Reviews

Book Review, Artania: The Pharaoh’s Cry by Laurie Woodward

Laurie Woodward is a fellow Next Chapter author (previously, they were called Creativia Publishing) who writes middle grade books the same as I do, and when I read the synopsis for the first book in her Artania series, I was so intrigued I had to grab a copy for myself.

The basic premise for the Artania series is that art is alive and the creations there have their own realm – Artania itself – that is under threat from monsters that want to wipe out all the hope and creativity from the world so they can take over Artania for themselves.

The denizens of Artania, fearful of losing their home, reach out to two young boys who have been prophesied to save them, both of whom have a passion for art but come from drastically different backgrounds: Bartholomew Borax III, whose mother is the head of a bleach company and has such an obsession with cleanliness that he has to hide his art from her lest she declare it unclean and confiscate it, and Alexander DeVinci, a cool kid who moves to a new home with a larger room for him to paint in where he spends most of his spare time, much to his mother’s sadness when he becomes so absorbed in his work that he rarely speaks to her.

As the plot gently unfolds by the switching of viewpoints between the two boys with each chapter, I found I sympathized most with Bartholomew, as his mother is so strict about him staying clean and presentable, and not picking up germs from anywhere, that he really has no interaction with other kids his age at all. When she reluctantly agrees to let him go to a public school, he is very much an outsider and knows none of the social nuances most of the kids in his class use, and it’s only when he draws a detailed portrait that he gains any sort of respect from them.

Alex is very much the opposite of Bartholomew – confident, lots of friends, easygoing parents etc, but his problems begin when his mother becomes seriously ill, and he blames himself for prioritising art over spending time with her. This neglect for art and the negative emotions around it are what the monsters feed on, making them stronger. Yet when the boys are summoned by the Artanians and learn to be friends, Bartholomew manages to help Alex rekindle his love of art.

As this is book one of a series, it only covers a small part of what the boys have to do to save Artania, focusing on a group of pharaohs who have been kidnapped by the monsters. Because of this, a lot of time and detail is spent building up their world, and it’s clear that a lot of research has gone into this book. Many of the characters are true to Egyptian mythology and history, and I actually learnt a bit while reading.

The characters’ motivations were all crystal clear, and I did find myself rooting for the boys when it got to the nitty gritty of the story. I did, however, find the pacing a bit too slow for my liking, but that’s just personal taste – I like fast paced middle grade that doesn’t let me rest, and this just didn’t have that factor. But the idea behind it was still fresh and well thought out.

I don’t know whether I will continue with the series, as despite the strong writing and plot, I can’t say it gripped me as much as I’d hoped it would. But I imagine it will be a firm favourite with many middle grade readers.

Overall, I thought it was a pretty good read.

 

Official blurb:

Young Bartholomew isn’t allowed to go to school, play outside or make art, so he sketches in secret. When Bartholomew meets the skateboarding artist, Alexander DeVinci, he’s yanked into a mythical realm of living paintings and breathing sculptures: Artania.

The two soon learn that the strange world, where everything seems to be possible, is on the verge of destruction. With Egyptian gods and goddesses by their side, they face daring battles and narrow skateboarding escapes.

But can they defeat the evil Sickhert’s army, and bring art back to the world?

Artania

Poetry

From brain to paper

The image is stamped over and over in your mind,

the press never runs out of ink, drawing from a well that

refuses to appear when you actively call it.

 

The blueprints are solid, you can touch them

until it’s time to build.

 

Then they slip away, silently on the breeze

as the foundations are being laid.

 

You chase them, following every turn

whether it leads to rivers or hills, the top

of a rainbow or the boiling pot at the bottom,

 

only to find they’ve expanded somewhat

and become richer.

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Pre-orders are up for The Origin Stone!

Hello everyone!

My latest book, The Origin Stone, is being released on March 31st this year!

theoriginstone_finalcover

Here’s the first page as a sample:

Part of the reason we moved was because of our animals.

Our old house wasn’t big enough for them, especially when we got our nanny goat, Mrs. Swanson, who wandered next-door one day and ate our neighbour’s washing. Unfortunately, the old bat came home early and saw the mess. Furious, she threatened to have her taken away from us. Ru, my older brother, attempted to ease her anger by explaining we’d named Mrs. Swanson after her, but it made the situation much worse.

For three tense months, we looked for houses big enough for us, but nothing was in our budget. Then Great Cousin Maggie died, leaving the house empty, and several weeks later when her will was being carried out, dad got a letter saying she’d left it to him.

We all thought it was unusual, seeing as dad hadn’t been in much contact with her, but we were desperate by then, and moved in without question. He and mum fell in love with it straight away. It’s big enough that she’s now got her own home studio, and dad’s client base has expanded dramatically. Even Ru loves it, giving him six acres of land to explore for his bug obsession, including the woods at the back of the garden.

I’m the only one that hasn’t taken to it yet, but Ru keeps suggesting the move just stressed me out more than I thought. I hope so. I don’t want my uneasiness to bring them down too.

The clock chimes in the hall, and our young crow, the Grand Vizier, who’s snoozing on his perch in the corner of the room, opens one eye and looks at me. I hold my arm out to him and he flies over, landing gently on my shoulder. I scratch behind his neck, relishing the silkiness of his feathers. “Ravenswell. Ravenswell,” he croons to me softly. I blink at him; that’s the name of the house.

“You learnt that already?” I say, holding up my bowl of noodles for him to snatch some as his reward. “Everyone else really is settled here, aren’t they?”

 

Pre-orders are now up, so if you’re looking for a new young adult read full of mysterious creatures, conspiracy, parallel worlds and a race against time, check out the link below:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NCD1DM4

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In case the New Year brings that dastardly task of editing your novel: Kathryn’s Guide to Editing Fiction

Knowing what to do after you’ve *finally* finished the first draft of your manuscript and have mopped up all the blood, sweat and tears that went into it can be a bit of a mystery if you’re new to the game. You know editing comes into it, and you may have heard about beta readers, but what comes first, and more importantly, how do you go get started?

To help with the cacophony of questions littering your head, I’ve made a general guide to help you get going. This is very much based off my own experience, and is not an exhaustive list:

  1. After you’ve written that last word on your manuscript, put the whole thing away somewhere and leave it for a good amount of time (I personally leave it for about three months, but others leave it for longer) and get on with other things. Start a new project; finish any others lurking around; if you’re thinking about publication, research which avenue might be best for you and what that entails; basically, anything to keep your mind stimulated but doesn’t involve that first draft. This is to make sure that when you do eventually go back to it, you can view it with fresh eyes – meaning that plot holes, weak characters or lack of world building will jump out at you and therefore be easier to fix.

 

  1. Don’t focus on spelling or wording on this initial edit. Look at the big picture instead. Are there any holes in your plot? Do your characters feel flat or serve no purpose? Does the story start in the right place, or are the first few chapters unnecessary? What scenes work, and what don’t? If you’re finding it hard to tell if certain points of the story are unnecessary, try removing them and see if it affects the overall plot. If the plot still flows, then those scenes (however beautifully written they are/despite how much you personally love them) have to go. Nothing ruins a good book more that scenes that jar the pacing by adding nothing.

 

  1. Once you’ve fixed the big issues with your manuscript, you can either put it away again, or continue on to the next stage. Again, I personally leave it for a bit because I know I get far too close to my work.

 

  1. Now it’s time to really focus on your characters and world building. Your characters need to feel like real people – give goals and dreams, flaws and bad habits, and don’t hole them up into stereotypes. If they’re from very different backgrounds/circumstances to you, make sure you do your research – not only to make them realistic, but to avoid being insensitive to readers. (If you’re worried about your representation of people from different walks of life to you, you can always hire a sensitivity reader at a later stage.) When working on world building, think about the social structure of each place, use all five senses to describe things and make sure you don’t fall into the pit of info dumping. Also, in dialogues scenes, look out for ‘white room syndrome’, when no description about where or when the scene takes place is included.

 

  1. Next, we get in to the more technical aspects of writing. Tense, point of view and grammar. (If you feel your manuscript is shaping up nicely, you can start looking at spelling, over-use of words and continuity, but I would leave that until last.) It doesn’t matter what point of view you use, or what tense, as long as you keep them consistent throughout the manuscript – unless you have a very good reason not to, like an intentional stylistic change to illustrate a certain point. If you struggle with grammar, there are a lot of helpful books and forums, as well as YouTube guides. (I have a book on grammar that’s actually written for kids, but the language and examples are so clear that it’s the one I go to most.)

 

  1. The stages of editing can get a bit murky here – some writers have to repeat steps until they’re happy and end up with a good number of drafts, others breeze right through and end up with relatively few. However, whether you’ve done a lot of back and forth on your work or not, this part is important. Read your work aloud. I’ll say it again: READ YOUR WORK ALOUD. From start to finish, until you’re sick of the sound of your own voice. This is so you can clearly see problems with sentence structure, missing words, typos, continuity, repetitive description and all that jazz (as readers we’re always pleased to spot others’ mistakes, but are far less pleased as writers if someone kindly points them out in our own work).

 

  1. Finally, when you are happy with your manuscript and can’t find anything else to work on, it’s time to send your work to beta readers. These can be other writers, friends, family or simply people you know love to read. What is important to note, however, is that it’s far more helpful to send your work to readers who readily consume books in that genre than ones who have never read/rarely read within your genre, as the feedback you receive will be more relevant. When you do receive feedback, look for trends in what people are saying. If eight people say a scene isn’t working, then it’s probably wise to take another look and see if it truly does need revising. If one beta reader hates a character but the others love them/make no comment, then perhaps that’s just their personal taste. Consider all feedback, but remember that it is still your work, so you have the final decision on what to change.

 

So there you have it. Where you take your work from there is completely up to you. Whether you opt for traditional publishing, self-publishing or somewhere in-between (be absolutely sure you don’t head down the path of vanity publishing – an old but good rule on how to tell a vanity publisher from a real one is that money should always flow to the author, not away) make sure you do your research.

Short Stories

The Magic Bauble

The Christmas lights blinked on and off, making the tree look as though it was twinkling. I sat under it, filling my nose with the smell of new wrapping paper and tinsel, wishing it was already morning.

‘Now, Rupert,’ Nan said, sitting down in the squashy armchair next to the tree. ‘I have a very special present for you this year. You can open it tonight, but you have to promise not to use it until tomorrow.’ She had a mysterious smile on her face as she said it, and produced a small box from her handbag. ‘Do you promise?’

‘I promise.’

‘Very well then,’ she said. ‘Here you are.’ She handed me the box, which was wrapped neatly in silver paper. I undid it carefully, knowing that this wasn’t the type of present you could tear at in a mad rush. Inside was a bauble. Just a single bauble made of blue metallic glass. I felt the happy expression slip off my face, replaced by one of extreme puzzlement.

‘It’s a bauble,’ I said.

‘Yes, but a very special bauble,’ Nan said. ‘I gave your father one just like it when he was your age. Now, you must be careful not to drop it. And don’t forget, you mustn’t hang it up until tomorrow.’

‘Why not?’

‘It’s bad luck,’ she said. Then she laughed. ‘Don’t look so disappointed, Rupert. You can have the rest of your presents tomorrow.’

While I was in bed that night, I heard Mum and Dad talking to Nan. Since I was too excited about Christmas day to sleep, I crept onto the landing at the top of the stairs and listened to what they were saying. To my surprise, they were talking about me.

‘Are you sure it was wise giving it to him this year? He’s awfully young,’ Mum said.

‘Nonsense, Maggie. Alexander here got his at the same age, and it didn’t do him any harm,’ Nan said.

Dad laughed nervously. ‘We should be getting to bed, you know how early he wakes up on Christmas day.’

I heard then get up, and not wanting to be seen I ran back into my room and threw the covers over my head. Dad poked his head around my door, and I let out a few fake snores. Satisfied, he left, closing the door behind him. I sat up, my heart thumping with excitement.

The bauble was on my bedside table, still in its box. I picked it up, switching on my bedside lamp so I could see properly. It looked just the same as before, plain metallic blue, without any decoration at all. My own reflection stared back at me, so distorted that I let out a snigger.  Wanting to stifle the sound, I forced my fist into my mouth, but dropped it away again as I saw what was now on the bauble. It was a picture of a giant air balloon. It looked so real that I put my hand out to touch it, but it vanished, leaving me staring at my reflection again.

Certain that it hadn’t been some trick of the light, I looked away again and turned back to it quickly. There it was again. The exact same air balloon, drifting across a cloudy sky. Careful not to touch it this time, I looked closer. There was a man in the basket of the balloon, dressed in a short brown leather jacket and a matching cap with giant goggles on the top. He was waving at me. I blinked and rubbed my eyes, but it he was still there, grinning widely and swinging his arm in great arks. Staring stupidly, I waved back. As soon as I did, the picture changed and I saw myself taking the bauble downstairs and hanging it on the tree. Then the picture changed back to the man in the balloon. He was looking at me expectantly.

‘I can’t,’ I whispered. ‘Nan said it would be bad luck if I hung it on the tree before tomorrow.’

The man folded his arms and shook his head. Again the picture of me going down to the tree appeared, but this time it didn’t go back to the man, just to my reflection. I sighed, not knowing what to do. In the end, my curiosity won out and I crept downstairs, wincing at every creaking floorboard.

The tree lights were still on, twinkling away merrily, and I noticed that several more presents had been placed under the tree. Gingerly, I reached out and placed the bauble on one of the middle branches. I looked at it reflecting the lights, and suddenly felt myself falling. The room fizzled away and I landed with a bounce on a giant cushion, floating along in a pinkish sky.

A group of birds flew past me, circling around the other cushions floating about. I watched them swerve as the bright greens and reds of the air balloon floated up to my level. The man in the basket appeared soon after, chuckling to himself.  ‘I thought you’d never make it, lad,’ he called over to me. ‘Welcome to the World of Impossibilities. Anything you wish will come true while you’re here.’

‘Anything? Really?’

‘Of course, lad. Your imagination is the limit,’ he said.

‘Then I wish for…a hamburger,’ I said. A hamburger appeared in my hand, hot and smelling as scrumptious as any I’d ever had.

‘Now you’re getting it, lad. ‘Fraid I best be off now though. I’ll be seeing you,’ he said, and waved goodbye as his balloon sailed higher and higher.

I waved back, before attacking my burger with delight. It tasted just as delicious as it smelt, and while I was eating it I considered what the man had said. Anything I wish would come true? I had to test it. Ignoring the sudden butterflies in my stomach, I took a giant leap off the cushion, landing on another that was at least a whole football pitch away.  I bounced straight off it, high into the air, and went on to bounce off another and another.

Fifty giant cushions later, in mid-jump, it occurred to me that I could choose not to fall if I wanted. I stuck in the air, looking around at the cushions floating around me, and spotted a rainbow, bright and colourful as the one painted on my bedroom wall. I could slide down it and find out if there really was a pot of gold at the bottom.

Excitedly, I ran through the air. A thick red carpet appeared from nowhere, rolling out in front of me, taking me directly to the rainbow. It was soft and squashy under my feet, and I felt so light and springy that I had to practice my cartwheels all the way along. Unfortunately I wheeled my way straight into the side of the rainbow and hit it with a thud. I got up, putting out a hand to steady myself and felt that the rainbow was smooth.

Giggling with excitement, I jumped on it and whooshed down with incredible speed. I put my hands down to try and slow myself, and found that the colours of the rainbow were now precious jewels. I gathered up whole handfuls of them, but then landed in a giant black cauldron, buried up to my neck in gold coins. No, not gold, chocolate coins, wrapped in gold foil. They were just like the ones that Mum usually hid in the Christmas tree. If only my pyjama bottoms had pockets, I would have stuffed them full of jewels and chocolate to take back with me.

That brought me to a sudden halt. How was I going to get back?

I climbed out of the cauldron and looked around. There were great buildings of marble and granite all around me, with wide streets full of market stools covered in brightly coloured awnings. In the square where I had landed, a musician played a flighty trill of his flute, and jugglers and fire eaters competed for spectators. Dancers swirled about, trailing sleeves of fine silk. It was the most wonderful sight I’d ever seen.

‘Come here boy, and taste the fruit of your dreams,’ a merchant said.

‘No, try on our finely tailored suits,’ said another, brushing the first one away.

‘Don’t listen to those petty traders, boy! You should come here, and take home one of our fine woven scarves for your mother, or a clay pipe for your father,’ said another in a stripy suit. It was so colourful that it made my eyes dizzy.

More and more people called out to me to come and look at their wares, and some even got into heated arguments over who would serve me first. ‘But I don’t have any money,’ I replied each time, but they would simply say I could pay them next time or that it was a gift. Soon my arms were growing tired under the amount of boxes I was carrying, and my feet grew hot from walking. I was sleepy and I wanted to go home.

‘Please,’ I said to the people I passed. ‘Please, how do I get back?’ But no-one took any notice, they simply laughed and said I was pulling their leg.

It would be Christmas morning soon, and I would miss it all if I stayed. I had to get back.  Still everyone laughed at me, and the faces that had looked so kind now looked cruel and began to frighten me. I was lost and alone, and I began to cry.

I found a shadowy corner and sat down, trying to rub away the tears. A shadow passed over my face, and I looked up.   ‘What’s the matter, lad?’ It was the man from the air balloon, still with his leather cap and goggles.

‘I don’t know how to get home,’ I sniffed.

He knelt down and put his hand on my shoulder. ‘Don’t despair lad, just remember what I told you. Anything you wish in this place will come true. Though I have to say your wish is a rare one. Most people that come here don’t tend to go back,’ he said, rubbing his chin. ‘Only once has someone done it, and that must be nigh on thirty years ago now. A young boy, if I remember rightly. Looked just like you in fact. If I didn’t know better I’d have said you were one and the same.’

I looked at him and saw he was serious. ‘I…I think my Dad might have come here, when he was young.’

‘That must be it then,’ the man said. ‘Still, if you really want to go back like he did, all you’ve got to do is wish it.’

‘Th-thank you,’ I said.

‘No problem, lad. Have a safe trip now.’

His face swam out of focus as he spoke, and I found I was being pulled upwards as though someone was pulling on the back of my pyjamas. Faster and faster I seemed to go, and then…THUD. I landed back on the floor in front of the Christmas tree, blinking. Light was pouring in through the window, and I could see snow falling outside. I heard footsteps behind me, and turned around guiltily.

It was Dad, wearing his chequered dressing gown. ‘Merry Christmas, champ,’ he said, smiling. Then he caught sight of the bauble still on the tree and raised his eyebrow. ‘Didn’t get much sleep last night then?’

I shook my head, thinking he’d be angry, but his mouth split into a wide grin and he started laughing. I laughed too, so hard that my stomach muscles hurt.

‘I feel like I’ve missed something,’ Mum said from the doorway, with Nan appearing behind her. ‘What’s the joke?’

‘Nothing, Mum,’ I said innocently, and Dad laughed even more.

‘See, Maggie?’ Nan said to her. ‘I told you it would be all right.’

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry

Set Sail

Are they eyes or suckers

that latch onto us as we sail

across the jewel-glint oceans in search of new land?

We look to the horizon,

only hands of salt sparkles greet us,

but we can feel it beyond.

It has a pulse, a thrum,

that even the deepest depths cannot hide

from knowing ears.

The claws that may once have gripped us

have become cracked and dry,

brittle enough to break at a single touch,

and our boat is the ramming kind now.

Poetry

Fight Against

Folded neatly,

crinkle free,

you fill the box up generously

with spare clothing for your next adventure

here, knowing I’ll

keep it daisy-fresh, water pure.

We may part this night,

yes, it wounds me inside,

but we won’t let it become a tide.

I know, despite all that’s uncertain

that the fates have yet

to pull down this curtain.

We’ll be Atlas and hold up the sky

together, you and me,

our bond a permanent tie.

 

 

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My new book, The Door Between Worlds!

I’ve been talking about this on my social media pages, but sadly neglecting it on here, so it may come as a surprise to say I have another book out, a stand-alone middle-grade fantasy called The Door Between Worlds. It’s release day today, and I’m super excited to share it with everyone!

This book has everything I love in it – dragons, twists on fairytales, adventure, portals, more dragons…

The way I pitched it to my publisher was: Alice in Wonderland meets Big meets The Pagemaster. I still stick to that wholeheartedly.

So, without further ado, here it is (with the official blurb):

The-Door-Between-Worlds-Promo-Hardback-Ereader.png

Michael is a young bookworm who really believes in magic. But even he isn’t prepared for what lies behind the secret door in the school library: Treeshallow, a parallel land where all known stories originate from.

When Michael runs into the residents of Treeshallow, he finds them reminiscent of characters he’s read about in books.

Michael’s appearance there isn’t an accident. After he sets to find the famous wizard Ramble, the two learn that the school librarian, Mr. Rogers, has been taken captive by a band of demons known as the Desrai.

But even with their combined forces, can the two save Rogers from the clutches of evil?

 

(Find it HERE)

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It’s publication day!

I am pleased to say that today is the official publication day of Unseasoned Adventurer, the final book in my Half-Wizard Thordric Trilogy: Unseasoned-Adventurer-Main-File

 

If you would like to buy a copy, the ebook is available now, and the paperback will be out in a few weeks. Books one and two are available in both formats if you’d like to catch up! (The link to my author page on Amazon is on the ‘Books’ tab.)