Helen Harper

There’s more to vampire history than Dracula

There’s a part of me that is convinced all those mythological creatures have to be real.? Otherwise, how could they exist in so many different cultures? Of course, I also enjoy conspiracy theories so I’m not the greatest judge.? Just saying.

Ancient Babylonians told tales of Lilitu, a female demon who drank the blood of babies.? Lilitu gave rise to Lilith, a similar creature in Hebrew tales.? Indeed, there are several similar characters found in Ancient Greek folklore – interestingly, all of them women.? The idea of undead beings even appears in Homer’s Odyssey – although if you wished to communicate with those ones, you first had to drink blood yourself.? Lucky old Odysseus.? Personally, I particularly like the ancient Indian stories of vetala – creatures who would inhabit corpses and reanimate them.? At least until they decided to sod off and find a better vessel anyway.

Perhaps the vamps took a bit of a break after those times and hid themselves away.? Although stories of revenants (ghosts which could also reanimate corpses or were simply visible to the naked eye) abounded for centuries, it wasn’t until the eighteenth century that vampires really came into their own.? Europe, in particular Transylvania (naturally), went bloodsucker crazy.

There are a few very specific examples – such as that of Petar Blagojevich who died in 1725, reportedly returning the day after to have a wee chat with his son.? Then his son dropped dead, along with several other villagers in the days following.? Suspecting the worst, Petar’s body was exhumed.? There were no normal signs of decomposition and his corpse was eventually burned.? Of course, it would only take one contagious disease to cause those deaths and people did from time to time fall into the rather unfortunate situation of being mistakenly buried alive (hence the saying ‘saved by the bell’ – many Victorians were buried with their fingers attached to a string leading above ground to a bell which they could ring on the rare occasion they woke to find themselves in a coffin and wearing their Sunday best).? However, this fairly recent news report of a corpse found with a stake through its heart is somewhat seared in my memory.

It was also around that time when sex began to play a large role.? Female Romany vampires would return to their families and lead normal lives – but they’d eventually exhaust their husbands with their sexual demands.? Croatian vampires arise as a result of incest.? In fact, vampiric legends and sexual proclivity seem to go hand in hand.? It’s good to know that some things don’t change.

Vampire stories aren’t confined to Europe.? The Aztecs had slightly similar tales, as do various African tribes.? Particularly disgusting is the Madagascan ramanga who drinks blood and eats? toenail clippings.? Here in Malaysia, there’s the Penanggalan – a beautiful woman who can detach her head so she can fly it around in search of victims to sink her fangs into.? Now there’s a neat trick.

Bram Stoker may have defined the modern vampire as we know it today but he certainly didn’t invent it.? Charles Darwin wasn’t kidding around with evolution – bloodsuckers are always changing.? Sparkly, sexy, scary – what will we come up with next?

Helen Harper


It’s a strange time of year in expat land.? With the school year at an end, lots of families are relocating – some back home to Europe or Australia or wherever and some on to new jobs in new countries.? You get very used to people coming and going and there are lots of new holiday destinations to visit as old friends end up all over the world.? It doesn’t stop it from feeling very bittersweet, however.

I’ve personally been living abroad for ten years now.? It’s easy to remember as an anniversary, even for someone as useless at dates as I am, because on July 6th 2005 I travelled to London to collect my first work visa for Tokyo.? I vividly remember standing on the tube platform waiting for a train and the announcer telling us all that London had won the Olympics.? The response was remarkably muted.? Maybe all of us commuters were simply focused on other matters.? Of course, the next day those trains were being blown up.

There is something remarkable, however, about living in a different country.? You gain a completely different perspective on so many things, not to mention experiencing so much. ?It’s not like the perspective you have while on holiday. ?When you live somewhere, it’s just … different. ?Prior to moving abroad, I lived in an entirely homogeneous corner of the UK.? Now I’m in a true melting pot.? I worry about the simplified portrait often painted in the Western media of the Muslim faith and how quickly people who’ve never experienced anything beyond the terrible news headlines swallow it as the sole representation of a billion people.? I can’t help comparing the pupils I taught in the UK to the international school students I taught for nine years in Tokyo and KL, to the refugee children I voluntarily teach now – and their frankly incomparable lifestyles.? I marvel at the way I can walk down the street here and be surrounded by people from every creed, color and religion.? In Malaysia, just about every religion is given credence, meaning there are a gazillion public holidays (I’m not complaining!).

Of course, not every experience is deep or thought-provoking.? I was almost giddy with excitement at coming across a multi-pack of Monster Munch last week in the supermarket.? In Tokyo, beans on toast was considered about the most wonderful meal and a serious cause for celebration.? You can take the girl out of Scotland but…

In any case, it is the people who really make the experience worthwhile.? I’m truly sad every year to see friends leave but I know we’ll keep in touch and that they’ll have fabulous new experiences in their new lives.? Bon voyage, sayonara, auf wiedhersen, farewell.? I’ll be in touch xxx

Photo by puddy_uk

Helen Harper

Hot Summer Releases in Urban Fantasy (with maybe some Sci Fi and Fantasy too!)

Any time of year is good for reading. ?Seriously. ?But there’s little better than lying on a hammock with a cool drink in hand, soft sand and the lapping of distant waves. ?Wherever you happen to be spending your summer, hopefully some of these new releases will make it even better!

July 7th

Elizabeth Hunter is releasing the third book in her Elementals series.


On the waves of the North Atlantic, a poison spreads, sapping the life from humans and striking madness into immortals.

Patrick Murphy, the immortal leader of Dublin, has been trying to stem the tide of Elixir washing into his territory, but nothing seems to stop the vampire drug. While others in the immortal world work to cure the creeping insanity that Elixir threatens, Murphy has been invited to London to join a summit of leaders hoping to discover who is shipping the drug. If Murphy and his allies can cut off the supply, they might be able to halt the spread long enough for a treatment to be found for the humans and vampires infected.

Anne O’Dea, Murphy’s former lover, retreated from public life over one hundred years ago to help immortals in need… and to heal her own broken heart. Though powerful connections keep her insulated from the violence of vampire politics, even Anne is starting to feel the effects of Elixir on her isolated world. The human blood supply has been tainted, and with Anne’s unique needs, even those closest to her might be in danger. Not just from infection, but Anne’s escalating bloodlust.

When Anne and Murphy are both called to London, they’re forced to confront a connection as immortal as they are. As they search for a traitor among allies, they must also come to terms with their past. Behind the safe facade of politics, old hungers still burn, even as an ancient power threatens the fate of the Elemental World.

July 7th

Who doesn’t love a good dragon book? ?UF author Yasmine Galenorn has a new series starting!



I’m Shimmer, a blue dragon shifter. Thanks to a mistake, I was exiled from the Dragon Reaches and sentenced to work for Alex Radcliffe, a vampire who owns the Fly by Night Magical Investigations Agency. Now, not only do I have to adapt to Earthside culture, but every time I turn around, somebody’s trying to kill us. And worse, Alex is as gorgeous as he is exasperating. But you know what they say: All’s fair in love and bounty hunting…

When an old friend of Alex contacts him about a haunting at the High Tide Bed & Breakfast in Port Townsend, Washington, we think we’re on a simple ghost hunt. But our investigation quickly transforms into a deadly fight as we uncover an eighty-year-old murder, a cursed house, and a dark force trapping the spirits within. To stop impending disaster we must break the curse and lay the angry spirits to rest.

July 16th

A sci fi tease – but if it’s anything like Ready Player One, Ernest Cline’s Armada will be well worth it.


Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

July 28th

If you like your UF with some history thrown in, then this might be the one you’re waiting for!


A thrilling new Victorian-era urban fantasy for fans of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, and the Sherlock Holmes movies featuring Robert Downey, Jr.
The Crown and Key Society face their most terrifying villain yet: Gaios, a deranged demigod with the power to destroy Britain.

To avenge a centuries-old betrayal, Gaios is hell-bent on summoning the elemental forces of the earth to level London and bury Britain. The Crown and Key Society, a secret league consisting of a magician, an alchemist, and a monster-hunter, is the realm’s only hope—and to stop Gaios, they must gather their full strength and come together as a team, or the world will fall apart.

But Simon Archer, the Crown and Key’s leader and the last living magician-scribe, has lost his powers. As Gaios searches for the Stone of Scone, which will give him destructive dominion over the land, monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane, alchemist extraordinaire Kate Anstruther, gadget geek Penny Carter, and Charlotte the werewolf scramble to reconnect Simon to his magic before the world as they know it is left forever in ruins.

July 30th

The fourth book in Hailey Edwards imaginative Black Dog series will be out.



While Thierry is away, the Morrigan will play. Snatching the crown from her daughter-in-law’s head wasn’t the motherly thing to do, but Thierry doesn’t mind trading the throne in Faerie for the ratty couch in her Texas apartment. The old crow is welcome to it. But ruling one world is not enough. The Morrigan wants an all-access pass to the mortal realm too.

An attack on the marshal’s office leaves Thierry shaken…and Shaw missing. Now the fight brewing since Thierry took up the Black Dog’s mantle has landed on her doorstep, and the only way to save the man she loves is to defend the title she never wanted.

August 4th

Kate and Curran in their eighth outing – enough said really!



In the latest Kate Daniels novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews, magic is coming and going in waves in post-Shift Atlanta—and each crest leaves danger in its wake…

After breaking from life with the Pack, mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate—former Beast Lord Curran Lennart—are adjusting to a very different pace. While they’re thrilled to escape all the infighting, Kate and Curran know that separating from the Pack completely is a process that will take time.

But when they learn that their friend Eduardo has gone missing, Kate and Curran shift their focus to investigate his disappearance. Eduardo was a fellow member of the Mercenary Guild, so Kate knows the best place to start looking is his most recent jobs. As Kate and Curran dig further into the merc’s business, they discover that the Guild has gone to hell and that Eduardo’s assignments are connected in the most sinister way…

An ancient enemy has arisen, and Kate and Curran are the only ones who can stop it—before it takes their city apart piece by piece.


August 6th

The ?new Alex Verus novel will be released!



Alex Verus is a mage who can see the future, but even he didn’t see this day coming. He’s agreed to join the Keepers, the magical police force, to protect his friends from his old master, the Dark Mage Richard Drakh.

Going legit was always going to be difficult for an outcast like Alex, and there are some Keepers who aren’t keen to see an ex-Dark mage succeed. Especially when Dark mages are making a play for a seat on the council, for the first time in history.

Alex finally has the law on his side — but trapped between Light and Dark politics, investigating a seedy underworld with ties to the highest of powers, will a badge be enough to save him?

August 18th

The sixth book in Dannika Dark’s wonderful PNR Seven series, Two Minutes.



After years of living abroad, Maizy returns home to the only family she’s ever known—a pack of wolves. When she confronts her childhood watchdog to see where they stand, his resentment leaves her uncertain about where she really belongs.

Behind Denver’s charming smile is a tragic past—one that’s made his wolf savage and unpredictable. Only Maizy has been able to tame that darkness, and when they’re reunited after many years apart, he no longer sees a child he once protected. She’s captivating and intelligent—a woman with the world at her fingertips and two suitors offering more than he ever could.

Torn between two worlds, Maizy must choose how her fairy tale ends. Tragedy, murder, passion, and imprisonment all collide with a heart-stopping twist.

Destiny will find you.


August 19th

Okay, this is another slight cheat because it’s sci fi but it still looks great fun!


Half Man. Half Machine. All Hers.
Rage, the Humanoid Alliance’s most primitive cyborg, has two goals—kill all of the humans on his battle station and escape to the Homeland. The warrior has seen the darkness in others and in himself. He believes that’s all he’s been programmed to experience.
Until he meets Joan.
Joan, the battle station’s first female engineer, has one goal—survive long enough to help the big sexy cyborg plotting to kill her. Rage might not trust her but he wants her. She sees the passion in his eyes, the caring in his battle-worn hands, the gruff emotion in his voice.
When Joan survives the unthinkable, Rage’s priorities are tested. Is there enough room in this cyborg’s heart for both love and revenge?


September 1st

The fourth book in Sarah Maas’ acclaimed Throne of Glass series is out!



Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. Now she returns to the empire – to confront the shadows of her past … The fourth breathtaking instalment in the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series.

Bloodthirsty for revenge on the two men responsible for destroying her life, and desperate to find out if the prince and his captain are safe, Celaena returns to Rifthold, the seat of so much evil. She has accepted her identity as Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. But before she can reclaim her throne, there are dark truths to learn and debts to be paid. Aelin must stay hidden beneath her assassin’s hood and draw on her mortal strength as Celaena to prevent the King of Adarlan from tearing her world apart. Only then can she fight for her people.

Readers will be held rapt as Celaena’s story builds to an agonising crescendo, packed with heart-pounding action and swoon-worthy romance.

Helen Harper

Pipe Dreams

A rarely advertised fact about myself is that a long, long time ago, I used to play the bagpipes.


Those of you who aren’t Scottish might imagine that this is a rite of passage for a Scot. Actually, even my fellow students at school thought it was really weird. There were 1200 pupils at my high school and there was only ever one other who played the pipes as well (and she was far, far more skilled than I ever was).


While a foolish drunken boast next to a piper in a Scottish themed pub a few years ago in KL has proven that I’m no longer even vaguely capable of blowing out a tune, the mechanics of playing the bagpipes aren’t as hard as people often suppose. You don’t need a lot of puff because once the bag is blown up (and you do that part before you start playing), it’s all about control – not how much air you have in your lungs. Deftly managing to play a complicated tune and not sound like a strangled cat is harder. I could learn the notes and hammer them out but the control part was never my forte.


Certainly as a teenager, it was an interesting life. We’d spend all winder practising and preparing for the summer season. There were many long dark evenings spent in school halls. It was ten months of practice (with the odd Hogmany, Remembrance Day and local festival appearances thrown in) for two months of dedicated competing. Every weekend we travelled by rickety bus to another competition –sometimes north on a Saturday and then south on a Sunday. I saw far more of Scotland as a piper than I ever have before or since. We’d play one tune for the judges and then spend the rest of the day at whichever Highland Games we happened to be attending for the results. I quickly discovered that it was damn easy to get served alcohol when you were dressed as a piper. I’m not sure it would hold up these days but I’m convinced that back then, people saw the uniform – the hat, the blazer, the kilt, the handy sporran, the damned itchy socks and the shiny skean dhu (dagger) – and didn’t look at how old I was. It wasn’t healthy. Or a good idea. But it was fun.


There was the other local band from the town next door who were our bitter rivals. There was the crazy in-fighting within our own band and the politics between the Drum Major and the Pipe Major. There was rampant sexism against the older women who played which (I hope) was nothing more than the times themselves. Despite it all, I remain intensely proud of those years. I like to imagine myself moving back to Scotland one day and taking the pipes back up again. Realistically, it’ll never happen. I was never very good. I do hope that one day, however, I’ll be able to use all those stories and knowledge and come up with a novel about a pipe band. There’s really nothing quite like being part of a pipe band.


Note – all the memes here are from a wonderful FB page called the Moray Neep that I happened upon a few days ago and which inspired this post.

Photo by conner395

Helen Harper

10 Signs You’re Addicted To Urban Fantasy



1. You can explain what Urban Fantasy is to other people in five words or less.


2. You’re waiting for the day when your secret magical powers reveal



3. Sometimes you go about life with just a bit too much badass attitude.



4. You know for certain how to conduct yourself appropriately in a sword fight.



5. You have no problem distinguishing between fairies, faeries, fae, fey or fay.



6. Full moons make your toes curl up.



7. You’re always on the lookout for a new series to get your teeth into.



8. Guys wearing shirts are definitely far too over-dressed.



9. Black is the new black.



10. You know that your own HEA is only just around the corner.

Photo by ˙Cаvin ?

Helen Harper

Durian drama

Durian season is underway again, evidenced by the smell coming from my next door neighbours and permeating through my own house.? For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, count yourselves lucky.
Generally speaking, I like to think of myself as someone who has found it easy to assimilate into South East Asian culture.? Squat toilets are fine.? Super spicy food – yum.? Sweaty tropics?? Give me more.? But when Malaysians ask me if I like Durian, my response is stereotypically foreign: ick, ick, ick.

Admittedly, the smell is far more off-putting than the taste.? Imagine rotting rubbish surrounded by a sea of marathon runners’ old socks and sprinkled liberally with blue cheese that’s been left out in the sun too long and you’ll get a vague idea.? Not for nothing is durian banned on planes or in many hotels.? One person enjoys durian and everyone else in a five hundred metre radius gets to ‘enjoy’ it too.

Here it’s affectionately regarded as the King of Fruits.? You can get durian ice cream, durian cake, durian chocolates and durian coffee.? Some claim that it’s addictive.? Others that it encourages fertility.? It’s certainly high in fat and very filling.? There’s even a week long durian festival currently taking place further up in the country.? I can’t deny how much people here love it.

Now where did I put my clothes pegs?

Photo by YIM Hafiz

Helen Harper

The future of urban fantasy

For a long time, urban fantasy was HOT. Everyone was jumping on the bandwagon and everyone (or so it seemed) was reading it. We’re now in more of a natural cooling off period. There are still loads of UF writers and still loads and loads of UF readers (hello people!) but it’s no longer the shiny new thing that it once was. Apparently trad publishers no longer want UF novels because the sales are no longer there. Looking around at other authors whose names appear on my Amazon pages, I’d completely disagree with that. At the RT Convention, there was a panel discussing the future of UF and a good chunk was given over to the discussion about whether it was dead or not. Genres never die though – it might evolve and adapt but urban fantasy is definitely here to stay. What will it be like in five years time though?


An urban fantasy and sci fi meld

?When I was a teenager, one of my absolute favourite (and very well thumbed) series of books was Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept books. ?Piers, if you ever stumble across the blog (unlikely, I know but it pays to be prudent), I’d be eternally grateful if you could work on getting that series onto Kindle. Pleeeeeeeease.

Anyway, that series mixed science fiction and fantasy in a truly wonderful way, with two parallel worlds – a sci fi planet and a secret fantasy world next to it. UF is, of course, slightly different but given the current sci-fi predilection with The Martian, Star Wars, Tomorrowland and all that stuff, there could be a great future for a UF/Sci-Fi mash-up. Vampires in space? If they’re dead, then maybe they can wander around outside their spaceships without the need to suit up. Or maybe Earth could send out a group of astronauts who come across a planet where magic rules instead of technology in a kind of Star Trek sort of fashion. And just think of the fun that could be had if internet trolls really did become, well, trolls. Hmmm.


UF spies

?I grew up at the end of the Cold War and possessed a considerable yen for a long time to learn Russian and become a super spy. In fact, spy fiction has been making somewhat of a comeback lately (much to my delight). I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch for a well funded government to use a host of UF styled characters to spy on the world. Just think of the fun that could be had if an Edward Snowden type of guy turned out to also be a vengeful werewolf. Yeah, okay. Perhaps not.


Multiple viewpoints

?Requiring more serious consideration than James Bond turning furry once a week, I’m genuinely surprised that more hasn’t yet been made of a G.R.R. Martin style of UF. By which I mean, more epic and lengthy novels with a range of different narrators. It wouldn’t exactly be easy to pull off (let’s face it, Martin is one of the most famous authors alive right now for a reason) but surely it could be a thing. I really, really hope so.


New characters

?Vampires have been done to death (boom, boom – see what I did there?). Werewolves and werebears and everything in between have been covered. There are plenty of angel stories. And demon stories. Fairies in different guises get around as do witches and wizards. Plenty of novels have used other types of characters in different ways – and I know I for one will continue reading, loving (and no doubt writing) about all of the above – but which new characters could become really popular next? Mermaids haven’t been used much (although I happen to know of a popular UF author who might be addressing that in the near future). I seem to be reading a lot about new dragon novels popping up soon so that’ll be super fun. Of course, dragons are close to my heart!

I actually think that in the future we’ll see more of brand new creations. After all, Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series is great?and Neil Gaiman has written wonderful stuff using completely original characters. Neverwhere will remain one of my personal favourites until the day I pop my clogs. ?Donna Augustine’s Karma series is also worth a serious mention. I wish I’d thought of those characters…

It’s exciting to see who and what might come along next! ?The future of urban fantasy can be whatever we want it to be – that’s the beauty of it ??

Photo by BurgTender

Helen Harper

Crazy Cat Lady.

I am a cat lady. In fact, for Christmas, my sister gave me this:


I love it.


The Urban Dictionary has this to say:

?cat lady?:?a woman that finds too much happiness in her cats.?

(I don’t think it’s possible to find TOO much happiness in cats…)

This often results in the following actions:?

-Dressing up her cats?

(No. They don’t like it.)

-Taking videos and pictures of them?

(Yes. Okay. And I’m going to subject you, kind reader, to them as well.)

-Telling other people stuff about her cats that they do not care about?

(All the time.)

?-Thinking that her cats are really intuitive?

(What do you mean? They are!)

-Wearing clothes with cats on them

(Nope. But I’m working on it.)

-Owning things with cats on them?

(See aforementioned Christmas present.)

-Not being lonely because she has her cats!


Note: A cat lady may smell like cat pee but this is not required.

(It’s a distinct possibility though.)


2014-12-03 18.40.30


Scout has been with me the longest. ?I got her from a Malaysian cat shelter. ?Whatever her previous life was, it was tough. ?She has the scars to prove it. ?There’s no other way to describe her other than Scaredy-Cat. She hates the other cats. She runs and hides at any almost sound. In fact, I have to keep her separate from the other two because they make her so miserable. Believe it or not, I do a twenty-four house swap. I’m still working on integrating them all but Scout is so far unimpressed at my efforts. It doesn’t matter how many Jackson Galaxy videos I watch, how many cat pheromone sprays I buy, or what I do. But she also likes playing tag with me round the sofa. If she goes outside, she always miaows when she returns as if to say ‘Hey! I’m back! Did ya miss me?’

2014-12-13 16.28.02

Then there’s Mavis. She was a stray at the school where I used to work. She’s extraordinarily friendly and, when she showed up, she was heavily pregnant so I can only surmise she was dumped by a previous family. Unfortunately there are far too many stray animals like that in this part of the world. It’s difficult to imagine for someone from the UK where there are virtually none. You could spend your entire life rescuing cats and dogs from the city here and still not even make a dent in the population. There are charitable organisations and many individuals that try very hard though. Luckily, I found homes for all her kittens but it’s much harder to do the same for an adult cat. I’d have left her where she was because of Scout’s inability to get on with other felines and the fact that you really can’t save them all (the local shelters are all kill shelters) but she was hit by a car and broke her hip so I felt compelled to take her in. She might have planned it that way… She recovered perfectly other than a strange ring of bald skin on her side. She’s now also unbelievably fat.

There’s also Lara Croft, the adventurer. Lara showed up one day about a year ago with a tiny kitten in tow. They were both in my neighbour’s garden so I brought them in. Despite her friendly gratitude for the kibble, she didn’t want to stay. I worked out pretty quickly that it had to be because she had other kittens hiding somewhere. I followed her to an abandoned house not too far away (yes, at around midnight I tracked a cat down my street with the odd car passing by and the occupants staring at me as if I was nuts) but I couldn’t get in because it was locked up. When I went back the day after, she’d gone. I didn’t see her again until six months later when she appeared again with two more brand new kittens. I resisted keeping her for a very long time (I had enough problems between Mavis and Scout getting along as it was) but she’d changed her mind about staying and wasn’t going to let me say no. Not long after I eventually relented and let her stay full time, she broke her leg and her tail one day when I was out. I have NO idea how it happened. How can a cat live on the streets on her own for months (maybe years) and then have a major accident about three weeks after she finds herself a home? My guilt was extraordinary. The vet’s convinced it wasn’t a car. She is, as I said, an adventurer. Her tail had to be amputated but it doesn’t affect her in any way. Other than to shamelessly get even more attention from visitors and passersby.


Finally, there is Black Cat. Black Cat is sneaky. He’s also entirely feral. He pops by twice a day (he knows when feeding time is for the other three, of course). After two years of knowing him, I am now permitted to stand two feet away from him. He’ll still hiss though, especially when I’m trying to give him food. He shows his gratitude by spraying everywhere. Thanks, Black Cat. ?If you look closely enough, you can spot him waiting for his moment in the pic above.

My writing is frequently interrupted by the flow of squirrels who come into the house to nab the cat food and then the inevitable chase that follows. None of the cats ever catch the squirrels. It might actually just be one squirrel. I only ever see one at a time. He drops by often enough though. I have also discovered just this week though that if I leave the house and go for a walk instead of getting into the car, Lara and Mavis will come along with me. I’m not sure why. Curiosity? The possibility of more food? The worry that I’ll abandon them? Or maybe they want to protect me from the dangers of the outside world? It’s probably because they’re concerned I’ll pick up yet another cat while I’m out. It’s been known to happen…



By the way, the video below is dull. I get that it’s dull. But it’s Mavis and Lara coming for a walk! I’m a cat lady – I’m hitting at least three, possibly four, of Urban Dictionary’s requirements with this poorly shot clip!



Helen Harper

Top ten kickass heroines

  • June 15, 2015
  • Blog

There’s been a fair amount in the press lately about female characters and female writers. A recent study conducted into major literary prizes shows that you’re more likely to win if your protagonist is male. The publishing house, Small Press and Other Stories, has reacted to this by stating that in 2018 they will only publish books written by women. Whether I necessarily agree with this move or not, there’s no doubt that there’s an imbalance. After all, recent news headlines have included stories such as, shock horror, Zoe Saldana’s husband is taking her surname, a top tier scientist stating that girls in laboratories ‘cry’ and ‘fall in love’, and a New York Post columnist writing that ‘women are not capable of understanding Goodfellas’. Not all is lost, however. Ficshelf have discovered that self-publishing is bucking the male-dominated trends.

With this in mind, it seems only fair to dedicate a post to the kickass heroines of the fiction world. It’s not easy for them: they need to be strong, both emotionally and physically, without losing their femininity in the process. They need to remain desirable to the opposite sex. It helps a great deal if they also stand up against social norms and work to make the world a better place. For anyone, regardless of gender, that’s a tall order. So here are my top ten kickass heroines and kudos to the lot of them. Who do you think deserves a mention?

10. Frankie Landau Banks


Frankie starts her story as a girl doing anything to please her popular boyfriend. When she belatedly realises she’s being both lied to and side-lined, she sets into motion a fabulous series of tricks and pranks to establish her autonomy. She’s ambitious and driven and won’t take anything lying down. I wish Frankie had been around to read when I was a teenager.

9. Melanie


The main character of The Girl With All The Gifts is a winner. She’s only ten years old but she’s no ordinary child. I can’t say too much without giving away the story but she’s a braver, more intelligent and distinctly human heroine than many. It’s impossible not to root for her.

8. Mariam and Laila

Although these two characters are very different, and I’m cheating slightly by including both, they definitely deserve it for their roles in Khaleed Hosseini’s astound book A Thousand Splendid Suns. Married to the same man, these two women prove that you don’t need physical strength to be a warrior. True strength comes from within.

7. Lara Croft


Lara’s enduring popularity in the gaming world should have spawned a greater collection of virtual heroines. Yes, her boobs change dramatically in size to appeal to teenage boys but there’s no denying that she’s capable of feats which no-one else (superheroes notwithstanding) could even dream of. I’ve even named my daredevil cat after her.

6. Samantha Martin

Not all heroines have to be good. Debra Dubar’s cheeky imp, who is far more concerned with herself than with anyone else on the planet, is a protagonist to be truly enjoyed. She might be totally amoral and self-serving but she’s also capable of growing as a sympathetic character while her wit takes the sting out of her more reprehensible actions. Devilish fun.

5. Lisbeth Salander


It’s beyond a tragedy that Stieg Larrson died before ever truly seeing how his eponymous girl with the dragon tattoo created such a storm. Apparently a vision of what Pippi Longstocking would have been like as an adult, Lisbeth is not without her demons. As a fiercely genius computer hacker, Lisbeth inspires not only admiration but also pity. Whilst I’m nervous for her re-boot in the soon to be released The Girl In The Spider’s Web, I’m definitely going to be reading it.

4. Katniss Everdeen

What’s not to love about Katniss? Not only is she the underdog in the Hunger Games, but she manages to beat them through a combination of wiles and cunning while retaining her own humanity. There’s a reason why people in Thailand began using the finger symbol from the series as a gesture of rebellion against their own government. All Katniss wanted to do was save her sister – and she ended up saving the world regardless of the personal cost.

3. Mara of the Acoma

Raymond Feist is celebrated across the fantasy world for his Riftwar saga. Indeed, Magician is a tour de force. He truly came into his own, however, when he collaborated with the fabulous Janny Wurts to write the Empire trilogy: three books following the seventeen year old Tsurani Mara, as she’s ripped from her chosen life as a temple devotee to becoming the most powerful woman in the land. Everything she does is through cunning, guile and downright intelligence, despite moments of astounding trauma. These books might be almost a quarter of a century old but they’re still fresh, exciting and will have you cheering along all the way. There are even distinct foreshadows of Game of Thrones threaded in throughout.

2. Elizabeth Bennett

She doesn’t join werewolves or navigate through vampire politics or even beat up nasty villains. But Lizzy is still kickass. She flouts social rules by tramping through the countryside and getting muddy, not to mention turning down Darcy’s initial offer of marriage despite his wealth. She’s intelligent and forthright and gets exactly what she wants. It’s no wonder her popularity endures to this day.

1. Buffy The Vampire Slayer


Buffy always wins. To each generation, a slayer is born – and Buffy beats the lot. From defeating goddesses and sacrificing her own life to berating Spike for participating in kitten poker, she’s the most kickass of all kickass heroines. The Big Bad better watch out when the slayer is in town.

Photo by JD Hancock

Helen Harper

Back pain

  • June 11, 2015
  • Blog
  • No Comments

I’ve been cursing this week. I had a minor fender bender on Wednesday then on Thursday, halfway through my gym session, did my back in. Whether the two are related, I’m not sure, but I’m currently lying on the sofa with a heat pack and feeling generally very sorry for myself.

It’s horrifying how many people have to endure back problems – and often far worse than mine. At least I generally heal within a few days. I’ve had ongoing issues for years and actually thought I was over them as I’ve had twelve months clear. When I was working as a teacher and the pain hadn’t yet quite gotten to the part where I had to be sent home, I’d lie down in the staffroom to try and rest. Almost everyone who walked in would sit down next to me and offer advice. It was always very well meaning but I did get incredibly tired of conversations that started, “When I had back problems, I did (insert treatment). Let me give you the phone number now.” By the end of the day I’d have up to twenty competing avenues to follow. Great, except that the one thing I’ve learnt is that, when it comes to your back, there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all recovery programme.

The first time I ever suffered with it was over ten years ago now. I was teaching in Devon and I think I had only about three or four weeks left until I finished my job and re-located to Tokyo. With half my classes on exam leave or doing work experience, I was taking advantage of the extended free time to clear up my classroom. I was standing up and holding nothing more than a pen when I felt it – a strange sharp pain in my lower spine. Confused, I tried to walk it off. It just got worse. I halted in the middle of the room as two pupils wandered in from the class next door. My vision by this stage was already blurry and I knew with absolute certainty I was about to faint. I managed to tell them to get the other teacher – and then the next thing I knew I was on the floor as he crouched next to me trying to bring me round.

That was a pretty scary experience. It was nothing compared to what happened next though. Any time I tried to get up off the floor, I was in screaming agony. As luck would have it, the local fire brigade were on campus giving fire safety demonstrations to some of the younger pupils. Three of them were summoned and, in the absence of a wheelchair or anything sensible like that, I was deposited onto a normal plastic school chair and carried through the playground to the nurse’s office. Of course it was break time when this happened so crowds of kids were able to witness my journey. Lucky old me. In theory, it should have been fun – something akin to Daenerys from Game of Thrones on a litter. And, come on – firemen! The reality was that when they’d been trying to help me get to my feet, all I’d been able to think about was the fact that I hadn’t shaved my legs for about a month. When I was being carried on the chair and watching these poor guys sweat profusely, it was more a case of wishing I had stuck to that diet after all.

Still, the fact that I was compos mentis enough to be embarrassed proved that things could have been a whole lot worse! Let’s face it, things can ALWAYS be worse. Now I have the perfect excuse to avoid doing any cleaning whatsoever. If I can just train the cats to bring me cool drinks and nibbles whenever I want, then I’ll be set ??

Photo by CJS*64 A man with a camera

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