Monday, December 30, 2013

Discovering new authors

Every now and then we step out of our comfort zone and try a new author or even a different genre to what we normally read.  Kris Radcliffe is an author worth a try if you are looking to expand on your usual reading tastes.  As a child, Kris took down a pack of hungry wolves with only a hardcover copy of "The Dragonriders of Pern" and a sharpened toothbrush. That fateful day set her on a path traversing many storytelling worlds--dabbles in film and comic books, time as a talent agent and a textbook photo coordinator, and a foray into nonfiction. After co-authoring "Mind Shapes: Understanding the Differences in Thinking and Communication", Kris returned to academia. But she craved narrative and a richly-textured world of Fates, Shifters, and Dragons--and unexpected, true love.
Kris lives in Minnesota with her husband, two daughters, Handsome Cat, and an entire menagerie of suburban wildlife bent on destroying her house. That battered-but-true copy of "Dragonriders"? She found it yesterday. It's time to pay a visit to the woodpeckers.

Thomas's Muse
Four years ago, for a brief moment, Sammie Singleton became the muse of an artist she didn't know. The moment vanished, and now Sammie spends her nights with a different man.
Her life is black and white. But she needs food for her soul to feel alive.
She needs color. She needs art.
Everything changes the moment she meets Thomas Quidell. Brilliant and talented, Sammie quickly realizes Tom is her artist--and the man she's been fantasizing about all these years.
Tom offers her more than a lifeline. He opens her eyes to a new life. Vibrant, loving, fulfilling. But is she strong enough to take a chance?
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What’s your favorite ‘I need a break from writing’ activity?
Writing is my break from everything else. 
How do you approach writing sex scenes?  They can range from mild to wild.  Where are you on the mild to wild meter?
Totally depends on the story.  With “Thomas’s Muse,” I set out to expand that writing muscles, so to speak, and write hotter than I do in the Fate ~ Fire ~ Shifter ~ Dragon series.  The Quidell Brothers series is populated by characters who are mature and, well,frustrated, so the heat goes up and up. 
When I’m writing Rysa (the heroine from the FFSD series), the love scenes are more about her emotions than the sex itself, but that will change as the series moves forward and she becomes more sure of herself.  When I’m writing Ladon (the hero), the scenes are more explicit, but only because he uses a different vocabulary. 
Do you write in one genre?  Or more than one?
Three, right now, through the Six Talon Sign imprints:
Contemporary Erotic Romance  (Six Love Erotic Romance)
Urban Fantasy Romance  (Six Talon Sign Fantasy & Futuristic Romance)
Science Fiction  (Talon One Science Fiction)
What about marketing?  How do you approach that area?
I’m an introvert, so I hire help, including Vickie at Innovative Online Tours,  She’s a big help.  I’m also working with someone new (uh-hum) who’s helping me with the social media aspect of promotion.  There’s also some traditional, publisher-oriented promotion stuff that I’m learning right now.
What about beta readers?  Do you use them?  How many do you have?  Where do you find them?
I’m weird about beta readers.  Part of the problem is that I write too fast for beta readers to be of any true use to me.  I can’t sit around and wait for people to finish, so I work with a content editor whom I LOVE, Annetta Ribken at .  Annetta’s a professional.  She understands my process and deadlines and working with her is by far the best solution for me. 
I also work with a copy editor I know and trust (Terry Koch at  After Terry’s done, the manuscripts go to my “Proofing Crew” who read for typos.  They’re the closest thing I have to beta readers.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Free Books for the Festive Season

My new book Hush Baby on free promotion on Amazon Kindle for this weekend.  Just click on the title to get your free copy.
Keep on eye on my books on Amazon during the festive season, I have some special discount books and free promotions coming up.
Thanks for your support and have a great Festive Season!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

When life rushes by...

It's hard to believe I last posted on my blog over a month ago.  Sometimes life is just a little too hectic and we don't make time for the important things in life like blogging.
The last month and a half has been hectic to say the least.  There was NaNoWriMo which for the first time in 5 years I did not reach my word target.  However, it doesn't make me a failure.  I still managed to get 30 000 words done and that is an accomplishment.  Especially with all I've had going on.  Besides working on Diary of a Dancer for NaNoWriMo, I was completing the last revisions for Hush Baby.  Hush Baby is now finished and available on as both a paperback and on kindle.
And then of course there are end of term reports and our school's application for authorisation form which was immense.  Add in some birthday parties, a big staff Christmas do and the protests in Maidan Square, life is all go living in the Ukraine.  Oh and I forgot to mention the snow.  It arrived.
The following photos of the protests in Maidan were taken by my good friend Soizick Vossart.
And then of course Nelson Mandela died.  A great man, an icon, can't believe he has finally passed on.  But then, the only two things one is sure of in life is death and taxes.
Really can't believe that next week this time I'll be winging my way to the USA.  This will by first visit and I am excited.  My knowledge about the USA is based on watching TV shows and movies.  It will be good to see what it is really like.  Maybe there isn't a bunch of serial killers active in every city!
One week to go...then it all starts again in January.  A hectic mad rush to get everything done, work, work, work.  Maybe it's good I accidentally booked myself a flight to Venice in March...but that is another story!
Have a good one!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

First draft of Hush Baby and NaNoWriMo

It's hard to explain the euphoric feeling you feel when you finish a first draft of a novel.  It's like you become all bubbly inside like a bottle of champagne.  Relief as the tension is released out of you, POP!
Hush Baby was started in NaNoWriMo last year November 2012.  For those of you who don't know NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month and happens in the month of November every year without fail.  I've participated in NaNoWriMo for the past five years and The Case of Billy B, Not Telling, Defective and CU@8 all had their start in the month of November.
This year I'll be participating in NaNoWriMo again with Diary of a Dancer, but this time it will be more of a biography than a novel.
Back to Hush Baby.  The last few chapters are with my editor now and I must move away from it for a while and start on my next project.  Some space is always good between the first draft and the revisions.

Here's what I was thinking for the back blurb/book description thing:
Kyle Rushton appears to have everything going for him.  His own home, a successful business, a beautiful woman in his bed and an adorable son. 
But when things start to go wrong in his relationship it spreads like a cancer into every facet of his life.  With his life turned upside down, he goes to his sister and some old friends for help.
Sometimes things are not what they seem.

Caught between a need for revenge and a search for justice, Kyle and his friends turn to the past for answers and the more layers they uncover the darker the truth becomes.  Until he finds himself asking – is knowing the truth going to help him move on with his life?

Cindy Vine currently lives in Kiev, Ukraine, and is the author of The Case of Billy B, Not Telling, Defective and CU@8.  All her books are available on Amazon, Apple iStore, Barnes and Noble, Sony.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ten Things you Learn as an Expat

Being an expat can be addictive.  The excitement of living somewhere exotic, the adrenalin rush when you venture out alone for the first time, all help make the bungalow and white picket fence back home seem a little boring.  There is no excitement in knowing everything.  Life back home can be a little too predictable.  Here are ten things you learn as an Expat:
1.  How to make friends
The Expat Community is usually a very friendly bunch of people, all having a similar experience to you.  They share similar interests, love exploring and especially love sharing the knowledge they've gained about your new city with you.  Your fellow Expats will tell you about great restaurants that serve real food, where you can buy Marmite or some other favourite food from home, places you really need to see, etc.  You get my drift.  Your fellow Expats are a useful resource and within a very short while (like immediately) you will become a friend and be absorbed into the Expat Community.  Back home you might live next door to someone for ten years and never say a word to them.  But as an Expat, everybody who you can communicate with becomes a friend.  Many of the friends you make as an Expat will become lifelong friends that you keep in touch with over the years, even when you move off to a different exotic location.
2.  How to adapt
Adapt or Die is what comes to mind.  You might have to change what you eat, what you wear, and bite your tongue about what you believe.  Knocking the country that has taken you in temporarily is not a good move.  You can knock it after you've left.  Look on everything as an adventure and go with the flow.  Having lived in many different countries as an Expat, I find that I can adapt very quickly.  Remember that you are earning good money in your adopted country which is why you are there in the first place.  You are earning far more than the average local.  Try not to flaunt it.
3.  How to keep in touch
As an Expat keeping in touch with everybody becomes of prime importance.  All these people, even if they have moved on to other countries or gone back home, become your support network.  Facebook in this regard is brilliant.
4.  How to get around
You soon learn how to get from A to B.  Google Maps on my phone is a Godsend.  Whether it is on foot, by Metro, bus or taxi you will find a way to get around and explore.  And this skill will help you survive when you visit other countries on holidays.
5.  How to plan great holidays
At any gathering of Expats it won't be long before the subject of holidays comes up.  Have you been to...?  Expats know how to plan great holidays.  Exploring your host country is only for weekends, longer holidays are for exploring other countries.  And when people share what was great and what not to go and see, you assimilate all that info to create your own great holiday.  Living back home you can't afford holidays that.
6.  How to cope on your own
Expat living brings out your survival instincts.  If you can't do something by yourself there is no Daddy or Mommy to step in, you have to use your words and ask if you need help.  There will always be someone there who will help you when you ask.  You might also have to become a creative thinker and work out solutions to problems by yourself.  I've got through with Plan A, Plan B and Plan C.  On rare occasions I might have had to go as far as having a Plan Z.
7.  How much your family back home means to you
Absence makes your heart grow fonder.  There are no truer words than that old adage.  When you are away from your family you realise how much you love them and miss them.  You treasure Skype conversations.
8.  How to take risks
Living as an Expat is all about taking risks, leaving your comfort zone and trying new things.  You mght be required to try strange foods, take new forms of transport, find your way home when you are hopelessly lost.
9.  How to communicate with signs and grunts
Not everybody in the world can speak English.  No matter how eloquent a speaker you might be, to a local it might sound like gibberish.  But no matter, before you start picking up useful words and phrases in the local vernacular, you will quickly learn hand signals and gestures accompanied by grunts and sometimes even charades to demonstrate what you want and need.
10.  How to live a great life
Expat life is great if you set it as a goal to make the most of the experience.  Don't fight against things you don't understand or what seems cock-eyed to you.  Go with the flow.  Think of everything you do as a memory you are creating.
Cindy Vine currently lives and works in Kyiv, Ukraine.  This is the 11th country she has lived and worked in.  Her children view themselves as global citizens.  Cindy Vine is the author of Not telling, Defective and CU@8, all available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the Apple iStore.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How NOT to sell a million books

There are many books, blogs, articles, Youtube videos out there telling you how to sell a million books.  They are written by people who have achieved this goal or would have you believe they have achieved the goal.  Well done to them.  They are a success story.  But I am also a success story.  I have succeeded in NOT selling a million books.  And this is how I did it.
They tell you it is very important to have a blog to build your author platform and your footprint on the web.  It is relatively easy to set up a blog and it's free which is always good.  To get your blog noticed you have to find your niche.  As a very random person with a very random mind specialising in random thoughts and making random connections, my niche is total randomness.  However, this does not seem to be a popular niche for other bloggers and people who read blogs.  Unfortunately that is who I am and I write about things I see and what interests me.  Yes, I am the target audience apparently, or other random people like me who appear to be few and far between.  They also say always put an image on your blog.  I hope you like the image I included of autumn in Chernobyl.  It has nothing to do with the content of this post but that's the way I work, isn't it?
Guest Bloggers
They tell you to have guest bloggers post on your blog to extend your reach.  It's part of the whole networking thing.  I have done this for a couple of years and all it has succeeded in doing is making my blog even more random.
Virtual Book Tours
They tell you this is a great way to market your books.  I have tried this and forked over my hard-earned $30 to pay for other bloggers to advertise my books and host my guest posts on their blogs.  Finding the time to come up with content for my own blog is a mission and trying to come up with content for others' blogs is just putting unnecessary pressure on yourself.  Especially if time is at a premium.  To be fair this did help me sell a handful of books.  But a handful is not quite a million is it?
Commenting on others blogs
They say (and this is all theory) that when you comment on others' blogs they come back to comment on yours.  Bullshit.  Everybody is pressed for time.  Blog-hopping is very time-consuming and aren't we supposed to be spending some time actually writing our books?  When I first started doing my marketing I made an effort to comment on other blogs but don't think this generated any book sales.
Commenting on forums
They say become active on forums and you'll see sales spark.  The only spark is the sales burning up to ash.  On most forums authors frequent, all they are interested in is marketing their own book.  They don't give a flying monkey about your book.  And frankly, I find it difficult to feign an interest in Vampires and Fairies.  I am all about reality which it appears is what most people are trying to escape.  Forum commenting also takes up valuable time which I can ill afford and if you have internet hassles it becomes a lesson in frustration.
Social Networking
Ooo this is the biggie.  Join Facebook, Twitter, Shelfari, Goodreads, Google+, Linkedin etc.  Those that made a million tell you that this was how they did it.  People retweeted status updates about their books and that was how the word of mouth thing spread.  Seriously, have you seen how many authors spam their books on these social networking sites?  Do people really read those status updates?  I am not convinced.  They tell you that through social networking you engage with your readers.  Most people struggle to find the time to engage with all their friends on these sites.
Free book giveaways
They say that this is how you make your name known.  I have not found this particularly successful.  In fact, I was selling roughly 100 copies a day of my book Not Telling.  It even reached the top 500 on Amazon's best seller list.  Then I read some of those How I sold a million ebooks books and got greedy.  I took my books off Smashwords and went exclusive on Kindle Select.  I offered my books for free as part of their free promotion.  Thousands downloaded my free books.  And then my sales dried up.  It was as if my target audience all got a free copy of my books so that they didn't need to buy it anymore.
Pricing your books
When I first started out my books were priced at $2.99 so that I could get the 70% royalty.  After I gave books away for free and my sales started dropping, I lowered the price to $1.50.  This meant that I only got the 35% royalty.  They say if you keep the price low (even 99c has been bandied about) then you get the volume of sales and this makes up for the lower royalty.  I don't find you sell any more books at a lower price.  People will buy your book if it intrigues them regardless of whether it is $1.50 or $2.99.  The trick is just to find people who read the types of books you write.  I can't say that I have been particularly successful in this.
Know your target audience
They say that this is really important.  Some authors write specifically for their target audience.  They are the ones who sell a million books.  I tend to write what I like to read.  Books on the dark side, reality fiction and how people get through terrible situations.  I read books like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  Susan Lewis, Jodi Picoult etc.  I enjoy writing my books and reading what I have written.  There is a target audience out there somewhere, people who like to read the same books I do but I have not been able to connect with them.  Maybe because I don't have a degree in marketing.  But probably because I haven't made enough of an effort.
This is another biggie.  They say if you want to sell a million books you need to have a lot of reviews.  John Locke has admitted to buying reviews initially.  I don't have the money or the inclination to buy reviews.  My reviews are all genuine reviews from people who read my book.  Personally, I review every book I read.  The problem with reviews is not everybody who reads your book is your target audience.  If it's not Vampires and Fairies they might not like your dark reality fiction.  And then if your books are written in South African English because you are South African, then some readers don't get that you might spell words differently (color vs colour) and you might say things in a different way, and their review will be all about saying how poorly proofread your book was because of bad spelling and grammar.  Seriously.
They say that you need your own website.  I have one  You need to update it regulary and put on new content.  Time....time....time.  But this has not helped me to sell a million books.
Write more books
They say that when you finish one book you need to start on another.  They say you have to be an expert at juggling your full-time job, writing and marketing and probably caring for your family at the same time.  When I write I struggle to find the time to market.  Then again, distractions are my bug bear in life.  I used to be quite disciplined in my writing then I discovered Candy Crush.  There is something relaxing in mindlessly killing candy.  These days I can only start my writing process after I have lost all 5 of my lives.  Then when that is finished I might watch some past episodes of Silent Witness on my laptop.  To NOT sell a million books you have to find a distraction.  Maybe if I stopped all distractions and wrote a million books, then if I sold only one copy a year of each book I'd make a million dollars.  Definitely something to think about.
Cindy Vine has somehow managed to sell 45 000 books in two and a half years through no fault of her own.  She currently lives and works in Kiev in the Ukraine and is the author of The Case of Billy B, Not Telling, Defective and CU@8.  If you think you might be her target audience, you are welcome to join her Facebook Page or befriend her on Twitter.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Chernobyl - the true story

Catastrophic is a mild description on what happened at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant at 1.26am on the morning of the 26th April 1986.  Poor communication, the Soviet Government's decision to try and keep the disaster secret, all made the situation even worse as if it wasn't bad enough already.
What sparked the disaster was an experiment to try and see how long the turbines would spin for without an electricity supply.  This was hoped to be an option to cut down on costs.   The combination of hot fuel and cooling water created a lot of steam which caused a huge amount of pressure.  KABOOM!  The two plant workers on duty at the time died that night.  They were later buried in coffins lined with lead.  The six firemen on call at the fire station across the road, arrived at the scene within 2 minutes and attempted to put the blaze out with water.  Water had no effect on the fire which increased in intensity.  The firmen were under the impression it was just an electrical fire and were not aware of the dangers they were facing.  Those 6 fireman were all dead from radiation poisoning within a few weeks.  The official death toll for the Chernobyl nuclear explosion is 30.  All died within a few weeks of the disaster.  27 years after the accident, a fireman's jacket worn at that time still has a reading of 500.  UNSCEAR says that apart from increased thyroid cancers, "there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure 20 years after the accident."  Probably because those contaminated were already dead 20 years after the accident.
After the explosion the chief of the night shift wanted to shut down reactor 3 as a safety precaution but the chief engineer wouldn't hear of it.  Eventually at 5am the other reactors were only shut down.
On our visit to Chernobyl we were told that the safe radiation readings for humans was 0.30.  Radiation doses on that first day were 20 000.  The guys who went to fight the fire had no chance.  They had no idea of what they were facing.  In the nearby town of Pripyat which was created especially for the workers at the power plant, some people went to a little bridge on the outskirts of the town where they had a good view of reactor 4 and the fire that was blazing.  In the early hours of the morning they stood on the bridge and watched the blaze.  All of them later died of radiation sickness.  They were not included in the official death toll.  That bridge is now known as the Bridge of Death.
Pripyat had a population of 50 000.  Most of the adults were between the ages of 20 and 30.  There were 5 schools and 12 kindergartens.  About 17 000 children in total.  There was a stadium with an athletics track and football field, a sports complex with swimming pool, shopping malls, supermarkets and an amusement park.  Our guide told us that the reason why there weren't any churches, was because it was a relatively new town - only 16 years old, and they hadn't been built yet.
Pripyat wasn't evacuated immediately.  People went about their business and continued with their day as if nothing had happened.  However after a few hours people began to feel sick with headaches, vomiting and complained of a metallic taste in their mouths.
The Soviet Government only sent over a commission to investigate the accident on the evening of the 26th April.  Due to the high radiation levels they found, it was decided to evacuate the people of Pripyat on the 27th April.  They were told it would be temporary and they would only be gone for about 3 days, so they only needed to take their documents and a few belongings.  It took only 3 hours for scores of buses to take away the 50 000 inhabitants.  They would never return to collect their belongings.  Two years after the accident, looters came in and cleaned out the town.
The government of Ukraine were only told that there had been a fire and it was extinguished and all was fine.  Moscow informed the region that there was no need to cancel the 1 May celebrations and parades, they could still continue as there was no danger.  It was only later that a further 220 000 people in about 96 towns and villages in the area were evacuated never to return.  The area in a 30km radius from the explosion site became known as the Exclusion Zone.
The general population of the USSR were only informed 2 days after the accident in a short article on page 3 of the Pravda.  It just said there was a fire, not that the reactor had exploded.
The plume of radioactive fallout drifted over the USSR and Europe.  Because of the wind direction at the time, 60% of the fallout landed in Belarus.  The world only became aware of the accident when scientists in Sweden detected high radiation levels in a puddle of water.
The Soviet Government tried to contain the disaster without letting the world know the enormity of the problem.  Helicopters were sent in to drop bags of sand and boron on the fires.  The helicopter pilots received huge doses of radiation as they made up to 33 trips a day to reactor 4.  A new crisis arose as the fires continued to burn under the sand layer and it was feared that a second, huger explosion would destroy a large part of Europe.  There was also a fear that Europe's subterranean water supply would be contaminated.  When the heat from the magma below started to crack the sand layer, lead was dropped into reactor 4.   Young miners were brought in from all over the Soviet Union to dig a tunnel under the reactor and create a room where they could put in a huge cooling machine to cool the magma.  Underground in the tunnel they were digging the radiation levels weren't too bad, but once they exited the tunnel and came to the surface they were exposed to high levels of radiation.   The worst of the radioactive debris on the rooftops had to be moved by young men called bio-robots, as the radioactivity stopped the machines from working.  
Young men from the Soviet army were brought in to build a concrete sarcophagus to try and prevent further release of radioactive material.  The sarcophagus was always supposed to be a temporary fix with a lifespan of 30 years.  It is already starting to crack after 27 years, and there is a large black hole where part of it caved in in February 2013.  After that radiation levels in the area were reported to be 12 times higher but it does seem to be back to where it usually is now.  The new sarcophagus being built 150m away, is scheduled to be finished in 2015 after which it will be wheeled over to cover the old sarcophagus.
After the building of the sarcophagus, the huge clean-up started.  Altogether about 600 000 people were involved in the clean-up, most of them were from the Soviet Army, young soldiers aged between 20 and 30.  They were called the liquidators.  They cleaned off radioactive dust, removed soil, sometimes up to a metre deep which they buried underground.  All wooden houses in a 10km radius were demolished and buried underground, radioactivity markers placed on their graves.  Forests in the immediate area were burned.  The clean-up was huge.  Liquidators showing signs of radiation poisoning were flown to Moscow where they were attended to in Hospital 6, the only hospital that specialised in the treatment of radiation sickness.
It's hard to believe but people continued to work in Chernobyl.  The other three nuclear reactors were still operational.  Reactor 2 was only shut down in 1991 after a serious turbine building fire.   Reactor 1 was closed in 1996 and Reactor 3 was closed in 1999.  Although the town of Pripyat was evacuated the day after the accident, the swimming pool was only closed and emptied in 1999.
Today 9000 people live within the 30km exclusion zone.  Most are involved in continuous clean-up operations and the building of the new sarcophagus.  They work 15 days on, 15 days off, to try and limit radiation exposure.  Over 100 people are living in some of the abandoned villages, having returned illegally.  The government has decided to turn a blind eye as they are all old.  Scientists say the area won't be safe to live in for another 20 000 years.
An excellent photo essay on the effects of the Chernobyl Accident on children in Belarus (the border is about 15km from Chernobyl) can be viewed here.  If this is the effects on children in Belarus which was 15km away, I dread to think the effects on children from Pripyat which was about 1km away.  There are no records of the many miscarriages that occurred after the accident.  The fact is that 400 times more radioactive material was released into the atmosphere from the Chernobyl accident than the bombing of Hiroshima.  The containment and decontamination after the accident is reported to have cost the Soviet Union $18 billion, virtually bankrupting the USSR.  The Chernobyl Accident was huge and had far-reaching effects.  I am pleased that I was able to take the tour and find out more about what really happened.
Cindy Vine is the author of Not Telling, Defective and CU@8, all available on Amazon as both Kindle and paperback.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

How to write

How to write
a guest post by Richard Welwyn

I am reminded of the wonderful 1960’s film Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines where the pilot for the German team goes missing and the brass have to take over, despite having no skill in this particular direction.  With typical Teutonic thoroughness they find a book called How To Fly and the senior officer gets into the cockpit and reads – Number Vun.  Sit down.
What that implies is that, if you wish to be a writer, start with the obvious.  And that means, always have a pen nearby.  Or a pencil, or a mobile phone or a chisel and a rock.  Anything with which you can write, carve or indict ideas.  And the reason for that is very simple.  One simply never knows when you are going to be struck by an idea – and you do not record it at your peril.  Having a memory like Swiss cheese, I bitterly regret all the ideas which have struck me and I simply could not be bothered to write down.  Yes, I know there is a paradox there.  How do I know that I have forgotten things?  By definition, forget means, etc, etc, etc.
The way that I know I have definitely forgotten is that is that I have on occasions done the ‘right thing’ and made sure I had a notebook to hand and wrote down a squiggly note the moment a thought entered my mind (I was at the time in regular correspondence with a friend when I was in Arabia and so many thing were very new to me).  I would get back home, sit down at the computer and look at the scrawls I had created.  Inevitably, I would be struck by how much there was – and how many ideas had flitted fleetingly through my tired, battered and much abused brain – and I would not have been able to recall without the aide memoire.  I was then able to compose long, detailed and (I was reliably informed) entertaining emails.  This was the days of dial-up internet.  If you are too young to remember that, think of a crank-handle winding up an early car.  No, it’s not really like that, but the analogy is apposite. 
OK.  That took a long time to make one point, but it is an important one.  You never know when an idea is going to strike you.  Be prepared for it and record it.  Sadly, the story becomes a bit less clear from then on.  I suppose one can compare it to searching for diamonds.  Not every idea is a diamond.  Many of them are simply gravel.  Do not discard them though!  Gravel can be useful.  Have a drawer with all your ideas in them (I actually have a directory on my computer and I go back to them occasionally).  It is strange how often an idea will take on a different cast at a later date – and can be used in a different way, or ties in with a later idea.
Before I reveal the big one (literally, the million dollar question) let us quickly touch on some practical matters.  Of course you have to have structure to your writing – thesis statement, topic sentences, main idea, second idea, etc, transition words, and so on.  There are many places you can find out about structure.  It is a pretty straightforward issue and there are a number of rules.  They can all be summed up with three words, though, namely:- Don’t be boring.  Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter how you do it.  Break every rule in the book if needs be.  As long as people find you interesting.
We all know what it feels like to lose a wallet – that horrible empty feeling, the sense of loss.  Even worse is to lose what you have written.  Computers (wonderful as they are) can be fickle.  I write longhand before I type it up, so things tend not to be lost forever, but retyping pages and pages can be a pretty dismal pastime.  The way round it, though, is simple.  As soon as I get to the stage where I feel I really would not like to have to retype this, I email it to myself.  Now, whatever happens, it can be retrieved – from another computer if needs be.  And boy, has than saved my bacon on many an occasion!  A USB stick performs the same function.  Those of you with a more advanced knowledge of the internet will also appreciate the advantages of Dropbox.  An excellent invention.
And so we come limping to the end – and the promised million dollar question.  They are the two most important words in the writer’s arsenal.  Remember that our aim is to create an entertainment – it does not necessarily have to be true.  Life is full of wonderfully funny, interesting, sad, encouraging, disappointing events, all of which could be used in a story.  Sadly, real life rarely throws up genuine finished articles.  They need work.  They need to be twisted into shape so that they meet all the criteria (opening, development, dilemma, rising action, crisis, resolution) so one has got, as the lawyers would say, to apply one’s mind.  How do you do that so that something interesting comes out of it?  Simple.  Taraa (blast of trumpets).  You go beyond the original idea.  You simply ask yourself the golden words.  What if?  What if x, y or z happened?  My first novel was based purely on the premise of an amusing story I once heard about a deceased person’s ashes ending up in a vicar’s garage – on the day of the church fete.  All I did was to say, What if the ashes did go to the fete and were sold?
The answer can be found in the excellent book Angels and Tea by Richard Welwyn.  My wife was editing it recently and it was very rewarding to hear her chuckling as she went along.  If you would like to read more by Richard Welwyn, you could do worse that to start with To Be Decided – a book of short stories; some serious, some funny, some whimsical. 
So there you have it.  If you can meet the above requirements, you are sure to be able to write.  That is the easy bit.  The hard part is shifting your stuff – building up a readership.  But that is another story!

Richard Welwyn currently has one book available on Amazon, namely To Be Decided, a collection of short stories.  At the moment, his life seems to be dominated by the number four.  He has written four collections of short stories, four novels and after four days of being on Amazon he has sold four books!  Sadly, as yet, he has not earned a fortune!  

Sunday, September 29, 2013

These Boots were made for Walking

Before moving to Kiev my total amount of walking had been 3 minutes on the treadmill at gym, walking from the car to my house and from the car park to the shops at the shopping mall.  All those hours spent browsing shops at the shopping mall did not prepare me for my new life of walking to work.  At first the morning walk was hard, there is an incline, lots of steps, uneven path, it played hell on my calves.  The first few times the walk took me 40 minutes.  I hated it.  Especially in the rain when cars deliberately aimed for large puddles so they can send a spray of dirty water your way.  But I persevered and am pleased to say I actually enjoy my brisk walk in the chilly mornings.  Being part of a workforce all walking to work gives me a sense of belonging.  It now takes me 20 minutes to walk to work instead of the initial 40.  Looking at the jelly flesh covering my legs, there seems to be a little less of it which is probably a good thing.  So walking might be good for me after all.  I might even end up with long slim well-muscled shapely legs like the Ukrainian women have, but I won't hold my breath.  Those legs take years.
I bought two pairs of ankle boots before I left Cape Town, thinking that made me ultra-prepared for Kiev.  However, boots for mall-walking and boots for road-walking are not the same thing as I am discovering.  And boots for snow walking is something else entirely.  I don't want to give up my morning walk so I guess that means some serious boots made for walking shopping is on the cards.
Admission of guilt:  After the first night walking home, I decided my reward for a hard day's work each day is to take a taxi home.
Last Saturday I met a friend who took me to explore the city centre of Kiev.  I experienced the underground rail system for the first time.  Terrifying.  People who all moved purposefully knowing where they were going, crowds of them, all hemming you in and suffocating you.  And then there were the escalators, so long, steep, a vertical drop to the centre of the Earth, moving far faster than any escalator I'd ever experienced, and the holding on part didn't move at the same speed as the steps part.  Scary.  As someone who is not good with heights and escalators in general, this was a time to dig deep and face my fears.  My friend was supportive, standing in front of me so I couldn't see the drop, letting me babble on incoherently so that I could distract myself.  Somehow, I don't think I am ever going to be able to travel on the metro underground by myself.
We walked and walked searching for The Chocolate House which did not sell chocolate as we discovered, but held an interesting abstract art exhibition and was the venue for a couple of weddings we gatecrashed.  The rain came down in buckets and we were drenched, droplets of rain dripping down from the ends of our noses as we took temporary refuge in telephone boxes.  My gym trainers are not waterproof as I have discovered.  Maybe because they are meant for indoor use and it goes without saying that it never rains inside a gym.
This Saturday my lovely teaching assistant took me to a second hand clothes market so I could stock up on some winter clothes.  We took a bus to get there, thankfully no metro and no escalators.  Lots of the clothes looked new or hardly worn at all.  I bought two coats, a longish one and a shorter one, 4 100% wool sweaters and a polar fleece and paid only $85 for the lot.  That's what I call a bargain!  So hopefully I'll be warm for the winter which seems to be approaching rapidly.  The temperatures lately have dropped to about 5 degrees Celsius and my Cape Town winter gear is hopelessly inadequate.
Next weekend I think I'll do some boots shopping.  Apparently there is something you can put under your boots to stop you from slipping in the snow.  I need to get that and a woolly hat and maybe a scarf or two.  I already have a balaclava and ear muffs from my visit to Siberia several years ago.
Time to have another coffee!
Cindy Vine is the author of Not Telling, Defective and C U @ 8, all available on Amazon in paperback and kindle.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Surviving the first week

One week has gone by so quickly and I am still alive.  It's hard to believe that after all the visa hassles I finally made it to Kiev.  My apartment is quite nice, spacious if a little dark because of all the trees outside blocking the sunlight.  And brown walls, brown carpet, brown furniture doesn't help brighten it up.  I do have a green chandelier though.  The apartment is very reminiscent of the Soviet era.
At school I was thrown straight into the deep end with three PYP information evenings
three nights in a row.  That was the easy part.  Walking to and from school has been a challenge.  Especially in the rain.  After the first night walking home, I started cheating and taking a taxi home.  A full day's work and all you want to do is put your feet up and relax, you definitely need to get home as quickly as possible.  As a person who's walking has been limited to a day spent browsing shops at a mall, I have had to dig deep for my morning walk but the fresh air is quite enjoyable.  Or so I keep telling myself.  It is only a 30-40 minute walk though.  I can do it.
Not to many people speak English here, or if they do they are too embarrassed to try.  Haggling with the toothless old vegetable sellers who frequent the entrance to the metro is an interesting if entertaining experience.  Lots of grunts and gestures.
The bakery across from the school sells the most divine bread and pastries.  To date I have been good and avoided the pastries.  The school lunches are interesting at best and very Ukrainian.  I've had a delicious borscht and some other strange things that I was unable to identify.  Some tasted good, others okay and the long green things impersonating green beans but which tasted like fresh seaweed, I just could not do.  My taste buds huddle up and start shivering at the thought.
Being alone is well, lonely.  To come home to an empty apartment is not nice and I really miss my kids and family, especially Siobhan who was always a loud presence.  I find I talk to myself quite a lot and even start discussions about what I should eat for dinner.  The problem is that I have now started answering myself.  I wonder what I'll be like after a few months?
As I can't get the TV working (I need to get the landlord in anyway as the door to my little balcony where the clothes drying rack resides is jammed and doesn't open) I have been watching the TV series and movies I had saved on my hard drive.  Movies and series I had been saving up for just a time like this.  At least my internet works now.
It seems that walking is the norm here, and I looked up on Google maps and found a little supermarket about 1km from where I live.  The range of salamis and smoked meats and cheeses is extraordinary.  However, I did not find Gladwrap, tin foil or toilet paper.  The toilet paper that seems to be used here is definitely recycled paper and resembles the roll of paper that goes into the supermarket till machines.  It is rough and hard on your bum.  I was hoping to find some nice soft 2-ply but to no avail.  I haven't given up yet.  The meat looks fresh and good but what type it is is a mystery.  I think I bought some pork chops, beef mince yesterday, but the red steak/stew meat I have no idea.  It looks a little red to be beef...
Friday night, stopped off at a little bar/restaurant on the way home with some colleagues and had a very large pint of draught apple cider that was delicious and refreshing.  Yesterday there was a beerfest in town, but with rugby on and the rain pelting down, I decided to rather find the supermarket in between showers, and buy some washing powder to do some much-needed washing.  Two weeks worth as I had a pile from the week I was holed up in a hotel in Pretoria waiting for my visa.
Of course I have nowhere to dry the washing, so my clothes are spread out on the furniture in the lounge.  Apparently the central heating is switched on by the government mid-October regardless of the temperature, and it stays on until about April next year.  You can't adjust the settings and temperature, and while it is minus temperatures outside people walk around in shorts and t-shirts inside their apartments.  I suppose when that happens my washing will dry quite quickly.  I found an iron in the cupboard so guess I might have to finally learn how to iron.  Something I have managed to avoid my entire life so far.
Well I guess it's time for me to use some of that heavenly bread I bought and make myself some breakfast.  I want to do some writing today.  My goal for yesterday was watch rugby, find a supermarket and do my laundry.  I reached all targets.  Today's goal is to write my blog, pack away my hopefully dried clothes, do some school work and work on Hush Baby.  Sundays will definitely have to be writing days as there is no time during the week and when I get home I just want to chill.
Have a great week ahead!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Comedy of Errors

Macdonald's French fries taste like cardboard when they are cold.  This was my great discovery yesterday after I spent too long trying to find my way back to my hotel with my food supplies for the day.  GPS on your phone is an amazing invention.  However, you need a navigator to operate it for you as the other drivers do not appreciate you trying to slide the screen open and check the directions while driving.  It is extremely difficult to keep your eyes on the road, be aware of cars tailgating you, as you try to read the directions on your phone before the screen goes black.  And then when you get a chance to sneak a look again, you find that you have just driven past the turn-off.  Someone told me that Pretoria is the best city in South Africa as the way the roads are set up and designed you can never get lost.  However, you can ride in circles a lot of the time, seeing the place where you want to be but the one way road you are on does not take you there.  I hate orderly one way roads.  Give me a mish-mash of chaotic roads any day.  At least they take you where you want to go.  And of course all the streets that have changed names don't help either.  Google maps hasn't caught up with all the name changes.  Some parts of the street still have its old name and yet other sections of the same street have been renamed.  And then some streets haven't got any name while they make up their minds what to call it.  Pretoria has to be my least favourite place.
It is a very pretty city I am sure when the trees are in full bloom.  Unfortunately this time of year you only drive down avenues of brown trees, no pretty purples and mauves to brighten your day.
And my day needs brightening.
I have been struggling to get my Ukraine visa.  The problem is that I was married and now I'm not.  My teaching degree is in my married name and after my divorce I reverted back to my maiden name.  This has never proved to be a problem in the past.  Now it is a nightmare, and shifty agents who I had to employ to get documents for me when I was still in Tanzania have not helped.  They take your money and do not deliver what you paid for.  I should have know when they arranged to meet me at a Macdonald's car park to give me the documents that they were not to be trusted, but when you are desperate you do not always act rationally.
Long story short, I went to the High Court in Cape Town myself, and in 20 minutes I had my divorce papers, officially stamped and with an apostille, all for free.  No charge.  The agents charged thousands.  Bastards.
So why I am in Pretoria, you might ask?  I had to get an official document from the Ukraine government inviting me to come for a business visit.  This was sent to me urgent priority mail through UPS.  It arrived 1.30pm in Cape Town.  They only processed it at 4.30pm and decided it was too close to the close of business to deliver, even though it said extremely urgent.  I find it strange that an international courier agency closes for the weekend, but UPS does no deliveries over the weekend, no matter how urgent they are.  I booked my flight to Johannesburg for Monday night and booked a hire car, praying hard that I'll get these documents from the Ukraine before I left.  Thank goodness I set my alarm so I could phone UPS Monday morning at 8am the moment they manned their phone lines.  My documents were already with a driver and would only be delivered late afternoon.  Not good enough.  That was when I had to be at the airport.  I persuaded them to remove the documents from the driver's car and hold onto them for me to collect myself.  A huge relief when I had those documents in my hand.  Stage one done.
I arrived in Johannesburg at 9pm and collected my hire car.  Very impressive, brand new car with only 3km on the clock.  Of course I hadn't booked a hotel.  I thought I was driving in the direction of the one we always stay in when we have to transit in Johannesburg, but as I can never know where west and east is and north and south (I failed that badge in Girl Guides), I found myself on the road to Pretoria.  As I had to be there to hand in my visa application the next morning, that was probably not a bad thing.  However, my knowledge of Pretoria and where to stay is negligible.
I had thought Pretoria was 30km from Johannesburg.  I was wrong.  It's 60km.
So I headed into the night not too sure where I would be laying my weary head.  I decided to take the second turn into Pretoria and soon spotted a Stayeasy Hotel.  Great choice, breakfast included, it's like a Novotel and at a good price as well.
The next morning I was up bright and early to head to the Ukraine Embassy.  I was pleased to discover it wasn't too far away from where I was staying.  Thing were looking up, right?  Not.
When getting my paperwork together I noticed the photos I had taken the day before were missing.  A mad dash into town, driving in circles to find a photo place.  Then I realised I didn't have a pen.  I tried to buy a used one from the cashier at the photo shop but she said they only sell photos not pens.  Seriously, she had three, she could have parted with one.
I studied the GPS and memorised the road names and made my way to the Ukraine Embassy only to discover the consulate section was closed and was only open between 3 and 4 on a Tuesday, closed all day Wednesday, open 3-4 on a Thursday.
Back to the hotel, read some, and at 2 headed back to the Embassy and waited outside for it to open.  There were a group of us waiting and they only let people in one at a time through the gate.  I hate waiting.
They took my papers, gave more than half of them back saying they didn't need it even though their website had said they did, and told me to come back Thursday between 3 and 4.
And here I sit.  Typing this blog, trying to keep my mind off the visa.  Will I get it at 3?  My nerves are shot, the tension is causing pains in my back.  My flight to the Ukraine is tomorrow night.  Please God let me be on it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

How Is Social Media Different from Other Online Marketing Activities?

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From Tracy's Blog -
 How is social media different from other online marketing activities?

Social media is different than other online marketing activities because the purpose of it is to engage an audience – not necessarily sell to them. That comes later when you create a community of people that know you, like you, trust from you and ultimately buy from you. The other way I use social media is to drive traffic to my landing pages, so that I fill my own funnel. You have to remember that a social media platform such as Facebook or Twitter, any followers you have, aren’t yours. If Twitter wanted to close your account today, they could. So if you became dependent just on those for leads or your marketing, it is a fragile structure. It’s like building your house out of straw. Having said that, I have also never seen a greater or faster way to specifically locate and target your audience, engage them, and pull them into your own funnel – which is why it can’t be ignored as a business practice.
Tracy Repchuk
Bestselling Author of 
31 Days to Millionaire Marketing Miracles
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Tracy Repchuk is an internet marketing and social media strategist and speaker. She is a best selling author, and has been an entrepreneur since 1985 and has helped thousands of clients get their message out around the world. Tracy is an internationally acclaimed speaker and motivator in over 35 countries. She keeps audiences engaged with her ability to break down complex concepts and turn them into formula based success.

Tracy started her first software business at the age of 19 which still supports Fortune 100 companies. She has been nominated for awards such as Entrepreneur of the Year, Chamber of Commerce Business Woman of the Year, Coach of the Year and Stevie Awards for Business Mentor of the Year, received Provincial Volunteer and software development awards and has appeared in the International Who's Who in 7 categories.

She graduated in Business Computer Systems, and went on to receive a Certified Management Accountants designation. In 2007 Tracy won "New Internet Marketing Success of the Year" from the World Internet Summit and catapulted into success with her best selling book, speaking engagements, and extensive internet experience in web development, software integration and marketing since 1996.
Tracy specializes in online marketing campaigns that build a cohesive corporate or personal brand using an integrated web strategy that helps you attract more leads, get more clients and make more money. Her solutions are done with marketing and results in mind. In addition she has appeared on TV: ABC7, NBC, King5, 7 For Your Money, 4 On Your Side, WBZ, Report on Business Television, CTV news, USA Today, Radio, magazine, newspaper and her work has appeared in over 50 publications including 2 motivational movies.

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