Category Archives: book characters

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Caring for Grandchildren #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonGrandchildren #PickyEaters

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Of course dragonets should be taught to read and write! We’re civilised beings, not brutish fire-breathing monsters – though if you don’t agree, I may well swoop down and flame you…

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Caring for Grandchildren #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonGrandchildren #PickyEaters

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If you find yourself losing a game of chess to a pesky little cleverclog, a tremendous sneeze over the game generally brings it to a close. Especially if you pocket a pawn or two, while cleaning the pieces.

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonLife #PickyEaters

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Never, ever snatch livestock from humans unless you’ve burnt down their farm and incinerated any onlookers. They are the only species in the world more possessive than dragons

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Six Favourite Heroines from my 2020 Reading List #Brainfluff6favouriteheroines

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Now I’ve completed reading my 2020 Reading List, I’m a bit awed at the consistently high standard of the books I enjoyed throughout an otherwise catastrophic year. Thank goodness for reading! So who were my standout heroines of the year? In no particular order, here they are…

Emily Marshwic from Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky
BLURB: The first casualty of war is truth . . .
First, Denland’s revolutionaries assassinated their king, launching a wave of bloodshed after generations of peace. Next they clashed with Lascanne, their royalist neighbour, pitching war-machines against warlocks in a fiercely fought conflict. Genteel Emily Marshwic watched as the hostilities stole her family’s young men. But then came the call for yet more Lascanne soldiers in a ravaged kingdom with none left to give. Emily must join the ranks of conscripted women and march toward the front lines…
I loved Emily’s gritted courage and gutsy attitude throughout. I really appreciated that she doesn’t come across as one of those Teflon-coated heroines who are simply too tough to really care about. This wonderful read had me rooting for her throughout – and I particularly loved the scene near the end of the adventure… Read my review.

Cassandra Tripp from You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
BLURB: Everyone knew bestselling novelist Cassandra Tipp had twice got away with murder. Even her family were convinced of her guilt. So when she disappears, leaving only a long letter behind, they can but suspect that her conscience finally killed her. But the letter is not what anyone expected. It tells two chilling, darkly disturbing stories. One is a story of bloody nights and magical gifts, of children lost to the woods, of husbands made from twigs and leaves and feathers and bones . . . The other is the story of a little girl who was cruelly treated and grew up crooked in the shadows . . . But which story is true? And where is Cassie now?
This is one of my outstanding reads of the year – and though I read it relatively early in the year, it has haunted me ever since. Cassie both inspired me and broke my heart. This is a wrenching story on many levels, as it explores the very worst that family life has to offer – and yet it is also beautiful, full of magical, wonderful moments. Read my review.

Stella from Relatively Strange, Even Stranger and Stranger Still by Marilyn Messick
BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man.
Both events were unsettling in their own way.”
It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences.
This fabulous series has been one of my reading highlights of the year. In one review I announce that Stella is now my new best friend – and I mean it. I inhaled the trilogy, addicted to the terrifying adventures that she blunders into, both holding my breath and howling with laughter at the sharp, clever humour. The book hangover I suffered when I came to end of this reading delight was profound – and I still dream of her… Read my review of Relatively Strange.

Elma York from The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky – Books 1 & 2 of The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
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On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.
This series has been another shining jewel that has shone out from the 184 books I read in 2020 – and I particularly loved Elma’s journey. She, amongst a group of highly talented female mathematicians, were part of the NASA team back in the day before they had computers to crunch the numbers. And Kowal has taken this historical fact and woven an alternate story featuring these women in a clever, moving way, as they battle against racism and sexism. Read my review of The Calculating Stars.

Charlotte Makepeace from Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer
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It’s natural to feel a little out of place when you’re the new girl, but when Charlotte Makepeace wakes up after her first night at boarding school, she’s baffled: everyone thinks she’s a girl called Clare Mobley, and even more shockingly, it seems she has traveled forty years back in time to 1918. In the months to follow, Charlotte wakes alternately in her own time and in Clare’s. And instead of having only one new set of rules to learn, she also has to contend with the unprecedented strangeness of being an entirely new person in an era she knows nothing about. Her teachers think she’s slow, the other girls find her odd, and, as she spends more and more time in 1918, Charlotte starts to wonder if she remembers how to be Charlotte at all. If she doesn’t figure out some way to get back to the world she knows before the end of the term, she might never have another chance.
This is one of those unique, amazing reads that crawls under your skin and lodges within your head and heart. It is supposed to be a children’s book – but is written with sophistication and a depth of characterisation that many adult books don’t get close to. I still find myself pondering that bittersweet ending… Read my review.

Mahit Dzmare from A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine BLURB: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover the truth about her predecessor’s death, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

I picked up this book when I heard comparisons to the mighty C.J. Cherryh and I wasn’t disappointed. From the opening lines, I was hooked into the story by the immersive, taut writing and Mahit’s dilemma. I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel this year. Read my review.

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Looking After Grandchildren #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonChildcare #PickyEaters

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Make sure the pesky dragonets understand they’re to do what they’re told, rather than follow your example…

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Food and Drink #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonFoodandDrink #PickyEaters

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If you’ve eaten a bad goat, a good long drink of seawater should fix your problems.


Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Authoring Annals 5 – Using Flashback – Mantivore Warrior – Book 3 of The Arcadian Chronicles #BrainfluffAuthoringAnnals5 #MantivoreWarrior #TheArcadianChronicles #AmWriting

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I was pleased that some of you took the time to let me know you found last week’s article interesting, thank you! So I thought I’d share a bit more of my writing process while working on my latest novel, Mantivore Warrior.

One of the structural issues I needed to overcome in this one, is that in both Mantivore Dreams and Mantivore Prey, the main protagonist is Kyrillia, who features on the cover of both books, while this book is told from the viewpoint of Jessob. Readers who read Mantivore Prey will have already encountered Jessob, but they won’t know much about him as he’s a minor character, even though he plays a pivotal role in one of the main action scenes. So while readers got to know Kyrillia organically as they were absorbing the world in Mantivore Dreams, now the pacing has been established over the previous two books, I can’t slow it down again just to enable folks to learn all about Jessob. Especially as they are already familiar with the other two major characters, Felina Keeper and Vrox, who are also driving the main narrative forward. This left me with the problem of how to give readers a detailed insight into Jessob’s strengths and vulnerabilities without resorting to excruciating dialogue scenes along the lines of, “Well, as you know, Vrox…”, or tedious info-dumps.

I decided to use a technique I’ve never before used – an extended flashback from the point in Jessob’s life where he first encounters mantivores. While I have used brief flashback scenes in Mantivore Dreams to show aspects of Vrox’s past, this is the first time I’ve ever interrupted the narrative timeline in a flashback that continues over a number of chapters. I’ve been wary of using this device to date. Done well, extended flashback can add a layer of characterisation and background that gives impact and purpose to the ongoing story. But if I get it wrong, it has the potential to turn into an irritating interruption to my story that I started with a lot of tension and a climactic scene. I risk losing all that momentum to provide the reader with details of Jessob’s backstory.

I decided it’s worth the risk, because Jessob’s journey is every bit as dramatic as the ongoing storyline and I felt the fractured flashbacks I used in Mantivore Dreams simply wouldn’t work. Those occur near the end of the book, when my readers are familiar with the characters and the world and fully aware of what the stakes are. Chopping up the narrative so early in Mantivore Warrior, when readers are still working out who is doing what to whom would simply be too confusing, especially as my writing style means I don’t tend to stop and explain much along the way.

At present, I’m about a third of the way through this flashback. Is it working? It’s a question that continually haunts me as I’m writing it. I think so – but I’ll be unable to tell until I’ve completed the narrative timeline and had a chance to evaluate its success within the overall story arc. Once again, it comes down to finishing the draft and trusting my instincts. In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted…

#Authoring Annals – Writing in Heaven and Plunging into Uncertainty Hell… #BrainfluffblogAuthoringAnnals-1 #SJHigbeeWritinginHeaven

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I’m conscious that over the last year, I’ve been writing a lot of reviews and not much else other than my weekly roundups. As you’ll see from the subtitle of the blog, the original intention was to provide more variety – and as I am not only a keen reader and reviewer, but also a writer of science fiction and fantasy as well as a Creative Writing tutor at Brighton Metropolitan College, I think it’s high time I wrote a bit more about my other activities.

At the end of last month, my sister-in-law booked a seaside flat as a writing getaway and invited me to join her, as there was a spare bedroom. I’d never been to Bexhill-on-Sea before, despite it being not all that far along the coast. I joined her on Bank Holiday Monday, expecting the town to be heaving with holidaymakers keen to catch the last of the glorious summer by the sea. However, it wasn’t all that busy. While there were certainly tourists around, overall this town had a peaceful serenity that seemed more in keeping with the early half of the last century, to the extent that the two of us felt perfectly safe wandering around the streets on our own late at night.

As for the flat, it was fabulous. The highlight was the room we ended up writing in – a hexagonal room with views on every wall, so that as we wrote, we had panoramic views of the sea. It was magical – it’s always been on my bucket list to write in a room overlooking the sea. And here I was! I managed to get 16,000 words written on the second book of my trilogy featuring my telepathic alien, Vrox. I rewrote and edited the first book, Mantivore Dreams, earlier in the year and was delighted at how smoothly it went.

When I started the second book, Mantivore Prey, I was confident that it, too, would give me no trouble. I was wrong… I love my main character, Felina Keeper. She is in charge of keeping the village’s produce safe from hungry pests, thieving individuals and selling on anything left over from the quota set by The Council for much-needed cash. The village is perched on the edge of The Arids, where rainfall is scarce and the heat of the two suns is fierce. Trouble is, Felina, who is loud, bossy and very overbearing has marched in and taken over the novel. The plotting and pacing have been stomped flat under those hobnailed sandals of hers and I need to nip in quick when she isn’t looking and wrest control back.

Kyrillia, who is the main protagonist in the first book, needs to get a look in, I think. So, I’ll have to go back to the drawing board and start this one again… I’d love to be one of those indie authors who can happily write two books plus a year, but right now it seems a distant dream. I’m hoping that I can use some of those words I wrote while staying at Bexhill – it was such a happy, creative time. But if not, then I’ll chalk this one up to experience. Favourite characters need to kept on a very short leash!

Favourite Fantasy Worlds – Part 1

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These are not in any particular order, or definitive – I reserve the right to add another world to this list at any time. But the reason why these fantasy worlds have made it onto the list, is that they feature as an extra character, or are simply an outstanding backdrop to the action.

The Discworld by Terry Pratchett
smallgodsOkay, then there might just be an order – because the moment I thought of this idea for a series of book blogs, this world is the one that immediately jumped into my head. For starters, they don’t get much madder, namely a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants, which in turn are standing on the back of the giant turtle, the Great A’Tuin. And yet so much is cosily familiar about the goings on in the large city of Ankh-Morpork, which is the busy city where a whole cast of extraordinary characters have a series of adventures. If you have never sampled any of the Pratchett magic, then start at the beginning with The Colour of Magic. I envy you your journey, where you will find yourself laughing out loud and, at times, weeping. My favourite book is Small Gods, yes, it is funny but also profound with all sorts of important things to say about religion, without being remotely moralistic.

The Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb
This is the world in which a number of her series were set, those being The Farseer Trilogy, The Liveship Traders dragonkeeperTrilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, The Rain Wild Chronicles and the latest series, the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. As you might imagine, there are a whole number of settings in this world. Hobb is a superb writer and while there are a number of authors who do dragons just as well – nobody does it better. My favourite book is Dragon Keeper – see my review here. I also highly recommend The Soldier’s Son series, which is simply remarkable and set in quite a different world.

The Midnight Mayor and Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin
These two series are linked and share a rich London backdrop where the city itself is personified by straysoulsa range of deities, some reasonably benign – others less so. And the super-natural guardian of the paranormal side of London is Matthew Swift, the troubled and very powerful Midnight Mayor. She is a remarkable writer with an impressive range – since 2014, she has reinvented herself as Claire North writing a number of literary speculative fiction books. While I really enjoyed the Midnight Mayor books – see my review of the first one, A Madness of Angels, here – I absolutely loved the Magicals Anonymous books featuring Sharon Li, who runs a self-help group for a bunch of disparate magic-users, who tend to get caught up in some of the paranormal high jinks that happen around London. There is the same extraordinary setting, but with dollops of laugh-aloud humour as well – see my review of the first book, Stray Souls, here.

The Enchantment Emporium series by Tanya Huffenchantment emporium
This is a delightful series about the Gale family, a highly magical matriarchy run by the aunts, a formidable cadre of powerful, sexy ladies who oversee all family details… Younger family members, understandably, would like an opportunity to break free and flex their own magical muscles, which lead to all sorts of adventures. If you open yet another fantasy book with a sigh, wishing you could read something different, then hunt down this series, starting with the first book, The Enchantment Emporium – see my review here.

The Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliott
The worldbuilding in this world is extraordinary. To use Elliott’s own words: An Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk coldmagicRegency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage. However, intriguingly, the full extent of the world isn’t explored during this trilogy, though I don’t have a particular problem with that. If an author of Elliott’s imaginative scope wants to create a deeply textured world that her narrative doesn’t fully explore, that’s great. The result is a memorable, vibrant setting that works very well as an intriguing backdrop to the adventure series – read my review of the first book, Cold Magic, here. However, she is used to working on an epic scale – her seven volume epic fantasy The Crown of Stars series, is also worth reading – see my review here.

Favourite Aliens in Literature – Part 2

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This is the second half of my rundown of favourite aliens – so far – in the books I’ve read. What defines the creatures that have made this list? That fact that I’ve remembered them, to be frank. I have a shocking memory – leakier than the Pobble’s sieve – so any creature that has lodged in its recesses means that it struck a chord. I’m also very interested in the concept of the ‘other’, so am always fascinated how other writers tackle this difficult topic. So in no particular order…

The Morrors from Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall
Yes… I know it’s a children’s book – but that doesn’t prevent it being a cracking, insightful read and this non-child absolutely loved it.

mars evacueesWhen I found out I was being evacuated to Mars, I took it pretty well. And, despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. Because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived.

The Morrors are cooling down Earth to make it habitable for their species, causing Alice and her companions having to be evacuated to Mars. McDougall has produced an exciting adventure story, with all sorts of unexpected twists and turns and a memorable alien species. And if you are wanting a bit of enjoyable escapism during this everlasting January, then track this down. Read my review here.

Xenocides in The Xenocide Mission – Book 2 of The Ark series by Ben Jeapes
I had no trouble getting fully engrossed in the story which started with a bang and kept going right to the end, xenocidedespite the fact that I hadn’t read the first book, His Majesty’s Starship. The story is told in multiple viewpoint – and Jeapes joins that select handful of science fiction writers who are brave enough to have a serious stab at writing from an alien point of view. In fact, there are two major alien species in this adventure. The vicious variety with teeth, talons and a propensity for ripping apart anyone who seriously upsets them – and the Rusties, who have formed a coalition with humans.

The depiction of the Xenocides is excellent. We get a really good slice of their political and cultural life without any info-dumps silting up the narrative pace, which is always a lot harder to achieve than it looks. There is even some humour in there and I particularly enjoyed Oomoing, who had the job of evaluating the captured human. The twist near the end of the story was one I didn’t see coming and thoroughly enjoyed. By the end of the novel, I had a really good sense of what they looked like and how their society ran. Read my review here.

Tao from The Lives of Tao – Book 1 of the Tao series by Wesley Chu
When out-of-shape IT technician Roen Tan woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he lives of taowas losing it. He wasn’t. He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes. Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

This is another memorable offering that stood out for me because Roen isn’t some lantern-jawed alpha-male, but a rather overweight desk jockey whose adventure comes in screen form. His conversion to the other type is both painful and hilarious, although that doesn’t alter the fact that the struggle for Earth is a gritted, serious business. I haven’t got around to tracking down the second book in the series – yet. But I really must, as I want to know what happens next. Read my review here.

Kirizzo from The Trilisk Ruins – Book 1 of Parker Interstellar Travels by Michael McCloskey
This Indie offering caught my eye when sampling the extract on Amazon. Telisa Relachik studied to be a thetriliskruinsxenoarchaeologist in a future where humans have found alien artifacts but haven’t ever encountered live aliens. Of all the aliens whose extinct civilizations are investigated, the Trilisks are the most advanced and the most mysterious. Telisa refuses to join the government because of her opposition to its hard-handed policies restricting civilian investigation and trade of alien artifacts, despite the fact that her estranged father is a captain in the United Nations Space Force. When a group of artifact smugglers recruits her, she can’t pass up the chance at getting her hands on objects that could advance her life’s work. But she soon learns her expectations of excitement and riches come with serious drawbacks as she ends up fighting for her life on a mysterious alien planet.

Except the book doesn’t start in Telisa’s viewpoint – the Prologue pitchforks us into the head of the intriguing forty-legged alien, Kirizzo, whose strangeness is engrossing and memorable.
Read my review here.

Portia from Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in childrenoftimethe footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But guarding it is its creator, Dr Avrana Kern with a lethal array of weaponry, determined to fight off these refugees. For she has prepared this pristine world seeded with a very special nanovirus for a number of monkey species to be uplifted into what human beings should have turned into – instead of the battling, acquisitive creatures who destroyed Earth…

But the creature who actually are uplifted in an unforeseen twist, are not monkeys at all. And Portia is one of them… This witty, enjoyable adventure both charts the gradual evolution of a creature into sentience and the journey of a generational ship desperately trying to hang on until they reach a suitable planet. Both stories are engrossing, but I do find Portia regularly skittering through my head at all sorts of odd moments. Read my review here.

So there you have it – a selection of my favourite aliens. What about you? What ‘other’ creatures have ticked your boxes, and why?