All About People

He looked at the stonework. “It’s all just fake because it was built to be a ruin. It’s not real. It tells you all you need to know about people. They don’t want the real deal. People built a fake castle over a fake lake because it looks nice. They don’t care if it doesn’t mean anything.”

I moved away from him, my fingers brushing the warm, rough stones. “It tells you everything about people. It shows that even in the mundane heart of a municipal park, we want drama. We want stories and legends and a sweep of wide colour. I think it’s perfect.”

This is a picture I took of a fake ruin at Roundhay Park, Leeds, UK, which overlooks a man made lake

Review: Smoke and Summons by Charlie N Holmberg

I loved Charlie N Holmberg’s Paper Magician series so I was really excited to dip into her new series. I devoured the book in an afternoon and decided I had to write a review.

This is so much darker. Ms Holmberg paints the world beautifully, giving the right combination of detail and hints. The complex setting gradually unfolds as the characters progress through the smoky, polluted city, a metaphor for the corrupt and desperate society.

This dystopian setting is a wonderful backdrop for the two main characters. Sandis, the slave mystically linked to something dreadful from another plane of existence, and Rone, the rogue who tries to make the right decisions and gets things dreadfully wrong at times. The layers of their respective backgrounds and the stories that have made them are gently peeled back through the course of the well paced story.

And, darn it, the story ended on a cliff hanger and I can’t wait to read the next book. I totally recommend this story.

Just Coffee

I am defined by coffee.

So long ago as I rushed back from college and whirled into the kitchen before whirling out again I scooped the instant granules and boiled the kettle and added a slurp of milk from the fridge as I shocked my mother with my latest stories.

Then it was the cafetiere, feeling sophisticated as I took my one treat, the slowly savoured french blend, mild roast with warmed milk as my darlings napped.

I remembered how grown up I felt, sitting at the dinner parties, discussing the different pods to the machines and lacing my frothed cup with brandy to keep me numb.

I got the fancy machine and stack of pods in the divorce, but I threw them out. Now I look down at my solitary cup, custom roast and slow dripped, encased in elegant china and wonder what I am defining.


Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Shadow in the Corner

It’s an old stone house with a tall stone tower

It’s bent and battered but it still holds power

And the priests keep blessing but the dark’s still calling

So the cattle’s brought in soon as night starts falling

We’re the edge of the kingdom so we don’t pay taxes

And the only human sounds are the woodcutter’s axes

So the lords don’t bother and we like it that way

Though few who come to work here have the heart to stay

There’s a new girl in the kitchens and we have to warn her

Of the stain that hides in the shadow in the corner.

Photo by George Hiles on Unsplash

Glass and Ashes: A Sparkling Character Spotlight

This week’s Fairy of the Hour is none other than Cinderella’s own Fairy Godmother, Sabine Cantrelle.

Sabine is not your ordinary Fairy Godmother, though some on the Fairy Tale Council wish she was. She can’t help it if she has a mind of her own. To be fair, it’s due to that ability to think for herself that she has so much success. Once slated to be the worse Fairy Godmother in history, she was able to turn a difficult job into a life changing opportunity and has become a leader among her kind. Let’s get on to the questions.

  • So, Sabine, what’s it like being a Fairy Godmother? I imagine it’s totally grand and fantastical?

– *snort* “Fantastical, my foot. You mortals always think that because we have magic life is…well a fairy tale every day, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Magic has restrictions. We can’t bend wills, or change minds. We can persuade, but even then, it’s not always what you intend. Magic is a tool, and like any other tool, it alone can’t fix everything. As for being a Fairy Godmother, honestly?” *She leans in and whispers* “I love it. But don’t go around shouting that I told you. I have a cool and detached reputation to maintain.”

  • Cool and detached? Can you explain?

– “Well I’m not the pink tutu wearing, always smiling, ‘happy to serve you’ kind of Fairy Godmother. This job’s work. A lot of work. Especially the way we do it now. After working with Cinderella, it all changed. So, I have to appear to be aloof, unattached if you will, or everything just gets more complicated.”

  • You say you helped Cinderella with her Happily Ever After. We can only assume you‘ve been influential to the story of many different protagonists, but I’d like to know who was your favorite?

– “Favorite?” *laughs* “I could get fired for answering that question! Not supposed to have favorites. Let’s just say Cinderella taught me an awful lot, and I’m very grateful.”

  • Alright, so tell us how do you get into the Fairy Godmother business?

-“Ugh, it’s a long story. Some grow up wanting it. Others are coerced into it because of ‘family business’ and all that. Then you have those who just kind of accidentally find it—I’m the latter. It’s a great story actually, but to tell it would take up more time than we have, so I think I’ll just say this: curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.”

  • One last question. Cinderella? You guys still talk?

– “Ya know, us Fairy Godparents are just supposed to do our job and then move on, but there are a few charges I keep in contact with. A genie named Juan, this poor soul known as the Big Bad Wolf, and Cinderella are definitely in that group. Last I heard she’s happy as can be. Even named a kid after me.  Not a human one, one of the goat variety. I’m pretty sure it was that dang Innkeeper’s idea—oops, spoilers. I better stop before I give it all way.

  • Wait, wait, wait, one more…. Those who read the story will want to know…Can a Fairy Godmother get a Happily Ever After too?

– “Let me tell you something I’ve learned after four hundred years of initiating Happily Ever After’s. There is only one constant I know for sure: anyone can get a Happily Ever After—even me.

 

Sparrow

Flit through the branches, bounded by brambles, nimble witted

Squabble and scatter, chatter and chase, dawn clatter and dust-baths

Tiny not timid, tenaciously territorial, quicksilver to the seed heads

Singing from gutters, pattering on pavements, defying the traffic

Unruly urchin birds, diminutive, darting and dashing

Yet cousins to swans

Photo by Nastya Kvokka on Unsplash

Not Death

So slowly creeps the lichen in the sun

And slowly the trees stretch their arches

Spreading shade over the green acres

Where the snails leave their silver paths

 

Slow too is the slow rise of the hedges

But beating quicker is the grass,

Which is pinned by the spring daisies

Lest it rise to the clouds

 

Beating quicker are the green shoots

Twining at the base of the hedges

In the corners of the dim shade

At the base of the stones

 

And the spring bulbs are bursting

And leaves push out and up to sunshine

As the first bees harvest the dying grave flowers

Warmed by the growing sun

 

Birds flit, their shadows racing

Across wood and stone and grass

As the fledglings call and cry

Daily getting nearer to their own flight

 

And underneath, the shy voles

Scamper and search among the offerings

Tiptoeing through last year’s leaves

Slipping down the root tangle

 

And in a corner, busy ants

Harvest the crumbs and keep their march

As their nest warms in the mild sun

And the petals are dropping.

 

This is no place of death

This is a place where the dead remember

The rushing, pushing, pulse of spring

And celebrate their life.

Image from the Swedish National Heritage Board and used under the Creative Commons Agreement

Souls of the Dark Sea: A little something to keep you warm

A guest post by AF Stewart, author of the compelling Saga of the Outer Islands series

Bottles of Rum and Drunken Sailors

Now, what seafaring story would be complete without the rum?

Certainly not my Saga of the Outer Islands series.

Rum, or alcohol in general, and sailors (or pirates) is fairly synonymous, as is the scenario of sailors having a bit of a tipple on shore leave. The tradition arose with the old sailing ships keeping men at sea for months at a time, and alcohol becoming a ship ration to ease the trip. However, early stores of liquor for the lowly sailor were wine and beer, (that often went bad) not rum. It was about 1650 that rum become the drink ration of choice, due in part to economics, a surplus of rum, and the durability of the liquor to not go off. The rest is history and good movie lines.

Which leads me back to my book series. Of course, as a seafaring fantasy, the crew of the Celestial Jewel and her Captain like a good drink from time to time. And my books, Ghosts of the Sea Moon and Souls of the Dark Sea, do have plenty of flowing booze, with not only rum but port and other wine, cordial, beer and ale. Even the traditional grog. So here’s a little insight into some of the characters and their favourite drinks.

Captain Rafe Morrow: He can most often be seen with either a glass of wine in his hand or a glass of rum. As a god, alcohol doesn’t affect him significantly, so he drinks quite regularly.

Elliot Blackthorne:  His tastes are a bit more refined with his preferred alcoholic beverage being a good wine or port, though he will take rum with his Captain when asked, or indulge in an ale with the crew at the local tavern. Rum and other spirits tend to go to his head quickly though, so he generally does not imbibe much.

One-Eyed Anders: He likes his ale (and boasts he can drink any man save his captain under the table) or a good glass of rum.

Pinky Jasper: The preferred drink is grog, though he won’t refuse an ale at the tavern.

Lord Merrill: More of a social drinker, he drinks almost exclusively wine, port, or cordial, but has been known to sip whiskey or rum on occasion.

 

Now for a couple of drink extras.

What is Cordial?

By definition, cordial is a sweet fruit or floral flavoured syrup, but can also refer to a low-alcoholic liqueur or other alcoholic beverage that uses cordial syrup. In my book, a cordial refers to a fruity liqueur.

Here’s a site with a recipe for a berry cordial made with vodka: Berry Cordial

And one for a cordial syrup: How to Make Cordial

 

What is Grog?

Grog began as a way of keeping sailors from over inebriating from the highly intoxicating rum and for spreading out rations by simply watering down rum. As one might expect, sailors were not happy with this, so later they were allowed to add lime juice, spices and sugar to make it more palatable.

 

Here’s a good basic grog recipe:

2 OZ DARK RUM

0.75 OZ LIME JUICE

0.5 OZ DEMERARA SYRUP

1 OZ WATER

Add all ingredients to a mug with ice and stir to combine.

And another one:

2 ounces dark rum

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon brown sugar

4 ounces hot water

Slice of orange and a cinnamon stick

Mix the rum, lime juice, brown sugar, and hot water in a mug. Garnish with an orange slice and a cinnamon stick.

 

I hope you enjoyed a little insight into my sailors and rum. Please come join me on the high seas.

Set sail on a new adventure with gods, ghosts and sea monsters. You can find ‘Souls of the Dark Sea in all amazing book shops including Amazon, and it is currently at an offer price of 99p.  Check out the YouTube here and for further wonderful tidbits, check out AF Stewart’s website here 

Bad Night’s Sleep

You were my perfect victim.  You were young, bright and energetic and I was so glad when I stumbled across you when you visited that fake medium.  You were the only one who believed in him because you had just a hint of my presence as I followed you home, but you shook it off and eventually went to bed for your lovely, long healthy sleep.

It was glorious.  Here was someone who slept eight hours every night.  That is a gift to one of my kind.  During the day I could creep into a corner or a shadow and remain an unobserved spirit.  I would even hide under the bed.  Then, when night fell and you slid between your covers and slept, I could creep into your dreams.

You had never remembered dreams before.  When I first crept into your sleepscape I was shocked at how bright it was, filled with sunlight and good memories.  But it was also full of your energy and you were worth the effort.  It took weeks for me to make it my home.  I eroded the sunlight, filled the golden fields with a nameless dread and sent strange shapes to hunt your dreamself.  I nibbled at the corners, cutting off the good memories and making the perfect opportunities for every shameful moment of your life to echo.  Every dark thought, every insidious fear, every tiny morsel was savoured as I nurtured your sleepscape like a master nurtures a perfect pupil.

You didn’t notice at first. I’ve been around for a very long time and I don’t make mistakes like that.  Instead you noticed that you were a little tired, a little run down.  You laughed with your friends about your strange dreams and tried changing your diet around.  Once I became settled, I took a little more.  You were finding sleep harder and harder and the nightmares were scaring you.  You cut out all caffeine and went to a counsellor.  I went with you, of course, and took notes during your discussions.  You gave me wonderful tools to use for your torment.

Then you cut out sugar and went to the gym more.  I basked in the dark thoughts that were brimming in your sleepscape and fed to satiation.  I gave you sleep terrors and laughed as you woke screaming.  I noticed that your boyfriend was a little too perceptive, so I made sure your nightmares featured him.  I was relieved when you dumped him, as he was getting close to the truth.

I drained draught after draught from you as you slept, your torrid dreams feeding me to repletion.  You, however, lost weight as you tried different diets and exercises.  You went to the doctor and got sleeping pills and I celebrated.  You had started to wake a little too often and now these wonderful pills kept you in my domain for so much longer.

You were finding it harder and harder and I gave some thought to moving on.  The bright, bubbly victim I first met had gone.  You were gaunt and pale, with dull eyes and slow speech.  You dragged yourself from work to home to sleep to work and suffered.  You were now insipid fare.  I looked around for a suitable candidate, but you were now far too exhausted to speak to anyone and my choices were becoming very limited.  I couldn’t survive long without a host, but you were so drained that you were barely adequate to keep me in existence.

Thank goodness I had my lucky break.  You were far too tired to drive but at the same time you were far too tired to see sense.  You lost concentration as you drove to your work and so you swerved to miss a fragment of dream and hit a tree.  I was frantic, wondering if I would be able to transfer to one of the crowd who rushed around to help you, but they brought you into this place.

I have never been in a hospital before.  It is truly a marvellous place.  As you slip deeper into a coma and I perch unseen on the end of your hospital bed and plunder the last of your sleepscape, I have so many other potential hosts I can choose from.  The patients are not worth considering, but there are plenty of visitors, along with technicians, secretaries, cleaners, maintenance, porters and all manner of healers.  The chirpy blonde girl who chats to your unhearing form as she cleans the room is perfect. I wonder what her sleepscape looks like.

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

Please note, this is fiction and sleep disturbance is best addressed by checking your diet, exercise and, if necessary, consulting a health care professional.  And if you are into the wonderfully scary, check out the last day of October Frights here – get the goodies while they’re going!  

October Frights: Haunted

Many walk past his statue.  School children sketch it and history teachers wave wildly as they walk its bounds.  His name is in legend.  But for those who have the sight, his ghost huddles at the foot of the bronze, sobbing inconsolably, his hands shielding his head, as he remembers the blood shed in his wake.

For more great reads, awesome insights and generous giveaways, check out these authors taking in part in October Frights!