Saturday, 31 January 2015

Rocket Cat! Medieval Siege Cats

Jetpack Ninja Kitty Attacks Castle?


This illustration from 1584 forms part of a manual on artillery and siege warfare by Franz Helm, an artillery master from Cologne.

The image, available from Wikipedia Commons, is described as an, "Illustration of a cat and a dove carrying incendiary devices towards a fortified town."

But why?

The German manual suggests the rocket cat can be used to, "set fire to a castle or city which you can't get at otherwise."

The theory being, if you capture a cat from within the enemy's walls and attach an incendiary device to it, the cat will run home, setting the enemy's castle ablaze, saving you the trouble.

Theory is one thing, but did they really use moggie-bombs in the middle ages?

Probably not, according to University of Pennsylvania researcher Mitch Fraas. He claims there is no evidence of cats, birds or other animals actually being used in this way. Read the article from The Independent here.

If you'd like to see more Medieval kitty depictions from siege cats to fiddling felines, airborne moggies to rocket cats, they're all here.

An illustration from a manual by 16th century artillery master Franz Helm


'Rocket cats': Warfare manual showing 16th-century weaponry puzzles experts

Franz Helm

An illustration from a manual by 16th century artillery master Franz Helm

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Morning Bites!

Miracle - hiding her head in shame? Probably not.
I woke about 8.30am with Miracle snuggled next to me, her whiskers tickling my face... I got up and still in my long nightdress, went to check my email. She jumped into my lap for more snuggles as usual. Sadly (for me as it would turn out), I had to move her as coffee beaconed... 

I knew it was wrong, sinful even to move a seated cat and said this to Miracle as I ousted her from my lap. She dropped on the floor like a loosed bowling ball. 

I had walked only a couple of steps when, in one ninja movement, she screamed, ducked her head under the hem of my nightdress and nibbled my foot! She emerged and looked at me as if to say 'let that be a lesson to you!'

That's me told. Morning does indeed bite!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Review: Be a Hobbit, Save the Earth

Be a Hobbit, Save the Earth: the Guide to Sustainable Shire Living, By Steve Bivans

Frustrated with the way corporations are destroying our Earth for a profit? Dismayed at a political system that fails to do anything about it? Feeling a lack of community, connectedness or even humour in the face of these challenges? If you’re feeling powerless to affect positive change on the planet, you’re not alone.

In Be a Hobbit, Save the Earth: the Guide to Sustainable Shire Living, Steve Bivans takes the reader on a journey and lays out, step by step, how you can save the Earth from exactly where you are, living the life you’re living right now.  What a relief! Written in a conversational and often humorous tone, Bivans uses references to The Lord of the Rings to illustrate the dangers facing our own Middle Earth. They are more similar than any might imagine…

The book is split into three sections. Section One begins in the darkest depths of Mordor with the orcish evilness around us: pollution, waste, war and corruption in its many forms. But don’t despair! Bivans lights these dark places with his humour, personal stories and reassuring hobbity references.  There is no fluff here, all anecdotes illuminate the argument like the light of Eärendil itself. Section Two deals with the story we are all telling ourselves as a global community, and like many stories, Bivans suggests, it’s simply not true. We are intertwined in a malicious lie, one we may never have thought to question, and the first step to our liberation is in breaking its bindings. We can do this with our thinking alone.

The central question this book poses is: how do we fix the damage we’ve done to our Earth?  Section Three begins with the Scouring of the Shire where we are urged to “clean up what we have,” not only in our environment, but our own personal and collective story.  Bivans lays out a detailed, practical guide to things we can all do, right now, to turn the tide and send the darkness back from whence it came!

The message is loud and clear. We need to reorganize our priorities, let go of some unhelpful and probably unconscious beliefs, and make small, enriching changes to our everyday lives. Changes that will make us healthier, happier and broaden our community. We can all become part of that change. Bivans suggests there is a tipping point at which change will occur. It is much lower than I ever dared hope, and its acquisition is easier than I dared imagine.

Are you ready? Then be brave, start the journey, set foot outside your front door, or as the title of this book suggests: Be a Hobbit, Save the Earth!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Krampus: Anti-Santa or St. Nick’s Sidekick?

Coal in your stocking? Potatoes in your shoes? Well, if you’re naughty this Christmas, the Krampus might stuff you into a sack and carry off for dinner - his, not yours!

Who is this Krampus and where does he come from?

 Old card reading "Gruss vom Krampus" ("Greetings from Krampus"). [public domain]
Old card, "Greetings from Krampus"
The Krampus, Grampus or Bartel is a shaggy, demonic figure with pagan roots in Austria, Germany and the surrounding countries.  Instead of giving gifts to good little girls and boys like Santa, he bags the naughty ones and carries them off.

Devil-like with goat horns, cloven hooves, and a tongue any Kiss fan would envy, he erupts onto the streets thrashing chains and causing mayhem on Krampusnacht, December 5th, the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas.

Traditionally however, this general ruckus-maker often accompanies St. Nicholas around December 6th as part of central Europe’s festivities.  As they parade through the streets together, St Nicholas gives gifts to the nice children while the riotous Krampus thrashes the naughty with sticks!

Close cousins of the Krampus roam the Swiss Alps. In the German-speaking parts they are called Schmutzli, while in the French-speaking areas they are known as Père Fouettard, meaning 'whip.' And just like the Krampus, they accompany Santa and thrash naughty children with sticks. Schmutzli is thought to be the embodiment of pre-Christian evil spirits, and the re-enacted noise and ruckus represent attempts to drive them out.

Krampus himself is deeply rooted in pre-Christian paganism. Could the poor Krampus be the remnant of a pre-Christian god, relegated to Santa’s salacious sidekick much the same way as the Old Gods of Britain and Ireland were demoted to modern day fairies?

Although the specifics of his ancient godly nature are lost in the mists of time, his more recent role is cautionary, threatening children to behave - or else!

How can he be defeated? 

There is only one weapon against the devilish Krampus;

Be nice.

Or else you’ll be head first in his Krampus sack and top of his menu this Krampusnacht. You have been warned….

Happy Krampus!


Miles, Clement A. (1912). "VIII". Christmas in ritual and tradition: Christian and Pagan. Toronto: Bell and Cockburn. pp. 227–29.

McLean, Movern. "Schmutzli: the Swiss Santa's sinister sidekick". Retrieved 3 December 2014.

"Run, Kris Kringle, Krampus is Coming!". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 3 December 2014.

Alexandra, Zawadil (6 December 2006). "Santa's evil sidekick? Who knew?". Reuters.

Zeller, Tom (24 December 2000). "Have a Very Scary Christmas". The New York Times.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Easy, Free and Low Cost Book Trailers and Graphics #IWSG

For many of us, developing video editing or graphic art skills to promote our books on social media is enough to make our heads spin. However, whether we’re self publishing or have a traditional publisher, we’ll be marketing too. Here's a couple of resources for making video book trailers and social media graphics requiring absolutely no editing or graphic art skills. Even better, they're easy and quick to use, low cost, and in some cases, completely free.

Video Book Trailers

Produce a book trailer with commercially licensed music in minutes for as little as $39. Animoto have developed a set of templates into which the user slots images and text - such as a book cover and information about where to buy it.

With a free account, the user can produce non-commercial videos of 30 seconds or less, including music, for free. Here’s one I did for the IWSG in just a few minutes (yours will be better of course!) As the IWSG is non commercial I don’t need a pro account to make it.

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group #3

Here's another example using a different template and music:

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group #2

Ok, I can't resist, here's another:

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group

However, as many of us will be charging for our book - or using it as a marketing tool to promote other books written - this counts as commercial use and incurs a monthly fee of $39 for their pro account. They have a library of templates, images, video clips and music to choose from or you can upload your own.

I checked with Animoto about using their service for creating video book trailers and they confirmed that users can pay for just one month and the video they create is theirs to use for ever. Just remember to cancel your subscription before the month is up.

Social Media Graphics & Book Covers

Canva is a graphics site much like Animoto in that it provides easy to use templates for making graphics for your blog and social media sites. Absolutely no graphic art skills are required.

Their templates include facebook headers, twitter headers, blog graphics and even book covers
among others. Many of their templates and graphics are free to use and all of their paid images are just $1 with no monthly subscription. If you use your own images - such as your book cover - to create your social media graphics, you can use their templates for free. Alternatively, you can use their images for a buck each.

Yes, that means you could even make a book cover for a dollar…

Another great use for these graphics is to create a signature for your emails. Just remember to make it clickable and lead to your sales page or blog.

The only downside is limited image editing - no masques or feathering, and you can't alter the image after download. That said, if you're not into photoshop anyway, this is a great tool.

Once you have your book trailer and branded images for your social media sites, use them as part of your book launch strategy. Share them everywhere.

I hope you’ve found this helpful and best of luck with your book launch!

This post is for The Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop - a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Proofreading Exchange

As a self pubber, I've read that the two things to invest in are:

1. A great cover
2. An editor or at the very least a proofreader

My insecure question this month relates to editing and proofreading. Has anyone had success with exchanging proofreading or editing with another author? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts, ideas, advice, or warnings!

Many thanks in advance.

This post is for The Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. A place for writers to stand up and face their inner dragons, cry at the woeful inadequacy of their weapons, get some much needed support from other dragon slayers and carry on anyway. I think. I hope....

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Rat Bargain

The house was old with a pointy roof like a witch's cottage. Inside, the house was cluttered with ancient furniture while hand painted murals peeled off the walls. The walls were most interesting to me as they were wide and hollow and riddled with secret passageways. The doorway to one was disguised within wood paneling, exposed by a catch. If you went inside on hands and knees, the tunnel wound around to the other side of the house only to pop out inside a bedroom cupboard.

I lived in the attic and my room was shaped by pointy angles and odd shaped cupboards. At the end of a large walk in wardrobe was the most curious thing on the wall: stop sign.

Even more curiously, the stop sign was attached by a hinge. It was in fact, a doorway to another secret passage. One of the many in this strange old house. Barely big enough for an adult to crawl through, the passageway beyond the stop sign door was carpeted in dark green shag pile.

When I first discovered the stop sign for what it was, a doorway, naturally I opened it. And two gimlet eyes met my own. Sitting on the dark green shag pile carpet, as if awaiting my arrival, was a rat.

It was an old house filled with old furniture and riddled with secret tunnels. A rat was no surprise. Although I didn't fancy him running across my bed in the night, or munching through my lunch when my back was turned.

So I made a bargain with the rat. I said, "Mr. rat, if you will promise to stay this side of this stop sign and leave my room alone, I will promise to lay no traps or poison nor tell the landlord of our meeting."

The rat nodded and scampered off.

I never saw him again and neither him nor his ratty brethren ever entered my room.