Book Review: The Timekeepers’ War

81C6jQyqOVL._SL1500_The Timekeepers War is the debut novel of Saskatchewan based writer, S.C. Jensen, but you wouldn’t know it. Skillfully written and edited, there is no hint that this book is written by anyone other than an author at the top of their game.

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We are taken to a disconnected and post apocalyptic world, some hundreds of years into the future. There, people like the protagonist, Ghost, scrabble a hand-to-mouth existence amongst the ruins of the City, living in fear of one another, and of the burning rays of the Sun. Some have moved underground entirely, and these scenes did have resonances with Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ for me.

Unknown to many of the City’s inhabitants, others, considering themselves an elite, moved up, into a guarded luxury undreamt of by those below. This is the Elysian Empire: a dictatorship, run by the tyrannical Ursaar.
The Elysian Empire is a skilful and nightmarish blend of the worst of all worlds – think of Nero’s Rome with unbridled genetic engineering, and you’ll have something of the flavour of it. Psychologists would delight in picking apart the various conditions of the Ursaar, who is plagued by paranoia, megalomania, and best of all, a substitute Oedipal complex.

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It is hard to write about this book without including too many spoilers, but I can say that Jensen has created a believable and complex world, peopled by strong characters. Many of them are not beauties, either physically or morally, just as most of us are not in real life. One thing I did love was the way that the book avoided painting anyone as entirely black or white – no-one is an angel, and motivations are mixed and sometimes obscure, again, truly reflecting society. Written as the first part of a series of books, you are often left wondering what people’s real aims are, and I’m sure that will provide ample fodder for the next books.

In the same vein, it was refreshing to have a kick-ass heroine who is strong, and can look after herself, and yet acknowledge that she has doubts and fears just like everyone else. Ghost is no superhero, but perhaps a woman steeled by the hardships of her existence.

There is plenty of action, guerrilla warfare, and even spirituality in The Timekeepers War, which will lead you through a rich world of secret societies, secret passages, steamy townships and impossibly rich gilded imperial gardens. A lengthy but necessary section of explanation and back story in the middle of the book is kept flowing well with intrigues and a deepening of the relationship between the main characters, Ghost and the mysterious Lynch.

Overall, The Timekeepers War is a highly accessible book, which deserved to be widely read. It would make a fine film, and I look forward eagerly to the sequel.

Five stars from me.

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I received a free ebook of The Timekeepers War, in return for an honest review.

Fashion Friday – Guest Post

Today, I’m guest posting at the excellent and varied Sappho’s Torque blog, which is written by author Angelique Jamail. Angelique has recently released her first novel Finis, so I’m delighted that she has taken time out of her busy schedule to host something from me.

Somewhat out of the usual cast of posts here, I’m writing about my take on Fashion, so please do pop by and feel free to cast mud at my opinions (or cheer them on, alternatively, and much more pleasantly!)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Thanks!

Mum trumps all

I don’t normally write about my private life on here, (other than my private creative endeavors of course), but this week is different. This week my child had gastroenteritis serious enough to get us admitted to hospital.

He is starting to turn the corner, I hope, but it has really brought home to me some truths about being a mother like a snowball to the face.

Firstly, there is nothing more important than your child, especially when they are sick. I love my partner dearly, and so I almost hesitate to type that, but being an adult he can look after himself, rationalise things, and he can seek help and resources outside me. My bub, especially as he can’t speak more than a few words, is entirely dependent on us to help him. We are his entire world. Sometimes all you can do is cuddle him. My professional work and my creative work, come so far down the list of priorities in comparison that they don’t even rate a number on the list.

The other thing is that gender equality and that delicate balance we weave as joint partners in bringing up this little person go completely out the window. My child is no respecter of politics, or even other people’s feelings. All week he has pushed his father away (and is grandfather is out of the question), because he needs ME. Intensely, 24 hours, and in close contact at all times. It’s been hard on my partner to be left feeling second best, especially as they have such fun when he is well.

Someone at my work recently suggested that a colleague who was going on maternity leave at the end of the month would have a lovely relaxing time when the baby comes, reading books and putting her feet up. I confess that I did have to pipe up and put him straight – about the intensity of the relationship – about how it is hard to explain what you do all day, but your days are completely full – about how my child was so demanding when he was tiny that I lost weight as I had no chance to eat.

One of our reviewers (Ella Dee) for ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’ said that as she is not a mother, reading the book was like reading science fiction, the worlds of mothers’ real and honest experiences were so different from her own. I can completely agree with that. I don’t think you can have any real idea of the intensity of the relationship until you are caught up in its whirlwind.

Hopefully this particular whirlwind will set us down somewhere a little sunnier and calmer soon.

Book Launch!

On Sunday the 23rd of March, we had a joyful celebration of the Launch of ‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood.’

Somewhat ironically, the launch was held at Abbottsford Convent, which still seems to have the aura of nun’s ghosts floating down the corridors. Despite this, it really was a fantastic way to finish a project, if you can ever call a project like this finished. The energy of having all those supportive people in one place – estimates say that we had about a hundred attendees – really can’t be beaten. I was on a high all day. 🙂

I confess that I did umm and ahh about whether or not to have a launch, as it’s a lot of extra time, effort and cash to organise. I don’t think I would have done it if the fabulous Dr. Carla Pascoe (who has a bub even smaller than mine – and mine is only 17 months) hadn’t stepped in to give me a hand, especially as I am a book launch virgin.

Our Book launch was perhaps a little unusual. Bearing in mind that many of those attending would have small children, we thought it best not to have a boozy affair at a sleek bookshop, although that would have been fun. Instead, our venue opened out on to a green courtyard, and we were blessed to have Judy McKinty facilitating play, and the talented Richard Morden helping with Colouring-in. There was even fairy bread, although how much was consumed by adults on the quiet I cannot say.

The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest MotherhoodHeather Harris, one of the contributors to the book, and also a midwife with Medecins Sans Frontiers, spoke eloquently about how the cover of the book represented women form around the world spitting the dummy, and refusing to be silenced about our experiences, despite the societal pressure to fit us into neat little molds. I also wittered on about something or other – its’ all a bit of a blur…

 

Anyway, thank you to everyone who came along, and to all the wonderful people who helped out along the way!

A once in a lifetime experience.

 

Happy New Year!

A great New Year to you all! Hope it’s filled with adventures, calm, deep satisfaction, and new experiences.:)

That’s what I’m hoping for, I think. As usual, I’ll probably be going for it with all the enthusiasm of my little guy.

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It’s been a big year for me – I spent a lot of it looking after my bub, some of it compiling our new motherhood Anthology, The Milk of Female Kindness, and some of it working in what must be admitted was a somewhat half-hearted fashion, considering everything else going on.

I think I need to take advantage of some of that calm I was talking about earlier to consider whether or not I will try and publish my short story collection this year. They are a rather eclectic mix, rather like me – science fiction, speculative fiction, and some which are probably best described just as ‘odd’.MOFK COVER front final

Anyway, if you are looking for a new experience to start off with, I am currently running a Giveaway on Goodreads for The Milk of Female Kindness. It’s not a how-to guide, but a creative look at being a mother, with artwork, poetry, essays, stories and interviews. It will make you think. there are five paperback copies available to the lucky winners, and it’s free to enter, so pop over there and give it a shot! 🙂

 

Author interview: Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

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The latest in this series of Author Profiles is Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, who is also one of the wonderful women who have contributed their thoughts and feelings about motherhood to the newly released ‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood’, with a letter written to her 21 year old son. As you’ll read below, she is a fascinating person….

I love the way that you must blow away people’s stereotype of a Muslim woman. What is your take on this? Is the stereotype annoying, baseless, or just a lazy and convenient way of putting people into boxes?

 Yes to all of the above, especially the lazy part. It is easy for people to stereotype because it frees them from having to engage, and learn, and overcome their own insecurities and fears. Overcoming stereotypes requires effort… or someone like me who is more than willing to kick down the door of stereotypes for you.
But seriously, as much as I would like to say that I purposefully work to deconstruct stereotypes, the fact is I don’t. I’m just me. It just so happens that the me that I am won’t fit into a box.
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You have a very varied and exotic list of interests, including zombies, video games, sewing and maintaining an organic garden. Two questions: how did you develop such a diverse range of passions, and how do you find time to indulge them?
 
I’ll answer the question about time first.I work full time and I have a family. I don’t have a lot of time but I do believe in putting that time to the best use that I can. I make conscious choices about what I’m willing to give my time to. I try to spend every free moment doing the things I love. So, I’m not doing all of those things all of the time, but I get around to all of them in time.
As for how I developed such a range that is more difficult to answer. I started sewing years ago because I couldn’t afford to by the kinds of clothes that I wanted to wear. So I learned to make them cheaply. I spend a lot of time with my children and I’ve learned as much from them as they have from me. I developed an interest in video games late in life from watching my kids play them. They’re now ages 22, 20, and 12 and they still play video games. I play right along with them and we have a blast. Zombies are the only horror trope that gives me pause. A little. Most other horror bores me to tears. I’ve always wanted to grow my own food, so when I moved into my home seven years ago, I decided to give it a go. I’m not always successful, but I always try.
I don’t want to be the type of person who in later years says “I wish I would have…” so if something interests me, and it isn’t harmful, I see no reason not to indulge, right now. Life is but the blink of an eye.
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I understand that you work as an oncology nurse, and have spoken at seminars about this subject. Does working with cancer patients change your outlook on life? I’m particularly wondering if it makes you reassess your priorities for life, rather than just drifting along as many of us do?
 
I think that in many ways I have become a bit desensitized. I often see death in a very compartmentalized way. It’s one stop on the continuum of life. It is the thing that happens to other people. The times when I reassess my life is when I meet that one patient who having faced their own mortality has accepted their fate. Notice I that didn’t say that they had given up hope or faith. That’s different. Accepting the inevitable, facing that frightening fate is a miracle and not an easy place to journey to. When a patient reaches that place, they have given up their anger and disbelief and have resolved to live their last days with peace and grace. Seeing a person make that journey is soul warming and a lesson for me that my petty concerns really aren’t worth the effort it takes to give them thought.
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When did you start writing? Did you have to take a break while your children were small?
 
I’ve always written. But there was a time in my early to mid 20s that I forgot about writing. At the time I was trying on new selves. I was learning who I was and deciding who I wanted to be. That took about seven or eight years. Then in my late 20s (about 1998), when my children were still small I started to write An Unproductive Woman. It took me about two years. AUW sat in a box in the closet or garage for the next several years while I went to nursing school and started working. I decided to publish AUW in 2008 and I’ve been writing in some capacity since then.
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Your novel ‘An Unproductive Woman’, has very different subject matter to the field in which I first found you, where you were involved with the Yuva science fiction anthology. Do you write across many genres? Do you find that a challenge as an indie author?
 
ImageI wrote An Unproductive Woman a lifetime ago. I was a different woman then. Since then, my tastes and self-confidence have grown exponentially. In short, I write the types of stories I would like to read. At the moment that falls in the range of SFF, dystopian/utopian fiction. It may change later, and if and when that happens, my writing will reflect likely that.
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Tell me about the Yuva anthology. How did it start? How are things progressing?
 
The Yuva anthology started with a comment I made on Matthew Williams’ site (http://storiesbywilliams.com/) wherein I mentioned how I’d always dreamed my son would become an astronaut and go to space. Matt responded by saying how inspired he was. I challenged him, if memory serves, to organize a group and do an anthology about space and space travel. He met that challenge and that is where you found us. Since then there have been several contributions to the anthology but we still need more people to come forward and contribute, so we’re in a holding pattern.
If you know anyone who might be interested…
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Forgive me for being nosy, but I’m fascinated to know if you ever find philosophical contradictions between your faith and science fiction?
 
Yes, and no. On the most basic level, my faith validates science and science validates my faith. There is no contradiction for me between science and my faith. Science fiction can be stickier. For me, the contradictions present themselves when science fiction works to debunk God, or reinvent God, or ignore his presence. It is usually the latter and I question this often. Science fiction tends to be more comfortable with fictional faith. I’m not certain why that is.
My current project meets matters of religion and faith head on, which I think can be difficult to do without scaring people away or making them feel as if they’re being preached at. I think I was able to do that with An Unproductive Woman though. Most of my readers have been non-Muslim, and most of them loved the story regardless, if my 4+ stars is any indication.
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Thank you for this opportunity Kasia!
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You can find Khaalidah on Facebook, and at her Blog.

Book launch!

MOFK COVER front finalI’m very excited to announce the launch of our new Anthology about honest motherhood – The Milk of Female Kindness!

It’s out now on Amazon and Createspace, with The Book Depository to follow.

Terrifically proud of the 28 women from all around the world who have shared their thoughts, creativity and time to make this book. It’s wonderfully diverse, with artwork, poetry, short fiction, essays and interviews, from women at all stages of motherhood. Many are established writers and artists: others are new to the world of publishing. Some of them have been featured in Writer’s Block already, and more are to come.

So – if you are a mother, know someone who is, or have a mother (and let’s face it, most of us have at some point ;)), then this book will touch you, challenge you, confront you, and best of all, make you rethink the role of motherhood.

If anyone is looking for a book for the holidays – this could be the one for you. 🙂

Cover reveal! Milk of Female Kindness

Finally, I can reveal to the world the face of all our hard work over the last year! Drum roll please….

Here is the cover of our anthology of honest stories about motherhood – ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’.

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The Anthology is a collection of the work of twenty-eight women from around the world, who have been brave enough to write honestly about their experiences of motherhood. I’d like to extend my most sincere thanks to all the contributors. It has been an honour working with such an inspiring group of people! 🙂

Unlike most other books on the subject, we have a creative focus – there is artwork, poetry, short fiction, essays and interviews.

The collection is deliberately diverse, in all senses. All stages of motherhood are reflected, and really the aim is to broaden the range of stories out there, and allow women to think for themselves what it means to be a mother, rather than relying on the shallow and market focused roles that the media might like to push us into. You may disagree with some of the work: others pieces will resonate with you. Whatever happens, it will make you think more deeply about being a parent.

The book will be released in paperback first, with e-book to follow soon after. Stay tuned for developments!

Matter of Opinion

I’m back at work now, which is odd. It’s rather like everyone has been in stasis for the year while so many things have changed in my own life.

There is one person who had some news for me though – he and his partner will be expecting a baby about the same time that my lad turns one. We had a chat about it over lunch one day, as even though he’s already a father, it’s been a long time since he had a baby around. And I’m embarrassed to say that I ended up giving him a bit of an ear bashing. Probably not guaranteed to win friends and influence people when you’re newly back into the fold.

What got me going was his attitude to having a baby. He started spouting opinions like “I think women who don’t breastfeed are just bottle feeding for their own convenience,” and “I don’t believe in sending a child to be cared for by strangers.” He’s entitled to his opinion, of course, and to express his thoughts about raising his own child,  but what got my back up is that both these positions cannot help but have serious implications for his partner, unless she tells him to go jump. If she shares them – fine. It seemed to me that he was making decisions for her which would affect her body, identity and career, and that’s not on in my book.

So I told him what I thought, and knew from other mothers I’d been speaking to. At length, although thankfully not at volume as I’m pretty quiet.

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Don’t get me wrong. I’m not always forcing my own ideas down other people’s throats, and I sincerely hope that he didn’t take it in that spirit. That said, when I was about nine, a woman came to the house to ask my mother’s opinions about development of our area. I had thoughts of my own, and let her know them. As she left, she said to my mother, “She’s very…articulate, isn’t she?” Mum decoded this euphemism to mean that I was highly opinionated.

Which leads me to ponder the different books I’ve worked on. My novel, ‘The Artemis Effect’, and the short story collection I’m working on are just fun for me. They’re escapism – a telling of the tales which bubble up in my head. But the Anthology, ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’ is different. It’s an honest account of motherhood – sharing the real story, from real women. Someone commented on this blog recently that there are strong parallels between my novel and the anthology, in that they both deal with some of the same issues. This is true, but more of a coincidence than anything else.

The Anthology is where my passionate, opinionated nature erupts forth. I am, as the lady years ago noted, at my most articulate when moved by a subject I care deeply about. It’s a very good thing that there are so many other women involved in ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’, as otherwise it could become my personal rant, and as I’m pretty new to this whole motherhood thing, that could end up being spectacularly ill-informed! It is deliberately diverse, so that we can all have a rant! 🙂

Hopefully, hearing the stories and opinions of so many different people will allow people reading the book to make up their own minds. It’s a complicated and often ambiguous area, and no-one should have to have a single person’s views forced upon them. Fingers crossed, the partner of my workmate will be thinking for herself.

Title reveal! Our new Anthology

A little while ago, I discussed the search for a new name for an Anthology I’m putting together. It’s always a tricky process – finding something which captures the essence of a work, and balancing the temptation of an intriguingly obscure name with one which simply tells you what the book is about!

The Anthology is a collection of work – artwork, poetry, essay, short fiction and interviews – on the subject of honest motherhood. The real experience, in all it’s complexity, addressing the conflicts it raises for women, the changes in our lives, and also the rich variety of experiences that women have as mothers. We feel that the media discusses the issue in a simplistic and dumbed-down way, and we’re trying to expand the conversation about motherhood, and give us some new ways of thinking about it.

The name?

The Milk of Female Kindness – An Anthology of Honest Motherhood

Obscure? Hopefully not too much!

It comes from part of the screenplay of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Orlando’, in which Orlando and her lover Shelmerdine are discussing the implications of their gender roles.

Orlando: If I were a man…

Shelmerdine: You?

Orlando: I might choose not to risk my life for an uncertain cause. I might think that freedom won by death is not worth having. In fact…

Shelmerdine: You might choose not to be a real man at all. Say, if I were a woman…

Orlando: You?

Shelmerdine: I might choose not to sacrifice my life caring for my children, nor my children’s children, nor to drown anonymously in the milk of female kindness, but instead, say, to go abroad. Would I then be…

Orlando: A real woman?

Love to hear your thoughts! 🙂