Helen Harper

Ain’t technology great?

When e-readers first appeared on the market, I wasn’t exactly impressed. How on earth could a piece of technology ever compete with a real book? Truthfully, it wasn’t until my suitcase was lost by an airline during a holiday to a remote island in the Philippines and a friend lent me her Kindle that I appreciated just how wonderful they are. These days, I’ll choose an e-reader over a physical book any time. I have endless choices (and an endless list of books – one click has a lot to answer for!) and instead of lugging round a heavy tome everywhere I go, I can slip my Kindle into the smallest of my bags and barely notice it’s there until I need it. I can change the size of the font. I can hold it one-handed. Misplacing it sends me into a panic which temporarily losing my keys has never managed to achieve.

 

As an author, obviously the advent of e-readers and e-books has changed my life. I’d never have achieved any measure of success without them. I will admit, however, that sometimes I miss having something tangible to give to readers. Sure, I’ve got boxes aplenty of bookmarks – but even when I bought physical novels by the cartload I personally never used a bookmark (yes, I’ve always been a corner-folding heathen). I have given away branded keychains and bottle openers and mints and jewellery and they’re great. They’re not books though.

 

Of course, I do give away lots of copies of e-books but, to my mind, there’s something less personal about sending one through the virtual ether than actually sending something you can hold. That’s why I’m thrilled to have teamed up with USB Memory Direct. They’ve been kind enough to send me a batch of USB sticks with my logo on them. Now I can load up books and give them away so fans have something tangible AND something with my books included. Check out the size too!

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There’s an old episode of Friends where Chandler is ridiculously excited about his new laptop with (wait for it) 500MB of space on its hard drive. This tiny memory stick has 8GB … I don’t think technology will ever cease to amaze me.

 

One lucky reader will have the chance to win one of these great memory sticks, with the e-book of your choice uploaded onto it. Simply comment below and you’ll be in the running. And next week I’ll be visiting the London Book Fair so if you happen to bump into me, there might just be the chance to take away another one! 😉

Helen Harper

Haze

I live in Malaysia, a beautiful, friendly tropical country. For most people that probably conjures up images of blue skies, swaying palm trees and sunny weather. Most of the time that’s true. Kuala Lumpur, even as a busy, traffic-congested capital city is surprisingly green. There are a lot of trees. Malaysia itself is one of those happily located places in the world, much like the UK in fact, which manages to escape most of nature’s ravages. There aren’t earthquakes or typhoons or active volcanoes to worry about. When the tragic and devastating tsunami of 2004 struck, it would be fair to say that Malaysia got off lightly. Thailand to the north had over 5000 deaths. Indonesia to the south had a staggering 130,000. Malaysia’s total was 68. The island of Sumatra essentially shielded Malaysia’s coasts from the worst. Unfortunately, there’s no protection from the ravages of man.

 

Since around the start of July, many South-East Asian countries have been affected by air pollution – or haze – that’s sweeping in from Indonesia as a result of slash and burn farming practices. Sometimes, there will be a thunderstorm or two and the skies clear for a few days. Most of the time, Kuala Lumpur is shrouded in smog. On the worst days, when I wake up, I taste the burning in my mouth. Friends’ Facebook posts are littered with ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of views from their apartments and houses. The difference is staggering. Sporting events at every level have being cancelled. This week alone schools were ordered to be closed from Monday to Thursday because the API (Air Pollution Index) levels were simply too high to be deemed safe for children. That is usually when the numbers reach above 200 or ‘very unhealthy’. Imagine what it must be like in Indonesia. On October 2nd, Palangkaraya hit 1,986.

 

The situation has been exacerbated this by year by the El Nino effect. There are numerous suggestions and theories about when it will all end. Some say next month. Some say it will go on until March. There have to be considerably grave concerns about the long term effect on the health of millions and millions of people, not to mention the planet. I remember years ago sitting in lesson after lesson where the dangers of the hole in the ozone layer were spelled out and using CFC gases or driving a car without a catalytic converter was potentially going to destroy the world. When I look out my window, it seems like we’ve learned nothing though. It’s not just here – think about Volkswagen.

 

It’s easy to point the finger and blame others for what’s happening, but maybe we’re all culpable. We all demand cheap products. We all could do more to recycle or cut down on our carbon footprints. I had a long Skype chat with a good friend today who’s vegan and he was telling me about how difficult veganism can be nowadays. You’d think it would be easier as it’s grown in popularity. Instead, companies all around the world have jumped in and worked out ways to label their products as vegan. Yes, they are vegan but very often they’re not ethically sourced or produced either. They might not be lying per se but their products still also seem to go against almost every tenet of veganism.

 

I don’t have a solution to any of this. Or even a conclusion because right now it doesn’t appear that there ever will be one. There is a quotation that I’ve found, however, by Terry Swearingen. I don’t know who he (or she) is or if he even really said it, but it seems apt: “We are living on the planet as if we have another one to go to.”

Photo by thienzieyung

Helen Harper

Books, books, books, books, books…

I’m not sure there’s ever been a time in my life which hasn’t been coloured by books. I love writing and to have the opportunity to do it full-time is beyond amazing but, first and foremost, I’m a reader. Urban Fantasy is naturally a huge love but I’ll read almost any genre. Right now I’m working my way through the Booker longlist, punctuating it occasionally with the odd UF joy or crime thriller.

When I was a kid, I was somewhat of a prodigy as far as reading went. Not in Maths (I never actually properly learnt my times tables – I think I found them too mundane to bother with) or Science or History, although one school I went to between the ages of 8 and 10 did teach Latin and I discovered a remarkable affinity for it (I’m not sure dead languages count though). I used to lie awake at night, terrified that I might die before I got to the end of my book. How would I ever cope if I didn’t find out what happened because I was in the ground?

I don’t recall ever being taught how to read. It was just something I always seem to remember doing, as if I emerged from the womb with the desire to pick up a good novel. I have distant recollections of being irritated at being taught to read in school when I already knew how and I have an incredibly vivid memory of the first time I was given a book which didn’t include pictures (Enid Blyton. I was her biggest fan. Fortunately all the explicit and implicit racism passed me by). I read Lord of The Rings when I was eight, skipping out all the ‘boring’ parts which didn’t include Frodo or Sam. I re-read it when I was nine, adding in Pippin and Merry’s chapters. I finally read every section when I was ten then bumbled along to a new school where the class were reading The Hobbit. I was bitterly disappointed.

As a teenager, I think I had a pretty healthy social life and yet I still went to the library two or three times every week. Oh, the joy when I was finally allowed to select books from the adult floor! I became a massive of fan of Jeffrey Archer and Michael Crichton and Stephen King. Some books I loved so much that I read and re-read them until I could almost recite them word for word. There was one book, the name of which is lost to me now, which was a trashy but hugely fun romance about a young woman kidnapped and taken to a sheik’s harem. It was a charity shop buy so there were no problems about reading it as often as I wished. Imagine my shock when I borrowed a book with a plot about politics in the Middle East where a side story involved a politician’s daughter being kidnapped for a harem and there were two full pages describing her ‘preparation’ for her deflowering which I knew I’d read somewhere before. Two minutes of investigation revealed exactly where they’d come from. The heavy political tome had plagiarised directly from the light-hearted romance. To this day, I regret that I didn’t do anything about it.

Even in this day and age, libraries are amazing places. In my early twenties, when I moved down to England and didn’t yet have a permanent address and so couldn’t join the local library, I spent whole afternoons scouring charity shops for things to read. Mills and Boons featured a lot! A lot of my reading ‘problems’ stem from the fact that because I read so quickly, I forget many books as soon as I put them down (assuming I don’t re-read them a gazillion times, of course). I swear, in pre-Kindle days, I once bought the same thriller three times because I’d forgotten I’d read it already. Twice.

The reason I’m including all these book related musings today is because I’ve just taken a new job. It’s only temporary and only part-time but it’ll give my brain time to clear itself. I can get very mugged up in the plots that I’m writing until the lines between reality and fiction are no longer clear! Anyway, the job is in the library of my old school. The person they had employed for the new school year wasn’t able to take up the position so I’ve stepped into the breach until someone permanent can be found. I’ll be helping primary kids to choose books and become more adept at reading, and aiding secondary kids with research for essays. The truth is that I can’t wait. Two full days a week surrounded by thousands of books? And then the rest of the week writing my own? Does life get ANY better?
Photo by faungg’s photos

Helen Harper

Bloodrunner

At school, I was never the person who enjoyed PE. I’d do just about anything to get out of it, from ‘forgetting’ my kit to having my period six weeks in a row. Sport and me just didn’t mix. I was chubby and lazy and, quite frankly, I’d rather have curled up with a book and exercised my mind instead.

This sad state of affairs continued for a long time. I attended Stirling Uni in Scotland, which actually had a very strong sports department. One week, on a whim, I started going to circuit training before I hit the pub. I was pretty slim at that point but I still couldn’t even do sit ups. I quickly gave up. When I got older, with a decent teaching job, I tried to take my health more seriously and got a gym membership. I would faithfully attend aerobics lessons and attempt the treadmill. I found it all excruciatingly boring and I’d celebrate at the end of each session by buying myself a vast pack of salt and vinegar Kettle chips and chocolate. Needless to say, I only put on weight.

Not long after I moved to Malaysia, however, I came across bootcamp. A local company was offering a week of free sessions. It was at a ridiculous hour – 5.45am – 6.45am – but it meant I could still get into work with plenty of time to spare. I went along and hated it. For some unfathomable reason that I’m still not sure about, I bought a follow up month. I still hated it. And yet I still kept on going. After a long painful year, I realised I actually enjoyed it. Even getting up at stupid o’clock was becoming fun. I can’t say for sure when the change happened, but happen it did. I made lots of friends and, when the company began running obstacle races, I started taking part. Who knew that exercise could be fun??? In fact, I kept bootcamp up for four years, quitting only when the recurring back problems it gave me forced me out.

I’m not particularly fit at the moment. I still go to the gym and I still enjoy it but I’ve had a lot of time off exercise this year for all sorts of dull and uninspiring reasons. I’m still a big fan of those obstacle races though. This is why last night I found myself at Bloodrunner, a nearby 10km run with obstacles thrown in. And werewolves. (Yes. Volunteers were dressed in werewolf outfits. For a UF writer, it was somewhat bizarre.) It was nice that it ran at night though – it’s seriously hot in KL and that sun does my poor Scottish skin no favours at all.

I didn’t manage the course very quickly. In fact, my companion, whose legs are longer than a damn giraffe’s, had to wait a ridiculous time for me to meet him at the end. In my defence, I was held up on a narrow single file trail for quite some time. I’d still have finished long after him without it though. I complained a lot in my head. My legs were really sore. At the end, there was the almost inevitable run in with an ex-student who’d just finished too and looked as fresh as a daisy – while I was on the verge of collapse.

But today I feel good. I’m justified in lazing around all weekend. I’m tempted to go searching for the dates of this year’s Zombie Run. It’s almost like research with fitness thrown in at the same time.

My teenage self would be horrified at all this. But there’s a quote I used for the opening of Bloodlust (and back when Amazon used to include what readers had highlighted on author’s book pages, it was the part most often noted) from Jim Rohn: You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.

Now, where are those salt and vinegar crisps?

Helen Harper

Pipe Dreams

A rarely advertised fact about myself is that a long, long time ago, I used to play the bagpipes.

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Those of you who aren’t Scottish might imagine that this is a rite of passage for a Scot. Actually, even my fellow students at school thought it was really weird. There were 1200 pupils at my high school and there was only ever one other who played the pipes as well (and she was far, far more skilled than I ever was).

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While a foolish drunken boast next to a piper in a Scottish themed pub a few years ago in KL has proven that I’m no longer even vaguely capable of blowing out a tune, the mechanics of playing the bagpipes aren’t as hard as people often suppose. You don’t need a lot of puff because once the bag is blown up (and you do that part before you start playing), it’s all about control – not how much air you have in your lungs. Deftly managing to play a complicated tune and not sound like a strangled cat is harder. I could learn the notes and hammer them out but the control part was never my forte.

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Certainly as a teenager, it was an interesting life. We’d spend all winder practising and preparing for the summer season. There were many long dark evenings spent in school halls. It was ten months of practice (with the odd Hogmany, Remembrance Day and local festival appearances thrown in) for two months of dedicated competing. Every weekend we travelled by rickety bus to another competition –sometimes north on a Saturday and then south on a Sunday. I saw far more of Scotland as a piper than I ever have before or since. We’d play one tune for the judges and then spend the rest of the day at whichever Highland Games we happened to be attending for the results. I quickly discovered that it was damn easy to get served alcohol when you were dressed as a piper. I’m not sure it would hold up these days but I’m convinced that back then, people saw the uniform – the hat, the blazer, the kilt, the handy sporran, the damned itchy socks and the shiny skean dhu (dagger) – and didn’t look at how old I was. It wasn’t healthy. Or a good idea. But it was fun.

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There was the other local band from the town next door who were our bitter rivals. There was the crazy in-fighting within our own band and the politics between the Drum Major and the Pipe Major. There was rampant sexism against the older women who played which (I hope) was nothing more than the times themselves. Despite it all, I remain intensely proud of those years. I like to imagine myself moving back to Scotland one day and taking the pipes back up again. Realistically, it’ll never happen. I was never very good. I do hope that one day, however, I’ll be able to use all those stories and knowledge and come up with a novel about a pipe band. There’s really nothing quite like being part of a pipe band.

 

Note – all the memes here are from a wonderful FB page called the Moray Neep that I happened upon a few days ago and which inspired this post.

Photo by conner395

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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