name for her) started knitting about five years ago magic happened. It was like clotted cream and jam to a freshly baked scone. The perfect combination. In October one of original designs will appear in a national magazine. I couldn't be more proud. What I love about her blog is that it's allowed me to discover a whole new side of someone I've known all my life. And she's amazing.

4. Michelle Woodall - Life Planning - @tooottooot
Michelle is a super special person. Throughout the time I've known her she's been a silver thread of honesty in a sometimes chaotic world, someone I can depend on for acceptance and truth. It's thanks to Michelle that I'm following my dream and writing. She's a magic maker, a real life fairy godmother. And now she has a blog, so all the world can have a little piece of that magic. Go there, read and be enlightened.

5. Kathy - A Beautiful Ramble
Kathy is one of the lovely and talented people I met through Lady Antimony's most recent blog challenge on the #7Virtues. Her writing is beautiful, honest and thought provoking and she is also a wonderful crafter, who shares her work on her blog. Go check her out!

Friday, 19 August 2011

You Will Never be a Centaur (or will you?)

This week the marvelous world of Twitter brought me this rather fabulous story from the Geekologie website, about a French artist injecting herself with horse plasma because... why? I'm sure she had her reasons.

The story captured my imagination and I was not alone. The talented Ms Michelle Franklin, prolific author of the long-running Haanta fantasy series was similarly struck. So I proposed a challenge. We both write a short story inspired by the adventurous and slightly equine Ms Laval-Jeantet. Michelle's story fits within the Haanta Universe and concerns a gentle, magical hind. Mine, naturally, belongs to the realm of Sisyphus, which is transmuting into a futuristic sci-fi/Greek mythology mash up. Yeay.

Make sure you read Michelle's heartwarming tale - it's the polar opposite to mine! In case you missed the link, you can read A Healed Heart here.

So here goes:


The blackness was impenetrable. He felt the rough cold of rock against his flat palms and paused, listening.

Nothing. Just the steady drip of water in the depths of the cavern and the smell of decay.

“Well?” Helen whispered behind him. He felt the light touch of her hand on her shoulder and winced, wishing he could shake it away. Even her perfume was a distraction, the heady scent of ambrosia-tinged divinity mingled with the sensuous heart of a rose. He needed to be sharp, needle-witted. Being trailed by a woman so beautiful she launched a ten year war and robbed two dozen heroes of their senses was not conducive to focus.

“Get back,” he hissed. “I can’t think with you hovering over me.”

He felt her withdrawal like a physical pain. Her hateful godhead that drew men like a moth to a flame; divinity and death intertwined within her, like any other goddess. It sickened him.

Then he heard it. A scrape deep within the cave, something hard striking the rock. And a moan, soft and low.

Drawing back his cross bolt he advanced, inching his way through the darkness as sweat beaded his brow and dripped down the musculature of his bare back.

“Chiron,” he whispered. “Chiron are you there, old man?”

The movement stopped. Silence reigned and then a low voice. “Go. Whoever you are, be gone from this place.” The words were hollow, cracked with pain.

“Chiron son of Kronos, I have need of your gift,” Sisyphus called into the black shadows. “I come in peace. Reveal yourself, centaur.”

“My gift is-”

“His gift is mine.”

Light flared around him, brighter than a thousand suns. Sisyphus flung up his arm, holding his cross bolt protectively before him. “Get back!” he shouted over his shoulder, though he knew it would be too late. Helen would be where she chose to be, and damn the consequences.

Glancing from under his arm, he stepped back startled. “What abomination is this?”
The woman standing in the glare of the floodlights was no centaur. She was two legged, bare-breasted and proud, her head tilted back to regard him with gleaming black eyes.
“Where is Chiron?”

“The centaur is my slave,” the woman said. “He is mine.”

“The son of Kronos is no woman’s slave,” Sisyphus said. He circled her, his cross bolt drawn and ready. He jerked his head at the lights. “What is this place?”

“Why should I tell you?” The woman laughed. “Frail human male.” She paused, arrested and inhaled. Turning, she took a step towards him. “There is another with you.”

Sisyphus’ flicked a glance into the depths of the cavern, searching for the gleam of the centaur’s eyes in the darkness beyond the lit interior. “I am alone,” he lied.

The woman rolled her eyes, tossing her long mane of black hair. “I smell her. A woman and not a woman. What is she?”

“Some cave creature of yours no doubt,” Sisyphus’ lips curled in a sneer, enjoying the thought of Helen hearing his words, her ludicrous perfection cracking in annoyance. “A dark sloping creature of no importance, just like you.”

She was arrogant, he could see that. He could read it in the tilt of her chin, the flare of her nostrils. Her arrogance was a gift to him.

“I came for a prophecy,” he said. “An oracle from the centaur Chiron.”

“He has no prophecy,” the woman said, even as she swivelled to look towards the cave mouth, towards Helen. “All he has is mine now. I have drained him of it.”

“You can foresee the future? It is a gift of the gods.”

The woman spread her arms, her face lifted to the lights. “I see yesterday and tomorrow. I am faster than the fleetest stallion, wiser than the stars,” she cried.

“I bow to you,” Sisyphus said politely as Helen’s knife slid silently through the dank air and blood spurted from the woman’s throat. “But I believe you are mistaken.”

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Contest Finalist! The Catherine 2011

I'm unbelievably excited to be through to the finals of a Romance Writers of America Chapter contest.

The Catherine, formerly known as the Golden Opportunity contest, is organised by the Toronto Chapter of the RWA. The Catherine is the second contest I've entered. You can read about the bitter sweet results from my first contest in an earlier post.

This time however, I've made it to the finals of the Historical Romance category.


I'm over the moon!

Obviously, a finalist doth not a winner make, but to be honest getting really positive feedback on my story is such a thrill that I feel like a winner anyway. At the very least, I feel like I'm on the right track.

For the finals, I get to submit a revised version of the manuscript. As my original submission was from quite an early draft, I have revised it considerably. And then revised it back. And then revised it again. All in all I've revised those first two chapters so much that they feel like a rather threadbare patchwork quilt or an overworked lump of dough.

I have no idea if they're any good any more at all.

So keep your fingers crossed for me.

I started focusing on writing last spring and Merely Players is my first completed manuscript. It has been a HUGE learning curve. With lots of revisions still ahead of me, I would love it to do well.

Getting to the next stage would give me a massive boost when I'm sitting up late at night, gritty eyed and stoked with Earl Grey tea trying to get that sentence just right and horrifyingly aware that my daughter will be up in five hours demanding her breakfast.

So fingers and toes crossed.

I'm off to make that tea!

5 Ways to Kill Conflict and Bore the Hell Out of Your Audience

Otherwise known as "Lessons from Captain America: the First Avenger."

Ok, so maybe I'm being a little harsh here. Captain America isn't a hateful film, just a disappointing one. Like a child born with every advantage who just doesn't bother to try.

To put it in context, I LOVE Marvel. I'm not a nitpicking obsessive, who knows the biographies of every character, artist and writer, I'm an easily pleased enthusiast. I trust Marvel. I think Stan Lee is a hero, just for creating the world he created. I love the X Men films, I loved Thor (we won't mention the Fantastic Four, best forgotten).

So I was UP for Captain America. I was READY. I trusted Marvel to deliver.

I was disappointed.


Because despite a huge budget, a stellar cast, fantastic special effects and an adoring fanbase, Captain America doesn't try. Worse than that, it forgets the one essential no film can be without: conflict.

Without conflict, there is no story. Conflict IS the story.
So why did Thor succeed and Captain America fail to deliver conflict?

At the start of Captain America we discover Steve Rogers is a puny weakling, desperate to live up to his dead parents reputation by serving for his country in WWII. He is a patriot. He's a friend. And he hates bullies.

His desperation is noted by a passing genius who decides to make him invincible. He chooses Steve because Steve is a compassionate man, who will respect his own strength and use it to protect others.

So far so good. We like Steve. We're rooting for him.

Thanks to some special serum, Steve is made invincible. He becomes everything he ever dreamed of being. Woohooo! An EXCELLENT chance for conflict.

Does Steve find his powers aren't all they are cracked up to be? Does his sudden invincibility challenge his good guy character and tempt him to do all the things he couldn't do before (sleep with women, beat up his enemies)?


Nice guy Steve segues smoothly into his invincibility with nary a misstep. It's all plain sailing, easy peasy. Say WHAT?

Missed Opportunity 1: If you're going to give your hero great power (whether physical or political) it has to challenge him.

After spending some time promoting the USA war efforts in spangled tights and with Chorus girls, our Cap is given his first opportunity to serve. He goes on an unauthorised mission deep into enemy lines, to rescue his childhood friend from the lair of Hydra.

So, does this mission go horribly wrong? Does Captain America find that his invincibility is nothing without the help of others, or without falling back on the skills he learned as a weakling or... hell, does he learn ANYTHING AT ALL?

Nope. The Cap leaps in, once more demonstrating his bravery (which we were already well aware) and rescues everyone without a hitch.

Oh yeah. Which brings me on to another key failing of the film. It's core implausibility.

Despite Captain America being just one man with a band of unarmed prisoners. Despite Hydra having an army of highly trained, armoured soldiers with super weapons - weapons that the WHOLE WORLD is quaking in their boots about, they are defeated without the US soldiers breaking into a sweat. In fact, it's a hoot. No one vital is sacrificed. No one has to compromise their moral code or make difficult choices to escape.

It's all too damn easy.

Missed Opportunity 2: If you're going to put obstacles in the way of your hero on his quest, make them REAL obstacles. They have to be HARD. They have to CHALLENGE him or her. He has to grow as a consequence. Without character development, obstacles are just pointless action sequences. They are dull.

But one thing the mission DOES do is bring Captain America face to face with Johann Schmidt, the evil head of Hydra, the Nazi Deep Science division. And Schmidt has the Captain's powers. He drank deep of the same serum when it was in its prototype stages. But in his case, it made him more evil. He's the dark twin. The embodiment of what can go wrong when the wrong guy gets superpowers. The superhero meets the supervillain. Classic stuff.

One of the WONDERFUL things about the Marvel Universe is its ambiguity. Villains act heroically and then become villainous again. Heroes become dark and are redeemed. Big questions are explored about the nature of power and humanity through these interactions: just look at the wonderful dynamic between Professor Xavier and Magneto. So is the Captain challenged by meeting his dark twin? Does he see some elements of Schmidt in himself? Is he tempted by the power Schmitt holds? It's a CLASSIC film moment - just think of Luke Skywalker being tempted by Darth Vader. It's universal, Garden of Eden, core to the human experience stuff. Does it happen here?


Missed Opportunity 3: If the duel between your hero and your villain is at the centre of your plot, they have to be three dimensional. They have to have an impact on each other - internally. Think Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Think Magneto and Professor X. Think Batman and the Joker.

Our baddie is a mere caricature. He's a Nazi, he wears shiny boots, he kills people, he has a manic laugh and a funny accent. They are polarized. And in fact, not only does the Captain not find any darkness in himself but we learn nothing either. Damn it, even Hannibal Lecter managed to gain our sympathies and he ate people for breakfast. Literally.

Now, I can forgive an easy victory and a straightforward meeting with his arch enemy once. Maybe it's setting us up for a fall. Maybe, having got all cocksure after this easy victory and the adoration which follows, our good-natured Captain will get cocksure. Maybe his new found arrogance and conviction that Schmitt is bad and the Americans are good will leave to a terrible disaster and its accompanying guilt and shame. Maybe he realises then that the potential to be like Schmitt exists in him too and he must guard against it. Maybe he then has to overcome his personal demons to win out and gain redemption....


That's a whole other film I must be talking about. Because in THIS film, the Captain doesn't screw up once. Not really. Okay, okay, so he loses his best friend who nobly dies saving Captain America's life.

What's that? Yes you heard me, the best friend gets it.

YEAY! An opportunity for real torment. Surely THIS is the opportunity the Captain gets dark and vengeful, before having to face his personal demons and win out and be good again. This is IT!


Missed Opportunity 4: Life changing experiences have to change your hero's life. Come ON. If you are going to put in an opportunity for loss and grief, you have to show the impact of the loss and grief.

Captain America tries to get drunk and can't. He's sad. He feels guilty. He's even more determined to get the bad guy. HE WAS DOING THAT ANYWAY! Nothing has changed, nothing at all.

Okay, okay. Calm down.

We're coming up to the final curtain. The Captain has gained superpowers, delivered countless (successful, of course) missions, faced his arch enemy, lost his dearest friend.

Of course none of this has changed him or challenged him, but we'll forgive that. Because there is still a chance.

This is the showdown.

He's facing Schmidt. Schmidt is his dark twin AND has extra powers thanks to an Indiana Jones-esque bit of Norse occult magic. This has GOT to be good. So does the Captain defeat Schmidt but get tempted to take the Norse magic for himself - in order to do good for the world, of course? In the moment of conflict, does he see a grain of humanity in Schmidt and recognise that he could have ended up the same way... does he hesitate? Does Schmidt become more human, more likable, so that we CARE about his death?

Nope. Of course not. Because that would be CONFLICT. And this film DOES NOT DO CONFLICT.

Missed Opportunity 5: At your resolution, give your hero something to resolve INTERNALLY not just EXTERNALLY. External conflict is fine, but unless it is accompanied by heart-twisting, emotion-engaging internal conflict, we don't really care.

In fact, the story doesn't really pick up until the last five minutes when Steve wakes up in the future, disorientated and challenged. And that's the end of the film. So what have we been watching for the last 2 hrs 40 minutes?


You heard me. One big long info dump, coloured in by some nifty (but not especially original) action scenes and some fairly good romantic chemistry.

The biggest conflict in Captain America is when the Captain is forced to stay in America promoting bond sales instead of fighting with his chums and he has to wear tights.
Not meeting his dark twin. Not the death of his friend. Not even his love interest.

Potential points of conflict are NEVER used to impact upon him. He has no internal conflict.

It's a shame. One big long missed opportunity. However, it does give me hope for the next Avengers film, because now we know the backstory the main event should be GREAT!

So what have we learned?

If you don't want to bore the hell out of your audience, insert some conflict into your story:

1. Let your hero be challenged by his own strengths and core values. Let them be called into question. Let him have to learn something.

2. If you are putting in external conflict and obstacles, make them real. If you know your hero will win every fight, you lose interest in the outcome of the fight. If you know your hero will win every fight, but at some personal cost to himself, the outcome of the fight becomes interesting. How long can he go on for?

3. If your hero faces a villain, don't make your villain a caricature. We don't care about caricature. Your villain gives your hero an opportunity to explore something about himself. Let him explore it.

4. If your hero faces life-changing experiences, let them have an impact on his life. Let them change how he reacts or what he does.

5. At your resolution, ensure that your hero is resolving an internal conflict, as well as an external conflict. Make us care.

Want to read more writing lessons courtesy of the movies? Follow the link to find out about world-building, universality and character development.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

#7Virtues Blog Challenge: Humility

And now the end is here.
And so I face the final curtain.

Yes, my friends. Today is the last day of the #7Virtues Blog Challenge instigated by the clever Lady Antimony over on her blog.

Over the last week I’ve brought you a daily dose of Greek Mythology, themed around one of the Heavenly Virtues. If you want to read the rest, just click on Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Patience or Kindness.

On this final day, I bring you:

Humility: the Tale of Icarus and Daedalus

The sky is merciless, scorching. Tears sting my eyes. I can hear their terror, the Athenian youngsters sacrificed to the minotaur’s monstrous appetite, smell their blood splashing the narrow stone passageways. Passageways I built, in my cleverness.


I spread my arms, wind stirring my patchwork feathers. “Remember, Icarus,” I whisper. Our wings are wax, the sun is our enemy. Too late I see the proud tilt of his chin, the challenge in his eyes. He soars into the air.

I turn my face away. Had I thought I could make man fly?

I do not see him fall.

The myth of Icarus and Daedalus is well known. Daedalus (the narrator of this story) was an inventor and was commissioned by King Minos to build a structure to imprison his step-son the Minotaur. Daedalus built the Labyrinth. The story then goes (in some versions) that Daedalus was then shut up in a tower, perhaps to prevent his knowledge of the Labyrinth spreading far and wide.

Daedalus and his son escaped by creating wings of wax and feathers. On the verge of leaping from the tower window, Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too high. In his excitement, Icarus forgot. He flew too close the sun and his wax wings melted, plunging him to his death in the waves. You can read the story in Ovid's Metamorphoses, though Daedalus himself is first mentioned by Homer.

The legends about Daedalus seem to follow a pattern: he comes up with a clever invention which has unforeseen negative consequences (the minotaur's prison becomes its monstrous stronghold, the soaring wings become Icarus' death sentence) and dire consequences ensure, which he bitterly regrets. He is therefore seen as introducing the theme of humility into Greek Myths.

I myself find Icarus all too easy to empathise with - imagine the excitement of being airborne and the thrill of swooping and diving like the birds. It must have been all too tempting to climb higher and higher... an adrenalin rush to a young man who dreams of great deeds. Now I'm a mum, it's Daedalus who resonates most with me - a man desperately trying to keep his child safe from a hazardous world. I'm sure every child seems terrifyingly reckless to his or her parents!

Feast on Heavenly Delights

I’m grieving that the #7Virtues Blog Challenge is over. Not just because I enjoyed writing my stories so much, but also because I loved reading what other people had to say. The Heavenly Virtues have inspired the flash fiction writing community in really diverse ways; from angels to murderers, from fantasy worlds to bus stops, this challenge encompasses them all. Go on a whistlestop tour of the riches the #7Virtues Blog Challenge has to offer and enjoy some truly inspirational bite-size stories. All you need to do is make yourself a cup of tea, pop on over to Lady Antimony's blog and follow the links. Do it – and enjoy!

See Soihang NXC for picture of Icarus falling.

Friday, 12 August 2011

#7Virtues Blog Challenge: Kindness

Thanks to some lovely kind people over in Canada (I love Canadian people!) I'm in absolutely the right from of mind for 6th Heavenly Virtue in the bountiful Lady Antimony's#7Virtues blog challenge. Today it is the turn of:


Blood and dust. It’s all I have smelt for days. Flames from the funeral pyres lick the dusky sky and a mourning lament rolls out across Ilium’s wine dark sea. I press my veil against my lips, cold with horror. I brought this, white-armed Helen, Paris’ goddess-given prize. I brought the war-like Achaeans.

They hate me, these Trojans. I see their sidelong glances, hear whispered curses in my wake.

“Helen.” A gentle touch on my arm, a cup pressed into my hand. Andromache’s eyes are warm with understanding. She smiles and I shudder. Tomorrow Hektor dies. Will she smile then?

I think along with Temperance, Kindness is one of the Virtues I have enjoyed the most. For one thing it shows someone genuinely being kind and for another, it's exploring a character who really interests me.

Helen of Troy occupies an odd position in the mythic universe. She is universally known, but suffers from the fate of many beautiful women: she is judged solely by her looks. She interests me because, despite having caused a ten year war, at the end of Homer's epic cycle she escapes without any reprisal.

Other, more blameless women suffer far more. Andromache (picture above), who features in my story, is Hektor's wife and a Princess of Troy. She loses her husband in combat with Achilles, has her infant son murdered and is enslaved by Achilles' son. Helen goes off to enjoy a second honeymoon with her husband Menelaus.

So why is that? Just because she's pretty? Or because she's a wonderful diplomat? I like to think there is another reason. Helen is Zeus' daughter, by Leda and thus has some god-blood running in her royal veins. I like to think that this little speck of divinity renders women like her untouchable. They enjoy the same privileged amorality as the gods themselves. I don't imagine it would all be plain sailing for Helen though. You can read why in this flash fiction here.

Helen is a character I plan to explore more in Sisyphus, a fantasy novel currently in the planning stages. You can read her thoughts on the matter in her letters to Hermione, just starting over at Letters from Helen on Tumblr.

Take the Tour

I've loved reading the stories themed around the Heavenly Virtues that the other super talented participants in the Blog Challenge have posted. Please do read them - there are some amazing stories out there and you can find them by following the links on Lady Antimony's blog.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Greek Mythology for Pre-Schoolers: 2 Projects

On a rainy afternoon aside from getting post-apocalyptic book suggestions, imagining what would happen in a world that had encountered catastrophic climate change (for a book, not because I'm a survivalist) and making flapjack, what else would you do but create MONSTERS?

The jury's out on whether this was more fun for me or for my baba (I suspect for me). But here are the results:

Mummy and Baby Gorgon

One was made by a 33 year old and the other by a 3 year old (unassisted) and frankly, there isn't much to pick between them.

So, how to model Greek Mythological Monsters?

Materials were:
1. Polymer Clay, in this case Hobbycraft's Make n Bake (currently available for the princely sum of .99p per packet)
2. Glass beads (also Hobbycraft)

Tools were:
1. A knife (for cutting and shaping clay)
2. A cocktail stick
3. A pair of hands

Plus a baking tray and domestic oven.

The basis for the blue Medusa was a fat marbled sausage of clay, with a shaped head stuck on top and then various little sausage snakes stuck all over her head. It's necessary to embed the beads in little holes (cocktail stick) or they drop off once its baked.

The basis for the pink Medusa baby was a pink lump of clay, squashed, with beads squashed in and lumps of clay squashed on. It was a remarkably effective technique!

Stick Puppet Medusa (we were on a theme here)and Stick Puppet Princesses (Andromeda or Sleeping Beauty depending on what game we're playing)

Materials were:
1. Person-shaped lolly sticks (Hobbycraft)
2. Scraps of wool, paper, foam
3. Pink paint
4. Sequins (The Works) and pipe-cleaners (Hobbycraft)
5. PVA glue (Hobbycraft)

Equipment was:
1. A glue spreader

The process is self evident - I cut up pieces whilst she painted, she glued and stuck (I straightened) and voila, we were ready for a back of the sofa puppet show.

Who needs the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, when there's theatre as good as this at home?

Then we sat down and had a flapjack picnic with our monsters. And it was GOOD.

In fact, it was arguably the best flapjack I've had in years. Making flapjack is nearly as easy as eating it. Nearly.

8oz Oats
3oz Black Treacle
3oz Demerara Sugar
5oz Butter
A pinch of salt and a sprinkle of ginger.

Melt the treacle, sugar and butter, mix in the dry ingredients, spread in a greased square baking tin and bake for 25 mins at 190 C.

Best scoffed warm and crumbly with a cup of tea. And several monsters. Mmmmm.

#7Virtues Blog Challenge: Patience

What does August mean to you? Long warm days, golden fields of corn? Sandcastles on the beach? So I thought. As I look out of the window, the August skies are blind, filled with a blank haze of grey cloud and rain has been falling steadily since yesterday. What with riots, financial chaos and a miserable cold I'm in the mood for a. a hot water bottle b. chocolate and c. writing a tragedy to cheer myself up (weird how that works).

So for gracious Lady Antimony's #7Virtues blog challenge, today I bring you a bitter-sweet virtue....


Eurydice. Her touch as sweet as melody, her laugh like harp song. Her loss is a dark, dripping cavern inside me. I’m hollow, I barely exist. Bravery didn’t carry me into Hades’ stygian gloom. It was desperation. Terror that this half-life would devour me, turn me into a living shade. They set just one condition, the monarchs of this midnight realm.

Don’t look back.

I must cross the silent Styx, weave through shadowed nightmares up into the light. I must trust that my Eurydice follows, her fleshless feet a soundless echo. I must be patient. I must not look.

I've always felt so sorry for Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus was a good guy, a musician, poet and prophet who adored his wife, the nymph Eurydice. On their wedding day he played joyful melodies whilst she danced through the meadows. Unfortunately, the lovely Eurydice caught the eye of a roving satyr who chased her bent on having his wicked way. In her flight, she trod on a nest of vipers and was killed. Orpheus was so distraught he went down to the Underworld to get her back, softening the heart of Hades and Persephone with his beautiful music. They allowed him to return with her on one condition. That he walk out of the Underworld without looking back once. As he walked towards the light anxiety possessed him. Was Eurydice following him? Would she emerge into the light with him? Was she there? And Orpheus... well you'll just have to read Ovid's tale to find out what happened.

Orpheus and Eurydice have inspired many works of art, music and literature from Gluck's opera (the image above), to Neil Gaiman's the Sandman. It's a tragic tale of true love and human frailty.

Take the Tour

The Heavenly Virtues have been a real challenge for all the writers taking part, but I can tell you that people have really risen to that challenge - and then some! Check out some amazing stories by following the links on Lady Antimony's blog.

Images courtesy of Another Wanderer on DeviantArt, Impromptu Ramblings and

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

#7Virtues Blog Challenge: Diligence

Wednesday's story for Lady's Antimony's #7Virtues blog challenge.


The heat was unbearable. He tried to take a breath but his lungs seemed to burst within his rib cage and the air hissed in his throat. He was suffocating. Sweat streamed down his body, making his skin dangerously slick. Muscles burned with strain as he launched himself once more against the massive boulder, his shoulder slipping into the natural dent worn into the rock. His mind blazed with agony; every nerve ending echoing with the pain of his efforts. One more time. Perhaps this time it would work, this time Sisyphus would be free of Tartarus.

The boulder slipped.

If you have been following this blog at all, you will know that Sisyphus is the main character in a project I'm working on at the moment, the Sisyphus Diaries, which is a kind of 'getting to know you' exercise for what will hopefully be a mythological/fantasy book (currently being plotted). He's also the inspiration for an essay by Albert Camus, on man's futile search for meaning - so I'm in good company!

Take the Tour

The Heavenly Virtues have been a real challenge for all the writers taking part, but I can tell you that people have really risen to that challenge - and then some! Check out some amazing stories by following the links on Lady Antimony's blog.

Tuesday Tales: A Ghost Story

The clever Glitter Lady, hostess of the Glitter word blog has launched a brilliant new initiative: Tuesday Tales.

Each week writers are set the challenge of writing a 100 word flash fiction inspired by an image chosen by the Glitter Lady and a word chosen by that week's judge. This week we had a photograph of dying roses and a word: "lugubrious", chosen by Steve Montano author of Blood Skies.

Here's my attempt:

The church looked just as she had planned. Banks of candles flickered in the incense-scented air and friends shifted in their seats, silent with anticipation. She drifted down the aisle, touching the tight clusters of ribbon-strangled roses which clung to the pews. He waited for her at the front, head bowed. Smiling, she reached out to touch her bridegroom's hand. He lifted his head, but his eyes were trained on a long box standing starkly on the altar. A bouquet lay on its lid, its faded petals curling with decay.

Her bouquet.

Organ-song, lugubrious as death, drowned her silent scream.

But don't stop there - read everyone's interpretations posted on the Glitter Word blog. There are some great stories! And there's still time to submit yours (just).

(Image courtesy of

#7Virtues Blog Challenge: Charity

Hope you're enjoying the #7Virtues blog challenge! Today we have...

Epimetheusz és Pandóra

Charity: A Gift from the Gods

Epimetheus knelt in the temple, trembling with joy. For too long, mankind had struggled lonely in the shadow of the gods. Prometheus had brought fire to leap in the grate and now Zeus’ offered this mark of favour, an act of divine charity such as he could barely grasp.

He reached out to the altar, touched the smooth curve of her hip. “Pandora.” Her name fell from his lips like a sigh. “Blessed be Zeus.”

She smiled, her eyes liquid with love. He didn’t notice the box beside her, or the way her curious fingers traced the tight wax seal.

Pandoras Box Pictures, Images and Photos

You've got to feel sorry for Epimetheus. After all the unpleasantness around his brother Prometheus stealing fire from the gods, it seemed that Olympus was just starting to lighten up. They sent him an olive branch in the form of the first woman, Pandora. Not only a woman, but one with Aphrodite's beauty - one hot lady. He must have been beside himself... it's a shame that no one had told him never to trust a Greek God bearing gifts. Because after Pandora opened that box...

You can read more about the Pandora myth on the Theoi Greek Mythology website.

A Chorus of Heavenly Virtues

Now you've read mine, take the tour. Go on, improve yourself. Nibble on some bite-size goodness, it's good for the soul. You can find a delicious menu by clicking through to these virtuous creatures:

David A Ludwig, Bryce Daniels AKA Poet, Lissa Bilyk, Rebecca T. Little, Rosie Lane, Jamila Jamison, Rebecca Clare Smith, Amy Romine, The Gorm, brainhazewp, Surfing Madness, Glitterlady, JC Kitty, Zade Forrest, Emilia Quill, Kathy, Jeffrey Hollar

Monday, 8 August 2011


I've given my blog a new look and (for this week at least) a new name: Dracula has become Dionysus!

Which involves time-travelling backwards, but I'm down with that. All very exciting. Since I started writing again last year - and began this blog - I have been rediscovering more and more enthusiasm, passion and interest in things that have lain in the dusty cupboards of my mind for far too long.

Maybe it's a motherhood thing, or maybe it's a time of life thing or maybe it's about getting on the right track after a meander about the woods, but I'm pleased.

And the nice things about blogging and about writing is that you can revise, rewrite and remodel until it's precisely what you want it to be. Now all I have to do is re-URL my URL and I'm all done - until the next revision.

An unashamed Classics geek. A Georgette Heyer aficionado. An aspiring writer. A knackered (but happy) mother. A secret Marvel superhero.

That's me.

(One of those things isn't true).

Sunday, 7 August 2011

#7Virtues Blog Challenge: Temperance

My second piece for the #7Virtues blog challenge.

TEMPERANCE: The Bacchant Who Never Was

Wild pipes shrill in the air, drums beat. I smell blood and wine, feel the restless rhythm of flailing feet thumping the moist earth. Covering my ears, I huddle against the dark cypress. Dionysus calls me, his Bacchic melody as seductive as Aphrodite’s smile, but I resist. Resist the sagging wine-skin, the ritual insanity that grips my sisters, their grape-stained mouths howling at the moon. Screams grow louder, echoing on the mountainside.

“Kill it! Kill the lion!” And I see it. Pentheus’ bloodied head, held aloft by wine-mad Agave. I close my eyes, horror-struck. Pentheus is her son.

This story is set within the world of Euripides' Bacchae and imagines what it would have been like for a woman who chose not to join in the God of Wine's Bacchanalia.

When I was sixteen I saw a brilliant student adaptation of Euripides Bacchae in Liverpool. It had a young Dionysus (with a striking resemblance to Jason Lee) who leapt with wild balletic energy from scaffolding all around the stage. I never forgot its energy or its tragic impact.

If you want to read the story of Pentheus, you can find it on Theoi, the Greek Mythology website. It has translations from the play.

A Chorus of Heavenly Virtues

Now you've read mine, take the tour. Go on, improve yourself. Nibble on some bite-size goodness, it's good for the soul. You can find a delicious menu by clicking through to these virtuous creatures:

David A Ludwig, Bryce Daniels AKA Poet, Lissa Bilyk, Rebecca T. Little, Rosie Lane, Jamila Jamison, Rebecca Clare Smith, Amy Romine, The Gorm, brainhazewp, Surfing Madness, Glitterlady, JC Kitty, Zade Forrest, Emilia Quill, Kathy, Jeffrey Hollar

Saturday, 6 August 2011

#7Virtues Blog Challenge: Chastity

7-14 July was a fantastically wicked week, with a new sin emerging with every creeping day. It was all Lady Antimony's fault for issuing her #7sins blog challenge.

But no matter. Like Glinda the Good or an elderly catholic priest, Our Lady Antimony is offering us the chance to redeem ourselves.

Yes, dear friends, 7 August marks the launch of the #7Virtues blog challenge. There are some great writers taking part and I encourage you to take the tour.

This time round, I've decided have a theme. My rekindled love affair with Greek Mythology and Classical Civilisations continues to flare brightly (as seen by the my earlier blog post. It will therefore be my pleasure to bring you a daily heavenly virtue encased in the 100 word long pagan body of a Greek Myth. Wheeee! And today I bring you...

CHASTITY: The Tale of Apollo and Daphne

It’s cool in the shade of the laurel. I wrap my arms around your slender trunk and close my eyes against the bright glare of the sky. Was it worth it Daphne? Rooted here, insensate, just to escape my touch. I’m the sun, my love. I could have fired your blood, made your senses blaze. Set you on fire.

I still can.

Stepping back, I press one aromatic leaf against my lips. A breeze caresses your sweet branches, stirring your as I could not. You call this chastity? I smile as you turn to ashes at my feet.

You can a quick summary of the Apollo and Daphne story at the Theoi Greek Mythology website, or by heading over to the Perseus Project and reading some of the early versions of the myth, told by authors like Parthenius or Ovid.

A Chorus of Heavenly Virtues

Now you've read mine, take the tour. Go on, improve yourself. Nibble on some bite-size goodness, it's good for the soul. You can find a delicious menu by clicking through to these virtuous creatures:

David A Ludwig, Bryce Daniels AKA Poet, Lissa Bilyk, Rebecca T. Little, Rosie Lane, Jamila Jamison, Rebecca Clare Smith, Amy Romine, The Gorm, brainhazewp, Surfing Madness, Glitterlady, JC Kitty, Zade Forrest, Emilia Quill, Kathy, Jeffrey Hollar

Classics for the Pre-schooler

My three year old loves Greek Mythology. Heroes and monsters populate her imagination and add colour to her games. It's something we both enjoy and it's an introduction to classics. I wrote about why classics is important in my last post.

So where did we start?
It's widely known amongst my family that I'm a classics nut. So C's passion for myths started when she was given Sara Fanelli's wonderful Mythological Monsters of Ancient Greece. If you like Greek myths, you'll love it. If you like art, you'll love it. If you like a bloody good children's book, you'll love it. And if you don't believe me, read the amazon reviews.

The next step was to stumble on the unappreciated wonder of Disney's Hercules, going for a song (£5) in Asda Walmart. My old Classics tutor loved that film, because it treats the myth as it should be treated - reinvents it to reflect the values of the culture in which it is being told. Plus it's got engaging characters, great animation and fantastic songs. My daughter has watched it something like a billion times.

In fact, it even helped me with potty training. Which brings me on to TOYS.

Thanks to ebay, I picked up the whole set of Hercules collectible characters (once handed out in MacDonald's Happy Meals) for about £1.50. A star chart with Hercules characters was a powerful incentive. Thanks to Hades, she's dry at night.

Next came more adventures into what DVDs have to offer. Ulysses 31 (a sci-fi anime take on Odysseus' adventures), edited highlights (finger firmly on the fast forward button) from Jason and the Argonauts (the 1960s one - and yes the skeletons are scary if you're an adult, but apparently not if you're a three year old with a thirst for adventure), the 1981 Clash of the Titans (the Pegasus bits) and most recently Dreamworks Sinbad, which borrows a lot from the Odyssey. I'd be careful with Jason (it's too scary for some) and definitely don't recommend Clash of the Titans for little ones, but if you're handy with the remote control and have a child who's fascinated by Pegasus, there are some cool flying horse scenes. Sinbad and Hercules on the other hand are both innocuous and highly entertaining.

What else?


We've made a plasticine hydra and fimo monsters. We've got a book of origami Myths and Legends (challenging!).

Most recently I've been inspired by Wattle and Daub Theatre company (amazing) and am planning on making a shadow theatre with a minotaur puppet (there's some great advice on that here).

The minotaur is definitely C's monster du jour - last night she went to bed pretending she was a baby minotaur tangled up in maze. Each to their own.

There's some great advice on how to make shadow theatres on the web, but failing that, wooden spoon puppets or sock puppet hydra are all good.

Next week we're taking advantage of the Edinburgh Festival to go and see Greek Myths for Kids - a show with puppetry - with a bunch of my daughter's friends. There's a review of last year's performance on the List (source of this image). Can't wait!

And as my daughter gets bigger, we'll be reading the wonderful Kingfisher books of Myths and Legends, the Horrible Histories and the fantastic novels of Mary Renault, Rosemary Sutcliffe and Henry Treece.

All in Moderation
I'd hasten to add that Greek Myths aren't all we do. Disney Princesses inevitably feature large in my daughter's life, as do superheroes and dinosaurs. She has lots of books on different subjects, loves parks, water slides, scooters, gardening, ballet and getting very soggy and very muddy. She might have spent a good deal of time at Kew Gardens hunting for monsters, but she also spent a good deal of time playing hide and seek with her friend George.

The really nice thing about getting your kids involved in something you love is having fun. We both enjoy the stories, we both enjoy the films. We love making the puppets and making up games and chasing around being minotaurs and heroes. It's fun.

And that's one of the absolute best things about parenthood: doing something you love, with someone you love and seeing them love it too.

Read more on why you should bother with classics in my last post.