Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Win your choice of one of my e-books

If you're reading this on the 16th of December, it's the Day of Reconciliation here in South Africa.

Generally speaking, it's also the day when the last people go on leave for the Festive Season, and many South African companies (unless they're in the Retail sector) close down for the holidays.

I thought that, in honour of holidays officially starting for the vast majority of South Africans, and consequently more people having time to read, that I would do a giveaway. I haven't done one in a while, and the timing seemed right.

So yesterday (15 December), I tweeted:

Want to win one of my e-books?

So that's exactly what I'm going to do. Have a look below, and find four different ways you can get into the draw to win one of the following books:
"Stingers Heritage of Deceit A Petition to Magic
You don't have to do them all (although you must at least do one), but each one you do will net you another entry into the draw.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The draw ends at midnight (South African Time) next week Tuesday, 23 December 2014, just in time for Christmas (Consider it my gift to you)! ;-)

After that, within 24 hours, the winner will receive an e-mail from me, requesting which of the three books above they would like. Once they've replied, they will receive an e-mail from Smashwords, containing a link to download the book that they have chosen, free of charge. If you don't have a Smashwords account, don't worry: the e-mail will contain all the instructions you need to create your account and download your free book.

So what are you waiting for? Get entering, and tell all your friends!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Christmas Bird

“Isn't it ridiculous?” said Sylvia.

“What?” asked Candice, who was standing beside her, staring into the window of the pet shop.

“Those stupid snow motifs painted on the window, and Father Christmas standing there, dressed in his red suit with white fur. If he were really here, he'd die of the heat. This is Joburg, you know, and it's the middle of summer. When have you ever known it to snow in Joburg in December?”

“You're probably right,” replied Candice, and chuckled, “It reminds me a little of that Ed Jordan song. Still, I think you might be over-thinking it. You should just enjoy the season. Hey,” she continued, pointing at a bright green parrot she spied inside the shop, “look at that parrot. Isn't he cute? Let's go inside, I want to take a closer look.”

***

Sylvia squealed with delight when the parrot squawked “Hello, pretty lady!”

“You're right,” she said to Candice, “he is adorable! I wonder how much he costs?”

But Candice wasn't listening. She was staring into the bird's eyes, mesmerised.

Hello, Candice.

“Did you hear that?” said Candice. “He just said, 'Hello, Candice'!”

“No he didn't,” replied Sylvia, “He said 'Hello, pretty lady'. Are you all right?” She pressed the back of her hand against Candice's forehead.

She can't hear me, Candice. Please don't tell her what I'm saying. She will think you're crazy. If you buy me, I'll make you rich. You'll never have to work again.

Candice shook her head and brushed Sylvia's hand away. She was hypnotised, under the parrot's spell, but she understood what he was saying.

“You're right,” she said, and chuckled nervously. “I just got carried away. I guess he just spoke to me, in a different way. Oh, Sylvia, I just have to have him!”

“I'd love to as well, but I don't think it would work at my place. I have cats. Find out how much he costs. If you buy him, and keep him in your flat, promise me I can come visit him whenever I want?”

***

Candice carried the cage with the parrot inside, and placed him on the mantel, next to the Christmas tree that she had set up the night before.

“Now, what should I name you?”

My name is Petronus.

“All right then, Petronus.” Candice was suddenly feeling very sure of herself, after the initial shock of Petronus speaking to her, back at the pet shop. “You made me a promise, of what you would do if I brought you home.”

Check your bank balance, online.

Candice walked over to the computer, opened her Internet browser, and logged into her banking website. She checked her balance, and saw an amount ending in more zeroes than she could count. She clapped her hands together, and was just about to thank the parrot, when there came a knock at the door.

Your dinner guest has arrived.

***

Candice opened the door to find Sylvia standing there, holding a bottle of wine. Before Candice could greet her, Sylvia pushed her way past into the flat.

“Oh, he's gorgeous!” she said, upon seeing the parrot. “What did you decide to call him?”

“Thank you,” said Candice. “His name is Petronus.”

“That's a funny name for a parrot!”

“It's weird, Syl. He just... spoke to me, and I knew that's what I had to call him. Anyway, put that wine on the table, and come look here. I want to show you something on my bank.”

Sylvia stared at the screen, showing Candice's bank balance. “How the hell-”

Before she could finish her question, Sylvia doubled over in pain, the palms of her hands pressing into her eyes. She screamed.

“Sylvia? What's wrong?” screamed Candice. She was able to pry Sylvia's hands away from her eyes, and, staring into them, she saw that they were balls of pure red.

“My eyes! They're burning, and I can't see!” sobbed Sylvia.

By this time, Sylvia was rolling around on the floor, and blood had begun to seep from her eyes and down her cheeks.

Candice was frantic. She fell onto the floor on top of Sylvia, trying to calm her, but unsure of what to do. After a few moments, Sylvia stopped sobbing. She stopped moving, too, and the blood stopped running down her face. Candice checked, and found that she had stopped breathing.

As Candice lay over Sylvia's lifeless form, sobbing, she began to feel cold.

Why did you do that, Candice?

“Do what?” she said, through her tears, and looked at the parrot. But something to the left of Petronus caught her eye. The Christmas tree, sitting next to him on the mantel, had a thin layer of white atop its branches. Snow?

The temperature was dropping fast. Candice hugged her arms and rubbed them with her hands to keep warm. She glanced at the window; it was frosting over. On the floor, the blood from Sylvia's eyes was frozen on her cheeks.

Candice started to weep. The tears froze on her face as soon as they left her eyes. She looked up at the parrot on the mantel, and mouthed the word “Why?”

I promised you. You'll never have to work again.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Billy's Zombie Hits Number 3 on Amazon

Amazon's categorisation and ranking system is indisputably the most advanced today, out of all the various online book sellers in the world. They have literally hundreds of different categories, each one with its own "Top 100", further split between free and paid books, and those rankings change every single hour of every single day.

This past Saturday (29 November 2014), Billy's Zombie found itself taking advantage of that complicated system. Take a look at this screenshot, taken on Saturday morning at 09:22 (GMT+2):

(Click the screenshot to enlarge it.)

In case you still can't make it out, it shows that Billy's Zombie was ranked by Amazon, as the third most popular free book in the category for Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children's eBooks > Science Fiction, Fantasy & Scary Stories > Scary Stories!

That's a pretty specific (and hence, a relatively small) category, but still, it's quite an amazing achievement. As mentioned, the rankings do change pretty quickly too, but it was able to hold onto the third spot for most of the day on Saturday, and only dropped to fourth place late on Saturday night. By Sunday morning, it had dropped to seventh position in that category, and continues to drop.

Still, it had its "15 minutes of fame", and for that, I am truly grateful, especially to all the people (some of whom may be reading this now) who downloaded it.

Will you help me out?

If you haven't downloaded Billy's Zombie yet, then please would you consider doing so? It's free, so the only thing you stand to lose is a bit of time—although, it's really short, so you'll probably read it in 15 minutes or less, anyway.

Perhaps after this blog post, it will begin its climb up the charts all over again, as you, my loyal readers, download it in droves (one can dream, right?).

If you'd like to download it directly from Amazon, click this link.

Care to Review Billy's Zombie?

If you have read it, I would be extremely grateful if you would consider posting a short review, and letting everyone know what you thought. Aside from downloads, reviews from everyday readers like yourselves also play a huge part in Amazon's recommendation engine. They also help other customers decide if it's worth them sacrificing a bit of their time to read it themselves.

Oh, and if you do review it, please post a link to your review in the comments below. I like to feature reviews of my books in my monthly newsletter, and I'd be happy to feature yours in the next issue! (Visit my Past Newsletters page, if you want to catch up on past issues, or sign-up to receive future ones.)

Is That Category Right?

By the way, there was a little bit of controversy in my family, about whether Billy's Zombie was categorised correctly. As you saw, it's listed under Amazon as a children's book, and as you'll see if you visit the Amazon book page, it has an "age restriction" of 10 to 18 years.

My 22-year-old brother read it, and promptly said to me "This is not a children's book!" because it features a bit of gore, where at one point someone's eyeballs pop and the zombie's thumbs are driven through his skull into his brain.

On the other hand, my mother, a junior Primary School teacher, said that she can easily see her own students reading it.

I'd love to hear your opinion on the matter. If you've read it, do you think it's in the correct category? If so, is the age limit appropriate? If not, what category would you put it under?

Please let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Crossword Puzzle - November 2014

Are you in the mood for a crossword puzzle?

No prizes this month (Just a bit of fun), but if you correctly solve this puzzle, and are the first one to send me the answers at graham@grahamdowns.co.za, before 23 December 2014, you will be mentioned on this blog as a really smart person.

Does that sound like a fair trade?

Ready? Go!

Across

1 An Unrequited Fall (6)
3 Cheese (5)
4 For moving things (5)
5 Medieval custom (6)
7 Faucet (3)
9 South African runner (4)
13 Kevin in An Automatic Decision (3)
14 Delicious (3)
15 Noddy cop (4)
16 2001 computer (3)
19 Does with complaints (6)
21 He killed children in Bethlehem (5)
22 Belly button (5)
23 Sent before e-mail (6)

Down

2 Jane (4)
3 Seek damages in court (3)
4 Did with the match (3)
6 City in western Ukraine (4)
8 Hooker's boss (4)
10 Wise bird (3)
11 Desmond Tutu (4)
12 II (3)
14 Raise your voice (4)
17 Type of company (3)
18 Informal you (4)
20 Water snake (3)

Good luck!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Crossword Puzzle - October 2014 Answers

Well, well, well. It's that time of the month, ladies and gentlemen. It's the day you've been waiting for, the day on which you visit my blog for the answers to the October 2014 crossword puzzle. And it's the day where you kick yourself, because you either had all the correct answers, and you didn't enter, or you find the answer to that one clue you've been struggling with, and you can't believe you never got it.

So, without further ado, here are the answers to last month's crossword puzzle:

Across
1 Southern African tribe (5) Xhosa
4 Google range of devices (5) Nexus
7 Car by Ford (4) Ikon
8 Before (3) ere
9 Fresh (3) new
10 Mike, US SF/F author (6) Cooley
13 Witch (3) hag
14 Edgar (3) Poe
17 Drawing (6) sketch
20 Leader of North Korea (d. 2011) (3) Kim
22 Chinese cooking vessel (3) wok
24 B&N e-reader (4) nook
25 Means something other than it says (5) idiom
26 Go Well (5) Shell
Down
2 One who doesn't complain (5) stoic
3 For chopping wood (3) axe
4 Nothing (4) null
5 For boiling water (3) urn
6 He tells the future (4) seer
7 Old American Empire (4) Inca
11 Pig sound (4) oink
12 Senior manager (4) exec
15 Federal subject in Russia (4) Omsk
16 An Australian (4) kiwi
18 Test (4) exam
19 Alcoholic beverage (5) hooch
21 Change to behaviour (3) mod
23 Nap (3) kip

So, how did you do? Were there any clues that you particularly struggled with? If so, it'd be really cool if you could post those in the comments, and we'll discuss them together as a group.

Anyhow, see you next week, for the November 2014 Crossword Puzzle... and, can you believe that next Tuesday will be the last Tuesday in October? My word, but time flies, doesn't it?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Witch of Wellington

In the small town of Wellington, South Africa, there lives a witch. She looks to be in her early sixties, but she has lived in her small house for as long as anyone can remember. She’s a friendly witch, though: grown-ups come to her all the time for advice on their problems. But for reasons nobody can explain, children are scared of her.

***

“I am not scared!” exclaimed Sally, “I just don’t see any reason why I need to visit the witch right now. Mom says she’s just an old woman, who doesn’t deserve to be pestered by us.”

“Chicken!” chanted the other children, and they began dancing around her with their hands on their hips and their elbows bent, making clucking noises.

Sally sighed. She was the same age as her friends, but for some reason it always felt as though she were more mature than they were.

“You can call me chicken as much as you like,” she said. “I see no reason to bother the poor woman.”

Timmy picked up the soccer ball they were playing with, and drop-kicked it over the old woman’s fence, into her yard.

“Well, there’s a reason now!” he said. “Go knock on her door and ask if we can have our ball back.”

“Maybe,” said Sally. “But now you have to go and ask for it back!”

Ben, who’d been standing next to Timmy with an amused expression on his face, said, “She’s right, Timmy. You kicked it. You fetch it.”

Sally smirked as Timmy’s face went momentarily white. His voice broke, ever so slightly, as he spoke. “Well, I’m not scared either,” he said. “We’ll see how chicken you really are, when I come back with the ball.”

With that, Timmy marched up to the witch’s front door, and rang the bell. It seemed to take forever for the door to open, and Sally wondered if Timmy would go through with it, or lose his nerve and run.

Eventually, the door did open, and the old woman stood inside it. “Yes?” she said. “How can I help you?”

Her glasses were perched low on her nose, and she stared at Timmy over the top of the frame. Timmy took one look into those eyes, and he did run. He turned around, and bolted back to Ben and Sally as fast as his young feet could carry him. Smiling, the witch stepped back inside, and quietly shut the door.

When Timmy returned to his friends, they were unable to control their laughter.

“Who’s the chicken now?” said Sally. “If you can’t handle it, I’ll go talk to her. I’ll go get the ball back.”

Sally walked calmly and confidently up to the witch’s door. She had no fear—witch or no, the woman was a person, just like anybody else. What reason should anyone have to be afraid of her?

When she got to the door, Sally rang the bell. A few moments later, the door opened. The old woman smiled warmly at Sally and said, “Why, hello little girl! What can I do for you?”

Not losing her confidence, Sally replied. “Excuse me, Ma’am,” she said, “but one of my friends accidentally kicked our ball into your yard. May I get it back, please?”

“Yes, I know,” replied the witch, “but there was nothing accidental about it.” She sighed, and continued, “Very well, come inside.”

The woman led Sally through her house (which looked like any normal-looking house would be expected to look) and into the back yard. Sally found the ball, thanked the woman, and was about to leave, when the woman stopped her.

“Just a second, Sally,” she said.

“H-how do you know my name?” gasped Sally.

“Never mind that, Sally,” returned the witch, “but I heard the way that horrid Timmy spoke to you. When you get back, you be sure to give him a message for me, okay?”

“Umm, okay.”

“You tell Timmy for me, that if he wants to act like a pig, he should look like one, too.”

Sally smiled sheepishly, then nodded and scurried away.

***

“You were gone a long time,” said Ben, when Sally returned, with the ball under her arm. “How did it go?”

“It went fine,” said Sally. “She's just a nice old lady, like I said. Nothing to be afraid of.” Then, turning to Timmy, she added, “But she did give me a message for you, Timmy.”

Timmy stared at her. “If it's about me running away...”

“It's not about that. She said I should tell you, if you want to act like a pig, you should look like one, too.”

“Yeah,” said Timmy, “and what does that mean?”

Sally's eyes went wide, as she stared into Timmy's face. His nose began flattening before her eyes, and then growing a deep shade of pink. His nostrils grew larger. His ears elongated into diamond-shaped tips on the sides of his head.

Ben looked behind Timmy, and saw a short, curly tail sprout out through his pants.

Timmy watched the two staring at him. “What?” he said.

Image: © Copyright Peter Facey and licensed for reuse under the Create Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Free Audio Stories on YouTube? You're Welcome!

This may be old hat to you, but I have to say I was honestly surprised to find completely free, legal (I think), full length stories on YouTube.

A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling really depressed. It didn't look like I was going to meet my lofty Goodreads goal of forty books this year. And then it came - my daily HARO newsletter, containing a link to an article entitled 10 Scary Stories You Can Listen to Right Now. I was super excited! I decided that I could easily read a story while listening to another one, and very quickly got back on track. I started with the first story in the above list, and then found others. Now, I am pleased to report that I'm back on track.

So, after a week of listening to audio stories on YouTube, I would like to share with you what I've listened to, and what I thought:

More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Alvin Schwartz

The book is narrated by actor George S. Irving, and he is AWESOME. He really breathes life into the stories with his own inflections. My favourites were One Sunday Morning and the Brown Suit.

Some of the stories are very good, and I got into them instantly. Some I couldn't get into at all. Some of them are told in about three or four minutes, and some are over in thirty seconds.

Clearly for children (obviously), I don't think I would've enjoyed it nearly as much had I read it. Hearing it read TO me? Priceless!

The Dunwich Horror

H.P. Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft is someone I've been meaning to read for quite some time now, having been fascinated by Cthulu and the mythos for many years, ever since I started roleplaying.

After listening to this story, I can attest to the fact that he was insane in his genius... or perhaps genius in his insanity.

In the town of Dunwich, a child called Wilbur Whately is born. We don't know who his father is, but his mother and grandfather are strange people indeed. Wilbur begins to grow and learn far faster than any normal human, and within a few years, he is dabbling in things and raising a demon from the dead.

The descriptions of the horrors are very vivid, and I felt myself shuddering more than once. I'm not sorry I decided to finally pick up this author, and I will most definitely be reading more in the series. If you enjoy horror, you should, too - he may well be the father of modern horror!

One for the Road

Stephen King

One for the Road is somewhat of a sequel to 'Salem's Lot. I don't think you'll miss much if you read this one without having read Salem's Lot, but don't read this one if you intend to read its predecessor, or it'll be spoilt for you.

A man shows up at a bar one day, in a town a short distance from Jerusalem's Lot, saying that his car ran out of fuel in the Lot, and he left his wife and daughter there while he came to look for help. The narrator and his friend finally agree to drive him back to fetch them, but they're not happy about it, because of the legendary creatures that inhabit the Lot.

The pacing is fantastic, and the tension builds perfectly. The ending is quite satisfying. I don't know who the audio-book narrator is, but he does a fantastic job in reading! I don't know if I would've given the book five stars if I'd have just read the book myself, but I strongly recommend you go listen to the YouTube video!

Conclusion

I don't listen to a lot of audio books. I often find that I struggle to concentrate, and I certainly can't focus on what I'm supposed to be listening to if I do anything else at the same time! I guess I'm just not built that way—multi-tasking's not my thing.

Despite that, I've realised once and for all that narration does matter. I've listened to some really badly narrated audio books before, and then I've listened to these. Granted, I still can't concentrate on the story while doing anything else at the same time, but other than that, I had no problem following any of these stories.

If you think audio books are only for old people, or only for children, or you haven't listened to one since you were a child yourself, I urge you to give it a go.

In fact, you might even see me reading some of my works on YouTube, before long (spoiler alert)!