Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Dragons Cometh - A Look At The Lost City by Ashleigh Oldfield.

I always get a thrill when Melbourne author Ashleigh Oldfield announces a new book in her steadily growing repertoire and I'm especially pleased to see the long awaited sequel to her 2017 dragon fantasy "Fyrebyrne Island" has finally landed in the laps of her fans. Titled "The Lost City", this second entry in Oldfield's Rachaya series, builds upon the rich mythos from her debut and goes in some really interesting directions that are pleasantly unpredictable. Of course, before I say more, let me give you the guff on Book 2; 

"You play a dangerous game, dragon, you and all your friends. I will not forget that you have spurned my advice and refused to meet with me in parley. You will come to rue this day, of that I can be certain."

Rachaya is well on her way to becoming a fully-fledged dragon and she is determined that when the time comes, she will also be a queen that her people can be proud of. But when dangerous secrets surface from the past, Rachaya realises she is running out of time to help her people return to the fierce, powerful and proud dragons that they once were.

So, as with any second act of a three act play, the objective is to deepen the characters, situations and mythology that have been established. Oldfield has achieved this in spades and has added some really innovative dramatic elements that provide tension and gravitas. Aiming her stories at young adult readers, Oldfield doesn't talk down to them and her writing is really intelligent and thought provoking. It is also tightly woven, with no wasted narrative or unnecessary exposition. Oldfield gets to the point from the get go. There's a great cinematic quality to the story and her visualizations and world building just cry out for a big screen adaptation. There is much here that would translate effortlessly to the screen. 

I guess the only bad point to make about this book is that I now have to wait for Book 3 to see how Ashleigh Oldfield wraps it all up. 

Ash Oldfield & friend at Supanova, Melbourne, 2018.

Ashleigh Oldfield is a fantasy fiction and children’s writer from Melbourne, Australia. Always having a love for the written word, Ash wrote her first stories by moonlight at the tender age of five, long after her parents thought she had gone to bed. To this very day Ash still prefers to write by the light of the moon long after any sensible person has succumbed to sleep. 

with Steve De Niese of The Book Stash podcast.

When she is not working on her latest piece of fiction, Ash enjoys drinking good coffee, taking her dog for walks on the beach and hanging out with her two cats. This year, Ashleigh kicked off a weekly podcast with her husband Steve De Niese. Called "The Book Stash", the podcast is a great little show about reading and writing in which Ashleigh and Steve talk about the craft and what inspires them in the journey. For new writers with an eye to improving their own method, The Book Stash is a must listen. 

The Lost City: Book 2 of the Rachaya Series is out now where good books are sold. 

Buy The Lost City here.

Visit Ashleigh Oldfield here.

Connect with Ashleigh Oldfield here

Tweet with Ashleigh here

Tweet with The Book Stash here.

The Book Stash is on iTunes here.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

I'm Head Over Heels With Evie Snow!

Okay. Now for some lighter fare from me - (that last post was a little heavy wasn't it).

So, I've discovered another grand romance author that I just have to tell you about. I've spent the last couple of weeks completely in thrall with Evie Snow and the first entries in her "Sanctuary" series. I have to confess that I'm more than just a little familiar with Evie because she is actually the brain child of one of my favourite authors and all round good people, Georgina Penney - oh she of the equally grand Blaine sisters trilogy.

Best-selling author Georgina (George) Penney does the actual writing and reads far too many books. Her husband, Tony Johnson (AKA The Kraken) helps out with plot wrangling and is in charge of caffeine distribution. Franky, their surly cat also helps by running the complaints department from his hiding place under the coffee table.

With Evie Snow, Georgina and Tony have gone in a fun direction, crafting novels that are quick fire, sexy and sumptuous. Yet they retain signature aspects of Georgina's approach to romantic fiction - chiefly among them, her knack of dropping in an emotionally weighty undercurrent that serves to lift her characters and stories to a level above the standard romantic fare. 

So I want to focus on two titles today, the first two in the Sanctuary series "Head Over Heels" & "California Dreaming". I actually read these 'arse about'. The relatively short novella Head Over Heels was the introduction to the picturesque California coastal town of Sanctuary (think Monterey smooshed together with Gilmore Girls), followed by California Dreaming, which is a longer form novel that deepens the feel and the place of Sanctuary. It probably matters little, which order you read them in but I'd recommend you play by Evie's rules.

Head Over Heels follows the misadventures (??) of plucky pin-up clothing store owner Madeline Evans. Madeline always spends her July 4th on the beach writing down her goals while she keeps an eye out for her fantasy man. Every year, she watches her almost-prom-date-turned-famous-actor jog along the same beach where she writes her resolutions. But she never expected to actually have to talk to him…

Cal Greyson’s acting career just took a sharp turn for the worse. After losing his bid to star in a blockbuster flick, his steady job at a soap opera is cut short in the most embarrassing way possible. It’s the cherry on the sundae when he falls down during his annual jog through his hometown beach. As the onlookers start recording with their smart-phones, he’s rescued by the most surprising person imaginable…

The former high school classmates hide out in Madeline’s house until the coast is clear. As they revisit the past, a little white lie Madeline spread about Cal in her youth may keep them from fantasizing about their future…

As I mentioned, Head Over Heels is a quick fire read that plays out as a cheeky character study. It's comical, its dialogue is snappy and smart and it dances deftly between the two central characters of Madeline and Cal who have an awkward past that is a touch bittersweet. How they appraise that past and parlay that into a reflection of where they're both at now is engaging, sweet and - did I say sexy? Yeah - it's damn sexy!

California Dreaming  follows the travails of two people who are wrestling with somewhat fractious pasts - always great fodder for good romance. Jared Nairn needs a new start and a good night’s rest. After enduring a combat zone, a rocky divorce, and chronic insomnia, the quaint California town of Sanctuary seems like just the place to rebuild. He hopes that an appointment with the local meditation expert will cure his lack of sleep. After duty on the frontline, hypnosis should be a breeze…

Mai Tran has treated her fair share of men without much interest of dropping their defenses. So when a nervous veteran strides into her office, it’s nothing out of the ordinary… except for the instant attraction that seems to be completely mutual. But with someone spreading false rumors about nefarious activity during Mai’s sessions, she’s hesitant to start a relationship with a client. Any potential scandal could break her and bankrupt her practice… 

After a meditation track mixup, Jared and Mai can’t help but indulge their more passionate natures. When both of their pasts come back to haunt them, the veteran and the hypnotist must decide just how much they’re willing to risk for love…

I feel as though I know this wonderful coastal region of California a lot more than I did before reading California Dreaming. Here, Evie has crafted a delightful and heartwarming romance, filled with small town charm - a'la Gilmore Girls - and an eclectic cast led by the soulful therapist Mai Tran and former soldier Jared Nairn. They are attractive people right off the page and they are well drawn, informed by intriguing back stories that add real depth and complexity and contribute great story moments to the narrative herein. I was invested in them from the outset and quickly came to care for Mai and Jared as their budding romance took some sweet, sexy and quite unpredictable turns.

That beautiful knack, Penney/Snow has of weaving a serious narrative undercurrent to her work makes California Dreaming a thought provoking read. It is always a pleasant surprise to see how the author tackles these and you inevitably leave her stories feeling as though you've encountered something important in them.

Both Head Over Heels and California Dreaming are everything that is lovely about good romantic storytelling. I adored them both.

With more titles coming from Evie Snow in the Sanctuary series and additional series to boot, romance readers will be spoiled for choice. Her website alone is a fantastic portal to explore to get a feel of where her journey is headed. You've simply got to check it out!

Visit Evie Snow here

Connect with Evie Snow here

Tweet with Evie Snow here


Monday, April 23, 2018

Anxiety At The Edge.

I'm back here. 



There has been a disturbing turn in a direction with my health - one that seems inconceivable to me after the past two years of multiple surgeries on my throat

I was in a place towards the end of last year, where it seemed as though we had found a solution to the choking problems I was experiencing. I had begun receiving a series of injections of botulinum toxin - (yeah that botulinum toxin) - in an effort to paralyze a dysfunctional region of my throat that was randomly going into spasm during the act of speech and swallowing.  

After what was a hopeful response, I've had a major setback. My dysfunctional throat, which seems determined to kill me, is not responding to the treatment. To be specific, the injections were designed to paralyze a ring of muscle at the top of my throat - just under the vocal cords - called the cricopharyngeal ring.

In its normal state, that ring of muscle is supposed to relax and contract rhythmically with the act of swallowing, allowing food to pass safely into the oesophagus. During speech, it is supposed to contract and stay contracted in order to facilitate airflow over the vocal cords. 

In me, the cricopharyngeal ring spasms uncontrollably during swallowing and speaking, leaving me at risk of food and liquid regurgitating into my airway and lungs. Food and fluid on the lungs is not a good thing.

Basically - you can drown. And I have come close a few times. 

This all relates back to the dysfunctional nerve supply in my neck that precipitated the surgery I had on my vocal cords in 2016 and 2017. Initially, we believed that only my vocal cords were affected. It turns out the pharynx is involved as well. 

So where to? 

I can't believe I'm saying this - much less typing it - but I'm going back into hospital for more surgery. 

The only credible path for me to take now is to undergo a procedure in which the cricopharyngeal ring, along with part of the pharynx, will be cut in order to neutralize the muscle completely and permanently. By severing the muscle it will be rendered useless and will prevent the pharynx from going into spasm during the act of swallowing and speech. It will also widen the pharynx at the top of my oesophagus, technically making the passage of food easier once the tongue propels food and fluid into it. On paper, it appears straight forward. 


The following diagram sets out the procedure in a fairly sterile manner. It was provided to me by my surgeon yesterday.  

Cricopharyngeal Myotomy (image credit

To access the structures of the neck, they'll create an incision down the left side of my neck, then retract the muscles, veins, arteries and nerves around my pharynx in order to reveal the cricopharyngeal muscle. During the procedure, they'll need to sacrifice an artery and vein that supply my thyroid gland, but these are considered redundant vessels as the thyroid gland is generously supplied by multiple vessels and is quite a vascular gland. The sacrificed vein and artery will be clipped with special titanium clips (so that'll be fancy). Once the cricopharyngeal ring and pharynx are identified, the surgeon will divide (or cut) the ring down to the pharyngeal wall and extend that incision down the pharynx about 5cm. The pharynx itself will then herniate through the incision (see Diagram C) which is the objective - to create a widening of pharynx that will allow food and fluid to pass freely into the oesophagus without the risk of the muscle going into spasm. The surgeon will close up and I'll have a stay in hospital to recover. Aside from a few technical additions to the procedure, that's basically it. 

So, how am I feeling about this?

To be honest, I'm too numb to be frightened at the moment. After multiple procedures and attempts at solving this problem, it's like Groundhog Day to be back here again. I'm exhausted. I have been living day to day (and night) in a state of silent, anticipatory terror. Every time I sit down to a meal, I wonder whether this will be the meal that will cause my throat to seize completely and choke me to death. Every time I hold what little conversation I can hold, I wonder whether the mere act of speech will cause my throat to go into spasm and choke me to death. I said earlier I have come close a number of times. The most frightening occasions have occurred when I have been asleep.

I am frightened at the prospect of this surgery and I know that fear will become more acute as I approach the day - May 4th by the way. There's an old maxim among Nurses that goes "A little bit of knowledge is dangerous." Having entered my 23rd year as a Nurse, the irony of that maxim is not lost on me. I know what's involved. I know the risks. This surgery is delicate. It's a blessing and curse.

I also know under the care of a brilliant surgeon and his team are among the best I have encountered - both as a Nurse and as a patient. I'll be in a facility of which I am familiar. There won't be a lot of strangers there. I trust them implicitly. So, there's a flip side that gives me a little to feel good about.

After two years, I feel like I'm in a no-win situation. I really need to have a win. 


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Shapes - Remembering Jean McEwan

This past week, my family said a tearful farewell to a woman who had a profound influence on our lives. Jean McEwan, my grandmother, passed away after a short illness, aged 95 years. Her funeral was less a solemn service and more a celebration of her life - a life that was full and lived well. The following is a piece my cousin and I put together over a couple of phone calls, plenty of tears and a little bit of laughter. We read this together at Nana's service.


by Dean Mayes and Keryn McEwan.


The squat little heater that sits on the hearth in the North Road living room. Its kerosene globe glows red, warming our bodies as the rain patters the tin roof. We watch the black and white TV; munching her homemade pasties as big as house bricks, or perhaps it was a bowl of her famous pea and ham soup. We play along with the quiz show and we marvel at her sharp mind, her worldly knowledge, as she deftly answers question after question in between the click-clack of her knitting needles - with a wink and a smile.


The tall glass bottles she collects; Alpine soft drink all the colours of the rainbow. She serves them with ice blocks on warm summer days with her legendary Anzac biscuits and we sit under the liquid amber, playing with Matchbox cars at the base of the trunk, contemplating – but never conquering – a climb of that mighty tree. Her eyes were everywhere, our safety never in question when she was nearby. The empty soft drink bottles we carry to the corner shop, exchanging them for coins to then buy bags of lollies. We return to her in our sugar rush and she greets us by her rose bushes with her wink and her smile.


The chintzy silver Christmas tree, the only one I ever knew existed. Adorned with bright, colourful baubles that reflect the love of family gathered in the living room to exchange gifts, warm hugs and festive laughter. She sweeps into the room with platters of treats, inviting us to eat; her bell voice urging, “Come on, come on, there’s more to come.” The tiny kitchen has been prepared, a banquet of her finest cooking. Christmas ham, vegetables, her handmade Christmas puddings and cakes. She stands at the head of the table, ready to receive her diners, always with her wink and her smile.


Her beloved fuschias; her pride and joy. Little fingers always found their way to those fat, pink teardrops to squeeze and delight in the pop of the buds – not appreciating it was too early for them to bloom. There’s not much that makes her wild, but a popped fuschia always does. The fallen leaves of the liquid amber to, so easy to kick through, spread far and wide across the hillside lawn. She chases us with the handle of the rake as she scurries to banish the leaves into neat piles. Or our feats of daring involving that clothesline. The run-up was perfect. Our leaps superhuman. Our giggles merciless. No wink or smile from her then.


She was at the centre of all of us. Mum, Nana, Little Aunty Jean. As we branched out, embraced our callings and created circles of our own, she gave a little bit of herself to ours, ensuring that she would live on in many lifetimes. We are the chef, the hairdresser, the nurse, the businesswoman, the professionals, the servicemen and women. She has seen us achieve and has reveled in our success – always with that wink and that smile.

A friend of mine recently wrote, “I don’t believe in life after death or even in a moment that stays on beyond itself...What I do believe in is momentum – that one thought leads to another; that people leave shapes in other people, and those shapes carry forward.”

Nana has left shapes in all of us.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Dangerous Ideas - A Conversation between Dean Mayes & Alice Fraser

I had the opportunity to catch up with one of my favorite people recently. Alice Fraser is a comedian, writer, podcaster and fascinating interlocutor. Alice is performing her new comedy show "Ethos" across Australia and during her run in Adelaide, we sat down in a little teahouse in the back streets of Adelaide's CBD and recorded an hour of really valuable conversation for her podcast "Tea With Alice".

We wrestled with some dangerous ideas that were a little hard to coax from me initially but eventually we got into a flow where I was able to articulate some thoughts I had about the #MeToo movement - my perceived exclusivity of the movement and how, as a male who has experienced sexual violence from a female perpetrator, the movement seems unable to handle the lived experience of those who don't fit an accepted narrative.

From there, we ventured into more philosophical territory, exploring how the modern discourse can be overwhelming to someone who is trying to understand and extend their understanding of the world beyond their simple origins. think I made the point at one stage that, as I get older, the less I feel I understand of the world and how to navigate my way through it.

We also talked about my adventures with botox and how it is keeping my throat from killing me. Oh - and my adventures in writing a man. 

Alice Fraser is a rare individual with a lightning intellect, a worldly outlook and a huge heart and I always treasure our catch ups. As I said, she is touring her show throughout 2018 here in Australia and the UK so if you're a fan of thought provoking comedy, I highly recommend you catch her show. 

Download & Listen to our conversation here

Visit Alice Fraser here

Tweet with Alice here