All posts by Belinda Crawford

[D&B Vol 01.] Episode 002

The lockers were crumpled and torn; doors shredded by massive talons and scorched by fire bolts, an entire row buckled around the impression of a body, the faded yellow paint smudged with blood. A lot of blood, and under it the shattered remnants of a sword, the rippling sunmetal dull and lifeless, splattered with the same blood that coated the lockers.

A trail of it led through the rest of the minefield,  a scarlet swath just big enough to have been made by her sister’s body. 

Byrne starred at it, hypnotised by the bright red, the way it wended through the charcoal and splinters that were the only remains of the heavy wooden benches and pooled in the ceramic crater at the end, before it continued into the showers.

Della’s hand tightened on hers, a silent gesture of comfort Byrne shook off, along with the dread spiralling in her gut.

Her boots made a solid clack on the tiles.

Where the locker room had been a battlefield, the showers with their half dozen spigots jutting from the wall and barest suggestion of privacy, where…not. There was a stillness, a sense of peace that struck her like a blade to the chest.

Fion stood at the end furthest from the door, arms crossed over her chest, the long blue tail of her mohawk snarled and blacked by the same blood crusting on Byrne’s own battleskirt. She looked up in a slow, jerky motion, like the effort to tear her gaze from whatever lay in the last cubicle hurt. Perhaps it did. Tears had made tracks on her face, long black lines of mascara running through the grime on her cheeks, and she had her thumb between her teeth, ripping into the nail until it bled. 

She stepped back at Byrne’s approach, pressing her back into the wall. Vaguely, Byrne was aware of Fion reaching out, of Della wrapping the other girl in her arms, but most of her attention was on the bloody tangle of limbs slumped under the shower. 

Suun knelt beside their sister, glowing hands over Nova’s chest, expression tight with strain as she fought to keep her alive. How much longer she could, Byrne didn’t know. Their sister was…mangled.

Nova’s legs were stretched out before her. One boot was gone, exposing the talon marks ripping her leg from calf to thigh, bone gleaming a stark white amidst bloody flesh, while her other leg…Byrne swallowed. 

The lower half was bent the wrong way, like someone had taken a sledgehammer to her sister’s shin, snapping it in the middle.

The damage continued the further up Byrne dragged her gaze. Nova’s golden battleskirt and the skintight armour underneath were shredded, the bloody marks in her sister’s skin too neat to have been made by claws. One shoulder hung awkwardly and there were just bones where her hand should have been, her forearm ending in an almost cauterised stump.

Nova’s head lolled but she straightened it, gazing at Byrne with eyes that had once blazed like the sun but were now a dull brown. Blood bubbled at her mouth, the froth trickling down her chin to drip onto her chest and pool around the shattered remnants of the golden medallion that should have protected her.

‘I told you.’ The words left Byrne’s mouth, ripe with the resentment and pain writhing in her chest. ‘When will you listen?’

Nova smiled, the expression revealing the gaping holes where her front teeth should have been. ‘In another lifetime sister.’

Resentment flared to anger and Byrne darted forwards, boots splashing in the mix of water and her sister’s blood as she crouched at Nova’s side. ‘This is another lifetime.’

 


Don’t forget to check out the episode notes for more behind the scenes content.

Question time

Thanks to everyone who sent me their suggestions after the last episode! You inspired me, although maybe not in the way you thought. Check out the episode notes to find out why I responded to your ideas the way I did.

Episode notes

Now, onto this episodes’s question!
I’m struggling a little bit with whether or not Nova lives. I thought it might be kinda cool if she survived but minus the hand and with issues walking. Or maybe it would be a greater tragedy if she died? What are your thoughts?

And hey, what do you think of Byrne’s comment that “this is another lifetime”?

 

[D&B Vol 01.] Episode 001

The staff drove through the demon’s chest with a wet crack. Dark blood splashed up the soldier’s leg, the thick black stuff sizzling on boots and flesh, the faint skin of magic that was her only armour no longer as strong as it had been at the start of the long battle.

She put her foot to the creature’s chest and yanked the end of the staff free. The crescent at the other end shone in the moonlight, sharp prongs black with the same blood that coated her arms and stained the short hem of her battleskirt.

The last faint screams of the dying filled the once-green field. The neat white lines Coach Oldfield had obsessed over were obliterated by talons and the blast tracks on spells, the goal posts broken where they weren’t piles of ash, the stadium seats crushed under the weight of demon steeds, massive bat-like wings shredded by her sister’s lightning.

The sun would rise soon, shredding the demons hard shells and serrated talons like a bull through fog, leaving another scarred battlefield in a town suddenly too full of battlefields.

A shimmer of bells teased her ears before the moonlight coalesced beside her.

‘Byrne?’ Della appeared out of the soft light, her best friend’s dark skin rendered darker by the grime and blood smeared across her broad cheeks and full lips. Della’s skirt and bodice were as stained as her own, but there was blood her gloves, soaking the white fabric a screaming red. ‘Nova needs you,’ she said.

Nova needs you not Nova wants you. The difference reopened the pit in her stomach, the one she’d been filling with demon corpses and the taste of blood.

She didn’t want to go, didn’t want to see what Tellamoth had done to her sister’s face, her body.

‘Byrne?’ There was sorrow in Della’s voice but steel too, something that said if she didn’t come, her best friend would make her.

Grip tightening on her staff, she gave Della her hand.

 


Don’t forget to check out the episode notes for an extra peek behind the scenes!

Question time

Okay, so the big question is who is Tellamoth? I have a few ideas but I’m looking for some more suggestions. So far, people seem to feel Tellamoth is a superior in the demon army but I’m not so sure. I’m also tossing up as to their gender.

What are your thoughts?

 

Cookies!

Super yummy writing food.

I came across this last year while making Christmas presents for the relatives and it’s quickly become one of my favourites.

It’s ridiculously easy and quick to make, and the best part, you can switch out the fillings to make different cookies! I’m think my next batch are going to be triple chocolate marshmallow cookies.

Awesome Cookies

They're quick, they're easy, they're delicious, they're totally awesome cookies!! Plus, you can add any filling you'd like.

Course Snack
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Total Time 22 minutes
Servings 9 cookies

Ingredients

Dry ingredients

  • 3/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar packed
  • 1/4 cup sugar castor or other fine-grained sugar
  • 1/3 to 1 cup filling sultanas, chopped nuts, chocolate chips, etc

Wet ingredients

  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence

Instructions

  1. Preheat over to 190ºC.

  2. Add all of the dry ingredients in a medium or large mixing bowl and stir to combine.

  3. Mix in the melted butter, vanilla and beaten egg. The dough should come together enough to form into balls. If it doesn't, add milk a dribble at a time until you can. 

  4. Line a baking tray with baking/greaseproof paper.

  5. Roll dough into 1-inch (golf-sized) balls and place 2 inches apart on tray. The cookies will spread during cooking and will merge if you place them too close together. If they do, don't worry, you can gently separate them with a knife when they come out of the oven.

  6. Bake in the preheated oven for 12-14 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned.

  7. Remove from oven. At this stage, the cookies are still soft and you can easily separate any merged ones with a knife, just don't try to move them yet!

  8. Let the cookies cool for 5-10 minutes before eating.

Recipe Notes

Cookie Variants

The best thing about this recipe is how adaptable it is. Chuck in a 1/3 cup M&Ms for delicious chocolatey-ness or, my personal favourite: 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts, 1/4 cup raisins, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon & 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg. Yum!

Recipe adapted from Damn Delicious's M&M Cookies In A Jar.

 What sort of cookies did you make?

 

My NaNoWriMo Quest

It’s the first day of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I’m a third of the way through my daily goal (wipes sweaty forehead). By the time I’ve finished this post, I’ll be over halfway and then the hard stuff will begin.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with NaNo. I love the idea of writing a book in a month, but I hate the pressure that comes with trying to pump out 1,667 words a day. In my experience pressure does not make diamonds, or even a poorly written first draft. Instead, all I end up with is a heaping mass of frustration and self-flagellation.

It’s an issue and it’s ticking me off.

It’s taken me three novels, seven years and many, many hours of pouring over books with titles like How to Write a Novel in Ten Days2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love and 5,000 Words Per Hour, imagining the day when I too would become a book-writing machine, but I think I’ve figured out the problem. Part of it is, I’m really bad at doing one thing at a time. If you could see my brain, it’d resemble an over-caffeinated magpie on a gallon of red cordial in a forest of mirrors. So many shiny things to investigate.

Like, right now, I’m writing this, watching Man vs Food⁠1 and thinking about what I’m making for dinner tonight.

This year, I’m taking a different tack for NaNo. My NaNoWriMo will be less about the 50k-words and more about developing good writing habits while exploring ways to increase my productivity. Currently, the experiment involves having multiple projects on the go at once, doing a little bit of each every day.

The idea behind the method is to keep my motivation high by having smaller tasks that are easy to accomplish, while also ticking off some of the things stacking up on my to-do list.

My projects for NaNo 2017 are:

  • finishing Regan, the final book in the Hero Rebellion (grab a sneak peek!)
  • writing 30 blog posts, and
  • writing a short story set in the Hero Rebellion universe.

The plan is to revise 2000 words of Regan, write a 500-word blog post and 700-words of the shorty short (or shorty, as I often find myself calling them), every day of November.

I’m tired just thinking about it.

The hardest bit will be the shorty. At the moment, I feel about as creative as cardboard, the really boring brown kind they use for packing boxes. Hopefully, I can kick that feeling and turn the cardboard into a really cool spaceship, or a race track. (That’s a clue BTW. Racetrack. Hero. Think about it.)

Tally for today, I’ve spent three hours on the couch and done my first two tasks. Not bad, but not great either. Will shoot for better tomorrow.

 

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1 Watching TV while writing has to be one of the most inefficient ways to write. I don’t recommend it, but if you can’t help yourself, the Food Channel is awesome.

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Sci-fi books on my TBR pile

Like a lot of bookworms, my to-be-read pile is huge, like monster kanji huge. Genre-wise there’s just about everything in there, from romance to action, crime and (of course) almost every shade of sci-fi and fantasy you can imagine. Here are a few of the sci-fi ones I’m really looking forward to reading.

Descriptions from Amazon and Kobo.

 

Draekora (Lynette Noni)

Cover of Draekora by Lynette Noni“I swear by the stars that you and the others slain tonight will be the first of many. Of that you have my word.”

With Aven Dalmarta now hiding in the shadows of Meya, Alex is desperate to save Jordan and keep the Rebel Prince from taking more lives.

Training day and night to master the enhanced immortal blood in her veins, Alex undertakes a dangerous Meyarin warrior trial that separates her from those she loves and leaves her stranded in a place where nothing is as it should be.

As friends become enemies and enemies become friends, Alex must decide who to trust as powerful new allies—and adversaries—push her towards a future of either light… or darkness.

One way or another, the world will change…

My thoughts
Strickly speaking, I’ve already started reading Draekora but I’d barely started chapter three before I was sidetracked, so it’s back on the TBR pile. I enjoyed the first two books in this series but the third (so far) is a little so-so, still I’m looking forward to getting back to it.

Cold Welcome (Elizabeth Moon)

Cover of Cold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon
Admiral Ky Vatta should return to her childhood home a war hero, but on the way her shuttle is downed by sabotage.
Marooned in a hostile landscape it’ll take every bit of wit, skill and luck she can muster to lead her fellow survivors to safety, knowing that the mysterious enemies who destroyed the ship are on the hunt, and may have an agent in the group ready to finish the job at any moment. And was the sabotage an attempt on Ky’s own life, or someone else’s?

My thoughts
I LOVE SPACE OPERA! But moving on… I picked this beauty up when I was on holiday in New Zealand. I really enjoyed the earlier series (Vatta’s War), featuring the same universe and characters and I just could resist picking up this one when I saw it. Expecting lots of action and a butt-kicking heroine.

Star Wars: Ahsoka (E.K. Johnston)

Cover of Star Wars: Ahsoka by EK JohnstonFans have long wondered what happened to Ahsoka after she left the Jedi Order near the end of the Clone Wars, and before she re-appeared as the mysterious Rebel operative Fulcrum in Rebels. Finally, her story will begin to be told. Following her experiences with the Jedi and the devastation of Order 66, Ahsoka is unsure she can be part of a larger whole ever again. But her desire to fight the evils of the Empire and protect those who need it will lead her right to Bail Organa, and the Rebel Alliance…

My thoughts
I have three words for you. Star. Wars. Ahsoka. Or, if you’re one of those rare individuals who’ve never heard of Star Wars, awesome butt-kicking heroine with glowy swords! ‘Nuff said.

P.S. I totally want a poster-sized version of that cover.

Over to you

What sci-fi books are on your TBR pile? Any new ones coming out, or maybe an old favourite you’re itching to re-read?

Thoughtful & sparing: Jenna O’Connell on Romance & YA Heroines

As a publicist, editor and occasional slush-pile reader, Jenna O’Connell doesn’t just know books, but the ins and outs of getting them on bookstore shelves and into readers’ hands.

BELINDA: Hot topic first. Do you think love is killing the teenage heroine and why?

JENNA: Killing is such a strong word! We’re certainly not seeing an absence of teenage heroines because of the current focus on love/romance. But is it killing originality in the YA genre? I think there’s an argument to support that. Continue reading

Risking her life: Sue Parritt on Strong Female Characters

Sue Parritt is an Australian science fiction author. Her first trilogy tells the tale of a futuristic Australia ravaged by climate change, and racial oppression.

BELINDA: Tell us about Sannah, what makes her strong?

SUE: Sensuous, emotional and dramatic, Sannah, 39, a descendant of Environmental Refugees from the drowned Pacific Islands, is the Storyteller for Village 10. Storytellers–one for each Brown Zone village–are trained to deliver a distorted version of history to ensure compliance and reinforce White superiority. An articulate speaker, Sannah employs both voice and body to weave a spell around her audience. She also plays the role of ‘lover’ to many White men, to gain information useful to the Women’s Line, an undercover group that assists political prisoners on the run to flee the country and find sanctuary in egalitarian Aotearoa. Intelligent and savvy, Sannah knows what it takes to survive in an oppressive apartheid society ruled by tyrannical troopers, but willingly risks her life to ensure clandestine truth-telling continues. In twenty-fourth century Australia, she is a third-class citizen, but despite her low status, she believes in the power to effect change. This, plus the determination to engage in seditious activities whatever the consequences, makes and keeps her strong. Continue reading

Greying, pudgy & menopausal: Laura E. Goodin on Strong Female Characters

Laura E. Goodin is the author of After the Bloodwood Staff, an Australian fantasy about a quest that doesn’t go quite how it’s supposed to.

BELINDA: Tell us about Sybil, one of the two main protagonists in After the Bloodwood Staff: what makes her strong?

LAURA: In a way, it’s her weaknesses and pessimism that make her strong. She chooses to express her pessimism as a relentless drive to be both competent and prepared, because the worst could happen at any moment–and I always had in the back of my mind while writing that at some point in her life it already has. Her inability to make herself vulnerable, even to the people she loves, makes her freakishly focused and almost impossible to intimidate, and it has given her a lifetime habit of self-sufficiency. Her stubbornness really annoys the people around her, but it also gives her a crystalline clarity of intention and tremendous integrity. As is the case with most people, her greatest strengths are her greatest weaknesses.

BELINDA: What drew you to writing Sybil in particular?

The cover of After the Blackwood Staff by Laura E. Goodin
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LAURA: Speaking as a greying, pudgy, menopausal woman, I can tell you that there is a regrettable dearth of greying, pudgy, menopausal woman heroes in speculative fiction. And this is, in fact, regrettable, because once a woman gets to this point in her life, she is badass. She cares less with each passing day what other people will think of her. She has experience, along with the perspective to interpret it wisely. And chances are good that, like Sybil, she has spent her life acquiring a staggering array of skills that are useful in hundreds of different tight spots and baffling dilemmas. It’s a joy to write such a character.

BELINDA: What messages/examples do you think Sybil provides readers?

LAURA: I want readers to go beyond the whole tiresome “age is only a number” thing; instead, I want them to think, “There are wonderful things about being every age. Not everyone is trying to be or stay young: there’s adventure and wonder in being not young.” Sybil, I hope, is an example for readers of someone who stares life full in the face, no games, no pretensions, no struggles to be anything other than what she gloriously is–and to be fully whatever that ends up being at each time in her life.

BELINDA: What traits and/or features do you think make for a great strong female character?

LAURA: When someone–anyone, really–is strong, it means they can keep their head and operate in any circumstances, because they have a fundamental, perhaps even unconscious, conviction that whatever happens, they will find a way to keep going. Women characters (and women in real life, as well) can sometimes have problems developing this conviction: perhaps they have been protected all their lives, perhaps they’ve been actively sabotaged whenever they’ve tried to succeed at even small things. These small successes are crucial, though, because as they accrete, they become confidence and resilience. Back 30 or 40 years ago, people were very keen on the idea that if you develop children’s self-confidence, they will succeed. This is putting the cart before the horse. You have to let children succeed so that they have the evidence that underlies any kind of workable self-confidence. A strong female character–or (and this is often more interesting) a character who becomes strong as the story progresses–has faced an escalating series of challenges, each of which lets her think that perhaps she can handle this one as well. And this one. And this one.

BELINDA: What types of strength would you like to see more of?

LAURA: In the real world? I would love to see more instances of people deliberately turning their back on personal gain or advantage so that they can do what’s right. For example, should I admit that the idea that I’m getting praised for at work is really someone else’s? I could keep my mouth shut and get the praise, and perhaps even the raise. Their mistake is not my problem. But someone who’s truly strong will choose clarity and integrity over personal advantage, and tell the truth, even if there are people telling them it’s a “mistake”. In a world where integrity consistently takes second place to “scoring” or “winning”, I would love to see more people say, “I’ll take the risk: I’ll trust that doing the right thing will not just give me a better life, but will make the world a better place for everyone. I’m not going to scheme and connive and claw scraps of flesh from the people around me. Instead, I’m going to stand tall, arms wide, head up, heart open, and say and do what’s true and just, even if I’m mocked, even if I’m despised, even if it means I don’t ‘win’'”

That’s the type of strength I’d like to see more of.

BELINDA: Who are some of your favourite strong female characters?

LAURA: I can’t go past Xena, Warrior Princess: flawed, tormented, but still constantly striving to be braver, kinder, more committed to both justice and mercy. Also, although this always raises eyebrows, I love Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew (at the slightest provocation, I will argue at length for the play being, at its heart, a feminist text; don’t get me started). Jill in Lewis’s The Silver Chair and The Last Battle was a serious role model for me as a child. I also love Jessica in Dune, Nita in Duane’s Young Wizards series, Thursday Next in Fforde’s The Eyre Affair and sequels, Luna Lovegood, Ellie from Marsden’s Tomorrow series, Mulan (of course), Karana in O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, Aerin in McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown, and, perhaps most formatively, Harriet in Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. There are many others, but these are definitely some of my very favorites.

About Laura E. Goodin

Laura E. Goodin, author of After the Blackwood Staff
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American-born writer Laura E. Goodin has been writing professionally for over 30 years. Her debut novel After the Bloodwood Staff was released December 2016 from Odyssey Books; her next novel, Mud and Glass, will be released in mid-2017, also from Odyssey Books. Her stories have appeared in numerous publications, including Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Review of Australian Fiction, Adbusters, Wet Ink, The Lifted Brow, and Daily Science Fiction, among others, and in several anthologies. Her plays and libretti have been performed on three continents, and her poetry has been performed internationally, both as spoken word and as texts for new musical compositions. She attended the 2007 Clarion South workshop, and has a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Western Australia.

You can find out more about Laura on her website and connect with her via her blog and Facebook.

Feature image courtesy of Neil Moralee. Used under a Creative Commons licence.

She Will Stand Her Ground: Annie McCann on Strong Female Characters

In this interview, avid reader and blogger Annie McCann talks to me about Shazrad, the heroine of The Wrath and the Dawna modern retelling of 1001 Arabian Nights.

BELINDA: Tell us about Shazrad, what makes her strong?

The cover of The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
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ANNIE: In The Wrath and The Dawn, Shazrad is a woman living in a man’s world under a tyrant boy king who takes a bride every night who does not live past Dawn. When her best friend is taken as a bride and does not live past Dawn,  she volunteers herself to be this boy king’s next bride in an attempt to avenge her friend’s death and bring justice to the bride’s before her. She’s quite headstrong and brave to face a tyrant the kingdom fears. Once inside the walls of the castle (I won’t say too much to avoid spoilers) she discovers a truth she never thought possible and the choices she makes is remarkable —just proves her courage, strength and loyalty.

BELINDA: Why is Shazrad one of your favourite strong female characters?

ANNIE: It’s the strength she shows in a time where women don’t have status and in a place ruled by a tyrant boy king everyone fears—she’s not scared to seek justice…almost like a David and Goliath story

BELINDA: What messages/examples do you think Shazrad provides readers

ANNIE: Strong sense of Independence—she shows women can be head strong and independent and intelligent enough to formulate their own opinions and make their own decisions. Also her strength and courage—not in a Badass wielding sword kind of way but her courage to stand up and seek justice as a minority against power— she’s demonstrating it’s ok to seek justice no matter who it is.

BELINDA: What traits and/or features do you think make for a great strong female character?

ANNIE: Courage. Loyalty. Independence. I like strong female characters who are not scared to stand up for what is right and be “outspoken”—not fearing to challenge the status quo

BELINDA: What types of strength would you like to see more of?

ANNIE: Rather than seeing more kick ass kind of characters I like to see strong women with intellect and courage—knowledge is a strength.

BELINDA: Who are some of your favourite strong female characters?

ANNIE: Next to Shazrad? I like Eleanor from Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell as she shows a different kind of strength in the way she deals with her family and socio-economic issues throughout the story. I also like Sophie from Hate is such a strong Word by Sarah Ayoub. Sophie is growing up in Australia but trapped between 2 cultures, her family traditions and expectations of her peers, but regardless of what she has to deal with, she’s still strong enough to make her own decisions—she will stand her ground and was never scared to speak her mind and to go against the majority when she knew what they were doing was wrong. It’s the kind of code I try to live by myself 🙂

About Annie McCann

Annie McCann on a Sydney ferry,
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Annie is a blogger and the founder of Read3r’z Re-Vu network of readers based in Sydney. She loves YA and is a life-long Michael Jackson fan. When she’s not reading or blogging you can find her watching box sets of the Big Bang Theory, Grimm, Friends or The Three Stooges.

You can connect with Annie via her blog, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Featured image courtesy of darkday. Used with a Creative Commons license.

Brave, Vulnerable & Scared: Felicity Banks on Strong Female Characters

Felicity Banks is the author of Heart of Brass a steampunk novel about a young women with a brass heart and a family obligation that’s interupted by a criminal conviction.

BELINDA: Tell us about Emmeline, what makes her strong?

FELICITY: Emmeline has been taught that her duty is to marry well, giving her family the financial security that they need—and saving her younger siblings from poverty in the process. No-one finds it easy to think outside of the box society puts us in, but Emmeline is eventually able to find another way to fulfil her duty as well as acknowledging what she really loves. . . SCIENCE!! Continue reading