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Sunday, October 31, 2021

Compulsory Halloween Post 2021

 Here is this year’s compulsory Halloween post. It will be kept short because I’ve done one a couple of years ago and another that was a happy birthday post for my dearest great-niece Dezzy, who has always said that she isn’t scared of anything because hey, she was born on Halloween!

I have been on Twitter, where too many people have been complaining that it’s all so American, so why are we having it here? 

Thing is, it’s not especially American, having been, in my reading, not a big thing till some time in the 19th century - can any American readers please confirm or deny this? 

The other thing is, it came to America from Europe. A lot of traditions were quite old. I believe the bobbing for apples thing, for example, goes back centuries, when it was connected with courting couples, and apple trees came to Britain with the Romans. 

The tradition of children in scary costumes also goes back a long way, as parents were hiding their children from real monsters, by confusing them. 

It would be connected with the end of the old year, when the veil between the worlds was thin. Of course, we are in spring here, so the seasons are different, but what the heck, why not? It’s not the only festival which is celebrated on its European date. 

Here are a few books I have read, on a theme appropriate for this date.

Melissa Marr’s YA urban fantasy Wicked Lovely series features punk fairies with tattoos as part of their culture. Although the author says the tattoo thing was included because she likes tattoos, it works - and she did do her research on Celtic folklore and myth. The winter queen Beira, for example, is right out of the folk tales. Having used some of the same books when researching my novel Wolfborn, I picked up some familiar elements in Wicked Lovely

Juliet Marillier, a Kiwi author who lives in Western Australia, has written some wonderful fairytale-themed fiction. There is Heart’s Blood, a novel inspired by Beauty And The Beast, set in mediaeval Ireland. The Beast is a lord whose facial issues are due to a childhood illness, and the Beauty is a professional scribe whom he has hired to do a job over the summer. Researching, she finds some scary family stuff in his background. 

The same author wrote the beautiful Blackthorn And Grimm trilogy, also set in Ireland, with a heroine who has been through a lot, and is helped to escape from prison by an elf lord, on condition she doesn’t take revenge for a number of years and that she always helps when asked. There are some scary scenes in these novels, but they are not horror fiction as such. 

I’ve just finished a novella by P. Djeli Clark, Ring Shout, which is up for a Hugo Award this year, and is a scary tale set in 1922, featuring an African American heroine for whom there is a difference between Ku Kluxers(non human creatures) and Klan. She has a sword that comes when summoned, connected with the horrors of slavery, and three mysterious female mentors who gave her the sword. There are beings who live on hatred, and the film The Birth Of A Nation is involved, stirring up hatred. Very gruesome stuff, but sympathetic characters. I’m not really into horror fiction, but this one impressed me. 

I still have some Hugo reading to do, and will share with you. 

Perhaps tonight I might finally watch The Green Knight, which I suspect doesn’t have the cheery flavour of the original poem. 

Good night! 

Friday, October 29, 2021

Nati Del Paso: A Guest Post

 Today’s guest post is from Nati Del Paso, an American writer whose first book, a collection of themed short stories, has recently been published, available at all the usual online sites. As  she is donating pre-order proceeds to charity, I thought it might be a good thing to invite her to write a guest post. Here is her blurb, first: 

Nati del Paso is a writer, counselor, and student of Indigenous Psychology and Shamanism. She was raised in Mexico by a Mexican mother and an American father and works as a lead counselor in the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity at the University of Washington. 


Del Paso weaves psychology, mysticism, and magic realism into suspenseful tales surrounding the immigrant experience, women, environmental and social justice issues. She recently finished her first novel People of the Jaguar. She lives in Snoqualmie, Washington.

And here is Nati telling us about her book and why she thought it important to write - take it away, Nati! 


As a newly published writer, I was honoured when Sue asked me for a guest post on my collection of short stories Women of Fire and Snow. Reading through her book titles, her children’s book, and guest posts, it is clear she is an advocate for women. 

While researching for my book, I became aware of the pervasiveness of gender violence. I learned that the most dangerous place for women is their home. When I first started writing my stories in 2017, the UN reported on an appalling statistic: on average nine women and girls were murdered a day in Mexico. Now, it is ten. 

But femicide is a worldwide problem. The UN estimates that almost one in three women will experience violence or sexual assault in their lifetime. Although boys and men also experience violence, there is a difference; the violence experienced by men, either as victims or perpetrators, is usually on the streets and during the commission of a crime. In contrast, most women experience violence in the home and at the hands of an intimate partner; 40% of women murdered know their killer.

Gender violence, although worse for lower-income women and in underdeveloped countries,  spans all socio-economic classes and is exceptionally brutal and intimate. It is more frequent among transgender women and women of color. 

In my stories, strong women of different ages confront evil and must rely on each other to overcome gender violence. Dark magic realism weaves through the tales tempering the brutal reality and offering a new vision, or raising questions in search of solutions. 

Every culture and society has the shadow of gender violence lurking within but when we bring it into the light through storytelling and other forms of art, we integrate it and heal. My writing is propelled by asking why are women’s lives not valued? How do women internalize and manifest their own devaluation?

Women of Fire and Snow is a collection of contemporary stories of women straddling the Mexican-American divide while finding their place and voice. Cultural identity, gender violence, forced migration, sacrifice, love, and resiliency frame suspenseful tales where realism is leavened by the supernatural and mystical.

In these stories

  • an undocumented teenager must fight a monster in a haunted town. 

  • When ICE detains her father, a college student submits to evil in a desperate attempt to help her family. 

  • While rescuing her nephew at the border, a teen wrestles with her privilege and the devastating power of La Santa Muerte. 

  • A demon follows a curandera(folk healer) to Snoqualmie, where her great-granddaughter is in danger.

  • A young Chicana from Seattle travels to Mexico, plunging into a secret society to combat rampant femicide. 

From the deserts and volcanoes of Mexico to the forests, mountains, and haunted rivers of the Pacific Northwest, these fast-paced stories blend social commentary with classic and psychological horror.

Women of Fire and Snow is my first publication and is available in bookstores and Amazon, iBooks, B&N, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and other online retailers. 

All the pre-sale proceeds of my book will be donated to the Center for Women’s Human Rights (CEDEHM) in Chihuahua, Mexico.  The CEDEHM is a non-profit feminist organization providing resources, support, legal aid, and advocacy to women and girls since 2005. 

To read full reviews and attend a virtual book launch/fundraiser sign up on my emailing list at

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

When You Know You Have Made A Difference

 Sometimes you make a difference without even knowing it. As a teacher, I know it. It’s not always academically, but when a former student makes it clear they are delighted to see you, you know you’re a success. I’ve had that happen many times, even recently, when I visited my old school, which has been rebuilt, and three young men, now in Year 11, came hurrying up to say hello, beaming away. 

And sometimes you find out in a different way. I’m on Twitter. Amazing who you meet there! This guy was never actually my student, though I was working at another campus of the same school. He only knew me as a writer. 

Let me explain.

In those days, the school had a Principal who respected the library enough to give us an annual budget for a writers’ festival. It wasn’t a lot, but enough to pay some writers to come and speak to the kids. The budget stretched that much further because there were two professional writers working at the school, YA author Chris Wheat and myself, who were happy to do a freebie. We were both at the Senior campus at the time, so we visited the junior campuses to talk. The North campus teacher librarian, Vicki, even organised a book launch for me when my book about astronauts came out. 

I don’t remember what the occasion was when I visited the North campus for this particular talk, but there was one student who listened quietly and thought about what I was saying. This was when I told the kids that if you write, you are a writer. I do believe that. So many think if they haven’t sold anything they are merely “aspiring”. No. You may aspire to publication, but if you write, you’re a writer. 

It has been many years since then, but he finally made his dream come true and wrote a novel. And on Twitter he told me about it and offered to send me a copy. This is it. The note that came with it was so very touching, I had a hard time not to cry. 

He has every reason to be proud. Too many people just say, “I’d write a book if I had the time,” and bore all their friends with it, but never actually do it.

He did it. And it’s so nice to know that my visit to a school library all those years ago inspired him to have a go! 

If you are interested, the book will be available next week on Amazon, in both paperback and Kindle.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

A Richard III Binge

 I have been bingeing recently on Richard III stuff. 

It started with Josephine Tey’s novel The Daughter Of Time, one of my comfort reading books. I first heard of it when I was in Year 11, studying the Shakespeare play in English. We had a very good teacher who mentioned it in class and, intrigued, I hunted it up and read it…and reread it, over and over, and joined the Richard III Society. I have it in ebook these days, so can read it whenever I feel like it, though I dropped out of the Richard III Society when it just got too fiddly to rejoin.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the book, it’s the last of Josephine Tey’s novels about Inspector Grant. This time, he solves a very cold case from his hospital bed, the case of Richard III - did he do it or didn’t he? The verdict is “not guilty”. 

I’ve read quite a few Richard III novels over the years, but this is the one I always come back to. It’s quite short, not much more than a novella, and I always  find myself surprised at how quickly I get through it. 

Anyway, I read it and then went to YouTube for Richard’s funeral in Leicester. There was a procession to watch and then some of the actual ceremony. Richard still has family, though not direct descendants; his little boy by his Queen died young, his illegitimate daughter Katherine lived long enough to marry, but died too - I can’t recall how, I think it was an accident. His illegitimate son, John of Gloucester was executed by Henry VII. There may have been another son, Dickon, who lived to a ripe old age as a stonemason, but he didn’t have children either. 

But there are some descendants of Richard’s sisters, one of them an Englishwoman, another a Canadian carpenter who made the coffin. They were, of course, at the funeral.

A few days ago, my great niece Rachel asked me to edit her school essay about the Shakespeare play and Looking For Richard, a documentary by Al Pacino, with a mixture of discussion, interview and bits of the play. 

I had to buy a download of the Pacino film, but the Shakespeare was available in the BBC Hollow Crown series, which is on Amazon Prime and the ABC’s iView, so I watched that. The lead role is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, whom you will certainly know as Sherlock Holmes in the modern series Sherlock. He has done a lot more than that, of course, including Khan in the new Star Trek movie series and the voice of Satan in Good Omens and Dr Strange(with an American accent) in the Marvel movies. 

By the way, he, too, is a distant relative of Richard III, a cousin many times removed, via Richard’s Mum, Cecily Neville(played in this film by the amazing Judi Dench). He read a poem at the funeral.

Anyway, he was an impressive Richard, one of the few I have seen as truly scary. Usually, Richard gets the audience on side at first, making us laugh with him, before suddenly showing he is not the likeable rogue you thought. I have seen quite a few Richards, including Anthony Sher, Laurence Olivier and Ian McKellen, who was in a film version set in the 1930s - I can’t seem to get a copy of that, dammit, a great pity, as it works. Olivier’s Richard becomes truly scary when his little nephew makes a joke about his back, and you can see real fear on the kid’s face when he realises that this is not his jolly Uncle Richard. Cumberbatch simply looks grim and unamused as if he is thinking, fine, I can wait

His scene with Lady Anne ends with his face truly amazed at having got away with it. “Was ever woman in this humour wooed? Was ever woman in this humour won?” He simply can’t believe it. The same, later, with his sister in law, when he asks her to marry her daughter, his niece. He doesn’t even deny killing her boys. And she walks off saying “Write to me.” And again he is amazed at the hypocrisy of these people who are supposed to be the good guys.

And Cumberbatch did both scenes beautifully! 

I do recommend this version.

If you can find it, there is a Dave Allen skit in which he, as Richard, is wooing Anne, and hands her his dagger. She stabs him with it and he sinks to the ground groaning, “You weren’t …supposed…to do that…”

So, I watched this film and then the Al Pacino one, before reading the essay. Al Pacino must have had quite a decent budget for what was a documentary/performance combination, because apart from those impressive costumes, they managed to get in a battle scene. All of the scenes performed are discussed by the cast and some interviewees who know the subject, and even random people in the streets. The film is really intended for those who aren’t that familiar with Shakespeare, and it does seem to work well in that respect.

So, what Richard fiction should I get back to next? Sharon Kay Penman? Rosemary Hawley Jarman? Jeremy Potter’s A Trail Of Blood

Anything new you can recommend? Non fiction is also okay, if new, as I have read a fair few of those too.

See you on the other side of the binge!