International Kittens of Mystery

Pssst, It's Not Official Yet But... Wanna Buy A book?

The official publication date hasn't been agreed yet - we're still loading and distributing copies. The book's half up on Amazon - the ebook's there and available but the description isn't yet. Amazon say it'll be another day or so.

But... all the files are up at Book View Cafe. So, if you happen to accidentally click on this link it'll take you to the page where you can buy Magical Crimes for the giveaway price of 99 cents US. You pay by Paypal or Credit Card and download the book in whichever format (Kindle/Mobi, EPUB, PDF, prc, lit or lrf) you want to your hard drive. So there are no extra phone charges and it doesn't matter if you live in Australia or Latvia. Anyone can buy the book. And there's no DRM so you can make your own back up.

To purchase you'll have to register a username and password with Book View Cafe. This is so you can come back at any time in the future and download the book again. Hard drives crash and people change eReaders so it's handy to be able to re-download the book in whatever format you want. There's no extra charge for this or time limit or 'number of times' limit. 99 cents buys you Magical Crimes for life.

And, yes, I went with the sandy yellow.

To coincide with the official launch BVC will be running a TwitterFic competition - write a funny review of the book in less than 140 characters. To give you an idea as to the kind of thing I'm looking for...

"I like my detectives like my murderers – well hung," Dorothy L Christie

"CSI with a big dick - and I don’t mean David Caruso," The Miami Enquirer
International Kittens of Mystery

Book Cover Design 101: Unleashing the Monster

As promised on Saturday here's news about my upcoming eNovelette, Magical Crimes. News and some sample covers. I've cross posted this post to the SFNovelists and BVC blogs. 

Authors are capricious gods. We’re always interfering in the lives of our characters. We hate it when life’s too easy for them. We crave conflict and struggle and whenever the momentum sags, we think: what can I do to really inconvenience my characters?

Some authors send for the ex-boyfriend that the heroine never really got over, or give the main suspect an unbreakable alibi or instigate a betrayal by a close ally. Very few think of interfering in the hero’s trousers.

Until now.

Warning: If you’re easily offended or a time traveller from 1950s Eastbourne, step away from this screen now! But if you’d like to know more and help me choose a book cover then keep reading.

For years I’ve been trying to write a funny CSI with magic story. I’ve written several outlines and attempted several stories ... but they all lacked that spark that turns a passable story into something memorable.

Cue the two-foot long penis. Why not have my detective wake up one morning and find he’s suddenly over-endowed in the trouser department? Naturally this would be a penis used purely for the purposes God intended – humour and crimefighting – not for lustful titillation.

But...

I’m a person whose characters rarely discuss matters below the waist. Could I really write something like this – even in a fun way? Would anyone read it?

I started plotting and the more I plotted the funnier the story became. I had mystery, I had magic and ... I had a detective with an enormous complication.

A quick note before anyone thinks I’ve written a thirteen thousand word long penis joke. I haven’t. Like Jeffrey Deaver’s paraplegic detective, Lincoln Rhyme, my detective’s condition, though central to the plot, isn’t the plot. He has a locked room mystery to solve.

Okay, I’d written the story, now, I had to sell it. But there are only one or two traditional outlets for a 13k urban fantasy with or without a floor-length penis. How about selling it myself direct? As an ebook. After all, eReaders were on the verge of making the crossover from niche gadget to mainstream product. And I’d just joined the Book View Cafe author co-op so I could pick their brains about the best way to proceed.

So I found out all about ebook formats and ebook creator software like Calibre and MobiCreator and ... the fact that I’d need a book cover.

This proved to be my biggest problem. My first idea was to spoof the archetypal urban fantasy cover – rear view of hot woman in tight jeans cut low enough to show the obligatory tramp stamp. I’d do the male equivalent with something large coiling around his left leg – inside his jeans, of course. I was going for bulge not porn.

Not having a budget or Fabio’s home number I decided I’d have to model for the picture myself. I wriggled into my tightest, most elastic pair of jeans. I stuffed a vacuum hosepipe down my trouser leg...

Too weird. I tried rolled up towels, stuffed socks. I had several pictures taken.

None were ideal but I mailed the best I had to Lori, one of my BVC author colleagues who had PhotoShop. Now mailing a picture of yourself with several large socks stuffed down your jeans is not the usual way to become acquainted with a fellow author. Neither is beginning your email with, ‘I am not a perv.’

But what choice did I have? I didn’t have PhotoShop and I needed a dark urban background for my cover and cool fonts for the book title.

The title? Well, see if you can guess. My psychic profiler had a twenty-four inch penis and his partner was called Tulsa. Gene Pitney would not have approved.

Lori added a background and title text to the cover and sent it back. That’s when I began to have second thoughts. The cover was turning out nothing like I’d pictured it in my head. It wasn’t Lori’s fault. Neither of us were artists and we were having to cobble together a cover from our own photos and public domain work.

I sent the cover to a handful of writer friends for a second opinion. Remember what I said about sending out pictures of yourself with socks stuffed down your trousers? Add the title ‘Twenty-Four Inches from Tulsa,’ a liberal spattering of the word penis in the text and you’re on the road to spam block hell.

But Jim Hines and Jennifer Stevenson were gracious enough to respond and confirmed my fears. I had a cover that neither said spoof, nor fantasy, nor fun nor magic. If it did say anything it said porn. Self-pubbed porn.

But their comments make me think ... and analyse what I’d written. I was writing a funny CSI with magic tale with a hint of 1950s seaside postcard humour – risqué in places but essentially innocent. I could magine an embarrassed Colin Firth playing the lead in the movie version.

And with that epiphany came a name – not Colin Firth but Donald McGill. Donald McGill was the seaside postcard artist. He sold over 6 million and was a national institution. So, I Googled his images and couldn’t believe my luck. There it was. The ideal cover. It was eye-catching. It said fun, it said tongue-in-cheek, it said ... ‘giant penis.’

So, I licensed the copyright and here it is. One of the most famous postcards in British history. A postcard that, coupled with the caption ‘Stick of rock, cock,’ caused such apoplexy in 1950s Britain that the artist was charged with obscenity, fined £75 and ordered to burn every postcard. The borough of Eastbourne even banned him from ever setting foot in their town.

With the artwork purchased, it was time to look at the title. The cover said monster penis, so the title didn’t have to. It had to say something about magic and crime. I toyed with CSI: New Magic but then settled for Magical Crimes. It described the tale and it was the name of the unit my psychic profiler and forensic magician worked for.

Now all I need is to settle on the look of the title. I used the colour of the sea for my name and thought I’d use the red of the rock for the title but an all red title was difficult to read against the darker blue in the top right. So I experimented with fading it. What do you think? Do you prefer the even fade from red to light pink or the redder version? Or is the red-orange-yellow version the best? Or plain black?

*Update* I've added another two: A dark blue and a contoured yellow sand

I can’t decide and would like to throw this open for comments.

Magical Crimes will be coming to an online bookstore near you in early January. Price $0.99. Free download available for reviewers.

Red FadeRedder TextRed Orange YellowBlack
International Kittens of Mystery

New eBook!

I'll be posting more about this next week. The story's done, I've got permission to use the cover art, I've created some test ebooks in various formats. Now I'm finishing off the cover design and working on the press release.

So, what is it and what's it about? It's a 13,000 word CSI with magic novelette ... with something very different.

It's called Magical Crimes. It'll be priced at $0.99 and it'll available for download in all the popular ebook formats (epub, lit, lrf, prc, mobi and pdf), DRM free, in early January. Yes, there will be free snippets and, yes, there will be a competition. You'll be able to purchase it from Book View Cafe and all the major online book retailers.

I'll be posting the cover next week. It's ... eye-catching.
International Kittens of Mystery

Fashion: The Spring Lamb Catalogue


With Christmas fast approaching it’s that time of year again. The time when every ewe starts thinking about Paris and the Spring Lamb Catalogue. Will ears be up or down this year? Will fleeces be long and curly, white or brown?

Above we see a picture of supermodel Naomi Lampbell from last year’s Spring show. She does look a tad surly in this picture but that’s Naomi for you.

As for this year’s show, thanks to a groundbreaking agreement with haut couturier, Jean Paul GoatHair, I can bring you – straight from the sheepwalks of Paris – the 2010 Spring Lamb Catalogue!


Here we see our favourite size zero waif, Kate Fleece, modelling the latest in ear styles – Le Flop. Note how only one ear is allowed to flop, the other has to remain straight or it’s not stylish and all the other lambs will laugh at you.


And here we have a startling new look, Le Lapin, modelled by Claudia Scheepfer. Yes, ears are up and down this year.
International Kittens of Mystery

The Memory of Water and the Gallic shrug

Has anyone else noticed that water’s sentient?

Our roof started leaking last week – not an inundation but an annoying drip, drip, drip through our ceiling. Out came the buckets. And then the long wait for the rain to stop so I could get up on the roof and take a look. It rained for a week. The leaks moved, seeking out those places just beyond the rim of our bucket. Water’s like that. Vindictive and sneaky.

I have the proof.

When we put a new slate roof on our log shed – a tornado having taken the old corrugated iron roof off in one piece and deposited it thirty yards away in the top of a cherry tree (it became a tourist attraction) – I had to leave a gap between the roof edge and the stone wall of the stable it abutted. The stone wall was a couple of hundred years old and made of rough-cut granite so it was impossible to cut the slate to make a perfect fit. So there was a gap four yards long and, in places, half an inch wide. Plenty of room for water to get in.

You’d think. But it never has. I check the log shed after thunderstorms, after weeks of persistent rain. Nothing. No streaks of water staining the wall. No damp patches. You can stand inside the log shed and see daylight. But rain just looks the other way.

Next witness: our house chimney. When it rains hard, water starts to drip down our sealed chimney and onto the register plate above our fire. It rarely gets any further as we cunningly covered the register plate with a layer of absorbent mortar. But it’s persistent and it’s annoying.

So, what do I find when I climb onto the roof and investigate the chimney? Nothing. No holes, no obvious cracks. I scan the entire stack, I gouge out suspect cement and replace it. I deploy mastic. And for a few days the chimney’s watertight, then back comes the drip, drip, drip.

That’s when I embrace paranoia. How come rain can’t find a way into our log shed when there’s an enormous great hole and yet find microscopic gaps in our granite chimney. Only one answer. It knows where I live.

But after ten years and a dozen trips to the chimney with a tube of mastic and a magnifying glass we’ve developed a French attitude to the problem. The shrug.

We were introduced to the shrug some years back in a neighbour’s kitchen. We were all sat round the kitchen table sipping Calvados and sampling cake when it started to thunder. The rain poured down in sheets. Then came in under the kitchen door. No one said a word. I watched, transfixed, as a pond formed on the flagstone floor. Still no one said a word. It wasn’t until the pond was ten feet long, five feet wide and in danger of lapping against my chair leg that our hostess acknowledged its existence. She smiled, shrugged and said ‘pluie’ in a ‘what can you do about it’ kind of way. Today it rains, tomorrow it will be dry. Why worry?

This is a much less stressful way to live. When we lived in England a leaking roof was seen as a disaster. Carpets would be ruined, walls and ceilings would have to be replastered, wooden floors and joists replaced. But in rural France we’ve learned to shrug. We don’t have carpets. We have tiled floors you can mop and a ready collection of buckets.

So, what did I find when I inspected the roof yesterday? A cracked slate? A hole?

Of course not. Everything looked fine. So I started removing slates until I found the source of the leak – a place where water defied gravity and decided to travel up the 45° roof, push through a gap between the upper and lower slate that I couldn’t insert a flat bladed knife between, keep travelling upwards for another three inches and jump into our house.

I looked at the two slates in question. There was nothing unusual about them. They were the same size as all the others and posed the same way. There was nothing strange about their position on the roof. No reason why that junction, out of all the other places where one slate sat upon another, should fail.

So, I added a strip of roofing felt under that area and replaced the slates. In spring we’ll strip the roof and do the job properly.

Then we’ll move into the log shed.
International Kittens of Mystery

Book View Cafe

I can now officially announce I'm a member of the Book View Cafe author collective. What's Book View cafe? It's a group of professional authors getting together to explore ways of using the internet to distribute their work more widely. Currently there are more than thirty members including the likes of Ursula K LeGuin, Vonda McIntyre, Katherine Kerr, Laura Anne Gilman, Pati Nagle, Sarah Zettel and Steven Harper.

On the site (www.bookviewcafe.com) you can read or download free material - both novels and short stories - or buy eBooks (some are e-versions of out of print classics, some are new material)

I'll be publishing a new novelette in the next month and, sometime in 2010, an eBook of Nous Sommes Anglais. And I'll be blogging there every Saturday.
International Kittens of Mystery

Romance - Sheep Style

Have you ever thought about designing book covers for ewes? A steamy romance with Fabio the ram standing on a windswept hilltop, his chest fleece poking provocatively from his unbuttoned shirt…

Well, if you did – and I suspect that a few of you might be doing so now – there’s one essential element you’d have to include – scratch and sniff. Because, for sheep, lurve isn’t in the eye of the beholder, it’s in the nose.

Or so we thought.

It’s tupping time on the smallholding and this year we’ve retired three of our older ewes and brought in some new blood. Our ram, Harmon, who we keep in a separate paddock until he’s needed, has been getting ready for the last couple of months, pacing the fence line, curling his lip back in anticipation, and … greasing up.

Greasing is a ram thing. They start to produce a musky grease in September. It stinks. It breaks out as liquid beads on his head, chest and armpits. And the closer the breeding season comes, the more he produces. By October you can smell him from twenty feet away. If you need to lift him – which you might for foot trimming – you try to avoid placing your hands anywhere near his armpits or they will come out slicked in grease.

But the ewes go crazy for it. Forget tall, dark and handsome. Short, greasy and smelly does it every time.

So, two weeks ago we raddled our ram – which is sheep talk for applying liberal amounts of coloured wax to his chest so that any ewe he mates with will have a coloured patch of fleece on her rear end. It makes it easy to see who’s been covered and calculate the date they should lamb. And to make sure every ewe’s in lamb you change the raddle colour every 14 days. Ewes cycle every 16-17 days and only go to the ram on the days they’re in season so a ewe with a multicoloured rear end is a problem – something ain’t working. Or the grease is working too well:)

Anyway, freshly raddled with L’Oreal’s finest, Harmon burst out of the gate. He chased, he head-butted, he curled his top lip back, he sniffed. He spent two whirlwind days with our last remaining older ewe. Then nothing.

One of the new ewes came into season and pursued him all over the field. She head-butted him. She threw herself at him. But he chased her off. He didn’t want anything to do with her.

Which is when we started to panic. All the new ewes were black-faced. The old ewes had been white-faced. Except one – Black Ewe. She’d lambed successfully with our previous ram but had spent two years with Harmon without mating once. We’d assumed the problem was with her and had even put her on fertility treatment. But now we began to wonder. Did Harmon – a black-faced Suffolk – have a problem with black-faced ewes?

Had #racefail struck our paddock?

Things did not look good. For spring lambs or for Harmon. A ram who wouldn’t touch 80% of our flock was not a ram with a bright future. And it was getting late to bring on a replacement.

So… time to think creatively. Could we whiten the sheep? Maybe dust their faces with flour? But was that racist? Should we sit Harmon down and have a serious talk with him?

We dithered for four days, putting questions on animal bulletin boards. Had anyone encountered anything similar? No one replied. I had the flour ready. Then… the next black-headed ewe came into season and Harmon reacted immediately. He chased her everywhere. This time it was the ewe that didn’t want anything to do with him. Not after the way you treated my sister!

For one whole day she ran and he chased. Both were out of breath, both needed long lie-downs. Then the next morning we awoke to find the two of them inseparable and a copious amount of purple dye.

He’s since wined, dined, and tupped another of our new ewes so maybe he’s got over his problem. The big test will be next week when the first ewe comes back into season. Maybe he’s just not that into her?

Next week: Why wives should raddle their husbands, by Elin Nordegren
International Kittens of Mystery

My Father and the Enigma Machine

Some of you may remember this about how two years ago I discovered my father had been one of the nine sailors who recovered the enigma machine and code books from a U-boat in 1941. Now I have the pictures!

The first one is of the destroyer HMS Bulldog lowering a whaler (a large rowing boat) into the water.



The commander of HMS Bulldog wrote the following report:

H.M.S. Bulldog stopped within 100 yards of the submarine and sent away an armed whaler's crew. No sign of a white flag was seen and two men appeared to be manning the submarine's forward gun. Fire was again opened by Lewis gun and two or three men were hit. My object was to keep the crew rattled. They already appeared dazed and uncertain what to do. By the time the whaler was alongside the submarine, the whole crew appeared to have jumped into the water. There was a moderate sea running and waves were breaking over the U. boat's deck. The officer in charge of the whaler, appreciating the necessity of speed, ran his boat hard on board the submarine and a wave carried it on to the deck where it was smashed. The crew found that the conning tower hatch was closed. They opened it and went below without delay. (Their orders were to seize all books and anything that looked important).

Here's a photograph of the whaler heading for the U-boat. Thanks to a conversation today with Jimmy Green, who was a sailor on board the Bulldog at the time and knew my father, I can actually identify my father in this picture. He's the coxswain at the back.



And, finally, here's a photograph of the boarding party attempting to secure a towrope to the U-boat.



The commander of the Bulldog continues:

Meanwhile another submarine had torpedoed two more ships of the convoy and was being counter-attacked by H.M.S. Amazon and other corvettes and trawlers of the 3rd Escort group. H.M.S. Broadway and H.M.S. Aubretia had obtained a further contact and were dropping depth charges. They eventually reported having lost contact … A periscope was reported from two look-outs in Bulldog. The tow (to the U-boat) was slipped and a search made.

(later) Tow was again passed to the U. boat. Broadway's boat made two journeys to bring back books, charts and documents. The wind and sea were rising all this time and the visibility had shut down to four miles. The convoy had turned away from the U. boat after the first attack and was soon out of sight. Consequently no ship in the convoy witnessed the capture of the submarine. From the amount of gunfire they must have heard, it may be supposed that they imagined the submarine to have been sunk.

It was now considered most important to get clear of the area as it was thought that other submarines may be near. As I had nobody who could work on the U.boat in any way I considered it best to withdraw all men from on board her. She seemed to have some starboard wheel on and it was only with difficulty that she could be turned to port on the homeward course. This was eventually done however, and she rode quite easily slightly on the starboard quarter and heading slightly to starboard of my course. When she was towing nicely at 4 knots I ordered all watertight doors and hatches to be closed and the crew to rejoin Bulldog in Broadway's boat.


The Bulldog then left the convoy and steamed for Iceland. The enigma machine and codebooks were taken from there to Bletchley Park and the rest is history.
International Kittens of Mystery

New Roof!

After five months waiting for a weather forecast promising a fortnight without rain so we could replace or old barn roof, we finally weakened and grabbed the promise of one week. We’d strip half the roof, replace the rotting timbers, re-slate and pray another dry week arrived before the first autumn storms.

Here’s the before picture showing the old barn roof. The old square, diamond pattern slates were decades past their sell-by date and crumbling. Every winter I’d have to climb the roof to replace a half dozen or so that had crumbled, cracked, slipped or sailed off the roof in a high wind. And climbing the barn roof wasn’t much fun when you knew that some of the timbers were shot. And had an inkling that gravity and high roofs bore little respect for old blokes on homemade roof ladders.



So we stripped half the roof. Replaced the rotting joists...



Calculated the new spacing for the battens. Cut them, fit them, lay the new slates...



Then covered the gap with black polythene and waited for the rain. And waited. No rain. Every day the forecast was dry today but rain tomorrow. It never came.

The next week we were back on the roof. Shelagh built a hod attachment to her backpack so she could carry more slates up for me. Traffic would slow as they approached our house, wondering why Shelagh was pressed flat against the roof, clinging on by hands and toes while I sorted through her backpack looking for just the right shaped slate. (I’m a craftsman and our slates were what the French call rustic – varying thickness and contours:)



Gradually the work progressed.



Until, at last, we finished.



Next year, we do the rest of the roof.
International Kittens of Mystery

Save the Dragons, Save the Pets

For those who haven't heard, Dave Freer needs help. Because of deteriorating conditions, he and his family will be emigrating from South Africa to Australia. A family that includes 4 dogs and 4 cats, all of whom will be need airfare and quarantine. Because of sinking exchange rates the money saved up is no longer enough and he's come up with a plan...

The idea is simple and borrowed from Scheherazade and her companions of ages past: I tell you all a story and at critical moments I pass the hat around. When you've given me enough money I continue.

In fact I'm modifying this slightly - the idea is to put up a chapter a week of my latest book "Save the Dragons" assuming that I've received enough donations (the thermometers at the left tells you where we are). The book has 25 chapters plus an epilog. You get the first one free and then I collect $400 (US) per chapter (and per week).

If and when the book is published anyone who contributes more (in total) than $25 will get a personalized signed copy in Hardback posted to them (or if it doesn’t ever come out in hardback -all but my first book have done -- in the next most expensive format). And no matter what all the money raised goes to keeping the Freer furry animals together with their servants--that would be us--as we head off in search of a new life.


So far Dave has raised over $4,000. So if you like comic fantasy - and you can read the first two chapters free to find out if you do - go along to here and take a look.