Friday 28 August 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse - August 28th. Book review - Mark Pryor's The Reluctant Matador

Hello book lovers!

I stopped reviewing for Armchair Squid'sThe Cephalopod Coffeehouse some time ago because of time constraints. I love reading and lately all I've been doing is dropping a few lines on Goodreads once I finish a book. Signing up again to this bookish meme gives me the motivation to do a more lengthy review again.

Click here to read more book reviews

Out of all the wonderful books I've read recently, (and hello, there's been a few!) Mark Pryor's latest in the most excellent Hugo Marston mystery/thriller series, The Reluctant Matador, comes up trumps.

I've read all the books in the series in the order they've been written, as the publisher picked up my rave review for The Bookseller, the first in the series, and since then, I've been put on a mailing list. Lucky, lucky me! I can't resist the 'long, tall Texan in his ten-gallon hat' overcoat and cowboy boots hoofing it around Paris and beyond.

Now to The Reluctant Matador, Pryor's latest. The story starts in Paris, with Hugo, the security chief at the American Embassy in Paris, heading off to meet a friend's aspiring-model daughter for a full-on, full-fat American breakfast. So this book had me salivating right from the get-go (geez, I'm so full of Americanisms today!) But I love food in books, so I was quite miffed when the teen stood Hugo up and Hugo (and vicariously, me) had to be satisfied with just a coffee and no pancakes and maple syrup and bacon. Darn!! But smelling something fishy, Hugo's sleuthing skills switch into gear, and another great thriller begins. Hugo finds out that this 'model' daughter was actually a dancer at a seedy strip club in Paris, ooh la la! And he finds out that she's been lured to Barcelona by some seedy guy she met at the club. We know this is bad. 

The juxtaposing of the usually straight-up Hugo with the anything-goes drunken, slovenly former CIA agent, Tom Green, always makes for colourful reading. During their illegal sleuthing in Barcelona, which really offends the Spanish police, Hugo and Tom stumble upon a shocker of a scene right out of a Gothic novel. The teen's father, Bart, is implicated in this grizly murder and imprisoned by the Barcelona police.

So the story unfolds with the two Americans facing their biggest challenge ever--find the killer/s, prove Bart's innocence, and trace the missing daughter who they can only hope and pray is alive. Meanwhile, they need to avoid being killed along the way.

Okay, I'm a gushing fan of Pryor's books and I hope he keeps them coming. And I'm a big fan of his settings--usually Paris, London and most recently Barcelona. Can't go wrong with these heavy lifters adding colour and excitement to an already-glittering plot.

So if you'd like to see what I have to say on his other books, check out my reviews on Goodreads. (Click on any of the first book covers in my Goodread's widget in my sidebar). This series doesn't have to be read in order as each has its own storyline.

Thanks for visiting/reading.

  • Have your read any of Mark Pryor's Hugo Marston series? Would you like to after reading my review?

As you saw from WEP's Spectacular Settings challenge, (which was a spectacular success and finishes today), we love settings which sing, and Pryor's are definitely a character in his books.


Monday 24 August 2015

The challenge of an online writing community - sharing WEP's successful Spectacular Setting's challenge.

Hi all!

Another week has begun for some of us! What an exciting week I've just had with monitoring the WEP challenge with Yolanda Renee. It was a mammoth effort, still ongoing. We've yet to choose a short-list of the 3 best entries to hand over to our Guest Judge, Donna Hole, who will put them in the order of Winner, Runner Up and Encouragement Award. This is the hardest part of WEP, especially this challenge as we received nearly 50 entries to read, comment on, promote, and finally judge. The winner will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card and there will be a surprise gift decided by the numbers we load into

The entries have been amazing and those that participated have been blown away by the quality.

Halloween is usually our biggest roll up. How many are going to turn up in October with their creepy stories, photos and artwork?

Here is a sample of some of the entries for Part A where you had to share a setting that blew you away, then tell us why:

Home 2010

Angeline Chee from Cutting the Map shared why she loved this night shot of Singapore...
"I revel daily in the history and architectural marvels of England, always feeling regretful that Singapore had chosen to rid ourselves of many a heritage marker in order to build the modern city. At that moment, though, (watching the National Day Parade), the glitz and glamour of our Central Business District (CBD) stopped my heart."

Part B asked that you shared something you created yourself:

Michelle Wallace from Writer in Transit shared a fantastic shot of  Moyos, South Africa's first building on a pier then wrote a flash fiction using that setting:

Moyos - at night!

Moyo means heart.
It’s a place that holds my heart; a place where the heartache began. In another lifetime. When I was another person. No good dwelling on that now. All in good time…
Today is a new day…
A new day means endless possibilites. Just like the sand grains stretched on either side of the walkway which extends to form the pier, jutting 150 metres into the Indian ocean.
The surrounding location is popular. Competitive vendors offer over-priced beverages, stale breadrolls and quick-congealing condiments. Accidents and near-misses occur between slow-moving pedestrians and high-speed rollerbladers. A bicyclist wobbles through throngs of walkers and joggers, his cell phone glued to his ear.
Sand sculptures dot the area, transporting it into a living gallery of artwork that is unique.
“Look at the sand sculptures! Can you believe it?” Familiar words uttered by a steady stream of visitors.
Faceless people, nameless people… aboard the conveyor belt of tourist living.
A new day.
The same routine.
A replica of countless moments.
Father smacks his crazy brat whose tantrum competes with the life-guard’s whistle. The high-pitched squawk of a lone seagull completes the trio of cacophony.
“Look, the rickshaw man. Let’s stop him. If you behave, maybe we’ll go on the ride.”
Bribery is a good diversion. It works with kids. Well, most times.
“But dad, I thought we didn’t have enough money? Plus you promised we could take a photo with the sand dragon. How are we gonna go on the ride and take a photo if——–“
A hot glare is the answer. It rivals the blazing midday sun, silences any further comments from the older sibling.
I feel a headache coming on. Hold tight. Why do I subject myself to this? Breathe. Slowly. In and out. Remember the goal. This is temporary… so close to finding out…
“Where’s mom? She’s taking forever…”
Breathe. In and out. Another day in paradise. The conveyor belt is in motion. Predictable, as usual.
“Dad, does he build these all by himself?”
… kid, you’re watching me with an odd expression. I don’t bite, you know. I’m not mute or deaf either, just in case you’re wondering…
“Wow. How does he get the alligator’s skin to look so real? The other sand guy built a rhino. I also saw the big five. The animals. Really cool stuff. We’re talking about poaching at school, dad. ”
You can show your admiration for attention to detail by donating something. A ten or twenty to have your picture taken next to the sculpture? Surely you can spare that?
“You got some cash on you dad? Whoa———– a wad of notes! Does mum know? You said money went missing from your bag…”
A five? You can’t be serious. What’s that in your currency? You ARE a foreigner, aren’t you? You can be more generous. 
That’s it kid. Take the ten.
“Not a word to anyone, you hear?”
Ah, I see your wife. She’s waving. The one in the leopard print bikini? Oh, THAT’S your wife. Quick, pass the money. She doesn’t have to know. Can’t disappoint the boy now, can we?
“Dad what’s poaching?”
“Ask your mom. She’s the expert. It’s what she resorted to the first time we met…”
Cherry lips purse followed by a disapproving stare as she cradles a puppy who wiggles in an attempt to get loose.
“Mom, what took you so long?” Brat tugs at her hand while she inspects her facial artwork in a compact mirror.
You’re back madam. Mmm, I see your face has been painted. You went for the intricate floral design? Surprising choice. Lots of designs, patterns, shapes. Reminds me of life. It moves in unruly patterns… in circles… it’s never linear. The miniature paw prints… now that seems more your style. You strike me as an animal lover. No disrespect.
“Dad who taught them how to make these? How long does it take to complete one?”
A slew of ingredients such as sand, sea, time, patience, lots of love… that’s all you need to know. The process? Nothing special. You’d be bored stiff.
“Do you know the artists pay a monthly fee to the local council? But they don’t make much money from these works of art. What a pity we’re a bit cash-strapped.” A sigh flutters away. She gazes at the sand sculpture.
The older boy smiles at his father, who’s attention is divided between the brat and the puppy. A tug-o-war stalemate.
“Look. The Rickshaw ride. There it goes again. You said that we can go on the ride after—–“ but his brother scoops him up, swings him around and they tumble onto the sand.
No, the sand sculpting story is not very exciting. But I could tell you another story. One that haunts my sleep. 
A story of skeleton beams and life before sand sculptures. 
Now that would keep you riveted. 
But look, the tide is turning.
“What happens to the sculptures when the tide comes in? Oh no, don’t tell me they’re washed away! What about night time? Do they just leave it?”
I sleep next to my creation, ma’am. No warm, cosy bed for this artist. Well not yet. But soon.
“Let’s walk to the end of the pier, honey.”
Run along. Cocktails at the pier bar is an experience you don’t want to miss.
“Boys, come, let’s go!”
Ah, new customers… step this way, sir. Would madam like a photo next to the sand sculpture?

A fantastic entry, as were so many others.

Thank you Angeline and Michelle for giving me permission to share parts of your entries.

  • Will you join us for a creep-fest in October?

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Spectacular Settings: WEP challenge - Part A - Pat Conroy. Part B - My flash fiction, The Child. #wepff

Hello all!

Write...Edit...Publish (WEP) restarts today under a new format. Yolanda Renee and I have teamed up to present this challenge which will generally run every second month. This first challenge is in two parts. Participants can complete one or both parts.

Part A is where you share a found setting that you love: in a novel, poem, photo, artwork...Then you explain why you love it.

Part B is optional, where you share your own setting piece, either written expressly for the challenge or one previously written or compiled--whether flash fiction, non fiction, a photo montage or essay, an artwork you created, a playscript you wrote...the choice is open!

If you like the idea, please sign up in my sidebar and post to the guidelines above, or check out this post at WEP for full guidelines. You have until August 26th to post.

My entry:

Part A - An excerpt from the Prologue of Beach Music by Pat Conroy, my favourite novel.

If I’d just opened a random page, I could have found some amazing setting to share with you. Chapter 1 begins with such a sensuous description of the Piazza Farnese in Rome you have to blink to make sure you’re not actually there, so strong is the smell of freshly-brewed coffee and so vivid the descriptions of the morning activity in the Piazza. And I’m sure South Carolina never had prettier words written to describe it. But the descriptions that never leave me are found in the Prologue. I have taken excerpts from pp. 19-23, where the teenage Jack is sky larking with a group of his graduate high-school classmates who have gathered in a condemned house on St Michael’s Island, South Carolina, on the night it was predicted the house would break up and fall into the sea. This section is reminiscent of the whole novel, where Conroy, a master of setting as character, parallels the coming together of himself and his great love, Shyla, against the backdrop of the raging Atlantic Ocean. 

This of course, foreshadows one of many tragedies which is to come...

"THE sea rose invisibly beneath us and the moon shone smooth and bright. A glossy flute of light, like velvet down a bridal aisle, lit the marlin scales and the backs of whales migrating a hundred miles at sea. The tides surged through the marsh and each wave that hit the beach came light-struck and broad-shouldered, with all the raw power the moon could bestow. Magically, an hour passed and we, ocean dancers and tide challengers, found ourselves listening to the sea directly beneath us as the waves began to crash in earnest against the house...
I looked around to see Shyla Fox in the moonlight. She looked as though she had dressed for this moment with the help of the moon…
We danced toward the central motion of our lives. The winds roared and a strange love rose like a tide between us and rested in the crown of waves that was loosening the frame of the house. Alone we danced beneath the full moon…
I heard the house shudder and push off as it took its first primal step towards the sea. The house tilted, then fell forward as though it were prostrating itself before the power of this tidal surge.
We went out to the newly imbalanced balcony, holding hands. The moon lit the sea in a freeway of papery light and we watched the boiling white caps feeding on the broken cement scattered beneath the house. We continued to dance while the house kept its appointment with the long tide and I blazed with the love of this young girl. 
Our love began and ended with seawater."
270 words

Part B

This is a reworked flash fiction which I wrote for #FridayFlash, my first online foray into flash fiction. It seems fitting to use one of my war stories seeing it's the 70th year anniversary of WW2. 

I write in Australian English which uses the 'u' and 's' and double 'l' and 're' not 'er', where you might use no 'u' and 'z' instead of 's' and a single 'l'. Just so you don't correct my spelling, lol! As I've waxed eloquent on Conroy, I've edited my story down, well under 1,000 words.

The Child

The desert was pitch-black, the only sound the Muslim call to prayer that rang out across the Baluchi Valley, punctuating the silence with staccato bursts.  

We marched single file into mayhem.

I slipped and slid behind the soldier in front of me, his form a shadow in the darkness. I’d had no sleep the night before, so terrified was I at the spectre of the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan, the caves seething with displaced insurgents. I struggled through oceans of sand, so thick around my ankles it dragged at my regulation boots. My knees screamed, my thighs burned, my lungs caught fire as I fought the grainy enemy.

I was in hell, a place where nothing was as it appeared.

Who was friend?

Who was foe?

I was on covert foot patrol with Australian and Afghan soldiers.  We were outside the wire, tramping through deserts, skirting a meandering river, scaling rocky hills under the pressing weight of body armour and supplies. I hadn’t yet acclimatised to the blistering temperatures or the altitude.

No one stopped when I tripped and fell. On patrol, to stop would jeopardise the mission. I dragged my feet from their burial place in the sand. No princesses here. In uniform everyone is treated the same.

How I prayed for sunrise.


The line paused.

The lead soldier signalled with his crooked finger, pointing to our surroundings, then held a finger to his lips. Word reached me that the desert was revealing Kuchi camps, Bedouins’ homes.

We crept silently as mountain cats into the night.

“Police checkpoint ahead”, someone whispered. In briefing I’d been told that these checkpoints were best avoided.

No one even breathed as we crouched and duck-walked along the ground, swinging our weapons side to side, holding tight.

An almighty screech, then a huge spotlight shone down on us, bathing us in blinding light.

Someone screamed ‘Darawem!’ ('Stop!')and we froze like sphinxes in the desert, clutching weapons to our chests. 

Two policemen yelled at us in a language I didn’t understand, while their fingers stabbed the air.

We stood.

Statue still.

I struggled to control my bladder, knowing I could be shot right where I stood.

Someone down the line yelled ‘Australians!’ The police muttered to each other, nodded their heads, then motioned us on.

Further into the desert.

‘They were skittish because just yesterday they confronted insurgents in Kakarak across the river. Shots were exchanged,’ whispered the soldier behind me.

‘Thanks,’ I whispered back. My eyes were seeing insurgents behind the rocks, across the snaking river, in the shadowy menace of the mountains.



A glorious orange orb broke over the mountains into the valley, skittering across the water till it reached the shock of green land at our feet.

In the near distance a small boy, not four years old, shepherded his family’s goats through the spiky fields. He could be my son, but my son slept in cosy comfort, surrounded by stuffed toys and his father’s love. More children hid shyly in doorways as we filed past their simple rammed-earth homes. 




First regulation stop. An exchange with tribal elders. They constantly looked to see who was watching them. They risked death for talking to Australian soldiers.

We moved on. Further into the desert. Away from the river.

Over broken bricked walls and through crumbling aqueducts we waded towards the hostile village of Sorkh Morghab where coalition forces had built a school, market and medical centre. 

We wandered through the market area, apparently casually, weapons held across our chests. Men and young boys showed us their wares and tried to sell me a burqa. I was just a woman, one who needed to cover herself.

One little boy approached me, hand outstretched. He was about six years old. Tears sprung to my eyes at his rough brown tunic draping his wasted body. I thought of my son, but this little boy’s eyes reflected a man, an angry man. I shivered with an unnamed emotion. 

A soldier pulled me roughly, backwards against his chest. 

'Don't,' he said.

'Let me,' I said, pushing him away. 

I reached into my pocket. 

I pulled out two soggy chocolate bars for the poor little boy. He was only a child.

The child smiled a gap-toothed smile but it didn’t reach his old man eyes.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a large apple. We smiled at each other in a very easy but powerful gesture.

I stepped closer so we could exchange our bounty. It was then I saw the apple had blackened with age. Oh. It looked like a--no--it couldn’t be--

‘Nooooooooooo…’ someone yelled, a voice full of pain and regret.

I felt the fire on my lips. 

I tasted the fire as it burned in my throat.

I crumpled as the fire hit my belly.

I heard voices and staccato bursts of gunfire.

I heard the wailing call to prayer begin.

I heard the cry of a child.



I'd appreciate your reaction to my story. I know it won't appeal to everyone.

So my critique request:



Thank you so much for coming by and reading my entry for WEP. Please click on blogger's names in my sidebar to read more, especially those with 'Direct Link' after their name.

Wednesday 12 August 2015

Talking about settings and WEP at Damyanti's at Daily (W)rite!

Hi there!

Today Yolanda Renee and I are talking about Write...Edit...Publish (WEP) at Damyanti's blog, Daily (W)rite. We'd welcome your visit/comment at the wonderful Damyanti's place.

I won't turn comments off in case you have a message for me, but in the interests of saving you time, please head on over to Daily (W)rite and see what we have to say about the creation of WEP and writing for the Spectacular Settings challenge on August 19th-August 26!

Thank you

Fictional settings Blogfest
Click here to sign up for the challenge!
Or sign up in my sidebar!

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Insecure Writers Support Group Post--reaching for your dreams.

Hi all!

Lovely to see another month flit by in the speed of light, isn't it? No, not really. Are you like me wondering how time can go so fast and you never quite catch up with all the things you have to do?

So...when I was wondering what to share today, I found myself staring at a photograph. Not just any old photograph, but a very original sepia photograph taken in 1917 in Codforth, England, wherever that might be. It's part of an interactive activity at the State Library of Queensland's Distant Lines project.

Here we have a group of Aussie diggers, both young and old, who have survived Gallipoli and the Somme battles and are waiting for their next posting.

I couldn't help wondering--what dreams and aspirations did these soldiers have? According to the original text on the postcard, they were checking out this English village and exclaiming at the beauty of the churches. No doubt facing death gave churches an allure.

Australia was a young country, well, it still is, relatively speaking, and these soldiers would probably have been farmers, as most Australians were in the early 1900s. What hopes and dreams did they have for their return? Were they hoping the government would give them a larger selection to do their back-breaking farming work? Did they yearn to see their wives, their girlfriends, their parents? Whatever their dreams, I hope they achieved them.

So, peeps, keep on dreaming and working towards your dreams. Our future holds more promise than that which stretched before these soldiers. Let's take the future in both hands and aspire to dream!

More inspiring quotes here: 

Thanks for reading. Click here to go to more IWSG posts. Thanks so much to the hosts this week and to Alex J Cavanaugh, whose brainchild this meme is. And even though the month flies by too fast, I really love reading as many posts as I can.
  • Do you believe in the power of dreams?
  • Do you have reachable goals?

If your hopes and dreams include improving your writing,
WEP has just the thing. Join our Settings challenge
due to go live on August 19.