Thursday, July 31, 2014

Creature Feature #285: Grison

The Grison are two species of mustelid living in Central and South America - the Lesser and the Greater. This fellow is the Greater, and he is characterised by his larger size and silver-grey fur. He leads a terrestrial lifestyle, although is capable of climbing trees. During the day, he preys on small vertebrates, zig-zagging throughout his large territory and pausing occasionally to scent the air. He may share his territory with his mate, who will birth up to four cubs in October; tiny and blind, they grow fast, reaching adult size in just four months.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Creature Feature #284: Grebe

The Crested Grebe, and grebes in general, have always rated highly on my "animals I love" list. It's the angular nature, the impressive crest and general appearance, so it is with some delight that I present today's Animal of the Day.

Grebes are the sole members of the Podicipedidae Family, which translates loosely as "rump foot". They are named such due to their legs, which are positioned so far back that these handsome water birds are unable to walk easily on land, although they can run for short stretches (before falling forward). Thus they spend most of their life afloat. Their feet, with lobed toes, are used as propellers, pushing them forward and also downwards in deep dives as they hunt fish and other freshwater life. These handsome fellows are Crested Grebes, and they are spread across the world, with populations scattered across Eurasia, Africa and Australasia.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Creature Feature #283: Great Crested Newt

The Great Crested Newt is a relatively large amphibian, with the female being longer than the male. Predatory in nature, his main diet consists of worms, insects, slugs and snails, although they will also dine on other amphibians and cannibalism is not infrequent. He uses his strong sense of smell to hunt, but also has pressure sensitive cells on his head, that can pinpoint the movement of prey within the water. During breeding season, the male grows the dramatic crest, which he uses to attract the females, first returning to the pool in which he hatched. After mating, she will lay up to 300 eggs, placing each on the underside of an underwater leaf.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Creature Feature #282: Greater Glider

The Greater Glider is a fairly large ringtail possum, named for the gliding membrane stretching between her fore-elbow and hind-ankle. She generally makes her home in eucalyptus forests, and dines almost exclusively upon their leaves. This foliage is low in nutrients and high in lignified fibre, requiring a specialised caecum in her gut to aid with digestion. She is solitary and spends her days asleep in tree canopies, coming out after dark to forage high in the canopy. To traverse distances between trees, she uses her gliding membrane, using her long, bushy tail to steer.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Creature Feature #281: Grasshopper

There are thousands of species of Grasshopper, spread throughout the world. Their preferred diet consists of grasses, leaves and cereal crops, which he chews with his mandibles to start the digestion process. Many Grasshoppers are coloured for camouflage.  Like most arthropods, Grasshoppers begin as a nymph and grow through several instars before attaining their adult form.  This fellow is the Lubber Grasshopper, from the southeastern states of America. He can grow up to 8cm long. His wings are atrophied, rendering him incapable of flight and he is only able to jump short distances, instead preferring to walk. To avoid getting eaten, he is toxic and will emit a nasty secretion to repel anything that tries to chomp him.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Creature Feature #280: Gouldian Finch

The colourful, tropical Gouldian Finch makes his home in the savannah woodlands of Australia's Northern Territory.  He leads a nomadic lifestyle, living within a relative small area and moving only when water or food becomes scarce. Whilst he is not particularly sociable with his own kin, he will joined mixed flocks with long-tailed and masked finches. In the early part of the dry season, whilst there is still plenty of food to be found, the male begins to court the female. He bobs about her, ruffling his feathers to show his dramatic colouration to their full extent, expanding his chest and raising his head feathers. She will lay 4-8 eggs, and he remains with her, helping her to raise their brood.

Creature Feature #279: Goshawk

Thought I was going to miss today, didn't you? Well, you were right, for it is after midnight here in New Zealand, but I do have a very good excuse - I went straight from work to one of my friends' birthday celebrations and thus did not have time to upload G is for Goshawk until just now. So, without further ado:

Goshawk is the name given to twenty-six different species of raptor, all of which are species of small to medium sized hawks. They are characterised by their overall grey plumate and speckled bellies, although different species hold different characteristics. This if a Chanting Goshawk. Amongst raptor species, the female is larger than the male, and in this particular species, her main prey consists of small, relatively slow-moving land mammals. She has sturdy legs, and will pursue her prey on foot if required.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Creature Feature #278: Gorilla

The Gorilla is the largest living primate, with some silverback males weighing in at over 200 kg. The Gorilla lives in social groups, lead by an adult male, his harem of females and their offspring. He is the center of the group, making the decisions, leading his troop, mediating drama and generally being the boss. Other, younger, males help to protect the troop against predators and other dangers. His diet is mostly vegetarian, although he will on occasion snack on insects, with leaves and pith making up the majority. Generally the troop will divide the day between foraging and resting. He is considered to be one of the most intelligent of animals, with a rich emotional family life.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Creature Feature #277: Goose

There are numerous species of Goose, spread across three Genera, but the domestic goose is descended from this species, the Greylag. She is spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere, natively occuring across Eurasia with feral (and vagrant) populations in North America. She has been domesticated for 1,000 years. Her main diet is grass, grain and leafy vegetation. Due to the low energy component, she must graze almost constantly. Geese have a more cohesive family unit than ducks, with both parents guarding the chicks from predation. The family remains together throughout the year, joining with a larger flock to make the migration south or east for winter. They are one of the last migrants to depart, hence the inclusion of "lag" in their name.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Creature Feature #276: Golden Eagle

The Golden Eagle is an apex predator, capable of lifting prey as large as a hare, marmot or even a baby deer. She forms a monogamous, lifelong partnership with her mate, and together they perform an aerial courtship display in which the male drops a rock, then swoops to catch it. The female shows her aerial prowess in a similar manner - although often with a dirt clod or twig. Together they construct a large nest, called an eyrie, on a rocky ledge. This is created from branches and padded with grass.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Creature Feature #275: Goblin Shark

A strange monster of the deep, the Goblin Shark is rarely seen and little is known about his behaviour. His large, flabby body and short fins suggest that he leads a largely sedantary lifestyle, probably ambusing his piscian prey. When he bites, he expands his jaws using two specialised ligaments. This allowes him to seize his prey in his needle-thing teeth, before his bashyal, bones analogous to a tongue, descends, increasing his oral cavity and sucking the prey down his throat. . His long snout is likely to play a sensory role, and is capable of detecting electric currents in the water.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Creature Feature #274: Goat

This fellow is an American Mountain Goat. In fact, he is not even a goat at all, but one of the so-called "goat-antelopes".  He is a high altitude and sure-footed beast, making his home high in the alpine peaks of the Rocky and Cascade Mountain ranges. During breeding season, males compete for the females, engaging in some rather vicious head-butting. Afterwards, the males break off into small bands, leaving the females together in a herd to last out the winter and birth their kids come spring. Female goats, who also have horns and beards, are quite aggressive with one another as they jostle for positions in the hierarchy.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Magic in the City - an Anthology in the conceptualisation

Even within the gritty, urban streets, beauty can be found. A daisy, poking its head from a crack in the concrete, a bird, nesting in the eaves of a business's balcony. Children, playing games of make-believe in the gardens or along the river. There is magic to be found everywhere, in the everyday, and it is too often forgotten in the grim and grit of modern literature. When dystopia novels reign supreme, and urban fantasy is filled with inner darkness, treachery and monsters of the night. 

I am planning, in concert with the Christchurch Writers' Guild,  to create an anthology that celebrates the magical side of urban fantasy - the fairies that live in the garden, the imps that steal your socks, the dragon that slumbers beneath the university. Children's tales? Perhaps, but these are tales of a more innocent, whimsical age. An age when children played outside, having adventures in their own backyards instead of staring at screens or leaning over keyboards.

And I would like your help.

Initially, I wanted to have a Christchurch-themed anthology, showing the magic within our broken city, as it struggles to recover from the earthquakes that flattened so much of the central city and devastated the spirits of the community. However, this collection will be open to a wider audience. Here's the low-down:

* Theme: Magical Realism/Urban Fantasy
This does not need to be full-on magic or adding fantastic beasts to the modern city - for example, one of my story ideas involves a girl striking up a friendship with a wild animal - it just needs to be something out-of-the-ordinary and somewhat magical. If you are unsure if your story idea fits the theme, please do not hesitate to ask.
Defintion of Magic Realism:

* Your story must have a positive ending. That does not mean that it cannot have darkness or tragedy occuring, but ultimately the outcome must be the sort that will give the reader a warm glow of satisfaction. It can be funny, it can contain an important moral message, it can be the story of someone rising from darkness and finding a sense of hope and wonderment.

* Word Count: 1,000 - 6,000 words

* Intended Audience: I would like the stories to be suitable for ages maybe 10+, since the theme is likely to appeal to children. This may be changed if a number of submissions are received that lie outside these boundaries. Please limit your language to that which is appropriate for the 10+ market. Swearing or excessive use of "tamer" curse words (damn, bloody, hell etc) may result in your story being rejected or editing requests to be made.

* Your submission should be a highly polished final draft. It should be thoroughly proof-read and spell-checked.
Please note that we will be enforcing the following:
- single spaces after full stops (periods).
- double quote marks used around speech: "like this" (but curling inwards, which blogspot doesn't do).
- please use the double em-dash with one space on either side. —
- please save as a .doc file.
- font size and face does not matter, but book will be printed in Century Schoolbook, my personal favourite.

* Not all stories will necessarily be accepted. We reserve the right to reject your story or request an edit. To this end, we will offer a short critique for every submission.

* We cannot pay you. Proceeds from this anthology will go to help support the Christchurch Writers' Guild and help us to plan some events that you are welcome to participate in (should you happen to live in New Zealand). We can, and will, give you a free copy of the ebook and offer you reduced rates for printed copies, should you wish to purchase any for friends or family. You will also be given a full page biography, including a chance to link your website or promote your other titles, within the book.

* The book will be independently printed via Amazon's CreateSpace program and through Kindle Direct Publishing. I also have access to add it to (for epub) and SmashWords.

* Illustrators are also welcome to contribute. 

Submissions should be emailed to:

DEADLINE: 1st January 2015

Creature Feature #273: Giraffe Weevil

The Giraffe Weevil is a strange insect, found only in Madagascar and first discovered in 2008. The male is characterised by his long neck, which is not used to help him nibble on leaves - although he is a herbivore - but for mortal combat. The two males will battle for the right to mate with the shorter-necked female.  The female then creates a nest for her single egg by curling up the leaf of a very specific plant, weaving it together deftly before snipping it off and dropping it to the forest floor.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Creature Feature #272: Giraffe

So today, due to reasons, I almost didn't make my "Animal a day". It is now 11pm, and here (after 3 episodes of Writing Excuses) he is. Although I may have to do a better illustration later (not happy with the face, dagnammit).

The Giraffe is the tallest living land mammal, with males growing up to 6m in height. These long legs and long neck enable him to browse higher in the trees than other herbivores, and also afford him a good view of the surrounding terrain. Other ungulates will graze near giraffes, knowing that their tall companion will alert them if danger is near. His blue tongue is up to 50cm long and prehensile, perfect to wrap around leaves, and he also has a prehensile upper lip.  Such a long neck and legs does come at a disadvantage, however. To drink, the Giraffe must splay his legs and bend awkwardly to lap the water.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Creature Feature #271: Gila Monster

The venomous Gila Monster stalks the southwestern deserts of the United States. Slow-moving and sluggish, he spends much of his life either underground or in rocky shelters, being most active in the early morning or after rain. He does not eat often - 5-10 times per year - and he uses his acute sense of smell to locate eggs or carrion. When he does feed, he gorges himself, swallowing animal prey head-first. His venom is considered more for defence than the capture of prey, and contains a neurotoxin. His bite contains only small amounts, and his bite is not fatal to humans although it is very painful. Once he latches on, it is very difficult to dettach him.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Creature Feature #270: Gibbon

The Gibbon is one of the so-called "lesser" apes, being behaviourally closer to a monkey than an ape, but displaying the ape's most identifiable feature - the lack of a tail.  The Gibbon is characterised by his long arms, which he  uses for brachiating through his rainforest home. He can do this an speeds approaching 55 km/hr and make leaps of up to 8 metres. With such long arms, he cannot walk on all fours and instead moves upright. He is a social beast, pair-bonding with his mate and defending his territory through loud vocal displays. The pair often duet together, with the sound carrying up to 1 km.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Creature Feature #269: Ghost Frog

The Ghost Frog Family consists of seven species found in South Africa. He is typically found in or around fast-moving streams. His body is slightly flattened, allowing him to squeeze into cracks during the day. As dusk falls, he comes out to forage, using his has large toe discs to help him cling to the rocks as he hunts for insects, arthropods and smaller frogs. The tadpoles' mouthparts are modified into large suckers, so that they can remain in one place while feeding on algae. Due to their limited range, all species are threatened by environmental degradation and also the virulent fungal disease, chytridiomycosis, which is decimating frog populations worldwide.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Creature Feature #268: Gharial

The Gharial is a critically endangered crocodilian, characterised by his slender snout. These indicate his diet,  which consists predominantly of fish. Once widespread across the Indian subcontinent, his distribution has now shrunk to a mere 2% of its former range, due to habitat fragmentation and overhunting.  Males do not become sexually mature until they are 13 years old, and develop the lump on the snout, the ghara. This modifies and amplifies their vocalisations, allowing them to be heard nearly a kilometre away. In this manner they call the females, collecting a harem within their territory.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Creature Feature #267: Gerenuk

The Gerenuk is characterised by his long neck and legs. These assist him in reaching higher up into the foliage upon which he browses. He will, in fact, stand upright on his hindlegs and extend his neck to reach the tender leaves and shoots, as well as buds and flowers. These long legs also allow him to gallop swiftly away from predators, but are prone to snapping, should he stumble.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Creature Feature #266: Gentle Lemur

The Gentle Lemur species fall into two Families - Hapalemur (5 species) and Prolemur (1 species). They are characterised by their round faces, fluffy ears, short muzzles and greyish-brown fur.  Their other common name, "Bamboo Lemur", refers to their diet. They are one of the few animals able to survive almost solely on bamboo - a food source that contains high quantities of cyanide. It is unknown how they process this substance, consuming daily levels that would kill a human. The Hapalemur species live in small family groups numbering 2-5 individuals, whereas the Prolemur - this Greater Gentle Lemur - will live in a social group with up to 28 members. All are heavily threatened by habitat loss and hunting, with 3 of the 7 species classified as critically endangered.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Creature Feature #265: Geoffroy's Cat

Looking not unlike a regular house cat, Geoffroy's Cat inhabits southern America. His preferred habitat is open woodland and scrubland. He rarely climbs trees, but has been known to swim. He will stand upright on his hindlegs, using his tail for support, to scan the landscape - this is an unusual trait in felines. A solitary hunter, he preys mainly on rodents, hares and small lizards, stalking the forests at night. Females hold small territories, and the male a larger one. He will only come into contact with other cats during her oestrus cycle, chosing high perches or ledges for the mating.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Creature Feature #264: Genet

Genets are small carnivores in the Viverrid Family. He is agile and arboreal, and can stand upright. These inquisitive and pretty creatures have found popularity in the exotic pet trade, where they form a bond with their owner and do not adapt well to being "given away". Populations have sprung up across Europe that are thought to have descended from escaped pets, as if he can fit his head through a gap, then he can squeeze his whole body through. He leads a solitary existence and is most active at night, favouring an omnivorous diet. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Creature Feature #263: Gecko

Geckos are an Infraorder of lizards, consisting of seven Families and around 1,500 species. This fellow is one of the many species of Day Gecko, who are named for their diurnal lifestyle. Other species are nocturnal. They are characterised by their specialised toe pads, which allow them to climb along vertical and horizontal surfaces - including across ceilings. In many tropical countries they will find their way indoors and prove a welcome addition as they feed on mosquitos and pesky flies. Geckos cannot blink as they lack eyelids; they keep their eyes moist by licking them. They communicate with one another by chirping, a trait unique amongst lizards.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Creature Feature #262: Gazelle

Gazelle are medium-sized antelopes, with the name derived from an Arabian word meaning "elegant and quick". Some species can reach speeds of up to 60km/hr, and sustain lesser speeds for lengthy periods of time. This wee fellow, the Thomson's Gazelle, is perhaps the most well known. He is common across the eastern savannah of Africa. During the wet season, male Thomson's Gazelle will defend their own territory, and wait for a herd of females to wander through. If any females are in heat, he will endeavour to court her and mate her. Should any males venture in, he will quickly be chased off.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Creature Feature #261: Gaur

The Gaur is the largest living bovine and is native to south and southeast Asia. Here he occupies evergreen forest and moist deciduous forest, particularly hilly terrain. He leads a mostly diurnal lifestyle, but where human disturbance has encroached on his territory he becomes nocturnal in his habits. Herds number up to 11 or so individuals, lead by a matriarchal female and often containing one bull. During breeding season other bulls may hang around, hoping to mate with the cows. The bull's size determines his dominance and serious clashes are rare.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Creature Feature #260: Gar

The Gar are a Family of primative ray-finned fish, inhabiting the rivers and streams of America. He is a heavily armoured fish, characterised by his elongated snout. As the waters he occupies are often stagnant, with little oxygenation, he will periodically surface to gasp in air. His diet consists mainly of fish and crustaceans, which are captured with his needle-sharp teeth. This hardy fish is edible, although more often taken as a trophy-fish, and once his scales were used as arrowheads, and his skin to make breastplates or cover the blades of plows.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Creature Feature #259: Gannet

The Gannet is a skilled diver. He will plunge from heights of up to 30m, achieving speeds of up to 100 km/hr and enabling him to dive much deeper than most seabirds. He is superbly adapted for this, with no external nostril holes and air sacs in his face and chest to prevent damage from impact with the water. His eyes are positioned far forward, affording him powerful binocular vision and allowing him to precisely pinpoint his prey. Every year, flocks gather in the same place to breed, with some colonies numbering over 10,000 birds.

A Blast from the Past - an extract from my "first" novel

Recently I have been introduced to Writing Excuses, an excellent podcast featuring one of my favourite (and only recently discovered) fantasy authors, Brandon Sanderson. One thing they discuss is how your first novel will beyour "practise novel". This is somewhat reassuring to me, because I have written enough "practise" novels now to almost be skilled at it. Anyhow, they also have in the recent ones I've been listening to, been sharing their own "first novels" and dissecting them.

so, I thought I would share the first passage of my first fantasy novel (not counting the one about satanists in the sewers, let's leave that one where it belongs - downstairs printed on dot matrix paper). This is my first fantasy epic, which is highly, extremely derivative, as it was inspired by the Helloween song "Keeper of the Seven Keys" with characters based on the members of the band (names have been changed) and yeh... I was a little bit obsessive.

However, the writing style is actually passingly decent, so here, without further ado, is the first passage of "Keeper of the Seven Keys", the derivative novel.


A lonely human figure picked its way through the empty streets of the village. It was early evening, but the darkness was so absolute, so complete, that it could have been the middle of a moonless night. The young man scrabbled through the garbage that littered the alleyway, desperately searching for something. In his callused hand he clasped his only possession of any worth, a small dark stone. To all but the trained eye, this stone seemed like a useless keepsake, but it was in fact a seeker stone, a stone that could be used to find particular items. This one was poor quality however; all it was able to detect was small coins. At the moment it was pulsing with warmth suggesting there was a coin in the vicinity. This was what he needed, money, needed it to feed his hunger. But not a hunger for food. For this young man was addicted to 'Myrth', a most powerful narcotic so named because of its effect on the user. The coin eluded his searching fingers.

A thin tendril of coldness ran down the back of the addict, icy fingers were reaching for him. He straightened up, turning and found himself staring into the face of danger. A dark, intangible shape with eyes so black that they glowed with an unlit radiance loomed before him, reaching for him. Pushing himself against the wall, he faced his adversary. He had heard of these monsters, who hadn't in this godsforsaken town? But had never seen one. Known as dream demons, or phantoms of death, they were rumoured to be from beyond the mortal realms and had materialised in this village soon after the last dawn had passed. Stuttering, afraid, the young man offered a silent prayer to any of the gods that might be listening. The phantom came closer, its shape expanding to engulf him. There was nothing he could do, he had no weapon except... his hand was warm. Why was that? The stone! Gritting his teeth and hoping upon hope, he threw the small missile at the main bulk of the phantom. His aim was true, the black, swirling mist engulfed the stone and the phantom seemed to become smoke, to separate.

"I killed it," he whispered breathlessly. "I defeated a phantom!" His heart leapt with joy. But wait, the smoke was coalescing into a figure again. The young man, realising this, turned swiftly from the alleyway and ran for his life.

The lights of the temple reached out to him, banishing the darkness. They were always lit, for in these dark times many of the villagers would seek sanctuary in the arms of the gods they worshipped. And although there were many gods, there was just one temple. Here should offer sanctuary. It was said that the phantoms could not venture into light and warmth, since they were from the pits of the frozen nether regions and had been released by the will of the god of darkness. The hunted man collapsed in a heap just inside the entrance, feeling the warmth and the light of the gods, or the church anyway, embrace him, luring him into sleep.


Friday, July 4, 2014

Creature Feature #258: Galaxias

The Galaxias are a Genus of small freshwater fish, found in southeast Australia and  New Zealand with representatives in South America and Africa. They are specialised in living in the higher, cooler climates such as alpine streams, rivers and lakes. Despite this, many species include a marine stage in their life cycles. Larvae are washed out to sea to develop, swimming back up the river as small fry. The introduction of trout to New Zealand waterways has severely and negatively impacted many of these fish species, with populations now becoming fragmented and restricted. This wee fellow is a New Zealand Flathead Galaxias, his range restricted to a few rivers in Otago.

For more on freshwater fish of New Zealand, look out for Inanga and Kokopu.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Creature Feature #257: Galah

The Galah is a species of cockatoo, widespread across Australia. She favours the open country and occupies urban environments, benefitting from human colonisation. She flocks with others of her species, or occasionally corollas. Her mate bond is long-term and monogamous,  Her nest is built in tree hollows and both parents share the incubation. She is a popular bird in the pet industry and she has been known to interbreed with Major Mitchells and Little Corollas, as well as, most unusually, her smallest relative, the cockatiel.

"Galah" has become an Australian slang term for "fool" or "idiot". Like all parrots, however, Galah are no fool, although they are noted for being noisy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Creature Feature #256: Galago

The Galago, or Bushbaby, are several species of small, nocturnal primate native to the African continent. The female forms a social groups with her sisters and their babies, while the male maintains his own overlapping territory, coming into contact with the females to breed. The troop travel together, following each others' cries and marking the path with urine. At the end of the night of foraging for insects, they all gather together in a nest made from leaves or a hollow tree. Like most primates they are highly social, engaging in mutual grooming, chasing each other through the branches and mock skirmishes.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Creature Feature #255: Fur Seal

And thus concludes the Fs.

The Fur Seal is characterised by her dense coat of underfur, intermingled with longer guard hairs. These provide her with insulation against the cold water and also made her desirable to trappers during the 19th century. She is able to turn her hind limbs beneath her body, and hold herself upright with her front limbs, which allows her to move on all fours at some speed. This is a trait she shares with Sea Lions, but is not found in the "true" seal species. The male is up to five times her size. During breeding season, the females come ashore and gather in groups, which are lorded over by the dominant male. Here she will birth her pup and mate in preparation for the following year.