31 December 2014

January SFF Sale

If you're looking to sample some Indie SFF, then this 1 January sale is a great place to start!  There's a wide range of sub-genres, and even a few compilation/box sets.  I haven't read all these authors myself, but can recommend Patty Jansen if you're looking to try another Australian writer.

Some of these specials will only last for a few days, and I'll be switching my prices back starting from 3 January, so get them while you can!

22 December 2014

13 December 2014

A Year's Passing Gift

To celebrate another year successfully negotiated, I've set all my (non-compilation) ebooks to $0.99 (USD/your currency variation thereof) for the remainder of 2014*.

The price changes will show up slowly over the following days on:
  • Smashwords.
  • Amazon.
  • Kobo. (changing the price seems to make this briefly appear 'unavailable')
  • Slower than the others: Apple/B&N/other vendors.
So if the holiday budget is pinching, hopefully this will at least give you some cheap reading.  Meanwhile, I'm knuckling down and heading toward the end-run for Pyramids.  Tentative release date of late February 2015 (but no guarantees there - depends on the beta and editing cycles).

* These prices will probably meander over into 2015 for a number of vendors, because it can be a real pain to get the prices back to where they're supposed to be with the way Amazon price-matching works.

17 November 2014

Update and giveaway winners

I'm now back in my own house, with a couple of weeks to play Dragon Age rest before heading back to work.  While I made progress on Pyramids, and have a much better idea of how everything works (I'm very amused by the idea of 'allegiance' in this world), it's extremely unlikely I'll get through the first draft before the end of the year - but I will play Dragon Age push on diligently and try to get a reasonably early release next year.

The winners of the Five Thousand Stars giveaway are:

  • Dave V
  • Jessica C
  • rachael

I will email to arrange prize delivery.  Congratulations!

14 November 2014

Four Cities

The last bit of this holiday is cities (arranged for the end on the basis that cold autumn weather and tromping in the country aren't that attractive a mix).  So a complete change of pace as we returned the rental car (fortunately checking the return location a couple of days beforehand so that the fact that that branch had closed down didn't throw us into a complete panic), and switching to trains to go briefly to London, then Paris, Zurich, Venice - and then flying back to London to at long last actually explore it a little.

In each city we took an open top bus tour (well, in Venice we rode the vaporetto - water bus) and ate stereotypical local food (crepes in Paris, fondue in Zurich, pizza and pasta in Venice, and high tea in London). 

And chocolate and cake.  Lots of chocolate and cake (the kirsch-soaked cake in Zurich was probably the closest to drunk I've been on this trip).  The high tea was entertaining but filling.

You can't really get more than impression of a city spending only a couple of nights there - especially when constantly tired from the hauling suitcases-travel-adjust-haul suitcases cycle.  But there were plenty of highlights along the way.  I got to walk along the Seine:

We also visited the Louvre, which was freaking enormous.  Not just lots of artwork (so much, so many) but this great big spread out building with huge staircases and endless hallways.  

That was really the impression I took of Paris overall: sweeping, sprawling and festooned with statues.

Zurich, by contrast, was a more compact, keeping close to the river and lake that forms its centre (an impression increased because we were staying in the Old Town, with lots of narrow streets).  Far fewer statues, and rather persistent rain, but we ended up quite happy about this when our bus tour ended in a cable car ride up a small hill and into the first snowfall of the season.  [Only the second time in my life I've been in snowfall, and made a short walk through a forest to a chalet cafe magically lovely (and wet and cold).]

The train ride from Zurich to Venice was particularly spectacular, with lakes and dramatic, snow-kissed mountain slopes in every direction.  But it was warmer in Venice, which was also good.  Our hotel room overlooked a canal.

Each day singing gondaliers would pass below our window, and there were beautiful bells, and...sirens.

We didn't know what the sirens were about until about midday of the first full day there, when we discovered that in November and December in Venice, high tide is often....high.

The sirens are to let the locals know that today's high tide will flood the low-lying parts of the city.  The shops all sold these things called "high tide boots".

It wasn't a tremendously difficult thing, once you knew about it, and we proceeded to get ourselves lost in winding alleyways, and to goggle at the sheer variety of masks, and glasswork.  On the second day we returned just after what appeared to be a school graduation, and the streets that night were full of a different kind of singing, roistering and joyous.

After a short plane flight (so cramped after the much more comfortable trains) we were back in London, and apparently it was Christmas.

Barely scratched the surface of London, after five nights, but did enjoyably 'research' things for Pyramids (still slowly progressing, but definitely not out this year), and buy lots of tourist tat, and stumble around, not at all lost thanks to Google Maps, but rather footsore.

Next up, 24 hours of purgatory, and then...Dragon Age! :D :D

05 November 2014

County of Mists

We did manage a couple of lucky days when Cornwall was visible, but this week was definitely as much fog as not.  Still, lots of fog is a novelty to me, since we only occasionally get fog in Sydney.  We were staying in a converted fancy old hotel called the Headland, where there were coastal walks right from the doorstep.

One our first excursions was to the Eden Project.

The two domes contain a Mediterranean and a tropical environment.  The tropical environment one was not exactly a novelty to someone who grew up in Townsville, but did produce an amusing game of "didn't we have one of those in the back yard?".  Banana, pawpaw, coffee, tamarind...all familiar from home.  The Mediterranean habitat had a vine area with statues of maenads - very vibrant and full of energy and violence - impressive.

One place I particularly wanted to see was St Michael's Mount (confusingly similar to Mont St Michel in France), where the outgoing tide uncovers a causeway.  We had a couple of fortunate hours exploring before the fog rolled back in.  Also one of the busiest places we visited - due to something called "half-term".

The last of our walks was along the southern-most coastline in mainland Britain - an area delightfully named "The Lizard" (with a town called Lizard).

After this, no more country walks, but instead lots of trains.

26 October 2014

Wily, windy moor

I found Exmoor windy, for sure, but wasn't sure why it would be wily - until we met one of the boot-stealing boggy bits, that tried to leave us barefoot halfway through a walk.  Definitely the muddiest we've been after a walk.

We were staying in Minehead, which is the starting point of one of the larger coastal walks.

Our little cottage also had a bit of a view...

Our first walk started at a stone bridge called Tarr Steps.

This was a walk in two halves.  The first half followed the river, and was all autumn leaves over water.  [And mud.]  The second followed a brisk climb up to the edge of the moor, and involved plenty of pheasants shrieking and hurling themselves into the sky in front of us.  Also lots of fences built by planting trees on top of muddy ramparts.  And there was mud, mud, mud and sucking mud.

We also had a brief glimpse of Exmoor ponies on the way:

Minehead was very close to Porlock, so we were careful not to embark on any epic poetry, but did head over to do a walk that again started down by a bridge over a river (this type of bridge is a 'packhorse' bridge - it's cobbled, and designed for use in places not accessible even by wagons:

Once again after a forest walk, we climbed up to the moor.  This was the most extended vertical climb we've done, and involved resting a bit on the way up, and then being rather nervous of the drop on the trip down.

Two different garden visits this time: one at a place called Hestercombe (nice place, but not exceptional at the time of year we visited):

And also the grounds of Dunster Castle, where we found a garden of dozens of different varieties of dahlia, including one called "War of the Roses".

Next up the last of our holiday lets, in Cornwall.

21 October 2014

Light, Lifting

I really didn't arrange these last couple of holiday lets very well, since going up to the north of Wales after the Forest of Dean, and then down again, meant a lot of driving that wouldn't have been necessary if I'd swapped a couple of houses around.  We've driven around 3,000 miles so far.

I'm kind of over driving.

Particularly after the amusing gone-down-the-wrong-way incident in Wales, where we ended up in a winding single car-width lane between a rock wall and a watery ditch - only to find the lane stopped at a farm gate.  I'm not someone who particularly enjoys driving, let alone trying to reverse (what felt like miles) with the prospect of scraped paint on one side and bogging on the other.  And then, of course, someone came driving along from the direction of the gate.  They kindly didn't seem to laugh too much and waited patiently as my sister hung out the window and called left, right, other right!, for a short eternity.

So over driving.

But otherwise, northern Wales was very pretty.  We were staying near Conwy, which has a big castle sitting over a bay, and was marvellously scenic in every direction.

The weather was again variable, but we had a couple of good sunny days, one of which we used to visit Bodnant Gardens, which was up there with the absolute top gardens I've ever been to.  It wasn't very floral at this time of year, but still managed to be lovely - there were both multiple tiers of formal gardens below the house:

and the sculptured woodland ramble:

We weren't particularly early, but there in time to see the dew steaming off the foliage:

Bodnant also finally made clear a mysterious term from many a novel.  Pictured here is a ha-ha.

The purpose of the ha-ha is to stop stock from wandering into the bit of the garden you don't want them in, while not blocking your sweeping view of a lawn.  [This picture is from the 'stock' side of the ha-ha, showing the wall - the other direction you'd only see grass.]  The word ha-ha comes from the French term for this ditch, which is 'ah-ah' - the sound you apparently make when you fall into it.

We were also near one of the bigger seaside resorts in Wales, Llandudno, and headed up there to check out the very long pier, and also to take a cable car up a hill called "The Great Orme", which had some pretty fine views.

Visiting Wales also involved eating lots of Welsh Rarebit. :)  Next up, Exmoor.

16 October 2014

Among the Ents

The Forest of Dean was reputedly an area that inspired a lot of the forests in The Lord of the Rings.  And it certainly wasn't hard to spot a few tree people here and there.

We'd had a brilliant run of mostly sunny weather until this rather wet week, but still had a couple of cloud-free days, making for some lovely forest walks

Our first walk here was at a sculpture trail, where a forest walk has been interspersed with various sculptures (and the funniest, most earnest arty descriptions of them in the map guide we were following).  The most spectacular was definitely a stained glass window suspended above the path.

We also visited Puzzlewood, apparently a favourite filming spot for movies and tv shows (we just missed the filming of the latest Star Wars, apparently).  An excessively mossy locale.

The longest walk we did (and probably the longest walk we will do) was from Symonds Yat Rock, down across the River Wye, and back around.

This took four hours (my poor, sore feet), but with time out for an interesting ferry crossing (the ferryman hauls the ferry across by looping along the chain).

After all this walking we changed things up a little by taking a train to Bath.  Research!  I wanted to see the Roman Bath House there (even though I've, ah, blown it up in my alt world).  Bath is very pretty and sandstoney and fortunately we lucked out on another sunny day.

Bath was called Aqua Sulis by the Romans, after the sacred hot spring to Sulis located here, and Sulis is the primary god-in-charge in Prytennia.  I've linked her to the Suleviae (who are, probably, a separate trifold set of goddesses, not centred around Bath).  Bath does have a trifold goddess depiction, but this is known as "The Mothers" (because, yeah, a picture of women and it's either going to be 'maiden, mother, crone' or all about babies).  I'm quite happy to co-opt this as a depiction of the Suleviae, who are a little more...combat oriented.

Next, Northern Wales.

08 October 2014

Peaks and Broads

A double post, since the last place I stayed didn't have wi-fi.

Our first day out in the Peak District, we headed to Bakewell, which was having a market day.  We promptly bought Bakewell Tarts, Bakewell Squares, Bakewell Crumble...  There were a lot of variations on these themes. [I liked the Bakewell Squares most.]

The Peak District has lots of fun railway bridges and things to drive under.

Our first walk in the district started at the Stepping Stones in Dovedale.

From here we wound our way along the river, then climbed a very vertical wooded hillside (trying not to inhale mosquitos), and wandered around farmland (lots of stiles to cross) until finally getting back to where we started.

The next walk I wanted to do after this was Mam Tor from Castleton, but the weather had turned a bit rainy (and hills in the rain can be rather chancy), so since it was still drizzling by the time we got to Castleton, we detoured off to a thing called Speedwell Cavern, which is an old rather unsuccessful coal mine that had been flooded to make it easier to get the coal out.  To get to the cavern you don a hard hat, go down a whole heap of stairs, get into boats, and listen to your guide make you extremely glad you weren't one of the poor kids (and adults) stuck down here back in the day with a tallow candle in your teeth and an owner who was definitely inclined to put profit over health & safety.

The next day we headed back to Castleton in hopes of better weather.  Still more drizzle, but not as much, so we risked it and fortunately the day cleared after about an hour of getting wet.  [It's better to be rained on going up rather than down because it's a lot easier to slip going down.]  We were doing a fairly long (3 1/2 hours?) walk via Cave Dale, but for anyone who wants to skip straight to the spectacular bit, you can drive most of the way up to Mam Tor and then climb up to the incredibly windy peak and walk along the spine of the ridge.  This was awesome - thoroughly recommend it to anyone in the area.

After the Peak District we headed off to the Norfolk Broads - a network of lakes and rivers that they only figured out in the 1960s were artificial - caused by water gradually filling a huge peat mining operation.

We were staying in a converted mill house.

Very cool, but at the same time living in old converted buildings like that is pretty inconvenient.  This one had no road access, so we had to park down the river and haul our bags and shopping about 400 yards past all these docked boats and riverside houselets.  We were quite thankful for the little wagon.

However, three dykes converged at the patio of the mill, so we saw a lot of bird life - a little family of moor hens lived there, swans passed daily, and I got to watch a heron fishing.

Norfolk doesn't seem to have much in the way of public walking paths, so we didn't do a great deal of walking here, but went on a boat trip, and also headed to the (relatively) nearby Cambridge - full of old buildings and 'punt touts' on every corner, trying to get you to sign up for a ride.  From the looks of it, it wasn't the high season for punting.

Next stop, the Forest of Dean.

Touchstone Trilogy - French Edition

Some news for the Touchstone fans. The wonderful Justine of Seraminda Editions has faced down the truly daunting task of translating Cass...