Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Old Ones Productions - Commission a Custom Chess Set

Cthulhu Themed Chess Set

I love chess, I'm not the greatest player but it is a pure game of one mind against another. There's no chance element except the players themselves. Beyond that the beauty of the game exists in the sets themselves. They make a wonderful gift both for players and as decorative items. There are many fine chess sets in the world, but for something truly special why not commission a unique set.

As well as creating sets for sale on the Old Ones Productions store I can create a chess set to your specifications and in this article I will outline the elements needed to build the set and determine its budget.

Theme

The overall theme for the chess set determines the style of the pieces and board. The theme can be anything and should be your starting point. Common themes can be historical periods or events, works of fiction, or even more abstract concepts. For the examples shown in this article I picked a Cthulhu theme (Lovecraft is one of my favourite writers) and a Fantasy Football game (Blood Bowl more specifically).

A chess set is composed of the game pieces and the board and the theme will guide the presentation of both.

Fantasy Football Chess Set

Game Pieces

Chess is a game of two sides (although other variants exist if you are feeling adventurous!) with both sets being equal. Each piece has it's own identity and in conjunction with your chosen theme will set the style for your set.

Here your available budget will also be a deciding factor as there are many options to consider. If the set is to be used for playing rather than for display purposes only then extra care must be taken to ensure that the pieces are identifiable for their positions in the game.

Typically the pieces on each side reflect each other exactly, but as can be seen in the Fantasy Football set each side can have its own style which in this case reflects the two opposing teams.

For these sets I source figures of different scales and materials depending on the theme. Some themes such as those popular in wargaming, model making or table top gaming are easier to source than others. This can vary in price from £100 to over £500 for the 32 pieces to be needed.

Size is important here, the most suitable is 25/28mm scales as these fit the most commonly available boards. However other sizes are available.

Bases for the pieces also need to be considered, these can be plain, or textured, usually depending on what works best with the board.

The finish of the pieces also factors heavily into the budget. Chess sets are usually duo-tone (white versus black) and similar colour scheme is effective. Further detail can be applied, although care must be taken to keep the two distinctive.

If you want something truly special then you can have the pieces designed, 3D sculpted and printed. This can cost upwards of £200 per piece depending on the design and materials used.

Board

The chess board is the battlefield upon which the game is played. As with the pieces this ties into the theme. Typically for chess sets it's the colour of the pieces that is reflected in the board. This doesn't have to be the case, but as with the pieces the two colours should be distinct.

The material of the chess board is dependent on budget, wooden chess boards tend to start at around £50. The hand made stone chess board for the Cthulhu themed set cost over £200 and is very heavy - but really makes the set stand out!

The pieces will determine the tile size for the board. Whether the set will be used for playing also factors in, a display set can have slightly smaller tiles, but for playing you really need adequate space around the pieces for comfortable play.

As well as materials more exotic options are available. You can really let the theme dictate the form of the board, an example here would be a Battle of Waterloo chess set with British soldiers in red facing off against French soldiers in blue and the fields of Waterloo as the board.

So if you'd like to commission a chess set of your own then email me at info@oldoneproductions.com and we can take it from there.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Old Ones Productions - Cthulhu T-Shirt Released


I'm pleased to announce the release of a new t-shirt in the Old Ones Productions store. It features superb original artwork by Luciana Nedelea of Cthulhu - the Dreamer - who has now awakened.

It is available in unisex sizes small to XXXL.

Purchase yours now from the Old Ones Productions store at the introductory price of only £14.00 and postage and packing:

http://www.oldoneproductions.com/collections/frontpage/products/cthulhu-t-shirt


Saturday, 26 December 2015

December Short Fiction Contest Winners

Painted by Luciana Nedelea - https://www.facebook.com/LucianaNedeleaArt/

December's image painted by Luciana Nedelea inspired some remarkable stories and it's taken me all day to whittle them all down to just three winners and here they are:

 - First prize of a £50 Amazon or PayPal prize goes to Sheila Deeth for her story 'Chalice'.
 - Second prize of a £20 Amazon or PayPal prize goes to Nicola Ferguson for her story 'Black & Grey'.
 - Third prize of a £10 Amazon or PayPal prize goes to Andrew Dempsey for his story 'Firestarter'.

Congratulations to the winners and a thank you to everyone who entered and those who support this contest.

And here are the winning stories:

Chalice by Sheila Deeth

www.sheiladeethbooks.com

He couldn’t quite believe it, that first time. The pre-school teacher handed sheets of paper around, pristine and white, together with thick black crayons. Then she told the children to scribble all over their pages.

Tom’s crayon had that slightly murky scent of something buried too long in a drawer. Its paper sleeve slid off under his eager grip. Underneath the surface was stickily slick, like blood. It coated his fingers; drew its own dark promise on his hand. Meanwhile the pristine white paper grew dark, covered in thick black whorls and swirls, with intersecting curves, its pure clean spaces falling prey to night, with black black black black black, till all was done.

“Look, class,” said the teacher, lifting Tom’s page from his desk and displaying it around. “Tom’s got the idea. This is what I want you to do. Just cover the page.”

“Shoulda given us black paper then.” One of the pristine white girls muttered behind pink fingernails as she flapped her red-clothed arm in sweet dismay. Tom imagined the red-clothed arm uncloaked and the smoothness of blood like crayon slippery and thick in his hands.

When the pages were covered, just the way the teacher wanted, each child was given a pencil-shaped piece of wood.

“it’s got no writing bit,” the red-dressed girl complained, to which the teacher responded it didn’t need one. Instead it had a point.

Tom tried the point out on his palm. Not quite sharp enough, it didn’t cut, though maybe, if he pressed harder...

“I want you to draw on top of your crayon,” said the teacher. “No Tom. Not on your hand.”

So he pressed harder on the crayoned page, watching the black blood carve itself into shiny white-colored lines and pristine shapes. “Yes, like Tom’s doing. Press down harder, Elaine.” Elaine was the girl in the red dress.

Tom pressed harder and carved and cut. He was making himself a small Elaine all of his own. But when the teacher held his image up, she didn’t understand. She said he’d drawn a chalice and host, like in church, and he was a wonderful holy little boy.

Tom couldn’t quite believe it; he’d done just what he wanted, destroyed and scribbled, made white turn to black, and carved with a cruel point, and he was holy.

They found Elaine’s body in the woods not long after that. She wasn’t pristine and white anymore, but red and black with mud, slick-shiny with swirls and whorls of smooth red crayon. Her dress spread around her like a chalice drawn on the ground. Her hair curled out from her face, which shone as pure as the holy host. She smelled of something buried too long in a drawer. She was his first.

Black & Grey by Nicola Ferguson

Mandy flicked though the sticky plastic pages of the album sitting on the table. This was her first tattoo and she was looking for something unique that would be a talking point in years to come. One design immediately caught her eye, a black and grey piece of the angel Belial; wings stretched out in flight.

Not her usual style at all, the design was intricate and full of vitality, leaping off the page past the tired butterflies and dolphins that characterized the typical tats her mates had. As she looked at the design more closely, Mandy saw what she had taken to be shading was actually elegant, cursive script, twisting and snaking across the models skin.

“I love this one, but what does the writing say?”
“That’s one of Jared’s designs. He’d be able to explain but he only works Tuesday and Saturday nights. Let me check his dairy and get you booked in for a consultation”
“Well you’re in luck! We have a last minute cancellation for tomorrow at nine. If you’re happy with the design he could start on the tattoo straight away then work through the night until it’s finished. Sound good?”

It wasn’t much notice but Mandy was already caught up in her growing excitement of how the angel would transform not only her back, but also her confidence and even her life. No-one could say she had no self worth with an angel as gorgeous as this protecting her. She could just imagine its wings spreading and rippling across her shoulder blades as she worked her moves on the dance-floor. If she was out of the parlour early enough she could even go onto The Palace and show everyone. Wear that backless dress she had been keeping for a special occasion.
“Yeah, definitely get me booked in.”

Jared carefully eased the tracing paper off Mandy’s fine, porcelain skin. A work of this size with spells of this complexity and strength would take hours, so he would start with the essentials, filling in the details as the piece grew and took on a life of its own. Speed was imperative as even though the ink was fresh, it would quickly cool and coagulate, clogging the tattooing machine. The inscriptions binding Mandy to Belial had to be finished by midnight to give Belial enough power to materialize and Jared knew he could make no spelling errors or mistakes. Otherwise the piece would remain cold and lifeless, just another cool tat to be admired

Quietly so as not to startle Mandy, Jared begins to whisper the spells which will help summon Belial. The fallen angel is deceptively beautiful for a demon, his name meaning ‘without worth’ he resonates and speaks to certain customers on a subconscious level. In effect they choose themselves.

“Per Vitam Vero Doloribus Urguentibus”  Through Pain Comes Life..........


Gently steadying the skin of her back Jared smiles to himself as he inhales the inks warm, coppery scent and he begins to tattoo.

Firestarter by Andrew Dempsey

Subconsciously he played with the weight in his trouser pocket. It was the tenth time in the last three minutes that his hand sort the comfort of the lighter. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he still had cigarettes, but the last one was smoked, days ago. Not that it would matter much longer. Cigarettes or no cigarettes, he was still lost.

The plane had gone down somewhere east of the mountains. How he survived the crash when everyone else died was a mystery.

Still, what was life, if you couldn’t smoke?

He had tried pieces of grass, fallen twigs and even the end of a bone he had found, but nothing could replace the real thing, the cravings were becoming unbearable.

To make matters worse, the rain had begun again.

He fell to his knees and vowed to stay there till his eyes closed for the last time.

He turned his head, something had made a noise. It sounded like laughter, but that was not possible. No living creature lived here. The mountains weren’t called ‘death’ in the native tongue for nothing. But, there it was again. A soft laugh, it sounded like it was mocking him. It teased him to enter the cave and seek shelter.

He slowly rose from his dirty knees and took a step forward.

*****

Where the creature, demon, or whatever it was had sprung from he didn’t know. It was made of pure fire and swirled and danced before him.

“Another foolish creature, that I will consume,” it howled.

He tried to speak and it was a long time before he managed to stammer, “Why. Do. You. Want. To. Eat me?”

“They always ask the same thing,” it boomed. “Never is it anything else.” The flame drew closer. “I live on the life force of the living. I consume the fire of souls.”

“Why not eat animals instead?” he managed to ask despite the rising terror within.

“Did you see any animals out there?” the creature said.

He shook his head.

“That’s because I have consumed them all. I haven’t eaten anything for over five centuries. So hungry am I.”

He could see the creature’s teeth, hundreds of tiny pointy flames.

He felt the weight again in his pocket. His hand had gone there, as it always did in times of stress. He felt the lighter. He withdrew it from his pocket and shakily held it out front. “Stay back or I will consume you like I did with the last of your kind,” he commanded.

A warm mocking laugh was the creature’s reply.

“Do not lie to me human, lies will not save you here?”

“I’m not lying. I’ll show you.”

With a flick of his thumb, the lighter erupted in a small golden flame.

The creature’s eyes went wide with terror and it turned and fled screaming into the depths of the cave.


He put away his lighter and fled back out into the rain as fast as he could.

Old Ones Productions - Cthulhu Chess Set


The unique Cthulhu inspired chess set I've been working on has been finished and is now available from the Old Ones Productions store - take a look here:

http://www.oldoneproductions.com/…/produc…/cthulhu-chess-set

Note that this is a different set from the concept and modelling I've shared, there will be more news on this soon!

Monday, 21 December 2015

The Tau Ceti Mission - 25.07.2116 - Termination Shock

"Solarmap" by http://interstellar.jpl.nasa.gov/interstellar/probe/introduction/scale.html.
Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
The Venti probe crosses the termination shock boundary and into interstellar space with Seb's latest report:

http://www.taucetimission.com/2015/12/25072116-termination-shock.html

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Old Ones Productions - Fantasy Football Chess Set



For fans of Blood Bowl and other fantasy football games a hand painted fantasy football chess set with a classic match-up between Elves and Orcs.

All figures are mounted on textured bases which have been weighted and felt bottomed for easier movement and protection of the board.

The board in the pictures is included.

The Elven team is painted in forest silver and contains the following:

  • The pawns are the swift and agile linemen (a mix of plastic and metal figures).
  • Two massive Treemen provides the strength and the vulnerability of the team as the King and Queen (metal pieces).
  • Deadly wardancers protect the flanks as the Rooks (metal figures).
  • Sly Wood Witches confuse and penetrate the opponent's ranks with their magic as the Knights (metal figures).
  • Throwers confound the opponents with their cross pitch diagonals as the Bishops (metal figures).

The Orc team is painted in war-torn bronze and contains the following:


  • Brutish linemen form the battle line of pawns (plastic figures).
  • Hulking Trolls are the heart of the team as the King and Queen (metal figures).
  • Mighty Black Orcs guard the flanks with their strength as the Rooks ( plastic figures).
  • Cunning Goblin Catchers skip through the defence as the Knights (plastic figures).
  • Throwers provide the diagonal movements as the Bishops (plastic figures).

The chess set is available from the Old Ones Productions store here:

http://www.oldoneproductions.com/products/fantasy-football-chess-set

Tau Ceti Mission Christmas Giveaway


There's a Christmas giveaway being hosted on the Tau Ceti mission blog and you could win one of the following prizes:

 - Tau Ceti Mission T-Shirt
 - 3 x Mission Mugs
 - 5 x Mission Patches

Take part in the giveaway here:

http://www.taucetimission.com/2015/12/the-tau-ceti-mission-christmas-giveaway.html

January Short Fiction Contest

By Penny Dreadful Newspaper (Penny Dreadful Paper 1838) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I'm going old school again with January's contest image with a classic cover from Penny Dreadful magazine. I'm looking forward to seeing what stories you all come up with for this image!

As always the stories can be of any genre. They just have to be inspired by this month's image and no more than 500 words.

Entry to the contest remains free and there are prizes for the three winners. I will also feature any of the stories that don't win but I believe are worth showcasing on this blog.
  • First prize is a £50 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize
  • Second prize is a £20 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize
  • Third prize is a £10 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize
The money for the prizes come out of my own pocket, although I do make a little from advertising on this blog. So if you see something of interest then feel free to click on the links and purchase away! If you haven't tried my books yet then check them out at the top of the page, as well as buying a good read you'll be helping this contest.

Please make sure to check your story for typos before submitting. I don't mind a few errors, but my enjoyment of a story is diminished if I have to wade through too many.

I'll post the winning entries by Febuary 1st 2016.

As with everything in life there are a few rules:
  • Only one entry per person.
  • The story must not be longer than 500 words.
  • Closing date for submissions is January 24th 2016.
  • By submitting the story you grant me a non-exclusive license to post the story on this blog. I do request that I post it here first.
  • You also grant me a one time non-exclusive license to include the story in an e-book release.
  • The judge's decision is final.
Use the form below to enter your submission. After you've submitted please leave a comment on this page stating that you have submitted. And please help spread the word. Great stories deserve great readers!


As well as comments section below you can chat about this competition in any of the threads I've listed below. If you don't know the sites then entering the competition is a good way to introduce yourself. Note that these sites are not affiliated with the competition in any way!




If you've started your own thread or discussion somewhere about this month's competition then let me know and I'll add the link to this page.

Friday, 18 December 2015

The Tau Ceit Mission - 16.02.2115 - Comet Chaser

"Comet 67P on 13 August 2014 NavCam" by ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM, CC BY-SA IGO 3.0.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0-igo via Wikimedia Commons

On their journey out of the solar system Seb reports that the Venti probe has discovered a comet!

http://www.taucetimission.com/2015/12/16022115-comet-chaser.html

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Book Review - Marrow by Robert Reed

I wanted to like this - the idea is a good one with a giant ship of unknown origin and full of mystery. The introduction worked well and drew me into the story, but then it lost it. The first issue is that the story drags with some odd diversions that do little to strengthen the tale.

It's a shame really as the basic premise is good, but 500 pages later nothing is really resolved. There is a rich menagerie of aliens, but nothing is done with them. Humans are now effectively immortal which devalues the epic timescales involved in the journey.

I very rarely finish a book I don't like, especially one as long as this, but there are flashes of genius here. Unfortunately they don't develop into anything meaningful. A shame as it had some potential, but ultimately unfulfilling.


The Ship has traveled the universe for longer than any of the near-immortal crew can recall, its true purpose and origins unknown. It is larger than many planets, housing thousands of alien races and just as many secrets.

Now one of those secrets has been discovered: at the center of the Ship is . . . a planet. Marrow. But when a team of the Ship's best and brightest are sent down to investigate, will they return with the origins of the Ship--or will they bring doom to everyone on board?

Robert Reed, whose fantastic stories have been filling all the major SF magazines for the past several years, spins a captivating tale of adventure and wonder on an incredible scale in this novel based on his acclaimed novella.


Click here to buy Marrow from Amazon (I can't recommend it though)

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Book Review - Biblical by Christopher Galt

Note that this book appears to have had a name change since I first downloaded and is now called 'The Third Testament'.

This book has languished on my TBR list for quite some time and now that I've finally read it I can say that if it's in your TBR list then you should get round to reading it! It's a technological thriller, but will a metaphysical twist and one that is exceptionally well layered.

It's main strength is how it builds the mystery of the world changing events. It captures the strangeness of what's going on by following a small number of characters, while still maintaining the global effect of what is going on.

The quality of the writing is excellent and explores some interesting concepts. The technical side is well handled providing enough detail for those (like me) interested in such things, but not so much that you're wading through details.

For all of its strengths it does have its faults, the most obvious of which is that it's longer than it needs to be. In parts it feels more like a character study, although fortunately the writing and characters are robust enough to carry this.

My other complaint was the reveal for what's going.While the basic premise works well, there are some aspects that seemed thin and unqualified, so fell a little flat. Especially when considering how effectively the author built the story up.

In fairness those are both minor considerations, this was a quality read and a cracking thriller, one for science fiction fans and those who enjoy something a little more contemporary.


A strange phenomenon is sweeping the globe. People are having visions, seeing angels, experiencing events that defy reality. Bizarre accounts pour in from distant places: a French teenager claims to have witnessed Joan of Arc being burned at the stake; a man in New York dies of malnutrition in a luxurious Central Park apartment; a fundamentalist Christian sect kidnaps and murders a geneticist.

Then there is the graffiti WE ARE BECOMING that has popped up in every major city around the world, in every language. And everywhere people are starting to talk about John Astor, the mysterious author of the book that seems to be at the center of it all.

After a rash of suicides around the world by individuals experiencing the time traveling hallucinations, psychiatrist John Macbeth and a team of FBI agents and scientists assemble to find out what’s going on before it’s too late. Is this a spiritual phenomenon or something more sinister?


Click here to buy Biblical from Amazon (and it's a fascinating read)

Currently Reading - Lovecraft Unbound by Various

Click on image to buy from Amazon


The stories are legendary, the characters unforgettable, the world horrible and disturbing. Howard Phillips Lovecraft may have been a writer for only a short time, but the creations he left behind after his death in 1937 have shaped modern horror more than any other author in the last two centuries: the shambling god Cthulhu, and the other deities of the Elder Things, the Outer Gods, and the Great Old Ones, and Herbert West, Reanimator, a doctor who unlocked the secrets of life and death at a terrible cost. In Lovecraft Unbound, more than twenty of today's most prominent writers of literature and dark fantasy tell stories set in or inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft.


Click here to buy Lovecraft Unbound from Amazon

Monday, 14 December 2015

The Tau Ceti Mission - 28.09.2114 - Leaving the Kuiper Belt

"14-281-KuiperBeltObject-ArtistsConcept-20141015" by ASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)
Following in the footsteps of the New Horizons probe almost 200 years previously, Seb reports from the Venti probe as it heads out of the Kuiper Belt:

http://www.taucetimission.com/2015/12/28092114-leaving-kuiper-belt.html

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Tau Ceti Mission Archive Added


Mission control for the Venti probe's mission to Tau Ceti have created an archive so you can read Seb's posts from the beginning or browse through them at your leisure. The archive is available on the Tau Ceti mission website here:

http://www.taucetimission.com/p/archive.html

Last Week to Enter December's Short Fiction Contest

Painted by Luciana Nedelea - https://www.facebook.com/LucianaNedeleaArt/

We've entered the final week of December's Short Fiction Contest, so if you haven't entered yet then now is the time to do so! It's easy to enter - simply write a story of no more than 500 words inspired by this month's amazing image painted by the talented Luciana Nedelea. Once you've written the story you can submit it through the contest page here:

http://thecultofme.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/december-short-fiction-contest.html

There's no entry fee and you could win one of the following prizes:

 - First prize is a £50 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize
 - Second prize is a £20 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize
 - Third prize is a £10 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize

The winners from November's Short Fiction Contest have been announced and you can read their stories here:

http://thecultofme.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/november-short-fiction-contest-winners.html

Friday, 11 December 2015

Monday, 7 December 2015

Tau Ceti Mission - 09.05.2111 - Sun Dragon C Encounter


Seb reports from the Venti probe as it passes through the Sun Dragon C entity - it is also on it's journey to the Tau Ceti system although it will take thousands of years to reach it's destination.

http://www.taucetimission.com/2015/12/09052111-sun-dragon-c-encounter.html

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Have You Entered December's Short Fiction Contest?

Painted by Luciana Nedelea - https://www.facebook.com/LucianaNedeleaArt/

December's Short Fiction Contest is well under way and this month's image is a lovely image painted by the talented Luciana Nedelea. To win one of the three Amazon or PayPal prizes write a story of no more than 500 words inspired by this month's picture and submit it through the contest page here:

http://thecultofme.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/december-short-fiction-contest.html

Last month's contest winners have been announced and you can read their stories here:

http://thecultofme.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/november-short-fiction-contest-winners.html

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Tau Ceti Mission T-Shirt Now Available



The official Tau Ceti Mission t-shirt is now available from the Old Ones Productions store. It is available in unisex sizes S to XXXL for only £15.99 here:

http://www.oldoneproductions.com/collections/tau-ceti-mission/products/tau-ceti-mission-t-shirt

Friday, 4 December 2015

The Tau Ceti Mission - 02.08.2110 - Saturn Slingshot

"Saturn family" by NASA - JPL image PIA01482. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Seb on the Venti probe passes by Saturn in the final gravity assist on their journey to Tau Ceti:

http://www.taucetimission.com/2015/12/02082110-saturn-slingshot.html

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Guest Post - A Much Arranged Marriage by Jim Webster

Jim Webster joins me today to talk about his latest release 'A Much Arranged Marriage' and his new approaches to spreading the word about his work.


You might have noticed that the Internet is filling up with writers trying to promote their books. If the number continues to increase at the current rate it’s been calculated that by some time in August 2019 there will be no room left for cute cat pictures.

Some writers are getting particularly imaginative in their promotions and are putting in an awful lot of work. Michael’s Tau Ceti Mission is one of the better examples, and one that I’m enjoying following.

One question that really intrigues me as a writer is what happens to Seb. Is his character going to change, evolve or grow? As it is we’re getting to see this ‘real time.’

It’s only when you’ve run your own promotions that you perhaps appreciate fully the work that goes into them. I took a long hard look at promoting and decided that perhaps I ought to try something different. I’d already written four fantasy novels set in the ‘Land of the Three Seas.’ (Which inevitably has its own Facebook page with hopefully some interesting and fun stuff on it, https://www.facebook.com/Land-of-the-Three-Seas-426394067386022/ )

To promote them I decided that rather than writing a fifth novel I’d do some ‘short’ stories, between 15,000 and 20,000 words, set in the same background, involving some of the same people. These would be detective stories, and a bit like the Sherlock Holmes stories, you don’t really have to read them in any order. So I have these written and one is going to be published every four months, regular as clock work. So every four months there’s a bit of publicity and promotion. The first one has been out for four months, it’s ‘Flotsam or Jetsam’ - available from Amazon here.

It features my ‘hero’ Benor, and I’d like to say this came out to great critical acclaim, but people bought it and liked it and said nice things about it so that’s at least as good.

But then I realised that I had to promote these short pieces. How on earth was I going to do that? So I took one of the secondary characters, Tallis Steelyard, and let him write a blog. The blog is composed of reminiscences from his past, suggestions as how to make a living as a poet, all told by the great man himself and hopefully as much fun to read as they were to write. But what has really fascinated me is Tallis himself. In the books I’m promoting, Tallis is a secondary character and you see him through the eyes of Benor, the hero. So Tallis is intelligent, loyal, a source of advice and information and a good friend.

But when writing the blog, writing as Tallis, I became aware that Tallis is far more complicated a character. In the blogs we have the working poet writing for his audience and potential patrons. In effect he’s promoting his work and his services. So he’s very careful of his image, determined to maintain the front as the successful poet. But of course he’s still the nice guy that Benor

knows. So somehow this, plus a certain world weary cynicism has to slip out as well. If you want to read the blog of Tallis Steelyard, then it’s at

https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/

Taking things the full circle, looking at the quantity of stuff there is on the blog, I’m tempted to add some more stories and publish it as a separate book, perhaps called, “The jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard.”

But at this point you can probably see why I’m so interested in Michael’s character Seb, and am wondering what’s in the pipeline for him?

But anyway, the second of the short stories has now emerged, blinking, into the light.

Click on image to buy from Amazon


‘A Much Arranged Marriage.’

“Benor is asked to help warn off a blackmailer who appears to be threatening a young girl's chances of marriage. But the deeper he digs, the more dangerous things become”

So there you are, I hope you’re intrigued enough to give it a whirl

Click here to buy A Much Arranged Marriage from Amazon


Monday, 30 November 2015

The Tau Ceti Mission - 11.07.2109 - Jupiter Slingshot

By NASA/JPL [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Seb reports in from near Jupiter on the Venti probe's journey out of the solar system to Tau Ceti:

http://www.taucetimission.com/2015/11/11072109-jupiter-slingshot.html

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Tau Ceti Mission - Post Solar Flyby Q&A



Seb answers a few questions after flyby of the Sun:

http://www.taucetimission.com/2015/11/post-solar-flyby-q-session-with-seb.html

November Short Fiction Contest Winners

"SteampunkProp(byMollyPorkshanksFriedrich)" by Mark Harding
http://www.fotopedia.com/items/picasaweb-5442642326677408402.
Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
That time of the month has arrived where I select the winners for the last Short Fiction Contest. November's challenge was to write a story illuminating the purpose of the rather strange device pictured in the contest image. And what a diverse range of ideas you all submitted! As always it was a hard task to pick just three, but here are the winners:

 - First prize is a £50 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize goes to Tim Roberts for his story 'Lot 66'
 - Second prize is a £20 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize goes to Jon Jefferson for his story 'Dr. Killian's Portable Ray'
 - Third prize is a £10 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize goes to John Moralee for his story 'The Translucidator'

Congratulations to the winners and a big thank you to everyone who entered and those who support this contest.

Here are those winning stories:

Lot 66 by Tim Roberts

http://www.timstermatic.com/

That year, the snow came unseasonably late. My driver collected me at dusk and guided our carriage through the muted streets. When we arrived at the grand hall, the only person in attendance was a hastily dressed young man; the owners of the auction house never came to midnight bids, nor did they publicly associate themselves with collectors like my employer.

Beside the young man, seated atop a repurposed drinks trolley, was Lot 66. To the untrained eye, it might have resembled a phonograph, save for where the horn would normally reside was a fat glass tube connected to an intricate series of bronze machinery.

“It looks like you are the only bidder,” said the young man, his voice trembling.

“Then I only need meet the reserve,” I said.

The young man nodded. He shifted from foot to foot, keen to have our transaction over with.

There should have been 3 bidders, but my business with each of them, earlier in the day, assured my exclusive position. Lord Perkins was easily bought; a deathly looking man of 74 years who until this morning had a ledger of crippling debts to the gambling houses and unfortunate women of the city. He was now free to amass his debts all over again. Minister Travis, a ruddy faced man who financed his lifestyle through the collection box, was not so easily swayed. Fortunately, the raven arrived before lunch with whispers of the Minister’s penchant for collecting the shrunken heads of tribal leaders. My employer furnished me with 2 items from his own private collection, and Minister Travis was all but drooling when I revealed my offer.

I handed a snakeskin briefcase to the young auctioneer. He reached out and took it with the care of someone who was placing their hand into the fires of hell.

“Inside, you will find double the reserve price,” I said. “The briefcase you may keep.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Lord Bingham is contained within?” I said, gently tapping the glass tube of Lot 66.

He pointed to a small brass switch. “This opens the audio vent. If you do so, you will hear the screams of his eternal torture.”

“Very good,” I said. “One last question. Where was he found?”

The young man glanced around, then leant in to me. “Whispers say a shaman found him living on the streets on Cape Horn.”

I smiled. My employer would be pleased to hear my embellished report on the capture of the man who murdered his sister.

I took a quill from the band of my hat and jammed it into soft flesh between my forefinger and thumb. Once it was loaded with enough blood, I signed the auction ledger with my own crimson ink; my employer was a stickler for these things being done in a certain way.

“See it be delivered before sunrise,” I said, and then made my back onto the ghostly streets.

Dr. Killian's Portable Ray by Jon Jefferson

http://10thdaypublishing.com

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” Garret said. “Step right up. You don’t want to miss this. There are wonders galore and many such more. Come one, come all and see this show you won’t believe, even when you see it with your own eyes.” The crowd was warming to his call. Third town, third engagement that day. His throat was running next to raw with all the calls and proclamations he had made over the past few days. But they had a deadline and sales to make before it.

“That’s right miss, step right up.” He offered his hand to the blond woman that had come close to the stage. “I want to introduce you to Dr. Killian’s Portable Ray.” Garret picked up the device, covered with tubes and wiring. An electrical spark traveled between the tubes as he held it before her. “I can hear your questions now, ‘What’s it for? What does it do? How can I get one of my very own?’”

She mumbled and then looked across the crowd.

“Can it find you a husband?” he said. “Madame it can do that and so much more. You will be shocked and amazed by all the things this box can do.” He pushed it into her hands and then twisted a few knobs while standing beside her. “Keep it pointed straight ahead. No ahead of you, toward the table over there.”

She jumped and almost dropped the device when the beam of light burst from the biggest tube. The light illuminated the table and burned a hole through the wood.

“Ooops. Sorry. That was the wrong setting,” Garret said. He fiddled with the dials and yanked out a tube. He then replaced the tube on an opposite side of the device. “That should set it to rights.”

She pressed a button again. This time the beam of light flashed a soft red then blue. A bowl of fruit appeared on the table. She mumbled and pressed the button again. A duplicate of the first bowl of fruit appeared beside the first.

“Astounding, and a healthy choice.” Garret picked up an apple from the first bowl and held it up for the audience to see. “Perfect and red, better than picked from the tree.” To emphasis the point he finished with a crunchy bite into the fruit. After he swallowed the bite, “And no worms. I can hear you asking it now, how can we, get one of these great devices from Dr. Killian? Heck, how can we get two?”

He turned with a smile and a wink to the woman that had the device still in her hands. The smile dropped from his face when he saw her fiddle with the device one last to time. The beam slammed into him and he fell the ground, a bag of apples.

“I thought he would never shut up,” she said.

The Translucidator by John Moralee

http://www.mybookspage.wordpress.com

One morning in July 1876, Nathaniel encountered Professor Webb on an airship crossing the English Channel. The old man wore a cumbersome mechanical walker supporting his weak body – but he looked in excellent spirits, smiling at his former pupil. “Nathaniel, it must be years since I saw you. Where have you been?”

“The Colonies, mostly. I met a beautiful lady out there called Veronique. We’re marrying in August.”

“Ah, young love! How I wish I was your age again. I’m afraid these days I find myself alone, working on what will probably be my final invention. Would you like to see the prototype?”

“I would be delighted, Professor.”

In a dark corner of London’s East End, where unlicensed engineering works generated illegal copies of trademarked mechanical devices, Professor Webb had a secret “black” laboratory, filled with inventions the Royal Society of Atomic Engineering would never approve. Such machines were considered too dangerous for public use – so they were forbidden. Anyone caught manufacturing them risked a long time in prison. “Good grief, what are you doing, sir?”
“Time waits for no man,” the professor answered. “To expedite my latest idea, I needed to ignore the petty rules. Please look at this wonderful machine. I call it The Translucidator.”
Nathaniel stared at the machine, which was on a table in the middle of the laboratory. He had never seen so many glass tubes, switches, dials and brass pipes joined together. “What does it do?”

“Sit down here and I shall show you.”

Nathaniel took a seat at the table. The professor picked up a diving helmet wired to the machine, placing it on Nathaniel’s head. The helmet clamped onto his shoulders quite painfully. “Ow! It hurts.”

“Do not fear. Any discomfort will soon be over. An alchemical compound injected into your spine.”

“I feel like I’m underwater. Can’t move.”

“You have been temporarily paralysed.”

“Professor … why?”

“I have a confession. We did not meet today by accident. I lured you here – just like I lured you last week, though I know you do not remember that. I affected your short term memory, making you forget our previous encounter, where I used my translucidator to give you false memories – of Veronique and The Colonies. Those memories were from my life. I translucidated them into you as test to see if they appeared real to you.”

“Why?”

“I am dying – but I do not want my life to be forgotten. I will live on in your brain.”

“Professor, w-what will happen to me?”

“You will wake as an old dying man.”

“No! Don’t do this!”

Nathaniel watched helplessly as the professor sat and put on another helmet. He operated the machine.

Something clicked and whirred. Nathaniel’s scalp tingled as drills and scalpels sliced into his skull and rendered him unconscious.

Hours later, Professor Webb walked out of his laboratory in his new younger body, ready to live his life again, leaving Nathaniel locked in the dark, trapped and dying.

Book Review - The Journal of Reginald Perigar by David Haynes

I've said it before that I'm a bit of a David Haynes fan boy. Ever since reading his Victorian era collection 'The Ballet of Bones' his books have always slipped into the top of my TBR list when they are released. And this latest novella from him has only cemented that. This story is a return to the Victorian era (there's a few nods to his other stories set in that time) and his shorter form and quite simply it's a fantastic horror read.

The author's style of writing suits the age the story is set in and evokes the feel of that time. The story is a fascinating one, a mystery that builds with each page. And as your curiosity is engaged the horror builds, layer by layer.

The core of the story revolves around a beautiful chess set and the records of several chess games. It's an unusual choice for a story of this nature, but an effective one. I love the game, even though I'm not particularly good at it! I also make chess sets and the one described in the story makes me want to build one :-)

It's the mystery in the story and how it comes together that sets the story apart for me. It's a novel idea that is masterfully executed. It's a short read and if you haven't read any of his work before then this is an ideal introduction. If you're a fan of horror then this is a recommended read.

Click on image to buy from Amazon

The shop: Jacques’s Emporium, hidden amongst the icy alleyways of Victorian London, hoarding its shadowy secrets against the winter snow.

The man: Basil Jenkins, collector of intriguing objects, who becomes fascinated by his newest purchase – an exquisite chessboard.

The journal: written by the mysterious Reginald Perigar, recording the ferocious chess matches he played throughout history.

The contest: black versus white, living versus dead, as Jenkins fights to save himself from becoming a pawn in Perigar’s endgame…

The Journal of Reginald Perigar is a chilling short story for the dark months. From the author of the nightmarish 'A Gathering of Ghosts' and modern horrors 'The Cage' and 'Beneath The Boards'


Click here to buy The Journal of Reginald Perigar from Amazon (and it's a marvellous horror read) 

Currently Reading - Biblical by Christopher Galt

Note that this book appears to have been renamed to 'The Third Testament'.

Click on image to buy from Amazon

A strange phenomenon is sweeping the globe. People are having visions, seeing angels, experiencing events that defy reality. Bizarre accounts pour in from distant places: a French teenager claims to have witnessed Joan of Arc being burned at the stake; a man in New York dies of malnutrition in a luxurious Central Park apartment; a fundamentalist Christian sect kidnaps and murders a geneticist.


Then there is the graffiti WE ARE BECOMING that has popped up in every major city around the world, in every language. And everywhere people are starting to talk about John Astor, the mysterious author of the book that seems to be at the center of it all.


After a rash of suicides around the world by individuals experiencing the time traveling hallucinations, psychiatrist John Macbeth and a team of FBI agents and scientists assemble to find out what’s going on before it’s too late. Is this a spiritual phenomenon or something more sinister?


Click here to buy Biblical from Amazon


Saturday, 28 November 2015

Book Review - Emergence by Michael Patrick Hicks

I enjoyed the first book in the series and this sequel continues the story well. I'm quite interested in the various concepts of transhumanism and in particular the cybernetic aspects and these are explored in an interesting fashion in this book.

The concepts provide a framework for the story, but the focus is on the lead character - Mesa. It has a fugitive feel as she is chased from her life, but not really knowing why. It's a fast paced tale and it keeps the pressure on throughout - except for the end, which felt a little flat after the relentless pace of the bulk of the story.

It really captured the feel of the pursuit and the technology involved in an effective way. The technology did feel a little too useful at times, allowing her to scrape through situations that would have been impossible otherwise. Still the framework is pretty solid, so I didn't mind these occasional excesses.

The writing is very tight and the author builds a convincing world - although as with the first book I'm still not completely sold on the Chinese invading the West Coast. It's not a big deal though and it does create some good moments.

My only real issue with the story is that I would have liked it to look in more detail at the consequences of some of the technology. It assumes knowledge on the part of the reader, for example stating something could we weaponised, but providing any detail as to how or why.

It's a fine read though, with some good action and well described battles. If you like your science-fiction fast paced then this is well worth a read.


The thrilling sequel to Convergence!

Still recovering from the events that befell her in Los Angeles, Mesa Everitt is learning how to rebuild her life.

The murder of a memorialist enclave changes all of that and sets into motion a series of violence that forces her into hiding. Hunted by a squad of corporate mercenaries, with the lives of her friends and family in danger, Mesa has no one to turn to, but she holds a dark secret inside her skull. She has no knowledge of that secret, but it is worth killing for.

The ghosts of her haunted, forgotten past are about to emerge.


Click here to buy Emergence from Amazon (and it's a fine sci-fi read)




Currently Reading - The Journal of Reginald Perigar by David Haynes

Click on image to buy from Amazon

The shop: Jacques’s Emporium, hidden amongst the icy alleyways of Victorian London, hoarding its shadowy secrets against the winter snow.

The man: Basil Jenkins, collector of intriguing objects, who becomes fascinated by his newest purchase – an exquisite chessboard.

The journal: written by the mysterious Reginald Perigar, recording the ferocious chess matches he played throughout history.

The contest: black versus white, living versus dead, as Jenkins fights to save himself from becoming a pawn in Perigar’s endgame…

The Journal of Reginald Perigar is a chilling short story for the dark months. From the author of the nightmarish 'A Gathering of Ghosts' and modern horrors 'The Cage' and 'Beneath The Boards'


Click here to buy The Journal of Reginald Perigar from Amazon

Friday, 27 November 2015

The Tau Ceti Mission - 19.08.2103 Solar Flyby

By NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from Greenbelt, MD, USA [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Seb reports from the Venti probe as it passes by the sun on its journey out of the solar system:

http://www.taucetimission.com/2015/11/19082103-solar-flyby.html

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Guest Post - Why Make Your Own Chocolate? by Rosen Trevithick

As part of the release of her new book 'Chocolate Making Adventures' Rosen Trevithick has written a guest post explaining why you should try making your own chocolate:


Michael’s kindly invites me to write a guest post to coincide with the launch of my new cookbook, Chocolate Making Adventures. It’s 100 pages packed with all the information you need in order to make your own chocolate. But, with chocolate available at virtually every retail outlet ever, why would you want to make it?

Satisfaction

Imagine biting into a perfect piece of chocolate. The flavours explode in your mouth. Now imagine you could take credit for that. You could make the substance that the world obsesses about, as and when you feel like it. Now that’s something worth writing home about (or perhaps just taking a series of photos and uploading them to Instagram in a mildly boastful manner).

Personalisation

But chocolate making is not just about the satisfaction of being able to create something tasty. When you make your own chocolate, you can customise it to match your personal taste. Prefer bitter chocolate? Use less sugar. Allergic to milk? Make your chocolate with coconut and cashew butters instead. Once you’ve made your own chocolate, you can add flavourings and fillings, meaning you’ll be able to create the perfect chocolate for any chocolate-lover’s personal taste.

More flavour

As a general rule of thumb, the less processed a food, the stronger the flavours.  My book deals with ingredients such as cocoa beans and cocoa butter, which you can buy raw. They are combined on a relatively low heat then mixed together and allowed to set. In fact, when recipe tester, Joo, took some homemade chocolate into work, the flavour had such a kick that colleagues asked her which alcoholic liqueur she’d used.

Show somebody you care

Chocolate is such a popular gift that it’s ceased to feel  original. However, making your own adds a novel spin and will make the recipient feel special.

Try before you buy

If you’re not sure whether or not chocolate making is for you, there’s no need to shell out £2.99 for the Kindle book or £10 for the paperback, as the introductory recipes are available on my blog, for free. Give one a go. You never know, being shrouded in a chocolate aroma while you blend honey and cocoa might just suit you.

Click on image to buy from Amazon

From cocoa bean to mouth-watering treats...

Make your own chocolate at home.
Most recipes for homemade chocolate involve buying it from the shop then melting it. But what if it’s actual chocolate itself that you want to make?

Thanks to the recent widespread availability of cocoa beans and cocoa butter, chocolate-making has never been easier. You can create it on an ordinary kitchen stove.

Learn to make different kinds of chocolate, then mould it into bars, sweets and even build with chocolate bricks, as you follow Rosen’s quest to become a home chocolatier.

100 pages packed with recipes and tips by chocolate enthusiast Rosen Trevithick and featuring beautiful photographs by Claire Wilson of Live, Life, Explore.


Click here to buy Chocolate Making Adventures from Amazon



Monday, 23 November 2015

Tau Ceti Mission - 04.06.2101 - Venus Slingshot

By NASA/JPL (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA00223) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Seb sends his latest post from the Venti probe as they complete the gravity assist manoeuvre around Venus:

Sunday, 22 November 2015

December Short Fiction Contest

Painted by Luciana Nedelea - https://www.facebook.com/LucianaNedeleaArt/
The image for December's Short Fiction Contest sees the return of the talented Luciana Nedelea's artwork (you can discover more of her art here: https://www.facebook.com/LucianaNedeleaArt/). And it's a lovely dark piece that I think will inspire some great stories.

As always the stories can be of any genre. They just have to be inspired by this month's image and no more than 500 words.

Entry to the contest remains free and there are prizes for the three winners. I will also feature any of the stories that don't win but I believe are worth showcasing on this blog.
  • First prize is a £50 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize
  • Second prize is a £20 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize
  • Third prize is a £10 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize
The money for the prizes come out of my own pocket, although I do make a little from advertising on this blog. So if you see something of interest then feel free to click on the links and purchase away! If you haven't tried my books yet then check them out at the top of the page, as well as buying a good read you'll be helping this contest.

Please make sure to check your story for typos before submitting. I don't mind a few errors, but my enjoyment of a story is diminished if I have to wade through too many.

I'll post the winning entries by January 1st 2016.

As with everything in life there are a few rules:
  • Only one entry per person.
  • The story must not be longer than 500 words.
  • Closing date for submissions is December 20th 2015.
  • By submitting the story you grant me a non-exclusive license to post the story on this blog. I do request that I post it here first.
  • You also grant me a one time non-exclusive license to include the story in an e-book release.
  • The judge's decision is final.
Use the form below to enter your submission. After you've submitted please leave a comment on this page stating that you have submitted. And please help spread the word. Great stories deserve great readers!



As well as comments section below you can chat about this competition in any of the threads I've listed below. If you don't know the sites then entering the competition is a good way to introduce yourself. Note that these sites are not affiliated with the competition in any way!




If you've started your own thread or discussion somewhere about this month's competition then let me know and I'll add the link to this page.

Tau Ceti Mission - 23.04.2099 Low Earth Orbit

By NASA/Samantha Cristoforetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
While still in Earth orbit Seb has transmitted his first official post of the Tau Ceti mission:

http://www.taucetimission.com/2015/11/23042099-low-earth-orbit.html

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Book Review - Goat Dance by Douglas Clegg

This book is a bit of a mixed bag. It starts off well, with some good pacing, cracking writing and really drawing you into the characters. The core story is a familiar one with dark secrets and ancient evil, but it's told in an engaging way. It flits between the present and the adolescence of one of the main characters - Cup. This is handled well and doesn't cloud the story.

However the book loses its way as it gets going. It has a King feel to the story with the small town feel and over indulgent journey through the characters' lives. Unfortunately the author's writing isn't consistently as slick as King at his best so the bulk of story really outstays its welcome. I don't mind long books if the content deserves it, but there's too much repetition here, so a lot of it feels like pointless filler.

On a few points I almost gave up on it completely - however it does have some saving graces that kept me going to the end. The story itself is interesting and when it does progress it brings some well thought out twists with it.

And while the writing isn't consistently great in places there are some flashes of genius that are a joy to read. They also bring some really dark and well imagined moments of horror - that are then diluted by their repetition, but they remained strong enough to keep me reading.

It comes together again for the ending and the pace becomes more frantic. As I said at the beginning the book is a mixed bag - I enjoyed reading it, but it required more perseverance than it should have needed.



Click on image to buy from Amazon

From Douglas Clegg, award-winning author of The Hour Before Dark and The Abandoned, comes a novel of unimaginable terror and heart-pounding suspense. What secrets lie within the ancient place known as the Goat Dance? A Haunted Lake . . . Seven-year-old Teddy Amory should have died that winter's day on Clear Lake, when she fell through the ice while skating with her older brother, Jake. But something got inside her that day . . . something terrifying . . . A Haunted Town . . . Nightmarish forces lurk in the mountains of Virginia, and a shadowy darkness has begun to spread like a shroud over the living. Now a town must face its terrifying past as a possessed child threatens to unleash an unspeakable horror . . .


Click here to buy Goat Dance from Amazon (and it's a decent horror read)


Currently Reading - Emergence by Michael Patrick Hicks

Click on image to buy from Amazon

The thrilling sequel to Convergence!

Still recovering from the events that befell her in Los Angeles, Mesa Everitt is learning how to rebuild her life.

The murder of a memorialist enclave changes all of that and sets into motion a series of violence that forces her into hiding. Hunted by a squad of corporate mercenaries, with the lives of her friends and family in danger, Mesa has no one to turn to, but she holds a dark secret inside her skull. She has no knowledge of that secret, but it is worth killing for.

The ghosts of her haunted, forgotten past are about to emerge.


Click here to buy Emergence from Amazon

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Tau Ceti-Mission - Pre-launch Questions for Seb



Seb is one of two neural networks on the Venti Probe, as well as being the Secondary Command Module for the mission his natural language parsing ability has seen him helping with public relations for the mission. A large part of that role will be the blog posts he transmits back to Earth during the mission. Another part will be the Q&A sessions - the first of which will take place on Saturday 21st November - on the day before the historic missions launch.

To send a question to Seb post it in the comments section of the page linked below and the mission control team at the United Nations Space Administration will pick their favourites and send them to the probe. Anyone who posts a question that is answered by Seb could receive a mission patch. This first batch of questions will close at midnight on Friday UST.

My Books on Goodreads