Vampire sneaks into Bookrix

bookbaby WTV cover 2Yes, Stinkforth-upon-Avon’s most famous vampire has made it into the e-book market in a big way…well, according to Bookrix, she’s sneaked into the virtual world in about 60 different ways…so far without the slightest bit of blood-letting on anyone’s part.

Willow the Vampire’s short stories and one feature length adventure are now available on Bookrix.com and via ca. 60 other e-book outlets. Two short stories, just long enough for young readers to get their fangs into,  are also available under the book titles “An Embarrassment of Witches” and “To Hell with Bloodsuckers”. One of them is for free, how good is that?

It gets even better; as a bona fide Goodreads.com author this shameless self-promoting woman called Maria Thermann has made one whole juicy chapter available for young readers to sample for free.

Any creatures of the night out there now green with envy must bide their time until Maria’s laptop has caught up with all her other writing projects.

Happy summer reading everyone!

 

Taking Short-Cuts

bear on bikeIt’s been a very long time since I worked – still as an office slave – in London and now, that I’m staying here for a few months, I recalled how back in the 1980s and 1990s I used to walk everywhere in London because of constant bomb threats from the IRA. Frequently, underground stations would be closed for several hours at a time, making you either hopelessly late for work in the morning or delaying you to such an extent that train services back to sunny Surrey, where I used to live, would practically pack up and go home for the night before one managed to get back to Waterloo Station.

MonkWalkingJust as slowly as a medieval traveller on ox cart or on foot in air-conditioned sandals, the trusted cudgel by one’s side (which in my case tended to be a brolly), I would creep through the little rat runs and shortcuts of Soho to get back to Leicester Square and from there to Embankment, pushing through the crowds, the noise and the litter. Walking felt so much safer to me than taking the underground, even if it meant taking a risk in London’s dingy side streets.

Intellectual Short-Cuts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATaking short-cuts in children’s writing is much harder to do, because their understanding of the world is less developed than that of adults. This has really hit home with me over the last few days, while I’m putting the finishing touches to my first German language novel for adults. When writing for grown-ups one merely needs to mention stiletto heels and the click-y-de-clack they make on the pavement and an adult reader will picture the type of person doing the walking perfectly. Finding child-sized short-cuts, as it were, is much harder.

If the writer takes examples from kid’s movies…those examples will date quickly…if one takes examples from classic literature kids might not have read those books yet. Be too long winded in the thing you want to say and kids throw your book away and head for a short-cut into the garden to play footie or go online to play games.

Travelling safely

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMedieval travellers, it strikes me, would probably have avoided taking short-cuts in real life, but they were masters at using metaphors in their paintings, illuminated books and swirly scrolls. Travelling was far too risky and best done in large numbers on well frequented routes.

monk with fishIf you wanted to get from castle A to fortress B, you joined a throng of pilgrims, preferably one with a few knights attached to their party, and hobbled along. Any creature of the night that might be tempted to drag you off to hell would think twice about attacking, for the throng of pilgrims might easily scare attackers off with a few well-aimed Hallelujahs, a punch on the nose and handy crosses aimed at the ghoul. Intellectual travelling, on the other hand, involved side-stepping a great deal of moral scrutiny, mostly from church leaders but also from an educated person’s peers.

What better way to avoid detection than using a few nifty metaphors of which only you and your mates knew the true meaning? Several hundred years later intellectual travellers looking at medieval paintings or books need an expert guide to help them find their way through the incomprehensible maze. Here taking short-cuts would have preserved the necks of those who painted or wrote something that the ruling order of the day did not approve of.

Getting lost in the Here and Now

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANegotiating the short-cuts we take in our stories thankfully no longer means trying to hide from the ruling classes for most of us – unless you live in a dictatorship or other type of evil regime. However, our writing short-cuts will be just as incomprehensive to future readers, no matter what age, if we go with the trendy phrases, the metaphors of Hollywood or TV. Yes, trying to please the “ruling classes” of current readerships is just as oppressive. Be a rebel, avoid the trendy and stick to the timeless!

What does that mean?

book00021 history book closesWell, if you want to describe a character in your book as somebody who’s easily led and superficial you could use the metaphor of gadgets, mobile phones perhaps or tablets…but remember, in just a few years’ time, a new generation may no longer understand what you’re talking about because technology moves on so quickly. If you’re aiming to write a book that will stand the test of time, especially in children’s and YA markets, and allow future armchair travellers to enjoy it just as much as readers would today, your short-cuts should be recognisable as such by future generations of readers.

What’s eating little Red Riding Hood?

Gray Wolf I

Following on from my last blog, I’ve been thinking about my childhood reading experience, when coming across Little Red Riding Hood for the first time. Frankly, ever since I read the Brothers’ Grimm fairy tale about some thick-headed girl who cannot tell her grandmother from a fully grown, hungry wolf I have been pleading for the wolf and all its canine kind.

I recall that my initial reactions were outrage and disgust: why should the poor beastie suffer such a fate? Anyone as stupid as little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother deserves to be eaten, surely?

Over the centuries wolves have gotten an exceedingly bad press for no good reason. Shy and secretive, wolves are the original canines who came to live with man – to keep our ancestors company, help them hunt, assist with shepherding live stock and be generally man’s most loyal friend.

How did we repay this splendid species? We hunted them to extinction in most parts of Europe and are still cheerfully killing them in the USA and elsewhere in the world…for their skins, for their eerie howls, for their fairy tale bad press. The Ethiopian wolf has only some 500 remaining specimen living in the wild – they are among the most critically endangered animals on the planet, as are Red Wolves, where only some 200 individuals are still surviving in the wild today.

Wolves and other canines have been around for hundreds of thousands of years – but since we began to take them into our homes some 14,000 years ago, we’ve done pretty much all we can to destroy them in every way we can – from hunting them for their fur to domesticating them and turning them into overbred, often crippled and in permanent pain lapdogs with hideous shapes that no longer allow them to breed unaided, breath or walk without difficulties (go to Crufts and meet any terrier, German Shepherd or British bulldog for example).

Wolves are intelligent and beautiful animals. My fascination with them prompted me to make them a part of Willow the Vampire & the Sacred Grove. My ancient vampires can turn into all sorts of creatures of the night, including wolves. I’m intrigued by the way wolves communicate with each other through body language and long distance “phone calls”, i.e. howling.

Gray Wolf, Canis lupus

Gray Wolf, Canis lupus (Photo credit: ArranET)

I’m moved by the fact that wolves and their kin form a lifelong monogamous relationship with their partners and that both parents are actively involved in bringing up their cubs.

May their howls echo through the forests long after the despicable species “mankind” has been wiped from the face of the Earth!

Who’s afraid of Fairy Tale Forests?

Forest lake in summer

Although strictly speaking, they are not a “creature of the night”, forests scare me…perhaps because traditionally they are the natural habitat of creepy, crawling, scary things?

Growing up in Northern Germany, one is rather blessed with an abundance of forests, mysterious lakes and rivers. Am I freaked out by forests because trees are sinister ancient beings, whispering behind my back, as I’m trying very hard not to be eaten by wolves?

Erm…no…they’ve all been slaughtered by mankind, so nothing scary left in that canine quarter. What about bears? Nope, they went the same hearth-rug way as the wolves. Perhaps it’s the wild boars that still roam the Northern German forests? Nope, they are quite shy creatures and usually run away.

So why am I scared? I blame it on literature. Forests in books are often depicted as quite anti-human. Think of the forest in Harry Potter, where gigantic spiders have made their home or the way Tolkien uses trees and the forest to actually go into battle in The Lord of the Rings.

There’s also Little Red Riding Hood herself…not to mention Hänsel and Gretl, whose plight terrified me as a child – and in Germany children get to read the Brothers Grimm stories as originally intended – for an adult audience – not the watered down Victorian translations published in the English language versions of the famous fairy tale collection. Witches are burnt in ovens, children get eaten and nasty stepmothers have to dance with hot irons strapped to their feet until they die…the original Brothers Grimm stories don’t show a lot of mercy to culprits, I’m afraid.

Stamp description / Briefmarkenbeschreibung De...

Image via Wikipedia

Trees…every one of them offering a huge living space for all manner of animals, from birds, mice, bugs, slugs, worms, spiders and other insects to mischievous spirits, dwarfs (Zwerge) and fairies. Trees should be viewed as friendly, life-giving beings. Their wood can be burned to keep us warm and safe. Yet, literature rarely seems to view them that way.

Getting lost in a forest – let’s face it, who hasn’t left the trail for a clandestine pee behind a tree – is an unpleasant experience. As soon as it gets dark on a winter’s afternoon, forests turn into something unutterably hostile…a veiled threat behind every pine branch, danger lurking behind every oak and underneath every upturned elm root…the primeval fear humans have of the unknown?

Vampires are rarely seen in forests – even Willow the Vampire is suspicious of the Sacred Grove and its magical properties. Forests are not exactly a good hunting ground either – there are far too few humans in them nowadays. Modern vampires like to hang out with the young, bright and beautiful things in cities…there are easy pickings among inebriated teenagers…

TV shows like True Blood are rather unusual in that they depict vampires living everywhere, including rural areas, where the loss of victim after human victim would soon flush out the supernatural being and earn them a stake through the heart for their trouble. Not that the vampire genre is based on logic, you understand.

When I started out writing Willow stories, I wanted them to take place in a rural setting. Small villages in the middle of nowhere are scary places, too, no matter how picturesque they might appear to the visiting tourist. Just like trees they sustain a multitude of life, but make no mistake, there’s real danger lurking in Stinkforth-upon-Avon’s community!

Are trees so ancient, they can no longer comprehend the feelings and thought processes of lesser “mortals”, even vampires, who can “live” their afterlife for centuries? Are small village societies so cut off from the rest of society that they make their own rules? I grew up in one, perhaps that’s why I chose a small village as the scariest of settings I could think of.

Willow and the Afterlife

RAIOimage113

Image via Wikipedia

Whether or not one believes in ghosts, ghouls, zombies, vampires and similar apparitions, writing about them is great fun and has for centuries been a staple source for writers of many genres. As mainly creatures of the night ghosts are supposed to come out at midnight and haunt places and people, where they’ve had an unhappy time, while they were still alive.

As I am preparing the groundwork for Willow the Vampire’s second adventure (Willow the Vampire & the Würzburg Ghosts), I’m reading up on all manner of horrible events that might cause a whole army of the dead to rise up and take revenge.

Ghosts are deemed to be the spirit or soul of a dead person or even animal that can suddenly become visible to the living or return to “life” in the form or shape of other manifestations, such as sounds, smells or a difference in temperature in a room.

Hollywood ghosts might be either cute and cuddly (Caspar) or truly scary (The Woman in Black); they are often depicted as wispy white, floating shapes, like the proverbial fluttering sheet in the wind or a nightgown on legs. Sometimes they are the translucent skeleton jumping out at us, at other times they are the headless zombie seemingly appearing out of a wall, before gliding off down the corridor.

Do I have to believe in the existence of such a paranormal manifestation to write about it? No, I guess not. Do I believe in ghosts…well, not exactly. At least, until I had a rather singular experience some years back I would have said, no, most decidedly not, I do not believe in ghosts or people coming back as spirits to haunt the living, no matter how annoying some relatives of mine might have been during their lifetimes.

Walking back from the supermarket one day when I was still living in London, I was caught out by a heavy thunderstorm. The afternoon turned to night with flashes of lightning illuminating the sky. I hurried home – just a ten minute walk normally, but burdened with heavy shopping bags and an umbrella struggling to stay in my hand I had to fight my way up the steep hill on which I used to live.

To this day I don’t really understand what happened. A picture of my beloved grandmother, who died in 1986, flashed up in my mind. She was trying to say something to me…and as I “watched” with my mind’s eye how her mouth attempted to form a word, I stopped in my tracks, just for a couple of seconds –  but it was enough to save my life!

Lightning struck the car standing to my right hand side. The lightning bolt set off the car alarm and, I guess it bounced off the car, setting off the alarm on the house on the opposite side of my street. The bolt of lightning had struck just 30 cm in front of me – had I not had my grandmother’s vision flashing up in my mind to arrest my steps, I would have been the lightning bolt’s target instead of the car.

Was this a “ghost” or a guardian angel or some kind of friendly spirit protecting me? I shall never now. Once indoors, I stood in my hallway, my hands shaking, trying to make sense of what had happened. The flash of light, the ear-splitting crack as the full force hit the car, the alarms going off right next to me…and my grandmother saying STOP.

A little Owl-Post for You

Deutsch: Ein Waldkauz (Strix aluco). English: ...

Image via Wikipedia

After my post about Otto the Snake one gentle reader pointed out there are quite a few people who are terrified of snakes…so today I’m writing about something a little fluffier, if not friendlier – owls!

Owls live pretty much everywhere on our planet, except for Antarctica. No vampire lore like Willow the Vampire & the Sacred Grove would be complete without a hooting owl or two to set the scene and get us in the mood for a bit of blood-curdling storytelling. If it weren’t for the biting, scratching, hair-pulling and morbid fascination vampires hold for me, I’d probably have made Willow an owl rather than a vampire child!

The Tawny Owl, a beautiful tortoiseshell coloured creature, is a resident of Europe, with a habitat stretching from Scandinavia in the north to Italy in the south. Tawny Owls prefer a woodland and open grassland habitat, where they can hunt small mammals like rodents, such as voles and mice. Owls have excellent night vision thanks to their enormous eyes.

The Snowy Owl lives in arctic climes and has a beautiful coat of white fluffy feathers that enable it to blend in and practically disappear from sight as it glides over the snow-covered landscape called the tundra. A large number of owl species hunts at night, relying almost entirely on the dark to hide and protect them from larger predators. Arctic summers, however, have very long days and thus the Snowy Owl is forced to hunt during daylight hours to find food. The snowy coat helps the owl to stay safe.

Owls may look quite cuddly but they are strong and silent killers which strike from above. An attacking owl swings its feet forward as it gets near its prey. Spreading its toes widely, the owl tries to grab its prey and trap it, so it cannot escape. The owl’s talons slash and pierce the prey’s skin, more often than not the victim dies straight away, but if it doesn’t, the owl will kill it with a nip to the neck bone.

The owl’s long tail feathers stabilize the airborne predator as it swoops down for the kill. Forward-looking, large eyes enable the owl to be a good judge of distances and its powerful legs help to cushion the impact of landing and crushing its prey to the ground.

Owls have acute hearing and the shape of their head enables them to hear a sound on one side of the head just a fraction of a second prior to catching the sound with the other ear. The reason for this amazing hearing is not that owls are nosy and want to listen in on their neighbours’ conversations – this acute hearing helps the owl to accurately pin point mice and voles in utter darkness by just the tiniest of sounds made by the prey’s movement in grass or undergrowth.

Vampires like Willow have very acute hearing, too. Their supernatural powers enable them to hunt for humans in total darkness; they just concentrate on the blood pulsating in human veins and the thumping of human hearts…well that and the fact that most humans reek of either sweat, aftershave, deodorant or perfume…and some of them stink of all of the above!

In Defence of Otto the Snake

English: Snake, boa constrictor guyana red tail

Image via Wikipedia

Indiana Jones might hate them, but snakes like Otto in Willow the Vampire and the Sacred Grove are not nearly as threatening as they seem and they are certainly not slimy either.

I shall be eternally grateful to my old school teacher at primary school who invited a variety of people into our school to introduce us to their unusual pets and small animals kept in zoos. Among them was a man who looked after a number of snakes. As a child I believed – like many people – snakes had slimy skin with which they slithered on the ground like a snail or slug.

When the nice gentleman from the zoo exhibited a variety of snakes in our classroom, the bravest among us were allowed to touch the snakes and, not wishing to appear a wimp, I volunteered to stroke the snake he offered us. Naturally, the snake’s skin wasn’t slimy at all and actually rather beautiful. Boa constrictor snakes like Otto have fine, granular scales. Scales on a snake are not separate things but are simply a thickened part of their skin and are therefore connected to it.

Some snakes have rather novel ideas about protecting themselves from being disturbed by intruders. I’m not sure what tactics Otto the snake usually employs when he wants to be left alone for a peaceful slumber by the hearth, but the European grass snake for example just rolls on its back with its mouth wide open and plays dead to prevent predators from taking a lively interest in its fleshy parts. Some snakes pretend to be nastier than their bite by mimicking the bright colours of really poisonous snakes.

Snakes don’t have legs, so they can’t just pick up their chins and run off. Their skeletons consist of little more than a skull and one very long backbone to which hundreds of curved ribs are joined. The snake’s jaw is loosely connected, which enables it to stretch enormously, when swallowing prey whole. When snakes go for a swim, they wriggle from side to side, propelling themselves forward in that way.

Among the 2,700 types of snakes only 300 of them can actually kill people. Less than a quarter of all snakes are poisonous, but some are really good wrestlers who can strangle their prey. Snakes live in all sorts of habitats, except where it’s really cold – think Otto and his place by the warm hearth!

Some snakes are tiny and would fit into the palm of my hand, while others – like Otto – can grow to lengths of 10 meters, large enough to eat a whole crocodile for breakfast. In fact, boas can eat prey 5 times their own diameter thanks to their kinetic jaws. Their teeth are curved and, by first moving prey to one side with their teeth and then to the other, the boa can eventually push large prey down into its throat.

Curiously, snakes don’t need to eat very often and can survive without breakfast, lunch or dinner for quite a number of months before they feel peckish again. Boas are arboreal, which means they live mostly in trees.

Boa constrictors like Otto can swallow a large rat whole, but they typically squeeze the life out of their victims first. Female snakes are usually bigger than male ones, so we’ll see if Otto meets his match in Willow’s forthcoming adventure (Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts).