The Importance of Cuddly Toys

I’m forty-one, but I have a toy donkey. Her name is Harriet. I purchased her for the simple reason that she was irresistibly cute, sitting there on the shelf with those huge eyes and tiny hooves. The kids were completely enthralled. Mom got herself a cuddly toy. Wow.

My daughter reacted by crafting Harriet a collar. Both my kids occasionally ask for her to be allowed to sleep in their beds. Whenever that happens, I get at least one of their toys in exchange, so I won’t feel lonely. Sometimes that gets a little out of hand, either because they can’t stop themselves, or because they forget to take them back. It’s a miracle I find space fore my husband, not to mention the real dog and cats, seeing as we’re currently at three unicorns, a kangaroo, and a monkey. Apparently Mom’s personal toy is special enough to warrant that many hostages to guarantee her safe return. But I’m getting side-tracked.

Thing is, ever since I let Harriet into my life,  she’s been a faithful companion. Not only does she watch my sleep, she also goes on adventures with me and provides a little bit of home wherever I roam. So far, she’s been on family holidays to Vienna and the North Sea, but, more importantly, she also accompanies me when I go on no-family trips with my soulmate, like when we went to Amsterdam last September – much to the initial embarrassment of said soulmate, who took to her rather quickly, though, eventually picked the best settings for donkey photos, and in the end didn’t bat an eyelid when Harriet wrote a picture postcard to my little boy’s raccoon.

What I’m aiming at is, cuddly toys are, in their own fluffy way, not to be underestimated. They can be comfort or guardian, a much needed secret keeper, or simply a pillow. You can squeeze them to the point of suffocation, and they’ll never complain. Their supportive powers may not be anything other than our own strength projected into their soft, yielding forms and glassy eyes, but they’re real nonetheless.

And I’m not alone in knowing this.

Recently, a friend mentioned recurring nightmares of the extreme variety, and asked her Facebook bubble about possible strategies to get rid of those. Without thinking, I told her that she needed someone in bed beside her that she could trust, that such a person didn’t necessarily have to be human, that teddy bears were underrated, and that yes, I was serious.

It took about a minute for an old mutual friend to side with me, and by the end of that morning I was swapping the names of our respective cuddly toys with a complete stranger. A brief conversation with that old friend and my kids followed, and a shopping trip later the perfect fox companion was found and prepared to go on his journey. Snail mail let him down, which means the poor creature had to spend ten days stuffed into his box, but in the end he arrived, safe and sound and ready for nightmare guard duty. The recipient called us ridiculously awesome.

I don’t know if that fox will really contribute towards cancelling those nightmares, but if nothing else, he’ll remind his new owner every time she reaches out and touches fur that there are people out there thinking of and caring about her.

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I don’t care much for Science Fiction, but…

… I’m willing to make an exception, and to give credit where credit is due.

Seriously, I’m the kind of girl who watched all the Star Wars movies for only one reason: The husband wanted to see them, and I didn’t want to spoil his fun. Though I’ll readily admit that I sort of enjoyed Rogue One and The Last Jedi – it’s always refreshing to see women run like real people and not like weird, doll-like robots who seem like they’ve spent their lives standing around looking pretty and now don’t know what to do with their body parts. Whatever. I’m not here to talk about Star Wars movies, I’m here to talk about Heather Ransom’s books.

A while ago I needed to kill a few hours and didn’t have anything to read, so I asked for recommendations. A friend sent me a link to Going Green, first part of the Going Green Trilogy. I usually trust that particular friend regarding her taste in books, so I went and bought it. And then I bought Greener, which is part two, and now I can’t wait for part three to come out, which will be sometime in late 2019, or so I’ve been told.

When I started reading, I didn’t know what I was getting into, as is my habit. I hardly ever read blurbs. By the time I realized I was reading SF – after the first sentence or something like that – it was too late to stop, because the story had already sucked me in.

Heather Ransom tells her story from the point of view of Calyssa Brentwood, a privileged, somewhat shallow, awfully naive girl. Her society is divided in people who Go Green, and people who don’t. Calyssa was raised to believe that Going Green is what all good people do – the members of the Green Commonwealth, the Green Citizens, as they are called, have plant chloroplasts in their cells, they produce energy via photosynthesis, they don’t need to eat (though funnily enough, they require the occasional nutrient drink, which constantly made me think of liquid fertilizer), thus don’t have to waste time on preparing and consuming meals. The time gained can be spent working for the betterment of all.

Yeah, right. Thing is, not every body accepts those chloroplast cells, and not everybody survives the process of Going Green. It’s only when Calyssa herself has already been through the procedure, and is successfully in the middle of the process herself, with her eyes beginning to turn green, that she realizes what everybody else knows: The Greens believe themselves above normal people, they consider themselves a superior race. Not enough money? Sorry, you can’t Go Green. Poor grades, no outstanding talent? Same answer.

When Calyssa goes to spend a week on a farm outside her sheltered environment, she gets confronted with the life of average people, their hopes, dreams, fears, everything. There’s also a rather handsome Non-Green guy helping her begin to respect the reasons why someone might consciously decide not to Go Green even though they could. Calyssa gets acquainted with rebels, and learns that the Green Commonwealth is hiding quite a few secrets even darker than their casual racism.

The story basically holds all the elements you’d need for a rather clichéd development – pretty, rich girl meets handsome rebel and uncovers sinister government plot – but trust me, there’s so much to these books that you barely even realize where a weaker author might have taken them. Carefully filtering events through Calyssa’s adolescent eyes, Heather Ransom manages to paint an incredibly empathetic mirror image of everything that’s wrong within our own society, without ever sounding preachy, simply by making you relate to her complex characters. At the risk of sounding like a drooling fan girl, I was completely blown away. The story covers everything from the machinations of a government intent on exploiting part of their citizenry while blinding the rest with subtle (and not so subtle) media manipulations, and a young girl’s self-righteous need to right every wrong, to the harshest possible coming of age when Calyssa realizes what she represents in the eyes of those society deems beneath her.

The Going Green books hold the kind of story that makes me annoy my husband, because I’ll walk up to him, demand that he listen, and read the best parts aloud. Usually, he’ll give me a bored eyebrow and a half-hearted “yeah, that’s nice.” This time he stopped what he was doing, nodded slowly, and went “holy shit.”

Long story short, read those books. They’re relevant.

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More Self-Doubt, Please

Yesterday, while stupidly making the mistake of engaging with a known troll – yeah, I know, don’t judge me, we’ve all been there, and huge thanks at this point for all the supportive messages that flooded my inbox all evening – while marveling at the apparent confidence with which that person cherry-picked the crumbs to support their own horrible confirmations from a statement that in its entirety conveyed the exact opposite, I once again realized that people who display not a smidgen of self-doubt seriously scare me. By which I don’t mean that I’m frightened of them, but as a person mired in self-doubt more often than not, I simply can’t relate, and I also believe in the necessity of that particular emotion.

I’m not talking about the crippling kind of self-doubt, the paralyzing conviction of your own insufficiency, the certainty of a failure so profund, it will keep you from creating anything at all. I don’t think anyone needs to discuss how that kind of self-doubt is unhealthy.

Fact is, doubt, as a whole, isn’t necessarily negative. Just take the simple sentence “I doubt this is a good idea.” That sentence surely prevented more than one enterprise, invention or other endeavor. But I bet it has also saved countless lives.

Doubt makes us question. It makes us consider different aspects. It makes us reconsider potentially stupid decisions. It opens the door to reassessment, to a closer look from various angles.

If we translate all that to self-doubt, the result is this: Self-doubt makes us question ourselves. It enables us to change, to improve. It makes us consider ourselves from various angles, which ultimately opens the door to empathy. If I perceive myself as the pinnacle of creation, immune to faultiness, other opinions will be meaningless to me, or worse, without basic rights. Sympathy, understanding, or even simple appreciation of diversity, will be beyond me. I will regard anything as beneath me, and nothing will interest me.

That’s what scares me.

I wish you all a healthy dose of self-doubt.



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Hubby’s Bedtime Stories

Sometimes at night, when I don’t quite manage to fall asleep, I’ll ask my husband to tell me a story. I’m not entirely sure why, probably just to hear his voice, and to have a little laugh before drifting off, because those stories are… let’s face it, they’re pretty awful, and hubby has a higher death toll than George R.R. Martin. To give you an example, or maybe a taste, we have to go no further than last night.

It started the usual way. I asked for a story, he declined, claiming he was too tired and couldn’t think of anything anyway. Every time he does that, I give him a list of three random objects, people, animals, whatever, to craft a story from.

Last night that list consisted of a pea, a guinea-pig, and a beer crate.

“Once upon a time,” he dutifully began, “there was a guinea-pig, which on a dark and lonely night finished off a beer crate all by himself.”

Side note: We’re not talking sixpacks here, but German beer crates. That’s an average of 20 bottles.

“Afterwards,” he went on, “feeling slightly tipsy, his belly much extended, he couldn’t help thinking that while beer is certainly nourishing, it is sadly lacking in vitamins. Which is why he decided to have a bit of vegetable to make up for that lack. So he ate a pea…”

“I so know what will happen next,” I muttered, knowing my husband’s penchant for killing off any creature on my list.

“… and happily went to sleep, and woke up the next morning bright and rested, because he had eaten enough vitamins to sustain him.”

“Seriously? I thought you’d do a Monty Python, and make the poor creature explode.”

My husband gave a heartfelt sigh. “Please. Exploding guinea-pigs are so cliché.”

“And he didn’t choke on his own vomit either? I mean, slightly tipsy, my ass. He must have been pissing drunk.”

My husband then proceeded to explain to me that guinea-pigs have a high tolerance for alcohol, as it apparently bypasses their system altogether, meaning a guinea-pig’s piss after having drunk beer consists of almost 100% pure alcohol. My question why, if that’s the truth, there aren’t any guinea-pig farms out there producing pure alcohol from guinea-pig piss, was met with the patient explanation that it would be a rather expensive affair, to feed the poor things with beer just to draw the same liquid, only of a higher percentage, off their urinary tract. What’s with Octoberfests, I wanted to know, there’s always leftovers in some glasses when the waiting staff take them away, right? Collect those and give them to the guinea-pigs. Recycling! My husband concluded his delivery by telling me that those leftovers at Octoberfests would just be poured back into the barrel and served to the next person.

“Remind me to never visit an Octoberfest, ever,” was the last thing I said before finally giving up.

I really don’t know why I keep asking for stories. I guess I simply love to hear his voice.

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2019, here we come

As usual, I’m late with my Happy New Year posting, but you know how it is, with school holidays and kids home and better things to do than to sit at the computer trying to come up with something witty to say. Now the holidays are over, the house is empty save for me and the furries, and I have a cat on my lap and a ginormous cup of coffee next to my keyboard.

Yeah, some people will tell you there’s more important stuff than getting all excited over the fact that our planet completed another circle around some distant celestial object, but a new year has been associated with a new beginning for quite some time, and there’s always something magical about new beginnings, so don’t let anyone spoil it for you by being all realistic about it, or, to quote Billy Joel, I’ve been a fool for lesser things.

Speaking of realistic… resolutions, anyone? We can be realistic about those, if you like. I, personally, have decided to go get me some new jeans in 2019, because due to me absolutely detesting clothes shopping, I’m currently down to two pairs, both of which are either developing or already sporting some very fine holes at knee level. That’s the realistic part. Less so, in no particular order, are: actually show up when the blood donation bus comes around, carve out some time to volunteer for homeless or other people in need, and just generally try a little harder, live a little healthier, be less avoidant of people. There’s probably more, but I suppose you get the picture and have similar thoughts in mind. Let’s see where they take us, and let’s remember that perfection is a myth, but let’s also remember that we generally feel better if we can honestly tell ourselves we’re doing something right, or have at least not given up trying. Thanks for coming to my pep talk.

As to plans, 2019 will see another installment of my Resident Witch series – sorry to the handful of people who’ve actually been waiting for that. I know it’s taking longer than any other of my books so far. I’m blaming Trump and the state of the world, for being a drain on anyone’s creative energy. Beyond that, I’m not sure, but writer me seems to be back from her hopeless sulk, so stay tuned, you might be surprised.

I hope you have brilliant plans of your own, ideas to develop, projects to lose yourselves in. Be happy, be you, be the person you want to be. Don’t listen to anyone, unless it’s a dog.

Happy New Year, may there be love and sunshine, fairy tales and unicorns, hope and cake.


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A short guide on how to time travel

Recently people around me keep bringing up the issue of time travel, pros and cons, feasibility, stuff like that, so I thought, why not? As the author of three books that include a certain amount of time traveling (and busy writing the fourth), I’m as qualified to talk about it as the next useless fantasy writer with not the faintest idea of basic physics, so I might as well compile the aspects I’ve come across.

The present is easy. Hopping between here and there in the right now doesn’t pose much of a challenge, you only need to be careful if you appear out of thin air like the Walkers in my Resident Witch stories. You might give someone a heart attack.

The past is more of a challenge. For one thing, don’t expect to travel backwards in time and come home a time traveling hero. German cartoonist Martin Perscheid (Look here for his website, it’s German only, but there’s a lot of fun to be had even so) did an excellent job in explaining the entire problem in one image. That aside, anything you do in the past may have implications on the present or even the future, ranging from minor and negligible to absolutely freaking massive. In my made-up magic community, going into the past isn’t forbidden, but it’s so frowned upon, it might as well be. The Walkers know not to touch anything, talk to anyone, or even let themselves be seen, so they usually take a Witch along to keep them invisible. The rules are: Don’t change the past, don’t bring back the dead, don’t challenge fate – and yes, fate is that exact same concept it is in real life, abstract until it kicks you in the ass and shoves your face in the dirt.

The future is the most difficult destination of them all. Why? Because it doesn’t exist. Or at least, not in a solid, written-in-stone way. The future exists only as we shape it, a malleable construct of our actions (or lack thereof) in the past and present. Right now, tomorrow is only a vague idea. You might wake up at the usual time, have breakfast and a shower, and leave for another normal day at the office. Or a random cat attack during the night might kill your alarm clock, you’ll sleep in, skip breakfast, race to work with your back still wet because you didn’t take the time to properly rub yourself dry after your hurried shower, you’ll catch a cold, start sneezing halfway through the day and get sent home by early afternoon. Trivial? Sure. But. There are thousands of other variations of tomorrow that might come to pass, not just for you, but for every single one of the billions of people out there, and not just variations of tomorrow either, but of every single hour, minute, second of every day from tomorrow on until the end of the world, and it all depends on what you – or anyone – did or didn’t do yesterday, on what you – or anyone – do or don’t do today, not to mention random incidents and accidents. Intimidating? You bet.

In My Name is not Alice, I have Amy, a young, inexperienced Walker who doesn’t know the rules, make a dash into the future. Alice’s life is threatened, and Amy sees no way how to help her best friend, so races off to see if she’s still alive in the future and can tell her how she got out of danger. She finds her, and in doing so causes a time conundrum – Alice tells her that it was her own future self who saved her. What happened? Easy. By unconsciously making her way through the random strands of possible futures onto the one that still contained Alice alive and well, Amy forced that reality into existence. If Amy hadn’t gone to ask future Alice for help, there might not have been a future Alice at all, because there might not have been anyone else to save her in the present. That way, Amy also burdened present Alice with the responsibility of making sure the present, once it had become the past, would actually happen the way it did, as in, go back and save herself. Complicated much? Yes. And it gets worse in Double Double Time and Trouble, where the desperate attempt to undo a death leads to a completely altered past and a grade A chicken/egg paradox.

Long story short: If you ever find yourself in a situation where time travel becomes a real possibility… be super careful. You’re bound to mess things up big time.


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Romance to Horror – a handful of book reviews

I’ve been reading a lot of books over the past months, so I thought I might as well tell you about a few of them. After all, it’s windy and rainy and ugly outside, thus the time of the season for curling up on the sofa with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book.

Curtain Call by C.H. Clepitt 

Here’s what the blurb says:

When an assistant to the director role turns into P.A. to her favourite film star, Jen can’t believe her luck. Eleanor Francis is charming, kind and funny, but she has a secret, and when tragedy strikes, things threaten to unravel at an uncontrollable pace. Despite being out of her depth Jen has to adapt to her new role quickly, to protect Eleanor, with whom she is rapidly falling in love.

Here’s what I say:

If there’s anything negative to say about this, it’s that it’s too short. I’m not saying that the story lacks details, it’s just that you get sucked into the characters’ lives so thoroughly, you’re loathe to leave them again so quickly. Based on a rather simple premise – average girl meets favorite actress and falls in love – it quickly evolves into more: an astonishingly pointed portray of human relationships, respect and self-respect, and mutual acceptance, warts and all. I suppose it’s romance, but I didn’t come across cheesiness or unnecessary clichés, so that’s okay.

Single to Edinburgh by Diane M. Dickson 

Here’s what the blurb says:

After losing her baby, Katherine has struggled with life, and her increasingly estranged husband. She decides to take off to Edinburgh, where she meets a man who showers her with kindness. Despite his tenderness, however, Katherine resolves to rescue her marriage. But when this is met by her partner Bill’s indifference…

Here’s what I say:

This is the story of a woman trapped in a grief she can’t comprehend. Starting out rather innocently, a bout of impulse shopping suddenly sees her on a train to Edinburgh, where random kindness showed to her by perfect strangers bit by bit cracks the shell she so carefully built around herself, or maybe the wall between herself and her past, or herself and reality, until the brittle core and a heart-rending secret emerge. I don’t know why this is classified as romance. Yes, she finds love, but that’s only a side effect.

Hitchhike by Pat Black 

Here’s what the blurb says:

It’s cold. The snow’s thick on the ground. Beth’s just trying to get home for Christmas, but she’s all alone out here… except for the Smiler.
He’s been haunting the motorways for years, looking for someone just like Beth. Someone he can brighten up with a nice, bright, red, smile.
Help is at hand – a cosy truck, with a friendly face behind the wheel.
But out here in the lonely places, who can she trust? And can they trust her?
Blood will be spilled before she finds out…

Here’s what I say:

This is the second book of the ShortSharpShocks series that I’ve read. While it didn’t give me as many nightmares as Sleepover, it’s still not something you should read when you’re home alone. Depicting a really scary scene in a movie, where you can use sudden camera switches or whatnot, is one thing, doing the same in a book is something else entirely, and Pat Black has that down to an art, complete with believable characters and thoroughly unexpected twists.

All three of these books are novellas, means perfect companions for a cozy night, or a train ride. Hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.


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