International Women’s Day 2023

Another year has passed and we are celebrating the achievements of women worldwide. At a time like this I look back on what I, as a female independently published author in the competitive world of publishing fantasy books, have achieved.

When I stop and take stock, it’s amazing just how far I’ve progressed. Just a measly 30 month ago (two and a half years), I self-published my first epic fantasy novel. Two years after publishing my first book I achieved the USA Today Bestseller moniker.

To date, I have published six books and two novellas, been awarded multiple book awards and my first book has been listed in the Amazon Top 100 bestselling Epic Fantasy books for 2022. That is for all traditionally and self-published books on Amazon. That is quite mind blowing!

And the wonderful thing about it all, is that I love it. I love the whole process from ideation to writing to editing to publishing.

My brain does not stop coming up with ideas for new books, new worlds and new characters. I just don’t have enough hours in the day to think about them and write the story. I have a book ideas folder, where I capture ideas, thoughts and characters, where they simmer until I have time to take them out, air them a bit and really think about them.

I write scenes, sketch the skeleton, flesh out the characters and then store them safely away until I’ve finished editing the next Sentinal book. And there they stay until one of the characters become particularly insistent and invades my dreams, whole scenes unscrolling and demanding to be written in the middle of the night.

I started writing quite late in life. I never planned to be an author. It wasn’t a dream of mine, nor something I was determined to achieve since childhood. I enjoyed words, (a lot more than numbers!) I was always a voracious reader, fantasy being my go to books; Belgarion and his friends kept me company many an evening until I found Lois Bujold McMasters and Miller & Lee’s Liaden Universe.

It wasn’t until 2016, when my life changed quite significantly, and I found myself home alone with my cats and time on my hands. I began writing the Sentinals series and I haven’t stopped since. A creative dam has been breached, and a flood of stories have flowed ever since. Just shows you never know what’s around the corner.

If you are dreaming of becoming a writer, (or even if the thought never crossed your mind!) when the time is right for you, put that pen to paper and let the words flow. It is said there is a story in everyone. I hope you have the opportunity to tell yours. It truly is magical!

I hope you get to celebrate your personal achievements, no matter how big or small. It is those magical moments that inspire us to go on and achieve even more, and each one should be celebrated.

Happy International Women’s Day.

And don’t forget…

If you enjoy fantasy books then you will love my epic fantasy Sentinal series. Sign up to my newsletter and download a free novella called Sentinals Stirring and get notified when my next books are published.

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Book Review Alert: The Skin by J.E Hannaford

Reviewed: September 7th, 2022
Released: October 18th, 2021
Genre: Futuristic Fantasy

‘You cannot fix this world alone, Selkie.’

‘I know. But, when we die, all that is left are shadows of our lives preserved in the memories of those who remain. I plan on leaving an exceptionally long shadow, filled with ripples of moonlight for those I helped, and darker than the worst of nightmares for those who wronged us.’

How far would you go to save your skin?

I’m a selkie, trapped above the waves until I can recover my skin. Humans used to call us seal-wives many years ago – before they broke the planet. I thought that less humans, after the warming, would mean less danger. My kind believed our world was finally recovering.

We were wrong.

Up here, the magic is fading and Old Ones like me are being traded as trophies for rich and powerful humans to display in collections.

Without the Old Ones, the magic fades, without magic, the planet dies.

Humankind has gone too far and someone has to put a stop to it. I just wasn’t expecting it to be me.

Far to the south on his enormous pleasure ship, Barge, Lord Sal hunts for missing Old Ones – with a grand plan to leave his own mark on the world. But, Icidro and Prince Ulises are searching for them too, and this is a world where money talks louder than morals. Read My Thoughts…

Author Interview – Elle Hartford

Author of Beauty & the Alchemist.

Today I am chatting with Elle Hartford who is celebrating the release of her cozy mystery/fairytale retelling Beauty and the Alchemist which releases today, August 12th, 2022.

Helen: Welcome Elle. Congratulations on the relase of your new book Beauty & the Alchemist. It seems like it’s a mixture of multiple genres, tell us a little about it.

Elle: Hi! I’m really excited for this book. It’s called Beauty and the Alchemist, and it’s a cozy mystery retelling of Beauty and the Beast. My main character is an alchemist named Red, who’s really just trying to live her life making potions in fairy tale Belville. But when a criminal is found murdered in a nearby haunted castle, and Red’s best friend takes the blame, she has to jump in and find the truth. There’s ancient curses, supportive friends, and–of course!–a huge library.

Helen: Oh, and you’re playing with fairytales as well. You are mixing up the bag! How did you come up with idea to mix genres?

Elle: My friends on social media have accused me of making up my own genre, and I guess they’re right! But that’s not what I set out to do. I’ve been a long time reader of cozy mysteries (mysteries where the focus is on the puzzle and the community, not so much on grim crimes or police procedure). A lot of cozies have a witchy or “paranormal” theme, so to me, it seemed natural to extend that just a little bit, to include fairy tales and magic creatures. So, often I’ll describe my subgenre as “fairy tale-inspired cozy” or even cozy fantasy. I just love it, because it takes the warm feelings and brain teasers of cozy mystery and adds magic–what could be better?

Helen: Sounds like an excellent new genre to me! I always think covers are the most difficult to create, how about you? How did you decide what the cover should be?

Elle: I really wanted my cover to have a classic cozy mystery look–a picturesque scene with a hint of danger, and the cozy companion front and center, naturally. So William, the black dog, is sitting on the path watching as Red’s cloak disappears into the woods below the ghostly castle. Normally, William would refuse to sit still while Red runs toward the unknown, but I liked how this scene combines both the lost castle of Beauty and the Beast with the dark forest of Little Red Riding Hood (Red’s namesake).

Helen: I think it’s so interesting that you’re mashing up fairytales as well. Tell us about your protagonist, Red.

Elle: My protagonist is the alchemist, Red, who recently gave up a life of being a traveling potion-maker to settle down in rural Belville. She’s smart, resourceful, and a little bit mysterious. She also cares a lot about her friends, even if she won’t always admit it outright–often, she feels like an outsider, even though many people in Belville welcome her immediately. I myself can relate to Red’s shyness when it comes to trusting relationships, so that’s probably part of why I wrote her. But also, more practically, who better to solve mysteries than a natural scientist with botanical knowledge, an alchemical lab, and an arsenal of special tools?

Helen: If Red could answer this question, why would she say we should read your book?

Elle: Red would say that we should read the book for Luca, her best friend in Belville, or for Gloria, her irascible neighbor. Both Gloria and Luca have their own personal struggles that they have to overcome in the course of the book. Red helps them both, in her way, but she would definitely give them most of the credit. 

Helen: Who is your favourite character in your book?

Elle: What a tough question! I love so many of my characters, each for a different reason. But one of the characters who made me smile the most while I was writing is Trent, a young witch who gets roped into the investigation. He reminds me very much of my little brother (though both Trent and my brother are too big now to really be thought of as “little”!).

Helen: When writing cozy fantasy novels, with a touch of fairytale magic, do you still find yourself doing research?

Elle: Tons. If you could see my office, you might think I was an alchemist fresh from the twelfth century–or a scholar of some kind! This series has been a very good excuse to collect books. 🙂 The alchemy that Red practices is based on historical science and mysticism–think things like the Elixir of Life and proto-chemistry. And then, of course, I also research a lot of folklore for each story too, since many of them are based on fairy tales or legends. I love breathing new life into old things!

Helen: Thank you so much for joining me today Elle, and congratulations on the release of your cozy fantasy novel. A final question for you. What advice would give aspiring writers?

Elle: My opinion on this has changed a lot during my journey to publication. I think my advice would be twofold: first, find a critique partner or editor or writing group whose opinion you trust, and who you feel safe sharing your work with. Having someone with a completely different perspective from me point out the highs and lows of my manuscripts has been invaluable–it may feel hard to accept feedback in the moment, but it makes you so much more confident in the end, because you know you’ve covered your bases. So that’s part one: value an outside perspective. But part two is definitely to believe in yourself. If you can do that, truly–and it is very hard!–then you’re golden. A lot of my books boil down to just that.

And catching murderers, of course. 😉

Thank you so, so much for having me on, and giving me a chance to ramble about things I love!

About the Author:

Elle Hartford

Elle adores cozy mysteries, fairy tales, and above all, learning new things. As a historian and educator, she believes in the value of stories as a mirror for complicated realities. She currently lives in New Jersey with a grumpy tortoise and a three-legged cat.

Find more stories of Red and her friends at And while you’re there, sign up for Elle’s newsletter to get bonus material, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, and terrible jokes!

For all the latest news:

You can order Beauty and the Alchemist from Amazon:

UK: eBook | Paperback

USA: eBook | Paperback

As an Amazon Associate I may earn commission from purchases made using these links.

If you enjoy fantasy books then you will love my epic fantasy Sentinal series. As a new threat against Remargaren is discovered, only one man can wake the ancient guards who can protect them, only he doesn’t know how. Start the adventure and stay for the journey. Sign up to my newsletter and download a free novella called Sentinals Stirring and keep up with progress on my next books are published.

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Book Review Alert: Touch by Angela Cairns

Reviewed: July 17th, 2022
Released: 4th June, 2019
Genre: Women’s Romance

She can heal her patients. But when tragedy strikes, can she mend her own broken heart? England, 1986. Physiotherapist Ellie Rose is devastated by the tragic loss of her soulmate. Unable to endure the stifling sympathy of friends, she quits London for the quiet countryside of Essex where she knows no one. And after suffering too long at an awful job, she establishes a holistic health clinic and wonders if she’ll ever reclaim her happiness.

Much to her surprise, Ellie finds solace in healing her clients. But she still can’t release the pain lingering in her soul. Until a charming new neighbor with his own grief opens the door to loving again. Can Ellie, at last, find the strength to let go of the past and live life once more with passion?

Touch is the first book in the uplifting Ellie Rose women’s fiction series. If you like inspiring stories of self-discovery, wounded heroes, and second-chance love, then you’ll adore Angela Cairns’ beautiful tale. Read My thoughts…

Author Interview – ES Fein

Author of A Dream of Waking Life.

Join me as I chat with ES Fein about his psychological thriller which released on May 6, 2022. Interested in lucid dreaming and existential discussions? Then check out his podcast.

Helen: Welcome Eric. I am so happy to be speaking to you today about your new book. It sounds so cool, and definitely a little mind bending!

Eric: A Dream of Waking Life is a philosophical, psychological thriller that tells the story of one man’s journey through space, time, and mind to not only discover his true identity but also the love of his life—a woman who keeps slipping through his fingers and into another reality. A thought-provoking meditation on the thin line between what is real and what is not, A Dream of Waking Life will leave readers questioning how far they would go to understand the nature of their own existence and how much they would sacrifice for love. 

Helen: Oh, that sounds deep and very intriguing. As is your cover. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Eric: The cover represents the three predominant dreams/worlds/realities (part of the grand mystery of the story is the uncertainty of what is real) that the protagonist is stuck in. I wanted the cover to appear as if these realities are blending into one another. The two figures standing and looking at the large tower, called “The Tower of God” in the story, are the main characters. You will also notice a small figure in the sky watching over them. I won’t say who that is. You’ll have to read the story to find out!

Helen: It is an interesting cover, you want to flip it around and inspect the alternate view to see what is different, because it is not a true reflection. What made you write such a complex and thought provoking book?

Eric: I wrote this book as a reflection on my lifelong experiences with lucid dreaming, existential confusion, bipolarism, thousands of psychonautical trips using DMT and other potent psychedelics, and the most important thing in existence: love.

Helen: I’ve never even heard of lucid dreaming, so colour me interested. I’m definitely going to be checking that out, when I find the time lol! I’m knee-deep in editing at the moment and my deadline is looming. You have some great reviews for your book already, and ‘unputdownable’ is the clear message. What genre does this book fit into?

Eric: I predominantly read and write scifi. A Dream of Waking Life isn’t pure scifi, but it definitely fits into the category. I love scifi stories because they are constantly forcing readers to wonder about reality and ask the big questions of existence: Who are we? Why are we here? What’s the purpose of reality? What the heck is going on?

Helen: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, it is such an achievement. What made you first put pen to paper and write a book?

Eric: I’ve been writing and telling stories for as long as I can remember. I remember in preschool, I used to have kids laughing and jumping in excitement as I made up wild and zany stories about what I had gone through on my way to school. The other kids called it “Eric story time,” and it felt as natural as breathing to me.

Helen: When writing do you prefer silence? or do you surround yourself with music?

Eric: Always! I listen to jazzhop or lofi hip hop when I write.

Helen: Is there anything random you would like share about yourself?

Eric: I was born without a right pectoral muscle. It used to cause incredible depression and self-hatred, even leading me to attempt suicide several times when I was young. Now, at 33, I see it as a blessing that has taught me how to accept imperfection and find beauty in all forms.

Helen: I am so sorry to hear you had to deal with such issues, but really happy that you found your way out and have embraced who you are and can appreciate all that is around you, and that you channelled your emotions and creativity into writing. What is the most useful piece of advice you have found about writing?

Eric: The author, Robert Heinlein, said in a book of writing tips something along the lines of: “Throw it all up! The only way to write is to throw up everything until it’s a complete mess. Once it’s all out, then you can go back and sift through the barf to find the actual story you’re looking for.”

Helen: Thank you Eric, for spending time with me today, I’ve loved chatting with you. Just to close out, is there any advice you would like to share with any aspiring writers?

Eric: Don’t expect to succeed in the traditional sense. If you aren’t writing because you enjoy writing, this will almost undeniably be a heart-breaking experience for you.

About the Author:

Reader, author, and purveyor of top-shelf science fiction, speculative fiction, and fantasy. My favorite subjects to read and write about include transhumanism, esotericism, cosmological ontology, existential ontology, Eastern philosophy, hard sci Fi, soft sci Fi, time travel, space exploration, psychological exploration, pansexualism, religion, mythology, space opera, experimentation with entheogens, and more. I like strange characters dealing with strange situations. Check out some free short stories on my site:

For all the latest news:

You can preorder A Dream of Waking Life from Amazon:

UK: eBook | Paperback

USA: eBook | Paperback

As an Amazon Associate I may earn commission from purchases made using these links.

If you enjoy fantasy books then you will love my epic fantasy Sentinal series. As a new threat against Remargaren is discovered, only one man can wake the ancient guards who can protect them, only he doesn’t know how. Start the adventure and stay for the journey. Sign up to my newsletter and download a free novella called Sentinals Stirring and keep up with progress on my next books are published.

Success! You're on the list.

Mailchimp to receive marketing, updates, and other emails from the site owner. Use the unsubscribe link in those emails to opt out at any time.

Book Review Alert: Immortal Games by Lauretta Hignett

Reviewed: May 2nd, 2022
Released: April 27th, 2022
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Immortality sucks.

Just ask Imogen Gray: Over two-hundred thousand years old and teetering on the edge of total insanity. Strong as a shifter, faster than a vampire, Imogen’s walked the earth forever, always alone, never growing, never changing.

Imogen’s on a mission to find the next reincarnation of her father, the only person in the world who knows how to complete the transition to human, and get rid of the curse of immortality.

But when her delinquent teenage ward accidentally summons a powerful Fae Prince through the portal, suddenly, finding her dad has to take a backseat. There’s a homicidal maniac on the loose, one who has his eyes on the Vampire King. Her Vampire King. Worse than the burning jealousy is the fact that the Fae Prince seems to know exactly what she is.

Immortal Games is Book Two in the fast, fierce and fast-paced Urban Fantasy series. A slow-burn romance, it includes a diverse cast of characters, shifters, witches, fae, cryptids and more. Read My Thoughts…

Book Review Alert: Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray

Reviewed: April 23rd, 2022
Released: March 3rd, 2022
Genre: YA Fantasy

Magic doesn’t exist in the broken city of Lkossa anymore, especially for girls like sixteen-year-old Koffi. Indentured to the notorious Night Zoo, she cares for its fearsome mythical creatures to pay off her family’s debts. But when they are threatened by the Zoo’s cruel master, Koffi unleashes a power she doesn’t fully understand.

As the son of a decorated hero, Ekon destined to become an elite warrior. Until a fire at the Night Zoo upends his future and, on the brink of his final rite of passage, Ekon is cast out – his reputation left in tatters.

For Koffi and Ekon, the outlook is bleak – unless they can capture the Shetani, the vicious monster that plagues their city. As Koffi and Ekon enter the Greater Jungle, a world steeped in wild magic and danger, the tentative alliance between them is tested to the extreme.

The hunt begins – but are they the hunters or the hunted? Read My thoughts...

Book Review Alert: Sword and Shadow by Michelle Sagara

Reviewed: April 20th, 2022
Released: February 22nd, 2022
Genre: Fantasy

Beyond the Emperor’s law
In the city of Elantra, the law is upheld by a few groups, and the most feared are the Wolves—the Emperor’s executioners. The newest member of this elite force is Severn Handred.

Granted a leave of absence to pursue information about his unknown past, Severn joins a mission to an enclave well outside the boundaries of the Empire. And he will be in danger the entire time. Still, the instincts that led him to the Wolves and the sense of duty that keeps him there can’t be discarded as easily as the tabard he wears.

While he’s in the heart of the West March, enmeshed in a tangled web of mysteries that have been held for centuries, Severn’s belief in justice is going to be tested. It’s one mortal man and his single ally against a community of immortals who will kill to keep their secrets. But they don’t know who they’re up against. Read My thoughts...

Book Review Alert: Rule of the Night by M.H Woodscourt

Reviewed: April 16th, 2022
Released: January 20th, 2022
Genre: Science Fantasy

Blood called to the stars.
Darkness will answer.

After facing the Wildwood’s wrath, Lekore must set his sights on protecting his people from a threat descending from the depths of space. The key to safeguarding the cities of Erokel lies in an ancient shield system—if it can be repaired in time.

And the faraway threat isn’t Lekore’s only trouble. Closer dangers draw near to claim him and his abilities for their own. Somehow, he must wrestle with his newfound right to the throne, while he fends off a Tawloomez invasion, a slave revolt, and the worshippers of the Night—with only four days until first contact.

Meanwhile, the evil beyond his world has other plans… Read My thoughts…

Book Review Alert: Dragon Storm by Sloane McClain

Reviewed: April 14th, 2022
Released: March 31st, 2022
Genre: Paranormal Romance Fantasy

Taylor Lyon knows how to take care of herself. Her family made sure. But when she pulls an injured man from the night surf, she finds herself defenseless against his charms. Plus, the energy she picks up from him matches that of the sword her aunt hid while dying of cancer. A sword the women in her family have protected for centuries. Taylor has no intention of giving it to the wrong person. Is it possible this waterlogged stray is the rightful owner?

            Iain Pendragon can’t believe fate dropped him in the hands of a Sword Maiden who should know the whereabouts of one of the four remaining missing swords. Swords his family require to imprison an ancient evil for eternity. Claiming the sword means claiming his destiny and it leaves no room for love.

            But Taylor can only tell if the sword she guards is Iain’s by touching it once more. That means recovering it from its hiding place. If Taylor can even find it. Taylor worries that spending more time with Iain will make her fall more in love with him. Iain is concerned that he’ll be forced to choose between the woman he’s coming to love and the fate of the world. Read My thoughts…