Xalien the Purple Alien – Review by Katy Dale

Xalien The Purple Alien, by author Michelle Path, is a children’s book based around three siblings who discover an alien has crash landed in their back garden. They then befriend the alien and take her on an adventure to a fair for a day trip.

The book is well illustrated, with pictures that help bring the key points of the text to life. There are a couple of occasions when the placement of the picture interferes with the natural flow of the text and may prove confusing to a child trying to follow the words on the page. However, the majority of illustrations emphasise the humorous moments of the text, helping to engage the child reader with the story.

The author does well in mixing the two worlds together. Throughout the book, references are made to how Xalien’s home planet differs from ours. The author notes that Xalien’s people can hover and fly to places they need to get to, much to the enjoyment of the three siblings. The children continually explain how their world works, how humans walk, eat and communicate. This provides many humorous moments in the book, with the children laughing at how Xalien interprets the world she finds on earth. This is highlighted in Xalien sticking out her tongue as a way of greeting her new friends. To the children in the book, and the children reading the text, the humour of this moment instantly dispels any fears at this new creature and creates a warm feeling for the alien.

This book not only paints the alien in a positive light; the three children within the text are welcoming and work together throughout the story. It is unclear who is the oldest; none of them stand out as a clear leader but instead all collectively help Xalien become accustomed to earth life. Indeed, it is the three children that are at the core of the text, rather than Xalien. They are instantly welcoming, and do not judge Xalien because she is different. Throughout the book, they take the time to explain how things work and do not become irritated when Xalien does things differently to them. Instead, they calmly explain how to do it and let her try it for herself. The book ends on the unity of the children; they now share a secret which binds them closer together. Indeed, the final illustration of the book shows the three children standing together, leaving us with a final image of their bond. For the children readers of this book, the subtle message is to be welcoming to those who are different and not judge when they do not understand your ways.

If you’d like to read more about Xalien, or purchase a copy  – visit http://rowanvalebooks.com/books/xalien.html

Choosing and Researching your Setting

When writing a novel, it’s important that we don’t overlook the where and when, for fear of losing control of the who, what and why. Choosing the right setting can prove an

extremely useful tool for advancing the plot and developing characters that much further, and so we should always think carefully over both time and place when writing.

Describe your world. Readers like to know how the protagonist lives their life day to day, so that they can immerse themselves in the novel and prepare for a startling change in events. If the reader has no idea how your characters live on a daily basis, how can they be surprised when something unexpected happens? Before writing, start building up a collection of little details that make up the everyday scene, such as textures, smells, routes to and from work, even the plants and animals that the characters are used to seeing without fail. All these minor details help engage the audience and fix them in the narrative.

Physical reference. When hammering out the details of your physical location, it’s best to start off by looking at the bigger picture. Maps and encyclopaedia articles are great for general research, and most can be found online or in larger libraries. After you’ve become familiar with the area as a whole, take your focus beyond the topographical and start on the smaller details. Wildlife, environment and architecture are good jumping off points for research – and don’t forget to visit your setting if possible! There is no better research than seeing a place firsthand.

Research. When researching your novel, try to focus on any reference books that have the title ‘A Social History of…’, ‘A Life in the Times’ etc, as these will be the books that provide details not just of landscape but of what it was like to actually live day to day within any one setting.

History. Whether you choose to use a factual or fictional setting, it’s a good idea to think about the history behind it. Characters are often shaped by past events, and a location’s history can create an interesting dynamic between people and place. Did the character choose to live in this setting? Or were they brought up in it? If you are choosing a well known location, research into past events and think about how they could affect the characterization and plot within your novel. If you have created a fictitious world, particularly within the fantasy genre, think about how the current setting came to be, rather than imagining it just as it is now.


A Right to Live: A Review by Nia Liversuch

A Right to Live by author Christine Duts takes the reader on an emotional journey, following the life of Rusty, a loveable mongrel who is in search of a permanent, caring home. From the very start, Rusty’s life is made difficult by the actions of humans, including those she trusts and cares about, and she is forced to make her own way in a world that is frightening and dangerous to a young, vulnerable animal.

From the first word of A Right to Live, it is impossible for a reader not to become emotionally invested in Rusty’s story. Christine Duts’ clever use of Rusty’s point of view is both engaging and poignant; she uses it to draw attention to issues such as the abandonment of animals and the difficulties faced by animal shelters, which are overrun year on year by unwanted pets. Duts’ own first-hand experiences of volunteering in an animal shelter in Mexico shine through the novel, and she uses the setting of Los Cabos to explore the horrific mistreatment that animals suffer, often at the hands of their owners. Rusty’s story is gripping and, at times, harrowing and is mostly based on the stories of dogs that Duts has come across during her life. Rusty’s narrative is one of hardship, but also of resilience, endurance and loyalty. The many companions she meets along the way are just as engaging as Rusty herself, and each have their own tale to tell; and these interweave into the narrative as a whole and serve to evoke feelings of guilt in the reader, but also create hope and faith in the special bond that many humans have with their pets.

Rusty’s story is both hard to read and heart-warming, and will certainly remain with the reader for a long time after they have finished the novel.

Visit the author’s Twitter page – @chduts

Or to purchase a copy of A Right to Live, please visit: http://www.rowanvalebooks.com/books/aright.html

Writing Prep: 

Have you ever heard that saying: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance – or a variation on it, perhaps? It can be annoying, and it’s often smug people on Come Dine With Me saying it, but it is true.

  • Try to always have a pen and paper with you. Some of the best books have started life on the train, in a coffee shop or on a walk in the park. Whatever it is that inspires or influences your writing, your storylines, or your characters, chances are that you will encounter it when you are out and about – don’t let them slip from your mind. Just odd things like overheard conversations, first impressions, daydreams, quotes and unexpected feelings can prove to be little nuggets of writing gold.

Home Office, Workstation, Office, Business, Notebook

  • Have a dictionary and a grammar book with you.  However, if you do need a thesaurus, do NOT refer to it every five minutes; you should not need to. Remember that episode of FRIENDS where Joey gets a bit carried away?

  • Chances are that the first, simple words that sprang to mind will do just fine. Do refer to the grammar book as often as necessary – and then some. You may feel that being picky about grammar while writing will interrupt your flow and, although getting into good habits will save you time and effort in the long run, you may well find it easier to switch off your internal editor until you have completed your first draft. At that point, refer to your grammar book constantly – and be picky.
  • Have feedback on hand. Whether it be a dedicated reader, or a professional editor (preferably the latter!), it’s always a good idea to have someone on hand to read through your work and give feedback. Time and time again authors struggle with accidentally moving away from the plot, going off on a tangent, or losing track of those aspects that their readers really love. For this reason it’s important that you have a second eye on your work to keep you in check.

Would you like free editorial feedback of up to 2000 words of your manuscript? Writing Advisor, Sarah, helps authors improve their craft, bring their manuscript up to publication standard and ensure it has the greatest chance of success. You can use your Writing Advisor as and when you need them, and they tailor the support as much as possible.

Click here for more information.
Or email info@rowanvalebooks.com

Haunted Fields: A Review by Nia Liversuch

Readers who are searching for a complex thriller with a heart should look no further than Dan Moore’s The Haunted Fields. The novel is a gripping tale full of sharp twists and dramatic turns, leading the reader on a path that keeps them guessing until the end. The Haunted Fields appeals to a range of readers; it contains an excellent mixture of murder mystery, heart warming romance, chilling ghost story and coming of age tale that blends into a fast-paced thriller that does not disappoint.

The Haunted Fields follows Freddie, a disillusioned, rebellious teenager, as he hopes to find a place, and a family, in which he can belong. Unceremoniously sent to spend his summer of freedom at Ridge Farm by his father and his less than popular stepmother, Freddie learns a lot more than how to lift bales of hay. He enters a close-knit rural community who are all connected by a tragic past, and becomes embroiled in a dark secret that threatens to endanger Freddie and the families it involves. Freddie experiences life as an outsider in the isolated farming village, but eventually finds this position advantageous – can he shed light on the mystery that has haunted the villagers for generations?

The novel moves quickly, bringing in new elements to the mystery in every chapter, but this can sometimes cause some areas of the plot to not be explored as fully as they could be. However, the conclusion to the novel is strong; both a twist and a cliff-hanger, it jolts the reader and Freddie back to the reality of life outside Ridge Farm and leaves them wondering what will happen next. Engaging and intriguing to the final line, The Haunted Fields is set to become a firm, pulse-racing favourite for any reader.

The Lowdown on Mailing Lists

If you’re planning on becoming a successful writer, not just of one book, but of a series of titles (and, of course, why wouldn’t you?), then mailing lists are a great idea. Sending out a newsletter or two in the run up to each release is the ideal way to bring in a spike of sales around your publication date.Not only can it produce release day sales, but newsletters can have a long-term effect. If your book is available via e-retailers that have a book chart, Amazon for example, a spike in sales will generally produce a knock on effect here, and push your book higher and higher up the charts – thus resulting in more sales, and recycling the process.

It’s best not to send out too many emails, for fear of using repeated content, and not to start too early so as not to lose recipients’ interest. Ideally you will send out an email at each milestone e.g.:
  • Four months before release – with snippets from the book i.e. ‘exclusive content’ for your mail subscribers
  • Two months before release – perhaps an interview with the author and any news updates on the book
  • One month before release – with the opportunity to pre-order – ‘be the first to read the book with this exclusive pre-order offer’
  • Week of release – information on where to purchase a copy, and include any positive reviews 
A successful mailing list is all about subscribers. It’s always a good idea to keep this in the back of your mind when marketing – you should be constantly building on your email contact list. The more subscribers you have to your newsletters, the greater amount of people have an active interest in your new release.

Marketing: Timing is Everything

We’re keeping it short and sweet this week with a few key marketing pointers for the savvy writer:

  • Link your book to trending topics. Does your book touch upon a topic that is trending on Twitter? Tweet about it using the trending #hashtag. That way, anybody talking and reading about that trend (and there will be plenty!) will come across your book and its relevance to their interests.
  • Take note of current events. Does your book tie in to a current event or upcoming holiday? Another great avenue for marketing. Write articles or blog posts that link your work to an event, and give a new spin to your book. There are tons of apps that will let you know of celebrated days – from ‘national chicken day’ to ‘national give your mum a hug day’ – there’s something for everyone!
  • Schedule your posts. Marketing is all about planning, so make sure that you are thinking about when and what you will be posting on social media. Take a look through your posts, and see at what time of day you receive the greatest response – are you fans evening dwellers? Do they check in with you on the morning commute? Get to know your audience, and when best to reach out to them. If you post when no one is listening, that’s a valuable minute of your book marketing time wasted. Remember: timing is everything.

An Interview with the Author: John Davies


  1. When and why did you begin writing?

I worked as chemist for BP Chemicals at Baglan Bay for more than 30 years. During that time I played guitar and wrote a few songs purely as a hobby. I was also an avid reader. When I retired in 2002 I found more time to pursue my musical and literary interests. I joined a Shadows tribute band, wrote a few more songs and had a few articles published in newspapers and magazines. Writing song lyrics is similar in many ways to writing poetry, and poetry is what I have concentrated on for the last few years. To date I have written three non-fiction books, three picture/story books for children and the current book of short poems.


  1. How did your book come about?

‘How to be a Dog’ is a collection of all the shorter poems which I’ve written over the last four years. When my granddaughter, Freya, was born in 2010 I decided to write a longer poem as something for her to remember me by. This was published as a rhyming, story/picture book called ‘Trevor the One Eyed Tractor’. I enjoyed writing this so much that I have written mainly for children ever since. Many of the poems in this book were written in response to the monthly challenge set at a poems and pints meeting at the Lorelei in Porthcawl.


  1. How did you come up with the title?

I came up with the title quite simply really. The challenge set at the Lorelei some time ago was to write a poem with the title ‘How to be a ……’, and we had to fill in the blank. My son, Ian, has two dogs and I take them out occasionally. The poem was written partly from my experiences with the dogs and partly from imagination. To my great surprise it won first prize for the challenge that month. Because of that the new book could only be called ‘How to be a Dog’.


  1. Who designed the cover of the book? What was the inspiration behind it?

I’m very grateful to Max Cartwright who designed the cover and drew all the illustrations inside. The inspiration, of course, was the poem ‘How to be a Dog’. I gave Max some hints as to what I was looking for. He then produced this wonderful sketch of the contented, sleeping dog totally unaware of the mud-splattered settee beneath him.

Poem Dog Illustration COVER


  1. What are your current writing projects?

At the moment I am writing a six book series about Darren the Dragon. The first two, ‘Darren the Dragon’ and ‘Darren and the Draaken’ have already been published. The third book ‘Darren and Derwyn’ is currently with the publishers and will be released early in 2015. I am also working on another collection of shorter poems which I hope will be published some time in 2016.


  1. Do you prefer e-books or paperbacks?

I prefer hardback books with dust covers. I have a small collection of first edition hardbacks. They were not expensive because I buy books by authors that I enjoy reading, like C. S. Forester and Welsh author Richard Llewellyn. I like the feel and smell of old hardback books, there is something of substance to them. I also have a hardback collection of all the Booker Prize winning novels, although most of these are not first editions. I have nothing against paperbacks, I do buy them occasionally. Many of the newest books are only available as paperbacks, mainly because of the cost involved in producing hardback books. E-books do have their place in modern society. I don’t have any of the devices on which to display an e-book and I can’t envisage a time when I will ever buy one. I much prefer to read a real book.


  1. Where do you prefer to buy your books?

I spend many enjoyable hours browsing around bookshops and charity shops. There are not so many bargains in the charity shops these days because they have become aware of the value of first and special editions. I have been to Hay on Wye many times and recommend it to fellow bibliophiles. The internet is also a great source for buying books; you can find almost anything on the net.  If you have one specific book in mind, then the best way is to do a cyber search for it in the comfort of your own home.


  1. What books have most influenced your life?

I’m not sure if any books have influenced my life. In my younger days I was fond of ‘Just William’, ‘Biggles’ and the works of Enid Blyton. I suppose these books all carry the messages of ‘honesty is the best policy’, ‘a sense of fair play’ and ‘good always winning over evil’. I have always tried to live my life with these principles in mind.


  1. Which writers appeal to you the most?

Where do I start? There are so many writers I like and admire that it would take a few pages to list them all. As far as poetry is concerned then I would have to mention Dylan Thomas, John Betjeman, Roger McGough, Julia Donaldson and Edward Lear. It is very difficult to single out any novelists for a mention. Some of the authors on my list include C. S. Forester, George Orwell, Arthur Conan Doyle, Roald Dahl, Michael Morpurgo and John Irving. However, one author does stand out head and shoulders above the rest for me. That author is J. R. R. Tolkien. I have read ‘The Hobbit’ eleven times and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ seventeen times. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is my favourite book and is, in my opinion, the best book ever written.

John Davies



If you’d like to read more about John Davies ‘How to be a Dog’, you can visit



Or to see more of Max Cartwright’s artwork:



The next Orwell? Mal Jones on his social commentary, Can Openers.

canopenersAs a child, I was told that I was a natural born story teller. However, it was my recent experience as a front line public sector worker that compelled me to write this novel. I have been a social worker for over 25 years, but the last four have really brought home to me the impact of a political debate: the ideological argument regarding the deserving and undeserving poor. This was the impetus that inspired me to write.

Can Openers has been described as Orwellian – possibly due to 1984. As a teenager, I read all of Orwell’s novels, and for me, the book that had the greatest influence on my writing was Homage to Catalonia. It provided some hope.

What I wanted to show in Can Openers is that however dark a society becomes, there is always hope for change. From where I stand, the question is how we make that change, and bring about a society based on our humanity, rather than one run for profit – or, as Orwell says, the ‘money God’. Change can come by relying on others, or, as I believe, that we as the working class – who create the wealth – should gain the confidence to change the world ourselves.

With everything going on at the moment – the dismantling of Nye Bevan’s hope for universal access to free health care, by recent attempts to limit care for those labelled as ‘obese’ or ‘drinkers’, and the Conservative warning of further colossal government cuts to come, we have good reason to be worried. Women, particularly, are disproportionately affected by the cuts and it appears that the state continues to control women’s lives. I wanted to show in Can Openers my concerns about where welfare policies could lead, and also to have strong female characters who are not just victims but challenge the status quo, as has happened over hundreds of years.

As a socialist, it is clear that the poor, the vulnerable, and the working class are being blamed for society’s downfall, when it is the very rich and the city bankers that have created this financial crisis. The money was there (and will be found again) to bail them out. It seems to me that there is no logic in the dependency argument, unless you are of wealthy means and want to divert attention away from yourself.

I wanted to create a story that was funny, but would also expose any stupid logic and show how irrational the policies and arguments around dependency are. I want to finish by quoting some words of hope by testament of Leon Trotsky,

“I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful, let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence and enjoy it to the full.”

If you’d like to read more about Can Openers, and Mal Jones’ insightful commentary on modern societal and political issues, visit http://rowanvalebooks.com/books/canopeners.html

Frozen: A Review by Nia Liversuch

3D Frozen

Elle A Rose’s latest novel, Frozen, is sure to secure a rightful position in the top favourite books list of young adults, and slightly older adults, alike. The novel is intriguing from the start, grabbing the reader’s imagination in a fierce grip and preventing them from having any inclination to put the book down until they have reached the final page.

Set in the distant future, Frozen charts the coming of age of a sixteen year old boy, Verick Cedar, and his survival in a stark, unforgiving land. This land is Earth, but not as we know it: brutal aliens called Xecerptavodes have invaded the planet during a period called The Great Takeover; draining it of its resources and causing its entire surface to fuse into one large mass. All surviving humans were forced to live in villages, called slums, constructed by their bare hands using mud and the remaining materials that did not perish during The Great Takeover.

The land is hot and bare and farming takes place underground. Verick and his family and friends are part of a generation that have learned to live with this situation; a close-knit society has been formed and there are rules to abide by and traditions to honour. However, despite their resilience, the villagers still have dangers to face. Frozen considers the largest of those, the Trick or Treat, which takes place on one night every year. Based on the familiar holiday/festival that we recognise as Halloween, the Trick or Treat harks back to its ancient roots, when spirits roamed the above ground for one night only; some good, but some evil. In the novel, during this fateful night, ancestors of the families rise again to protect them from the Xecerptavodes; freezing them in stasis for one night only, allowing men and women from each family to venture into the Xecerptavode villages to scavenge as many resources as they can. However, the spirits of the ancestors are not the only ones to rise, and the brave hunters must face a number of threats, including the vengeful ghosts of deceased Xerceptavodes…

Frozen opens as Verick is preparing for his first Halloween Trick or Treat, at the age of sixteen. Rose’s clever, accessible prose delves into the mind of the teenage boy, breaking through the barriers of strength and bravery that he presents to his family and friends. We are allowed access to his inner thoughts, and experience his emotions of fear, self-doubt and confusion along with him; creating a powerful bond between reader and narrator. Verick is a deep and complex character and his situation is both intriguing and sympathetic. As he struggles to train for Halloween, a shadow that looms over him, he also attempts to protect his family and maintain close relationships with friends – as well as coming to terms with his feelings as some of these friendships begin to take on romantic overtures. The reader follows Verick on his journey of self-discovery; and it soon becomes clear that his “coming of age” does not simply relate to battling ferocious aliens.

Frozen is a clever, complex novel, with a concept that is as fresh and gripping as its counterparts in the genre of young adult sci-fi fiction. Elle A. Rose skilfully weaves her narrative, considering a range of elements and ideas, all the while keeping the reader entirely focussed on the events taking place in the dystopian society of this future Earth. Rose balances vivid battles with detailed descriptions of daily life in the slums, and her consideration of how human life and society would function in such a situation is fascinating and deeply thought-provoking. The novel does have a tendency to seem rushed in parts, with some crucial information relating to the setting feeling as though it has been dropped in at random moments, but overall this is a tight, compact but expansive novel, and an excellent read.


To pick up your copy of Frozen by US author Elle A. Rose, visit http://www.rowanvalebooks.com/books/frozen.html.

Copies are available in paperback and all eBook formats, and all reviews are most welcome.