New multimedia fairytale app looking for public support

Writer Alex Nicholson and musician Pam Shaffer know a thing or two about fairytale romances. They have been working for nearly a year on Metalalia, the new storytelling app that would bring them back together, from half a world away. Now, they have been reunited, and their Kickstarter has gone live.

“Metalalia was formed when Pam started writing accompaniments to my original fairytales,” says Alex, writer and co-manager of the project. “She lives in L.A. and I live in Staffordshire, so it was a way of feeling closer to each other while we were apart.”

“We were inspired by the lithographs of William Blake,” Pam says. “We wanted to update the format for modern technology, to present favourite myths and fairytales in a new way, and serve the needs of our 21st century society.”

Writer Alex Nicholson and musician Pam Shaffer

Now, together, they are creating stories that take traditional tales and give them a speculative twist, rebuilding them in new worlds, while also infusing them with Metalalia’s ideology of diversity and agency.

A screenshot from the Metalalia app

“Metalalia wants that feeling of confidence, of power, of ‘protagonism’, to be available to everyone,” says Alex. “Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker are all well and good, but there are other kinds of people in the world, and all deserve to have their stories told.”

You can visit the official Metalalia website here –

U Star Novels launch steamy mash-up of Pride & Prejudice

Pride & Prejudice & Debauchery book cover image.Award winning publisher of personalised novels, U Star Novels, has launched their own steamy mash-up of Pride & Prejudice.

Pride, Prejudice & Debauchery features the original text of Jane Austen’s beloved novel with all-new scenes of naughtiness, frolics and sexual misadventure taking place within the prim drawing rooms of Pemberley.

The new passages include startling details of Jane’s brief stay at Netherfield, Lydia’s steamy wedding night with Mr Wickham and a number of steamy encounters between Elizabeth and Darcy.

The publisher, who already allows anyone to step into Pride & Prejudice with their personalised version of the original edition, is also offering any couple to star as Elizabeth Bennet & Mr Darcy in Pride, Prejudice & Debauchery as well.

“Sex was one of the topics Jane Austen was never explicit about in her novels, but if she had, we think it would be something like this. Our personalised version of Pride & Prejudice is exceptionally popular, so too are our personalised romantic and erotic novels which take 30 details about a couple and weave them throughout a 160-180 novel, so Pride, Prejudice & Debauchery is really a mash-up of our most popular products too,” says Katie Olver, founder of U Star

Here is your chance to join the lives of these Victorian sisters, and experience their passions and lust for yourself!

Starlight Storytellers: Project launched to benefit sick children

The author of the Spiderwick Chronicles, Tony DiTerlizzi, has launched, in collaboration with Starlight Children’s Foundation and publisher Simon & Schuster, a literary project to benefit sick children.

Starlight Storytellers is a national venture that will see authors, illustrators and storytellers visiting hospitals and hospices around the UK to bring books to life for children that are suffering from illness. As a global ambassador of Starlight Children’s Foundation, DiTerlizzi hopes that Starlight Storytellers will help hundreds of children to escape the fear and pain of their illness as they learn to harness the power of their imagination through narratives and drawings. With the support of Simon & Schuster, Starlight is providing a programme of storytelling events in hospitals and hospices throughout the country with DiTerlizzi launching the initiative by hosting two reading events in hospitals in Edinburgh and London.

Starlight Storytellers logo

The Starlight Storytellers’ line-up will also include Sue Hendra, the author and illustrator of Barry the Fish With Fingers and Norman the Slug with the Silly Shell, Claire Freedman author and co-creator of Aliens Love Underpants, and the author of the Stunt Bunny series, Tamsyn Murray. It will also feature hospital visits from bestselling author Cathy Hopkins, of the series Million Dollar Mates, and the award-winning author of Girl, Missing, Sophie McKenzie.

Starlight, which grants wishes for seriously and terminally ill children and provides entertainment in hospitals and hospices, invited DiTerlizzi to become a Global Ambassador in March this year as a result of his long-standing commitment to the cause in the US. He became a supporter of Starlight, which champions the benefits of play therapy in the treatment of children, when he was frequently in hospital with his daughter who suffered from seizures at a young age. Through this experience, he saw that when a poorly child is distracted by play and entertainment they are less anxious and feel less pain. Research has shown that play therapy can speed recovery as happy children respond much better to treatment and he hopes that Starlight Storytellers will dramatically improve the hospital experience of hundreds of seriously ill children in the UK each year.

“I am absolutely passionate about the lifelong importance of using your imagination – you’re never too old to create a new world, adventure or companion in your mind. For children that are suffering from illness, storytelling can offer an escape from their pain and fear, which in turn can help them to get better more quickly.

“Bringing the joy of books, stories, illustrations and imagination to young people’s lives is what I’ve been doing my whole working life, and I am thrilled and honoured to share in Starlight’s mission of brightening the lives of sick children and their families,” he says.

To find out more about this literary project you can visit DiTerlizzi’s official website or the Starlight Children’s Foundation

You can also read about how Tony DiTerlizzi became involved in the initiative in a recent Daily Telegraph article, The Healing Power of Storytelling.

A review of My Very First App

Welcome screen of My Very First AppI had never before considered reviewing an app on Fantasy Book Review but when Night & Day Studios – the people behind the toddler apps Peekaboo Barn and Peekaboo Wild – suggested doing so I could not think of a single reason why I shouldn’t, especially as My Very First App is connected with Eric Carle, the author of accompanying books and of course the classic children’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

I must have read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to both my young children at least a couple of hundred times and not only have they never grown tired and listening to – and looking at – it, I have never grown tired of reading it. I can’t say that about many toddler’s books. I’m no art expert and have no idea what type of art Carle utilises, all I know is that both myself and my children find it enchanting.

Matching a bird and its next on My Very First AppAnd all of the charm of Eric Carle’s work has been captured in this lovely little app that both my 4 year old and 2 year old have greatly enjoyed playing on. There are 3 levels of game play: Easy (ages 1-3), Medium (ages 2 and up) and Hard (ages 3 and up). In Easy mode the screen is divided in half (see image to the right) and a child can swipe the lower and upper halves to find a match (for example, the colour green with a picture of trees, or a bird and its home, a nest).

The medium and hard modes are based on the card game Memory; players are presented with a set of cards face down and must find a pair by flipping over cards and identifying their matches or their related concepts.

It is beautiful to look at and the lady’s voice which confirms correct matches is clear and pleasant.

my-very-first-app-4The app comes with Colours and Animal Homes for all three levels but you can add to these by purchasing Numbers, Shapes, Food, and Animal Sounds from the app-store for 99 cents (59p) each. Later this year Words and Motion will be added.

The app retails at $1.99 (that’s just over £1.20).

Yes, you can get memory games as apps for free but none so stylish and so lovingly done. I should also point out that there was an issue with the additional in-app purchases when I was reviewing this app, but this was fixed by an update and there have been no problems since. Initial reviews of the app were critical due to this glitch but I can happily say that the problems are no longer there.

I would happily recommend this app to parent who are looking for a stylish little app that will keep ages 1 –5 entertained for many hours.

For more information and to purchase the app, visit You can follow Night & Day Studios on Facebook here – and Twitter @nightdaystudios.

A new fantasy-adventure book for young readers

An image of the book cover of The Mahogany Door.“The Mahogany Door,” book one of J. Mark Boliek’s The Bruinduer Narrative series, is told by an unnamed grandfather who captivates a group of children with his fascinating story, first out on a beach then huddled around the fireplace of a beautiful mansion by the shore as a fierce thunderstorm rages outside.

The story centers around three friends, separated years ago by a traumatic event, who are compelled to reunite so that they may once again pass through “The Mahogany Door” and into the fantasy Vryheids world of Bruinduer. They must fulfill a destiny they left undone nine years before to keep Bruinduer from collapsing. One of the friends lost his parents and his memory in a horrible accident and has no idea what to expect. One knows too well and has tried to forget. The third friend’s insistence that they must return to Bruinduer is mysterious and suspicious.

The friends’ journey back to the world behind “The Mahogany Door” leads to the book’s “teaching moments,” which resonate with the author’s own life – about things in life not always being what they seem, about the value of friendship and the importance of completing tasks, and about the secret to tapping into the power of a their only  “guide” along the journey, a monstrous being they call “Billy.” And the end is designed to leave young readers anxious for book two.

Author J. Mark Boliek is a former football player and military man, a computer programmer and musician, and the son veteran broadcast journalist Dave Boliek of WTVD-TV. He began working on The Bruinduer Narrative nine years ago. His initial 157-page draft turned into three distinct stories in which the first tale, “The Mahogany Door,” evolved into a 353-page children’s fantasy novel. He is currently working on the other two books in what he expects to be a trilogy.

“The Mahogany Door” features cover art an interior illustrations by California artist Lauren Gallegos. It is published in paperback with a typeface and size optimized for young readers ages 10 and up. The songs on the accompanying CD, written primarily by the author, reflect certain themes in the book, from “All Alone” to “Here Is My Pride, Here Is My Anger.”

Elif Shafak in conversation with Richard Cohen

Turkey’s biggest selling female novelist Elif Shafak speaks with Richard Cohen, visiting Professor of Creative Writing and Publishing Studies at Kingston University, about her writing life. The discussion is to be followed by a question and answer session and book signing.

Image: Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak is an award-winning writer and the most widely read woman writer in Turkey. Her books have been translated into more than thirty languages. She blends Western and Eastern traditions of storytelling to generate fiction that is both local and universal. Her work draws on diverse cultures and literary traditions, as well as deep interest in history, philosophy, oral culture, and cultural politics. Shafak’s writing breaks down categories, clichés, and cultural ghettoes, bringing out the multiple stories of minorities, immigrants, women, subcultures and global souls. She also has a keen eye for black humour, as well as spirituality and Sufism.

Elif Shafak was born in France, in 1971; spent her teenage years in Madrid and has lived around the world – but still sees Istanbul as her base. Currently she divides her time between London and Istanbul. Shafak has published nine books, seven of which are novels. She writes in both Turkish and English. Her most recent novel, written in English, THE FORTY RULES OF LOVE was published in the USA in February 2010. Selling more than 550,000 copies it became a record best-seller in Turkey. Shafak is also a best-selling author in Italy, France and Bulgaria. Her memoir Black Milk (On Motherhood, Writing and the Harem Within) will be published by Viking in Spring 2011. Her previous novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, brought Shafak under prosecution due to the words uttered by her Armenian fictional characters. The charges were ultimately dismissed. Her next novel is set in London in the 1960s and 70s and concerns the experiences of an immigrant family.

Elif Shafak in conversation with Richard Cohen at the Culture Cafe, Rose Theatre, 24-26 High Street, Kingston-upon-Thames, KT1 1HL Monday, 7th March 2011, 1-2pm. £5 call 0871 230 1552 or visit

For more information on the author, visit

Grandma from Kent wins The Munch Time Storytelling Competition

Image: Jamelia, Munch the Cow and Karen TolhurstKaren Tolhurst, a grandma from Kent, has been chosen to have her first children’s story published as a book. She was chosen from hundreds of entries during Munch Bunch’s nationwide search for the UK’s best children’s story writers.

The Munch Time Storytelling Competition encourages parents to spend more quality time with their children and urges families to enjoy some storytelling time together. 10 regional winners were also chosen by the judges panel of children. They won the chance to meet Jamelia and receive their cash prizes of £500.

A survey by Munch Bunch revealed that one in 10 parents in the UK have not read to their child for at least six months blaming household chores (35%), cooking dinner (31%) and long office hours (21%) for getting in the way of spending quality time with their children. However, eight in 10 believe reading books will help their child become a well-rounded individual.

“As a mum, I know how important storytelling is to develop reading, writing and creative skills, which is why I fully support the Munch Time campaign. I thoroughly enjoyed judging this year’s Munch Time Storytelling Competition entries. The calibre of the stories was fantastic and it was so difficult to choose the best,” said singer-songwriter, actress and mum Jamelia who presented Karen with her prize.

“I am so thrilled to have won this competition, and had to read the email informing me I was the national winner several times before I was able to really take it in. I just couldn’t believe it! I loved reading to my children when they were small, and having recently become a grandparent, wanted to write my own stories to read to my granddaughter. Seeing the Munch Bunch® storytelling competition, was just the incentive I needed to get started. It is an amazing and exciting turn of events to think that what started out as a story written for the fun of it will now be illustrated and published as a book,” said Karen on her win.

Karen won a cash prize of £1,000 and an all expenses paid trip to London to receive her winner’s certificate. Her story ‘Munch Goes on Holiday’ is to be published as a book for families around the UK to read.

Sally-Ann Spencer on translating The Dwarves

Markus Heitz might not be a name you are overly familiar with, and I wouldn’t blame you. But if you are reading this in Europe, are a native German, or really love your fantasy, then you’ll know he is the author of the hugely popular The Dwarves, and its sequels.

The book has only recently been translated into English, and we can thank the talented translator-extraordinaire Sally-Ann Spencer, who is responsible for many German to English translations, both in and out of fantasy.

“Turning German ‘Zwerge’ into English-speaking dwarves isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. For one thing, the English word ‘dwarf’ has two possible plurals: ‘dwarfs’ and ‘dwarves’. Which should be used for the translation? The dwarves of Girdlegard bear a certain resemblance to their counterparts in Middle Earth, so I went with the version popularized by Tolkien. But hang on a minute, where does the word ‘Girdlegard’ come from? Readers of German know the dwarves’ homeland as ‘das Geborgene Land’, which means the ‘safe’, ‘secure’ or ‘snug’ land. Unlike the English equivalent, ‘Das Geborgene Land’ sounds right for a fantasy world and conjures up various associations that can’t be evoked by ‘safe’ or any other English adjective. Halfway through translating the first volume, I came up with an alternative English name that focuses on conveying the symbolic meaning: Girdlegard, which echoes the ‘g’ of the German name and alludes to the double girdle protecting the dwarves’ homeland.”

Head on over to the Orbit website to keep reading of her experience in translating the Dwarves.

Introducing Knighttime, an ongoing humorous fantasy adventure

The Hazardous Players have been building a fantasy adventure which constructs multiple narratives using various media: writing, video, audio performance and art to create a story that is an expanding fantasy for children and adults.  Though a non-traditional approach to literature, it is an unique way to tell a story, harkening back to the time of episodic adventures on the radio.

Image 1: The Hazardous Players

Each week The Hazardous Players offer up a new chapter in the adventures of good Sir Cottington and Sir Bratwurst.  Listen as they reluctantly stumble their way through the land of Udenland, while trying to avoid being eaten by any number of terrifying beasts. Along the way they meet several of the eccentric members of Udenland society who more often than not, prove a greater challenge than the terrifying beasts.

Fortunately for the knights they have with them the Henchwoods Guides, the essential guides for identifying the myriad of creatures and plants which pose a threat to their safety and generally well being.  Regularly the guide is updated with illustrations and facts about new discoveries, including everything from migration habits to the best way to avoid being eaten (usually involves running).

The Problem in Pimpleton
Good Sirs Cottington and Bratwurst have been commanded by King Theodor to ride to the village of Pimpleton, where they must face a terrible foe. Will the knights rise to the occasion and bravely face this terrifying menace that is bringing chaos to the kingdom? Don’t count on it.

Listen to the Problem in Pimpleton now

The Secret of Donotalado
Once again King Theodor plots to rid himself of Sir Cottington and Sir Bratwurst.  With the assistance of his trusted advisor Reg, they scheme of a quest that will take the two knights well beyond the borders of Udenland, and hopefully to their deaths.

Listen to the first episode of The Secret of Donotalado

Sir Cottington and Sir Bratwurst, on the orders of the King, have reluctantly begun their next adventure in search of the Mystic Painting of Donotalado.  First stop-the unsavoury village of Pimpleton, scene of the knights first tale, The Problem in Pimpleton.  The Knights hope to track down their unlikely friend, Nigel, the Emerald Forest Twin Tail, (a very rare and intelligent dragon) who has vast knowledge of…well, pretty much everything. If anyone knows what this painting thing is suppose to do, surely he must…maybe…yes, yes I’m certain…pretty sure anyway. Upon reaching Pimpleton, they are greeted by some of its citizenry, including Pimpleton’s finest, Sheriff Dogberry, who helps steer them on their way. With the help of two charming  young lads, Colin and Timothy, they find themselves at the Tinkers Cuss Inn where the local criminal class likes to hang their hats.

Listen to the second episode of The Secret of Donotalado

Image 2: The Hazardous Players

Having arrived at The Tinkers Cuss Inn, the infamous way station of Udenland’s criminal element, our two heroes settle in for what they hope is a relaxing evening of rumination and imbibing. The Tinkers Cuss, or, as it is know to the locals, “The Cuss”, has long been a gathering spot for the more despicable members of Udenland society. Drawn there by the “ask no questions, especially about how you got that scar and whether that’s blood on your shirt ” policy of proprietor Robert Thiggleswade.  The outlaws and thugs of Udenland find The Cuss a welcoming place to convene, in order to drink, brawl, plan criminal activities and compare knitting projects (oddly popular with Udenland’s reprobates). That is, until the recent addition of Nigel to the local law enforcement.  Nigel’s presence managed to alarm The Cuss’s usual clientele, causing them to give Pimpleton a wide berth. As word spread of Nigel’s existence the less appealing, (in Roberts opinion) dragon-spotters began to arrive, hoping for a glance at the rare Emerald Forest Twin Tail. Fortunately for Robert, Nigel’s recent departure has brought about a renaissance in villainess behaviour, as many of The Cuss’s traditional patrons have begun to return. Unfortunately for the knights, one Horatio Bladderstone, self-professed scoundrel and all-round miscreant, has intruded upon their evening of leisure. The ignominious Monsieur Bladderstone realizing that Sir Cottington and Sir Bratwurst are quite ignorant of what dangers lay ahead for them, helpfully educates them to the impending lethal hazards they face. Listen as the knight’s anxiety levels grow to ever-greater proportions as they prepare for the next stage of the journey,  and, discover if Horatio Bladderstones intentions are honourable or dastardly.

Listen to the third episode of The Secret of Donotalado

Our brave knights make a quick escape from Pimpleton and the devious charm of Horatio Bladderstone.  Their path leads them into the uncharted and mysterious forest north of Pimpleton.  The forest we know to be populated by “dangerous and magical creatures”, as report by Mr. Bladderstone. Here, in order to survive, they must rely on stealth, courage and fortitude, all traits I must point out, that our knights severely lack.  As they stumble on through the dense wilderness, they draw the attention of the local inhabitants, who don’t general appreciate uninvited guest trespassing in their territory.

Listen to the fourth episode of The Secret of Donotalado

Finding themselves imprisoned by the Pixies, (also known as The Fachan), Sir Cottington and Sir Bratwurst have spent the night in their cramped cell arguing over which of them would make a better side dish for Mortimer’s breakfast. Mortimer, being a large, terrifying, monstrous…what? we have no idea.  Even The Henchwoods Guide has no entry on Mortimer’s particular species. Unknown to the knights, the pixies have been charged to guard and protect a great treasure, which may explain the pixies somewhat peevish behaviour towards trespassers. Of course Cottington’s attitude doesn’t help their situation much either. The Fachan are known for being exceedingly stubborn and single-minded. The Verdant Forest Clan is especially proud of their clan’s pigheadedness and their excessively harsh punishments. Sirs Cottington and Bratwurst have quite a fight ahead of them if they want to avoid being digested by Mortimer.  Can the knights quell the pixie queen’s anger and escape being devoured? Or, perhaps they will find help from an unexpected source? Or, maybe pigs will fly, who knows? We could go on like this all day.

Listen to the fifth episode of The Secret of Donotalado

Egad! Yes! Egad I say! And I don’t say that very often, (I mean really, who does?) could this be the end of Sir Cottington and Sir Bratwurst? Well, we discussed this before, not likely.  Without Cottington or Bratwurst no story. Sorry, now I have ruined the moment, let me try this again. EGAD!!! Is Mortimer the vicious…thing, going to devour Sir Cottington and Sir Bratwurst? SAY IT ISN’T SO!!! The Knights having taken a wrong turn find themselves cornered by Mortimer at an ancient Druid Stone Circle, deep in darkest part the Great Cottington Forest. OH NO! Why are there monkeys drawings on this page? NO REALLY!!! why are there monkeys here?  It’s just weird. DON’T WORRY!!! it will make sense once you have listened to ACT VI of The Secret of Donotalado.

Listen to the sixth episode of The Secret of Donotalado

OK, we admit it; things have gotten a bit strange, what with the monkeys, glowing lights and bizarre magic in the forest.  What could it all mean?  Do we care?  Well of course we care! Would we be making these stories if we didn’t care!? Really how rude.  Do we care, indeed! With Nigel’s arrival perhaps some things will be explained.  He is the oldest know creature in Udenland, certainly the most brilliant.  When it comes to “been there, done that” Nigel’s definitely your man, er… Dragon In this episode our hero’s find themselves in one of the most beautiful areas in all of Udenland. The Inflorescence Plain, one of the loveliest and comparatively least dangerous parts of the kingdom.  Though its past is tainted with blood, as it was the location of many battles early in the history of Udenland.  It is now vast  kaleidoscope of color since flowers fill the vista as far as you can see. Something Sir Cottington greets with a hardy “eh” and a shrug as he has about as much depth as a glass of spilt milk. So now they are three stalwart travellers in search of the elusive secret.  All hoping to solve the Secret of Donotalado and the mysteries of the stone circles, they travel forth into the unknown, prepared for anything, except maybe the approaching storm that is ACT VII of the Secret of Donotalado.

Listen to the seventh episode of The Secret of Donotalado

Chris Beckett’s hard-hitting child abuse story to appear in Interzone

There have been a series of high profile child abuse, neglect and protection cases in Britain in the past year or so. One of these was the Child P case.

Chris Beckett is a Science Fiction writer who has a day job as senior lecturer in social work at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. He has authored a number of academic textbooks on social work theory, ethics and child protection. This experience as a social worker also informs his fiction. His prize-winning collection of stories contains many first published in Interzone, a British short SF story magazine. Chris’s experience in child protection is critical to his new story ‘Johnny’s New Job’. That story is based on his reaction to the Baby P and similar cases.

The story will appear in Interzone’s March 2010 issue number 227 along with Chris Beckett’s editorial on its genesis. Copies of this should be in UK newsagents and some bookshops from 5th March but around 10 days later in the US.

Chris Beckett’s first Interzone story appeared in October 1990 and since then over 20 of his stories have appeared. His second novel ‘Marcher’ from 2008 was based on stories which first appeared in Interzone and made extensive use of his social work experience.

Interzone, a bimonthly magazine of speculative fiction, is renowned as one of Britain’s leading short story showcases and has developed an international reputation with authors and readers. Interzone discoveries often go on to a career in writing after youthful or early appearances with short fiction in its pages. 1980’s examples are Charles Stross and Greg Egan and more recent generations of British authors, like Liz Williams, Tony Ballantyne and Chris Beckett, have spread their wings beyond the UK and Interzone with novels and/or publication in US short story magazines.