Helen Harper

10 Signs You’re Addicted To Urban Fantasy

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1. You can explain what Urban Fantasy is to other people in five words or less.

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2. You’re waiting for the day when your secret magical powers reveal

themselves.

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3. Sometimes you go about life with just a bit too much badass attitude.

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4. You know for certain how to conduct yourself appropriately in a sword fight.

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5. You have no problem distinguishing between fairies, faeries, fae, fey or fay.

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6. Full moons make your toes curl up.

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7. You’re always on the lookout for a new series to get your teeth into.

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8. Guys wearing shirts are definitely far too over-dressed.

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9. Black is the new black.

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10. You know that your own HEA is only just around the corner.

Photo by ˙Cаvin 〄

Helen Harper

Durian drama

Durian season is underway again, evidenced by the smell coming from my next door neighbours and permeating through my own house.  For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, count yourselves lucky.
Generally speaking, I like to think of myself as someone who has found it easy to assimilate into South East Asian culture.  Squat toilets are fine.  Super spicy food – yum.  Sweaty tropics?  Give me more.  But when Malaysians ask me if I like Durian, my response is stereotypically foreign: ick, ick, ick.

Admittedly, the smell is far more off-putting than the taste.  Imagine rotting rubbish surrounded by a sea of marathon runners’ old socks and sprinkled liberally with blue cheese that’s been left out in the sun too long and you’ll get a vague idea.  Not for nothing is durian banned on planes or in many hotels.  One person enjoys durian and everyone else in a five hundred metre radius gets to ‘enjoy’ it too.

Here it’s affectionately regarded as the King of Fruits.  You can get durian ice cream, durian cake, durian chocolates and durian coffee.  Some claim that it’s addictive.  Others that it encourages fertility.  It’s certainly high in fat and very filling.  There’s even a week long durian festival currently taking place further up in the country.  I can’t deny how much people here love it.

Now where did I put my clothes pegs?

Photo by YIM Hafiz

Helen Harper

The future of urban fantasy

For a long time, urban fantasy was HOT. Everyone was jumping on the bandwagon and everyone (or so it seemed) was reading it. We’re now in more of a natural cooling off period. There are still loads of UF writers and still loads and loads of UF readers (hello people!) but it’s no longer the shiny new thing that it once was. Apparently trad publishers no longer want UF novels because the sales are no longer there. Looking around at other authors whose names appear on my Amazon pages, I’d completely disagree with that. At the RT Convention, there was a panel discussing the future of UF and a good chunk was given over to the discussion about whether it was dead or not. Genres never die though – it might evolve and adapt but urban fantasy is definitely here to stay. What will it be like in five years time though?

 

An urban fantasy and sci fi meld

 When I was a teenager, one of my absolute favourite (and very well thumbed) series of books was Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept books.  Piers, if you ever stumble across the blog (unlikely, I know but it pays to be prudent), I’d be eternally grateful if you could work on getting that series onto Kindle. Pleeeeeeeease.

Anyway, that series mixed science fiction and fantasy in a truly wonderful way, with two parallel worlds – a sci fi planet and a secret fantasy world next to it. UF is, of course, slightly different but given the current sci-fi predilection with The Martian, Star Wars, Tomorrowland and all that stuff, there could be a great future for a UF/Sci-Fi mash-up. Vampires in space? If they’re dead, then maybe they can wander around outside their spaceships without the need to suit up. Or maybe Earth could send out a group of astronauts who come across a planet where magic rules instead of technology in a kind of Star Trek sort of fashion. And just think of the fun that could be had if internet trolls really did become, well, trolls. Hmmm.

 

UF spies

 I grew up at the end of the Cold War and possessed a considerable yen for a long time to learn Russian and become a super spy. In fact, spy fiction has been making somewhat of a comeback lately (much to my delight). I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch for a well funded government to use a host of UF styled characters to spy on the world. Just think of the fun that could be had if an Edward Snowden type of guy turned out to also be a vengeful werewolf. Yeah, okay. Perhaps not.

 

Multiple viewpoints

 Requiring more serious consideration than James Bond turning furry once a week, I’m genuinely surprised that more hasn’t yet been made of a G.R.R. Martin style of UF. By which I mean, more epic and lengthy novels with a range of different narrators. It wouldn’t exactly be easy to pull off (let’s face it, Martin is one of the most famous authors alive right now for a reason) but surely it could be a thing. I really, really hope so.

 

New characters

 Vampires have been done to death (boom, boom – see what I did there?). Werewolves and werebears and everything in between have been covered. There are plenty of angel stories. And demon stories. Fairies in different guises get around as do witches and wizards. Plenty of novels have used other types of characters in different ways – and I know I for one will continue reading, loving (and no doubt writing) about all of the above – but which new characters could become really popular next? Mermaids haven’t been used much (although I happen to know of a popular UF author who might be addressing that in the near future). I seem to be reading a lot about new dragon novels popping up soon so that’ll be super fun. Of course, dragons are close to my heart!

I actually think that in the future we’ll see more of brand new creations. After all, Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series is great and Neil Gaiman has written wonderful stuff using completely original characters. Neverwhere will remain one of my personal favourites until the day I pop my clogs.  Donna Augustine’s Karma series is also worth a serious mention. I wish I’d thought of those characters…

It’s exciting to see who and what might come along next!  The future of urban fantasy can be whatever we want it to be – that’s the beauty of it 😉

Photo by BurgTender

Helen Harper

Crazy Cat Lady.

I am a cat lady. In fact, for Christmas, my sister gave me this:

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I love it.

 

The Urban Dictionary has this to say:

 cat lady : a woman that finds too much happiness in her cats. 

(I don’t think it’s possible to find TOO much happiness in cats…)

This often results in the following actions: 

-Dressing up her cats 

(No. They don’t like it.)

-Taking videos and pictures of them 

(Yes. Okay. And I’m going to subject you, kind reader, to them as well.)

-Telling other people stuff about her cats that they do not care about 

(All the time.)

 -Thinking that her cats are really intuitive 

(What do you mean? They are!)

-Wearing clothes with cats on them

(Nope. But I’m working on it.)

-Owning things with cats on them 

(See aforementioned Christmas present.)

-Not being lonely because she has her cats!

(Natch)

Note: A cat lady may smell like cat pee but this is not required.

(It’s a distinct possibility though.)

 

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Scout has been with me the longest.  I got her from a Malaysian cat shelter.  Whatever her previous life was, it was tough.  She has the scars to prove it.  There’s no other way to describe her other than Scaredy-Cat. She hates the other cats. She runs and hides at any almost sound. In fact, I have to keep her separate from the other two because they make her so miserable. Believe it or not, I do a twenty-four house swap. I’m still working on integrating them all but Scout is so far unimpressed at my efforts. It doesn’t matter how many Jackson Galaxy videos I watch, how many cat pheromone sprays I buy, or what I do. But she also likes playing tag with me round the sofa. If she goes outside, she always miaows when she returns as if to say ‘Hey! I’m back! Did ya miss me?’

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Then there’s Mavis. She was a stray at the school where I used to work. She’s extraordinarily friendly and, when she showed up, she was heavily pregnant so I can only surmise she was dumped by a previous family. Unfortunately there are far too many stray animals like that in this part of the world. It’s difficult to imagine for someone from the UK where there are virtually none. You could spend your entire life rescuing cats and dogs from the city here and still not even make a dent in the population. There are charitable organisations and many individuals that try very hard though. Luckily, I found homes for all her kittens but it’s much harder to do the same for an adult cat. I’d have left her where she was because of Scout’s inability to get on with other felines and the fact that you really can’t save them all (the local shelters are all kill shelters) but she was hit by a car and broke her hip so I felt compelled to take her in. She might have planned it that way… She recovered perfectly other than a strange ring of bald skin on her side. She’s now also unbelievably fat.

There’s also Lara Croft, the adventurer. Lara showed up one day about a year ago with a tiny kitten in tow. They were both in my neighbour’s garden so I brought them in. Despite her friendly gratitude for the kibble, she didn’t want to stay. I worked out pretty quickly that it had to be because she had other kittens hiding somewhere. I followed her to an abandoned house not too far away (yes, at around midnight I tracked a cat down my street with the odd car passing by and the occupants staring at me as if I was nuts) but I couldn’t get in because it was locked up. When I went back the day after, she’d gone. I didn’t see her again until six months later when she appeared again with two more brand new kittens. I resisted keeping her for a very long time (I had enough problems between Mavis and Scout getting along as it was) but she’d changed her mind about staying and wasn’t going to let me say no. Not long after I eventually relented and let her stay full time, she broke her leg and her tail one day when I was out. I have NO idea how it happened. How can a cat live on the streets on her own for months (maybe years) and then have a major accident about three weeks after she finds herself a home? My guilt was extraordinary. The vet’s convinced it wasn’t a car. She is, as I said, an adventurer. Her tail had to be amputated but it doesn’t affect her in any way. Other than to shamelessly get even more attention from visitors and passersby.

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Finally, there is Black Cat. Black Cat is sneaky. He’s also entirely feral. He pops by twice a day (he knows when feeding time is for the other three, of course). After two years of knowing him, I am now permitted to stand two feet away from him. He’ll still hiss though, especially when I’m trying to give him food. He shows his gratitude by spraying everywhere. Thanks, Black Cat.  If you look closely enough, you can spot him waiting for his moment in the pic above.

My writing is frequently interrupted by the flow of squirrels who come into the house to nab the cat food and then the inevitable chase that follows. None of the cats ever catch the squirrels. It might actually just be one squirrel. I only ever see one at a time. He drops by often enough though. I have also discovered just this week though that if I leave the house and go for a walk instead of getting into the car, Lara and Mavis will come along with me. I’m not sure why. Curiosity? The possibility of more food? The worry that I’ll abandon them? Or maybe they want to protect me from the dangers of the outside world? It’s probably because they’re concerned I’ll pick up yet another cat while I’m out. It’s been known to happen…

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By the way, the video below is dull. I get that it’s dull. But it’s Mavis and Lara coming for a walk! I’m a cat lady – I’m hitting at least three, possibly four, of Urban Dictionary’s requirements with this poorly shot clip!

 

 

Helen Harper

Top ten kickass heroines

  • June 15, 2015
  • Blog
  • 2 Comments

There’s been a fair amount in the press lately about female characters and female writers. A recent study conducted into major literary prizes shows that you’re more likely to win if your protagonist is male. The publishing house, Small Press and Other Stories, has reacted to this by stating that in 2018 they will only publish books written by women. Whether I necessarily agree with this move or not, there’s no doubt that there’s an imbalance. After all, recent news headlines have included stories such as, shock horror, Zoe Saldana’s husband is taking her surname, a top tier scientist stating that girls in laboratories ‘cry’ and ‘fall in love’, and a New York Post columnist writing that ‘women are not capable of understanding Goodfellas’. Not all is lost, however. Ficshelf have discovered that self-publishing is bucking the male-dominated trends.

With this in mind, it seems only fair to dedicate a post to the kickass heroines of the fiction world. It’s not easy for them: they need to be strong, both emotionally and physically, without losing their femininity in the process. They need to remain desirable to the opposite sex. It helps a great deal if they also stand up against social norms and work to make the world a better place. For anyone, regardless of gender, that’s a tall order. So here are my top ten kickass heroines and kudos to the lot of them. Who do you think deserves a mention?

10. Frankie Landau Banks

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Frankie starts her story as a girl doing anything to please her popular boyfriend. When she belatedly realises she’s being both lied to and side-lined, she sets into motion a fabulous series of tricks and pranks to establish her autonomy. She’s ambitious and driven and won’t take anything lying down. I wish Frankie had been around to read when I was a teenager.

9. Melanie

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The main character of The Girl With All The Gifts is a winner. She’s only ten years old but she’s no ordinary child. I can’t say too much without giving away the story but she’s a braver, more intelligent and distinctly human heroine than many. It’s impossible not to root for her.

8. Mariam and Laila

Although these two characters are very different, and I’m cheating slightly by including both, they definitely deserve it for their roles in Khaleed Hosseini’s astound book A Thousand Splendid Suns. Married to the same man, these two women prove that you don’t need physical strength to be a warrior. True strength comes from within.

7. Lara Croft

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Lara’s enduring popularity in the gaming world should have spawned a greater collection of virtual heroines. Yes, her boobs change dramatically in size to appeal to teenage boys but there’s no denying that she’s capable of feats which no-one else (superheroes notwithstanding) could even dream of. I’ve even named my daredevil cat after her.

6. Samantha Martin

Not all heroines have to be good. Debra Dubar’s cheeky imp, who is far more concerned with herself than with anyone else on the planet, is a protagonist to be truly enjoyed. She might be totally amoral and self-serving but she’s also capable of growing as a sympathetic character while her wit takes the sting out of her more reprehensible actions. Devilish fun.

5. Lisbeth Salander

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It’s beyond a tragedy that Stieg Larrson died before ever truly seeing how his eponymous girl with the dragon tattoo created such a storm. Apparently a vision of what Pippi Longstocking would have been like as an adult, Lisbeth is not without her demons. As a fiercely genius computer hacker, Lisbeth inspires not only admiration but also pity. Whilst I’m nervous for her re-boot in the soon to be released The Girl In The Spider’s Web, I’m definitely going to be reading it.

4. Katniss Everdeen

What’s not to love about Katniss? Not only is she the underdog in the Hunger Games, but she manages to beat them through a combination of wiles and cunning while retaining her own humanity. There’s a reason why people in Thailand began using the finger symbol from the series as a gesture of rebellion against their own government. All Katniss wanted to do was save her sister – and she ended up saving the world regardless of the personal cost.

3. Mara of the Acoma

Raymond Feist is celebrated across the fantasy world for his Riftwar saga. Indeed, Magician is a tour de force. He truly came into his own, however, when he collaborated with the fabulous Janny Wurts to write the Empire trilogy: three books following the seventeen year old Tsurani Mara, as she’s ripped from her chosen life as a temple devotee to becoming the most powerful woman in the land. Everything she does is through cunning, guile and downright intelligence, despite moments of astounding trauma. These books might be almost a quarter of a century old but they’re still fresh, exciting and will have you cheering along all the way. There are even distinct foreshadows of Game of Thrones threaded in throughout.

2. Elizabeth Bennett

She doesn’t join werewolves or navigate through vampire politics or even beat up nasty villains. But Lizzy is still kickass. She flouts social rules by tramping through the countryside and getting muddy, not to mention turning down Darcy’s initial offer of marriage despite his wealth. She’s intelligent and forthright and gets exactly what she wants. It’s no wonder her popularity endures to this day.

1. Buffy The Vampire Slayer

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Buffy always wins. To each generation, a slayer is born – and Buffy beats the lot. From defeating goddesses and sacrificing her own life to berating Spike for participating in kitten poker, she’s the most kickass of all kickass heroines. The Big Bad better watch out when the slayer is in town.

Photo by JD Hancock

Helen Harper

Back pain

  • June 11, 2015
  • Blog
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I’ve been cursing this week. I had a minor fender bender on Wednesday then on Thursday, halfway through my gym session, did my back in. Whether the two are related, I’m not sure, but I’m currently lying on the sofa with a heat pack and feeling generally very sorry for myself.

It’s horrifying how many people have to endure back problems – and often far worse than mine. At least I generally heal within a few days. I’ve had ongoing issues for years and actually thought I was over them as I’ve had twelve months clear. When I was working as a teacher and the pain hadn’t yet quite gotten to the part where I had to be sent home, I’d lie down in the staffroom to try and rest. Almost everyone who walked in would sit down next to me and offer advice. It was always very well meaning but I did get incredibly tired of conversations that started, “When I had back problems, I did (insert treatment). Let me give you the phone number now.” By the end of the day I’d have up to twenty competing avenues to follow. Great, except that the one thing I’ve learnt is that, when it comes to your back, there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all recovery programme.

The first time I ever suffered with it was over ten years ago now. I was teaching in Devon and I think I had only about three or four weeks left until I finished my job and re-located to Tokyo. With half my classes on exam leave or doing work experience, I was taking advantage of the extended free time to clear up my classroom. I was standing up and holding nothing more than a pen when I felt it – a strange sharp pain in my lower spine. Confused, I tried to walk it off. It just got worse. I halted in the middle of the room as two pupils wandered in from the class next door. My vision by this stage was already blurry and I knew with absolute certainty I was about to faint. I managed to tell them to get the other teacher – and then the next thing I knew I was on the floor as he crouched next to me trying to bring me round.

That was a pretty scary experience. It was nothing compared to what happened next though. Any time I tried to get up off the floor, I was in screaming agony. As luck would have it, the local fire brigade were on campus giving fire safety demonstrations to some of the younger pupils. Three of them were summoned and, in the absence of a wheelchair or anything sensible like that, I was deposited onto a normal plastic school chair and carried through the playground to the nurse’s office. Of course it was break time when this happened so crowds of kids were able to witness my journey. Lucky old me. In theory, it should have been fun – something akin to Daenerys from Game of Thrones on a litter. And, come on – firemen! The reality was that when they’d been trying to help me get to my feet, all I’d been able to think about was the fact that I hadn’t shaved my legs for about a month. When I was being carried on the chair and watching these poor guys sweat profusely, it was more a case of wishing I had stuck to that diet after all.

Still, the fact that I was compos mentis enough to be embarrassed proved that things could have been a whole lot worse! Let’s face it, things can ALWAYS be worse. Now I have the perfect excuse to avoid doing any cleaning whatsoever. If I can just train the cats to bring me cool drinks and nibbles whenever I want, then I’ll be set 😉

Photo by CJS*64 A man with a camera

Helen Harper

Expect the unexpected…

I used to aim to avoid expectations. No expectations, no disappointments. It’s a naïve desire really though because it’s next to impossible to achieve. The week just past has, for me, been filled with unfulfilled expectations – both in good and bad ways.

Red Angel, the fourth book in the Bo Blackman series, came out on Monday. It’s difficult to have expectations for new books because one minute I’m terrified that everyone will hate it and the next minute I’m sure it’ll be a hit. Reviews have been both slow in coming and very mixed. Some glowing, some not. I suppose it means all contradictory expectations have been met!

I was thrilled to have a big promotion begin at the start of this week for the Blood Destiny boxset and, believe me, had high (but I thought reasonable) expectations for how it would go. The five books combined were reduced from $9.99 to $2.99 and will remain so until June 10th. The big push was, however, on Tuesday.  I thought it was a good deal but, while I certainly haven’t lost any money and there was a very nice boost in sales, the results aren’t anywhere nearly as impressive as I’d envisaged. BAD.

On Wednesday, I had an amazing day writing. 8000 words – which is a vast amount for me. The ideas were flowing and it was so much fun to get into the head of different characters. I woke up on Thursday ready for more of the same and was seriously pumped to get going. Then a friend called. She was in a lot of pain and needed help. I ended up spending hours in the hospital with her to find out what was going on. VERY, VERY BAD. I have to admit my expectations at that point were it was going to be something horribly serious. After being shunted around from department to department, however, she finally got to see a specialist who was able to explain that while the pain might be horrendous, the root cause was something quite simple and treatable. VERY, VERY GOOD.

I arranged to meet another friend to go dog walking. About five minutes before we were due to set off, however, the heavens opened. Malaysian rain isn’t like Scottish rain. In Scotland, you can get drizzle that will last for days. In Malaysia it’s more like the apocalypse. Spend 0.5 seconds outside and you’ll be soaked. That’s not to mention the inevitable thunder and lightning. With expectations of a sunny stroll round the park dashed, we went to the pub instead for one drink and some food. Hours later, I staggered home. Yeah, that was GOOD

Last night was another venture to a pub – but this time to support Kuala Lumpur Big Band, a group of 24 musicians playing swing and jazz. I had misgivings. It was a pub. How would they even all fit in? Wouldn’t it just be really loud? It was, however, fabulous. GOOD, GOOD, GOOD.

Next week, I’m hoping to complete the first draft of my current WIP (Work In Progress). I’m going to take my car into the garage and I’m expecting a hefty bill because the engine does not sound healthy. I’m thinking it’ll probably be a fairly quiet week, even with my birthday coming at the end of it. I wonder what will really happen?

 

 

 

 

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