Book Review: Off the KUF Vol 1- an anthology

Before reading Off the KUF Vol 1 I had never read many shorts, but I’ll certainly start now. It’s a great way to get a story fix in a short space of time, and it’s also a fantastic way KUF Vol 1coverto discover new genres, styles, and writers. The stories range from humour, to literary, horror, contemporary and more, and I enjoyed nearly all of them, and found quite a few that raised the bar to the 5* level. I’ll definitely be seeking out other works by some of the writers and look forward to starting Vol 2.

Off the KUF Vol 1 is available from Amazon

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Book review: Because We Are – A novel of Haiti by Ted Oswald 5*

I learned about “Because We Are”, a novel whose profits are going to help Haiti NGOs, when I read the blog post about its author Ted Oswald signing with Amazon on David Gaughran’s website, and I am so glad I found it. Many of us have followed the news of the Because We Are_covermany natural and man inflicted tragedies that have befallen Haiti in recent years: earthquakes, cholera, corrupt governments. Because We Are, a compelling story of Haiti, puts many intimate human faces to those news reports. At the heart of the story are two children, headstrong Libète and clever Jak, who attempt to solve the murder of a young woman and her baby from their community. But this is also a sweeping narrative of how Haiti and its people have come to struggle so, of the corruption, the criminal elements, but also the many individuals who try in their own way to improve their country. At times Libète and Jak read older than their actual ages, but children in developing countries who have to fend for themselves often have to grow up quickly. This is a riveting novel that will be enjoyed by those who enjoy a mystery, but also those who like a sophisticated literary novel, and I would highly recommend it. Amazon is to republish the book early next year, so I would grab a copy quickly before the price increases.

Because We Are is available at Amazon

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The Disease – Goodreads giveaway winners

Congratulations to the 10 winners of the Goodreads paperback giveaway of The Disease. Disease_308x224Your books have been ordered from The Book Depository and will hopefully be with you before Christmas. The winners are: Carlene Grey (NZ); Norma Babcock (US); Allan Ong (US); Malwinder Singh (IN); Cherrie Hung (HK); Nikhil Matad (IN); Justyna Helena Lasota (PL); Traci Wilcox (US); Gabby Greig (NZ); Dakota Rhiner (US);

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The lady said no! Get used to it. (Includes Goodreads giveaway)

One morning earlier this year, I left out very early again, to plant information sheets about my then new eBook, The Disease, inside free newspapers at train stations (shhh, I won’t Disease_308x224tell them if you don’t). On my way to one station, I saw a lady on a bus reading from her kindle. Perfect opportunity thought I. “I’m sorry to disturb you,” I said, “you may find this interesting.” I offered her one of the information sheets.

“No thank you,” she said, and continued to read from her kindle.

Now it was a perfectly respectful no, but for a few moments, I felt disappointment curl up to hide in some recess of my stomach. But why, I asked myself, when I am used to giving out noes every day of my life? When I am pursued by those streetwalkers wearing their colourful bibs and wide grins, propositioning me to sign up for new monthly payments to another charity, or their broadband flogging cousins, I put on my John Wayne walk and have my noes loaded up like bullets in a pistol clip, one round sitting in the chamber of my mouth ready to be fired rapidly. These charity workers seem to deal with it well enough, albeit their roughly pasted on smiles seem like the type that’s practiced in a hand-held mirror at home before they leave out in the morning. But I think I understand: the more noes that you get, the less it bothers you, and the more rewarding the yeses. So I’ll continue handing out my information sheets, and will no doubt hear many more noes, and hope that I can reach the point where they don’t bother me at all, because when you are offering something new, you should expect to get some noes.

There are 10 copies of The Disease up for grabs in the Goodreads competition giveaway. I hope you’ll say yes and enter the competition at Goodreads.com to win a copy.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Disease by George  Hamilton

The Disease

by George Hamilton

Giveaway ends November 21, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

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Children’s Book Review: Mr Splendiferous and the Troublesome Trolls by Rosen Trevithick; illustrated by Katie W. Stewart

Dangerous children eating trolls; a genius but mad scientist; and a group of unsuspecting schoolchildren on a trip to Splendiferous Science Park, with enough weird and wonderful exhibits to exercise all the senses of any young adventurer.

Mr S & TrollsA chase through the internal anatomy of the Rumbling Giant provides a science lesson while it entertains. I laughed as one child found that her only escape from a pursuing troll was … well, through the “great big, round pink bottom” of the exhibit.

Rosen Trevithick is very good at creating vivid images in the mind. At times as I read the book the images were as intense as in films such as Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. I began to see how Disney could build a Mr Splendiferous Science Park where even big kids like me could play.

You should try to read this on an eReader that displays in colour to fully experience Katie W. Stewart’s magical cover illustration.

If you want to open up your child’s imagination to the imagery that words can create and watch them laugh at the same time, then I’d highly recommend Mr Splendiferous and the Troublesome Trolls for reading to younger children, with the voices of course, and older children can entertain themselves with it. I’ve even heard that in England children are making trolls of their own.

Reviewed Aug/Sep 2013

Mr Splendiferous and the Troublesome Trolls is available at Amazon

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Carnival of Hope – Goodreads giveaway winners

Congratulations to the winners of the Goodreads giveaway of Carnival of Hope. Your CoH_Paperback_33%paperback copies have been ordered from The Book Depository and should be with you in 2-4 weeks: Jaime Ravenwood (NZ); Deepak Sharma (IN); Kirstie Horton (AU); Sarah Hambleton (AU); and Abigail Fawcett (US)

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Book Review: To The Grave by Steve Robinson. 5*

Why did I feel as though I was sitting in front of a glowing log fire as I read To The Grave? Because as tragic as some of the events were, the book gave so much warmth and pleasure. Whenever I had to do something else, I was thinking about finding the time to get back to this book.

To the Grave

Eliza Gray, adopted at birth, hires genealogist Jefferson Tayte to find out who her real mother was. Tayte’s investigation takes him back more than sixty years to World War II Britain, and into a dangerous conspiracy to hide what really happened Philomena Lasseter (Mena) and her American GI sweetheart Danny Daneilson all those years ago.

I was shocked when Mena met with her unfortunate event.

I laughed out loud when Mena’s mother discovered that she was dating.

I loved the subtlety of some of Margaret Lasseter’s admonishments.

And then when I thought it was the end, it wasn’t, there was an even more intriguing ending.

For me, this was more than a crime mystery novel; it was a piece of fiction every bit as good as Ian McEwan’s Atonement.

To the Grave is available at Amazon

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Do US readers prefer a different cover to UK readers?

I ask myself this because when I recently put up my original cover for Carnival of Hope on KBoards.com, mainly visited by US readers and writers, to get opinions for the paperback cover (in order to do a Goodreads giveaway which is linked to below), the overwhelming opinion was that it was too plain and needed something else. Yet when I asked a similar CoH_Paperback_33%question about another of my covers on the UK site Kuforum.co.uk a few months ago, the overwhelming response was that the simplicity of my covers worked, and I really just needed to increase the text size so that the online thumbnails could be read more easily.

This has gotten me to thinking about what some friends said when they visited the US many years ago. The simplest way to explain the difference between the US and the UK, they said, was that the US was like television in colour, and the UK was in black and white. Hopefully we’ve gotten a little more colourful in the UK in the intervening years, but this cultural difference which they noticed may point to a difference in tastes for book covers.

I haven’t been able to find a suitable alternative paperback cover as yet, and in order to get on with the Goodreads giveaway of the book, I’ve decided to stick with the original cover for now.

There are 5 copies of Carnival of Hope up for grabs in the Goodreads competition giveaway, so enter the competition at Goodreads.com if you’d like to win a copy.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Carnival of Hope by George  Hamilton

Carnival of Hope

by George Hamilton

Giveaway ends October 11, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

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Calibre’s great conversion of docx into ebooks

The good people at Calibre have come up with an easy way to convert your docx word files into ebook format using their free ebook management software, which is far more than an ebook library. They recommend that you convert it from docx to epub first (as opposed to from docx to mobi or docx to kindle), and then you can use the epub to easily convert to other formats such as mobi. I used Calibre version 0.9.39 to test the ebook converter. If you do not have word docx version, then you can use the odt format which is found in the free versions of Apache Open Office or LibreOffice. But my quick experiment with an odt file did not produce a great epub, as embedded images were missing and the text appeared in more than one font. But the docx conversion to epub is the quickest and cleanest I have ever done, without the need for any HTML editing. Once I have a correctly formatted docx file, I can produce a perfect epub in 5 minutes, and then convert to mobi in even less. So here is how:

Things to do before to ensure a good conversion:

  1. Ensure that you use styles to format your word docx document. Under no circumstances should you use the tab key or BIU on the formatting toolbar. Set up a novel template with the styles already created and use that to write your novels. When setting up styles, it is best to build from previous styles like a family tree. So for the body of the novel start with normal as your base style, select a font that you can easily read whilst typing, as most ereaders will be able to change this, left margin, no justification for ebooks, and single line spacing. Then build your other styles from this. For the body of my novel, I use only four styles 99% of the time:
    1. A chapter heading style – font size, bold, spacing before and after, para 1 style after
    2. A scene heading style – ***, centred, para 1 style after
    3. Para 1 style – basically no indent, para 2 style follows (this is used for all first paragraphs of a new chapter or scene)
    4. Para 2 style – indented, para 2 style follows (this is used for all other paragraphs)
  2. If you need italics or bold, it should already be built into the style, such as the chapter heading style, or you need to select the bold or italic styles. I use a number of other styles for the front and back matter. So if you don’t know how to use word styles, you should have a quick read up on it and create some in a word template to use for your novels. There is a good basic starter lesson at GCF Learning free.org.
  3. Hyperlinks should be created with the target frame set to “Page Default (none)”. This is because there is no need to use a target in an ebook to specify open a webpage in a new tab. When you set up or edit your hyperlinks, in the hyperlink creation window on the right, select: Target Frame > Page Default (none).
  4. Before you convert, switch on the show paragraph marks and check to ensure that where you want a gap, there is an actual gap inserted by the style used and not a paragraph marker. One paragraph mark is fine and will leave you with a normal paragraph break. But any additional paragraph marks will not leave you with additional spacing. Remember to switch show paragraph marks off after you have checked.
  5. Now you’re ready to convert your docx to epub.

The ebook conversion process: (produce epub and mobi)

  1. Open calibre and click Add Books > Add books from a single directory – select and add your docx file.
  2. With the docx file highlighted select Convert books > Convert individually.
  3. Metadata : The conversion window opens with the metadata tab in the left pane selected.
    1. Input format (top left of conversion screen) > docx. Output format (top right) > epub.
    2. Enter title, author name (last name, first name), etc. You can also enter the synopsis in the box on the right.
    3. Select and import your cover image (there may be another image within the Calibre library there, but once you select the cover, the correct one will replace it).
  4. Page Setup: Input profile – for docx it is the default input profile. As you initially want to convert to an epub, the best output profile to choose for a general all-purpose EPUB that will work everywhere is the Sony Reader (The profile description can change if your mouse arrow just touches another profile, so make sure this is what you see in the profile description box: This profile is intended for the Sony PRS line. The 500/505/600/700 etc. [Screen size 590 x 775 pixels.]).
  5. Table of Contents: select this from the left panel of the conversion window. I select ‘Do not add detected chapters to the TOC’ (because I already include a TOC in my word docx). But select the appropriate option from the top 3 for your book. If you want to edit any of the TOC, you should also select Manually fine tune the TOC after the conversion is completed towards the bottom of the screen. Here is a blog post about how to edit the TOC. You can also add the TOC edit button to your toolbar and select it to edit the TOC of an ebook that you have already created.
  6. Epub Out: Here I tick preserve cover aspect ratio.
  7. OK: click this at the bottom of the window, then watch at the lower left of the window as the epub builds.
  8. Open and test the epub: In the main window, right hand pane, click on the epub to open it in the Calibre ebook reader. Test it and all the links. In particular, test all your hyperlinks in the epub.
    1.  I prefer to open and test the epub in Adobe Digital Editions for desktop, which is a free download. Open ADE, click on the library drop down arrow and select add item to library. Browse to the epub and open it. Or if ADE is the default to open epubs, open the path to the epub folder in the right hand pane of Calibre, and double click on the epub. Look through it and test the hyperlinks to satisfy yourself that all is ok. Also click on the bookshelf symbol in ADE to ensure that the cover thumbnail of the epub is displayed.
    2. If you have an epub reader, you can also upload the file to that and test it.
  9. Validate the epub in the online version of epub validator: http://validator.idpf.org/. Just upload the epub file to the website and click validate. If you have followed the above steps, your epub should pass.
  10. What if errors are detected? If you have formatted your docx correctly using styles, you are unlikely to have errors show up in the epub validation (if that is you, then you can ignore steps 10 and 11). But if errors are detected, download and open the epub in Sigil. Then just save it in Sigil, and this will correct any common errors (this is because Sigil currently includes HTML Tidy and runs it on your HTML files before loading them. This usually fixes any problems, but it’s not perfect). You can validate it in Sigil by clicking the big green tick on the far right of the toolbar. But even if it passes, you should still validate in the online validator which may pick up errors that Sigil is unable to detect or correct automatically.
  11. Still errors? If you have followed the steps above, particularly in regard to setting up your word document, you should find your epub passes the online validation. But if there are errors, these are the most likely and what you should do:
    1. vlink= change to id= (warning: attribute ‘vlink’ is not declared for element ‘body’)
    2. link= change to id= (warning: attribute ‘link’ is not declared for element ‘body’) – be careful that you don’t delete xlink= etc, so you may have to do individual find and replace.
    3. clear= changed to id= (warning: attribute ‘clear’ is not declared for element ‘br’)
    4. target=‘_blank’ delete it, as id=‘blank’ will not work either, and there is no need to use this in an ebook to specify open a webpage in a new tab. (warning: attribute ‘target’ is not declared for element ‘a’)
    5. border=’0’ delete it, as id=’0’ will not work either (warning: attribute ‘border’ is not declared for element ‘img’)

From epub to Mobi:

The opinions that I have found so far and my own experience suggests that for kindle ereaders, you will get better results if you convert to the old style mobi format rather than the newer AZW3. However, there is a problem in displaying the thumbnail image of a mobi file converted from Calibre due to some kind of conflict with the Kindle software. The people at Calibre believe it is due to a problem in the Amazon software and advise about it and a work around at this link. I will outline three methods, including the work around, below:

  1. For those of you publishing via Amazon (you should also be able to do this at some of the ebook aggregators such as Draft2Digital), just upload the epub that you created in Calibre and a cover image to your Amazon dashboard, and then download and check the mobi file that is produced there. If you are not ready to publish it or use it to replace an existing ebook, upload as a new ebook, just fill in the title, author name, and upload the files. Then once you have downloaded your copy you can save it as a draft to your Amazon KDP dashboard.
  2. For those of you converting for personal use who do not have access to the Amazon KDP converter, you can convert the epub to mobi as normal if you are okay not seeing a thumbnail cover image.
    1. Open Calibre and select the file to convert.
    2. Convert document > convert individually
    3. Metadata Tab: Input format (top left of conversion screen) > epub. Output format (top right) > Mobi
    4. Page Setup: Output Profile > Kindle. Input Profile > Sony Reader
    5. Table of contents: Select options based on previous advice
    6. Mobi Output: Tick do not add Table of Contents to this book (if you already have a TOC inserted in the document). Mobi file type = old.
    7. OK: Wait until the file has been built, then check it by opening in Calibre’s reader or a kindle. You will note that in Kindle for desktop and some other kindles that the thumbnail image is missing, but otherwise the file should work fine.
  3. If you want to see the thumbnail cover when the mobi is on Kindle for PC and some kindles, then follow step 2 above, but when you get to the Mobi Output step, you should also tick: Enable sharing of book content via Facebook etc. Note that this is a compromise which will disable last read syncing on some devices.

That’s all there is to it. Now if only those smart guys and gals over at Calibre would develop a program to tap into the stories in my head and convert them into ebook format as quickly and as accurately as this current version did with my docx file, then I swear I’d have to propose to one of them immediately.

What’s your favourite ebook converter, and why?

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Author’s research: Secrets From The Dust – The Australian Outback

In my research for Secrets From The Dust, the landscape and environment of the Australian outback always seemed to have such a significant impact on the lives of the peoples living there, that I had to treat it as if it were a separate character. At one time it can be welcoming and bountiful with plants and wildlife. But very quickly it can bake hot as an oven and be unrelentingly hostile.

Streams run from rocks and ridges during heavy rains. Wild figs grow from crevices, and water collects in rock holes known as billabongs, that can be twenty to thirty feet across and as deep. Flocks of budgerigars, Lincoln parrots, pink and grey galahs, kangaroos and wallabies come to drink. The sharp spinifex grass shoots up several feet high and can clog the radiators of vehicles driving through the brush.

In times of drought, the red soil hardens and cracks, and the spinifex grows jaundiced from thirst. rundall-river-preview2The needle leaves on desert oaks, some more than fifty feet high, hang vertically to escape the full effects of the sun and reduce water evaporation in the hot winds. Red-sapped eucalypts shed their leaves and branches so that their stems might at least survive the drought and rekindle life once it is over. An observant traveller might pass by a flock of budgerigars that had died from drought, their little green bodies heaped under a slender desert poplar already being reclaimed by ants, mice, and a few crows that had survived. In places, hardy gum trees, mulga and malee scrub will dot the landscape. Many of these will survive the inevitable fires which erupt due to the tinder dry conditions, ready to sprout into life once rains come again.

So the lives of the farmers in my fictional outback town, Malee, were always under threat from natural disasters such as fires, floods, and drought, which in turn could lead to foreclosure or eviction. The Australian Outback farmers did not lead the relatively predictable lives of British farmers. Had Anne McDonald, the woman who together with her husband fosters the Aboriginal girl Margaret, realised that, it’s unlikely that she would have taken up the Australian governments assisted passage to become a ten pound pom, and migrate to the country after the 2nd World War to find a husband and a better life.

Below is a scene from the novel which depicts the harshness of the outback on the population.

Scene: The burning of Malee

***

There were thousands of square miles of malee trees, gum trees, and bushes which had not yet been cut back for farming. Before the dry spells they had enjoyed two seasons of good rains that had fuelled the explosive growth of spinifex and other grasses. The three dry seasons had shrivelled these back somewhat, but the one-day shower they had a month back had fuelled the growth again, and the grasses were now yellowed, crisped and dried combustibles, several feet high. The fires raced through these fields, threatening the homesteads, orroral-preview2and the men helped each other to cut and back burn wide firebreaks around each others’ homesteads to prevent the flames from evicting them. When they felt their homes were safe, they went into the bush to join the fire services from Langley, neighbouring towns, and across the state, because all of them were volunteer firefighters. Let it burn, Nipper told Sean—the same thing he had told him when there had been smaller fires that might have burned off the combustibles and so prevented a larger disaster. His people had been practising firestick farming for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. They had carefully burned small parcels of land, and not only had this prevented larger fires, but it had encouraged the growth of new, lush, sweeter grasses, and this had allowed bush game to flourish. But the European farmers had always been against this; if it wasn’t knowledge that they had brought with them from their own lands, it was of no use. And so many of the early settlers had been forced off their land because the grass grew tough and bitter and was invaded by scrub, so their animals wouldn’t eat it, or large bush fires would claim it. Sean was no different. No, he had always said to Nipper. How can you let good land burn? Many of those farmers would have at some stage wanted to cut down them trees and hack out those bushes to provide more farmland, but they wanted to control the destruction; no chance fire was going to cheat them out of exercising their power over the land.

The fires lasted six months. At their height there were more than nine thousand fire fighters in the bush wrestling them. The only water for miles around was at the ‘McDonald and Nicolaides’ Underground Lake’, and millions of gallons of it were pumped out twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to douse the flames and dampen the land. When the men thought the fires were subsiding, a gush of hot wind or a cyclone would blow them onto another dry patch to start all over again. They jumped dry riverbeds and hedges, encircled towns and homesteads like marauding warriors, and sometimes they would hide unseen, and then erupt from the belly of the earth to ambush those who were fighting them. That was how fire razed the Nicolaideses’ homestead. Sean had helped them to cut the firebreaks around their homestead, from which Aithra refused to emerge, weeping over the basket of the stolen child. But it was safe, they thought; they had done enough. Then one evening, whilst the weary Malee men were on their way home to take a few hours’ rest, they saw the flames licking around the base of the homestead as if testing it for taste, but it hadn’t caught yet. “Aithra, Aithra,” Costos had called, but she refused to answer him or come out. The men tried to hold him back, but his buffalo strength and determination were too great, and he broke free and charged into the homestead. And that’s when the tongue of the fire decided that it relished what it had tasted, and it devoured the Nicolaideses’ homestead like a glutton.

The fire left the smell of molten charcoal hanging in the air and blocked out the sun with thick black clouds that at other times would have been a welcome sign of rain. Then finally, when no one expected any respite, the flames stopped their eating frenzy as suddenly as they had begun it, their hunger sated. Only then did all have a chance to take stock of what had been lost: the whole region’s harvest for the year, except the little already transported, had been incinerated; thousands of square miles of farmland, scrub, and bush had given way to vast expanses of ash-covered red sand and blackened tree stumps; to the south where they were reared, the stiffened, charred carcasses of thousands of sheep and cattle littered the fields; the area’s wildlife had been burnt or scattered; twenty-three homesteads were no more; and thirty-seven men, women, and children were missing or dead, including Costos and Aithra Nicolaides, whose bodies were never recovered. It was only after the funeral service for the Nicolaideses that Sean noticed there was no water running into the streams, and when he checked the underground lake, it was as dry as a salt pan. Even with six months of pumping water onto the land, twenty-four hours a day, Sean sensed that the vast supplies could not have been depleted. It was as if the earth had opened up and drunk it all, and he wondered what trickery, which they called magic, the Aboriginals had played on them all. The community for miles around were tired and numbed, but after six months of fighting to save much of what had been lost in the first few weeks, they did not have the strength to touch the tapestry of their shredded hopes, and it would take some time for them to stitch together their wounds. Sean spent days driving over the land, surveying it, and in a strange way it didn’t seem like a land defeated. Blackened gum trees stood up boldly in the vast emptiness, and the land seemed at peace with itself, as if in some long overdue hibernation. And although he had some sense of this, Sean McDonald was from a people whose spiritual link to the land had been severed many thousands of years ago, and so he was already planning how he would tame and control this land, and eke out a living for himself once again.

What other novels have you enjoyed, where the landscape plays a major role? I can think of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.

Previous Author research notes:

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