Nasty Nick was delighted. It was Christmas Eve and at last his robot was finished. It was no ordinary robot — it was a robot Santa. Nasty Nick called it the Santabot.

Nasty Nick’s plan was simple. Tonight he would programme the Santabot to follow the real Santa around. But unlike the real Santa, who would leave presents, the Santabot would take them! No-one would ever suspect the Santabot in its Santa disguise!

Evening came. Lots of excited children hung their Christmas stockings up. Nasty Nick chuckled at the thought of how they would find them still empty in the morning.

Jingling sleigh bells announced Santa’s arrival. Nasty Nick flicked the switch on the control panel in his workshop and the Santabot jerked into action. Keeping a safe distance, it called at each house after Santa left and took all the presents he had just left.

“Perfect!” cackled Nasty Nick, rubbing his hands with glee. “Nothing can possibly go wrong!”

But he reckoned without Peter! Try as he could, Peter couldn’t get to sleep. When he heard Santa creep into his room, he shut his eyes tightly and snored. He listened with delight to the rustle of wrapped presents. Santa crept out and Peter peered in wonder at his bulging stocking.

“Wow!” he exclaimed, then “Yikes!” as the bedroom door opened again. He dived back under the covers but decided to peep out this time. He saw what looked like Santa enter very stiffly, march to his Christmas stocking and then suddenly swing round — and take presents out of it! Peter was horrified.

“Hey!” he thought. “What’s going on? Santa shouldn’t be doing that! Something’s up!”

As soon as the Santabot had gone, Peter leapt out of bed and slipped out of the house behind the Santabot. He began to follow but then spotted the real Santa in his sleigh next door.

“Two Santas?” gasped Peter. He looked more closely at the Santabot walking jerkily along in front of him. This Santa didn’t seem very jolly. This Santa didn’t have a sleigh. There was definitely something odd about this Santa.

“I’d better tell the proper Santa at once!” thought Peter. Keeping out of sight of the Santabot, he sneaked up to Santa. Santa was surprised to see him.

“Hello Peter!” boomed Santa. “I’ve just left your presents!”

“I know!” gabbled Peter. “But then the other Santa took them!”

“Other Santa?” echoed Santa.

“Yes, he looks just like you but walks all funny, like a robot,” explained Peter. “He’s following you around and taking the presents back out of the sacks.”

“Goodness gracious! We’ll have to stop that!” cried Santa.

“Yes!  Let’s trap him,” suggested Peter. “Next time you climb out of a chimney, hide behind it. Then when the other Santa comes, I’ll help you grab him!”

“Great idea!” agreed Santa. “Hop on my sleigh and we’ll go to the next rooftop.”

Peter jumped on at once. The sleigh, pulled by Rudolph of course, shot into the air. It was a magical moment for Peter.

“Right!” said Santa when they stopped by the chimney. “Duck behind and wait for me.”

Santa hopped nimbly down the chimney with his sack. He was back up again in no time. He squatted next to Peter.

They waited. then they heard a faint clang … clang … clang as the Santabot walked up the side of the house. Clump … clump … clump, it plodded along the roof. Then creak … squeak , it lifted its left leg all ready to climb down the chimney.

“Now!” roared Santa and he and Peter leapt out and nabbed the Santabot. It kept on trying to get down the chimney so Peter grabbed its beard. To his horror, it came off in his hand, revealing a big red button with STOP on it.

“Press it!” gasped Santa, struggling with the Santabot.

Peter whacked it hard. The Santabot stopped.

“Phew!” panted Santa. “Now, what have we here?” He pulled out his spectacles and inspected the Santabot. He prodded it. He poked it. Then he said: “Well, it’s a mechanical me!”

Back in Nasty Nick’s workshop, the control panel registered that the Santabot had stopped.

“Bother!” grumbled Nasty Nick. “Now I’ve got to go out in the cold and fix it.”

He packed his tools and set off. Meanwhile, Santa and Peter were examining the Santabot.

“We need to reprogram it,” explained Peter who knew a bit about robots. “We must make it take the presents back and then get it to take us to the person that made it!”

“Absolutely!” agreed Santa. “But how?”

Peter didn’t know.

Just then, Peter caught sight of Nasty Nick approaching.

“Look!” he hissed. “Someone’s coming. And he’s carrying a toolbox — I bet he made the Santabot!”

“You’re right!” exclaimed Santa. “Quick, let’s hide again. We’ll grab this fellow too!”

Santa ordered the reindeer out of sight and Peter shoved the Santabot’s beard back into place. Then they dived behind the chimney pot.

They heard Nasty Nick muttering crossly as climbed the drainpipe to the roof. They peeped out and watched him open his toolbox. Then he paused. He looked into the Santabot’s sack.

“I’ll just open a couple of presents before I fix you,” he said to the robot.

“Oh no, you don’t!” bellowed Santa leaping out and grabbing Nasty Nick. “How dare you build a robot me and steal the children’s presents, you miserable wormy thing, you!”

Santa was furious. His face was as red as his coat. Nasty Nick trembled in fright.

“I’m sorry!” he stammered. “I only wanted a few presents. You see, no one ever gives me any!”

“Huh! You wanted all the presents,” retorted Santa. “And no one ever gives you presents because you’re so nasty!”

“I really am sorry!” sobbed Nasty Nick. “I promise not to be nasty any more.”

“Do you really and truly promise?” asked Santa, not so cross now.

“Yes, yes, yes!” nodded Nasty Nick.

“Very well, Not-So-Nasty Nick,” said Santa, letting go of him. “Make this thing of yours take the presents back at once — and then destroy it. I shall pick up the bits on my way home. Now, Peter, do you think you could give me a hand delivering the presents? I’m running late.”

Would Peter mind? Of course not — there was nothing he would rather do! The rest of the night was a whirl. Up and down chimneys Peter raced (Santa taught him how.)

Then at last they were finished. They called at Not-So-Nasty Nick’s. He handed them a box of nuts and bolts and bits and pieces. It was all that was left of the Santabot. Then Not-So-Nasty Nick gave Santa and Peter a present.

Santa smiled. “Thank you, Nick. I hope you will keep your promise to be good. Now, here’s a present for you.” Santa delved into his sack and pulled out a huge orange teddy bear.

Not-So-Nasty Nick’s mouth dropped open.

“Is this for me?” he gasped. “A present? I’ve never had a present before!” He hugged the teddy in delight.

Santa smiled again. Peter yawned.

“Come on, young man!” chuckled Santa. “Time you were back in bed!”

The dawn was just tinting the sky as Peter crept back into bed. He was delighted to see his stocking bulging with presents again. Santa tucked him in, hugged him and then disappeared into the cold winter sky.

“This,” thought Peter sleepily, “has to be the best Christmas ever — especially for Not-So-Nasty-Nick!”

And, not so very far away, Not-So-Nasty-Nick was thinking exactly the same thing!

 

I’m delighted to be hosting my second virtual book tour today.

I’ll begin with my review of Scorpio Rising by Monique Domovitch, which is the book in question. I was feeling poetic when I wrote it, as you’ll see!

 

Scorpio Alex, tough, go-getting,

Paris and New York as the setting,

Add beautiful, abused Brigitte

Who’s always falling on her feet;

Scatter in some scheming dudes

To bring in hate and simmering feuds,

Self-seeking colleagues, greedy men,

But one kind angel, sweet Réjeanne;

Throw in unwanted pregnancies,

Setbacks, opportunities,

Driving ambition, shining talents,

Optimists and malcontents,

Romantic love, straightforward lust,

Not forgetting deceit and trust …

Creative author, dramatic plot –

Scorpio Rising has got the lot!

 

It’s an interesting and intricate novel, well worth a read.

 

Author interview

Here is what the author says about her writing:

“People often ask me what attracted me to the life of a writer, and I have to say it was a natural extension of falling in love…with books, which I have been for as long as I can remember.

I remember my mother taking me to the public library when I was as young as four years old. That was when she introduced me to Madeline, the little schoolgirl. As teenager, I discovered Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames, and then Harlequin books. And then I really fell in love for the first time. I was in England where my friends introduced me to a book by Wilbur Smith.
I think I hadn’t read ten pages of his book–can’t remember the title anymore–when I knew this was it. I could spend the rest of my life in bed with this writer’s books.

Over the next few years, Wilbur Smith’s books made me discover Africa, where I met animals I’d never heard of, and villains the likes of which I hope to never meet. I was swept into his stories of love and passion and greed; stories from which I never wanted to walk away. I devoured book after book of his, until, of course, the inevitable happened. I caught up with every last one of his books and was facing a long void until his next book hit the stands. And I, fickle reader that I am, had an affair with a few other authors, and then it happened again. I read Dominic Dunne. And wham. I was in love again.

With Dominic Dunne’s books, I spent time with the truly rich and the truly manipulative. How can anyone forget books like The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, or An Inconvenient Woman, or A Season in Purgatory? Once I discovered them, I was hooked. Forgive me Dominic, for I betrayed you too when I discovered my next big love, Nelson De Mille.

De Mille is a master of sharp, snappy talk, and he makes all those words come out of the mouth of a sexy good cop with a bad attitude–John Corey. Now here’s the funny part. I don’t really know what John Corey looks like, except that he has scars on his chest from some bullet wounds. I also know that John Corey is almost as fickle when it comes to love as I am when it comes to favorite authors. He seems to fall in love with a different woman in almost every one of his adventures. That is, until he met and married Kate. But who knows, so far she’s only been around for a couple of novels. For all I know she’ll be dropped off, maybe even killed in the next book, and then sexy John will be available again and I can go on dreaming.

Now here’s something you might not know about me. I’m married, and—get this—my husband doesn’t mind my little dalliances with all these authors…as long as I don’t meet them in person that is.

And why am I blabbing about all these loves of mine? Because, every time I start a new project, I hope with all my heart, that I infuse my novel with enough passion and ambition and greed that when you, dear reader, read my work, you will fall—perhaps just a little bit—in love with my characters. And I promise to love you right  back, even knowing that I will never be able to write fast enough to keep your from someday leaving me for some other writer.

C’est la vie!
Monique”

 

Take part

As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Scorpio Rising eBook edition has dropped to just 99 cents this week.

What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes, including 2 Kindle Fires, Amazon gift cards up to $100 in amount, 5 autographed copies of the book, and 5 autographed copies of its recently released sequel, The Sting of The Scorpio. Be sure to enter before the end of the day on Friday, December 23rd, so you don’t miss out.

Here’s how you can take part in the celecbrations. To win the prizes:
Purchase your copy of Scorpio Rising for just 99 cents on Amazon or Barnes & Noble
Fill-out the form on Novel Publicity to enter for the prizes
Visit today’s featured event; you may win an autographed copy of the book or a $50 gift card!
BONUS:  If you leave a comment on this blog post, you have another chance at $100!

…And I can win too!

Over 100 bloggers are participating in this gigantic event, and there are plenty of prizes for us too. The blogger who receives the most votes in the traffic-breaker poll will win a $100 gift card as well. So when you visit Novel Publicity’s site to fill-out the contest entry form, don’t forget to say that I referred you, so I can get a point in the poll.

What to do this week

Wednesday, Google+ sharing contest! Yup, there’s yet another awesome opportunity to win a $50 Amazon gift card, and this time it just takes a single click! Visit Google+ and share Emlyn Chand’s most recent post (you’ll see the Scorpio Rising book cover included with it). On Thursday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. Autographed copies of Scorpio Rising and its sequel, The Sting of The Scorpio, are also up for grabs. Three chances to win! How about that?

Thursday, Facebook sharing contest! Stop by Novel Publicity’s Facebook page and share their latest post (you’ll see the Scorpio Rising book cover included with it). It’s ridiculously easy to win! On Friday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. Autographed copies of Scorpio Rising and its sequel, The Sting of The Scorpio, are also up for grabs.

Friday, special contest on the author’s site! Win a Kindle Fire! Two are up for grabs! Visit Monique’s website to leave a comment on any of her posts and sign-up for her author newsletter. One person will win for each method, so be sure to do both.

My recent post about fiction book bags as Christmas presents proved very popular so here another one about creating non-fiction book bags for blokes. (Book bags for ladies coming tomorrow.)

First up, how to sew a fabric bag for a book. There are very clear instructions here on the Design Dazzle website.

I did some research and found out what some of the most popular hobbies for men are. Here are book bag ideas based on those.

 

1. Gardening

First up, a couple of ebook suggestions:

The Garden Seed Saving Guide. To go with this – pair of gardening gloves, small trowel, small flower pots, sticky labels.

Preparing a Garden from the Ground Up. All of the above gift suggestions apply as well as packs of seeds.

 

2. Golf

I don’t know a thing about golf apart from that it’s very popular, so I won’t offer advice on which ebooks to buy. There are zillions of ebooks on the subject to choose from. However, some golf balls, socks, tees or a pair of golfing gloves would fill up a book bag for a golfer very nicely.

 

3. Fishing

Again, there are lots of books out there to choose from, but this looks interesting – Fishing – Learn from the Tips and Laugh at the Tales. Into the book bag go some hooks, flies, line, disgorger, lures, small bags of boilies etc – the list of little fishy gifts is endless.

 

4. Flying

Pilots might enjoy Thunder in the Tummy, a collection of funny true tales by a pilot.

Youngsters thinking of learning to fly will benefit from this book, Teenage Pilot.

Suggested book bag goodies might be a chart, sunglasses, flying gloves, pilot’s watch, model aeroplane, tie with planes on etc.

 

5. Homebrewing and Winemaking

A promising looking ebook for all homebrewers is Beer and Ingredients here.

And for 99 cents you could add a work of fiction on the subject in the shape of Secret Life of the Brewer’s Yeast: A Microbiology Tale.

I came across one for winemaking which was 582 words long and cost $6.99 so for obvious reasons I won’t be recommending that one. Not the sort of ebook you want to see out there.

Again, there are plenty of little things you can put in a book bag – stoppers, brewer’s yeast, straining bags, funnels, tube brushes, litmus paper, labels …

 

6. Shooting

Here’s a good ebook: Why You Can’t Shoot Straight

Gifts for the book bag would be small targets, old CDs to shoot at, earplugs, safety glasses.

 

7. Geocaching

Exploring With GPS: A Practical Field Guide for Satellite Navigation

And a novel to go with it: Twin Falls

You could pop an old-fashioned compass into the bookbag, but most useful for the geocaching man in your life would be a selection of small items he can put in the caches he finds. What happens in geocaching is that you take a small item from the cache you find after signing the log, and leave something in its place. You could also put in a plastic container with a very tight seal in case the geocacher wants to create his own one somewhere.

 

Hope these ideas help.

Enjoy the story and please feel free to substitute ‘Caitlin’ with the name of the little angel in your household!

 

Caitlin and the Christmas angel

The Christmas tree looked lovely — except for the silly gold star that mum insisted on putting at the top every year.

Caitlin sighed. A proper Christmas tree should have a beautiful Christmas angel on top. Her best friend Nicky’s did. Grandma’s did too, and so did the huge tree in the square outside the town hall.

“Mum, can’t we get an angel for our tree?” she asked as she put the last garland of tinsel onto the tree’s prickly branches.

“Whatever for?” said mum, surprised. “We’ve got a pretty star. It always goes on top. It represents the star of Bethlehem that told the world where Jesus was born.”

“I know, but the Christmas angels told the world about Jesus too,” replied Caitlin.

“You’re right,” smiled mum, “but the star stays.”

So that was that. Caitlin was so busy over the next few days, getting ready for Christmas, that she more or less forgot about the tree. It wasn’t till Christmas Eve that she thought about it again.

Mum was in a panic. She couldn’t find the Christmas pudding she had made months ago. She knew she had put it in a safe place, but she couldn’t remember where.

“We’ll have to make another,” she announced. “I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t find it.”

“Can I help?” asked Caitlin. She loved helping mum bake.

Between them they measured out the ingredients and stirred them all together.

“Remember to make your wish as you stir the pudding,” said mum.

This was Caitlin’s chance! She shut her eyes and without a moment’s hesitation she silently wished for a Christmas angel.

But almost before she knew it, it was bedtime and there was no Christmas angel to be seen. It looked as though her wish was not going to come true.

Full of disappointment she put out a mince pie and glass of milk for Santa and trailed sadly to bed. She didn’t even feel excited about the presents she might get. It didn’t feel like Christmas Eve at all.

She was just dozing off when she heard a tap-tap-tapping at the window.

“Must be the wind,” she muttered sleepily to herself.

But then it came again, only this time a lot louder. It was more of a thud-thud-thudding!

Caitlin sat bolt upright. Could it be Santa at the window? Perhaps he couldn’t get down the chimney?

She hurried to the window and dragged open the curtains. She gasped in astonishment. There, looking cold and tired, was a real, live Christmas Angel!

Caitlin stood staring at her until the angel called through the glass. “Well, are you going to let me in or not?” She sounded a bit cross for an angel, Caitlin thought.

Caitlin leapt into action. She heaved on the catch and slowly swung the window open. In came the angel with a lot of cold air.

“Here I am, one Christmas angel as wished for,” she announced with a flourish.

Caitlin just gaped at her.

“What’s the matter?” snapped the angel.

Caitlin jumped. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare,” she said. “It’s just that, well, you’re a real angel. I only wanted an angel for the Christmas tree.”

“Well, why didn’t you say that in your wish,” sighed the angel. “Honestly, what a mess. Here I am, I’ve just flown all the way from the North Pole and I’m not wanted.”

“North Pole?” echoed Caitlin. “I thought Christmas angels came from Heaven.”

“Not Christmas pudding Christmas angels,” explained the angel. “We’re Santa’s department.”

“Oh dear, I’m so sorry about the muddle,” sighed Caitlin. “Will you have to fly all the way back to the North Pole again?”

“No, I’ll get a lift back from Santa when he calls here. I’ll just have to wait until then.” The angel adjusted her halo. “By the way, I’m starving. It really is a very long way from the North Pole. Have you got any food?”

“There’s the mince pie and milk I put out for Santa. Will that do?” asked Caitlin.

“Yum!” said the angel, brightening up at once. “Santa won’t mind if I have them. He’ll get millions of mince pies and glasses of milk tonight, after all!”

Caitlin led the angel to the lounge. The ashes were glowing in the grate and the Christmas  tree lights were twinkling daintily.  The angel perched on the fireplace and happily munched her way through the mince pie. Then she drained the glass of milk and absentmindedly wiped her mouth on her sleeve. Caitlin tried not to giggle.

“I see why you wanted an angel for the tree,” said the angel, nodding towards the star that sat wonkily and dully at the top of the tree. “It is a bit grim, isn’t it.”

Caitlin nodded in agreement. “Yes, but mum says it’s got sentimental value so I think that means it’s worth a lot. You wouldn’t think so, would you?”

The angel shook her head and she Caitlin stared sadly at the star for a moment or two. Then Caitlin had an idea. “Angel,” she asked shyly, “will you play with me. I’ve got these lovely board games that I never get the chance to play with. Mum’s always too busy, and dad thinks they’re boring. They’re not,” she added quickly, “they’re really fun!”

“Oh, yes please,” said the angel, hopping down from the fireplace at once. She was a lot more cheerful now that she’d had a rest and some supper. “I love playing games. I’m brilliant at picture lotto and dominoes. I always beat Santa. Let’s see what games you’ve got.”

They hurried back to the bedroom and Caitlin lifted down some games from the shelf. Then she and the angel settled down on the floor and opened the first box.

Caitlin didn’t know how long they played for, but they got through all her games. They did some jigsaws too and listened to some story tapes. The angel wanted to read books next, but Caitlin’s eyes kept closing.

“Oh dear, I’m going to have to go to bed,” she yawned. “Thanks for a really great time, Christmas angel. And I really don’t mind about you being real, I mean, I’m glad you are. You’re much nicer than a pretend angel. Thank you for coming.”

“That’s OK,” smiled the angel. “I’m very glad I came. Now, quickly, off to sleep before Santa comes. I’ll tidy up.”

That was the last thing Caitlin heard. Or did she hear a deep, booming chuckle a bit later the night — the happiest chuckle ever? And was she dreaming, or did she catch a glimpse of a large, round face surrounded by lots of whiskers peering round the bedroom door? And did she hear the angel saying goodbye to her and wishing her a wonderful Christmas?

Caitlin couldn’t be sure. But when she awoke next morning, she knew at once that she hadn’t imagined the angel. A few of the games were still on the floor. And Santa had been — there was a big sack of presents at the foot of her bed.

Caitlin dragged the sack into the lounge where she could hear mum and dad chatting.

“Morning!” she called happily. “Happy Christmas!”

“Happy Christmas!” said mum, and dad gave her a big hug.

“Look,” he said. “There’s an extra present for you under the tree.”

Caitlin rushed over. The label on the present said “To Caitlin.”

“Who’s it from?” she wondered. The paper on the parcel was the loveliest she’d ever seen. It had pictures of tiny reindeer all over it. Caitlin carefully unwrapped it, and gave a cry of delight. Here was her Christmas angel at last! And it was a beautiful angel. It looked very much like her visitor from last night.

Dad and mum looked very surprised.  Then mum said: “We’d better get dad to put that lovely angel on top of the tree. I have to admit, it’s a lot prettier than my poor old star!”

“Thanks mum,” said Caitlin. “And thanks Santa and the Christmas angel,” she added under her breath.

She watched as dad stood on a chair and put the angel — her angel — at the very top of the tree. She smiled happily.

The angel smiled too.

 

We all know how important a cover is for a book or ebook. Well, so is the title, but this doesn’t always get as much time and effort put into it as it should. And especially, authors don’t seem to be doing much if any research to see if the title they want has been used. It’s not a great idea to give your book the same name as one that’s already out there.

Recently I’ve read across the following books with titles that turn out to be very popular:

Scorpio Rising: I read the book of this name that Monique Domovitch had authored. But amongst many others, Alan Annand, R. G. Vilet, Daisy Denman, Rosie Orr, Alex MacDonough, Richard Katrovas, Ms Scorpio N and Mark Sheldon have also written books with this title.

The Wake-Up Call by Jonas Eriksson (excellent, by the way): Oral Roberts, Richard Copeland, John Mulinde, Penny Dawne, Edythe Draper, Kristen Bretweiser and Jeff Gunhus have their versions too. Again, that’s only some of the authors who had the same idea. There are a lot of Wake-Up Calls (plural) out there too that could get confused.

Passion in Paris: Rusty Blackwood, Adam Carpenter, Helen Hardt, Robyn Grady all have versions.

Losing It by Simon Lipson (do read this guy) has rivals by Zaria Garrison, Melanie Douglass, Lindsay Rech, Laura Fraser, William Miller, Valerie Bertillini – and those are just from the first page of results on Amazon.

The danger with using a title that’s already been employed is that it makes it harder for readers to find and buy your book. They might be looking up your Gardening with Nail Scissors but come across someone else’s tome of this name and buy that instead, not realising their mistake. Or, when they call up the title on Smashwords, they find six other books with the same name, all of which have snappier covers than yours and so one of them gets the sale instead. Heart-breaking isn’t it?

But other people have the same idea as you do, and sometimes at the same time. And there’s nothing you can do about that. My ‘The Witch’s Dog’ came out pretty much alongside Frank Rodgers’. And I’d checked to see if there were other ones out there before I settled on my choice. The stories are completely different, but they’ve got the same name. There’s an ‘Escape from the Volcano’ out there now, very similar to my ‘Escape the Volcano’. My ‘Oh Dad’ of 1999, has been followed by one in 2000 and another in 2008. ‘Oh Santa’, again the only one at the time, is the name of a Christmas collection of songs by Mariah Carey’s. OK, not a book, but the same title which gets in the way when folk are looking for my masterpiece. And ‘Beat the Hackers’ as a search term pulls up CDs by Beat Hackers, a rap group!

So, you can’t avoid the problem happening completely, but I would strongly advise you to come up with as original a title as you can to keep your book totally unique. Maybe others of the same name will come along later, but at least you got in first!

I mentioned book bags in a previous post. A book bag is always a nice present. It’s traditionally a bag, hence the name, but you can equally have a book box or book parcel, which contains a book together with some appropriate items to go with it. A book bag for a cookery book, for example, would have some cooking items in it too – perhaps a pinafore and a rolling pin. Now that the ebook is here, there’s no need to include the book anymore. You supply that separately to the recipient. But you can still give the bag of associated goodies.

Here are ten ideas, starting with three of my books, followed by seven great reads I’ve enjoyed this year:

1. Best of Blog in France (Non-fiction about expat life in France.) A bottle of French wine and some French cheese, one of the varieties that comes in a round wooden or cardboard box, would be most suitable as well as practical. But anything French will do!

2. The Smelliest Cheese in the World (Fiction) Now this is a kid’s book, but adults would enjoy it too. If you’re giving it to a grown up, then give them some smelly cheese too – stands to reason! Roquefort or Auvergne Blue are good ones. For younger readers, since the story also features socks, then a pair of those would be perfect.

3. Oh Santa! A chocolate Santa, a skipping rope and a Santa hat would be good choices.

Now for those other ebooks that I’d thoroughly recommend:

4. Big Backpack – Little World: this is a wonderful and entertaining account by Donna Morang of her experiences as an ESL teacher. See the guest post by Donna on this website. The ideal accompaniment would be a rucksack. The author spent a lot of time in Mexico, and in fact now lives there, so some Mexican food like a box of tacos or a jar or guacamole, or a bottle of Tequila would be excellent too.

5. Sunshine Soup by Jo Parfitt: this is a book about expat life with a good bit of cooking thrown in. A soup recipe book, or a set of nice soup bowls would be suitable.

6. Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark: this is about Melissa who works for a TV station. It’s chick-lit/rom-com. I reviewed it here. During the story she revamps her look. Give the recipient some make-up or a voucher for a facial or a massage.

7. A Song for Europe by Simon Lipson: this is rom-com at its best with the Eurovision Song Contest at its heart. A CD of all the songs from one of the Contests would be fitting (2010 and 2006 were really good years). Anything Euro would go well with this book. Failing that, go here  to get souvenirs with the European flag on them!

8. The Lingerie Castle by Markee Andersen: well, lingerie would be good with this book! Or a football. You’ll have to read the book.

9. Lye in Wait by Cricket MacRae, a home crafting mystery. The heroine is a soapmaker so fill a book bag with beautifully handmade perfumed soap.

10. The Wake-Up Call by Jonas Eriksson: gritty rom-com starring an overstressed, overstimulated executive, so I’d suggest decaff coffee, bath bombs, scented candles or a lavender-filled sleep mask.

Hope these are helpful!

 

I’ve blogged about using the Kindle as a proofreading tool before. You can use it for editing too. I find this is incredibly useful. As a freelance editor, there are times I have to be away from my desk, but I have some work to be finishing, and it’s not practical to take my laptop with me. As with the proofreading, using MobiPocket Creator I format the Word file of the MS I’m working on – either all of it, or just the section I’m currently working on – into  a mobi document, and then I email that to my Kindle.

Reading through the document, I use the note and highlighting tools on Kindle to mark where I need to make changes. To make a note, you bring the cursor down to the appropriate spot (I have a Kindle 3 so use the 5-way device, but on the later models you use the stylus I believe) and start to type to make your note. You can also tag a word by clicking the central button of the 5-way to begin a highlight which you end by taking the cursor to the finish spot and clicking again.

When I’m back home, I fire up the Kindle and work through with it next to my laptop. When I reach my note or highlight, I make the necessary change to the MS on the computer. Then, when I’ve finished, I simply delete the document from the Kindle so it’s not taking up valuable space there.

Simple but effective!

Don’t get bogged down at your writing desk. For many of us with limited time for writing, it can easily become stressful when we fire up the computer, knowing that we’ve got to get that next bit written NOW before life gets in the way again.

So here are 5 suggestions to help you stay zen in your writing den.

1. Wear something bright or silly. Don’t just plonk yourself down to write in your work clothes. Pin on a fun brooch or put on a stupid tie or slip into a garish cardi. A bit of fun will brighten your spirits and loosen up your fingers.

2. Smile. Seriously, a little smile will lift your mood and make you feel good. OK, you may be about create a heart-rending scene or a truly horrific one, but a smile will help you get underway.

3. Make your work area pleasant. A potted plant, cheery family photos or a stuffed toy will jolly it up nicely. If it looks nice, you’ll feel happier there and maybe want to put in a bit of extra time if you can.

4. Stay serene and focussed. A scented candle or incense stick or a bowl of pot pourri will make for a peaceful atmosphere and help your concentration.

5. Stash a few secret goodies in a desk drawer or other hidey hole to give yourself a little treat once in a while – when you’ve written those 1,000 words or finally got the plot sorted. Boiled sweets or chocs are just the thing, or for you healthaholics, a handful of sawdust or seeds or whatever is a bit naughty but still good for you!

I’ve always enjoyed writing poems, usually silly ones, but occasionally I’ve come out with some serious poetry. I rather like this one about Christmas, and hope you will too. Enjoy!

 

 

Baby Jesus and the Fox

for Janet Lane

 

The fox stood at the top of the hill

In the freezing snow, so deep and still.

Then he began to travel down,

Something was calling him into town.

 

Normally he stayed well clear

But tonight he overcame his fear.

He knew exactly where to go

So he crept through the shadows, keeping low.

 

He found the stable fairly soon

And hid in a corner, in the gloom.

He watched with glowing amber eyes

And heard a tiny baby’s cries.

 

Soon Mary and Joseph fell asleep.

Now was the fox’s chance to peep!

He cautiously left his hiding place

And gazed at Baby Jesus’s face.

 

A chilly wind began to blow

Bringing another flurry of snow.

The cold made the fox’s whiskers quiver

And Baby Jesus began to shiver.

 

And so without a thought of danger

The fox jumped up into the manger.

He laid his golden, bushy tail

Over the baby, cold and pale.

 

The fox lay there for quite a while

Till Jesus warmed up, and began to smile.

He tickled the fox’s furry head,

Then surprised him when he suddenly said:

 

“Both you and I will be hunted down,

Your fate hounds’ teeth, mine a thorny crown.

Men hate us though we do no wrong,

And hatred is cruel, fierce and strong,

 

But love, like the love you’ve just shown me,

Will save us all eventually.”

Then Baby Jesus began to doze,

Still gently stroking the fox’s nose.

 

The pink of dawn began to glow.

The fox knew that he had to go.

He was puzzled by the baby’s words

But he knew it was goodness that he’d heard.

 

He quietly got up and slunk away,

To struggle through another day.

But when he got back to his wood

He found a pile of tempting food –

 

Bread and cheese, and meat and fish,

Everything a fox could wish!

As he ate he smiled in a foxy way:

Today was a truly magical day.

 

This week has seen the holiday whirlwind book blog tour by Lauren Clark for her smashing book Stay Tuned. (I reviewed it here.) Here’s a fascinating and inspiring interview with this energetic writer.

Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes. For as long as I can remember. Of course, my parents always remind that I also wanted to be an Indian princess named Tiger Lily, but that dream was more short-lived. On a serious note, I do have fond memories of spending my summer days toting stacks of books back and forth from my house to our town’s library. It always seemed like a magical place, with endless stories to get lost in.

You worked as both an anchor and producer after graduate school. How did that influence the writing of Stay Tuned?
So much! It was an accident, really, getting into broadcast journalism. I always thought of myself as a behind the scenes kind of girl, but after my first day on the job, I loved it and stuck with it for the next 6 years. Working in television is never boring. There’s always a story, always the next show. The camaraderie in the newsroom is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It’s like living in a big, loud, mostly happy, very dysfunctional family every day.

What gave you the idea for Stay Tuned?
True story:  A few months before I took my first television job as a part-time health reporter, the two main anchors at one of the local television stations (who were romantically involved) got into a fistfight. They were outside the building, in the station parking lot. Shortly thereafter, they were both fired. In the months that followed, the two of them bantered back and forth in newspaper editorials, threatened lawsuits, and fueled all sorts of crazy retaliation stories. I never forgot about that incident and always thought about what might happen if such a fistfight happened on air, during a newscast. What would happen? How would it be handled? Who would fix this kind of mess?

What did you learn from being on air?
It’s very humbling, really. As a producer, especially, you are in charge of what’s being put out there—the news stories people watch and talk about each day. It’s a big responsibility to get it right. Not just sometimes, but all of the time. There were many sobering days—car accidents, house fires, school shootings—and those stories should be told with sensitivity and care. It’s someone’s son or daughter or parent. Everyone matters.

What was your most memorable experience as an anchor or reporter?  
I was on set during 9-11. I remember sitting there with our weatherman and waiting to be cued to go back on air after the commercial. CBS cut in and showed footage from a plane crashing into the Twin Towers. It was surreal and awful. We were all in shock. It didn’t seem possible. All I wanted to do was go home and hug my son.

Was it a difficult decision to leave television?
Yes and no. I loved so many parts of broadcasting. I was able to meet fascinating people – Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro, then-New York Attorney General Eliott Spitzer among many others. I adored the people I worked with, especially the folks behind the scenes. I was also fortunate enough to win several AP awards for anchoring and reporting.

On the flip side, I worked crazy hours (2 am – 10 am) and, as is typical in the industry, I received very little vacation time. I anchored every holiday (Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, you name it) and wasn’t able to spend much time with my young son. After more than six years, I “retired” from TV news. It was then that I really started to get serious about writing fiction.

How long did it take to write Stay Tuned?
About five years, all said and done. I wrote several other novels before that—and those manuscripts will never see the light of day! When I began Stay Tuned, I had just given birth to my second son, so my writing time was very limited. After putting it away for several years, I picked it back up about 12 months ago, brushed it off, and had an editor-friend look it over. We made some changes, tweaked the story, and fine-tuned the plot. A few months back, I was offered a contract with a small publishing company. Another friend introduced me to the talented and fabulous Emlyn Chand at Novel Publicity, who helped guide me through the entire publishing process. It’s been a wonderful journey!

What’s next? A sequel or a stand-alone novel?
Dancing Naked in Dixie is next (stand alone title) and I’m so excited to share that it’s been selected as a finalist for the 2011 Chick Lit Writers “Get Your Stiletto in the Door” Contest (Winner will be announced December 20, 2011).

Dancing Naked follows the story of a talented but scattered travel magazine writer who returns from overseas only to find out she’s on the verge of getting fired. To save her job, she reluctantly accepts an assignment in the Deep South. She’ll be writing an article about Eufaula, Alabama’s annual Pilgrimage event, which is a long-standing spring tour of antebellum mansions (the location is featured in the Reese Witherspoon’s movie, Sweet Home Alabama). Upon arriving in Eufaula, Julia falls in love with the area, its cast of charming characters, and her handsome tour guide. When she discovers that a developer has big plans to buy up many of the historic homes and turn the area into a tourist site, it’s up to Julia to save the day.

What is your writing schedule like?
With two growing, active boys and a busy husband, finding time to write is like looking for a missing Lego piece in a houseful of toys (Moms should appreciate that!) I often get up very early and write while everyone else is asleep or go to the lovely campus of our local university and shut myself in a study room. I love it there because I have to shut off my phone and I don’t have the password for an internet connection! No distractions! Of course, I do frequent two or three local coffee shops and draw inspiration from my daily dose of caffeine and good friends!

Who are your favorite writers? Favorite books?
Gosh, there are so many! My all-time favorites include Emily Giffin, Sophie Kinsella, Jodi Picoult, Alice Hoffman, Jennifer Weiner, Chris Bohjalian, John Grisham, Amanda Eyre Ward, and Lisa See. I also love Lisa Scottoline, Janet Evanovich, and James Patterson. Favorite books include: Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, and Stellaluna by Janell Cannon (this is a children’s book that I’ve read over and over to my two boys).

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read. A lot. Write. A lot. Revise. A lot. I’m not joking.

Anyone can write. Writing well is different. It takes focus and tenacity and determination. I’ve heard Stephen King quoted as saying, “The first million words are practice. Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, says, “It takes 10,000 hours of purposeful practice to become expert at anything.” Just to be clear, at 4 hours a day (28 hours a week), that’s 7 years. I’m not quoting the experts to scare anyone or be a harbinger of doom. It’s the truth.

Pick up a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s brilliant and so true and funny in so many sections. If you’re serious about becoming an author, learn as much as you can. Read blogs and books about the craft, network with other writers, or go to a writer’s conference. Above all, write!

 

Don’t Miss Out!

Extension to the photo competition: Are you ready for some more fun? Take a picture of yourself with your copy of Stay Tuned either in paperback or on an eReading device, tag Lauren Clark’s Facebook page, and you can enter to win one of three Amazon gift cards! A $100 prize will go to the most creative photo, $50 to the best BFF photo, and $50 to the photo with the most people in it. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. If you need help learning how to tag a photo, you can visit Lauren’s Facebook page for detailed instructions. You now have until Sunday 4 December to upload your photo.