Saturday 30 April 2022

Rwandan Dictionary of Sign Language


I've been doing a bit of vlogging lately and decided to explain how I ended up in Rwanda in the first place. I came to help research the first dictionary of Rwandan Sign Language, which was published in 2009. There's a bit about how I got here and the process of standardising a national language - you can skip through the timestamps in the description.


Saturday 23 April 2022

The Original Black Mona Lisa


Aaaaah! Super excited! How cool is this? A few days after posting about Daddy's rap video, I went to his studio and got to see the original Black Mona Lisa. Sure, I'm keeping my cool. Who's not cool? I'm cool. Possibly some more fun things to talk about soon.

Thursday 21 April 2022

#IndieApril 2022

[Scroll down for yummy book art and links, keep reading for author ramble.]

Hello bibliophiles,

I realise Indie April is almost over and I've not mentioned it at all. I also realise that my blog has turned into a lit review site for all the books I've been reading, rather than writing. I promise that this is a temporary state of affairs - honest! 

The reason I've been so useless at blogging recently is because I've been editing the backside off my new novel. It's been languishing in limbo for almost a year, because I wasn't sure how to feel about it and there was a fuckton (technical literary term) of historical accuracy to deal with. Possibly more than any other book I've ever written. I have been stupidly lucky - far luckier than I deserve - to have an academic expert who has given so much of his time to helping me through this. It would be a disaster if he hadn't. But, because he's put in so much time, I felt I really had to try and do the time period justice. 

Just a few of the fuckups I had to correct - in ancient Mesopotamia, there wasn't any:

  1. Horses
  2. Money
  3. Ability to read silently

I won't go into any of that now, I am probably going to do a videolog about it because, at over 160,000 words of manuscript and countless rewrites, I've actually had enough of typing.

Thankfully, the beta read is going fairly well so far. It's boosted my confidence rather than destroyed it, and because of the positive feedback, I'm starting to see the story in a better light than I did when I originally finished it. As I keep going on and on about, it wasn't the book I set out to write, or even the main historical character I meant to cover. Because of that, I had a hard time excepting it for what it was rather than what I expected it to be. But, now I see, it does hold together. I can be proud of it.

Anyway - #IndieApril is a Twitter tag every April where indie authors like myself (small press and self-published) brag about the kick-ass stories we've written and remind people to go buy them and leave (five star) reviews.

In 2020 I did a set of blogposts for IndieApril that explored the inspiration behind each of my books. I was going to do vlogs this year, but just ran out of time, but I will probably do those later on, so do drop me a line if you have questions about any of my books, as I'll be gathering those up to talk about.

For now, though, I thought I'd just showcase the gorgeous covers and link you through to the in-depth blog posts about each of them. And please do go leave reviews or star ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, they mean a lot, as does word of mouth if you enjoyed something. 

        Rosy Hours #IndieApril                            Creeper's Cottage #IndieApril

                          BUY                                                                                BUY



   Children of Lir #IndieApril                                  Tangled Forest #IndieApril

                  BUY                                                                          BUY

This one wasn't out at the time. It's a look at
 the relationship between photography and mortality.


What follows is the dreaded backlist of early novels. 
Read at your own peril. 

         Lucid #IndieApril                                 Angorichina #IndieApril

                BUY                                                                  BUY                  

(But you can still purchase if you're feeling generouse)

Saturday 16 April 2022

Kingdom of the Cursed

Feels like only yesterday I finished the first of these, Kingdom of the Wicked. I was feeling a bit down about getting to the end, until I realised it's part of a series. The third one, Kingdom of the Feared, is due out in September. I can't remember the last time I pre-ordered a book, but I've pre-ordered this one.

One sister. Two sinful princes. Infinite deception with a side of revenge.... Welcome to Hell.

With the enigmatic Prince of Wrath at her side, Emilia sold her soul to become Queen of the Wicked and travelled to the Seven Circles to fulfil her vow of avenging her beloved sister. 

But the first rule in the court of the Wicked? Trust no one. And it quickly becomes clear that nothing in Hell is what it seems. Even Wrath, her onetime ally, may be keeping secrets about his true nature. But that suits Emilia just fine - she's got secrets of her own.

Faced with backstabbing courtiers, princes who delight in fear, luxurious palaces, dazzling galas, and conflicting clues about what truly happened to her sister, Emilia finds herself on a mission to unlock the mysteries of her own past and uncover the answers she craves.

As long as her sins don't catch up to her first....

Of course, now I've got Two Princes going round in my head. 

What a fascinating writer Keri Maniscalco is. A lot of people were saying Kingdom of the Wicked was YA. The narrative was, but the raunch was borderline. This time around she's gone full NA. And I had to look that term up. I'm still not entirely sure what a New Adult is. I think I'm classed as an Old Adult, or at least a partially used one, perhaps second-hand? But, apparently, sparkly brand-New Adults are a thing now. And that means you can throw a lot more raunch in there. 

I must admit, I rather like the idea of young women (and probably a few men) having their first all-consuming literary crush on the Devil.

Again, I just really liked the female power in this. How unapologetic and self-aware Emilia is, and what a good role model that makes for young women. The strong distinction between lust and love, and how you can desire someone you do not love, and that is perfectly all right. 

There was huge emphasis placed on consent throughout this, which is extremely important, though, at times I did struggle to believe the Prince of Wrath was such a complete gentleman. The embodiment of war... I don't know. Having seen a few post-conflict zones, I struggle with the idea there's much etiquette involved. But, at the same time, it's a romance novel and if War showed his true face, I don't think anyone would be feeling that sexy. So, it's the ultimate power with self-control motif that makes the whole thing fly.

I like it. It's fun.

I chose a violent, bloody shade of red and painted my lips the colour of murder.


His gaze was hard enough to make diamonds jealous.


"You look like a beautiful cataclysm."...

"It's every woman's dream to be likened to a natural disaster."

"A violent upheaval. I'd say it suits."


I believe John Milton, a mortal poet, said it best. Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven. I told you the power of choice, the appeal it holds for me. I would do terrible things, unforgivable things, to choose my destiny. 


Astra inclinant, sed non obligant - The stars incline us, they do not bind us. 

Just a delightful book. I went to bed each night looking forward to the next chapter, whilst working my way through Dostoevsky during the daytime. I must admit, I'm not enjoying that one as much. I've now reverted back to listening to The Binding for a third time, as that's one of the best books ever written and a suitable replacement. Plus, if I do nod off early, I don't miss anything because I remember the story very well.

So, here's to being violent little vixens.

This series is wonderfully entertaining. 

Wednesday 13 April 2022

Musical Interlude: Daddy Ishimwe

My super talented friend Daddy Ishimwe has made a music video to promote his artwork. He's fabulusly multi-talented. If you enjoy, give it a thumbs up and subscribe.

Monday 11 April 2022

The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD

Absolutely outstanding.

It is a story like no other: an epic of endurance against destruction, of creativity in oppression, joy amidst grief, the affirmation of life against the steepest of odds. It spans the millennia and the continents - from India to Andalusia and from the bazaars of Cairo to the streets of Oxford. It takes you to unimagined places: to a Jewish kingdom in the mountains of southern Arabia; a Syrian synagogue glowing with radiant wall paintings; the palm groves of the Jewish dead in the Roman catacombs. And its voices ring loud and clear, from the severities and ecstasies of the Bible writers to the love poems of wine bibbers in a garden in Muslim Spain.

And a great story unfolds. Not - as often imagined - of a culture apart, but of a Jewish world immersed in and imprinted by the peoples among whom they have dwelled, from the Egyptians to the Greeks, from the Arabs to the Christians. Which makes the story of the Jews everyone's story, too.

I'm not entirely sure how I came to have this in my library, but it surpassed all expectation. I do enjoy my history, but it can be a little dry at times - not with this. It was incredibly easy to follow and fairly breathtaking in scope. From the Jewish communities at Elephantine in Egypt, to the horrors of Granada in Spain, and to my home country of England. It really is an amazing story. 

I did not know how deeply words are entwined with Judaism, and the place they hold within the creation story. This was beautifully brought to life in Schama's telling:

While Temple sacrifice was a hierarchically organised business in the hands of the priestly caste, reading was intrinsically a shared, common experience, the impact of its vocalisation not even dependent on literacy. What was said was now becoming a written literature..... The performance assigned to Ezra was all about mouth and ear, about the living force of words. It established, very early on, the Jewish philosophy of reading as unquiet. Jewish reading in the style of the Hebrew Bible, at the dawn of this people’s self-consciousness, is not done in silent solitude (the invention of monastic Christianity); nor is it done for the enrichment of the reflective conscience (though that is not entirely ruled out). Jewish reading is literally loud-mouthed: social, chatty, animated, declamatory, a demonstrative public performance meant to turn the reader from absorption to action; a reading that has necessary, immediate, human implications; reading that begs for argument, commentary, questioning, interruption and interpretation; reading that never, ever shuts up. Jewish reading refuses to close the book on anything.


God is, above all else, words.


...the essence of Jewish identity could not by definition be done away with. The words beat the swords, the words floated free from their material embodiment like the nefesh from the body. So long as someone committed them to memory, so long as someone, somewhere, had copied them, the words would survive the inhalation of everything else.


...a tradition that treated sacred books with as much respect as human bodies. The aged and the damaged books were send to a genizah or allowed to decompose slowly and peacefully, some were even buried in a formal ceremony. Judaism did not shred, tear or burn the word of God. To set fire to a book was as if a living body had been burned on the pyre.


Perhaps the ends of the earth were where the words reached farthest? For all the attempts to burn, expunge and blot them out, to excise and criminalise Hebrew reading, to beat the books out of the Jews, the words travelled on and on through space and time.

There was also a nice bit about the introduction of paper to the Islamic world, apparently recorded in a wonderfully titled book by Tha'ālibī, The Book of Curious and Entertaining Information. Apparently the secret of paper-making was drawn from captives of the Tang dynasty. By the 11th century there were two types of ink, brown made from gall and black from carbon. Official records were written on scrolls two feet long and seven inches wide, and a particularly thin type of paper, known as 'bird's paper' was used for messenger pigeons so as not to slow them down.

The other reason this book drew me in is because, for the past year, I've been pressed face-first into the Mesopotamian era, writing about the fall-out of lugal Zage-Si of Sumer and the semitic King Sargon of Akkad. It's a bit tricky, because 'semitic' is of biblical origin, from Shem, son of Noah, and both the biblical flood and semitic languages occurred about two thousand years earlier, before Shem existed, and therefore it's hard to know what to call that group of languages (Eblaite, Akkadian, Assyrian) before Shem. But, basically, the language group was there, as were the holy trinity of gods (An, Enki and Enlil) and the Seven, for Game of Thrones fans. It's all good fun.

So, although this book is about a period much later than the one I'm writing about, it really gives me a feel for the earlier times, and makes me think I'm on the right track. At one point, I take a city by stealth, where a few people infiltrate it and poison the king. I wasn't sure if I was overstretching things by suggesting you could take an entire city this way, but apparently not. In the Battle for Heibar (628-9), 'fake guests' would sneak into feasts and then turn on their hosts, assassinating them.

Men and women were not originally separated at prayer (a common pattern in all religions, where patriarchy appears to creep in later down the line), the female goddess was likely as important as the male - a celestial couple, date palms remained a symbol of everlasting life - 'the tree that never dies', and many Jews, like Sargon before them, were kick-ass warriors, hired as mercenaries by kings far and wide.

I do tend to enjoy the really ancient history. The further back in time we go and the closer to polytheism we get, the more interested I become. As with Pantalaimon and the concept of daemons in His Dark Materials, I like that people align to different gods, and that different gods bring out different personality traits. Things seem to lose a lot of their lustre when everyone is expected to conform to one divine being. One-size-fits-all might be on the label, but it never works in reality. The era of personal gods just feels a lot more relatable.

Other things I learned along the way - flipping the bird (giving the finger in the UK) was originally an antisemitic taunt, Samuel ibn Naghrillah sounds like an amazing poet and I must look him up, and it is impossible to hear the name Eleazar repeatedly without thinking of comedian Eddie Izzard, which I did throughout a significant portion of this book.

Given the sheer brutality of much of the story - it was quite upsetting to hear the same patterns of prejudice and persecution play out over and over - the book did take a moment to point out that episodes of brutality and massacre were the exception, not the norm. It was heartening to hear stories of Jews, Muslims and Christians living together in peace and harmony for many generations. It is a shame that, even today, such peace and basic human dignity is so reliant on whichever nitwit happens to be in power.

Saturday 9 April 2022

Mysterious Idjwi Rock

A few weeks back I did a video about a trip I took to Idjwi Island with my friend Maia. Whilst going through the photos, I discovered one I'd taken of a strange rock. I thought it might be some sort of carving, so sent it to the Trust for African Rock Art. It appears it might be Batwa hieroglyphs. The chair of TARA sent back some photos of Batwa rock art in Gabon, and the similarity with Knowth in Ireland really got me thinking. 

Friday 1 April 2022

WAG Animal Rescue

Last week, I spent a day at WAG animal shelter in Kigali. This is what life is like for rescued street dogs in Rwanda.

I've been blogging a lot less recently, simply because I've been making more videos. You can check out my channel here for interesting excursions into what I eat in Rwanda, a girlie weekend in Gisenyi and my favourite Kinyarwanda words

Also, if you like the song on the moto at the beginning of the WAG video, check out my cousin, Sali.