Wednesday, 19 December 2012

I am a Christmas Unicorn...

Well not me, obviously... I am a Muse Unicorn! But here's a festive unicorn song my author heard on the radio driving back down the M5 last night - hope you enjoy it as much as I did!



In case you missed some of the lyrics, they can be found here.

(Guess what's on Katherine's list for Santa this year...?)

Monday, 10 December 2012

Muse Monday - "My mews" by Nick Green



Nick Green - Catman?
This winter sees the conclusion my Cat Kin trilogy: The Cat Kin, Cat’s Paw and the grand finale, Cat’s Cradle. It will come as no surprise to you if I say that my inspiration – my muse, if you like – is the cat. But a writer’s job is to surprise the reader, so now I must tell you that it isn’t.

Cats are, of course, all over the books – if not actual cats then the idea of them. The whole series grew from the premise of a cat-like martial art – pashki – and how it affects the lives of the teen protagonists Ben and Tiffany.  As one perceptive reader piped up at a recent school visit: ‘So it’s just like Spider-Man?’ Ahem. Perhaps a few similarities. I was probably more influenced by an old comic-strip from my childhood, ‘The Leopard from Lime Street’ (which was itself a blatant Spider-Man rip-off, right down to the radioactive blood). But I stray from the point. Cats did inspire my invention of pashki, but it was something else that served as the story’s muse. Backstreets, alleyways, yards, lanes… or perhaps a secluded mews. An urban landscape as crawling with potential stories as the Tube is crawling with mice.

The Cat Kin happens in London. Because London’s the sort of city in which anything you can imagine happening, probably already has. It feels as if you could knock on the door of some brooding tenement block, and have the door opened by Mrs Powell, the mysterious pashki teacher. You can walk on Hampstead Heath and imagine you’re in the heart of the countryside – was that a person leaping between those treetops, or just an overfed squirrel? Was that scream in the night an city fox, or some bigger, more dangerous thing? Did my train just rattle through an underground station that isn’t on the map? Was that just a fellow passenger’s reflection, or a motionless figure on the platform?

Wander the grave-filled woods of Abney Park cemetery, and be spooked by the ruined chapel looming out of the leaves. Venture into the vast Tate Modern art museum, and watch how strangely ordinary people behave in the presence of some giant work of art. Or stand on the Ray of Light bridge outside, and see how the Tate has its bulbous reflection in the shape of St Paul’s cathedral.

I found the stories of the Cat Kin trilogy in the alleys, parks, heights and tunnels of London. What New York is to Spider-Man, what Hogwarts is to Harry Potter, London is to Ben Gallagher and Tiffany Maine. I invented those characters, so I know they don’t really exist – but if I happened to be walking the streets of Stoke Newington late one night, and happened to glance up and see a human figure leaping between rooftops, I can’t say I’d be entirely surprised.

Seek the secret of pashki on Nick's website

Now read the Cat Kin trilogy:
Cat's Paw

Cat Kin
Cat's Cradle

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Pendragon Family Tree

The unicorn has been rather quiet recently because he's busy helping me write the final Pendragon Legacy book "Grail of Stars", which completes the Rhianna Pendragon series. The trouble is that a muse only has the energy to do one sort of writing at any one time. So if an author is blogging a lot, chances are they are not writing many books... whereas if they are writing a lot of books, then they don't have the time to blog as often. (Of course, not even a unicorn can prove the opposite: if an author is not blogging at all, does this mean they are busy secretly writing brilliant books...? Don't answer that!)

Anyway, if you are desperate to read a blog post by Katherine, she's over at The History Girls today talking about the recent change to the royal succession law that gives girls an equal claim to the throne... Rhianna Pendragon would be pleased! And to prove blogging ties in with writing books, that post sparked off a creative urge in the unicorn this morning to draw the Pendragon family tree according to Katherine, so here it is:


 
I am not allowed to show you the name under the "guess who?" flap yet, since this is a secret in the first three boks and my publisher says we must not give things away until the fourth book is published... but that doesn't stop you guessing!

Next week, look out for a fabulous guest post from Nick Green, catman and Master of Pashki. Don't know what pashki is yet? Visit this blog on Monday to find out! 

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A Weekend With Mr Darcy


A Weekend with Mr Darcy
I know, I know… the unicorn normally has his horn buried in a sword and sorcery book! But with a heroine called Dr Katherine Roberts and a dedication in the front: “To the real Katherine Roberts for letting me use her name!” how could I resist reading this one?

The plot centres on a long weekend conference for fans of Jane Austen’s novels, at which Dr KR is invited to speak. (Heroine alert 1: The real KR doesn’t know her Austen from her Tolkien). There’s the usual mix of conference goers, from the hopelessly romantic Robyn Love in her floaty dresses (Heroine alert 2: The real KR has a secret bit of Robyn in her) to the grumpy Austen purist Mrs Soames (Heroine alert 3: The real KR is nothing like Mrs S!). There is also a sprinkling of men, who have their pick of the women, since they are, perhaps unsurprisingly, outnumbered. With its idyllic setting at a regency manor house deep in the Hampshire countryside, the scene is set for a modern Austensian romance.

Dr KR soon falls in love with darkly handsome Warwick Lawton, a writer of popular fiction who is at the conference incognito, since his real identity is a closely-guarded secret known only to his agent and publisher… he writes under a female pen name, Lorna Warwick. To complicate things further, Dr Roberts is Lorna Warwick’s No1 fan and has written her/him hundreds of fan letters, yet has no idea of Warwick's true identity when he sets out to woo her.

Meanwhile, Robyn is having romantic entanglements of her own as she falls for copper-haired Dan, who lives in the stables and rides like an Austen hero, while trying unsuccessfully to break up with her long-term boyfriend Jace. Neither romance looks likely to survive the weekend and continue in the real world, but maybe… just maybe in this kind of book… dreams can come true.

This story might not have a unicorn in it, but it has the next best thing – horses! My favourite scene is when one of the heroes rides a fine chestnut stallion into the dining room during dinner to propose to one of the heroines… but you’ll have to read the book to find out who proposes to whom, and what happens next.

Hopeless romantics, and any fans of Jane Austen out there, should definitely give this one a try. (Unicorn rating: contains mild scenes of an adult nature.)

Find out more at Victoria Connelly's website.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Belfast YLG Wendy Drewett Ireland Book Day


The unicorn’s excuse for a long gap in blog posts this time? The CILIP YLG Wendy Drewett Ireland Book Day in Belfast, at which my author was very kindly invited to talk about her new Pendragon Legacy series.

The book display

She flew out to Belfast via Manchester on Tuesday morning, taking not one but two planes. This meant I had to gallop very fast to keep up!


Finally landing at the George Best Airport with its view of the famous cranes, we then took a scenic drive through the city with friendly school librarian Tara Corcoran to the Belfast Royal Academy, where (revived from her early morning start by chocolate croissants and hot tomato soup), Katherine spoke to Form 1 in a magnificent if rather chilly hall, since a frozen pipe had knocked out half their heating system. After the talk, the children crowded around the signing table to keep warm, while the drillers got to work searching out the leak 25 feet under the playground. Amazingly, everyone kept smiling. (Katherine apologises for spelling some of the Irish names wrong... it's a well-known fact authors cannot spell, and that's why they need editors so much.)

After the school, we took a taxi ride to the Dunsilly Hotel in Ballymena, where a gala dinner with librarians and other authors soon warmed everyone up!

Wednesday morning kicked off (I didn’t kick anyone, honest!) at the Antrim Board Centre just down the road, where Katherine did a panel event with authors Diana Hendry (The Seeing) and Paul Howard (Bugville), chaired by Joy Court.

Katherine, Diana and Paul


This was followed by a packed day of talks, including an interesting session on digital reading and social networking with Bev Humphrey.

Winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, Liz Pichon (Tom Gates books) rounded off the morning with an entertaining talk on how she became an author, and demonstrated how she draws her characters:



After lunch we were treated to an interesting account by Professor Joan Swann of the shadowing process  for the Carnegie and Greenaway medals, a passionate case for graphic novels with Lucy Forrester from Peters Bookselling services, and another author panel with newer (and somewhat younger) authors Jane McLoughlin (At Yellow Lake), Dave Cousins (15 Days Without a Head), and Sarah Hammond (The Night Sky in My Head), chaired by Rachel Levy. The unicorn sees a head theme emerging here…

Jane, Dave, Sarah and Rachel


Then it was back to the hotel for another dinner with librarians and authors staying on to do school visits the next day. I was highly tempted to follow Sarah Hammond on her visit to the Giant's Causeway, but early next morning my author squeezed me into another taxi back to the airport, shared with the lovely Professor Swann, for the flight home.


More galloping for me - but thankfully not via Manchester this time!

The unicorn very much enjoyed his first visit to Belfast, and would like to thank all the lovely librarians who looked after Katherine so well. Authors are not easy to look after, and I should know.

Razz X.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Halloween ebook Treat



Hello, Razz here! Since it is Halloween, I would like to introduce new readers to SPELLFALL, the only book containing unicorns that Katherine has written so far. (She also wrote a short story about a unicorn for an illustrated pop-up title Magical Horses but that unicorn is the sweet, glittery type who goes around laying his head in maidens’ laps and getting himself caught by hunters hiding behind trees… a bit dim, in other words! As you can imagine, he’s not related to me.)

I am more like the unicorns in Spellfall, who live in the enchanted parallel world of Earthaven, which you can visit by squeezing through a small hole in a standing stone in the middle of Unicorn Wood... if you can find the wood, that is. (It's next to a new housing estate called Millennium Green, which is probably not much help unless you happen to live there.) Otherwise, you can wait until Halloween, when the Boundary between your world and Earthaven opens between midnight and dawn, and simply walk across - provided you are brave enough to face all the ghouls and ghosts coming the other way!

Anyway, these proper unicorns from Spellfall roam in herds among giant soul-trees whose leaves contain magic and are known to humans as "spells". (You might think a spell is something you mumble in Latin while waving a magic wand, but believe me that's just in a certain type of children's book and not the way things are done over here in Earthaven.) The magical soul-trees communicate using root systems, and you can travel along their bigger roots in “organazoomers”, which are pods a bit like your underground carriages, except they go much faster and you’re likely to be thrown around inside them if the trees don’t like you… which they won’t, if you happen to be a common spell-caster like the villain of the story, Lord Hawk.

Fortunately the heroine of the book, Natalie, is a soul-tree and unicorn friend, since her mother was one of the Spellmages who look after Earthaven. I say "was", since Natalie’s mother fell into a river and drowned before the book starts, though her magehound K’tanaqui survived and can talk to Natalie when she crosses the Boundary. He's a beautiful white wolf... though not as beautiful as a unicorn, naturally. He helps her find the unicorn herd, and as you can imagine unicorns are quite fierce when aroused (we don’t have horns for nothing, you know!) When Natalie and Lord Hawk's bullied son Merlin join forces to help the Spellmages save Earthaven from the spell-casters' evil plan to poison the soul-trees, the unicorns finally get to use their horns in anger.

YAH!

A TREAT FOR YOU
This Halloween, you don’t have to go trick-and-treating to find Earthaven. For two days only, between dawn 31st October and midnight 1st November, you can download a copy of the Kindle edition of Spellfall absolutely FREE.

And if you miss the free download, the good news is Amazon Prime members can now borrow Spellfall for seven days from the Kindle Owner's Lending Library.*

*This ebook library is brand new to the UK this month, so be sure to tell all your friends!

Enjoy.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Win Pendragon Legacy Books!

To celebrate his new name, Razz the Muse would like to give everyone a second chance to win copies of "Sword of Light" and "Lance of Truth".

The lovely Templar Books are running this competition over on their Facebook page. This time, all you need to do is name Rhianna's father (and that's got to be easier than naming a unicorn, hasn't it?)

Click here to enter

Good luck!





 Razz
X


Monday, 8 October 2012

The Name!


The unicorn would like to announce that from now on his official name will be

Raziele Razorhorn Roberts (‘Razz’ for short)

Congratulations to Rebecca Leigh, who suggested Raziele. She wins a signed first edition hardcover of Lance of Truth.

Thanks also to Sapphire Ruizhen, who pointed me towards the unicorn name generator on the web, which is endless fun for your fluffy, soft-horned type of unicorn foal… I chose Razorhorn as my second name because that one never came up on the generator, not once. Sapphire wins a signed paperback of Sword of Light.

And Roberts is my last name, because I'm the muse of Katherine Roberts (she doesn’t win anything, since she wrote the books).

Finally, every unicorn needs a short name for his friends to use. Mine is 'Razz', which means Raspberry or a tease - as you know, I sometimes like to tease. (I was rather fond of Spike as well, but Katherine says that always makes her think of Hugh Grant's Welsh flatmate in Notting Hill - not the best image for a unicorn!)

Thank you to everyone who entered. I feel like a proper grown-up unicorn now.


Razz
X

Monday, 1 October 2012

Unicorn Names

Arianwen Serena sounds beautifully serene,
Lilac Starblossom pretty like a dream.
Azaran, Raziele and Spike are certainly strong
while Taliesin sings magical songs.
Cluny and Laxus might be clean and pure
but Hagibis is swift and sure.
Kephiso was muse of lore
But who am I, the unicor...n?

Choosing a name is difficult! But 'Reclusive Muse' just won’t work now that my publisher insists I become less reclusive, so choose I must.

Better just see what the Unicorn Name Generator says…

Berry Snowy Nostrils

Berry is a little monkey who is always getting into trouble.
He is as white as the driven snow,
and he dances in clouds of falling stars.

!!?!!

All the entries are interesting, so I’m going to “muse” on my name for a few days, and the winner will be announced on this blog next week. (I quite fancy more than one name, like humans have… but I'll have to see what my author says about that.)

But today is not only my name-day!
It’s publication day for Book 2 of the Pendragon Legacy Lance of Truth


You can also now get Book 1 Sword of Light in paperback and ebook

And if you want a laugh while you're waiting for me to choose my name, you can watch Katherine playing around with (what she thinks is) Excalibur in her bathroom over on Youtube. Authors, huh?

Friday, 28 September 2012

Searching for Excalibur

My author says I've got to squeeze in another post this month, or she won't let me pick out my own name on Monday. But I've been busy galloping around the countryside looking for a new home for us (you wouldn't believe how difficult it is to find a house with a unicorn stable) so I'm almost out of glitter.

That means you'll have to make do with this video of Katherine (filmed in her bathroom, in case you're wondering - the sea horses you can see dangling over her left shoulder are closely related to unicorns). She thinks she's found Excalibur... but I'm not so sure.



(Be careful near the end, by the way, or you might find yourself desperately seeking a bookshop... sorry, should have told you that before you watched it!)

If you fancy a free book, there's still two days left to name the unicorn for a chance to win signed copies of Sword of Light and the new one Lance of Truth, published Monday... when I shall hopefully HAVE A NAME.

So excited. What kind of naming ceremony do you think a unicorn should have?

Monday, 17 September 2012

Judging a book by its cover

Covers can be worrying for authors, because they are the first thing your readers will see of your book. A brilliant story with a boring cover by an unknown author might never be picked off the shelf – or, more likely – never be put on the shelf in the first place, since booksellers are also influenced strongly by covers as they don’t have time to read all the books they stock.


In a few rare cases, the author’s name might be enough to take the place of an interesting design. Would you pick up this book if it was written by Joe Bloggs? This is an example of a book where a fussy cover might actually hide the thing that will really sell it - i.e. the author's name.

Muse disclaimer: We understand this book is for adults and has nothing to do with boy wizards.


Katherine's publisher has taken a more literal approach using scenes from the books. This is a bit more risky than a cover with a big black cross on it, since readers are quick to point out things that don’t match the story, like Rhianna’s sword mysteriously changing hands... though of course they only notice that after they’ve read the book, and so the cover has already done its job by then.

In Book 2 Lance of Truth (coming Oct 1st) you'll notice Rhianna is still carrying Excalibur in her right hand:


But by this time she’s had some knightly training, so that’s fine. I’ve actually made her ambidextrous to explain why in Books 3 and 4 (coming next year), you should see the Sword magically change hands…

Here’s a very early glimpse, specially for unicorn-fans, of the Book 3 cover:


(Muse: I think those dragons look very fierce, so I’m glad I’m not in it!)

The other lovely thing about paper editions of books, rather than ebooks, is that their covers can have shiny parts to catch your eye, like the title of the brand new paperback of Sword of Light (coming Oct 1st):


and this gold foiled new edition of Song Quest:



So what do YOU look for when you choose a book to read from the shelf? Interesting cover picture? Mysterious cover image? Author’s name? Title? Glitter? Something else?

Let the Muse know!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

A Left-Handed Warrior

One of the lovely things about writing books for younger readers is seeing someone dressed up as one of your characters. (If you want the truth, my author is still a big kid herself and can sometimes to be found at science fiction and fantasy conventions where there's an excuse to dress up as Queen Guinevere… but more of that later!) Today I wanted to show you this great snap of Cecily inspired by the heroine of my new series, Rhianna Pendragon:

Cecily Pendragon
(photo used by kind permission of Cecily's mum)

You’ll note the Pendragon shield, complete with red dragon, based on King Arthur’s shield from "Sword of Light", which is rather battered since the king was using it in battle when the dark knight Mordred killed him. After the battle, Merlin takes Arthur's body through the enchanted mists to Avalon, where he gives the shield to Rhianna, who has been growing up in hiding with Lord Avallach's fairy people. But a shield isn't much use on its own, so she sets out on a quest for her father’s sword Excalibur, which his knights threw into a lake after the battle to stop Mordred getting hold of it... and as you can see from the picture, she soon succeeds in getting it back from the Lady of the Lake.

Did you spot the unusual thing in this photo? (apart from the fact Cecily's a girl-knight, and not a boy-knight, of course). She must have read the book closely, because she’s got the shield on her right arm, which means she must be holding her sword in her left hand, which Rhianna naturally does when she first trains with wooden blades against the squires who have been teasing her:

   "Ow!" yelled Gareth, as she struck him on the elbow, making him drop his replacement weapon. "Not fair, sir! She changed hands."
   Sir Bors smiled. "Left-handed, eh? That can be an advantage in a battle. The enemy don't expect it. Stop whining, boy, and let that be a lesson to you. Saxons have left hands too, you know. And when you meet them, they won't be using wooden blades. Now then, again!"

If you're very eagle-eyed, you'll notice the cover artist wasn’t quite so accurate:

spot the deliberate mistake

It wasn’t his fault! Neither I nor my editor thought to tell him Rhianna is left-handed, and so he assumed (like the majority of people) that she would carry Excalibur in her right-hand, whereas I (being left-handed myself) naturally assumed he would paint her left-handed… so here’s a bit of unicorn-magic to show you what the "Sword of Light" cover might look like in a left-handed world:

left-handed Rhianna.

I had to do a bit of hasty writing for Book 2 to explain… I decided that the knights of Camelot would have a chivalrous code, which says they must fight at tournaments with their wepons in their right hands to make the duels and jousts fair. So after training with the squires, Rhianna learns how to fight with Excalibur in either hand - which gives her an advantage in battle over her evil cousin Mordred, who lost his sword hand when King Arthur chopped it off in their final duel.

I first came across left-handed warriors in Susan Price’s "The Sterkarm Handshake", a brilliant time travel story about a 16th century border clan, who were genetically inclined to be left-handed and built their tower strongholds with the spiral staircases winding the opposite way to normal so they could defend them more easily against raiders. They also had a reputation for being dangerous people to make a bargan with – the “Sterkarm Handshake” of the title being a dagger, slipped quietly between your ribs as you shake a Sterkarm’s (empty) right hand. Rhianna Pendragon, of course, being brought up with her father’s knightly code, would do nothing of the sort to her friends! But she soon learns not to worry about which hand she uses to hold her sword when a dragon attacks, which keeps her alive to continue her quest for the other three magical Lights - the Lance of Truth, the Crown of Dreams, and the Grail of Stars.

Thank you, Cecily, for inspiring this blog post!

***

"Sword of Light", Book 1 of the Pendragon Legacy, is available now in hardback and also for preorder in paperback.

Book 2 "Lance of Truth" will be published on 1st October and is now available for preorder in hardback.

Join Rhianna Pendragon and Katherine Roberts over at the History Girls on 6th October for a special Dark Age Breakfast to launch Lance of Truth!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

My First Video

This is to prove I wasn't telling unicorn porkies about those videos my author has been busy making... it's the very first "vlog" (a human word not in my unicorn dictionary) on my new YouTube channel 'ReclusiveMuse', and we hope to bring you a few more soon.

This one is short and sweet. The clip was taken in Katherine's office (spare room) using the video setting on a digital camera. She's sitting down, and the red thing behind her right shoulder is an old curtain she bought at a car boot sale. It's covering up the edge of a radiator, because there isn't a big enough bit of blank wall in her office to avoid things like that. The curtain has a design of little elephants (which are distantly related to unicorns), and usually it doubles as a throw over the chair she's sitting on.

The pictures of the characters used in the video are by the talented Scott Altmann, who also did the cover art for the Pendragon books. His blog is HERE

Hope you enjoy!

There, that's THREE posts this August... do I escape the whip?

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Unicorn at play!

The Muse has been rather a lazy blogger this August, as you've probably noticed. Only ONE post this month so far, and that one was about the Olympic Games, which doesn't even have an event for unicorns. (At least not yet, though when I have a proper name, I plan to enter the show jumping in disguise and show all those posh horses a thing or two...)

But though I haven't been writing many actual blog-words, I've been playing around in the enchanted blog-woods and made a few small changes.

Design. I'm experimenting with a beautiful bright blog background the talented Alzrith sent me - this one is a drawing called "Creatures" inspired by my books. Of course now you're probably all looking at the background instead of reading my words, but that's fine with me! Words and pictures are simply two different paths into the enchanted mists. You can check out more of Alzrith's lovely colourful work at http://alzrith.deviantart.com/

Amazon Store. I've also added a special amazon store for Katherine's books so that you can find them more easily online. You can enter her storefront by clicking on the tab above and following the link. You can also get there from the last page on her website. And if you want to try it out straight away CLICK HERE.

Meanwhile, my author has been hard at work editing the third book in her Pendragon Legacy series "Crown of Dreams" so that it'll be ready for publication early next year, and also making some video clips about the first two books so that you can all have a good laugh at her trying to explain what they are about. (She's threatened to film me, but so far I've kept well out of the way... in the first one she's playing around with a sword, and believe me when I tell you she's more dangerous than Rhianna with a sword in her hand!). Anyway, the second book "Lance of Truth" publishes on 1st October - not long now! - and by that time you should also be able to find the first title "Sword of Light" in paperback and ebook, as well as a few remaining copies of the lovely shimmery hardcover edition.

Finally, don't forget the competition to find my name! Because I seriously need one. If nobody sends in a name Katherine likes before 1st October, I shall be called "The Muse" for ever and ever until the end of time, which is so boring - not to mention embarrassing, since most people think of a muse as being female (blame those ancient Greeks) and I am a male unicorn, thank you very much. Do girls normally have horns?

There! That's TWO posts this August! Maybe my author won't whip me after all, when she raises her head from the pages of her copy-edit and notices me again? She'd better not, if she wants me to help her write the final Pendragon book "Grail of Stars" before Christmas...

Friday, 17 August 2012

Spirit of the Olympics

Wild olive: Olympic crown
Now that all the excitement of the Olympic Games is over, the Muse has been musing on the difference between the ancient and modern events.

In ancient Greece, the Games were part of a religious festival held to celebrate their gods. The greatest honour a young runner could gain was that of carrying the sacred torch in the closing ceremony to light the fire at the altar of Zeus Olympia, whose statue was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Winning athletes were crowned with wild olive and given a red ribbon to wear around their arm, and soon the sporting events (originally not the most important part of the festival) became as famous in the ancient world as the statue of the god, prompting Aristophanes to write:

Why, Zeus is poor, and I will clearly prove it to you. In the Olympic games, which he founded, and to which he convokes the whole of Greece every four years, why does he only crown the victorious athletes with wild olive? If he were rich he would give them gold.

By the time the Olympic Games were resurrected in 1896, nobody worshipped Zeus any more, so the event became focused on sport, the worldly part of the original festival. Medals of precious metal were forged for the winners to take the place of red wool, and religion took a back seat – for most people. In the film Chariots of Fire, set at the 1924 Paris Games, Olympic runner and devout churchgoer Eric Liddell is asked to compete on a Sunday. But he believes Sunday should be kept sacred so he refuses, even if it means losing his place in the Games and his chance to win gold for his country. He will not back down, and all seems lost… until his friend suggests he run in his place in the 400 metres instead, leaving his rival Harold Abrahams (a Jew) to compete on the Sunday, and opening the way to a happy ending for all.

Eric Liddell training on the beach in the film "Chariots of Fire" 

The real reason Eric Liddell refused to run on a Sunday was not because he believed a random religious rule should be kept. It was because he ran to celebrate his God. His running was not separate from his beliefs – it was part of them. If he had run on a Sunday, he knew the spirit (the very thing that made him so fast) would have been missing from his race, and he would not have run as well. Not only would he have been afraid of losing - having broken his trust with his God, he might never have been able to run again.

The Muse understands this. As muses, we see our authors make spiritual compromises with their work all the time to survive in the world. We see them write things that they otherwise might not have written - for money, for fame, for approval from editors, colleagues, friends and family. It does not matter what you call your particular spirit – a unicorn, a muse, God, Zeus, or simple joy. If it’s part of what you do, you’ll know when it is missing from your work, even if nobody else does. All they will see is that you are not as fast or as good as you once were, and wonder why.

Gold! Olympic medal

The London of 2012 is a very worldly place, which came across during the opening and closing ceremonies at this year’s Games. Money and fame are celebrated in Britain today, while spirit is often reduced to comedy, as in Mr Bean’s parody of Chariots of Fire. The Muse is taking nothing away from Mr Bean (who is funny) or from those athletes who won medals for their country (who are brilliant) – much unicorn glitter for Team GB! But he suspects that a medal, like fame and cheers from the crowd, is as secondary for them as it is for the award-winning author. Because when winning becomes something you do for gold, rather than for the glory of carrying a torch to light a fire on the altar of your god, that’s the time to question why you are running in the race.

Have you ever been faced with a choice like Eric Liddell’s? What did you do?

***
You can experience the spirit of the ancient Games in "The Olympic Conspiracy" now available as an ebook from amazon uk and amazon com.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Five Days Free - The Olympic Conspiracy


To celebrate the 2012 Olympic Games coming to London and help get you in the mood if you're sitting in a traffic jam on your way to the stadium, I am offering my Seven Fabulous Wonders ebook title The Olympic Conspiracy free (yes, you heard the unicorn right, absolutely FREE!) for five days from today until 31st July.

Click here to get your free book from amazon uk
Click here to get your free book from amazon.com

This book is set during the 113th festival of the ancient Olympic Games, where the original torch relay took place around the altars of the temples in the sacred precinct at Olympia, finishing at the Temple of Zeus which housed the famous Statue of Zeus - one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World:

Statue of Zeus at Olympia

Here’s the timetable for the 113th Games from The Olympic Conspiracy:

~~*~~
THE GREAT GAMES

DAY ONE
Morning
Altis: Public prayers and opening ceremony.
Council House: Swearing-in ceremony for competitors, trainers and judges.
Echo Colonnade: Contest for heralds and trumpeters.
Afternoon
Stadium: Boys’ events (sprint, boxing, wrestling).
Evening
Assembly Square: Public readings by poets and philosophers.

DAY TWO
Morning
Hippodrome: Procession, chariot races, horse race.
Afternoon
Stadium: Men’s pentathlon (discus, javelin, long jump, sprint, wrestling).
Evening
Altis: Funeral rites of Peplos and sacrifice of a black ram, followed by parade of victors.
Full moon tonight.

DAY THREE
Morning
Altis: Lighting of altar fires by winner of boys’ sprint, followed by sacrifice of 100 oxen to Zeus Olympia at the Great Altar.
Afternoon
Stadium: Men’s foot-races (dolichos, sprint, double-sprint).
Evening
Prytaneon: Public banquet.

DAY FOUR
Morning
Stadium: Men’s wrestling, men’s boxing, men’s pankration.
Afternoon
Stadium: Race-in-armour.
Evening
Private parties.

DAY FIVE
Morning
Temple of Zeus Olympia: Prize giving ceremony.
Afternoon
Altis: Public thanksgiving service and closing prayers.
Evening
Prytaneon: Victors’ banquet (invitation only).
~~*~~

So what’s the story about?
Sosi’s brother Theron is injured during training when a javelin spears his foot. So Sosi (who has magical shape-changing powers) volunteers to take his place to keep his brother in the Games. But the younger Sosi’s athletic skills leave a lot to be desired…will inheriting his brother’s stronger body turn him into an Olympic athlete overnight? And with Persian sorcerers threatening Olympia, can the brothers keep their secret from the judges and help the mysterious winged girl Nike save the Games?

If you enjoy your free copy of The Olympic Conspiracy, you can now get all the Seven Fabulous Wonders titles in this omnibus ebook edition for the price of a single paperback:


Buy this collection from amazon uk
Buy this collection from amazon com

So if you're STILL sitting in that traffic jam on your way to the London stadium, the omnibus edition might just see you through... enjoy the Games!


Read my other posts about the Olympic Games:
The History Girls - A Brief History of the Olympic Torch
The History Girls - Women Banned from the Olympic Games!
Reclusive Muse -  Olympic Torch Relay from Ancient Greece to London

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Undercover Unicorn

Where do authors go on their summer holidays? Last week, the Muse infiltrated a secret author conference in deepest Oxfordshire with a secret camera hidden in his horn to bring you this exclusive unicorn-at-the-window report.


Obviously, I took a cross country route to the event. Other authors elected to travel there by motorbike, in shared taxis, or took back routes around the lanes that made their SatNavs shriek at them.
When I arrived, I spotted my first famous author in classic sunglasses disguise:

Who is this Carnegie medal winner?


There were hush-hush meetings in the garden


and other meetings inside

Do you recognise any of these authors NOW?

After sorting out the publishing industry, the authors watched some book trailers in search of the Secret Bestseller Formula that has eluded just about every human up to now (unicorns know it, naturally, but I'm not telling!)

Write a Great Synopsis - trailer for the book by Nicola Morgan

Forsaken - trailer for the book by Katherine Langrish

City of Swords - trailer made by Anne Rooney for Mary Hoffman's final Stravaganza book

Nicola Morgan interviewed by a computer animated character about her book Death Watch

Inbali and Joe do books... (watch out, Richard and Judy!)

After which they all drank some special creativity-enhancing drinks:

It's water, honest...
Some of the more energetic authors did yoga before breakfast to work off the three puddings supplied twice each day (6 puddings per day x 3 days = 18 puddings in total!), while those who couldn't manage yoga did a collage to prepare their own bestselling book trailer.

Katherine with her ideas for a Pendragon Legacy trailer
And on the last night they held a Children's Book Quiz to show how brainy they all (or at least half of them) were.

Cindy J. kept the scores... she's laughing, no idea why!

The two quiz teams were Mary's Marauders and Celia's Reivers, and I'm sorry to say it all got rather violent and bloody towards the end, although you'll be pleased to hear that no unicorns (or other muses) were harmed during the evening.

In case you're now feeling a bit left out, here is a special quiz question for you set by the Muse:

1. Who were the team leaders? (fill in the blanks)
Mary H _ _ _ _ _ N
Celia R _ _ S

2. Which team do you think won?

Answers in the comments below!

Friday, 6 July 2012

Joan of Arc vs Rhianna Pendragon

Can you spot the difference between these two characters?


Rhianna Pendragon

You can find out more about these two brave girls, and read a poem Katherine wrote about Joan of Arc, over at The History Girls. (Muse: that should give you a clue!)

Monday, 25 June 2012

Summer Reading Challenge!

Have you heard of the Summer Reading Challenge? It takes place in libraries over the summer holidays, and the challenge is to read six or more books before you go back to school... or, if you're really keen, ALL the books! But the whole point is that this challenge is meant to be fun. So you don't have to read any book you don't want to read, and if you borrow a book but don't finish it, then that's ok too - just bring it back to the library and try another one.

The great thing about books is that they are all different, so there's bound to be something on the list you'll enjoy. And if you happen to enjoy sword fights and magic set in the world of King Arthur, I'm delighted to tell you that one of the titles on the "older" list is the first book of my new Pendragon Legacy series Sword of Light. Here's a short video clip of me talking about it. (Muse: I used Katherine's little digital camera to make this, so it's probably my fault it's so quiet... I'm a unicorn and I've only got four hooves and a horn and no idea what I'm doing with technology, so that's my excuse! Just turn up your volume if you want to hear what she's saying.)



video

This year's challenge is called the "Story Lab", and there's a singing dancing video (much better than mine!) on the website explaining what it's all about, with embedded clips from some of the authors featured talking about their books.

Sounds fun? Then head on down to your local library this summer, sign up for the Story Lab... and enjoy your reading!

*
PS. If you haven't got a local library any more because the government closed it, or yours is under threat of closure, then your parents might like to support the campaign to save libraries(Muse: Closing public libraries, where Katherine spent most of her weekends and read hundreds of books when she was at Reading Challenge age... whatever next?!)

Monday, 18 June 2012

MUSE MONDAY: Celia "this is not forgiveness" Rees

Celia Rees’ latest novel This is not Forgiveness came with a clever press release claiming “this is not Celia Rees…” which worried the unicorn a little bit, because Celia is known and loved for her spooky stories and atmospheric historical novels such as Witch Child.

But fans of her earlier work need not worry. You can still sense Celia's trademark spookiness lying just beneath the surface, with passing reference to tarot cards and ouija boards to keep even a unicorn happy. Told in accessible first person style by her three narrators – innocent teen Jamie, his damaged elder brother Rob fresh back from Afghanistan, and the beautiful, slightly witchy girl Caro who gets too close to them both – there unfolds an unsettling story of modern teens that you just know is going to get dark and dangerous before the end.

Today, the Muse is delighted to welcome Celia “this is not forgiveness” Rees to talk about why she felt compelled to write this book…


 I was delighted and honoured when Katherine asked me to contribute to Muse Monday on the Reclusive Muse, but I felt like a bit of a fraud. I was by no means sure that I had a Muse to write about. The more I thought about it, however, I began to realise that for each book there was something important, call it a significant presence, if you like, sparking my inspiration, leading me onwards, lending deeper significance to what I was writing, feeding the well springs of creativity.



For Witch Child it was the hare. When I first had the idea for the book, I knew I wanted Mary, the main character, and her grandmother, to be witches. Not kind sought by the Witch Finder General, in league with the Devil, but belonging to a wholly different tradition. I drew on a theory of European Witchcraft, first put forward by Margaret Murray in "Witch Cult in Western Europe", that witchcraft was a kind of survival of paganism. It didn’t matter that her theories have been widely discredited; it made sense to me and also meshed with the connection I wanted to make with Native American Shamanism. It seemed that there were many correlations: psychic ability, the power to heal, and shape shifting. A shaman’s ability to shape shift, to take the form of an animal, is very common in Native American belief systems. In English and Scottish witch lore, it was often claimed that a witch could turn into a hare.

I shall go into a hare,
With sorrow and sych and meickle care;

This is the charm used by Scottish witch Isobel Gowdie and this transformation is commonly attested to in folklore and folk song. So when I was writing Witch Child, the hare became my totem animal. And still is.

The beguiling of Merlin

The Wish House could not be more different from Witch Child. It is a near contemporary coming of age novel, set in Southwest Wales but this area is suffused with Celtic myth and magic, one of the settings for The Mabinogion and the fabled site of the Vale of Glamour. I couldn’t ignore such riches. A powerful sense of place and myth became increasingly important as I was writing the novel. At the heart of the story is an ageing artist and his beautiful daughter. While I was writing, the legend of the beguiling of Merlin began to take on greater and greater significance.

I don’t regard myself as a fantasy writer, but in my writing career, I’ve had a go at most things. My novel, The Stone Testament, is the closest I’ve got to real fantasy. It is split into three different time periods, the near future, the near past (early 20th Century) and the deep past – 25,000 years ago. I was interested in the idea that there could have been advanced, sophisticated civilizations before our own and that perhaps they formed a kind of Ur Civilization. If this was so, then our only access would be through the universality of myth; ancient and world wide beliefs in essentially the same things – mother goddess, sky god and gods and mythical creatures who are half man, half beast. In that book, the Great Mother, in all her forms and manifestations became very important to me, distilled into her symbol of the bee.
 
I don’t always know exactly what will gain significance in a book, or why. In The Fool’s Girl, it began with an amulet: the cimeruta, an Italian charm against witches and the Evil Eye. I’d first seen these displayed in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, and although I did not consciously think, ‘Ooh, one day I’ll put one of those in a book’, I registered them as interesting and every time I was in the Pitt Rivers, I’d pull the drawer out to look at them. When I wanted a charm to put round the neck of my character, Violetta, the cimeruta seemed the natural thing. The Fool’s Girl is based on Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night. Violetta is Viola’s daughter, she is from Illyria, which I locate on the coast of modern Croatia, an area where east and west, Christian and Pagan meet. The cimeruta is a powerful charm, a stylized sprig of rue, Shakespeare’s ‘herb of grace’, with three main branches, hung with up to eight different symbols, including a hand, the moon, a dagger, a flower, a cock, a fish or dolphin, and sometimes a bee (an intriguing connection to The Stone Testament). The amulet in its most primitive form is very ancient, examples have been found in Etruscan tombs. The cimeruta’s three branches make it a charm associated with Diana Triformis or the three formed Hecate, Goddess of the Crossroads, of Witches and of the Dead. I didn’t know about this connection until I began to find out more about the cimeruta for The Fool’s Girl. Once I knew, it seemed all the more significant, Shakespeare being no stranger to witches, or to their worship of Hecate, as we know from the Scottish Play.


In my latest novel, This is Not Forgiveness, water is important. A river runs through the town where the story is set, and through the novel. Jamie, the main character, has a job on the boats. He takes Caro, the girl he’s becoming obsessed with, to an island, only accessible by water. Caro loves to swim. She identifies herself with nixie, the shapeshifting water spirit. Yet she fears death by water.


Myths, legends, elements and elementals are important in all my novels. I don’t claim one muse, but many.

Thank you, Celia! Which is your favourite Celia Rees novel? Please leave a comment below!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Sword of Light goes to Windsor

It’s been an exciting weekend for my author, who is just back from the joint School Libraries Group /Youth Libraries Group /School Library Association Lighting the Future conference held at the beautiful Beaumont Estate in Old Windsor.

Katherine with her book "Sword of Light" at the Templar stand

The weekend began on Friday with a long train ride and magical timing by Katherine’s editor Helen Boyle, who arrived at the local station on a totally different train just in time to share a taxi to the conference. The taxi driver told us that Windsor was the site of the last ever duel to be held in England – most appropriate, since the knights in the Pendragon Legacy series are always challenging each other to duels! And Helen discovered a recent dig at Windsor Castle claims it might have been Arthur’s legendary court of Camelot… again very appropriate.
Templar commissioning editor Helen Boyle (right) with PR girl Jessica.


That evening Templar MD Amanda Wood officially opened the exhibition with a speech, and illustrator Simon Bartram and I got to shake hands with the mayor and mayoress of Windsor. I was too busy shaking hands to take pictures, but I wore my party dress underneath a lot of warm layers to combat the 'cool summer breeze' (Muse: howling gale) that blew in through the doors of the exhibition marquee. Well, it's an English summer, isn't it?

Story telling at the indoor barbeque... those lights do look a bit like stars, don't they?

After the drinks reception, the barbeque was thankfully moved inside because of the wind, and we all enjoyed a much warmer story-telling evening in the hall by the entertaining John Agard among others.

"Lighting up"

A celebration cake followed the delicious food, with a rather large candle (more like a roman candle!) and Chris Riddell’s illustration for the conference done in blue icing…



after which my author crept off to bed to prepare for her breakfast session about King Arthur’s daughter Rhianna Pendragon scheduled for the following morning at…

8am... YES, 8am!

Possibly the earliest session ever, and yet a group of dedicated librarians got out of bed to attend. Katherine hopes the harp music was not too loud for so early in the morning, and that her lookalike Excalibur (plastic version for getting past metal detectors at school gates and airports) worked the required magic.

Excalibur... the Sword of Light?

After her talk, Katherine had a proper breakfast with Helen and Templar PR Jayne Roscoe, while the librarians rushed off to other sessions. When Helen and Jayne went back to “woman” the Templar stand, she met a fellow SF/Fantasy fan who, it turned out, had a real sword collection… though thankfully he’d left his swords at home, so she didn’t have to pretend to be Rhianna and test out the plastic Excalibur in a duel at dawn.

Then a bit more wandering around the exhibition… where we found Catnip’s re-issue of Song Quest at the Bounce stand (that's Walker’s distinctive candle in the background on the neighbouring stall... another form of light!).

Katherine's Branford Boase Award winning book "Song Quest"

There followed some book signing at a table shared with charming author Aidan Chambers (thanks for sharing, Aidan!), where she finally got to meet the lovely Bookette Becky Scott, who did a long blog interview when "Sword of Light" came out earlier this year.



Templar had just produced these lovely proof copies of Book 2 “Lance of Truth”, and those who woke up in time to catch the breakfast session got a copy complete with shimmery cover proof, all done up with a matching purple ribbon and magical Arthurian jewel. (We're just hoping that nobody got the jewel from the Crown of Dreams that came out of the shadow-realm of Annwn... if you have that one, please treat with utmost care because it can be known to summon dragons.)


A final nose around the bookstall, a quick lunch in the bar, and then back to Reading to catch the train home.

This proved an eventful journey since, after crawling to a standstill somewhere in the countryside between Reading and Taunton, the ticket collector announced: “We’re sorry for the delay… this is due to children playing chicken on the line.” (Muse tip: Kids, next time you’re bored DO NOT PLAY CHICKEN WITH TRAINS! Borrow some great books from your local library instead, then you’re much more likely to grow up to be a train driver. I am serious.)

Katherine is now safely back home writing the remaining Pendragon Legacy books, so keep your eyes open for the rest of the series as they publish in hardcover and paperback:
Lance of Truth: October 2012
Crown of Dreams: Spring 2013
Grail of Stars: October 2013

A big thank you to all the organisers, who wore very well-deserved big rosettes at the conference. It was lovely to be among all those “knights in shining armour” of children’s reading – and if you didn’t see me, the unicorn, at Katherine's side then that’s because I’m a bit shy in a crowd. (But I bet you spotted me somewhere among all those lovely books…)

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