Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Crossword Puzzle - June 2014 Answers

Wow, so we're a little over two-thirds into 2014 already. This year has just flown by, wouldn't you say?

June's crossword puzzle must have been really difficult for you guys, because nobody even sent me any guesses! And since nobody got it right, nobody won a free copy of Stingers. Or, maybe you all just thought that since Stingers is such a crap story anyway, you're not even going to bother entering.

Oh well, I suppose many of you must be killing yourselves with frustration right now, wanting to know the answers. Well, guess what? I'm not going to give them to you!

Just kidding. Here you go:

Across
1 The hero, Stingers (5) — James
4 Keep it on your shoulders (4) — head
8 This scrooge was a real bully before he saw his ghosts (4) — Eben
9 Bullied transgender star, Laverne (3) — Cox
10 Author, Stingers (First name) (6) — Graham
11 Protects your heart and lungs, easily broken (3) — rib
12 Unmarried woman (4) — miss
14 With a knife (4) — stab
18 Mistress, married woman (3) — mrs
22 The sun will come out on it (6) — morrow
23 Her story is A Teenager's Experience with Bullying (3) — Ava
24 Not all of this is physical (4) — pain
25 Unable to do something (4) — can't
26 James' physical education teacher, Stingers (5) — Evans
Down
2 Bullying can sometimes be classified as this (7) — assault
3 It's often just about making people do this (6) — submit
4 A car's horn (4) — honk
5 A hero walks under it (4) arch
6 Anyone who hates another person for something they can't control (5) — bigot
7 Get out! (4) — exit
8 Let those who have these, hear (3) — ear
13 A knife (7) — sharpen
15 Representing a stoat (6) — ermine
16 Author, Stingers (Last name) (5) — Downs
17 Bullied victims often live in it (4) — fear
19 He came to save sinners (3) — Son
20 A baby needs his (4) — mama
21 A very rude thing to do (4) — spit

There'll be another puzzle out next week Tuesday (29 July 2014). I hope you'll check back here for it.

Until next time, keep reading!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Ever Been in the Wrong Bathroom?

While I was looking for a cool writing exercise to do this month, I came across this one, on WritersDigest.com:
You head into the bathroom at work, walk into a stall and close the door. Moments later, as you leave the stall, you notice two people standing there and there’s one major problem: They are of the opposite sex. On the spot, you make up an excuse as to why you are in their bathroom.
The prompt called for a response of 500 words or less. I thought it sounded like a really fun challenge, and my mind immediately started racing with cool ideas. Many of them were rather risqué though, so the challenge was going to be coming up with something safe for work! Here goes:
I pulled up my pants, turned, and pressed down on the toilet handle. The water rushed satisfyingly from the cistern into the bowl. As I placed my hand on the lock, I heard voices. While this would normally not be a problem, I noticed with horror that they were women's voices!

Oh crap, I thought (and excuse the pun), I must have turned right instead of left! At four in the afternoon, it had been a long day, and I must not have been thinking clearly.

I decided that maybe if I kept completely quiet, they wouldn't notice me.

“Sarah? Is that you?”

It was Lucy, one of the sales ladies. She was probably with Marie. They must have arrived back at the office late, after visiting a client.

“No, it-it's John,” I stammered, realising that the jig was up and I'd only make a bigger fool of myself if I kept quiet now.

This time, Marie answered. “John? My word, what are you doing in the ladies' bathroom? Get out here!”

Slowly, I turned the lock on the door, pulled it open, and stepped out. I could feel my face hot with embarrassment, certain that I was blushing. The women had their hands on their hips, staring at me expectantly with smirks on their faces, obviously trying hard not to burst out in fits of uncontrollable laughter.

“Well?” said Lucy.

Well, indeed. What was I to say? Should I tell the truth, that I'd just been on auto-pilot and entered the wrong door? No, I decided—that would just expose me to more ridicule. I had to think quick.

“I-I thought there was nobody left in the office,” I said. “There is no toilet paper in the men's, and I figured there'd be no harm in using some of yours. I'm really sorry!” I was slowly turning towards the exit, wanting to get out of there as quickly as possible (I could wash my hands next door, in the right bathroom), but also not wanting to appear rude by running away.

“Shoo-wee!” exclaimed Marie. “John, don't you spray when you finish? What on earth have you been eating?”

I'm sure my face turned an even deeper shade of red than it already had been. Mumbling an apology, I turned back toward the stall and reached in to grab the can of air-freshener. The women laughed as I lifted it in the air and pressed the nozzle down for three seconds.

After they had composed themselves, Lucy replied, “What do you mean there's no toilet paper? I saw Tabs going into both bathrooms at lunch time, with toilet rolls under her arms. She must've put paper in there, then. Why do you men use so much paper?”

I smiled nervously. “Yeah, I'm sorry,” I said. “I guess we do.” I walked closer to the exit, and turned expectantly towards the two, waiting for an indication that I could go.

“John?” said Lucy. “Aren't you even going to wash your hands?”

So, what would your reaction have been? Let me know in the comments below.

Oh, and if you liked this story, and want to read more of my writing, click here to find out about all the books that I've published, and maybe pick one or two of them up!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Are you being Bullied?

The release of Stingers on 16 June 2014 brought to light a pretty sensitive issue: that of bullying, particularly in school.

While the story is fiction, I understand that this is a serious issue. I was a bullied at school myself, as I'm sure many, if not most people, were. In fact, Times Live reported in January 2013 on a (then) recent survey, which said that a whopping 57% of South African kids say that they've been victims of bullying in school. I have a feeling that that figure continues to grow, and I shudder to think what the figures would be, if they were to do that survey again!

Types of Bullying

Bullying has always come in different forms. Everyone knows about physical bullying, which includes poking, pushing, hair pulling, or kids being beat up for their lunch money. And nowadays, just about everyone understands that it can be psychological too, with name calling, snide remarks, and racial slurs. Then of course there's sexual bullying, comprising sexual harassment and even rape, which is sadly becoming ever more prevalent among school kids these days.

When you think of a bully like this, you probably think most often of a big tough muscular guy or girl, kind of thick in the head, with nothing better to do than prove how big and strong they are.

But a new type of bully has emerged for the new millenium: the cyber-bully. Cyber-bullies are different. In any other context, these kids may well be bullied themselves (and I think they probably often are, in the physical world). Cyber-bullies can use their technological know-how to stalk and troll people online, which is the least they could do. If they're feeling particularly malicious, there have even been recorded instances of people hacking into others' Facebook accounts and updating their statuses in embarrassing ways, or uploading photos, etc.

Effects of Bullying

This should go without saying, but kids who are victims of bullying very often suffer from deep psychological trauma as a result. They can become timid and passive, even after school. Or they could snap and wreak their vengeance in ways that could get them into real trouble!

What's more, these psychological problems never go away. Bullying in school leaves emotional scars and long-lasting effects, often beyond what you could imagine. Kids may never forget what they went through, and these experiences could very easily translate into them being ineffective adults, abusers and bullies themselves, and it could even affect their relationships with their future spouses or the way they raise their own children.

In fact, there was a case two years ago in South Africa, of a bullied kid who snapped, stole his mother's firearm and shot and killed the kid who was bullying him. You can read more about that story here. That instance is not isolated. It happens many times, to many kids around the world.

What to do if you're being bullied

So what exactly should you do if you're being bullied? Well, the first thing you need to do is to make sure that the bully knows, categorically, that what he or she is doing to you is not okay! Some bullies are pretty thick—or, to put it in more politically-correct language, self-absorbed—and may not even realise that there's anything wrong with what they're doing to you!

Bullies tend to seek out kids who are on their own, so the second thing you should do is try to find a group of friends you can hang out with. Be careful that these "friends" aren't only pretending to be your friends for what they can get out of you, though!

Lastly, even though it didn't turn out so well for poor young James in Stingers, you really need to tell someone! This can be really tough, because if you're a bullied kid, you may feel ashamed or embarrassed at not being able to stand up for yourself, and fight your own battles. Or you may feel like it's your own fault that you're being bullied. This is absolutely not true!

It is impossible to over-emphasise just how completely untrue those thoughts are. Trust me, it is not your fault, and if you've gotten to this point, there is absolutely nothing else that you can do to solve the problem on your own. So tell someone, and if that person doesn't do something, tell someone else, and keep telling people until somebody does something about it. You have a right to be treated with respect, and you have a right to be heard.

How to know if your child is being bullied

For some of the reasons stated above, kids may be disinclined to report bullying. They may be ashamed to tell you about it, or they may think they can deal with the problem on their own. Don't be complacent: your child needs you.

So, if you think that your child may be bullied, ask. But it doesn't stop there; if your child tells you something (either because you've asked, or out of their own volition), listen, and take them seriously. Do not brush off their fears or concerns with things like "Boys will be boys" or "You just need to toughen up a bit". The fact that your child has come to you with this problem means that it's something that really bothers them, and you'll only hurt them more by being dismissive.

Once you know the truth, don't keep it to yourself. Seek out other parents, whose children might also be suffering, or teachers at the school, who may be aware of what is happening with your kids and others. Come up with ideas, and discuss practical ways in which you might solve the problem.

Teach your kids how to be self-confident and assertive, without becoming bullies themselves. If your child has difficulty making friends, consider enrolling him or her in extra-mural activities at their school. This will not only help to boost their self-confidence, but will help them form a circle of friends that they can hang out with and fall back on.

So go on, read and enjoy Stingers, my short story about bullying. But understand that that story is fiction, and in truth, bullying is no laughing matter, and you should take it very, very seriously!

Do you have anything to add to this discussion? Perhaps you're a child who's currently the victim of bullying in some form. Or maybe you're a parent of such a child. You may even be a bully, or ex-bully yourself. I'd love to hear your thoughts, so let me know in the comments below!

Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, nor have I had any training whatsoever in any of these matters, and I therefore cannot be held accountable if any of my suggestions are inaccurate, don't work, or worse.

Image: The image used for this blog post comes from Wikimedia Commons. It was uploaded by user Doktory. The original image can be found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bully_Free_Zone.jpg

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

How I used PowToon to Market Stingers

Several weeks ago, one of my work colleagues was looking for cool ways to market our product. He came across PowToon, which is a service that allows you to create cartoon presentations for business or pleasure.

I'd been wanting to do something on PowToon ever since, but never found the time. I finally got around to it this past weekend, and this is my experience.

When you first sign up for PowToon, the interface can be a little confusing. You get a list of templates to choose from, ranging from presentations designed to showcase you or your business, to sell a product, to fun ones like "Happy Father's Day" or birthday party invitations. Most of the business related templates are premium-only though, and I wasn't about to sign-up for a paid account just yet.

I went through a couple of different templates, and started and subsequently cancelled a couple of projects, before almost giving up. That's because I couldn't find anything that was specifically designed for author or book marketing, and also because the editing interface isn't very self-explanatory, at first (It took my a while to figure out how to delete a slide, for example).

Eventually, I settled on the "Invite Guests" template. It's a non-business template, designed for party invitations, and the default template assumes a child's birthday party. I chose it because I liked the characters, and I liked the way the slides transitioned and the text popped.

It took me about two hours, but I'm sure it would go quicker now that I've learnt so much—although there's still plenty more to learn.

Once done, PowToon gave me the option of exporting my presentation to my YouTube account. For free videos, you're limited to 480p videos with a maximum duration of five minutes. Anyway, the result was, I think, pretty cool, and I doubt that you'd know I'd used a birthday party template if I hadn't told you:

So what do you think? Is this video something that might convince you to buy Stingers, or was it a complete miss?

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Crossword Puzzle - June 2014 (Stingers Edition)

In celebration of the release of Stingers on 16 June 2014, I decided to do something a little different for this puzzle. Since Stingers is a story about a young boy who's constantly being bullied in school, many of the questions in this crossword will be about Stingers, or bullying in general.

Don't worry if you haven't read Stingers yet (although you really should): you should be able to find the answers to the Stingers related questions by just reading either the synopsis, or the free sample that's available on most retailers' sites.

As always, I will be publishing the answers to this blog in a month's time (in this case, on 22 July 2014). And as always, if you are the first person to contact me with your correct answers before then, I will publish your name on this blog. But this month, as a special incentive, the first person to send me their correct answers before 22 July 2014 will win a free copy of Stingers in ebook format! If you've already read Stingers, just let me know, and I'll send you one of my other books (A Petition to Magic or Heritage of Deceit) instead.

So without further ado, here is this month's puzzle. Good luck!

Across
1 The hero, Stingers (5)
4 Keep it on your shoulders (4)
8 This scrooge was a real bully before he saw his ghosts (4)
9 Bullied transgender star, Laverne (3)
10 Author, Stingers (First name) (6)
11 Protects your heart and lungs, easily broken (3)
12 Unmarried woman (4)
14 With a knife (4)
18 Mistress, married woman (3)
22 The sun will come out on it (6)
23 Her story is A Teenager's Experience with Bullying (3)
24 Not all of this is physical (4)
25 Unable to do something (4)
26 James' physical education teacher, Stingers (5)
Down
2 This can sometimes be a part of bullying (7)
3 It's often just about making people do this (6)
4 A car's horn (4)
5 A hero walks under it (4)
6 Anyone who hates another person for something they can't control (5)
7 Get out! (4)
8 Let those who have these, hear (3)
13 A knife (7)
15 Representing a stoat (6)
16 Author, Stingers (Last name) (5)
17 Bullied victims often live in it (4)
19 He came to save sinners (3)
20 A baby needs his (4)
21 A very rude thing to do (4)

Oh, one more thing. My newsletter subscribers already have a head start on this puzzle, as they received it via e-mail a few days before it was shared on my other social media platforms. If you don't want to miss out next time, simply visit my Contact page and sign up. You'll get lots of other cool info from me as well!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Crossword Puzzle - May 2014 Answers

Wow! Can you believe a month has gone by already? My third book, Stingers, was released yesterday. It's a story about a boy in high school who is the victim of bullying, and what happens when his mother gets involved and the bullying goes too far. Check it out!

I heard that May's crossword puzzle proved to be a little difficult. Well, I guess it shows, because nobody won it this time. If you've been banging your head against a wall trying to solve it, here are the answers:

Across
1 Stardust (5) (Ziggy)
4 We call it a "Serviette" (6) (napkin)
7 Suffix of feminine name (3) (ina)
8 Bacon (5) (swine)
9 He has pointy ears (6) (Vulcan)
10 A smear of something (7) (splodge)
12 Turn around (6) (rotate)
15 A humorous imitation (6) (parody)
18 It sucks blood (7) (vampire)
21 The Fuzz (6) (police)
22 A loose Roman garment (5) (tunic)
23 Off (Golf) (3) (tee)
24 Quiet and rather dull (6) (sedate)
25 A sad song (5) (dirge)
Down
1 Scrapes a lemon (5) (zests)
2 Interrogate (5) (grill)
3 Gave forth (7) (yielded)
4 Showing even less wisdom (6) (naiver)
5 Straw mattress (6) (pallet)
6 Annie's pet name (6) (Nannie)
11 In a pod (3) (pea)
13 Architect's County in Minnesota (7) (Olmsted)
14 Publishing company (3) (Tor)
15 Songbirds with brown streaky plumage (6) (pipits)
16 Newton-John (6) (Olivia)
17 'Allo 'Allo! waitress (6) (Yvette)
19 Situated inside (5) (inner)
20 Master of Ceremonies (5) (emcee)

That's it for the May 2014 crossword, folks! There'll be a new one next Tuesday (24 June 2014). If you don't want to miss it, don't forget to sign up for my newsletter, and you'll get a reminder straight to your Inbox on the day (along with other cool stuff from me).

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

12 Things to do Without Power

Welcome to the writing prompt for June 2014. You know, I enjoyed last month's prompt so much, that I thought I'd go back to the same site as last month to get this one.

So, once again, this month's prompt comes from creative writing prompts . com (It's prompt #7 on their homepage), and it goes like this:

Electricity is a recent discovery. Think of 12 things to do when there's no power.
This prompt actually turned out to be very appropriate, because we've had quite a few power failures lately. On Thursday night, our power went off at home, and didn't come back on until early Saturday morning. On Sunday, the power was out for about 10 minutes, and even today at work, it went out at around 15:30 and stayed off for 20 minutes. Eskom is really struggling to keep up with the winter demand, it seems.

Anyway, on to the prompt. It's actually not as easy as it sounds, but let me think....

  1. If it's daylight, you could always read a book, so long as you read a print copy, because a tablet or e-reader would require power, and thereby break the rules. If you need a bit of inspiration for what to read, check out My Books!
  2. If the weather is warm, how about lounging around outside?
  3. Take a swim, if you have a pool, or visit a public pool, or a friend who has one.
  4. Take a nice relaxing stroll through nature.
  5. How about riding a bike? When last did you do that?
  6. It's fun to make a fire (outside, please!) sometimes. Just sit around it and chat, or cook your dinner on it. Either way.
  7. Instead of phoning, texting, or hopping on social media, go visit a friend in person. Talk.
  8. Go fishing.
  9. While you're at the water, skim stones.
  10. Speaking of throwing things into the water, if you're near a bridge over a stream, stand in the middle of the bridge and drop leaves or twigs into the water. Run to the other side of the bridge, and see if you can spot them.
  11. Write. "But how?" you ask, "There's no computer!" Ah, young grasshopper, what do you think people used before computers were invented? No, I'm not talking about a typewriter. Stop over-complicating, you probably don't have one of those. What I'm sure you do have is a pen or pencil, and some paper. It's an amazingly freeing experience.
  12. Finally, when the sun sets, the obvious suggestion springs to mind. If you have a partner, or perhaps even if you don't....
I have to tell you, the first four came easy. As did the last one, but I wanted to keep it until last. But the others? I really had to rack my brains! And I'm sure some of these can be construed as duplicates of each other, and you could of course do two or more of them at the same time.

So what are your suggestions for things to do when there's no power? I'd love to know; comment and tell me!