Tuesday 30 January 2018

Read The First Chapter of Memoirs of a Guardian Angel

In lieu of a flash fiction story this month, I thought it'd be a good idea to share the first chapter of my upcoming book with you. In case you missed it, the book will be released this year around April, and it's about a guardian angel who goes on assignments in the earthly realm and learns things about himself and the human condition along the way.

There's no cover for the book yet, so here's a free pic I grabbed off Pixabay.

Anyway, without further ado, here's the sample. I hope you enjoy it!

Memoirs of a Guardian Angel


Graham Downs

Copyright © 2018 Graham Downs

Chapter One

People often say they have a guardian angel looking out for them, especially when they survive a harrowing experience, like almost crashing their cars, falling off ladders, or choking on pieces of chewing gum. After a near-catastrophe like that, how often have you thought, “Wow, my guardian angel must be really looking out for me today?”

But I wonder how many people actually believe it to be true. There aren’t many people who talk openly about their guardian angel when things are going well… are there?

My name is Adam, and I am a guardian angel.

I don’t recall much about my life on Earth. I have no memory of who I was or how I died. But what I do remember, is that I was one of those people who truly believed that guardian angels existed. When I died, I discovered the truth: not only do they exist, but there is a whole administrative division in their world, dedicated to their management and training.
Upon my arrival, I was greeted by a burly, balding man with a round face and a white robe. He introduced himself as Peter.

“Hold on,” I said. “Why are you human? I thought everyone up here wore halos, had wings, played the harp, and shone with light.”

Peter chuckled. “I get that a lot. First of all, contrary to what you humans believe, this is not ‘up here’. This is the World Beyond the Veil, and it exists more-or-less adjacent to the world you were occupying a few minutes ago.”

Up until that point, I hadn’t really thought about it. I was dead. Of course, I was dead. And this was Heaven. Peter. The Pearly Gates. The whole shebang. I tried to remember what had led me here, or where I was before. I had nothing. It wasn’t as if my memory was a blur. It just wasn’t there.

I choked back tears and ran my fingers through my hair. “H-how did it happen?”

“I’m not at liberty to say.” Peter pinched his lips and exhaled loudly. “Now if you’d please stop interrupting me.”

“Sorry. Please go on.”

“Where was I? Oh, yes, the reason I appear so human is that I’m the first being you people see when you arrive, and we need to make your transition as comfortable as possible. You humans have no idea how things really work, and if the first thing you saw was me as I truly am, you’d never be able to handle it. Those beyond this gate appear quite different, but also not what you’d expect. There are no halos, no wings, no shining light, and no harps.” He pointed to his long white beard. “At least I have this, though. That’s something, right?”

I gasped, still unable to comprehend what was happening. And why couldn’t I remember anything?

Peter continued. “The beings you will meet on the other side of this gate look more like translucent blue outlines. It’s difficult to explain, but that’s actually what you look like now, too.”

I looked at my hands and saw what he meant. The outline of my fingers was very pronounced, but my hands themselves were blue glass. Through them, I could see the ground. And then I noticed one more thing—the ground didn’t look like any ground that I was used to. It was puffy, white, and cushiony. If I shifted my weight, it was almost like I was standing on a jumping castle.

I felt like I was going to pass out. I was shaking like a leaf.

Peter placed his hand on my shoulder. “There, there. It’s all a bit much at first, I understand. But if you’ll just go through that gate, everything will be fine.” He studied the clipboard, resting on a lectern in front of him. “Hmm. Interesting. You’re meant to speak to John about being a guardian angel. Just ask for him when you get to the other side. He’ll explain everything you need to know.”

I was meant to speak to whom? About what?

I opened my mouth to speak, but before I got to say anything, the huge golden gates behind him parted of their own accord. “Well, hurry along then. We can’t stand out here, chatting for the rest of eternity.”
Just as Peter promised, the world beyond the gate didn’t look anything like the world outside it. It didn’t look anything like the human world, either.

For one thing, there seemed to be no ground. If I looked down, the puffy white cushiony stuff was gone, to be replaced with nothing. Below my feet was a black void. If I bent down and tried to touch it, I couldn’t--my hands dangled below my feet and I felt nothing but air. I could touch the soles of my translucent blue shoes without losing my balance.

There were many beings (”people”, for want of a better word) in this void, but I saw nothing that could be considered a landmark. Just inky blackness punctuated with these translucent creatures. They were distinguishable from each other by the outlines of their faces and hair-line drawings, filled in with glassy blue. I presumed they were angels.

The creatures were all hurrying to-and-fro, I guessed busy with whatever it was that angels did.

I was about to find out just what that was because when I looked again, one of them was walking purposefully towards me.

“Hi,” he said, extending out his hand. “I’m John. You must be Adam; I’ve been expecting you. You’re going to be a guardian angel.” 

What struck me the most was that I didn’t quite hear him with my ears. I saw the blue outline of his lips moving, but the sound of his voice sort of materialised in my head. When Peter had spoken outside the gates, I’d heard him in the normal way. That must be something else they do to help us recently departed adjust.

Thinking of that made me choke up again, but I swallowed back the tears and took his hand. I was about to respond when he cut me short. “No time for pleasantries. Let’s get moving. The first day of training has already started.”
John had high hopes for me as a guardian angel because not many humans actually believed in them. When I was alive, I’d been one of the few who had. He said that was the first obstacle conquered already.

The training consisted of a group of us sitting in a room. Things approximating chairs were arranged to face a large screen. Not that I think we needed either the chairs or the screen, but I think it was a bit easier for us to imagine it that way. We sat on the chairs as John showed us images of various guardian angels in action, at various places and various points in time on Earth.

John said that we could be sent anywhere, at any time. In fact, he went on, time--as we knew it when we were alive--didn’t exist here. When we were alive, we were taught to see it as a continuous line, with a past, present, and future. Here, it was more like a ball of wool, and at any point, one could take a pinch of it and visit Earth’s history at the time represented by that pinch.

“But what about the future?” asked one of my classmates.

“The future is a bit too complicated for that analogy,” replied John. “If you could imagine that each of those pinches of wool where actually another ball, you might come close to understanding. There are an infinite number of possible futures, and there’s no telling with any certainty which one will come to pass. We guardian angels don’t often concern ourselves with it, though. We’re there to help the people who live and have lived.”

At one point, I looked up at the screen and saw a female guardian angel, sitting in a ghostly armchair with her hands rested on the arms, and a determined expression on her face. On her head was one of those old-timey open-faced crash helmets, and the whole contraption rested on the roof of a car going at considerable speed down a road.

“Who is that?” I pointed at the screen.

“Oh, that’s Liz,” replied John. “She likes to show off. Right now, she’s in the year twenty-sixteen, protecting the driver of that car, a bit of an accident-prone woman who’s had three near-misses on the road in as many months.”

While he was speaking, a car on the opposite side of the road veered out in front of Liz. The angel leaned to the left, and the car she was protecting coasted out of the way, narrowly avoiding a head-on collision. The woman driving the car pressed her hooter, and the other car flashed its headlights angrily. We all applauded the ease with which Liz had averted disaster.

“There’s another thing you ought to know,” said John. “When you’re out there, in the field, nobody else can see you. Some sensitive humans, like Adam was, might be able to feel your presence, but that’s it. You also won’t see any other angels. They’re there, of course, some of them protecting other humans yours comes into contact with, but they can’t see you either.”

“What will our first mission be like?” asked the student who’d asked about the future.

“That, I can’t say. None of us chooses our assignments, and none of us chooses when they’re finished. In fact, when your training is finished, you will simply disappear from here without warning, and we’ll be able to find you using the monitor.”
As it happens, I was the first person to “graduate”.

A few weeks later, I was sitting with the other students, watching a guardian angel on the screen, when I started to feel dizzy.

I stood up and pressed my hand against my head, and then all at once, it felt as though my insides were coming up through my throat. Not that I had insides anymore, and no throat either, for that matter, but if I had had insides, and I had had a throat, that’s what it would’ve felt like.

I pressed my hands over my mouth, trying to suppress the unbelievable urge to vomit.

The other students leapt from their seats and started running around, unsure of what to do. But John just stood there, watching and smiling.

A moment later, my world was spinning. Like some psychedelic spiralling pinwheel in a low-budget psychological thriller movie. The spiral grew, engulfing my whole vision, and kept spinning. Spinning, spinning, spinning.

And then it was spinning in the opposite direction, unwinding itself.

Eventually, it disappeared.

The world I now gazed upon was not the world it had been. It was a room. Just an ordinary room, with a beige carpet on the floor, and a television set against the wall. Looking around, I saw a green lounge suite--a single chair with a double and triple couch. The walls were painted eggshell, and on the floor, I saw a girl. A human girl, with brown hair in pigtails. 

She was kneeling on the ground, pushing a small plastic fire engine, making vroom vroom noises.
I heard a voice, coming from somewhere else in the house. ““Rebecca, baby! Come on, it’s time to go wash your hands.””

Excited, yet?

If you'd like to be kept up to date with the launch of this book, and maybe score an advanced reader copy, please go sign up to my mailing list. The next few months are going to be busy ones for me, as I prepare for launch, and I'll be sending regular e-mails out between now and then.

Also, if you already know you want to read the book, marking it as "Want to Read" on Goodreads would help me a great deal in getting the word out (since all your friends on Goodreads will see that you added it). Click here to visit the book's page, and click "Want to Read"... even if you don't have a Goodreads account.

And of course, I'd be exceedingly grateful if you'd share this blog post far and wide. Click the social sharing links on the right or bottom (depending on whether you're on mobile or desktop), and tell the world! :)

Friday 26 January 2018

Book Review: Mentor by T.S. Barnett

About the Book

Nathaniel Moore is a myth. He's a witch too powerful to exist and too clever to be caught. He's kept himself young for two hundred and fifty years with life-stealing dark magic and left a long trail of bodies in his wake, but no matter how many Chasers the Magistrate sent after him, not one of them was the challenge he wanted.

Elton Willis, a model Chaser for the Magistrate, expected the ultimate villain when he cracked the cold case and tracked Moore to a cheap apartment in Yuma. What he got was an infuriatingly carefree man who smokes like a chimney, laughs at puns, and treats his young apprentice like a daughter. It's an uncomfortable discovery for someone determined to bring the man to the Magistrate's gallows.

Further complicating the issue, Elton has accidentally let loose one of Nathan's old enemies--a lich with a vengeful attitude and a thirst for human souls. Now the Chaser is forced to choose between taking Nathan in, which would leave the murderous monster to roam free, or teaming up with the object of his obsession to take the lich down.

The obvious answer, of course, is also the option that's the biggest pain in Elton's ass.

My Review (4 / 5 Stars)

Cool story. I got into it very quickly, and there weren't many parts that I skimmed over.

It's about a young girl, blessed with magical ability. She's adopted, so her parents are what are called "mundanes" in the book's world. They can't do magic, and in fact don't even believe that it exists.

Thankfully, she befriends an old man in the same apartment building. He's a powerful witch, but his life is nearing its end, and so he agrees to help her learn to harness her new abilities.

Most of this happens off-camera before the story even begins. We're given a brief introduction to her situation, and the action starts. Nothing is as it seems, as our heroine is dragged along on a whirlwind adventure featuring flashy, powerful magic and fantastic beats. Here be vampires!

The magic seems to be based on real-world magical practices. I can't speak for the authenticity of the spells, not being a practitioner myself, but the author writes confidently and doesn't explain much. It's as if you'll know what she's talking about if you're part of the lifestyle. I quite liked it, and even though I didn't understand what half of the incantations meant, it DID feel natural.

The editing is very good. There's nary a typo to be found for the first ten or fifteen percent of the book. After that, it feels like the editor or author got a LITTLE lazy, because you do see the occasional missing word or punctuation mark. Still, it's a hell of a lot better than most other books I've read, whether traditionally published or not.

And then, one of my biggest bugbears: I got an epub of the book off Instafreebie, and in my version, there wasn't a linked table of contents. I don't know whether that's a thing in the Amazon or Barnes & Noble versions, but it can be frustrating.

Either way, great story. It kind of blurs the lines between Paranormal Fantasy and Magical Realism, because of its descriptions of the magic involved. I settled on Paranormal Fantasy, though, because of the aforementioned vampires.

Click here to find out where you can get your hands on a copy.

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Stingers Gets a New Cover

For the longest time, I've been thinking that Stingers, my Young Adult story about bullying in High School, could do with a new cover.

You see, because the story was originally published in I am not Frazzle!, I didn't think it would sell much, so when I published it as a standalone in June 2014, I decided to go the cover myself. I'm artistically challenged, though, so even I wasn't particularly happy with the result.

I knew I wanted a picture of a boy in a school uniform on the cover, but after much searching, all I could come up with was this one, from Wikimedia Commons:

All well and good, but there's a logo on his shirt. I didn't like the idea of the school in that photo possibly being identified, and my image editing skills aren't nearly good enough to take out the logo. So I decided to cover it with something.

I opened up good old LibreOffice Impress and, using that image, came up with this cover:

You see, I thought I'd do the right thing by advertising the anthology--I still wasn't convinced I'd sell many (if any) copies of it as a standalone. Or, if I did, my intention was more to drive people to the original anthology and help out the charity.

But 2018 is the second year in a row that the book's been chosen as a High School set work, and I'm getting super excited that Stingers is actually a viable publication all by itself.

It's about time that I de-coupled it somewhat from I am not Frazzle! But what to do? I'm still not particularly artistic, and I've also lost the original Impress presentation I did. Plus, I'm at a loss for ideas.

So I reworked my original concept, but tweaked the font a bit in the second version, and changed the badge to refer to the fact that the book's now a set work:

Still not ideal, I'm sure you'll agree.

Any artists out there that want to take a crack at a "proper" cover? Preferably a true fan of the story, who's willing to do it for free. ;)

Seriously, changing a cover is a lot of work! The hardest part, I think, was updating Goodreads. I went and updated the e-book manuscript at Kobo, Smashwords, Google Play, and Amazon, but Goodreads doesn't allow non-librarians (I lost my librarian status some time ago--long story) to change the images on books. So I had to make new editions for all of them.

Originally, I had an edition on Goodreads for each version of the book, since each one's got a separate ISBN. Previously, I'd put "Smashwords |Edition", "Google Play Edition", etc, in the Edition field of each one of Goodreads. Apparently, that's not allowed, because I saw that a librarian had removed all those texts. 

Can you believe I'm not allowed to label a book on Goodreads as "Smashwords Edition", even though that exact phrase appears in the front matter of the book on Smashwords?! Must be something to do with the fact that the site's now owned by Amazon.

But I digress. The point is that this made it even harder for me to identify which edition of the book I was editing on Goodreads.

It's all done now though, and there are two entries for each edition on Goodreads: one with the old cover, and one with the new.

I only updated the e-book versions, though. Updating the print edition's going to cost me money. Maybe one day.

The joys of indie authorship, hey?

Tuesday 16 January 2018

I Have a New Book Coming: Memoirs of a Guardian Angel

Well, I guess the cat's out of the bag.

This December, I finished a draft of a book I've been working on since mid-2016. This week, it's with Alpha Readers, after which changes will be made, and it'll go into Beta.

I was hoping to announce it sometime in February, and aim for release around April or so, but on Friday, the W24.co.za Books Editor tweeted a bunch of indie authors. She intended to write an article on upcoming books for 2018, and wanted to know if any of us had books coming out this year.

What could I say?

The article's now been published, and you can read it here (or click the image below). There are a whole bunch of books coming this year by some great authors, including a couple of friends of mine. Go check it out.

The book in question is called Memoirs of a Guardian Angel, and here's the preliminary blurb:

Do you believe in Guardian Angels? 

When he was alive, Adam was one of the few people who did. Now he's one himself. From teen suicides to professional assassins, Adam discovers what it's like to deal with the harsh realities of humanity, from the other side of the fence.

There's no cover yet, but the book's up on Goodreads if you want to mark it as "Want to Read" so long.

Watch this space!

Sunday 14 January 2018

Sliced and Diced by Joan De La Haye (Book Review)

A collection of 17 dark and twisted tales that will entertain, scare, shock, and disturb you.

Stories include a serial killer on the hunt for his next trophy, ghosts on a murderous reunion tour, a jealous girlfriend killing her boyfriend’s beloved pet, a ghost bride, and a demon tormenting a nun.

Author Joan De La Haye presents an assortment of narratives; some have been previously published in acclaimed anthologies, while others have never seen the light of day. All are sure to provide thrills and chills but are best read with the lights on.

My Review (4 / 5 Stars)

This is a pretty mixed bag of stories. Some good, some... not so good. Thankfully, there are plenty more good than not.

Most of these stories are set in South Africa, and it was those that I enjoyed the best. Some are set in unspecified locations; I found those to be quite "meh".

My two favourites, by far, were Sliced, a ghost story set against the backdrop of farm killings in rural South Africa, and Forest, set in Johannesburg and about an actress filming an advertisement.

Both those stories were beautifully described, and I could really feel the forests of Johannesburg and the ice cold 100-year-old farmhouse in the dead of winter.

As a South African, it's great to read about locations that I can identify with, with characters using language that's familiar to me. The author doesn't try to be something she's not, so everything feels authentic, the way I would speak to my buddies.

Ms De La Haye clearly loves her beautiful country, and it shines through in her writing. Having said that, she doesn't stray away from problems we have in this country, so you do read references to security guards (where one of the characters wonders what they would do if there was actually a robbery), or the high walls we build around our properties, or the aforementioned farm killings.

In general, this book is an honest reflection on daily life in South Africa (notwithstanding ghosts, monsters, and other paranormal weirdness), and will make you feel at home!

Click here to find out where you can pick up a copy.

Tuesday 9 January 2018

Stingers is a Set Work Again!

This year, I am very pleased to announce that Stingers, my novelette about bullying in High School, has once again been selected as a Grade 9 English set work at a local school here in Alberton!
The Grade 9's did it last year, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. Apparently, one of the students--a macho boy--even went up to the teacher and said something to the effect of "Yoh, Ma'am. I never knew bullying could go so far!"
It's about a thirteen-year-old High School boy, who is severely bullied, and one day the bullying actually lands him in hospital.
If you have kids around 14 to 15 or so, or even younger kids whom you consider mature readers (although there is some violence and bad language in it), maybe they'd enjoy it too?


Monday 8 January 2018

Will by Christine Bernard (Book Review)

About the Book

No power comes without a price! A supernatural thriller that will make you wonder, "What would I have done?"

What would you do if you stumbled across a magic eight ball with all the answers? Would you ask it for lottery numbers? Would you ask about the love of your life? That’s what thirty-six-year-old Will Pearce did. However, nothing good comes without a price. Will learn ...

My Review (4 / 5 Stars)

Having read Unravel, Christine Bernard's previous work (Which has nothing to do with Will, but I only mention it for comparative purposes), I should have known what to expect from this one. And I guess I kind of did, but it still took me by surprise.

This book is amazing. The pacing is just perfect, and the pain our protagonist goes through is just delicious in the way it's described.

Here's a brief synopsis, in my own words:

Meet Will. Will is your everyday normal, boring guy. Every day, he wakes up in his boring bedroom, makes himself a boring slice of toast, which he drinks with his boring regular tea on his boring balcony. Then he heads off to his boring advertising job in a boring grey building, where he sits staring at a toilet door opening and closing all day.

One day, Will discovers an old Magic Eight Ball in a shop, buys it, and his life changes forever. It's a MAGIC Magic Eight Ball! What follows is a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, ups and downs, as the ball sends him to new heights... and then makes him pay the price.

I won't give anything away, but the ending is so completely unexpected, it left me reeling for days.

The copy editing of this book is way better than it was in Unravel, and I hear the author got a new editor for her second book. Still not perfect, but what book is these days? It holds its own amongst the most popular traditionally published books, anyway.

I still had that annoying lack of a linked table of contents, but it didn't bug me so much in this one as it did in Unravel. I guess I was expecting it....

Click here to find out where you can get yourself a copy.

Tuesday 2 January 2018

Massive $0.99 Science-Fiction / Fantasy Sale

Happy New Year!

Between now and 4 January, I'm participating in a huge sale of Science Fiction and Fantasy e-books. This is to mark the launch of an anthology by my friends over at Claymore Publishing.

Among the books on sale is Tales From Virdura, which costs only $0.99 for the next three days.

Click the image below to see all the deals:

Please note, depending on where you are in the world, and what store you choose to buy the books at, you may see a price slightly higher than $0.99. This is to account for VAT/Sales Tax in your country.