Mind melt

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to lose my job. I experienced many thoughts and emotions as  reult of this but one of the outstanding ones was “woo-hoo, I can now concentrate on my writing”. This was, predictably, not to be.

Although I managed to get some short stories written and a number of novels started, I didn’t actually complete very much. I can put this down to two core reasons: one would be that I had no real concept of time and therefore had no deadline by which to complete my work, nothing was pressing and so I had no driver.

Secondly, of the short stories I did complete and went on to submit to websites, I had perhaps not the reaction I’d wanted (although I’m not sure exactly what I did actually expect).

There’s the over-optimistic vision of having agents bang down your day on finding your work online, which is not going to happen… there is hope that you will write something submit it, and wake up the next day in a life of brian style scenario where people shout your name and beg you for further words of wisdom. This is equally deluded but still it would be quite nice to find happening. Finally, there’s the long slow potboiler in which you become some sort of Sugarman character where you are actually unaware of your growing popularity and then people hunt you down for a documentary that tries to find out who this dark, shadowy, revolutionary figure is.

None of these things happened. I did, however, foolishly pay an amount of money to a (apparently established and respected) website to get my work published, only for it to be rejected. I should have paid attention to my own advice of never paying reviewers, agents, publishers and so on. Additionally, where I was published, the reviews only seemed to be provided by other authors and therefore seemed to smile through their words with knives behind their backs. A horrid experience.

My Twitter followers have remained quite static in number, and the only extra followers seem to be other authors intent on advertising their latest efforts to me: another author! The point being what exactly? Surely they should be hunting down bookclubs and reading groups? Coca Cola, to my knowledge, don’t go to Pepsico every week and try to get vending machines installed, the same logic can be applied here. Very, very bizarre thinking.

I will continue working on books soon, and I can’t pretend I haven’t learned anything these past months, but my intention was to write something more optimistic and forward thinking rather than the cynical tomes that are currently sitting in my head waiting to see daylight, or moonlight.

The Dead Famous pt 2 seems more likely than ever, but I had hoped to tell my cat story first. Oh, well, c’est la guerre.

Making the book into a short film

I had an idea, after making a book trailer, that I should develop the trailer into a short film in order to promote the book story a bit more but also just to have a good time spent with friends while making it.

Having no idea whatsoever how to make a short film, I started out by watching a few on youtube to see how the story structure differed from full length films, how they looked (of course that varied from picture to picture) and then what sort of reaction tehy’d had from the comments posted by viewers.

I then went about writing the screenplay, albeit an adapted one to suit the length of the film which I judged to be around ten minutes long, once compelted, so as to ensure I put over the bulk of the idea behind the story without revealing everything but also without boring the viewers to death.

I already had a camera but it wasn’t good enough for what I wanted to achieve. It was a canon 450d which has no filming capability unless attached to a computer with specific software. This proved a bit of a pain when filiming my original book trailer so bought a 650d to replace it and also invested in a basic LED light, a tripod, and two lenses to improve the look of the film.

The thing is, when you’re learning as you go along, you’re going to make mistakes and just do what you can to make thing look as fluid and clean as possible in look. This included props and locations.

The book itself is based in a newspaper office so I was lucky enough to get permission to film at an accountancy firm in Helsinki (where I live). To make it look as much like a newspaper office as possible, I made some mock up papers and printed them out (I used this site, it’s really easy to use: https://arthr.newspaperclub.com/#).
I also made some fake memo’s to leave around the desks and planned to film as late in teh day as possible so it looked like it was early in the morning.
Another scene was to be filmed on the metro so I obtained filming permission from the city for this, I also got permission to film in a bar for a party scene and planned to mock up my own apartment as a mortuary for another.

All in all it’s been hard work and taken time but I hope the end product will be worth it. At the beginning of September I’m going to the US on holiday and will take loads of hard copies of my book and also plan to take a number of USB sticks holding a copy of the short film, the book trailer, a txt and doc copy of my book, plus a small promotional cv of who I am and what I’m hoping for.

I have absoltuely no idea if any of this will pay off, but if you don’t try, you don’t and will never know if you could have done.
I’ve kept my budget incredibly low, if anyone needs advice on how I did this, feel free to ask 🙂

Here goes nothing, yikes!

Free book – The Dead Famous: Chapter 1

At the moment this blog finds me in the middle of pre-production on a short film version of my book, so in the meanwhile I’m going to start posting the book here, chapter by chapter. I hope it brings at least some of you some reading pleasure 🙂

Chapter 1

It’s Friday, it’s five to five and it’s Crackerjack!”

I suppose I knew, from the very first camera I held, that my calling in life had been found. Although my path to photographic success was sometimes blocked by idiots intent on my downfall, I managed to strive through with my sanity thankfully intact and my goals largely achieved. Which is more than I can say for the idiots.

Destiny deemed my future to be in journalism, specialising in the reported stories of actors and film-folk in general. Their world appeared to be solely of glamour and riches. Unlike those great people, however, I was not born into a rich family myself.

Our name of Montague was a moniker that had become associated with adventure and great landowners over the years due to the efforts of the more dramatic offshoots of the family. The Montagues had fought battles alongside Kings, ventured overseas to cross great lands in the name of trade and empire. Geoffrey Montague, my father, had descended twelve generations ago from Robert Montague. While the rest of his brothers were sturdy warrior types, Robert had been a weak and ineffectual addition to the family who had not entered the clergy as so many of the younger siblings did in those times. Not being deemed fit to join the exploits abroad with his brothers, he decided to put all of his inherited money into a type of seed drill which did nothing to move the agricultural development of England forwards and simply failed tremendously along with Robert’s heart just six months later, leaving behind an only son to continue his line.

Yes, the name brought with it none of the expected associations, and centuries passed so that we were as detached from the line as you can imagine, and it therefore meant little to me other than when signing cheques or knowing if letters had been delivered to the correct desk when working.

The impression is given from the result of this unfortunate history that we were perhaps poor, which is not particularly the truth. My family lived comfortably enough and wanted for very little. Our home was a large terraced house in a leafy suburb of North London, our neighbours house to one side had been burned out in a mystery fire and the owners had never been successfully traced so it stood and remained a sorry looking scorched husk, unsold and unloved. The house to the other side was owned by a local businessman who had made good with his life and moved to sunnier climes, apparently in such haste that he had quite forgotten to sell or even board up his property and so that also was left abandoned. Thankfully it never caught the eyes of opportunistic squatters and after a while even the postman stopped making deliveries there, so we appreciated the relative peace this lack of neighbours brought us.

I wanted for nothing as a child. My mother, Katherine, was doting and my father supportive. I can’t say if being an only child affected the way that they treated me, nor if there would have been more or even less love had been more children in the family, as I had no way of comparing my situation I had no point of reference and therefore never missed any alternative life. You can’t miss what you don’t know.

Life passed me by uneventfully, there are no Tom Brown style stories from my time at school, there were no eccentric aunts constantly visiting us and there were no local children for me to go off on wild boyhood adventures with. I enjoyed playing with my Cowboys and Indian toys as I watched the television serials and, every month or so as a treat, my parents would take me to the local Odeon cinema to watch a film, a time I always looked forward to and later treasured. The films were always full of glamour and, when filmed in Technicolor, revealed the world they moved in all the more to me. It was as far from our north London home as you could get.

Nothing really happened until perhaps my seventh year when my Mother, who had enjoyed apparently good health until then, became suddenly ill and died, all within a matter of a few weeks.

A problem exists when you’re young, it seems that there are so many things to learn around and about you of a physical nature, that you tend to have the more emotional or intangible parts of life just pass you by. It’s possible to arrive at a workplace when in your adult life, and notice that a colleague is having what is often described as a bad day, or that your lover or partner is “under the weather”, but this does not apply to children, they only know that they are being ignored and so are unintentionally selfish. So, even though I state that my Mother had died within a matter of weeks, what I should say is that within these few weeks I felt my life disrupted and my Mother was present in my life a lot less.

My Father would often be running around with bags packed for overnight hospital stays and our previously quiet household now became thrown into a comparative chaos. I did not know why, or how it had happened. There was no time for explanation and, in the days after her death, very few words came from my father who quietly dressed me and sent me off to school, or simply disappeared to cry behind closed doors while I tried my best to continue playing in the hallway outside.

As time passed by, I spent more and more time alone with the television and all the stars on it’s warm, glowing screen as my babysitter while my father made all the necessary arrangements for the funeral.

A week went by and what I could only view as chaos once again entered our home. My Mother’s family had been Irish Catholic and insisted on all the traditions of a funeral as they saw it. Our sitting room was turned into an exhibition area for my Mother and her coffin, the family milling around pretending to pay what they thought were respects as my father rushed from person to person filling glasses while they commented on our house although they had never, as far as I could recall, visited before.

At one point my father lifted me up to see my Mother lying in state, naturally quite still and wearing clothes I hadn’t seen her wear before. The thought occurred to me that they’d perhaps switched her with a doppelganger and that my Mother was elsewhere avoiding the raucous cacophony of this rabble. Oh, how I envied her.

The coffin itself was just like in the cowboy adventure serials I had been watching, with half the lid laid closed and the other half open to display her to the room, appearing to me just like the saloon bar doors I’d seen, it all seemed so bizarre.

As my Father lifted me down to the floor again, an apparently drunk uncle interrupted the moment. We’d never had alcohol in the house as both my parents were teetotal, but our extended family always liked a drink (or so I’d heard) and so my Father had felt inclined to make them welcome by obtaining a stock of various liquors, beers and wines for the leering herd, something he now found himself beginning to regret.

The Uncle, with one hand on the coffin for support, drunkenly slurred a few poorly chosen words of pity and condolences into my Father’s ear, but as he did so he lost his balance completely, falling to the floor and dragging the coffin with it. My Mother’s corpse fell to the ground. Whatever had been blocking up her nose for appearance’s sake suddenly popped out like champagne corks, followed by a slow glut of thick, black liquid, oozing onto our until recently very clean carpet.

My Mother had been a calm and graceful lady in life, and as people gathered her corpse back into the coffin, I knew that not only was this not my Mother, but also that respect or fear of death existed neither here in the house nor in the minds or eyes of the onlookers to this ghastly affair.

As people may find understandable, the death of my Mother hit my father quite terribly and, although he had never been the most energetic of people in my eyes, he never seemed to recapture what little vibrancy his character had previously enjoyed after the events previously described. Life drifted into a monotony of making sure I was ready for school, fed when necessary, and then ready for bed at night. Weekends passed with little excitement, mainly concentrating around household chores or the necessities of everyday existence such as fetching groceries or cleaning certain stubborn stains out of carpets.

The death of his own mother not more than two years later strangely seemed to return him back to a more alert existence, with him apparently enjoying life that little more. Part of this newfound energy was directed towards myself and the few interests I had; noting my fascination with the television set, he obtained tickets for us to view a filming of the then well known BBC children’s entertainment show Crackerjack.

The programme, presented at that time by one Eamonn Andrews (a friendly appearing gentlemen, well suited as all television presenters were, and with an endearing Dublin accent) involved pitting a number of school children, fully uniformed, against each other in a series of increasingly inane challenges mixed alongside what were considered to be questions of general knowledge. At the end of the programme the lucky contestants had the chance to return back to school with a much-coveted Crackerjack pencil. I heard many years later that there was a minor black market among TV staff in the trade of these pencils and so, to stifle this market, the pencils were placed under strict lock and key, only to be given to those deemed worthy on the show itself and to absolutely nobody else, not even the presenter.

Yes, the whole show was, with hindsight, lowbrow, patronising and pointless. I never missed an episode and I really wanted that pencil.

Before we left for the broadcast, while busying myself with getting dressed when my father called me downstairs to see something he’d picked up that day. With a smile on his face that I’d not seen for a long time, he handed me a box. On opening it, I found inside a shiny new camera. It had been a good amount of time since I’d received any sort of present, never mind one to this level. Absolutely overjoyed I pawed over it with eager hands as my father explained as best he could how it worked, although I was far too absorbed with the moment to take in his advice.

I insisted on taking it to the BBC studios with us in my school satchel and once inside we were treated to what I thought was an amazing spectacle of entertainment. Not only could one experience the cheering audience, the cameras at work, the lights, experience the songs, but best of all, I could see the presenter Eamonn Andrews himself in the flesh. At last, the line I had perceived between myself and the reality of these people had gone. They weren’t just flickering images on a muffled television, they were breathing and living, and it was all there for me. I knew it was something I had to somehow be part of and surround myself with, although I couldn’t at that time possibly perceive how or under what circumstances that might occur, as later developing years would reveal to me.

Once filming had completed and we were politely yet forcefully asked to leave the studio, I overheard a family discussing the whereabouts of the stage exit and their plans to seemingly ambush Mr. Andrews for an autograph on his exiting the studio complex. I tugged at my father’s jacket and begged for him to let me wait as well and, camera in hand, we found our way towards the stage door and waited patiently with one or two other families for it to open. After around an hour had passed and my father checking his watch with increasing impatience, he finally suggested to me that it was most likely that Mr. Andrews had either left via another exit or we had simply missed him, whatever had happened it didn’t change the fact that we had to catch our bus home before the services stopped.

Downhearted and tired, I took my father’s hand and walked with him to the bus stop. Presently, the bus arrived and we took our seats for the journey home. After only perhaps a minute or so of travelling, a very large car appeared to be blocking the road ahead. It’s bonnet lay open with a chauffeur tinkering around the steaming engine within. As we stopped to let traffic on the other side of the road pass us by, who should jump on board our bus but Mr. Andrews himself, apparently frustrated at his broken down vehicle and, like us, desperate to get home.

I was fixated in awe at this now all too real character and begged my father to bother him for a photograph. With hindsight I suppose he was tired after performing the show but agreed to my request and even took interest in my camera. He came across as such a pleasant gentleman I quite forgot, and now chose to disregard, any negatively cautious warnings about never meeting one’s heroes and now swore to meet as many as possible. I was sure that not only would they be as charming and gracious as Mr. Andrews now appeared to me but also that my hopes had been met and also exceeded.

He descended from the bus before us and I watched as he faded into the distance while the bus sped us home. I spent the rest of that journey gazing at my camera in satisfied bemusement with my father smiling contentedly at a job well done. Days after that eventful evening, I had been so desperate to see my photograph that I had busied myself in successfully filling the rest of the camera film with random shots of the house, the garden, some children playing outside my house in the street, anything to get it finished. My father had by now framed our tickets for Crackerjack and put them on display in the upstairs hall. Only a week later I had received back my new prints and the picture of Mr. Andrews now took pride of place framed upon my bedroom wall.

This was much better than any Crackerjack ticket or even a pencil. I was happy.

Making a book trailer

In response to a link posted by @SandyAppleyard on Twitter, I decided to make my own book trailer for The Dead Famous using what little film making skill I have (i.e. none). 

My first step was to read through the post describing what a trailer should contain adn what structure it might take. I then went on to youtube to see what other trailers looked like and wa not exactly surprised, but was curious at the varying quality of clips that were out there. Some such as the one for Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters looked as if it had been fun to make, got me a little interested in the book (even though I was already aware of it) and it gave me all the information I needed to know about the book. It told me that it was a book that was not to be taken seriously, was tongue in cheek and was now available to buy from all good etc etc.
The link for it can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jZVE5uF24Q
I would only criticise one element of it, that the credits at the end were hardly necessary and, if anything, distracted from the trailer’s point, that it was an advert for a book adn not a film for film’s sake…on the other hand it has so far received over 370,000 views so judge from that what you will.

On the other side of the trailer spectrum, we have Secrets of Surrender. I have to be honest, the music sounds like it’s stolen from a 1980’s tv movie and the trailer made with Windows movie maker BUT it has still received over 17,000 views and the comments are very complimentary. It can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpDLfFKyzv4

So, what I have learned:

Know your target market; if you’re writing a romance book and think your audience spend all their spare time watching the Hallmark Channel or generic tv movies, make a trailer to suit.

Keep the information brief and to the point: Book Title, Author, plot premise, where to buy the book and when it might be available. I can only suggest that any other information is fluff and probably not necessary (if you can think of anything else that should be included, please respond to the blog, I usually am wrong about most things and happily accept criticism).

Keep it short or, at least, if it is going to be more than about 1 minute, then make sure it holds the viewer’s attention for that time. Go in, give your message, get out.

I’ll end by saying that the trailer I amde was with a camera and a mac book and looks very home made, it is also probably too long and was amde with iMovie rather than movie amker (probably not a giant leap forwards!) but it was a great deadl of fun making it and, after I’ve hacked it to pieces, I’ll post it to youtube for someone to criticise and rip to pieces. That person probably, I don’t know, has a blog or something and just spends their time ripping on other people’s work while creating nothing but literary poop on toast themselves anyway.

Don’t you just hate that?

Originality in plot

I read, quite some time ago, a claim that William Shakespeare had managed to encapsulate most story types within his works. He had been so successful at doing this that now, as a result, people tend to refer to the story types via his writings rather than any works created before him even if the structures had been around for millennia.

Knowing that he perhaps had acheived this feat, a writer might be justifiably be daunted by the prospect that there might be no story structure available for their brain to conjure up without having someone having beaten them there first.
This needn’t be a problem. I personally think that dwelling on the structure of the story is soemthing that is certain to doom the writer to failure before even starting out.
I’m not aware of anyone that came up with the idea of a book and said that the premise should be this or that structure, it’s nearly always the character or the basic plot of the story that has been birthed, developed, grown and created rather than the structure, and that being the case, it seems to me entirely acceptable to ignore the structure almost completely until at least the first draft has been completed. At that stage, it would then deem wise to start thinking about whether the character developments are satisfying, the story has a flow, the events have a natural progression, and so on.
If, after those things have been analysed, you find that the story does indeed have the structure of Romeo and Juliet or Othello then you can take it as happy coincidence, and if it has no resemblance to any accepted structure then, who knows, maybe you are the next Shakespeare, and I bow down to you.

An idea source for stories

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post, I had nothing to say for a while so didn’t want to fill the page with rubbish “just because”.

There are a good few stories about people having dreams which they then turn into books, for better or worse. I suppose the most famous is the story of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which did come in a dream to Robert Louis Stevenson and went on to do quite well in sales, although whether or not he’d appreciate the numerous film versions made since, I’m not quite so sure (the only decent version is the 1920 film starring John Barrymore where he actually dislocates his jaw to get the grotesque features required of the role, needs to be seen to be believed).

I’ve dreamt a good few stories in the past and do wonder where the ideas come from, the story structure, and so on. I know that most claim that dreams are a combination of troubles that might’ve been on your mind at a subconscious level anyway, added with things you see during your normal day but don’t fully acknowledge, plus some sort of personification of anything else that might be on your mind at the moment such as a tv programmme or film, you get the idea.

So, I thought I’d write down here the dream I’ve just had as it was so structured it seemed as if it really should at least be noted.

“For some reason this dream took place in the US, in a small town not far from a major city and near the coast. A friend of mine (we’ll call him Cedric, there was no name in the dream) had been having less and less contact with me over the years since he’d had a number of personal problems and had started acting in a more and more distant manner until I rarely saw him at all. The only times I did see him were when he was in a cafe showing pieces of paper to two friends, one boy and one girl, they’d paw over them looking concerned and very serious, if anyone came to near to their table they’d clear the papers away, finish their drinks, and leave.

Sometimes I’d be in the cafe at the time, it was the only major hangout in town that wasn’t a dive bar or stripjoint. As Cedric left I would try and get his attention but he always rushed out before really seeing me.

I managed to stop him in the street later, asked how he was, he seemed evasive but then said that his problems were things I wouldn’t want to know about, I assured him I was a friend and was, if anything, a little sorry he hadn’t felt I could be spoken to in the past about these things. He gave in and said I should drop by his place later. He then rushed off down the road, dropping a couple of papers on his way and almost getting hit by a car as he fetched one from the road.

Cedric’s house was a mess, he said we should speak in his bedroom as it was the only place to talk. His room was just as filthy but it was mainly covered in blurry UFO photos and newspaper cuttings, he spoke for the next hour, quietly at first, but then building into an almost frenzy as he went on and on about how their had been signs of an impending invasion and that the government knew it but weren’t telling anyone for fear of spreading panic and also in the hope they could obtain the technology to use against non-friendly nations.
I’d heard it all before and was frankly a little bored and felt sorry for him. He’d met these other people in an internet chat room and they met from time to time to share evidence and plan what they should do once the invasion started.
I wished him luck and left, nothing really to say to him, he had problems beyond my skills as a friend and really didn’t know what to think next.
I went home to sleep, but was woken by a noise across my room. Looking around and seeing nothing, I then saw the distinct figure of what I thought was a burglar but it had far too large a head to be human and I feared it to be some goblin or other such creature. I blinked and it was gone. Lights on, nothing was in the apartment. I called Cedric. He said that this was happening all over but that only a few people were reporting it as it actually was, visitations but early invasion scouting groups. I asked him how the hell it had got into my apartment but he told me not to overanalyse that as it didn’t change the fact that I had been visited.
The next day I was cutting across a field and, as I trod on a particular piece of grass, the ground acted bizarrely… a line lit up through the grass and then as I trod on it again, a humming sound came from it. I stood back and then the rest of the ground lit and shook as a distinct rectangular shape formed in the grass and then suddenly rose out of the ground: a complete 1950’s diner… The building was empty, no people, it was seemingly abandoned. My shock subsided a little as I walked around the building gazing inside, but one window was dark, tinted, I couldn’t see in without pushing my face against the glass but, as I did so, a face slammed back at me through the glass which I knew not to be human. I fell back on the grass and ran off in panic to tell Cedric.

He wasn’t at all shocked and packed his bag with torches, a small axe, other bits I didn’t recognise and he made calls to his friends to meet at the field I’d described.
As we got there, they said I should wait outside. They found a door, went in, I heard nothing.

Suddenly, there were voices, the shouting, then nothing again. I breathed in increasing panic as I tried to decide what, if anything I should do. The decision was made for me as a loud bang broke the silence and the tainted window suddenly cracked. Rushing forward to look inside, Cedric’s male friend was lying on the floor, the goblin creature from the previous night was holding Cedric in the air by his throat and, as he struggled to be dropped down, his other friend came behind the creature and brought the axe down on his head again and again.

I’d never been so frightened. They ran out the building and I followed as I asked maybe too many questions in panic. What was the creature?Where was it from? Were we going back for his friend? They weren’t listening and, as we got to Cedric’s place, a large light suddenly split the sky, emanating from the fake diner straight up to the clouds. Whatever the light was, I instinctively knew that I didn’t want to stick around to find out what might happen next, we piled into Cedric’s car, he through some pre-prepared bags into the trunk and the three of us sped off down the road. Behind us we could see people slowly leaving their houses to stare at the sky in wonder as what I could only think was some space craft, slowly descended from the sky and moved closer to the planet’s surface. We weren’t going to stop to see whether they came in peace.”

As I say, I dreamt this and only woke up about an hour ago so the structure isn’t great and many elements are generic, but that’s not my point, my point is that dreams can be a great untapped resource for ideas, and that if you write it down every time something catches your imagination in the morning, well, that might help with different viewpoints on how you should write in the future. Maybe it can give new story ideas, but ultimately I think it keeps your options open as to what kind of stories you might write. I would like to develop this alien story more, I never had any interest in alien invasion lit at all, but now I might change that view. That’s my point 🙂

New Year, New goals

Apologies to those who might have expected a quicker update since my last blog. My recent plans have been involved in how to promote my current book, The Dead Famous, and also how to motivate myself to edit my second book to a publishable standard.

Plans and mice and men and all that, well things of course don’t always go the way you’d wish them to. My first book was found to have a number of spelling problems, not a great amount, but enough to annoy me after I’d spent so much time going over it with a fine word comb. A little more frustrating was that I had ordered twenty paperback copies of the book before realising the errors and wasn’t able to cancel the order before it shipped, so somewhere in the mid-atlantic right now is a box with a load of illiterate rubbish in it… but enough about E L James, my book’s probably there too.

Being unrepresented, promotion is a bit of a headache. It’s not that I don’t have ideas to get myself attention, the problem is that you have to choose your promotion method and make sure that enough people pay attention that one agent might actually sign you, but part of their job and also the publisher’s is to promote you as well and if you’ve already done some of that, the wrong message might have been sent and that might not be so easy to undo.

I have no real answers here, only problems like everyone else, all I can do is get on with editing and keep making contacts in the hope that one of them will pay dividends somehow. Fingers crossed…

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