Helen Harper

Themed restaurants

I don’t tend to be very good at lunch. Usually, it’s because I’m deep in writing mode and I’ll forget to eat. By the time 3pm hits and I’m really hungry, dinner seems so close that I generally just end up hanging on until then. Yesterday, however, I made an exception because I read about a new-ish restaurant that had opened up nearby called The Yellow Brick Road, with a sister café upstairs specialising in pancakes and with the wonderful title of the Wicked Pancake Parlour. Sadly for me (although obviously not for them), the place was packed and I couldn’t get a table. I’ll time it better next week!

 

I do absolutely love themed restaurants. There must be something about them which speaks to my inner child. They were hugely popular in Japan when I lived there. There was one serving pretty tapas and done up like a crazy cathedral inside (complete with gargoyles), another that was styled as a jail where you ate your meal chained to the table, and my personal favourite – a hodge podge of ideas that included requiring a password to enter, intermittent sounds of a train blasting through the PA system and a toilet with a strange giant plastic smiley face that would play music and move out from the wall towards your knees while you were taking care of business.

 

As a huge fan, the news of a Hello Kitty themed restaurant opening in Hong Kong last week had my toes curling up in delight. I just googled themed restaurants right now and the top result was a news item about a potential Puff the Magic Dragon chain starting up. Shivers of joy! Of course, not every theme works for every person. Dining In The Dark seems to be a concept which many cities around the world now boast of. If you’ve not heard of it, it generally involves pitch black, a mysterious set menu where your tastebuds are meant to do all the work, and blind waiting staff. I’ve been once – I’ll never go back. I’m just too darn claustrophobic and I hated every minute.

 

It seems that Urban Fantasy is ripe for its own themed restaurants. Imagine dark cityscapes across the walls, mini swords as eating utensils, and food items with names like ‘The Vampire’s Last Bite’ or ‘Wolf It Down’. Just think of the fun that could be had with creating cocktails to match. Hmmm…

Photo by brianscantlebury.com

Helen Harper

Kimchi the dog

Like pretty much every fiction author in the known universe, I don’t use real people in my books. That’s why it’s called fiction ;)! I will admit I have been known to take little asides that I’ve heard and use them though. For example, in the book I’m currently working on, one of the first lines is ‘You have to do bad shit to get ahead.’ I got that from a journalist I got chatting to during a night out in KL – he had spent some time with the Russian mafia and had related that particular tidbit as their raison d’etre. I did also once offer a competition to all my newsletter readers for a cameo in one of the Bo Blackman books. Embarrassingly, only one person took me up on it so the less said about that the better!

However, there is one specific character in the Bo Blackman series who is most definitely grounded in reality. And that’s Kimchi the dog. He’s actually an amalgamation of two gorgeous mutts who both belong to a fabulous Kiwi friend of mine. She rescued them both from the streets – first Kimchi then, about a year later, Molly.

It would be fair to say that Kimchi used to hate me. I’d go round to my friend’s house and he’d sit in front of me, regardless of how many other people were present, and simply bark. And bark. And bark. And bark. All at me. He’d never bite – he’s not that kind of dog – but it was clear I was far from his favourite person. It wasn’t until my friend patiently guided me through a treat-giving session that the tide turned. Now he loves me. At least, that’s what I’ve decided anyway. He’s an incredibly good-natured dog who suffers training and cats and all manner of craziness with adorable patience. (And ,if you’re curious, he’s called Kimchi because that’s the name he seemed to respond to most – after considerable attempts at finding one he liked himself!)

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Molly, the younger of the two, is nuts. For a long time, she was pretty chubby because, damn, does that dog like her food. She’d eat just about anything in sight. To be fair to her though, when I saw her last weekend she was looking far less plump so kudos to her! It’s probably all that energy she constantly expends. Molly is the kind of dog who you can put up a barrier in order to keep her in one part of the house and within hours she’s figured out some smart method of bypassing it. While my friend was away on holiday, I was on dog-sitting duty. I’d go round in the morning only to discover that chunks had been ripped out from the beautifully varnished and immaculate parquet flooring. I still have no idea how on earth she managed it. Don’t quote me on this but I’m pretty certain that, to date, two passports and five mobile phones have been destroyed as a result of Molly’s fond attention. There’s a tiny part of me that’s slightly sad she’s now growing out of a lot of that sort of behaviour, and with patient and professional dog training is becoming far better behaved. Because any story with Molly in it is going to be fun. She’s just utterly, utterly gorgeous.

So, for those of you who have read New Order and High Stakes from the Bo Blackman books, Kimchi the dog is really Molly. He has Kimchi’s name but Molly’s character – and every time he appears in a scene, I can do nothing but smile. The pair of them are wonderful and completely inseparable – both in real life and in literature!

Helen Harper

RT Convention 2015

  • May 22, 2015
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Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remind myself that I’m not dreaming and life really is this much fun! I was lucky enough to travel to the Romantic Times Convention in Dallas last week and, while I only returned on Tuesday and am still struggling with jetlag, it was a phenomenal experience.

Seven hours to Tokyo, four hours stopover, then thirteen hours to Texas sounds pretty crazy. I knew with crossing the international date line that I’d struggle with jetlag so I gave myself a few days to acclimatise and explore Dallas first. I hadn’t been expecting to land in a ghost town! In KL, Sundays might be quiet but there’s still plenty going on. That wasn’t the case in Dallas – it was DEAD. Considering I was staying downtown, there was next to nothing open and next to no-one on the streets. Part of travelling around the world and getting to see new places is just that – having your expectations entirely confounded. And it wasn’t just that it was quiet. It was also cold. Lucky I thought to bring more than just a pair of flipflops for my feet!

Still, I managed to get in some sightseeing in between my odd sleeping hours. There’s something incredibly macabre about seeing the X on the spot on the road where JFK was shot. And I somehow thought the grassy knoll would be bigger. I managed to buy several large Texan-style hats (because all my friends back here had been asking for them since I booked the tickets!) and eat some seriously yummy barbecue.

When the convention itself began, I spent the first few hours in a daze. It was so large and with so many people! Every author I met handed me over a shiny, beautifully designed business card – along with numerous freebies like pens and badges and sweets. It was rather embarrassing to have nothing to hand back in return – I’m going to have to get my arse into gear and get some proper swag ordered. Everyone was also hugely down to earth. After I’d registered, I sat down on a comfy chair to watch all the people go by – a couple of others sat beside me and after several minutes of conversation they handed me their cards. The woman next to me was none other than Rachel Caine! I was pretty much struck dumb! All the other authors, whether hugely famous or not, were just as lovely and unassuming.

One of the greatest parts of the convention, besides some fabulous panels on marketing and business (expect me to be more pro-active with all that over the coming months now!) was meeting other people who I’d connected with online. Susan Ilene, the author of the Sensor series, and Debra Dunbar, of the Imp series fame, were particular stand outs. Debra even celebrated her birthday while I was there. It was an honour to have a drink (or two!) with her. They were, of course, far more organised than me. For one of the evening events, a Steampunk party, they had beautiful costumes. I had jeans. Er…

Anyway, I’m taking everything I learnt and starting to put it all into practice. And I’m definitely planning to go to the RT Convention in 2016. It’s going to be in Las Vegas and I have definite expectations of what it’s like as a city. I’m already excited to see how those expectations will be squashed. And I’m going to bring costumes, business cards, and generally be much, much more organised 😉

Helen Harper

Boundary Crossed

I’ve just started reading this new book by Melissa Olson and I’m already hooked! Read on for more info from Melissa herself…

Thank you so much to Helen for being part of this multi-webpage blog blast.  If you’ve already heard of me and my books, you can scroll down to go straight to the contest entry at my website. Otherwise, please let me introduce myself.

My name is Melissa F. Olson, and I mostly write urban fantasy novels, which are stories about the intersection of two worlds: the real one that we live in and a world that involves something supernatural: fairies, vampires, werewolves, mutant killer hedgehogs, or all of the above. My new novel Boundary Crossed is about a young woman, Lex, trying to protect her baby niece from bad guys who have discovered that the baby has serious value on the supernatural black market. Lex is determined to keep her safe, but unfortunately she dies at the end of the first chapter.

No, seriously. She dies. But then she gets better, because it turns out that there’s more to Lex than she ever knew. She needs to figure out why she’s still alive and what the bad guys want with her niece, and she’s going to need a lot of help to do it.

The book has been available all month as a Kindle First deal on Amazon, but it comes out in paperback and audiobook for the first time today.

To celebrate this release, I’m giving away signed books, a $20 Amazon gift card, and some killer swag. (That’s a metaphor; the swag will not hurt you.) To enter, just visit my website, and enter up to four times for the four prizes. Thanks for reading!

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Melissa Olson was born and raised in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and studied film and literature at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. After graduation, and a brief stint bouncing around the Hollywood studio system, Melissa landed in Madison, WI, where she eventually acquired a master’s degree from UW-Milwaukee, a husband, a mortgage, a teaching gig, two kids, and two comically oversized dogs, not at all in that order. She loves Madison, but still dreams of the food in LA. Literally. There are dreams. Learn more about Melissa, her work, and her dog at www.MelissaFOlson.com.

Melissa3450

 

Helen Harper

New Release! Night Shade

  • April 01, 2015
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I’m thrilled that Night Shade, the first book of the Dreamweaver series, has finally been released. It’s not your typical urban fantasy tale – no vampires or werewolves here. I’m hoping, however, that it’s intriguing and exciting enough to keep you interested! And, unlike the previous post, this one isn’t an April Fool 😉

“I have special coping mechanisms for the times I need to open the front door. They’re even often successful…”

Zoe Lydon knows there’s often nothing logical or rational about fear. It doesn’t change the fact that she’s too terrified to step outside her own house, however.

What Zoe doesn’t realise is that she’s also a dreamweaver – able to access other people’s subconscious minds. When she finds herself in the Dreamlands and up against its sinister Mayor, she’ll need to use all of her wits – and overcome all of her fears – if she’s ever going to come out alive.

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Bloodfire: The Movie!

  • April 01, 2015
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movie_poster1So glad to finally be announcing this! After a long time in the works, the countdown is on to the release of the first Blood Destiny movie, Bloodfire! So many thanks to the director all the way from France, Mr P. D’Avril, to the production crew at Royals of Plaid (perfect Scots name!), and to il.lustr.us Media for making it happen.

Helen has been delighted to work up close and personal with the day to day filming (she particularly enjoyed how Jonathan Rhys-Meyers has bulked up for the role of Corrigan) and is really looking forward to how it turns out after post-production. The lovely Rose Leslie takes on the role of Mackenzie Smith, her portrayal of the fiery and fierce redheaded warrior wilding ‘Ygritte’ on HBO’s Game of Thrones being great prep for Mac’s ass-kicking character. Let’s hope Corrigan knows more than Jon Snow!

Subscribe to the newsletter or like Helen on Facebook to keep up to date with all the excitement in the run up to the release of Bloodfire: The Movie!

Helen Harper

YA

  • March 29, 2015
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I read a lot of Young Adult fiction. It started out as part of my old day job. Thanks to a truly wonderful school librarian who I worked with in Tokyo, I started to read teenage books to help make recommendations to my students. It didn’t take long before I was reading them purely because they are so damn good. Somehow I’m not surprised that 55% of YA readers are over 18 (The Guardian) and I don’t think it’s because of a hankering to be a kid again – it’s because YA books take risks, show imagination and are just so immensely readable.

 

I’d been planning to write a blog on this topic when I came across news a few days that made my toes curl up with joy – Steven Spielberg is signed up to direct Ready Player One, a fabulous sci-fi adventure inspired by the 1980s. Despite my vast disappointment in films such as Insurgent, The Fault In Our Stars and the Maze Runner (and, believe me, I loved those books), I have high hopes for this one. Taking advantage of a lazy Sunday, however, I lay on my sofa today and read Only Ever Yours by Louise Neil. I’m now in an entirely different frame of mind.

 

Neil holds up a mirror to girls in today’s society by creating a nightmarish dystopian society. The genius in her book, however, lies not in its premise but in the main character, Frieda. Frieda often hates her best friend, Isabel, because she’s ranked as the most beautiful girl in her year (the only test that ever matters to any of these students). She won’t dare show her feelings but they’re there nonetheless. The characters are bitchy and mean, competing with each other to be the perfect weight, have perfect skin and be chosen to be worthy enough to be a ‘companion’ to a man. Frieda is no kickass heroine. This isn’t Katniss. She’s weak and unlikeable but I was rooting for her all the same. The trouble is that there’s no positive endpoint for her. To ‘win’ means to end up in a potentially abusive relationship where you pop sons until you’re culled at forty. To lose means to be a concubine, used purely for sex, or a chastity teaching new groups of girls. Turn the pages of any tabloid newspaper or glossy magazine with their screams of ‘too fat’ celebrities or ‘too thin’ WAGs and it’s easy to see how Neil’s book isn’t a dystopian sci-fi – it’s now.

 

YA books are so very good at dealing with difficult subjects. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson deals unflinchingly with rape, the Diary of Pelly D imagines a world where genocide and the extermination of an entire race has been successful, Eleanor and Park considers bullying and isolation and love, Every Day touches upon gender identity in the most breathtakingly original manner. In a week where the Clean Reader app has been dominating book related headlines, we should be celebrating the freedom, ideas and beauty of YA fiction. And learning a lot about ourselves in the process.

Photo by jennnster

Helen Harper

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

  • March 13, 2015
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I stayed up later than I should have last night, reading Jon Ronson’s compelling new book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. It is a very sympathetically drawn and yet often even-handed book which makes for riveting readingIn an odd way, reading about how social media has often gathered into mob mentality to destroy people like Justine Sacco (the Africa AIDS tweeter) was as much of a rubber-necking car crash moment as watching the actual ‘shamings’ happen the first time around. That probably says some disturbing things about my own psyche that I’m not sure I want to dwell on.

One of the most interesting theories which Ronson posits is that people who shame others on social media often do so out of the desire to do things ‘right’. I can understand that. I remember a story from a couple of years ago about a UK woman caught on camera stroking a cat and then dropping it into a nearby wheelie bin. As a cat lady myself, it was awful to watch.  How dare she treat an animal that way?

However, when 4chan users banded together to find her true identity what ensued was nuts. There were Facebook pages calling for the death penalty and claims that she was ‘worse than Hitler’ (The Guardian). What she did was wrong, I’m not denying that. But thousands of people agreeing that she was worse than Hitler? Really? Social media – and all of us who may not even join in with such comments but certainly don’t do anything to stop them – blur the lines between justifiably condemning an action to acting as if it’s akin to the cold, vicious genocide of six million people. We band together to stop bullies by, well, becoming bullies.

Call out actions and words that you think are wrong by all means. But think carefully about how you do it. Nietsche was right: He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.

Photo by built4love.hain

Helen Harper

Reading…and reading…and reading…

  • March 10, 2015
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Sometimes I have a love-hate relationship with my e-reader.

 

Despite my best efforts, I currently have 152 books waiting to be read. That’s not to mention the ones I started then decided I wasn’t in the mood for and have carefully moved to a folder named ‘Later’. There are 32 books there. (It’s probably better to forget entirely about the ones I have started but have no intention of ever finishing or the paperbacks still waiting to be read and languishing on my shelves).

 

It’s not really my fault. I read news articles and reviews that mention books which sound interesting so I buy them. I wander past posters in bookshop windows and immediately click to buy on my phone. I receive daily emails about books from Amazon and Bookbub and …. half the world sometimes it seems. I used to panic when I was a kid that I’d die in the middle of the night and never find out what happens at the end of the book I happened to be reading at the time. At this rate, I’ll have enough to read for several times over.

 

I bring all this up because the Bailey’s long list has just been announced. Last year I made a concerted effort to read the Booker long list. I didn’t quite manage it – there were still two titles to go by the time the shortlist was announced but now I feel I need to give the Bailey’s prize the same attention. Just to be fair! Out of pure chance, I’ve already read three on the list – just seventeen to go. I might not be talking to anyone anytime soon…

Photo by zimpenfish

Helen Harper

Corrigan Magic Draft Completed

  • February 24, 2015
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The first draft of Corrigan Magic is complete and up on Wattpad. There are quite a few inconsistencies and errors to sort out but it’ll remain up there until the start of March if you wish to read it! After that, it’ll be properly edited and published on Amazon.

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