Course Review – The Ancient Greeks – Coursera #History #Learning

The Ancient Greeks 

This is another interesting free course run via Coursera, created by The Wesleyan University and presented by Professor Andrew Szegedy-Maszak. It’s a good starting point with which to learn about some of the battles, significant persons, and events of Ancient Greece.

Over 7 weeks the course covers:

Prehistory to Homer

The Archaic Age (ca. 800-500 BCE)

Two City-States: Sparta and Athens

Democracy. The Persian Wars

“The Great 50 Years” (ca. 480-431 BCE)

The Peloponnesian War I

The End of the War, the End of the Century

We learn about Homer, Socrates, Thucydides, Critias, Herotodus, and the major players in the array of battles, laws, political systems and arrangements and shenanigans which went on during this important period in European history.   There is one video on women in Greek society but other than fairly brief mentions women and the lower classes aren’t discussed in detail (to be fair this IS a short course and there is not a lot of info remaining about the common man and woman in Greek society).

The course comprises of informative videos and reading. I have to confess I didn’t do much of the reading (partly as I’ve done some in the past and partly because I didn’t have a lot of time) and I would have got more out of this had I done so – my bad.

I’d recommend doing at least some of the readings, and watching all the videos. There are quizzes to be completed at the end of each section – and these count as the grading for the course so MUST be completed.

The tutor was very engaging, easy to listen to and obviously is very well informed on this historical era.  There were a couple of issues with sound quality – but I have found this an issue with Coursera before (but to be fair the course is free).

Coursera is a good way to pick up cheap or free ‘taster’ courses (One can pay for the course and gain a certificate – otherwise you can an acknowledgement of completion but no actual certificate. The cost of this is not much.)

Overall I enjoyed this and would certainly look out for more courses from this university and tutor.

4 stars.

 

 

 

Course Review – Mindfulness and Meditation

#Mindfulness #Fibromyalgia #meditation #courses

As some of you may know I suffer from anxiety and have recently been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. It sucks. But it could be worse.

Anyway one of the suggestions from my GP was to find a Mindfulness course, this helps to deal with anxiety and the suffering caused by chronic pain and chronic fatigue.

My partner and I have both used Udemy.com and thus that is where I went. Mindfulness and Meditation teaches a new way to look at life and the world. It focuses on the moment, the now.  The tutor, Libby Seery, is experienced in her field and presents the course well.

From the course homepage

What are the requirements?

  • Everything you need for a life changing experience is contained within the course
  • The only thing you will need to get the most from this course is somewhere quiet to practise the meditation
  • If you prefer, you may use a chair or yoga mat, but these are optional and certainly not essential
  • Suitable for every level

What am I going to get from this course?

  • Live in the here and now
  • Experience the joys of life and how it feels to live in the present moment
  • Master the art of meditation with guided audio and silent meditation
  • Learn to overcome physical and emotional pain with the use of mindfulness techniques
  • Discover how you can apply mindfulness to make profound positive changes to your life starting immediately
  • Learn to appreciate everyday events in a mindful way, bringing you a happier, healthier life
  • Develop a greater sense of self-awareness

What is the target audience?

  • This course is perfect for those people wishing to explore mindfulness for the right time as well as those people looking to further their experience of mindfulness
  • It is a great introduction to meditation, both silent and guided
  • It is a great tool for anyone wanting to manage emotional and physical pain
  • Take this course if you want to discover a more meaningful and joyful life
I have found the techniques useful. I try the breathing and meditation exercises when I need them. At first, it’s difficult to adapt one’s mindset – anxiety means one focuses on the future and the now and catastrophises. Mindfulness tries to teach you that today, now might be crap/painful but it’s not always like this. Focus on yourself – what your body is doing and how it feels and accept it. Focus on the good things – the birds in the trees, the sun on your face or whathaveyou.
It teaches to try and focus on the positive (which is really hard some days) and do what you can do. A small victory is still a victory even if that victory is getting through the day or a particular task.
The course composes of meditation exercises, videos and lectures and diaries. There is no timeline – it can be done in your own time.
Has it made a difference to me? Yes, I think so. I try the ‘now’ exercises, the breathing and some meditation. My anxiety is a lot better – but it tends to flare up then retreat anyway. I do think Mindfulness is a positive and healthy way of seeing the world. It’s very easy to get drawn into the ‘what if’ scenarios, and the negative, destructive thinking.  It is hard to change the way one thinks and I do find myself reverting sometimes. I believe you get out what you put in. If you give Mindfulness a chance, work at the meditations, the changing outlooks then you’ll get a lot more benefit that expecting it not to work.
This course is not free but Udemy often has sales – I think I paid $10 or similar and it’s worth it.  When I am stressed or really zonked I can’t write anything useful and so it’s helping this aspect.

Happy New Year and Sod Off 2016

Happy New Year and Welcome to 2017 🙂

2016 was an odd year. The Grim Reaper was busy taking the great and the geniuses and politics went insane.

Some of the notable losses from the genius-pool were:

Carrie Fisher (actress/writer), Prince (mega musician), David Bowie, George Michael  (musician), Richard Adams (author), Vera Rubin (astronomer), Debbie Reynolds (actress), Zsa Zsa Gabor (actress), Berhard Fox (actor), Peter Vaugh (actor), Ronnie Corbett (comedian), Victoria Wood (comedienne), Terry Wogan (veteran broadcaster).There are lots more…. Wiki 2016 deaths:(

Of course many ordinary folks passed on too, some known to me (such as our neighbour, my friend, and Rich M – an author friend and good guy.  I’m not sure why but the losses this year seemed to weigh more heavily than ever before.

I’m not sure about you but I felt there was an air of uncertainty and fear. In Britain, there was a referendum to leave the EU, and many people were surprised and disappointed by the result. I know I was. Whatever one’s thoughts on that ‘Brexit’ (and I REALLY hate that term) is on the cards and the racists and bigots have once again crept out from under the rocks they inhabit. Of course, not everyone who voted to leave has right wing views, and many people voted in accordance with what they thought would be the best for themselves and the country. That said, the potential backlash and the potential instability was not well approached by the elected, or indeed the electorate.

And the US – well that is a whole different level of weird. Seriously? Him? Why? Whether or not you’re a supporter of that person, and I’m definitely NOT in that camp, the election result has sparked a great deal of unrest, and uncertainty both with the USA and internationally. Along with the ever-increasing terrorist threat humanity (at least in the West) appears to be edgy, suspicious of neighbours and former ally and former enemy, and not thinking through actions and decisions.  Either that or the moron apocalypse has started.  You know something – just because some other folks have a different god (or same god with a different name), or have a different skin colour, or sleep with someone you don’t approve of – it DOESN’T MATTER. The world will not end because of gay marriage, religious discrepancies, skin colour, or someone interfered in someone else’s election/government etc. It MIGHT very well end due to people being ASSHATS to one another. People are people. When it comes down to it we are all much the same.

Some days I wonder if it’s all some complex and twisted novel or game to amuse and entertain some alien or higher power with a warped sense of humour. But if it WAS a story would anyone believe it? Basically -SOD OFF 2016 – we’re done with you.

OK, so that’s enough of the politics for now.

What has 2016 delivered for me in the way of writing, and research?

Books:

Shining Citadel – second edition – which brought a few changes, another edit and a tightening up here and there.

The Kitchen Imps – The first in the Fire-Side Tales Collection of short, humorous fantasy tales for all the family. Available in e-book, print, and audio.

Shattered Mirror – A Poetry Collection. I’d been toying with the idea of releasing the poems for some time. Many are introspective, others inspired by current or recent world event, and a few are miscellaneous. Poetry is hard to sell and it is a bit of a niche market. That’s not why I write it (which is just as well). Poetry helps me order my thoughts and emotions. For me – it’s a way of looking at the world, and the foolishness therein.

Echoes of a Song  – This is the first in the Legacy of the Mask series. A short public domain work based on Phantom of the Opera. Phantom was and is the love of my life. I first saw the show and read the book many many tears ago and I’ve been hooked on it ever since. Echoes was actually written some while ago but I only decided to publish this year. It’s dark, tragic and emotional. Don’t expect a happy ending…

The Watcher – Rewritten piece based on Jack the Ripper for the charity anthology Boo! Fore! Again this is pretty dark (as you’d expect) and rather disturbing but it IS a horror anthology.

Course in Ancient Egypt- Coursera

Diploma in Social Media Marketing – Shaw Academy

Short Story Writing Course

Also started using Hootsuite (which is GREAT).

I read 60 books (and some re-reads). Good Reads reading challenge Don’t ask how many I bought.

Actually, that’s not a bad haul for 12 months – considering ill-health (thank you Fibromyalgia), building work, day job and the general stresses of life.  I’d hoped to get a bit more of Book IV done but I go where the stories take me.

It’s been a pretty active year on the blog – lots of interviews, reviews, advice pieces, spotlights and more.

Soooo what’s the plan for 2017? I say plan but I don’t really do plans it’s more a general meandering in the right direction.

At least one Tales of Erana novella from the two I have in progress;

Working on Book IV;

Release of Shining Citadel in audio (imminent)

Adult fantasyesque sexy fun book as from my alter ego (more about that soon)

Hopefully another Heroika anthology piece (assuming it’s accepted).

Website

Newsletter

I plan to be more consistent with promotion (and less distracted by facebook)

Formatting course, and (hopefully) some freelance work. I’m not going to say too much about this now but there MIGHT be some expanding of the skill set in 2017…

I have several over Udemy and Coursera courses lined up too. – Including learning Latin, various writing and history courses, and some more marketing.

I’m planning to write every day. Even if it’s 5 words…

2017 – I’m coming to get ya

Magic in the Middle Ages – Course Review

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#Coursera #Fantasy #Medieval

https://www.coursera.org/learn/magic-middle-ages/

3.5 stars out of 5.

I’d been looking at this particular Coursera Course for a while, as it looked pretty interesting and good research for the books.

Here’s the summary from the Cousera website About this course: Magical thought has always attracted human imagination. In this course we will introduce you to the Middle Ages through a wide conception of magic. Students will have an approach to medieval culture, beliefs and practices from the perspective of History and History of Science. Popular magic, as well as learned magic (alchemy, geomancy and necromancy) will be addressed. Moreover, we will also deal with how eastern practices and texts influenced western culture. In July 2016, the course will contain a brand-new module devoted to astrology. Magic in the Middle Ages offers a captivating overview of medieval society and promotes reflection about certain stereotypes associated with this period.’

So did it fulfil this? Yes and no.

Let’s start with the ‘yes’. There was a lot of information to be learned in only 5 weeks – personally I would have liked another week or so. That said I was actually doing another, totally unrelated course at the same time and probably didn’t do this justice. The lectures were taught via video (and I’ll cover that later), with transcripts available, plus some selected reading, tests and two short assignments.

Each week covered a slightly different topic:

Unit 1 – Introduction to Medieval Magic

Unit 2 – Magic and Heresy

Unit 3 – From Magic to Witchcraft

Unit 4 – Magic in Islam

Unit 5 – Astrology and Geomancy

Of these the first three were the most interesting, although it was also interesting to see how Islam viewed magic – as opposed to the far more negative view of the Western Christian views. This particular module was probably the trickiest (not least because of the more unfamiliar names and terms) and I think more time could have been spent comparing the different cultural and religious outlooks, had the course been longer.

Magic permeated the Middle Ages, be it ‘healing’ magic, natural magic, or the more sinister type. In many ways it ran alongside religion, although it goes without saying that the religions of the day weren’t happy about it.  To us, in the modern world, much of it seems really odd, and for many secular societies or individual the whole concept of magic and religion is very outdated. Yet it was important to those who dwelt in a world not ordered by science and technology, where seasonal changes, illness, and belief could literally be a matter of life and death.  Magic was a way of trying to control what was often uncontrollable, to even the odds in a dangerous world. Religion and magic shared many aspects and Christianity itself (and Islam) hold many magical elements – including miracles, foresight and much more.

The topics were certainly engaging and thought provoking – especially the fact that many suffered imprisonment, torture and death for ‘heresy’ simply because of malice, ignorance or wishing to maintain older beliefs.  If the ‘magic’ wasn’t of the right sort, then people suffered. It was interesting to see the differing types of magic, and practitioners – from the wealthy intellectual court astronomers and magicians to the simple ‘cunning folk’. This builds on past study, at least for me. I’d agree it’s a good foundation for further research.

Was it useful  for writing fantasy? Yes, I think so as it gave a broad outline of medieval magical ideas to build on, and the prejudice surrounding them.

So the ‘no’.

The sound quality was bloody awful. The mix of tutors were all heavily accented and the recordings were of poor quality, with echoes, background noises, random volume changes and at one point a random question about King Arthur popped up on screen and froze the vid until it was answered. I found it far easier to just read the transcripts, but even then they were a little choppy.

As you’ve probably guessed I feel that the course should have been a bit longer – everything was a bit rushed. To be fair I didn’t utilise the discussion forum much.

The second assignment was a bit confusing – the grading questions were different to the points asked for discussion.

Overall a 3.5 for this – mostly because of the awful technical issues. Clean up the sound quality and this would be an engaging course.

 

Shaw Academy – Diploma in Social Media Marketing – Course Review

#SocialMedia #Shawsocial #Media

I’m the first person to admit I am not a fan of marketing, if a salesperson is pushy then I won’t buy on principle, unless I REALLY want that item. I’ve worked in retail, a call centre (never ever again – I lasted two weeks), and of course I have to market my books. Time and again there’s guidance on how to sell, what to do and not to do, and a lot of it is contradictory.

I actually find the marketing far more of a challenge than actually writing the books – as I am not especially confident and don’t like to be pushy. So, you ask, where is she going with this?

A good friend of mine recently put me onto Living Social – which is basically a coupon site for discount products. I was looking for an Excel course, I use it in my day job and I know the basics but that’s it. The chance of my work actually providing useful training is pretty low so I decided to look for a course myself, to do in my own time. Whilst wandering around the site I found the Online Social Media Marketing course – for £15 instead of £150 (or close to that). At that price I thought what the hell – it may help and if it doesn’t then I haven’t lost much.

The course itself is run by SHAW ACADEMY, who is one of the biggest online training providers. This is part one of their marketing training, the foundation diploma, and it’s worth doing. Run over 10 weeks there are two hour-long webinars, plus an ‘on-demand’ lecture a week, quizzes to test knowledge and a two hour assignment at the end. They have a You-Tube site, which has extra videos and interaction, plus an active Twitter feed.

http://www.shawacademy.com

The course covers a number of topics: Facebook pages and advertising, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, ORM (Online Reputation Management), You-Tube, Instagram, and a good deal about analytics. It goes without saying that the course is predominantly sales focused but there is a lot of excellent advice.

The tutor – Daniel Gilligan is informed, engaging and has a wicked Irish sense of humour.

Although due to the volume of students the webinars do not allow verbal participation student are encouraged to ask questions, and Daniel and his team are happy to answer emails and phone calls regarding the course. There were incentives to log in to the webinars live (prizes etc.) and as they were at 7pm UK time, that was useful. For a small fee one could buy the slides, notes and extra vids – although everyone got the basic pack. There is a certificate at the end (assuming one does the final assignment) and it is an accredited course.

Not all the aspects are useful for me – I still dislike Linkedin, and although I joined Instagram I’m yet to do much with it. The most useful aspects for me covered analytics, ORM and the discussion on target audience. Times of day are important too. I forget sometimes that my audience are not all in the same time zone, so scheduling a Tweet at 7 pm  my time might not be helpful as it could be 2am in the US, or 2pm when people are at work.

I find Pintrest more of a distraction than a useful marketing tool – that said I have set up a board for my own books (ADD LINK), and many people do like the very visual aspect. But I have, as a reader, looked at books based on the cover there.

I’m working on a companion website for the blog, and have quite a number of ideas, plus I am contemplating a Facebook ad, re-jigging the blog and it has given me the confidence to try some more approaches.

What I learned:

Keep it short and snappy, relevant and regular, new and nice is important. Don’t behave like an asshat – it will ruin your online reputation, and it’s hard to come back from that. We were shown examples of some unfortunate and ill-considered posts and Tweets. For example a particular company tweeting a brand and then #RIPPRINCE on the sad day the singer Prince died. Not only totally inappropriate to the brand this got hold of a twitter outpouring of grief at the death of an icon. Trending hashtags need to be used with care – is it relevant to the post, or is it just latching on to a trend? Think through what you post, keep it clean, and make sure it’s not filled with errors.

Don’t overload the sites with the same message.

Also it’s worth considering what’s working and what isn’t and why? Wrong target audience? Badly written promotion? Misunderstood promotion?

Be consistent.

Tailor content – what is appropriate for one platform/audience might not be for another

Engage.

This is the FOUNDATION diploma – and there is a second part – which currently I am not looking at (due to time, money and other commitments) but I would consider it in the future.

Oh and by the way I got a Merit 🙂

2015 – A Writer’s Diary

Welcome back to the Library of Erana and the last day of 2015. So another year has dashed past and I’m sitting at the end of 2015 and wondering where it went. I have a theory – someone is siphoning time out of the weekend and holidays and sneaking it into the working day. That’s why days at work seem to go on longer than the same day on leave.

What has 2015 brought me? A house! We bought our first house in April and it’s great. Whilst the place isn’t perfect it’s a good deal better than renting a damp flat and my overall health is better. Also we now have a delightful doggy – she’s grown from a tiny puppy to almost adult and we adore her. Every day she makes us smile and she’s such a happy and joyful creature.

Work… still there. Still stressful and busy but at least I am working and thankful for that.

Writing wise I’ve not been as productive as I planned – mostly due to the factors above but I’ve not been idle.

Stolen Tower – The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles Book III was published in March 2015. https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2015/03/04/new-release-the-stolen-tower-the-light-beyond-the-storm-chronicles-iii/

thestolentower500x800 (1)

The third edition of Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles Book I was published with quite a few revisions and a new cover for the paperback. http://www.amazon.com/Light-Beyond-Storm-Chronicles–ebook/dp/B0088DQO9C

Outside the Walls was revised and expanded and the audio book produced with narrator Melanie Fraser. It sounds great. There is something magical in hearing one’s book read aloud.

https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/outside-the-walls-fantasy-short-story-new-release/

https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2015/10/16/outside-the-walls-now-in-print/

Audio

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Outside-the-Walls/dp/B0189QHB12/

http://www.amazon.com/Outside-the-Walls/dp/B0189Q944E/

http://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Fiction/Outside-the-Walls-Audiobook/B0189QCHI4/

http://www.audible.com/pd/Fiction/Outside-the-Walls-Audiobook/B0189Q95XO
Warrior’s Curse was produced in audio by narrator Rob Goll – who has also done Heroika: Dragon Eaters for Perseid Press and will be narrating Light Beyond the Storm and Shining Citadel in 2016.

http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Tales-of-Erana-The-Warriors-Curse-Audiobook/B00UG8AWU4/http://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Tales-of-Erana-The-Warriors-Curse-Audiobook/B00UG8I5SK
Heroika: Dragon Eaters was published – along with the accompanying audio book. Please check out the A Week with the Dragon Eaters posts for author and character interviews.

https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2015/12/19/heroika-dragon-eaters-audio/

https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/heroika-dragon-eaters-heroic-fictionfantasymyth-new-release/

11143231_897184103657050_5318210832294606375_o
I’ve done 17 guest interviews elsewhere including the latest with Melanie Fox here. https://mercedesfoxbooks.com/meet-author-a-l-butcher/ and four character interviews including Mirandra, Ephany, Dii’Athella and the Thiefmaster.

Oh and a course on Roman and Greek Mythology – which was really interesting. https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2015/07/11/greek-and-roman-mythology-course-review/
There have been over 160 blog posts – including another Week in Hell, a Week with the Dragon Eaters, character, editor and author interviews, and several fantasy based posts and reblogs.

10 tips and lessons

1) I’m rubbish at using Twitter! Does it help marketing? Not a bloody clue. Many people say it is a vital tool; personally I’m not convinced as I have never bought a book or product from a twitter link and it looks like many people shouting to me. That said I do follow a few authors and it is useful for sharing blog posts. I follow the history, nature an astronomy posts too.

2) There is never enough time or energy to write. This is, of course, mostly my fault. I work full time and often I don’t have enough energy or brain power to do much but poke about on Facebook.

3) Networking is vital. I knew this already but it’s good to have one’s knowledge reinforced. Indie authors are, generally, a supportive lot and I’ve traded interviews, found great books to read and got to know a wide variety of people through social media and networking. It’s a good way of getting support for new releases, blogging, Thunderclap and more.

4) There are some total asshats about and many more idiots. This too has been obvious for a while. Recent events have NOT made the world a safer place. Whilst I agree that terrorism is bad, and religion pernicious bombing the crap out of an area that is already a wasteland is not going to make things better. Humans have an amazing capacity to be total asshats to one another – I can’t think of any other animal which is so unpleasant to its own kind – of course not everyone is like that and certain groups have been labelled as terrorists when it is the actions of a minority. History tends to repeat itself – and in many ways humans have a short memory – or at least a selective one. Often people are quick to judge, especially when they don’t know all the facts. Ignorance leads to fear and fear to hatred, then the killing begins anew, or the ghetto, or the pogrom, or the genocide….

Facebook especially fuels both idiocy and vitriol. There are lots of calls from freedom of speech but – of course that depends on who is doing the speaking and what they are saying. There is either freedom to say what the hell you like – and that goes for everyone or there’s not – some limitations are put in place. But then where and when does that stop. Perhaps if people thought before they spoke (or typed) such limitations wouldn’t be needed. Just because you CAN say something doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
Anyway enough of the political talk…don’t get me started I spent 7 years studying politics, sociology, ethics and philosophy and it taught me not to get involved in debates with people who won’t listen and assume they are always right…

5) Marketing is a lottery. I’ve tried some new tactics this year – including Twitter and Thunderclap – results have been mixed. Both are free – at least at the basic level so although not particularly successful no outlay was lost. I’ve found a mix of things helps. Don’t rely on one strategy – vary your approach and keep things interesting.

tps://www.thunderclap.it

6) Write every day, even if it’s not working on a book or story. A blog post, a facebook post, a letter or email to someone – it all keeps the brain cells ticking. Write stories when you can and don’t force it. The world is NOT going to end if that story isn’t finished this week. That’s one of the many reasons I love indie publishing. With a few exceptions the person setting the deadlines is me and so if the book isn’t finished or life intervenes (which it does frequently) then it doesn’t matter as much.

7) Be nice to people. If you can’t be nice be quiet.

8) Vary what you write – if you’re struggling with a project then step away from it and work on something else. I’ve found that focusing on other things means my brain can be ticking away in the background sorting out the problems with the other project.

9) Some things can’t be fixed. It’s easy to spend a lot of time on a project or idea only to find it doesn’t work, or its crap. Yes I know this contradicts point 8 a bit but sometimes an idea simply won’t work – or at least not in the way you want. That’s fine. Sometimes shit happens (or doesn’t) don’t force it to be something it isn’t. Readers can spot a forced plot. If it doesn’t work then change it – look at your options. Can it be used for something else? What is causing the issue? Can it actually be fixed? Sometimes it can’t. Sometimes it becomes something else. That’s fine too.

10) Read more. Reading is great relaxation, great research and great enjoyment. The more you read the better writer you’ll become.

So what’s planned for 2016?

I have lots of plans for 2016 – most of which may never materialise but it’s still good to plan.

These are not in any order….
Hopefully a second Heroika volume will happen (for Perseid Press). Not going to mention too much of my WIP but the volume should be great, having seen a few snippets of draft stories. Hopefully my story will be up to scratch and I’m sure the book will feature on the blog when it’s published.

There will be at least one short Tales of Erana, possibly two. I’m planning to release Just One Mistake with a few revisions as a standalone. It’s already featured in Nine Heroes plus my own Tales of Erana Volume One but I have idea how it can be expanded. I think it would make a great audio short story.

Book II is currently being revised so there will be a new edition of that sometime early to mid 2016.

Book I in audio. Rob Goll is narrating that and we are hoping for spring 2016 release on that. I can’t wait to hear what he’s done.

Tales from the Golden Mask – this has been a WIP for a while. Hopefully the first part of the series will be released by the summer. It’s a co-authored erotic adventure set in an Erana of the past. We think it’s a lot of fun, with feisty women, sexy heroes and of course a goodly helping of nookie. This one doesn’t take itself or the world too seriously and is aimed at a slightly different audience.

The Kitchen Imps – a short book of fantasy tales for kids and the young at heart. I really need to work on these, as this is another project which has been around for a while.
I’m contemplating changing the blog – currently this is the free wordpress type but the upgraded version has a lot more features. I’m hoping to attach a website dedicated to just the books as well. I’ll let you know how that goes…

Also looking to participate in a blog tour – I’ve hosted people before but I’ve never done it myself. Will be an interesting experience and I’ll review it after.

Want to try and read more, and review more. I often stick to re-reads but I’m going to try and branch out for new authors. I’ll try and be better at posting reviews as well.
Looking for plenty more interviews – both giving and receiving – guest posts and articles.

Signed up for a course on medieval magic, one on Ancient Greece and also looking at ancient Egypt. Plus whatever else takes my fancy and I can manage with the other commitments.
I’ll look back in twelve months and see how many of these I’ve done.
Feel free to comment on ideas, suggestions for the blog and contacts about interviews.
Hoping 2016 is good for you, my followers, and you’ll keep viewing the blog.

Red and gold rose 2chronicles banner  Warriors Curse Final 1 - ebook

Greek and Roman Mythology – Course – Review

Greek and Roman Mythology – Coursera

Greek and Roman mythology is fascinating, in many ways it is at the core of many Western traditional stories.  Even today we are enchanted by such tales of heroes, monsters, errant gods, and the goings on of those far removed and yet ever close. Hercules, Odysseus, the Trojan horse, Oedipus, and much more. The terms have fallen into modern usages – An odyssey denoting an epic journey, a Herculean task, a Trojan horse for a gift which is not all it seems.  Such tales spawned others – and in many ways influence modern heroic fiction.

I’ve studied Classics in the past – although it was more for the historical perspective and so this course really appealed.  I’ve also studied with Coursera – an online organisation which offers courses from a variety of sources, including the University of Pennsylvania who provide this particular course.

Myths intrigue me, I read a lot of mythic fiction, and write it too in my Tales of Erana series.

https://www.coursera.org/course/mythology

This is what the Coursera site says about the course ‘Myths are traditional stories that have endured over a long time. Some of them have to do with events of great importance, such as the founding of a nation. Others tell the stories of great heroes and heroines and their exploits and courage in the face of adversity. Still others are simple tales about otherwise unremarkable people who get into trouble or do some great deed. What are we to make of all these tales, and why do people seem to like to hear them? This course will focus on the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, as a way of exploring the nature of myth and the function it plays for individuals, societies, and nations. We will also pay some attention to the way the Greeks and Romans themselves understood their own myths. Are myths subtle codes that contain some universal truth? Are they a window on the deep recesses of a particular culture? Are they a set of blinders that all of us wear, though we do not realize it? Or are they just entertaining stories that people like to tell over and over? This course will investigate these questions through a variety of topics, including the creation of the universe, the relationship between gods and mortals, human nature, religion, the family, sex, love, madness, and death.’ (Coursera Website)

Does the course deliver? Yes it does. The tutor Peter Stuck is engaging, obviously knows his subject and is enthusiastic. The course is presented through a combination of videos, reading materials, quizzes, two essays and some discussion forums. The course recommends 10 hours a week of study – in truth it’s probably slightly more as some of the reading is quite long.

The subjects covered range from how the myths were perceived, the notion of pietas (duty, honour, loyalty) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pietas to religion, to food, to concept of the hero, what it meant to be a man in that society, the notion of how to treat one’s guests (or not) and familial ties. The reading includes The Odyssey – possibly THE epic adventure of antiquity and one of my first introductions to ancient Greek literature during my Diploma in Classics – so this was a very welcome re-read; The Aeneid – the tale of Aeneas and the struggle of the survivors of Troy and their quest for a new homeland – which lead (apparently) to the founding of Rome. Julius Caesar and Augustus traced their ancestry back to Aeneas and through him back to his immortal mother Venus; to the Oresteia (the tragic tale of Agamemnon after he returns from Troy); Oedipus the King (the tragic play so famous in which fate and prophecy play such a terrible role). Plus several more.

The video lectures made me think about some of the books in a new way, by focusing on aspects I may not have initially seen, and seeing the greater whole of the stories. Homer was incredibly influential and the later works often copy (or attempt to) his style and incredible narrative versatility. The books cover a period far removed from ideals and ideas of today, yet still something resonates – the challenge, the struggle and the emotions of the characters, the fight to be something more, and in some cases to survive. Of course much is different – Hesiod’s Theogony is not favourable to women, there are of course slaves in these societies, the gods are many and walk with humans, often begetting offspring in one form or another, and playing with the lives of mortals, ritual is important and there is violence – a lot of it. Actually that’s not so different from today and for much the same reasons – greed, honour, territory, religion etc.

These are not books for the faint hearted, or for those who are shocked by violence, sex, double crossing, murder, betrayal and such like. Themes in fact which tend to pervade our media – watch any soap opera and these themes are there in abundance. The influence of these authors and their work is monumental and this course helps to show why. Why this works need to be preserved and celebrated and why these cultures are so important to our own. These books are real heroic fiction, they are at the core of heroes and monsters, and of fantasy as we know it.

So, you ask, is it expensive? No it’s free. You can pay a small fee and get a certificate of completion (assuming you’ve done all the quizzes to an acceptable standard and one of the assignments) but it can be completed simply for the pleasure of it.

Is there anything I didn’t like? I did find the workload quite heavy – with work, writing, and family life commitments can be difficult to find the time and energy to put it but others may find that easier. I also didn’t use the forums much, although that was personal choice.

The course does not require any prior experience in the subject (but it helps) and assumes a level of literacy and intelligence in order to discuss and appreciate the themes and topics.

Would I recommend this? Yes, without a doubt to anyone interested in mythology, Greek and Roman literature or religion, fans of heroic fiction, and historians of the period.

#Mythology #Coursera #HeroicFiction #Fantasy #GreekandRoman

2014 – A Year Filled With Words

I can’t believe it will be 2015 in a few hours, where has the year gone?! So what has 2014 brought? Words! Knowledge! Friendship!

It’s too many years for me to confess to since I left university but my thirst for knowledge hasn’t abated. As some of my followers know I love history, especially ancient history. The course https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/hadrians-wall Hadrian’s Wall – Life on the Roman Frontier was fascinating. Well presented and interesting this was a good look at life in Roman Britain, and the challenges facing both occupiers and occupied.  There may well be a story from this era…. watch this space.

Next year – January I am hoping to complete another course about Roman Architecture and archeology, and later on the Coursera course about Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I’d planned for Book III of the Chronicles to be out by year end, but for one reason or another this hasn’t occurred. It is, however, done in draft so should appear in the springtime. I’ve not been idle, this year has been a year of short stories, planning and promotion.

My books this year:

Nine Heroes: Tales of Heroic Fantasy. This includes a Tale of Erana not featured anywhere else. Coel is the reluctant hero of this tale of slavery and revenge. Look out for Coel again in 2015

Kiss and Tales – the Romantic Collection (with the Indie Collaboration).

Summer Shorts (with the Indie Collaboration) – this includes some poetry about the British Summer Time, and a short story about the Kitchen Imps.

Spectacular Tales (with the Indie Collaboration) – (free) featuring some poetry and a fairy tale retelling.

Tales from Darker Places (with the Indie Collaboration) (free) – featuring some poetry, a dark and twisted story about Jack the Ripper, and a dark tale about a lonely vampire.

Bellator – I have to say I haven’t had that much fun for ages. It was such a joy to be co-writing with Diana Wicker again.  Perhaps these characters might appear again. This charity anthology is raising money for wounded service personnel, a cause close to my heart. Books for heroes and stories about heroes – what a marvellous combination.

Tales of Erana: Myths and Legends – a collection of tales set in Erana featuring errant gods, magic, myth and mayhem – Also in Audio. On the subject of Audio I started running Audio Book Narrator interviews, which were fascinating. For me a whole new world was revealed – a book read aloud is a treasure indeed, it brings forth emotions of joy from memories of parental and grandparental story telling, sitting down at school and being read to, and reading aloud to friends. Story telling is as old as the hills, and is central to our culture.

Wyrd Worlds II – this free anthology features another tale of the Kitchen Imps, plus a short fantasy tale of the god-keeper of a small bluish-green world.

Tales of Erana: The Warrior’s Curse – new release. A short story of myth and magic set in the world of Erana.

Blog-wise there have been:

18 character interviews with everyone from William Shakespeare, a horse, a dog, several aliens, a few witches and wizards, a couple of demi gods, a vampire and even Satan himself.

42 author interviews covering fantasy, science fiction, suspense, paranormal, children’s fiction, crime and historical.

3 narrator interviews, including Chris Morris.

6 editor interviews.

5 cover designer interviews.

5 reader interviews.

2 reviewer interviews.

Several blog tours stopped by, plus there’s been advice about audio books, Thunderclap, book reviews, course reviews, giveaways, new releases and much more. It has been a busy year!

So what will 2015 bring?

The Stolen Tower – The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles Book III will appear in the spring.

Plus there will be more short stories, including more from the Kitchen Imps, Coel and the Thiefmaster, and more Tales of Erana. Book IV of the Chronicles is in planning, and I dare say more short stories will spring from that. A murder mystery, plus perhaps some more grimdark.

There may also be an erotica collection, co-written with a friend.

Wow I am busy already and the year hasn’t even started!

There will be several guest posts discussing the influence of fantasy on our culture, plus, of course many more interviews. The first of these is scheduled Jan 2nd 2015 from Joe Bonadonna. If you are interested in participating in an interview, a guest post or blog tour stop-off please contact using the form below or on the Contact Details page.

Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier – Course

Review – Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier

Online course from Future Learn.

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/hadrians-wall

#FLHadrian #Romans #History

I’ve been looking at some more online history courses for a while, but as with most things it is finding both the time and the appropriate course.  I was introduced to Future Learn last year but this is the first course I’ve managed to find time to complete.

So why this course? I’ve studied Roman History before but not specifically Roman Britain. Hadrian’s Wall is one of the most famous and most studied frontier Roman settlements, in fact it is a World Heritage site. It stretches 73 miles in the North of England, some arguing to keep out the Picts and other ‘barbarians’ in what is now Scotland. It was so much more than just a wall – complex and well-manned forts, accompanying settlements, whether the natives liked it or not, and perhaps most importantly the introduction of writing into Britain.  The Romans brought much – religion, trade, Roman culture and laws, politics and soldiers and citizens from all over the Empire. Yet it was not all smooth running, there were uprisings, revolts, and ultimately abandonment by Rome.  40 years after the Wall was built a bloody uprising occurred. This and the Jewish Diaspora which occurred in the reign of Hadrian should be remembered. Violence and terror were among the tools the Romans used to rule. There were even revolts, breakaway emperors ruling for over a decade and much intrigue.

This course covers the period of Roman occupation and beyond; archaeology – including a CSI type murder mystery and the trials of preserving remains so old, the sociological and religious aspects; the coming of Christianity and of course a good helping of history, including how the Roman army change in the . Roman influence is all over Europe, even now, and still hold a lot of fascination. From AD 122 to about AD410 the wall was occupied, initially commissioned by the builder, scholar and Emperor Hadrian, who ruled 117 to 138 AD.  Of course Hadrian was not the first Emperor to covet the misty and mysterious Isles of Britain – Claudius invaded in AD 43.

So enough background – what are my thoughts on this course:

Subject matter: Very interesting and well handled. This is an introduction presented by professors and scholars, many from the University of Newcastle, it gives a good overall view of the era, the history and the challenges. Questions prompt the learning to consider the evidence and interaction with other online students is encouraged.

Time spent: It is stated as 4 hours a week – I’d say for the basics that is about right, although with all the other ‘suggested reading’ it would be a lot more. It depends really on how much time one spends on the discussion forums.

Teaching tools: Videos – useful and varied – I especially liked the re-enactment of the Roman banquet, the videos of the students involved discussing clothing, jewellery and the thoughts of the characters. However – the sound quality of a few of the vids wasn’t great. There was a lot of background hum and noise. Aside from this the videos were a key part of the course.

Reading: The information in the reading sections was not overwhelming – it was informative and thought-invoking but not overly difficult (at least for me).

Quizzes: A useful tool to test what had been learned.

The course was free, although the Certificate of Completion had a cost – if one wanted to purchase.

Summary: Interesting, well taught by knowledgeable staff and students, varied in its subjects and overall very enjoyable.  I would recommend for those interested in Roman History, British History, Archaeology and online learning.

Plagues, Witches and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction – Course Review

I was introduced to Coursera by my partner who suggested the writing course – Crafting an Effective Writer – might be of use to me. These MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses are free and provide an insight into various subjects, from history and writing to science and philosophy.  The writing course was fairly basic but it never hurts to go over what one knows and fill in gaps. That course will be discussed elsewhere.  Below is my review of the Historical Fiction course run by the University of Virginia and Professor Holsinger.

Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction 

https://class.coursera.org/hisfiction-001/class/index

This course appealed to me as a reader of historical fiction and a writer of fantasy. There are elements shared by both genres and it is never bad to consider how someone else sees the world in their books.  The course begins with an overview of the origins of the historical novel, and what is expected within the genre. Historical fiction is diverse, from romance to tragedy and semi-biographical accounts.

Definition: “A genre of imaginative narratives set in the past whose authors make a deliberate effort to convey chronologically remote settings, cultures, and personages with accuracy, plausibility and depth,” Bruce Holsinger.

So what does this mean? Fiction set in a real scenario, for example ancient Rome, or Civil War America featuring fictional characters, or even real persons speaking with the author’s voice. One of the visiting authors discussed emotions – emotions rarely change and thus it is plausible to assume a character would feel a certain way in a certain situation. The characters, or scenarios are not real, but the background is, as it were.  Some well known Historical Fiction texts would be Gone with the Wind, The Other Boleyn Girl, or The Last of the Mohicans. As you can see these are a diverse mix of subjects by diverse authors.

Historical Fiction continues to be a popular genre but in many ways it is very complex. World building is necessary in any novel but in the worlds of Historical Fiction the world is often there, for the researcher to find. It needs to be convincing – the ‘accuracy’ factor of Professor Holsinger’s definition. The key is research – what did people of that era eat? How did they live? What transport did they use? What religion did they follow? Whilst this is the case in world building for other genres because this world is real the accuracy needs to be there. Unconvincing scenarios will throw a reader out of the story. Research is more important here than perhaps elsewhere.

Plausibility is an important factor for a writer, even one who writes fantasy, after all much can be explained with magic but not all. Even magic has to have a basis in the possible, to understand the impossible one has to understand the possible. Fantasy worlds are often based around Middle Ages Europe or ancient Eurasian cultures and so knowledge of these eras and cultures is helpful.  Depth of course is a necessity, both in the worlds we create, and read and the characters which inhabit them. Shallow characters are weak, and the reader may end up not caring about their fate. This is true of any fiction. Historical fiction, in its basis in fact, has to work doubly hard to attain this, especially with popular or well-known personages.

There was a conversation on the forums about the ethical side of interpreting real events from the point of view of someone who did not exist, or claiming a person who did exist dealt with situations in such a way which was unreal, or possibly unreal. The key here is FICTION, the writer is not saying it was so, only that is MIGHT have been so. There is, of course, the risk that adherents of the personage may disagree.

One prototype historical story was Xenophone’s Cyropaedia  (4th Century BCE) – a fictionalised account of Cyrus the Great of Persia, although this was not a novel but a fictional political treatise. (George Saintsbury). Saintsbury later assess the Greek and Roman myths, Icelandic myths, the literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance and culminates in the works of Sir Walter Scott. Although Saintsbury’s work is now little outdated the basis is there for what we now regard as vital for the historical fiction novel (The Historical Novel).  There is some assumption that there is a fictional element within established history and this can be distinguished from historical non-fiction.

The latter parts of the course discuss specific works and feature online interviews with authors who discuss their books.The authors are very frank in their discussions and it is a good insight into the writing process, the importance of research and the motivations of a writer.  As a reader the course offers some excerpts and full novels which, otherwise, I may not have considered.  There is a lot of reading required, in a fairly short timescale, and I admit I fell behind with this. I am not convinced all the reading is necessary. The seminars with the visiting authors are not great quality and at least one I ended up watching with the subtitles on as the video kept dipping out.

Readings include:

The Love Artist by Jane Allison (see review linked below); The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe (dealing with witchcraft); The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (dealing with the plague in an English Village); Fever by Mary Bethe Keane (dealing with Mary Mallon – typhoid Mary) and The Ghost Bride by Yangsee Choo (dealing with the Chinese traditions of the afterlife).

Plus supplementary readings from Dickens, Faulkner, Walter Scott, William Wells Brown and several more.

I feel the course could benefit from running for longer, enabling students to keep up with the reading, however this Coursera course is free and a good insight into the genre, writing and research.  I will continue to post the reviews of the reading as I complete it. If you have the time I would recommend this course – I found books I would not otherwise have read and the discussion forums were lively.  As the final assignment was dealing with archival sources and encouraged students to think of a story around the one they sourced who knows, perhaps something will come from that.

So what next? I am signed up for Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World which starts in February. As I am also taking a history course at the same time I expect to be kept very busy! https://www.coursera.org/course/fantasysf

https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2013/11/16/review-the-love-artist-jane-alison/