News from The Kasiisi Porridge Project!

Raven Crest Books welcomes back Kate Wrangham-Briggs for her second guest blog in which she brings us up to date with the work of the Kasiisi Project charity.

We’ve raised over £100,000 in 6 years.  Now we’ve got 20 acres of land near the schools and are developing a School Farm. It’s all owned and run by our Ugandan partners, the Kibale Forest Schools and Student Support Project. The farm will generate income to go on providing porridge for the 1300 children in the 2 schools we support.

Self-sufficiency, here we come!  It’ll take time, but the farm has its first livestock!  We launched a Text A Chicken Appeal in October and the £1000 target was reached within 3 months, thanks to the generosity of supporters far and wide.  So, 600 chickens were delivered to the farm on Boxing Day.

The chicken house that is their new home is spacious and airy and the chicks have a lovely carpet of coffee husks to scratch about in. Charcoal heaters keep them warm at night and they often have plenty of company from the Kasiisi schoolchildren and the farm labourers!Workers have to take great care not to infect the chicks so they wash their feet with disinfectant before going in.

Will they be laying by Easter?  Maybe not quite as soon as that: there’s no electric power on the farm so they are lit with paraffin lamps at the moment, until we can afford to put in solar lighting. With solar lighting, they’ll grow more quickly and lay earlier, so we need funds!  And of course the children still need their daily porridge, so the pressure’s on.

Next, they’ll need a piggery, so keep your eye out for our next Text Appeal.  It could involve piglets!   Meanwhile, if you’d like to help us feed these children and make Immaculate’s job easier with solar lighting for the chickens, please visit It’s easy to donate with JustGiving or PayPal, and every penny counts!  Just click on Donate and follow the instructions. Or you can just click on the “donate” button over to the right on this page.

Thank you!

Kate Wrangham-Briggs, Director

The Crowsmoor Curse

Introducing the new horror fiction from Jan McDonald – The Crowsmoor Curse. The purpose of this short piece is to introduce you to one of its main characters, Mike Travis. If you would like to read more, you can download now via Amazon by clicking the link to the right.

The mists come down quickly and the wind howls like tortured banshees over Bodmin Moor where unwary travellers are advised to keep to the main roads and keep their eyes averted from the rough granite outcrops and moorland bogs. This is the land of smugglers and ghosts and Otherworldly creatures like the Piskies and the Knockers, still said to inhabit the old mines. Hard to keep an open mind in the vicinity, Mike Travis knew he had to be objective.  As a paranormal investigator there could be nothing to cloud his judgement but even so, as he pulled his car over at the edge of Dozemary Pond, legends of the area came to life in his head.

He swallowed two codeine to help relieve the pain in his leg; reconstructed with titanium plates, rods and artificial joints after a helicopter crash in Afghanistan had ended his air force career. Over the years he had learned to blank out the pain but occasionally it got the better of him. The long drive into Cornwall had exacerbated it and he knew he had to rest.

He looked over the grey water surrounded by reeds and marsh and understood why it had been the source of many legends, including that of Excalibur being hurled into its centre and caught by the hand of the Lady in the Lake. He shrugged off the images and took out the letter that had brought him there.

The handwriting was arthritic and crabbed, written in the Cornish vernacular, it had come from an old man. A frightened old man.

Charlie Paynter was the bell ringer in Crowsmoor, a scattered community of small cottages and a couple of farms presided over by St Michael’s Church and the old Manor. It couldn’t aspire to being a village, being little more than an isolated hamlet in the middle of the bleak moor. It wasn’t even on the map and had defeated his search engine. It was as if it didn’t exist, but maybe it wanted it that way.

He read the letter again, trying to get a feeling for the case. Mike relied on his instincts and they were on high alert. His alarm bells had been set off by one particular section of the letter.

Every morning at six and every evening at six. Six tolls of the bells. The bells have to be rung dead on six; otherwise . . .  Hell come back.

     The dead dont sleep quiet here in Crowsmoor, they never have. Not since he came, anyway. Must be four hundred years gone now. Folk round here close their eyes to it. Dont understand see. They think that when Ive gone they can maybe get someone else to ring the bells, or they wont bother being as they believe its naught but owd superstition and they’m being too modern to think on it. They hear them, everyday they hear them, but they dont understand. They dont understand what the bells keep away.

Mike thought he understood. Cornish folk may believe in their legends and folk lore but above all they were very pragmatic people and didn’t spook easily.

Charlie Paynter was spooked…




Potentially Big News…

My last blog was written by our guest blogger about her small but hugely worthwhile charity – Kate promises me part two in the near future. Why feature a charity on the pages of an eBook publisher’s site? Aren’t blogs supposed to be relevant to the website subject matter so should be of interest to authors and readers?

 Well, yes and no.

But what a marvellous opportunity it is to have a global marketing platform like this and what a wasted opportunity that would be if it wasn’t used to remind the people of the richer nations that however poor we may feel, there are people in far worse situations than us. So if you haven’t read Kate’s blog yet, you’ll find it below this one.

And the donate button on the right is not connected to Raven Crest Books at all – it’s a direct pass through to the Kasiisi Project. So please – click on it!

Today’s blog though is indie publishing based and again was written by a guest blogger – James Fryar. You can see the original blog here. I love this blog, not only because he mentions Raven Crest Books but because he encapsulates perfectly our underlying concept.


I’ve been trying many different ways to bring attention to my Young Adult Novel.  So far, for someone that has zero publishing experience and zero connections in the industry, I’ve had a very good response.  The first day I published my book, without announcing anything to anyone, I sold 2 books.

Sounds miniscule, but keep in mind, that I’m a nobody, without any publicity, etc, etc, etc.  That means that a random person came across my book on the first day, liked what he/she saw or read and paid to have it downloaded.  I was pretty excited by that.

I’ve had some wonderful reviews, great interviews, and more of both to come soon.

It’s been slow-going, as I’ve stated before.  I’m a nobody author with one book.  It’s a steep hill to climb in order to build any sort of audience, so I need to be patient as my audience discovers my little story about Patrick Patterson or I discover them.

Through my searches, tweets, requests for interviews or reviews, I came across a small, British publisher called Ravencrest Books.

Here is a link to their site:

Essentially, they handle everything once the book is finished.  It’s a haven for self-published, unrepresented authors.  It’s a cooperative approach to this e-book revolution.  One author’s blog leads back to Ravencrest, which leads to the other authors, and back again.

Through discussions with Dave Lyons, the owner and operator of Ravencrest, we decided on a one-year, UK only contract, so I could test the waters on his company.  As I haven’t made a single sale overseas, it seemed to me that I had nothing to lose and could only go up from where I am.

Only time will tell, but I’m very excited about our agreement!

E-books are undoubtedly the future and a small publisher like Ravencrest could be a fantastic way of “policing” the choppy waters of self-publishing.

The biggest complaint readers have with “indies” is that there are too many awful books being uploaded, and they’re right to some extent.  When the floodgates are opened to a community, as Amazon has done with writers, there will certainly be more bad than good.

Many serious, even previously traditionally published, authors have been self-publishing books that are as good, if not better, than anything you can find through traditional publishers, but so many more authors have been uploading absolute dreck.  Anyone and everyone that has ever written anything, from a poem to a short story to a novel, can now “publish” their work.  And now, readers are bombarded with loads of new material, both amazing and awful, and they’re relying on the traditional publishers to tell them what to buy.  Too many of these self-published books are filled with terrible writing, typos, and misspellings, so rather than take a chance on a new, undiscovered author that could be wonderful (such as myself), they rely on the “vetting” process of the Big Publishers, as flawed as it may be, to find the next book they’ll read.

Enter a small company like Ravencrest.  By having a qualitative standard, a reader who has bought one book under the Ravencrest banner can rest assured that their other books will meet certain guidelines–who knows if they will actually like the book, but they can at least feel assured that it will be professionally edited and of a professional quality.  That’s essentially what Traditional Publishers do and promise, but they take a much bigger chunk out of an author’s paycheck.

Who knows where e-books will lead us, but this seems like a logical first step.

Guest blog by Kate Wrangham-Briggs – founder of the Kasiisi Porridge Project

Kasiisi Primary school, Uganda 2005

The Headmistress, Lydia Kasenene, commented that it was lunch time.

“Fine.  Where do they have lunch?  I’ll join them there” 

 “I said lunch TIME,” laughed Lydia. “They don’t HAVE lunch!”

Did you celebrate World Porridge Day on 10th October? For 1,250 primary school children in rural Western Uganda a cup of porridge can mean the difference between getting an education and a life of poverty without basic schooling.  Here’s what some of them wrote to the Kasiisi Porridge Project to thank them for setting up a feeding programme in two schools:

  • You save us from our enemy, hunger.
  • We now no longer have pains in our stomachs.
  • Because you wanted us to do well, you gave us porridge.
  • I was too small because of going hungry. Now I am putting on weight because of taking porridge. At home we don’t have enough to eat.
  • These days we are learning properly because there is no more hunger at our school

But there will be hunger if we don’t continue with the project, and there is hunger at three other local schools, desperate to join it. In this area stunted growth and malnutrition are common, affecting more than 40% of local children.

The schools all lie on the edge of Kibale National Forest, home to a few hundred endangered chimpanzees, a huge variety of monkeys, birds, trees and insects, and the hub of some of the most important scientific research in the world.

A good education in a school near the forest means learning the importance of conservation too.  The local people are well aware of the forest and who lives in it – some families even time their getting up in the morning by the motorcycle-like calls of the black and white colobus monkeys at dawn. But an understanding of the potential benefits to the local economy of wildlife conservation is another matter.

Where better to start learning these lessons than at primary school?

Children who eat can learn.  Children who eat want to stay at school.  Children who eat will stay for their exams and go to secondary school.  From there, a job or further education become real possibilities.

Hungry children often drop out of school.  They then have limited chances for decent employment or training.  Girls often marry early, or go into domestic service where they risk every kind of exploitation, not least, sexual.

The Kasiisi Porridge Project started with a life-changing trip in 1996 by myself, my husband and our 13-year-old twins  to visit my brother, Harvard professor Richard Wrangham.  He was studying wild chimpanzees, and was accompanied by his wife, Dr Elizabeth Ross and their three young sons. One day, for interest, as a change from forest life, Elizabeth and I visited the weathered primary school nearby.

Our lives would never be the same again.

The visit had a dramatic impact on us, revealing that children at the school were studying in overcrowded, underequipped classrooms dangerous enough to need evacuation in high winds. Teacher training and teacher pay were inadequate, morale was low and malnutrition stalked the majority.  A year later, the school would be further overwhelmed with hundreds of new pupils when free, compulsory primary education was introduced in Uganda.

An immediate consequence of the visit was the establishment by Dr Ross of the USA-based Kasiisi Project.  Since the nineties, this project has rebuilt several schools, adding dormitories, libraries, staff rooms and, recently, power.  Things moved quickly, and today it also offers secondary-school scholarships, teacher training, pre-school education and computers, health, and conservation education.

But it was another visit to Kasiisi in 2005 that provided the impetus for the founding of the Kasiisi Porridge Project – now run in partnership with the Kasiisi Project.  While visiting Kasiisi Primary School once more, I asked to assist in one of the classrooms, late one morning. The Headmistress, Lydia Kasenene, commented that it was lunch time.

“Fine.  Where do they have lunch?  I’ll join them there” 

 “I said lunch TIME,” laughed Lydia. “They don’t HAVE lunch!”

Since that exchange, one thing has led to another.  With the £100,000 raised in its brief five years, the Kasiisi Porridge Project has now built latrines and water tanks, created two school kitchens, hired cooks, and provided porridge to two schools near Kibale National Park. Has any of this made any difference?

It has.

Studies show that the feeding programme has led to higher energy levels in children, especially among girl orphans, lower absenteeism and a reduced dropout rate – all necessary ingredients for a secure future.

Amazing what can flow from a daily mug of porridge.

For some, World Porridge Day needs to be every day.

For more information or to donate to the Kasiisi Porridge Project, go to Or to donate direct from this site please go to the top of this blog and click the “donate” button on the right.

How green is my Kindle?

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I visited the beautiful town of Ludlow in Shropshire to take part in their annual food fair. We sampled the delights of the local ales, sausages, cheeses and something resembling squashed road kill that was actually really tasty. Delightful as all this was, this isn’t what I want to talk about today.

We were staying a few miles from Ludlow in the shadow of the Long Mynd hill at Church Stretton. We stayed at our all time favourite B&B which is comfortable, welcoming and ever so friendly. We shared a dining table with our four fellow guests at breakfast when (without any prompting from me) the conversation turned to eBooks. One lady said that she wanted to buy a Kindle as her husband had just bought himself an iPod. He dismissed this ridiculous notion. What was the point of a Kindle? You can only read books on it. And anyway, he preferred the feel and smell of a “real” book.

Well, at this point she could have come back with all manner of retorts: you can carry hundreds of books in something smaller than a paperback; you can adjust the font size; if you run out of things to read, you can be browsing and reading again in no time; the price of eBooks is lower than the paper ones…

But the reply she came back with was the green one: you don’t destroy rain forests with eBooks. This was dismissed with: “we won’t have to worry about that, we can leave it to our children to deal with”.

The table was stunned into silence and my wife and I who both work for a conservation charity were biting our tongues. Why, this gentleman has just set back our conservation work by 40 years!

But later on I started thinking. How “green” is the Kindle?

The thinking goes that when everyone has Kindles (or other eReaders), the paper book will disappear, demand for paper will drop and rain forests will be saved. But just as electric cars produce zero greenhouse gas emissions while transferring these to the generating plant sites, the Kindle is not a 100% green alternative. Consider the following:

  • The manufacture of millions of Kindles requires plastics (oil) and precious metals while energy is consumed in the production and distribution of the finished goods
  • The internet is not powered for free; all those fibre optic transmission systems, copper based transmission and satellite communication systems are very power hungry
  • The Kindle is a low power device but consider the power required to recharge millions of these devices

The case against paper books:

  • Uses vast forests of trees
  • Requires energy to convert wood pulp to paper
  • Distribution costs are high (both in $$ and environmentally)
  • Physical storage – if I had fewer books, I could live in a smaller house
  • You need to visit a book store (or browse an on-line store and wait to receive your book)
  • Font size is fixed
  • No handy dictionary feature

OK so I’m straying off the environmental point a little here and in doing so revealing my prejudices – I happen to think that eBooks are the future.

But the environmental point is a valid one and I’m afraid I don’t have the answers. It might make an interesting PhD thesis for someone though. If such a study has been done, I’d be very interested in hearing the results.

Are eReaders going to save our planet? Maybe not. But till the studies have been presented, I like to think that the electronic book is the green alternative.

The Hermione factor

Like many people, I have read all the Harry Potter books. I remember very well reading the first one beside a swimming pool on the Greek Island of Samos and being unwilling to put it down for trivial matters such as eating, going to the loo and playing with the kids in the pool. As long as the drinks kept coming, I kept reading. Was it great literature? Well, probably not. But I’m not going to debate that here because actually it’s not that relevant. For whatever reason, the Harry Potter phenomenon has been a gargantuan success.

I had been sceptical in the extreme about even starting to read “Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone”. I was already late getting to it. It was first released in the UK in June 1997 and I was reading it in July 2000. The hype was building and I just had to see what it was all about. Of course, I had to keep it hidden behind a towel – after all it was a kid’s book!

But I was hooked and read it in two days. What was it about the book that made it so un-putdown-able? Well, apart from anything else, it was incredibly easy to read: The eyes scanned, the brain interpreted and the cinema in your mind played back the images with very little effort on the readers’ part.

Except for one thing…


How the hell did you pronounce her name?

Now you may be nodding in agreement. Or you could be saying “how could he be so thick”. But unfortunately I had never met anyone called Hermione. So every time I got to her name – and it’s written, I guess, several hundred times – I stumbled. My synapses were sparking aimlessly; the film reel spun from its spool and the cinema lights came on.



And it wasn’t till some weeks later while discussing Harry Potter with friends at the pub (as you do), that one of them said “Hermione” the way it was supposed to be pronounced. And I didn’t know who she was talking about having finally settled for Hermy-oh-knee.

Of course, thanks to the movies, we all know how it should be pronounced. And you probably knew too didn’t you. Well, I bet you didn’t…

So now, when I’m editing books ready for publication, of course I’m looking for the spelling and grammatical mistakes; the bits where the spell-checker guesses the wrong word; the formatting. But most of all, I’m looking for the “Hermione Factor”. Descriptions, events, dialogue that don’t quite work; turn the cinema lights on and block the direct line from printed word to visual image. We want our readers to be engrossed without coming up for air; to enjoy the experience; to tell us they liked our books and come back for more.

I have just finished editing a novel by Peter Carroll entitled “In Many Ways”. It begins:

The white transit van pulled up outside the warehouse – a high pitched squeal indicative of dirty brakes. A fine mist of rain hung like grey net curtains, and the clouds obscured any hope of celestial illumination. The headlights split the dark dampness, moisture swirling, glinting and twisting in the beams as if held inside two recently shaken, elongated snow globes. This brightening was brief, and the removal of the ignition key soon restored the murk.

No Hermione moments there. And it’s a great description of dark happenings on a rainy night in Glasgow. It was great working with Peter as he was open minded when I outlined the (few) Hermione moments. One fine example was that much of the dialogue was in Glasgow-phonetic text: Instantly understandable by your average Glaswegian. But it’s a big world book market out there and to my (English) mind this style interrupted the flow too much. So Peter has toned it down. Enough to give the reader the Scottish flavour but still rendering it eminently readable.

“In Many Ways” is now published on Amazon Kindle” (See link on the right). We think we’ve done a good job. We’d love to hear what you think.

Dave Lyons