Sunday, December 14, 2014

Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays!

It’s been an eventful, busy year and I’m looking forward to some relaxation during the upcoming holidays, as I’m sure you are too. This will be my last post for 2014, but readers can expect plenty of new and interesting posts in the New Year.

Today, I thought I’d share three facts about Christmas that you might not know.

Christmas Fact 1

Pagans worshipped trees, sometimes bringing them into their homes and decorating them, and the latter practice was adopted by early Christians.

Christmas Fact 2

Emperors in pre-Christian Rome forced reviled citizens to bring gifts and offerings during the Saturnalia in December, and this evolved into general gift-giving. Later, the Catholic Church adopted the practice, re-rooting it in Saint Nicholas’ alleged gift-giving.

Christmas Fact 3

Santa Claus came into being after Saint Nicholas’ bones were moved from Turkey to Bari, Italy in 1087, where the saint ‘replaced’ the goddess known as Pasqua, who was said to fill children’s stockings with gifts. The cult spread and was adopted by Celtic and German Pagans who worshipped the god Woden – who boasted a long white beard and rode a winged horse through the skies one evening each year. The Catholic Church then adopted the practice too, but changed the gift-giving from 6 December to 25 December.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these facts. Here’s to the best holiday season ever!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Legends and Folklore from Africa

Often called ‘The Cradle of Mankind’, many believe that Africa, my home continent, is the birthplace of mankind. Whether or not this is true, Africa is the source of myriad legends, folklore tales and unbelievable – to most Western minds – beliefs. African folklore includes everything from the origins of the universe and life after death to ancestral spirits, magic and celestial and other beings.

In some African cultures, the Earth is believed to be a goddess who created all living creatures, while other African tribes believe their ancestors live inside the Earth, in homes similar to the ones they lived in before their deaths.

Elephants appear in many African folktales and fables, the latter usually portraying them as wise chiefs who settle disagreements between forest creatures. Elephants are usually depicted as noble, kind and wise. Ghana’s Ashanti people believe that elephants are the spirits of their ancestral chiefs and give dead elephants chiefs’ burials, and Tanzania’s Wachaga folklore says that the first elephant was once a human who was deceived into losing all his limbs other than his right arm, which is now his trunk.

A Southern African tale tells of a girl who became so fat that no man would marry her. Accused of witchcraft, she was exiled. While wandering in the wilderness, she came across an elephant that spoke to her in Zulu. She agreed to stay with him, and he helped her to find food. The girl birthed four human sons, who were the Indhlovu clan’s ancestors.

The Kamba people of Kenya have a tale about how elephants originated. A poor man heard about Ivonya-Ngia, who reportedly fed the poor, and made the long journey to find his mansion. Ivonya-Ngia told his men to give the poor man a hundred cows and a hundred sheep, but the poor man replied that he did not want charity. Instead, he said, he wanted to know the secret to being rich. Ivonya-Ngia gave the poor man a flask of ointment and told him to rub it on his wife’s canine teeth in her upper jaw, wait for them to grow and then sell them. After a few weeks, the teeth started to grow, eventually becoming arm-length tusks. The poor man pulled out his wife’s huge teeth – after some persuasion – and sold them at the market. A few weeks later, his wife’s canine teeth were even bigger than before, but she refused to let her husband pull them out. Her entire body began to grow bigger, and her skin grew thicker and turned grey. Eventually, she went to live in the forest, where she gave birth to a son, who was born an elephant. She went on to have more children, all healthy – and all elephants. According to the story, this is why elephants possess almost human intelligence.

An interesting Yoruba belief that sounds quite New Age to me is that a person’s success depends on what choices he or she made in Heaven before his/her human birth. According to this belief, poor people should be patient, because, if they chose the right life when in Heaven, it will still manifest as earthly wealth.

Many Africans believe that every large tree has at least one spirit, whose voice one can hear if one listens carefully with a knowledge of the spirits’ language. Hence, trees are often revered. When cutting down trees to make boats or drums, for example, drum- and boat-makers try to preserve the tree spirit so that it can protect or bless the object/s made from its wood. A tree in Namibia is reported to eat people, and it’s believed that only a woodpecker can rescue them.

In Central Zaire, dwarf-like beings called Biloko are believed to reside in rainforests, protecting the forest and its inhabitants. Biloko are restless ancestral spirits who have grudges against the living, and are known to bewitch and eat humans.

Then there’s the West African trickster god, Anansi, who is usually depicted as a spider, human or spider-human who tricks humans into performing immoral acts that he gains something from. These tricks usually fail, thus teaching valuable life lessons. For example, one story says that Anansi wanted all the knowledge in the world for himself. He eventually got the knowledge in a pot, which he tried to hide in a tree. When he tried to climb the tree, he kept slipping, so his son eventually asked him why he didn’t tie the pot to his back rather than his front, as that would make climbing easier. Just then, the pot became untied and fell, causing the world’s wisdom to fall out. A flash rainstorm washed the wisdom into a river that fed into the ocean; hence, everyone in the world now has some knowledge. Some stories also depict Anansi as the messenger between the ‘supreme god’, the sky god Nyame, and this world.

Perhaps the East African good spirit called the Malaika is where the ‘devil and angel on your shoulder’ originated – at least, in Africa. Folklore says the Malaika were sent from Heaven to help humans, and they sit on a human’s right shoulder and whisper to them what they should or shouldn’t do.

According to the Akan people of Ghana and Ivory Coast, humans once lived deep inside the Earth. One day, five women, seven men, a dog and a leopard crawled out of a massive hole made by a large worm. They became frantic with terror, but the first man to set foot on the surface, Adu Ogyinae, calmed them and took charge of co-ordination the construction of their first shelters.

I hope you enjoyed this post. I’d love to hear about myths in your home country!

Monday, December 1, 2014

How to Recognise Real Life Assassins

In my fantasy series, The Queen’s Blade, the assassin Blade takes up the trade only because he has to eat. He doesn’t enjoy the work, but doesn’t particularly dislike it either. To him, it’s just a job, and one he’s able to do due to his horrific past.

What motivates real life assassins? What goes through the mind of someone who is able to plan and commit the murder of what is often a complete stranger? Not many assassins are lunatics who are obsessed with the target….

Here are the facts, courtesy of a Secret Service study in which 83 assassins and would-be assassins (over a period of 50 years) were interviewed and analysed.

* Assassins or would-be assassins rarely act on impulse – attempts are usually well planned.
* Less than 50% of assassins have or show signs of mental illness.
* 43% have a history of being delusional.
* A third of assassins value the assassination act more than the target’s identity.
* 0% send death threats. (Some studies, however, show that 4% sent death threats.)
* There doesn’t seem to be a set psychological profile that all assassins fit into. However, there is usually an obvious behavioural pattern.
* 86% are men.
* 77% are white.
* Known assassins’ ages range from 16 to 73.
* Around 50% are single.
* About a third have children.
* Almost 50% had attended college.
* 25% had a full-time job at the time of the assassination or attempt.
* Four fifths have never been arrested for a violent offence.
* 44% have histories of chronic depression.
* 54% have a history of harassment.
* 41% have threatened suicide at some point.
* Almost all the assassins analysed had experienced a recent traumatic event, such as the loss of good health, a job, a spouse or other loved one.


* Most assassins said the reason for their assassination attempt was to gain fame.
* A handful said they wanted political change.
* Only a few had co-conspirators.
* Some wanted to gain attention for a cause.
* Some wanted to get revenge for a perceived wrong.
* Some wanted to end their suffering by being killed during the assassination attempt.
* Some claimed they wanted a ‘special relationship’ with their target.
* A handful said that voices told them to assassinate the target.

So it seems that, like my fictional assassin, Blade, most real life assassins also embark upon assassinations due to trauma in their lives. Traumatic events often change people, and most assassins were once (and still are) ordinary people like you and I who were simply pushed too far – or who perceived themselves to be pushed too far.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What to read after The Cyber Chronicles

If you’ve read The Cyber Chronicles and are looking for another series to lose yourself in, I recommend my space opera series, Slave Empire.

The protagonist, Rayne, shares Sabre’s struggle for freedom… she is the golden child who many wish to slay, prophesised to save a galactic empire.

As with all my series, Book 1 is free!

Alien hunters invade a dying Earth in search of a saviour, and an ancient prophecy predicts a golden child who will save a galactic empire. A mysterious black ship is Rayne’s guide and a masked outlaw known as the Shrike her guardian. Others want to slay her and prevent the prophecy from coming true. In the midst of two great empires’ strife, the Shrike holds the power to save or destroy her.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

My Favourite Television Programme, from a Writer’s Perspective

Not surprisingly, my favourite TV programme is a sci-fi series, Almost Human. There are many others I prefer, but that’s the best one showing at the moment. While it’s a rather run of the mill crime detective thriller sort of thing, it is set in the future, and the technology is interesting. It’s more character driven than most, and the hero is a handsome, but somewhat damaged and flawed individual. I like damaged heroes! There’s no romance in it, sadly, but there is occasionally some mild flirtation. More importantly, it isn’t rife with gratuitous sex scenes or foul language.

Almost Human revolves around a detective and his android partner, who has a supposed ‘synthetic soul’, which makes him almost human. It has a bit of fairly funny comedy in it, and I haven’t spotted any instances of deus ex machina or illogical, inexplicable technology, or plot holes. I hate plot holes. I tend to shout ‘ah, come on!’ at the TV when I spot those. They’re annoying! So, the writer wrote him or herself into a corner and couldn’t figure out a good way to extricate him/herself. That doesn’t give the writer carte blanche to ‘make it so’ because that’s just ‘the way it is’. Or, worse still, ignore the problem. Put some effort into it, people! TV audiences aren’t morons, and I stop watching shows that irritate me. If I sit after the show wondering how the heck that made any sense at all, I’m not going to annoy myself with more of the same next time that show’s playing.

Almost Human also has believable action scenes. The hero is sometimes beaten up, and he and his android partner save each other from time to time, each having abilities the other lacks. That makes them easier to relate to and sympathise with, making the audience inclined to care about them and root for them. So, hats off to the writers of Almost Human. Good job.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Defending Against Assassins

Just like the wealthy in my The Queen’s Blade fantasy series, one of the first things our ancestors did to protect themselves from assassination was employ armed bodyguards. Bodyguards not only act as a shield, but keep an eye out for any threats, often scouting ahead. Those who hired them had to be careful about who they employed as bodyguards, though, for divided loyalties often led to the bodyguards being the assassins. This method of defence was so effective that assassins began to use stealthier methods like poisoning. This type of assassination, too, was easily avoided by employing food tasters.

Another popular means of defence against assassination is the employment of a body double – someone who pretends to be the potential target in order to draw attention from him or her in high-risk situations, and who looks similar enough to the potential target to be mistaken for him or her.

When firearms and bombs became a more popular method of assassination, one of the first things potential targets did was increase their number of bodyguards. Large public areas where the person was due to appear were also cleared in advance, to make would-be assassins more visible.

At the dawn of the 20th century, armoured vehicles began to be used to transport important people. Today, these vehicles can save one from most small arms fire, and even small bombs and mines. Bullet-proof vests also came into use, worn mostly just for public events.

Another way of defence against possible assassination is to limit access to high-profile people by putting visitors through numerous checks before they’re allowed to see the VIP. Bomb and metal detectors are also widely used in today’s world, as are security cameras in homes and offices.

Some potential targets go as far as to isolate themselves as a way of defence – not a nice way to live, I imagine!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Mistakes to Avoid in Book Blurbs

Let’s assume your book cover was eye catching and has encouraged a potential new reader to read your book’s blurb. A good blurb can motivate that reader to purchase your book – or avoid looking at anything with your name on it ever again.

Below are a few mistakes to avoid, which I hope will help you write a great blurb that will draw in new readers.

Spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes
It goes without saying that your book, blurb and all marketing material should be error-free. Yet I still constantly see mistakes in blurbs – the very thing that is intended to entice readers to purchase your book is the same thing that can turn them off it. I certainly wouldn’t waste money on a book for which the blurb contains errors – if the author can’t even edit a few short paragraphs properly, just how many errors will the book itself contain?

Bad formatting
Avoid writing one long paragraph for your blurb. Rather, split your blurb into shorter paragraphs to make it easier and faster to read – unless, of course, the entire blurb is very short.

Spoilers are those nasty little things that tell readers what happens in the story. Sure, you need to tell them a little in order to gain their interest, but, if you tell them how the story ends or other major things that happen in the book, leaving no questions in their minds, they will have no reason to purchase and read said book, will they? I advise giving the overall theme or plot – specifically the conflict – but, as far as possible, leaving out the finer details.

Summarising the book
Summaries are for traditional publishers and agents, not potential new readers, and thus tend to provide far more information than is necessary for a book blurb. In fact, summaries and blurbs are total opposites – summaries are intended to give away the ending so publishers can see if your story has a strong ending, and blurbs are intended to entice readers to read the book in order to find out how it ends. Summaries also often come across as rather ‘blah, blah’ – ‘this happens and then that happens and then…’ and so on. Remember, the purpose of a blurb is not to tell the reader every little thing that happens in your book.

Being vague
There’s often a fine line between giving too much or too little information in a blurb. While it’s inadvisable to give too much information, it is just as bad to not give enough. Readers want to know what to expect from the book, so you need to give them enough information to pique their interest.

Try to keep your book blurb to between 150 and 300 words. Most readers do not have all day to browse for new books and authors, so, if your blurb is too long, they may choose to skip your book and look at another instead.

Too much selling
Yes, the purpose of a blurb is to sell books. However, this should be done by sharing what the story is about (it helps to have an interesting book!), not by creating a sales pitch in the blurb. Avoid using your blurb to tell readers how great the book is, how wonderful and gifted the writer is and so on. The story details should do that.

Giving readers the wrong idea
The blurb is intended to tell readers what to expect from the book. Do not promise something in the blurb that the book does not contain. In other words, if your book has a few science fiction elements, but is mostly fantasy, do not even mention the sci-fi elements in your blurb. It will make readers think the book is science fiction, even if it is listed as fantasy, and they are likely to be disappointed – and readers do not usually purchase other books from authors who have made them feel as if their money was wasted on the purchase.

Weak ending
Your blurb needs to have a strong ending that leaves the reader interested. There’s not much point in starting off well and ending on a boring note, because readers will then be left feeling bored, not interested. It’s also a bad idea to end the blurb with a question – in most cases, the reader already knows the answer will probably be ‘yes’, so the words are wasted and it might even annoy some people.

I hope you find these tips helpful!