Tower of Inspiration

All the Wild Weather: available for pre-order, released 11 August 2016 (see below for links)

ATWW blog pics

Hello, Yvonne, and many thanks for inviting me. I’m going to talk about an inspirational building today.

The Clavell Tower is a remarkable construction – a little piece of Italy perched on a Dorset cliff top. It was built in 1830 as a folly, or perhaps a summerhouse, and it has done its fair share as an inspiration to writers. Thomas Hardy is one big name associated with it, and PD James had it in mind when she wrote The Black Tower in 1975. And now, although I don’t count myself in that august company, it has inspired me, too.

The tower has had a bit of a lively history, having caught fire in the 1930s, and then been slowly threatened with falling into the sea as the cliff eroded around it. But then in 2006, it was bought by the Landmark Trust, a charity well known for rescuing unusual buildings. The tower was dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt 25 metres inland. Along with other walkers on the coast path, I watched its progress with interest. When the work was complete the building reopened as a holiday let, and I went to visit it during an open day. I was delighted with its quaint round rooms and brilliant sea views across to the Isle of Portland. It was crowded with visitors that day, but it was easy to imagine it as it more usually is, silent and remote on its cliff top.

I thought of the Clavell Tower immediately when I needed a setting for my novel All the Wild Weather, and although it is my no means an exact portrait, Island View House has several features in common with the original. The round rooms of the tower became the ‘many-sided room’ of my story, where my hero settles down to write a book in peace and finds himself rudely interrupted by some unexpected arrivals. I moved the tower much farther than the Landmark Trust did – all the way from Kimmeridge Bay down to Weymouth – but I did my best to keep its curious atmosphere intact.

The tower is booked solid through this year and 2017, too, but you can at least read about its alter ego, Island View House, in All the Wild Weather, to be published on 11 August.

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Kathy-Sharp-111574195915740/

Twitter: @KathySharp19

The Larus Trilogy:

Isle of Larus http://tinyurl.com/olfyskv 

Sea of Clouds  http://amzn.to/1wYCPH0

and All the Wild Weather (to be published 11 August, 2016) http://amzn.to/29QyIqJ

Kathy’s Telling StoriesMonday Blog

Meet the hapless Mr Muggington and friends in Mr Muggington’s Discovery and Other Stories http://tinyurl.com/hec25gr

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Blind Side

Today I’m delighted to host Jennie Ensor’s novel Blind Side, published on 23 July 2016 by Unbound. Jennie has a fine eye for character, and for creating an atmosphere of discomfort or even menace without giving away too much detail. How well do we know the people we love? I’m looking forward to reading this.  Scroll down for an extract from the book.

 https://unbound.com/books/blind-side

Blind Side for wordpress 0716

Tell us about your book/series. What genre does it belong to? What is it about? Are you drawn to this genre in particular, or is this something new for you?

Blind Side is my first published novel, a thriller set in London during 2005, the year of the 7/7 suicide bombings. It leans heavily towards the psychological thriller, though it is not typical of this genre.  When pitching the novel to agents and publishers I came up with the description The Book of You (a ‘stalker novel’ by Claire Kendall) meets Gone With The Wind. This may seem an odd combination but it actually gets across a lot of what Blind Side is about. It’s impossible to describe succinctly (well, I have trouble!) – suffice to say there is love, war, sex, politics, jealousy and a whole lot more. One thing the novel looks at is the darker aspects of friendship between the sexes – it may make a few people think twice about being friends with the opposite sex!

The story starts in the run-up to the May general election, with a heated debate on immigration going on. Georgie and Nikolai are at opposite ends of the social status spectrum. She is a marketing professional who wears a suit to work and has a well-off father; he is dreams of becoming a composer but to survive works as a labourer on a construction site. Their relationship is played out against a backdrop of intolerance towards migrants. (There are interesting parallels with Britain in 2005 and the caustic climate of xenophobia in 2016.)

Anyway, going back to your questions… The novel I started first is also a psychological thriller, more of a domestic noir than Blind Side and darker in tone. So I guess I am drawn to fairly dark, edgy stuff. I hate gratuitous descriptions of violence though; I prefer to let the reader imagine the horrible bits!

Who is your favourite character? What particularly inspired you to write his or her story? Is your character warm and winning, or prickly and difficult? How does their personality affect the way you choose to write about them?

Two of my three main characters in Blind Side are prickly and difficult – Georgie and Nikolai –  the third, Julian, is a dark horse type, intense and introverted. Nikolai, the Russian who Georgie falls for is my favourite character. He is, like Georgie, burdened by past bad experiences, only he has an outgoing, warm side that is very engaging. When Georgie meets him he has been out of the Russian army for several years, but she comes to realise that whatever he did or saw there has scarred him both physically and mentally.

What inspired me to write his story? Difficult to say, though I knew someone a long time ago who left a big impression on me, and who seemed to be in a constant battle to overcome the emotional wounds inflicted on him as a child. Like many writers, artists and others, his creativity seemed to flow from a disturbance in his psyche. As far as the way I write about Nikolai – I heard his voice in my head clearly and I tried to capture the sound of it in my writing.

What about location? Why did you choose this setting? Do you know the area well? Or is it somewhere you can visit only in imagination? How can your readers best imagine the landscape in which your books are set?

London is somewhere I know well. I was born in the capital, grew up in an outer suburb and have lived in various parts of London for the past decade or so. In the novel I show contrasting parts of London from the affluent parts near Hampstead where Georgie my main narrator lives to bustling, multi-ethnic, much poorer area of Finsbury Park only a couple of miles to the east, where Nikolai lives. Also the novel is firmly grounded in a particular time, a few months before and after the bombing of a bus and underground trains. In the weeks after the 7 July bombings, the atmosphere of the capital totally changed; people were on their guard, wary of each other. This was made worse when a nail bomb (which didn’t detonate) was discovered two weeks after the initial attacks. I’ve done my best to get across what it was like being in London that July, without any explicit descriptions of the bombings or their aftermath.

Tell us something about yourself. Your favourite colour? Favourite animal? Favourite film? Why that colour, that film?

Favourite colour is cornflower blue; I can’t get enough of it. Animal – giraffe. Film – The English Patient – the story, the landscapes, the cinematography, the soundtrack, the acting, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes… need I go on?

Author web media links:

www.jennieensor.com

https://www.facebook.com/JennieEnsorAuthor

https://twitter.com/Jennie_Ensor

Blind Side: extract

Julian has been quiet since he arrived. His rigid posture, stick-thin back and clump of pale hair suddenly make me think of a scarecrow.

‘What’s the matter, Jules?’

His eyes fix on mine with an uncanny intensity. Instead of his studious-looking black plastic-rimmed specs – ‘Joe 90s’, I call them – he’s wearing his new contacts. They transform the uncertain haze of his irises to a precise blast of metallic blue. The effect is disconcerting.

‘Oh, just things,’ he replies, finishing his glass of wine. He prods a piece of the tandoori chicken from the local Indian as if a slug has crawled onto his plate. ‘I’ve been feeling a bit off lately.’

Come Away With Me, Julian’s favourite album, is playing low in the background. Nora Jones’ sweetly sad rendition of ‘Don’t Know Why’ seeps through my flat, adding to the melancholy mood.

‘What things? Bridges?’

Aside from his shiny black Jaguar XK8 and watching Formula One races, Julian’s thing is bridges. He specialises in bridge design at his civil-engineering firm.

He scowls. ‘I don’t want to go into it now.’

‘If it’s to do with the earrings… I’m sorry if I upset you.’

‘Don’t worry, it’s nothing. They look nice, by the way.’

‘Thanks.’ I pull my hair back and turn my head to show off my ears, each adorned with a disc of lapis lazuli set in a spiral of silver. ‘I do like them. I didn’t mean to be ungrateful. I was a bit taken aback, that’s all. We never give each other anything for Valentine’s Day. We’re not that like that… ’ I wait for him to look up from the table. ‘Are we?’

‘Apparently not.’

Since he gave me the earrings two days ago – he thought I’d appreciate them because I didn’t get any Valentine cards – they’ve sat in their box inside my dressing-table drawer, where I keep things that I’m not sure what to do with: foreign coins, spare buttons and a collection of brooches, scarves and other items my mother has given me over the years. I put them on for the first time fifteen minutes before Julian arrived. Julian has never before given me jewellery; on our birthdays we buy each other silly cards and maybe a cake or a bottle of wine.

‘What do you mean?’ A woolly unease gathers inside me.

‘It’s OK, Jaf. If that’s what you want, I understand.’ He turns his attention back to the table.

Jaf, originally Jaffa, was Julian’s nickname for me at university, when I had a thing for Jaffa Cakes. I got to know him in my final year; we both hung around the same local pubs where certain bands played. At first I saw him as a bit of a geek, obsessed by puzzles and anything with an engine. But it didn’t take long to find the humour beneath his reserve. I got Julian in a way that some people didn’t. Like me, he had issues with his mother. She died unexpectedly, soon after we finished uni, while we were backpacking around India. It struck me as odd that he decided he ‘couldn’t be bothered’ to go to her funeral.

Julian sighs, his shoulders slumping. ‘Hey, why don’t you open another bottle?’

I find the bottle of Haut Medoc that my father gave me. The contents smell like a dusty library but taste pretty good. We chat about the dangers of stilettos; Julian’s sister caught her heel in a drain cover while running for a bus.

‘No one knows what random fluke is going to strike next,’ Julian gazes around the room as if expecting a meteorite to crash through the ceiling. ‘A car accident, an incurable disease –’

‘You’re in a cheery mood.’

Julian pushes himself up from the table. ‘It’s Saturday night ’n’ all. What about a film? I brought a DVD over.’

I take the wine and glasses into the living room and tend to the DVD player. As I sit down on the sofa beside Julian he gestures to the magazine on my coffee table. It has a full-page, near-naked male model on its back cover.

‘That hunk’s been there for a while. Your bit of hot totty, is he?’

‘Well, you know how it is for us single girls,’ I smile. ‘I fantasise about him ringing my doorbell late at night, wearing just Calvin Kleins under his coat. I give him a shot of whisky and he unbuttons the coat, really slowly.’

A small crease appears above Julian’s nose, and rather than laugh as he’d normally do, he says in a low voice, not looking at me, ‘I don’t know why you bother with all these guys. If you don’t want a relationship, why go out with them in the first place?’

‘What guys? There’s been about three in the last six months.’ I scowl at him. ‘I do want a relationship. Just not with anyone.’

‘Not with me, you mean.’ He says it under his breath.

Something has changed between us, a micro shift. I take a slug of wine.

‘You’ve been acting really weird lately,’ I say. ‘Do you want to tell me something?’

He rubs the bridge of his nose, not meeting my eyes. I feel a surge of irritation.

‘Jaf.’ A blotch of red creeps up his neck. ‘You know I’ve always… fancied you.’

Julian has never hidden from me that he finds me attractive. Sometimes he compliments my legs or how I’m dressed. A few months ago in the Hampstead Everyman as we sat in the dark waiting for the film to start, he told me my face had the perfect bone structure. I giggled, nearly choking on my popcorn. Julian is short-sighted and on the scrawny side, whereas the only man I’ve ever been in love with and most of the guys I’ve dated have been strapping fellows. He has a high forehead, straight nose and wavy hair, lighter than mine. Handsome enough in a studious, slightly effeminate way. Like me, he went to a private school. An aristocratic overtone sometimes enters his voice, as if he’s asking the butler to bring him the newspaper.

‘Well, yes, sure,’ I reply. ‘But I didn’t think… ’ I’m up-ended for a moment. ‘We’re pretty close, aren’t we? But we’ve always kept it on one side of the line. That’s what I really like about us. It’s not like we’re in each other’s pockets, we’re not fuck buddies or anything. Are you saying you want to… Well, what are you saying?’

‘Sorry, Georgie, I didn’t mean to confuse you. It’s just… ’ He sighs, running his hand through his hair. ‘I don’t know. Can we talk about it another time?’

Now we’re finally getting to the nub of the matter, I don’t want to let it go. I wonder what’s going on; we can usually talk about anything, pretty much. His dread of losing his hair and his hope to one day become a father. My loathing of being photographed and my secret wish to get a tattoo of a seahorse at the top of my left thigh. His ambition to be his firm’s/the UK’s/the world’s number-one bridge designer. My uncertainties over what I should be doing with my life. The real purpose of bras. The components of dust. And the top ten ways to die – skiing off a mountain (accidentally or on purpose) is the only item we agree on.

Palekh Painting

For me, as a child growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s, the Palekh painting style was as synonymous with Russia as Cossack dancing and Matryoshka dolls. It’s been a pleasure to come back to it as an adult and understand a little more about it, from an adult’s point of view.

Palekh is a little town about 200 miles east of Moscow, which was famous as long ago as the 17th Century as a centre for the painting of religious ikons. Ikons were a characteristic part of Eastern Orthodox Christianity; and the church at the time was at the heart of the cultural and political life of Mother Russia.

With the October Revolution in 1917, suddenly there was no market for religious iconography, and Palekh’s painters turned to the decorative arts to make their living.

According to http://www.russianlacquerart.com/cnt/Palekh the painter Ivan Golikov saw a black lacquered box in Moscow, and developed a technique for producing lacquered papier-mache which could be decorated in bright, enamel-like colours. This painting style has become synonymous with the town. Artists used the technique on a variety of objects, from flat panels to boxes, brooches and jars, and the Palekh Art School was opened to teach the techniques.

I remember some gorgeous books from my childhood (I bought the one illustrated here recently on the second-hand market, although it’s not one I’ve read before) and the Palekh painters thrived by illustrating well-known stories (The Firebird, The Swan-Geese, Vasilisa the Wise), folk wisdoms, and  revolutionary themes.

The technique, and the town that shares its name, saw a renaissance during the second half of the twentieth century, and there are still workshops producing Palekh paintings to this day.

Of course, I’m primarily a painter with words, and as usual opening up a new box in my mind produced a new story. This one will appear in my upcoming book of stories, Treacle, and Other Twisted Tales, which I hope will come out in the summer, but here it is for your enjoyment. I’d love to hear what you think of it. https://www.facebook.com/TheCalgaryChessman/?ref=bookmarks https://twitter.com/Alayanabeth

Maryika’s Journey

She’d promised herself the trip of a lifetime. While waiting for her visa to be granted she’d brushed up on her schoolgirl Russian, pored over travel brochures and websites, and scoured the internet for information on the museums and historic buildings she wanted to visit. With her itinerary and accommodation booked, all that remained was to board the Aeroflot flight and give in to the pleasure of anticipation.

The only reading she’d brought with her was a battered copy of Russian Folk Tales, a present from her grandmother. Baba had filled her childhood with firebirds and cossacks, matryoshka dolls and waterwitches, the dark, smoky interiors of yurts, and the wide, cold spaces of the Siberian wastes. But Maryika had been more interested in Tolstoy’s Napoleonic shenanigans than the adventures of Beautiful Yelena and she’d forgotten most of it. She’d dozed off with the book on her lap, open to a Palekh style illustration of the Swan Maiden, the plane droning its way across a continent and into a different time. She was looking forward to it so much.

***

Now things were very different. It was getting darker. The sky had completely clouded over and the wind was beginning to pick up. Maryika whimpered to herself. She might have to spend the night outside, and she still didn’t have any idea how she’d managed to get here, wherever ‘here’ was.

She’d got off the train along with all the other travellers, hundreds of them streaming along the platform and out into the intricate series of tunnels that linked Moscow’s Metro stations with the outside world. Being in the Metro was a frankly hallucinatory experience, the screech and roar of the trains and gunmetal scent of the track vying with the gorgeous, over-embellished eighteenth-century-ballroom vibe of the décor. If she looked up at the ceilings, she could fantasize that at any moment her comfortable tee shirt and trousers would metamorphose into a sumptuous silk-and-satin gown, and some minor dvoryane would be bending his lips over her hand and sweeping her into the mazurka. A moment later, another train would come rushing into the station, its hot breath swirling across the platform like the wind under the Firebird’s wings, conjuring a completely different flurry of images.

For a little while, in the Metro, she could pretend that her dream of Imperial Russia was still alive, but the reality was that the much anticipated trip had been a disappointment. Moscow was cold, grey and monumental – admittedly, as advertised – but the expectation that she would be able to dig beneath its intimidating surface and find the colourful, exhilarating Russia of her grandmother’s stories had turned out to be a childish fantasy.

If she hadn’t been convinced by the miserable faces at the airport, the grey sleet blowing across the streets and the taciturn grumpiness of the cab drivers, this morning’s mugging had done it in spades. Her flight home was tomorrow. She only needed to get through one more night, and then she could go to the airport and let modern technology whisk her home, safe and a little more worldly-wise. But the mugger had taken more than her self-confidence; he had taken her wallet, her tickets, her passport – she was lost in the middle of Moscow with nothing but the clothes she stood up in and her inadequate Russian to fall back on.

There was enough cash in her trouser pocket to pay for a cab ride back to the run-down hotel she’d been staying in. There she intended to take refuge in her room (already paid for) and somehow find out how to phone the embassy and ask for their help. But the counter staff at the hotel had changed shift, and the new floor manager didn’t know her. She tried to explain about the mugging, but he wasn’t interested. No ID – no passport – no room. She had the feeling he might respond to a bribe as she stumbled, with increasing desperation, through her stock of Russian phrases, but unfortunately the mugger had the rest of her money. In the end, she backed out of the hotel and wandered the streets, frozen and miserable, until at last the cold forced her into the Metro, where at least she could keep warm for a while.

She looked up. The crowd off the last train had rushed past her, a small island in a sea of commuters, but then the corridor had fallen quiet. The pedestrian tunnel branched ahead, and she had to choose between two exits. One smelled fresher than the other: a whiff of snow and, oddly enough, pine needles. All right, then. She’d go up to street level and try to find a police station. Sooner or later, surely someone would understand what she was saying?

Instead, she’d stumbled out of the tunnel into a forest. And, turning, she found that the tunnel entrance was no longer behind her. She was truly lost, somewhere in the middle of a forest of conifers with lichen-coated trunks and dense, aromatic foliage, and she’d been stumbling across the mossy ground for hours.

There was light ahead, a break in the canopy, and Maryika pushed towards it. The trees thinned and she saw that she was on the edge of a clearing. The late afternoon sun glinted off a field of grass and wild flowers, and there were horses grazing. Beautiful horses; one white, one dark bay, glowing in the sun, one pale chestnut with flaxen mane and tail. Their limbs were slim and elegant, their manes long and flowing, their haunches well-muscled and their conformation perfect. Maryika had never been one of those girls who go through a horsy stage, but she knew pretty when she saw it. The closest horse (Flaxen Mane) lifted its head from grazing and looked at her. Its enormous eyes glowed with intelligence.

Maryika pinched herself. In the midst of the horses, whirling and dancing across the ground, was a house – a hut, really – spinning as if caught in its own miniature whirlwind. It seemed to have legs. The pinching hurt, but the hut was still there. It came nearer, and the branches above her began to move in a wind she couldn’t yet feel. She clung to the trunk of her tree and stared in disbelief. The horse took a step or two closer.

“Are you in need of assistance?”

Maryika felt the last scraps of her sanity shredding away. Her pulse thudded in her ears, as her heart rate rocketed. Her knees shook; only the tree was holding her up. The horse nudged her.

“I said, do you need help? You don’t look very well.”

Ye gods. As hallucinations go, this was a doozie. Maryika gave up. At least the horse didn’t look as though it was going to mug her again.

“I’m cold, tired, and lost, and I haven’t eaten anything all day. Also I’m in a forest in the middle of a Metro station, with a talking horse, looking at a dancing house. I’m not exactly coping here.”

The horse snorted. It sounded surprisingly like a human laugh. “I can help you there,” it said. “I’ll tell you what to say to make the house stop. You have to say it exactly right, though.”

“What?” Maryika’s subconscious mind had decided to take what was in front of her at face value, but her intellect was still struggling to make sense of things.

“I said, repeat these words after me. Say them exactly as I do.” The horse leaned forward and blew into her ear. The sound it made burbled at a very low pitch, just at the edge of Maryika’s hearing, and she could make no sense of it. The horse’s breath whooshed past her face, stirring her hair. It smelled of haybales and buttercups and sunshine.

Maryika stared at it, bemused and silent. The horse shook its head, danced sideways a step, and stood on Maryika’s foot.

“Ow, what the fuck?”

The house abruptly ceased whirling. It turned until its door faced her, then sank down on its legs which, at close quarters, turned out to be rough and scaled. Each ended in a giant, three-toed foot. Maryika glared at the horse.

“I thought I had to repeat what you said, exactly.”

The horse moved its shoulder in what could only be described as a shrug. “Close enough,” it said.

The door creaked open and the horse put its head in. “Good oh,” it said. “Up you go.”

Maryika gingerly approached the hut and put her foot on its bottom step. The wood creaked and the hut vibrated as the chicken-legs shifted a little. Maryika put her hand up to her mouth and backed away. The horse whinnied.

“Oh, all right then.”

Maryika let out an involuntary squeal as the house spoke, in a voice that was a mix of creaking door, shifting roof-tile and a bit of hen’s cackle. It shuffled on the spot, and then the legs bent a little more and the bottom step thumped down squarely on the earth, sending up a puff of dust. The horse edged behind Maryika and nudged her forwards.

A skirl of wind sent snowflakes into her face as the sun vanished into a purple mass of cloud that was rapidly climbing the sky. Maryika took her courage in both hands and climbed into the hut. She had no idea what she was doing, really she didn’t, but that was an iron stove she could see in there, and there was a samovar on it. Fire and coffee spoke a language that went straight to her hind-brain and overrode the screaming whisper of panic that was governing all her higher functions.

The hut was not unoccupied. On a worn rug in front of the stove lay a scrawny cat. It eyed Maryika over its dinner, a piece of greenish fishskin. In the hut’s gloom, Maryika peered at it. The piece of fishskin seemed to have a button attached.

The horse poked its head in through the doorway and made her jump. “That’s a very thin cat,” it remarked, conversationally.

The hut creaked. “That one gets plenty to eat,” it rumbled. “She just never gets any fatter.”

The cat regarded them with baleful yellow eyes, then retrieved its dinner and carried it away into a dark corner. Maryika strained her eyes after it, but either the shadows were darker than they appeared or the corner was deeper than it should be. Either way, the cat had disappeared, and for some odd reason this was reassuring. She stroked the horse’s nose. “Thank you,” she said.

“He didn’t do it for nothing, you know.” She jumped as the house spoke again. It was extremely disconcerting to be inside the thing that was talking to you. Maryika’s Baba had given her a fund of half-remembered Russian folktales from her own childhood, and Maryika recognised the Hut with Fowl’s Legs, though she didn’t remember it talking. Still – this was her hallucination; she could hardly argue with the details. She was only pleased that the hut’s owner did not appear to be in residence.

The house creaked. The horse shuffled its hooves. Maryika looked enquiringly at it. The horse nodded its head, in a reassuringly horsy gesture, then whuffled at her again. “There is something you could do for me,” it said, tentatively.

“Oh, anything you like.” Maryika was beginning to warm up, and as she’d already given up on her sanity there didn’t seem any reason not to be helpful.

“Well, it’s just that…” The horse paused, and gestured with its nose towards a small lidded pot on the edge of the hearth. “See that pot?”

Maryika pulled the pot towards herself and opened the lid. The pot was about half full of poppy seeds. The horse breathed out, and a small cloud of seeds rose into the air. A few of them clung to Maryika’s skin.

“Please scrape up the dust from the floor and put it into the pot.”

The floor shuddered under Maryika’s bottom as the hut let out a grumbling sound. She squeaked in fright, but the hut subsided again. “Are you sure?” it said to the horse.

“Sure as Koschey’s overcoat,” said Flaxen Mane.

The hut grumbled again. “Koschey doesn’t have an overcoat,” it said. “The witch ate it.”

“Do you mean Baba Yaga?” Maryika summoned up a vague childhood memory, but nearly dropped the pot of seeds as the house shuddered. The horse danced backwards from the doorway, but shoved its head back in again as soon as the house calmed down.

“Please don’t say the name,” it said. “She’ll come for her name, and you really don’t want to meet her. Believe me.”

The house groaned. “Don’t even think it,” it muttered. The window shutters opened and banged shut again, letting a cold draught and a flurry of snowflakes into the room.

The horse ignored it. “Please scrape up as much dust as you can. Put it in the pot and stir it in well. Don’t worry. You’re doing the right thing.”

“Why?” Maryika brushed her hand across the floor. Sure enough, there was a layer of dust. It coated her palm and she rubbed it against her trousers.

“One day Vasilisa the Wise is going to come, and when she wins me we will ride like the wind across the great steppe and rescue the prince.” The horse spoke these words with a rhythmic, poetic cadence that gave them great significance. Maryika could almost hear that each word was capitalised. “Ride Like the Wind,” it said again, happily. “The witch will give her three tasks to do. One of them will be to separate poppy seeds from dust. It’s meant to be impossible.”

Maryika tipped the pot, watching the tiny seeds flow from one side to the other. “I can see how it would be,” she said.

“But there’s a problem with his plan.” The hut shifted slightly, and Maryika put out a hand to brace herself against the floor. It let out a henlike squawk, “Boccoc!” and settled down again. “Can’t separate the dust from the seeds without mixing them in the first place.”

The horse bowed its head to her. “And I can’t collect dust without hands,” it pointed out, reasonably. Maryika nodded. It made sense, she supposed.

She swept up the dust with the side of her palm and collected it, a bit at a time. Once she’d started adding it to the pot she got into the swing of the task and scraped dust out of all the corners. When she got to the place where the cat had slunk into the shadows, there was no sign of it. She did pick a greyish mother-of-pearl button out of the dust. She put the button in her pocket.

When she finished, she put the lid back on the pot and set it neatly back in its place. Then she stood up and lifted the samovar, pouring the sweet, strong, black liquid into a cup she took down from a shelf. She sat on the rug in front of the stove, sipping the coffee and slowly warming up, inside and out. The horse nudged her a final time and backed out of the hut, which banged its own door shut, almost catching the horse’s nose. Maryika sank down on the rug, suddenly sleepy, and the last thing she heard as she closed her eyes was the deep, burbly voice of the horse. “Your part in the story is small, Maryushka, but you are more important than you know.”

***

The sun in her eyes woke her. For a moment she felt disoriented, trapped by the seatbelt across her lap, frightened by the strange, white-and-grey plastic world that surrounded her. Then the rushing of wind in her ears resolved itself into the sound of an aircraft’s engines, the glowing heat of the fire transmuted into the ‘Fasten Seatbelts’ sign, and the smell of coffee was the cabin attendant leaning over with an offer to fill her cup.

Maryika took the proffered brew – a thin, watery disappointment after the coffee in the Hut with Fowl’s Legs – along with a poppyseed breakfast roll, and turned to look out of the tiny window of the plane. Beneath her the white-and-grey tops of the clouds rushed past like the rolling backs of running beasts. The sun shot into her eyes again, blinding her, but just as the stewardess reached past her to close the blind Maryika thought she saw, amidst the clouds, a curling, flowing, misty trail of flaxen and gold. It didn’t surprise her at all when she pulled the button from her pocket.

Illustrations: Russian Fairy Tales: Palekh Painting by Alexei Orleansky; Vasilisa the Wise, Palekh lacquered box, seen on http://www.russianlacquerart.com/cnt/Palekh

 

 

A Cunning Plan

Today my guest is Astrid Arditi, whose romantic mystery A Cunning Plan has just been published by Crooked Cat.

Determined to put her family back together, Sloane Harper stalks her ex husband and his annoyingly stunning mistress, Kate. But she’s not the only one. Handsome IRS agent Ethan Cunning is surveying them too, but not for the same reasons. He is attempting to nail Kate’s playboy boss.

Ethan and Sloane decide to help each other, which sends Sloane’s wobbly life spinning out of control. She’ll have to face danger, humiliation, and scariest of all, the dating scene, to lure her daughters’ father home.

Losing control was the best thing to happen to Sloane… until it turned lethal.

Cunning Plan - High Resolution

Hello Astrid, welcome to The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet. Tell us about your book.

A Cunning Plan is the first book in the Sloane Harper series. It’s a romantic mystery. Although my heroine’s everyday life shares similarities to my own – we are both stay at home mums with two young kids – the rest of the story is total fiction and my life is way more predicatble (thankfully!) than Sloane’s.

Who is your favourite character? What particularly inspired you to write his or her story? Is your character warm and winning, or prickly and difficult? How does their personality affect the way you choose to write about them?

I’m very fond of Sloane. She’s sweet and loving, funny and totally dedicated to her family and friends. She’s also weak and insecure, although she grows a lot in the book. At the beginning, some readers were shocked at how much of a doormat she is but it’s a truth about her character I couldn’t tone down. It makes you cringe to read it but I actually know many women like her. Fantastic women who have lost their confidence and believe they deserve to be put down. You wouldn’t cheer as much for Sloane if you didn’t know her to be weak, and at least the only way for her to go as the story evolves is up!

What about location? Why did you choose this setting? Do you know the area well? Or is it somewhere you can visit only in imagination? How can you readers best imagine the landscape in which your books are set?

The story is set in London where I live. Most places actually exist or are loosely based on real locations, which helps make the world of the story believable.

How did you come to be a writer? Tell us a little about your personal journey.

I’m cursed with a wild imagination so I’ve always dabbled with writing but my lack of confidence held me back for a long time. Over the last two or three years though, I’ve completed a couple manuscripts and finally came to accept I was a writer. Sending my novel to agents and publishers, then being signed by Crooked Cat, has finally made it official. I can’t wait to start receiving feedback from total strangers!

How do you choose your characters names? Are names important? Do you feature real historical characters, or are they all completely fictional?

For Sloane, I needed a name that conveyed her social status – AKA a WASP. Hence Sloane Harper. For her male counterpart, Ethan, I chose a last name that gave hindsight on his personality – Cunning. My characters are all fictional so all names are made up. I look through baby names’ lists, keep store of all names that strike my fancy. Names are really important to me. They make the characters real.

What’s coming up next? Are you working on a new novel? What else have your written?

I’m meant to start book 2 in the Sloane Harper series. Most of the book is already neatly outlined in my mind, I just need to sit down and write now.

Tell us something about the main character in your next book.

Sloane will be back in book 2 obviously, and so will Ethan Cunning. I’ve got a new sexy character ready to make an appearance in book 2, Felix Leconte. Can’t wait to see how he and Sloane will interact. You can expect sparks!

Who will enjoy your books? How do you connect with your readers?

Women age 25 to no limit. There is a universal truth in a character like Sloane, trying to find equilibrium between her family’s demands and her own needs. Hopefully it should speak to all women looking for a light read and a good laugh.

I’d love to connect with my readers. I’m on Twitter, Facebook and I blog at www.astridarditi.com. I’m also planning to set up an Instagram account for Sloane.

Tell us something about yourself. Your favourite colour? Favourite animal? Favourite food? Why does it appeal to you?

I’ve got a massive sweet tooth. I’ve been promising to go on a diet every day since I’m twelve but I’ve never turned down a cake or a piece of chocolate. Life is too short to eat lettuce.

Who are your favourite authors (or favourite books)? Did these authors help to inspire your writing? In what way?

My favourite all time author is Stefan Zweig. I’m especially fond of his short stories. In a totally different register, I’m a big fan of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. More than twenty books down the line and I still laugh till my ribs hurt.

AUTHOR BIO

Astrid Arditi was born from a French father and Swedish mother. She lived in Paris and Rome before moving to London with her husband and daughter back in 2013. After dabbling in journalism, interning at Glamour magazine, and teaching kindergarten, Arditi returned to her first love: writing. She now splits her time between raising her kids (a brand new baby boy just joined the family) and making up stories.

A Cunning Plan is Arditi’s first published work.

LINKS

Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cunning-Plan-Astrid-Arditi-ebook/dp/B01D7H7O42/

Amazon US http://www.amazon.com/Cunning-Plan-Astrid-Arditi-ebook/dp/B01D7H7O42/

IBooks https://itunes.apple.com/fr/book/a-cunning-plan/id1102554468?mt=11

Nook http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-cunning-plan-astrid-arditi/1123657004?ean=2940152965568

Kobo https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/a-cunning-plan-5

Stormy Down

Chalk_Stone,_South_Downs_Way_-_Simon Carey wikimedia commons

Photo: chalk boulder on the South Downs Way, by Simon Carey from Wikimedia Commons.

Some years ago I wrote a short story inspired by my memories of walking the South Downs Way. I’m thinking of including it in an upcoming short story collection, but I’m no longer sure it’s good enough.

Let me know what you think.

Stormy Down

Simon’s breath hissed between his teeth as he climbed the steep, chalky path to the downland meadow. His calf muscles ached and clenched as he trudged his way upwards. Today’s leg had already been a long one, and he had to make a fair way further before night fall if he was to reach the end of the South Downs Way in time to meet Max and Tamsin. If he missed the car he’d be stuck with a long, complicated and needlessly expensive train journey, so he looked down at his feet and plodded on.

Pushing down on his knees at each climbing step, Simon forced himself up the last few feet of the climb and straightened up onto level ground. For a moment his vision faded into redness, and he could hear his heart thudding in his ears, its slightly irregular beat quickening with every indrawn breath, then settling back with the breath out.

He licked his dry lips, trying to stir a little saliva to moisten his mouth, which tasted of very stale chewing gum. Unclipping a bottle from his belt, he took a warm plastic-flavoured mouthful and swilled it round his mouth. Swallowing a second mouthful, he put the bottle away and looked around.

As heart rate steadied and vision cleared, he saw a broad upland field of thin chalky soil, sparsely covered with a sward closely-cropped grass. Stony outcroppings were scattered across the field, gleaming whitely in alternating patches of sunshine and shade as the wind swept clouds across the landscape. The grass was longer nearest the boulders, and seed heads nodded in the wind. There was no sign of any living thing, although trimmed grass suggested sheep and a yellowing bone by his feet supported this supposition.

The air was heavy with the threat of rain, and faint rumbles of thunder muttered constantly in the distance. His untidy hair, damp with sweat, clung to his face and he pushed it away with one hand, smoothing it back behind his ears.

The view trembled slightly as the heat of summer escaped the earth. Roiling black clouds moved steadily in from the east, and the sun gleamed through the shimmering air, bathing everything before him in a strange, brassy radiance. An uncanny feeling crept over Simon and he startled, feeling for a moment as if someone was standing right behind him. He turned, but there was no-one there.

He shivered and, shouldering his pack more squarely, moved slowly forwards, crossing the field diagonally. Chalk pebbles crumbled underfoot and the crunchy sound of his footsteps seemed loud in his ears although their echo was swallowed instantly in the heavy, deadened air. A shimmer of lightning illuminated the cloudbank ahead, and a loud roll of thunder indicated the storm’s approach.

Simon swallowed with difficulty, his tongue dry in his mouth. His skin prickled, and on his forearms all the hairs stood on end. Again, Simon felt he was being watched, and a light breeze signed across his skin, soft as a caress. He shivered again, more violently, and instantly a patch of goose bumps appeared on his left arm. He rubbed the spot, which felt hot and itchy, though his hands and legs were cold and shaking.

Eyeing the sky watchfully he continued to move forwards, feeling with every step a rise in tension. The meadow fell into semi-darkness as the fitful sunlight faded under the storm’s shadow. He felt his energy being sapped with every step, and his footsteps steadily slowed until he came to a halt. Head hanging, he let the pack slip from his back and fall to the ground. It had become very hard to breather, and Simon panted as he lifted his head and pressed a hand to his chest.

Suddenly, a great bolt of lightning smote the edge of the field. As its awesome power whited-out his eyesight, Simon could see imprinted on his vision a pattern of chalk fragments thrown up from the boulder that had been hit. A blast of almost palpable sound swept across the field and struck him where he stood.  He fell to his knees and grovelled as the deafening concussion swept over him. Strike after strike hit the field in quick succession, shaking the ground like an earthquake, and Simon curled up on the bony soil, wrapping his arms around his ears and tightly closing his eyes. He sobbed.

Simon lay at the centre of the great storm, shuddering as successive lightning charges earthed around him, deafened by the continual subsonic book of shock waves passing over him. His fear climaxed and passed over into a fatalistic calm: a steady and forthright acceptance. As his mind cleared, so silence fell upon the chalky field. Simon dared to open his eyes, defying the brilliance that played upon his clenched eyelids. His eyes widened. He stared.

All about him, lightning coruscated, sending multiple bolts from cloud to earth, earth to sky, as if in slow motion. The earth no longer heaved in protest, but tossed gently, cradling him with a rhythmic rocking motion.

Above his head, silver lights coalesced to form a shimmering vapour. It roiled and stirred, sending forth a glowing pseudopod to touch his face. Startled, he flinched and the light withdrew, returning to slide down his cheek and neck. Cool and silken, like water in a skin of light, it touched him and he shook.

Unable to move his heavy limbs, Simon lay and watched. Silently, a face materialised n the silver mist. Great lion’s eyes, lit with a topaz glow, fringed with a mane of light, stared at him solemnly. A shining face, ageless and innocent, looked down upon him. She smiled, and Simon felt his heart stop.

Colder and colder he was becoming, leaving the dense, earthly flesh behind. Gradually, he raised himself to meet her, and his body began to settle back and cool into darkness. She frowned. For a moment Simon felt uneasy, and strove to reach her. The silken mouth opened, and he felt her cool breath wash over him. An immense weight struck him in the chest, and its astonishing power swept him into oblivion.

Simon lay quietly, blinking slightly as the water ran into his eyes. He focused slowly on a streamlet of bubbling water, frothing over the white path into the mists. He could hear it chuckling below his resting place, at the edge of the field, where the ground fell away. A droplet of rain glimmering on a seedhead of rye captured his attention and he gazed at it solemnly.

As he came back to himself, he realised he was completely sodden and water from his hair was dripping into his eyes. Simon rolled slightly onto his side and raised his left hand to smooth the hair off his face. He winced at the initial movement, then gasped as pain gripped him. He felt as though giants had danced on his chest. Every muscle ached and tightened, as if he had run a marathon in his sleep.

Groaning, he rolled over and eased himself onto hands and knees. As he hung there a moment, marshalling his strength, he noticed his pack on the ground beside him. The straps were intact, but the waistbelt had been burned away and a great scorchmark marred the side pocket. Like Simon, it was now soaked and smelt odd.

Simon struggled to his feet, breathing carefully, and shouldered his pack. Wincing, he slowly straightened and looked out across the vale. Mist filled every valley, but above the clouds were clearing and a pale sun shone.

Far off to the north-west the dark clouds retreated, making their way to some other hilltop. A brief flicker of lightning teased at the edge of vision, and a strange expression passed over Simon’s face.

Carefully, he stepped onto the downward path, now a chalky rivulet, and began his descent. As he did so a thin rumble of thunder reached his ears and a breath of wind, soft as silk, caressed his face once before passing on, to set the grasses dancing.

©YMarjot

 

Norah’s Ark

Here’s a short story for a wet Sunday. I donated it to the anthology ‘Writing for Rescue’, which is raising money for an animal protection initiative in Romania.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-Rescue-Karen-Taylor-ebook/dp/B00QZEI4GC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1460907620&sr=8-1&keywords=writing+for+rescue

writing for rescue

Norah’s Ark

“Come on, kids, the water’s nearly up to the doorstep.”

Norah balanced the twins on either hip as she wedged one foot and then the other into her Wellingtons. She wobbled as Japh made a grab for her earring, and then stepped off into the water sloshing past her front doorstep. Fortunately the 4-by-4 sat high on its massive tires, well above the water level in the road. At the rate the flood was rising, though, it wouldn’t be long before it was too dangerous to leave.

Sulie pushed past her and wriggled into the middle spot between the two car seats. She deftly buckled herself in, and helped Norah to secure the twins. Jemmy squeaked as his harness clicked shut, then giggled as Sulie tickled his tummy. Norah could feel the pressure of the water flowing down the road. It pushed against the back of her boots. She looked round to see if other neighbours were also evacuating, but all the doors down the street were tight shut. Perhaps they’d left already.

She took a quick head count. In the back of the vehicle Spot and Merry whined in unison, and she could hear the guinea pigs scratching in their travel basket. The lorikeets’ cage was safely stowed on the floor in front of the passenger seat, with plenty of room for Sam’s legs.

Sam. Where was he? A frown creased her face as she worked her way through her worry list. Food – check. Spare clothes – check. Pet supplies – check. Dogs – guineas – lories – rat…

Rats. That’s where Sam would be. She plunged back into the house, not bothering to remove her wellies. Give it an hour and the water would be through the whole lower storey anyway. This weather! She hadn’t seen anything like it in all the years they’d lived in Shottom-by-the-River. For the first time she realised what ‘by-the-River’ could actually mean.

Sam was upstairs, trying to secure the door of the rats’ cage. Pinky and Poppy were huddled together in a pile of straw, staring at him. It was as if they understood what was coming. Norah brushed the hair out of her face wearily before she spoke to him, trying to keep exasperation out of her voice.

“Sam, I thought we were going to leave the rats. There’s no room in the car. With plenty of food and water they can easily last a week.”

“No, I can’t leave them to drown.”

“Oh, honey, the water’s not going to come up this far.”

She injected a note of jolly confidence into her words, but to be honest her heart was with Sam on this one. Who knew what tomorrow might bring, or how high the waters might rise? He looked up at her, white-faced, one hand stubbornly wrapped around the handle of the cage.

“Come on, then. I’ll bring the cage and you carry their blanket.”

Sam stood on the doorstep as Norah waded to the car and deposited the rats on the driver’s seat. Then she carried Sam to the passenger side and decanted him carefully into the seat. “You’re a weight, my boy,” she said, hiding her fears under a joke, as she so often did. “Get yourself strapped in and I’ll give you the rats to hold.” Carefully she made her way back to the driver’s side. The water was already above the tops of her boots, and they had filled with water, the weight of them dragging at her as she walked.

She cast one look back at her front door. There seemed no point in closing it; the water was already lapping at the sill. She perched on the edge of her seat and pulled off her wellies. She tipped them upside-down, adding their contents to the ever-increasing volume of water sweeping down the lane. She shoved them under the seat, along with her soaked socks, and applied her bare feet to the pedals. As she snapped her seatbelt shut she made one final check that Sam’s seatbelt was done up, and the three in the back seat were ready to go. Sam draped the blanket over the cage on his lap, and the silent agitation of the rats calmed.

Norah resisted the urge to watch her house in the rear-view mirror as they drove slowly along the lane. It was only a house. All the important things were right here with her in the car – all but one. The 4-wheel-drive vehicle made short work of the two feet of water in the lane, and surged forwards as they gained the higher ground at the far end of the village. Ahead, perched on the top of the hill, she could see their destination.

‘The Ark and Courage’ had been a pub from time immemorial. No-one knew how it had come by its peculiar name. It was familiar ground to Norah, because before the kids were born she’d been the barmaid there, and then the proprietor’s wife. Now she came to him, bringing all the things that he cared most about in the world. “My wife, my kids, my animals. That’s what matters. Anything else is just window-dressing. You’re what matters to me.”

For the first time that day, Norah began to feel calm. She’d done what she needed to do, and now she wouldn’t have to cope on her own any more. If anyone knew what to do in this situation, Philip Noah would know.

He was there in the doorway as she pulled into the pub car park, striding forward to help Sam with the rats. Norah climbed out and went to open the back doors, but was delayed briefly by his hand on her arm and the warmth of his kiss. She smiled in relief at his kind, wonderful, utterly reliable face. “There you are, Mrs Noah,” he said. “What about this British summer, eh?”

How Many Wrongs Make a Mr Right?

I’m here today with Stella Birrell, author of romantic comedy How Many Wrongs Make a Mr Right? Today is the beginning of Stella’s blog hop, leading up to publication day on 15 April. The book is available for pre-order (links below) or you can join the launch party at https://www.facebook.com/events/453998841462572/ next Friday. Tomorrow Stella will be on Emma Rose Millar’s blog https://emmarosemillar.wordpress.com/ where she’ll tell us more.

Hello Stella, welcome. Tell us about your book.

How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? is what I’m calling a ‘chick-lit-with-grit’ novel. It’s about a twentysomething girl, Melissa, who is searching for The One (even though she doesn’t really believe in soul mates). More neurotic than erotic, the book combines sneak peeks into Melissa’s past and future, with a mildly amoral year in Melissa’s present, set in 2001.

I love reading women’s fiction, so I wanted to write something that was easy to read, with a happy ending. But there is a lot of darkness for a fluffy story about finding a boyfriend. It’s not a straight memoir, but there are aspects of my own history within the book.

lonely feminist

What about location?

It’s written to be realistic, and recognisable, so I felt it was important to write about places that I knew well.

I chose to write about the Lake District: because I used to live there, and Edinburgh: my closest city and also somewhere I lived for a short while. Edinburgh is almost a character itself, I found it such an inspirational place to live and work. The history seeps into you somehow, from the stone.

How did you come to be a writer? .

I’ve always claimed I’m not one of those writers who ‘always wrote,’ but recently I found evidence to the contrary in a box of letters from the loft! As I got older it became more and more clear to me that I should attempt a full length novel.

Combining writing with childcare and a very understanding husband meant I could give up paid work, which gave me the head space to ‘just do it’. The first three years were hard, because you’re writing in a vacuum. The rejections, and there were several, make you question the quality of the writing.

give it time

What’s coming up next?

My second novel is currently with the friend who gave me the best advice after reading How Many Wrongs…

There is a third, but to be honest it’s just a twinkle in my eye and half a page of notes so far!

I do have some short pieces coming up in The Ropes Journal, and The Dangerous Women project, and a spoken word piece I recorded for the podcast Lies, Dreaming.

Who will enjoy your books?

I’ve thought hard about my target audience, and I love connecting with people on Twitter and wondering whether they might enjoy reading How Many Wrongs…

I reckon women with small children, in their late twenties and early thirties, who love their kids, but also love getting out once in a while to the pub, would really connect with my novel.

But anyone who has ever had their heart broken, or felt stuck in a place and time, or kissed a frog (and let’s face it, we’ve all been there, right?) will relate to Melissa’s story.

not looking good

My book is available from the following places

UK Amazon

http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Many-Wrongs-make-Right-ebook/dp/B01D0EO7G0/

US Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/How-Many-Wrongs-make-Right-ebook/dp/B01D0EO7G0/

Kobo

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/how-many-wrongs-make-a-mr-right

Nook

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/how-many-wrongs-make-a-mr-right-stella-hervey-birrell/1123543910?ean=2940152924312

iBooks

Search ‘How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right?’ in the iTunes Store

How to find me! Please come and say ‘hi’ in one or more of these places

My blog space is https://atinylife140.wordpress.com/

Twitter is @atinylife140

I have a page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/stellaherveybirrell/?ref=hl

Email me at atinylife140@gmail.com

I can also be found wandering the streets of various East Lothian villages.

 

 

Best Female Sci Fi Authors

top ten female sci fi.jpg

Last week I reposted (on Facebook) this interesting article about female Sci Fi authors (http://www.whizzpast.com/historys-10-greatest-sci-fi-novels-written-women/), and it roused a lot of interest, so today I’m going a step further: here are my top-ten female Sci Fi authors, and my top picks from their books.

Ursula Le Guin – anything from the Hainish universe, my favourites are The Telling and The Left Hand of Darkness. The latter is Sci Fi second, and brilliantly observed political commentary first. Great writing by a very clever woman. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Telling-GOLLANCZ-S-F-Ursula-LeGuin-ebook/dp/B0049MPKGE/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1459601355&sr=8-2&keywords=the+telling

C J Cherryh. She has a monumental oeuvre, many of which I’ve read, but my favourites are the Faded Sun books, about the last remnants of the enigmatic mri, warriors born and bred, and the man who finds himself forced, by isolation, to become part of their inward-looking tradition-bound culture. It’s an intimate story of three exiles thrown together, that takes places against a backdrop as big as the universe, and it’s awesome – and offers a perceptive take on Stockholm Syndrome. Foreigner is damn good as well, and I love the Exile’s Gate series, with Morgaine and her Gate Destroying sword. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Faded-Sun-Trilogy-C-J-Cherryh/dp/0886778697/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459601386&sr=8-1&keywords=the+faded+sun

Vonda McIntyre. Famous for writing quite a bit of the original Star Trek (and for giving Hikaru Sulu his first name). Her best novels are Superluminal (about the kind of mind that is needed to encompass FTL/cross-dimensional travel) and Dreamsnake (about a healer and snake handler in a ruined earth, post apocalyptic events and alien visitations. The ecology of the dreamsnakes and the disconnect between primitive living conditions and surviving technology are both very interesting). http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dreamsnake-Vonda-McIntyre/dp/0857054260/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459601491&sr=8-1&keywords=dreamsnake

Mary Gentle – the linked pair of novels Golden Witchbreed and Ancient Light. Not only are they great world-building, with their own convincing ecology, but the sequel ends with a bang, and a sense of utter hopelessness. Very brave to avoid the happy ending in favour of the right one. When I retire, I want to live in Tathcaer, crown of the Southland. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Golden-Witchbreed-Mary-Gentle-ebook/dp/B00D8CY6PM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459601536&sr=8-1&keywords=golden+witchbreed

Sheri S Tepper: Grass and its sequels. Grass is a brilliant book; the ecology of the planet Grass is dazzlingly realised, and genuinely scary. She always has an amazing range of characters; even the horrible ones’ behaviour is understandable (though perhaps not forgiveable). http://www.amazon.co.uk/Grass-S-F-MASTERWORKS-Sheri-Tepper/dp/1857987985/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459601611&sr=8-1&keywords=grass+tepper

Robin Hobb: The Liveship Traders trilogy. You might define her novels as Fantasy, and the line is definitely blurred here, but I think there’s a strong scientific basis to the liveships and the Rain Wild River, even if it arises out of fantastic origins. She also wrote (as Megan Lindholm) the wonderful Windsingers series. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mad-Ship-Liveship-Traders-Book/dp/0008117462/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459601626&sr=8-1&keywords=the+liveship+traders

Zenna Henderson: her The People series. Lovely, gentle, elegiac portrayal of aliens on earth and the possibility of telepathic powers. They work because she’s a fine observer of people, alien or otherwise. http://www.amazon.co.uk/People-Collection-Zenna-Henderson/dp/055213659X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459601657&sr=8-1&keywords=zenna+henderson+the+people

Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern. The books have dated badly, especially the early ones – I tried to persuade my sons to read them and they couldn’t get past the writing style. But Pern is a completely believable ecology, and I still love the dragons. Dragon Quest is my favourite. I love many of her non-dragon stories too: Restoree, the Killashandra books, The Ship that Sang. The woman has so much talent it’s just unfair. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dragonquest-Dragon-Books-Anne-McCaffrey/dp/0552116351/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459601761&sr=8-1&keywords=dragon+quest+mccaffrey

Andre Norton’s Witchworld – I didn’t come to it until adulthood, and I’ve never fully embraced it, but she has a knack for taking you into places in your mind that are just a little bit uncomfortable and thus completely memorable. As a teenager I adored Moon of Three Rings and Exiles of the Stars which feature, amongst other things, mind transference, sorcery and galactic smuggling rings. Cracking! http://www.amazon.co.uk/Moon-Three-Rings-Andre-Norton/dp/B000UH4UNG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459601741&sr=8-1&keywords=moon+of+three+rings

Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence. Another one that blends fantasy and myth with hard and soft science. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dark-Rising-Modern-Classic/dp/1849412707/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459601762&sr=8-1&keywords=the+dark+is+rising

Special Mention: my Facebook post produced several other good suggestions, the most notable of which was a heart-felt plea on behalf of the writer who is top of my Mythical World Building list – Patricia McKillip. Like my correspondent, I view McKillip’s Riddlemaster trilogy to be amongst the best of its kind ever written. It will always be on my shelves, and Morgon of Hed, Raederle and the inimitable Tristan have a special place in my heart. However, I view it as true fantasy, not Sci Fi (whereas some of the undeniably fantasy-based stories above have a firm Sci Fi foundation). So – not in this top ten, but definitely worth reading. Plus – riddles! Who doesn’t like to read a riddle book? http://www.amazon.co.uk/Riddle-Master-Hed-Patricia-McKillip-ebook/dp/B0124179II/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459602015&sr=8-1&keywords=the+riddlemaster

I hope you enjoy my selection. Join my on facebook if you want to offer your own alternatives. https://www.facebook.com/TheCalgaryChessman/

 

Pica explores a world of ancient magic, when people and nature shared secret powers.

My friend (and editor of my first novel, The Calgary Chessman) Jeff Gardiner has written a new twist on one of my favourite themes – the modern child thrust into an alternative universe. In ‘Pica’ modern technology gives way to magic and mystery, as Luke tries to find his feet in a place that is very far from home.

PICA by Jeff Gardiner

I’ve always been inspired by nature. The times when I most feel alive are when I’m walking in a forest, on a hillside or by a lake.

Our relationship with nature as a human race is an odd one. On the one hand we are animals – part of nature. On the other, we often seem to be at odds with nature. We cut down forests and build concrete jungles; we pollute and urbanise as if we own the place. We seem to have forgotten our place in creation; our relationship with other animals and the wonderful world that is our home. How many young people go for walks and holidays in the countryside these days?

Although world politicians are now slowly moving in the right direction, most environmental experts agree that it’s not enough. We’ve done too much damage in such a short space of time. We are killing our planet. What a strange way to behave.

Pica picks up on this idea.

Luke plays violent computer games and hates the idea of a boring rural walk. One day a magpie taps on his window, and from then on he sees magpies everywhere he goes. A new boy, called Guy, joins his school, who is odd and soon a victim of bullying. However, Luke is drawn to this strange boy, and as he gets to know him everything he understood about his life is turned upside down.

I wanted Pica to challenge people’s perceptions about young people and about our relationship with the natural world. In the past we understood things that have been lost over the years. Luke begins a journey to rediscover that ancient ‘magic’.

I was also keen to make this novel – the first in the Gaia trilogy – a fantasy. Fantasy literature allows us to use our imaginations in our understanding of reality. Luke discovers powers that many of us can only dream about, so there is also a sense of wish-fulfilment alongside the serious environmental message.

The planning and writing of Pica took about a year. The novel went through a number of revisions, with one whole sub-plot completely deleted and rewritten. I sent off the synopsis and first three chapters to a few publishers and agents that accepted unsolicited manuscripts, but received standard rejections (the ones which don’t really indicate if anyone actually read it at all).

This led to further major revisions and rewrites, until Pica was eventually picked up by Accent Press. They have been brilliant, offering excellent editorial advice, and some wonderful opportunities. Accent YA – their young adult imprint – are being rebranded and I was told that Pica would be one of the titles they were planning to launch at The London Book Fair.

So things are very exciting. I even have a cover quote from fantasy author, Michael Moorcock, who read it and wrote, “One of the most charming fantasy novels I’ve read in years. An engrossing and original story, beautifully told. Wonderful!”

Jeff’s website

Accent Press

WHSmith

Barnes & Noble

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Amazon Australia

 

 

Let’s talk about love, #2

Source: Let’s talk about love, #2

Here’s a taste of real life to add spice to my fiction. I think after forty years I can stand to reveal this much.

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