Goodreads Giveaway

Now that my book is available in paperback, I’m running a Goodreads Giveaway, where readers in the US, UK and some areas of Europe can enter for the chance to win a copy. When I set up the giveaway, the title hadn’t yet gone live on The Book Depository – it has now been listed. So, if I run another giveaway on this title in future, then I will be able to open it up to readers in all countries. :o)

For now though, readers in qualifying countries can enter to win a copy here:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Play for the Castle by Zelah Meyer

A Play for the Castle

by Zelah Meyer

Giveaway ends July 05, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

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A Play for the Castle

My first novel, A Play for the Castle, has finally been published!  I first started this story fourteen years ago, and it’s had a long and winding route to the page, but now it’s finally out there!

It’s currently available for Amazon Kindle, and on Smashwords. It’s awaiting extended distribution to the other retailers, but in the meantime, you can buy epub versions direct from Smashwords here. A print version is in the works and will be out as soon as possible.

Here are the online retailers where you can find my books, including this one once it goes live: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Apple iBooks, Sony, and Diesel.

A Play for the Castle Book Cover

Description:

Arthur and his friends are noblemen disguised as traveling players. Raising an army in secret, while dodging mercenaries and cabbages alike, isn’t easy. Neither is keeping secrets from the curious young woman he happens to be falling in love with. She thinks he’s just an actor with a shady past, and if he’s to have any hope of a future, he can’t put her right. Between sword fights and scene changes, life is about to get interesting.

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Ginger Cookie Cake With Rum Buttercream & Candied Ginger

When I asked my husband whether he’d like a cake for his birthday, he said that he’d be happy if I made ginger cookies and stuck a candle in one of them.

I decided to give him the cookies he wanted, but to dress them up a bit for the occasion!

Birthday Cookie Cake

I used the excellent Big Soft Ginger Cookies recipe from allrecipes.com (which, if you like ginger cookies, you should definitely try!)

When I made the cookies, I made three of them into giant cookies (I patted the mixture out flat and coated it in sugar, leaving space for it to spread. As long as you flatten it, you could probably make them as large as you want – but be aware that they will tend to fold and crack when you lift them from the tray (due to the ‘soft’ part of the recipe!)

A tip for this cookie recipe – when I make the cookies, I usually give them 8-10 minutes (closer to 8 if the oven is already hot) & I gave these ones 11 due to the size of the larger cookies. In general though, they are done once you get a very slight resistance if you gently rest a finger on one of the cookies. If you cook them till they are firm then you’ll overcook them, and they will lose a lot of the moistness and softness. It might take you a couple of goes to work out how long you need to leave them in the oven for to get them the way you want them – but you won’t mind that because they are so tasty!

Anyway, once you have your giant cookies, you can turn them into a cookie cake!

I made some rum buttercream icing to layer the cookies with. I used:

3oz salted butter (room temperature)
5oz icing sugar
2 tbsp dark rum

I stirred the ingredients together with a fork, then whisked it all up with an electric whisk. I made my icing layers about 3mm to 4mm thick, and had enough icing left to do another layer if I’d wanted. I decided that three layers would be enough for this cookie cake because of the richness of the buttercream, but you could make it with as many layers as you wanted. I then topped it with some candied ginger.

You could also make mini ones with regular sized cookies & serve them as individual desserts. :)

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YA/NA Springtime Ebook Giveaway

Elle Casey, author of Wrecked and War of the Fae, is running a springtime giveaway of Young Adult and New Adult ebooks (there are some paperbacks available as well).

I am taking part with both my titles.  For a chance to win one of my stories, or stories by the other authors involved, you can enter here: http://bit.ly/1499km3

Good luck! 

Here are the titles included in the giveaway:

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Experiments, Importing to Scrivener

I recently purchased a copy of Scrivener.  I’ve previously done my writing in OpenOffice or Microsoft Word, using Microsoft OneNote when I wanted to keep track of details.  However, everyone raves about Scrivener, so I figured I’d give it a go!

With that in mind, I’ve spent this weekend working my way through the interactive tutorial – and yes, I probably will read the entire user manual at some point – I’m the sort of person who always reads the instructions!  That way, I might forget how to do something – but I usually remember that it can be done.  :)

Anyway, since I tend to save all my ideas for plots as individual documents, I was curious to see how Scrivener would cope with importing those if I were to just highlight everything in my ‘Ideas’ folder and attempt to import it.  Obviously, I didn’t actually do that – I set up test files in OpenOffice and Word, one regular and one password protected for each program & imported them to a test project in Scrivener.

I should perhaps mention that I already knew that Scrivener didn’t support importing for OpenOffice documents (apparently, the work-around is to cut & paste, or I suppose you could save it as a .doc or some other supported format first.) – I just wanted to see what would happen.

The results were:

General: It wouldn’t import the folder that contained the documents, I had to select all the documents within the folder individually.  I mention this because, depending on how you organise your writing, you may have sub-folders for a project you’re working on in another program and need to factor that in when you come to import that particular writing project to Scrivener.

OpenOffice .ODT file: Didn’t import – but Scrivener created a document that consisted of a link to the OpenOffice file on my hard drive – clicking on the link started up OpenOffice and opened the file.

OpenOffice ODR file – Password Protected:  As above, didn’t import but I got a document with a link that started up OpenOffice, prompted me for the password & opened the document once I entered it.

Microsoft Word .DOCX file:  Imported as a document.

Microsoft Word .DOCX file – Password Protected: Didn’t import, created an error message and, where the document would usually go in Scrivener (represented by a sheet of paper with lines on it) – I had a blank sheet of paper with the file name as the title but no link or anything else.  I was able to type into the blank document – at which point – lines appeared on the sheet of paper icon that represents it in the Scrivener Binder.

So, there you go.  I just thought I’d share that in case it’s useful to anyone else who’s starting out with Scrivener.  :)

 

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The Scholar and Her Escort

My second title, a novella, is now available from the various e-book retailers, and can also be purchased in print from Amazon. Links here: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Apple iBooks, Sony, and Diesel.

TSAHE-EBook-Cover

Description:

The only child of the local village squire, Selina has always thrown herself into her studies, perhaps a little too much. She knows a lot about books but not so much about people. When she receives an invitation to the Gathering of Great Minds in Trevarde, she is desperate to attend. It’s harvest time and no one can be spared from the village to escort her on her travels. Selina sees no reason why she shouldn’t make the journey on her own.
 
Bill is a patient and good-natured gentleman, passing through Selina’s village on his way to Trevarde. The local innkeeper suggests him to the squire as a suitable protector to get Selina safely through the dangerous border lands. On hearing from her father that she is threatening to make the journey alone, Bill volunteers to escort her.
 
Willful, smart, but too sheltered to comprehend the dangers she would face traveling alone—Selina wants to shake off the man she believes her father has hired unnecessarily. Her thoughts are on the gathering and the speaker she hopes to impress. She wants to concentrate on her studies, but when she writes Bill off as a brainless fighter, it might just lead to her most important lesson yet.
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Deadlines, Diets, and Determination

I’ve been quiet lately because I spent August desperately working on Camp NaNoWriMo – despite getting an average of only 5½ hours sleep a night!  In fact, I only had two nights in the whole month where I got as much as 8 hours sleep – and one of those is only if you count an afternoon nap as part of the total!

Anyway, despite being zombified for most of the month, I managed to hit the 50,000 word deadline with two and a bit novellas.  It took a lot of self discipline to write when I was that tired!  I managed it though, even though I had a six day period around week 3 where I couldn’t write at all & had to play catch up during the last week.

It always makes me feel virtuous when I ‘win’ a NaNoWriMo.  So, I’m still coasting on the sense of accomplishment, but I need to get back to work soon.  It’s a shame that I find editing much harder than writing when I’m tired.  It’s not a good state for jobs that require attention to detail.

I’m working on the post-editor edits for my next title.  It’s a fantasy romance novella and should hopefully be out some time later this month.

On a personal note, I’m thinking about starting to track calories & exercise on MyPlate (part of Livestrong.com) again.  I can’t just cut down on food, because if I don’t eat enough calories, I don’t lose weight.  My body is very clear about that!  For example, if I set my calorie goals to lose 2lb a week, then I won’t lose any.  I have to aim for 1½lb if I want to lose weight.  MyPlate (or the Daily Plate as it was back then) was the only thing that helped me lose weight before my wedding.  Exercise and cutting down on food weren’t helping.  It’s a narrow path that I have to walk if I want to shift the pounds.

I’ve got a family wedding coming up next year, and I’d like to shift a bit of the weight that I’m still carrying after I had my son.  I need to shift about a stone and a half (21lb) and I think it will only happen if I calorie track.  It’s an annoying and time consuming faff.  Calorie tracking is only easy if you eat pre-packaged foods, which I don’t in general.  Having to calculate every single ingredient that goes into cooking a meal is a real pain.  It does work though.

For years I refused to diet at all, and I still don’t believe in diets that involve denying yourself things.  If I try to cut something out, then I just wind up eating twice the calories in other stuff, trying to satisfy the cravings for the thing I’m denying myself.  I’ll be eating what I usually eat, just in moderation.  Plus, knowing I have to track something if I eat or drink it means that I’m less likely to eat when I’m not actually hungry.  As eating when I’m not actually hungry is something I do more often than I should, that’s helpful.

If I run out of calories for the day and I’m still hungry, then I’ll eat something.  I’m not going to be overly strict with myself.  It’s just a good set of guidelines to work with.  Plus, it will help me work out which of my favourite meals are most calorific and should perhaps appear less frequently than they currently do!

According to Wii Fit I’m at the upper end of the ideal weight category, but it doesn’t take my frame into account, and I know I am carrying more weight for my BMI than is healthy for me.

I intend to reward myself for losing weight by having a go at making a gorgeous dress I’ve seen in one of the Burda magazines I’ve been buying.  I haven’t yet made anything out of them due to a lack of free time.  My dressmaking experience is limited to my wedding dress (a simple, empire line pattern) and a couple of outfits for my son.  This dress will involve learning how to do gathers, so it will be a steep learning curve!  Hopefully a fun one though.

I currently really want a packet of crisps (chips), but I’m not actually hungry yet.  The self-discipline starts here… wish me luck!

Edited to add:  A warning to anyone considering using MyPlate to track calories.  It seems to set a suggested calorie intake amount that is way too low.  I set it to lose 1½lb a week and it told me I should be aiming to eat 1,000 calories a day.  That struck me as far fewer calories than I used to be able to have – I have a vague memory that it used to be 1,400 to 1,600 under its former incarnation as the Daily Plate.

I checked and yes, 1,000 calories a day is far too low for healthy weight loss.  Not sure why it’s doing that but it’s something to be wary of.  I plan to aim for more like 1,400.  Livestrong’s own site warns against 1,000 calorie a day diets, so I’ve no idea why it’s telling me to eat that little!

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Chocolate Cheesecake

The first time I attempted a home-made cheesecake, I used Butterscotch flavour Angel Delight.  Back when I was at uni, I used to make a cheesecake-esque dessert.  I’d buy a packet of cheesecake mix, ditch the cheesecake bit (they’re always too sweet for my tastes) and just use the biscuit-crumb mix.

It would probably have been cheaper to weigh out biscuits and butter and make my own from scratch, but I didn’t have any kitchen scales at uni.  Anyway, I’d make up the Butterscotch Angel Delight with a small carton of yoghurt and a tiny drizzle of milk.  The filling wouldn’t set solid like a proper cheesecake – but I always spread it thinly anyway.  Cheesecake has always been mostly about the biscuit-crumb base for me!

Filled with nostalgic yearnings for that old dessert, I thought I’d try something similar some *cough* years later and, since Angel Delight don’t use artificial sweetener in their regular mix, I knew I would still be able to eat it.  (So many things I used to like are now off-limits to me due to an allergy to artificial sweeteners, and companies who like to save money by using them.)

Unfortunately, in the intervening years, Angel Delight have also taken out the old artificial flavourings…  :(

Thus, when I experimented and whizzed up Philadelphia (cream cheese) with a packet of Butterscotch Angel Delight & a drizzle of milk, the natural flavourings in the Angel Delight lacked strength, and the over-riding flavour was of cheese.  It was too rich, too cheesy, and nothing like my memories.

So – this time around, I decided to go for chocolate cheesecake, add cream, and ditch the Angel Delight in favour of a 100gram bar of Green & Black’s 85% cocoa, dark chocolate.

I also consulted a few recipes - then ignored them and made up my own!

For the cheesecake base, I had a 9 inch tin so used the following, which was 1 1/2 times the suggested amount for a 7 inch tin (plus salt, which wasn’t in the original recipe, but I find that salt works well with chocolate, so I wanted to add some to the base):

  • 9oz digestives – crushed
  • 4 1/2oz butter – melted
  • 1 1/2 oz sugar
  • Pinch of salt

I melted the butter in a pan and then stirred in the other ingredients before pressing the mixture firmly into a foil-lined tin & chilling in the fridge for an hour or two.  The recipe book talked about baking it, but I’ve never baked a biscuit-crumb base, so I didn’t bother.

For the chocolate cheesecake filling, I used:

  • One 300gram tub of Philadelphia Light (low fat cream cheese)
  • One 300ml of whipping cream
  • One 100gram bar of Green & Blacks 85% cocoa dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp vanilla essence
  • 2-3 heaped tbsp icing sugar (I just tipped a bit into the bowl & whisked it in until I was happy with the flavour.)

I used my electric beaters & started by whipping the cream up until it made firm peaks and didn’t shift if I turned the bowl gently sideways.  Then I beat in the cream cheese and vanilla essence.

I melted the chocolate (using the microwave, checking regularly and stirring until melted, I let the last few chunks melt on their own in the heat from the perspex bowl.)  Then I folded in the chocolate and beat it into the mixture, adding icing sugar to taste.

I wound up with enough mixture to make two cheesecakes – but as I only had one base, I froze the rest in portions.  It’s a little solid for ice-cream, but if you have molds for those small, thin ice-lollies that children often have, it would probably work well on those.  Even in its slightly solid state, the frozen leftovers have gone down well with the family!

Anyway, I spread the mixture into the base and let it chill in the fridge.  Here is a slightly out of focus picture of one of the last slices (it didn’t last very long!)

SAM_0846

It was surprisingly light.  (Though probably not in terms of calories!)

Overall, it was a great success, and will definitely be making a come-back in our kitchen … once we’ve lost a few pounds!

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Pre-Plotting

I generally approach writing a story with: some characters, a basic concept, a start, and a finish in mind. The middle bit takes care of itself as I write. I’ll brainstorm ahead and maybe make a few notes on where I want the action to go over the next few thousand words, then I’ll write & when I start to run out of notes I’ll brainstorm some more. It works well for me.

I also tried improvising a story completely once for Scriptfrenzy. I just started describing the first scene that came into my head and the characters appeared on the page as they appeared in my mind. I did make a couple of notes in the middle of writing it, but that was because I wasn’t near my computer at the time. All I had on me was an old envelope, which was covered in scribbled notes on both sides by the time I got home. That also worked surprisingly well. (Though it probably helps that I’ve got a background in narrative improvisation, so I’m used to making up stories on the spot and holding the plot together.)

What I’ve never yet done – and intend to try for the August session of Camp NaNoWriMo – is to pre-plan out a story scene by scene and then sit down to write it. I’m finding it really tricky, because my instincts are screaming at me to do it the way I usually do. Now that I have plot ideas for the first ten thousand words or so, they want me to start writing it – and then plot the next bit, then write, etc.

Still, it’s an interesting challenge. I’m determined to get through any inner resistance and plot the whole thing before the start of August. I’m wondering if it will increase the amount I’m able to write each day, or have any other beneficial results. Time-wise it wouldn’t help speed up my writing in general, as this seems to take longer than the way I’m used to doing it. However, it might help for situations like NaNoWriMo, where I have to write a set amount of words in a set amount of time.

I think it’s good to shake up your writing habits occasionally – to try a different style/genre, or a different way of working. I’m hoping that I’ll learn something from the experience (other than that I’m mad to be contemplating a NaNoWriMo month when I’ve still got three stories to get through edits!)

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My First Story Has Now Been Published

After pretty much a lifetime of thinking of myself as a writer – I have finally published something!  ‘Dimension Jumpers: Wanted’ went live on Smashwords, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and the other European Amazons earlier this week.  It’s been approved by Smashwords for onward distribution, and is now live on Apple iBooks and Barnes & Noble. Still awaiting distribution to Kobo, and various other e-book retailers.

A print version is available via CreateSpace, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and other european Amazons.

Book Cover for Dimension Jumpers - Wanted by Zelah Meyer

At roughly 9,500 words, it’s a long short story/short novella, or a ‘novelette’ if you use that term. :)

Here’s the description: “All Amy wants is to blend in, hide her abilities, and stay alive. She’s just met the man of her dreams. Unfortunately, he’s one of the top police agents in the capital, and she’s the top suspect for the recent killing of the king. Even more unfortunately, she doesn’t know whether she’s guilty or not.”

I’m so pleased to finally see it out there after much back and forth with various beta/proof readers and my editor.

Now, on to the next title!

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