Book Review: Somnium by Deirdre Swinden

This is a scary story.

It’s hard to write a decent review because almost anything I write will be something of a spoiler to an intricately plotted, well-woven imagining. I’m old enough to remember when William Gibson’s Neuromancer first came out back in 1984 and this echoes with the same oil-slick complexity.

There is something mythical about dreams. In our world they can be used for psychoanalysis or even predicting the future. Personally, a nightmare can haunt me for days. The intangible, surreal nature of dreams takes us away from what is predictable and safe. So does this story.

The question that this story asks is – what happens if technology can infiltrate our dreams? Who are the heroes? Who are the ones that suffer? Where does humanity shine and where are the depths darkest? And what happens when we try and control dreams.

This story has layer on meticulously crafted layer of themes, as nebulous as dreams themselves. The characters are well drawn and distinct, each with their own drives and weaknesses. Swinden recognises that there are good people as well as bad people and strong people as well as weak people. The dialogue is strong and distinct, with each character having their own way of communicating. The description is wonderfully vivid – rather too vivid if you are a nervous reader delving into the world of nightmares.

This is a well crafted story of dystopian horror with unexpected heroes and villains, dreadful horrors both in the dream world and in the deals that are made in the waking world. I strongly recommend that you do not read this just before bedtime.

Somnium by Deirdre Swinten is available from Amazon.

A successful writer/editor in the corporate world for more than two decades, Deirdre Swinden is currently living and writing in North Carolina. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from Arcadia University and has published short stories in Griffel Literary Magazine and Grim & Gilded. Early in her writing career, she won the Popular Short Story Contest at the 2000 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference with her short work, “Shooting Televisions.” You can find her at https://deirdreswindenauthor.com

Writing Prompt Number 28

Quotation:

Colors fade, temples crumble, empires fall, but wise words endure – Edward Thordike

Welcome to the Writing Gym. This is a prompt for you to play with. You can use the picture, the quotation, a combination or just whatever sparks in your imagination after looking at them. It can be prose, poetry or non-fiction depending on how you feel and which writing muscles you need to work on.

The rules are here, and if you feel like sharing, drop a comment on this post with a link to your writing on your blog, a website, Facebook, Tumblr, Threads or wherever you felt comfortable posting. If you don’t feel like sharing, that’s okay. The important thing is to have fun.

Happy Writing!

The Key

Photo by Everyday basics on Unsplash

You can read the story from the beginning here. This episode is in response to Writing Prompt Number 25

Mia forced herself past the library doors, down the stone floored corridor and into the White Hart. She was getting used to the world outside the library, but it was still a push to get out here. Once she was here and caught up in the whirlwind of the café, the shop and the candle workshop, she was fine. Just taking that step, however, could be tricky. Still, she’d made it and it was time to get ready for her shift with the candles.

The White Hart was quiet. It was early and a few tourists drifted between the knickknacks and shelves of herbs. Mrs Tuesday was polishing the counter while Lady Freydis was in deep discussion with Cyan.

“I’m just not there and I can’t work out the final touch.” Lady Freydis tapped the stack of books.

“Could you get someone to copy all the books?” Cyan asked. “Not copy the words but make those picture copies that come out on paper.” She looked around and smiled at Mia. “Can you make picture copies on paper?”

Mia looked blankly at her before the penny dropped. “You mean that you’d like me to scan the books and then print them out?” she said. “If I ask Noah, he can probably enlarge the text.”

“Of course!” Lady Freydis exclaimed. “Noah is a specialist on things. Where is he?”

“I’ll go and fetch him,” Mia said.

Lady Freydis held up an imperious finger. “You should style your hair first. How is Noah going to know that you’re attracted to him?”

Mia flushed scarlet. “What?

“I’ve got some products in my bag,” Cyan said. She caught Lady Freydis’ disbelieving glance. “I sometimes help people with styling.”

Mia took in Cyan’s dramatic black dress, outrageous heels and dramatic lipstick. “I go for a subtle look,” she said carefully.

“Don’t worry,” Cyan waved a dismissive hand. “I don’t impose a style. I merely coax out the inner beauty.”

“She really does,” Lady Freydis added. “And you want Noah to see that.”

Mia felt a shiver of unease. “Noah has just left a relationship,” she said. “And from the little that I heard, it was awful. He’s not ready to date.”

“Nonsense,” Lady Freydis said, watching Cyan rummaging through her bag. “But you must tell Noah that he needs to do the things with the books.”

“You mean, he needs to scan and print all the pages which have writing?” Mia said, backing away from Cyan.

Cyan looked at her with determination and a hairbrush in her hand. “It’s all things, like Noah’s magic.”

“It’s not magic,” Mia said. “Honestly, I’m fine how I am.”

“It’s magic,” Lady Freydis said flatly. “Things happen that are beyond understanding. I mean, can you explain how a scan works?”

Mia opened her mouth, considered her faint knowledge about printing and thought again. “It’s science and follows a logical pattern using electricity,” she said.

“I’ve heard you swearing at the printer,” Lady Freydis said smugly. “And Noah can change the till roll on the first attempt.”

“You have to admit, that’s a type of sorcery at least,” Mrs Tuesday said, coming up behind them.

“And magic is about following a series of steps and using power,” Cyan said. “It’s just different powers. Now sit down and let me style your hair.”

“Then you can look pretty when you go and ask Noah to make the words look bigger,” Lady Freydis said. “That will be the key.”

Mrs Tuesday looked at Lady Freydis with suspicion. “The key to what?” she asked.

Lady Freydis smiled sweetly. “Look at the time, the shop should be opening any moment and a coach party will be due in thirty five minutes.”

“I’ll use some magic,” Cyan said, gesturing at Mia’s hair. “There, that’s much better. Now run up and fetch Noah for his magic.”

When is a Cookie not a Cookie?

Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

When is a cookie not a cookie? When it is a biscuit.

It’s one of those questions that get trotted out at the end of quiz nights. What do people in England call cookies? And the answer is always biscuits. As a Brit, I’m not familiar with American biscuits, but they look very pleasant indeed and I’m planning on making some. And some of the cookie recipes I’ve seen on North American websites are definitely worth trying. However, a biscuit in the UK isn’t always a biscuit.

Sometimes it’s just a biscuit. A rich tea biscuit, a nice biscuit (yes, it’s a thing if you haven’t seen one – it’s sugared and has coconut), a digestive biscuit, are all equivalent to cookies. But the name for a chocolate chip cookie in the British supermarket is… a chocolate chip cookie. And Oreos are the same all over the world.

Photo by Anisa Mustafa on Unsplash and a great illustration of a chocolate digestive

Part of the problem is the British habit of theft and assimilation. For example, when there was a vote to find Britain’s favourite food, the winner was Chicken Tikka Masala – wonderfully flavourful curry. I don’t think that anyone on the Indian subcontinent would recognise it as real food, but it’s incredibly British, popular and deeply steeped of the tradition of stealing recipes from everywhere and then altering them just enough to confuse the original cooks. Someone, somewhere, took the recipe for chocolate chip cookies from the US and never bothered renaming them. I don’t think that I’ve seen a mainstream recipe site based in the UK without a chocolate chip cookie recipe, often next to a recipe for a ginger nut.

Cookies and Carburettors is set in North Wales, just outside Wrexham and I thought I’d share a few notes. The first item in those notes is that some biscuits are cookies. Then again, some biscuits are biscuits and sometimes a ginger nut is just a small, sweet, spicy snack. I’ll stick to sensible names as much as possible, like lemon fingers and melting moments.

Following on from that, you won’t see a lot of traditional Welsh baking. There’ll be a few mentions, but I assume that Mari (who is not much older than me) will be the same as anyone else in the area and look for recipes in cookbooks, magazines and online. A few local favourites may crop up like Welsh cakes and teisen lap but Mari is more likely to try out recipes seen on The Great British Bake Off than look in old recipe books.

Photo by Llio Angharad on Unsplash
Welsh cakes like the delicious ones above are something to be treasured

Another note – you will not see the author’s version of any recipe. I can’t cook. I’ll put a few links in if people are interested, but I’m not going to fake being competent in a kitchen. I’m not so much an inspiration as a bad example.

A final note about language. English is almost as adaptable as British cooking. The people in North Wales speak Welsh and English, using British English conventions and I’ll be using British English throughout. If you have any questions about usage, I’ll be happy to answer.

Royal Road and I

I’ve been distracted again. As you may know, I’ve been posting occasionally on Royal Road. It’s an interesting place if you feel like a read, though you’re more likely to read ongoing serials than novels there.

I was considering taking down Invitation Accepted as I’m thinking about eventually converting it to a novel, so I checked on Royal Road. They had a Community Challenge to write a series based on Grannies and Goblins with an advertising campaign as the rewards. I thought it sounded interesting, but I wasn’t sure where I’d go with that. Besides, I’m re-writing some of the steampunk stuff to get it back up on Amazon and I wanted to sort out the Steve Adderson stuff…

Yep, I started writing a Grannies and Goblins story. You can find the first instalment here. There’s a stereotypical granny called Mari and as for the goblins, well, that comes later. I could have gone for a grandmother like Queen Brunhilda of Austrasia who was accused of the death of ten kings (including a grandson) and was eventually torn apart by wild horses. Instead Mari Hewson is a nice old(ish) lady who likes baking and who has rented out the workshop next door to three young lads who are restoring and repairing cars. I have kept in mind some of the fiercer older ladies I’ve known from my family and through church. Old ladies can be terrifying.

It seemed like the logical thing, to have Mari turning out trays of ginger snaps and chocolate crinkles, but are they cookies? Mari’s kitchen is situated a few miles outside Wrexham, where they speak either Welsh or British English. Ginger snaps in those kitchens are therefore biscuits. Things aren’t always straightforward, though. Lots of recipes on British websites for British people that are sorted as biscuits have names like chocolate chip cookies or peanut butter cookies. Mari would absolutely consider chocolate chip cookies to be biscuits. This is obvious to anyone who shops in a British supermarket, but to American readers, who are in the majority, biscuits are what Mari would consider something like a plain or savoury scone. Anyone in North America would absolutely consider ginger snaps to be cookies even though they would be found in the biscuit aisle if you were in a supermarket in Wrexham, possibly next to those chocolate chip cookies. Trying to work out what to call the baked goods is driving me nuts. It’s probably going to take up more thinking time than the plot.

I’m considering putting links to websites with British recipes. I’m not going to try making them. I’m not a brilliant cook and standing and walking are currently problematic so I can’t do the work. It will be fun for me to rummage around for recipes to use as reference and perhaps spread some interesting British dishes.

I can’t neglect the young lads, of course. They’re working hard on the cars, refitting engines and beating out bodywork to try and make a living. I’m not very knowledgeable about cars and their engines. In fact, I’m pretty ignorant. Fortunately, I have access to YouTube and I’ll be digging into to car repair channels when I’m not watching the Euros24. I can drive, though I’m a nervous driver, and the driving tests includes knowing where to put oil and coolant, but I can see me learning a whole lot more. And that is definitely a challenge that I can’t resist.

Writing Prompt Number 27

Photo by rivage on Unsplash

Quotation:

Gratitude is the memory of the heart – Sister Mary Euphrasia

Welcome to the Writing Gym. This is a prompt for you to play with. You can use the picture, the quotation, a combination or just whatever sparks in your imagination after looking at them. It can be prose, poetry or non-fiction depending on how you feel and which writing muscles you need to work on.

The rules are here, and if you feel like sharing, drop a comment on this post with a link to your writing on your blog, a website, Facebook, Tumblr, Threads or wherever you felt comfortable posting. If you don’t feel like sharing, that’s okay. The important thing is to have fun.

Happy Writing!

The Game

Photo by Keenan Constance on Unsplash

You can read the story from the beginning here. This episode is inspired by Writing Prompt Number 24

Noah inched a little closer to Martin. “Why are we in this pit?” he asked.

Martin sighed. “That’s a reasonable question. Unfortunately we are not dealing with reasonable people.” He caught Noah’s anxious glance over at Lady Freydis. “It’s okay. Layd Freydis would be appalled and offended to be described as reasonable.” He shook his head. “This is apparently neutral ground as far as the fairy domain goes and Lord Richard has configured it to look like a gambling hell.” He caught Noah’s confusing. “They used to call them gambling hells, the clubs where gentlemen came to gamble, back when men wore powdered wigs, long before casinos. Gossip says that Lord Cerdig lost a fortune then and has been scrabbling to recoup it since.”

“So why isn’t he playing?” Noah asked.

“Gambling is like strong drink,” Martin said. “It can take over a being. He’s not going to risk slipping back there. Instead he set up this game between Lord Devlin and Sir Thomas. I suspect that neither of them has spent much time playing poker.”

Noah looked around. The room was dimly lit and smoky. The brightest light hovered above the players who were expressionless as they checked their cards. Brownies circulated with trays of wine and finger food, winding through the gathered courts of Lord Cerdig and Lady Freydis. In a dim corner, Noah could make out Dave was talking urgently to Steve who was looking concerned. Mia was whispering with Cyan and Kadogan and Miss Marianne were in earnest, whispered conversation conversation with two of the deadly strangers that had followed Lord Cerdig into the room. Sir Thomas laid down his hand and impassively gathered up the chips in the centre of the table. “What’s going on?”

“Damned if I know,” Martin said. “I think that it’s mostly elfen being elfen. I love my wife dearly but this seems to be one of those moments when you have to ride the currents because you have no hope of steering.” He caught up a glass of deep red wine from the tray of a passing brownie. “I don’t think that the game is actually anything to do with it. They’re playing for chicken stakes. Each chip is worth a penny.”

Noah looked around. “It’s like Casino Royale,” he said. “They should be playing for millions.”

Martin took a long drink of wine. “I think that the game is meant to distract us. The court watches the game while Lady Freydis and Lord Cerdig sort out some negotiation.” He frowned. “Lord Cerdig has been angling to marry Lady Freydis for a while, but that’s not going to happen.”

Noah felt the brief flicker of darkness that Martin allowed to show on the surface before regaining control and fought back a shudder. “Lady Freydis is devoted to you,” he said. “But perhaps it’s business. You know, like the White Hart. You said that Lord Cerdig was broke.”

Martin looked at Noah thoughtfully. “You may be onto something there. Steve Adderson has been looking to expand recently but he hasn’t found any suitable sites. The last few attempts have been duds.”

“Lady Freydis doesn’t own the White Hart,” Noah said. “She works there, and she interferes there, but she’s not an owner.”

Martin looked at the two princes in the corner, then at the players, and then back at Noah. “You may have a very unnerving point.”

Writing Prompt Number 26

Photo by Kevin Jackson on Unsplash

Quotation:

When in doubt, tell the truth – Mark Twain

Welcome to the Writing Gym. This is a prompt for you to play with. You can use the picture, the quotation, a combination or just whatever sparks in your imagination after looking at them. It can be prose, poetry or non-fiction depending on how you feel and which writing muscles you need to work on.

The rules are here, and if you feel like sharing, drop a comment on this post with a link to your writing on your blog, a website, Facebook, Tumblr, Threads or wherever you felt comfortable posting. If you don’t feel like sharing, that’s okay. The important thing is to have fun.

Happy Writing!

Patience

Photo by Frank Eiffert on Unsplash

You can read the story from the beginning here. This episode is in response to Writing Prompt Number 23

“Miss Marianne was at the shop all day,” Lady Freydis grumbled. “And Martin spoke to her twice.”

Noah winced. “I don’t think Martin is interested in Miss Marianne,” he said. “I mean, Kadogan chased her around the candle workshop with a pouring jug and then she threw a table at him. I’m pretty sure that she’s forgotten about Martin.”

“And then she spent half an hour telling Sir Thomas how attractive he was.” Lady Freydis glanced around her. Printed versions of the social media posts were scattered around Noah’s office. “She suggested that he carried her bag home for her as she was so delicate.”

“That was only to torture Sir Thomas,” Noah said. “And he was hardly going to think she was frail after she threw that table. He was down there and the table missed him by a whisker.” He grinned at Lady Freydis. “Then Kadogan was threatening him with dreadful punishments until Mrs Tuesday had a word.”

“You are progressing with the books,” Lady Freydis said. “And sales are up from the line thing.”

“You mean, online sales are up,” Noah said. “It’s an easy place to sell.”

“But I still lack one book for my purposes, and I believe that Lord Cerdig may own it.” Lady Freydis picked up a print of a post in a startling shade of pink. “What does Lord Cerdig want?”

“He needs money and he wants a wife,” Umbran said, stepping unexpectedly into the room.

“I didn’t realise that you were there,” Lady Freydis said. “Well, I’m married, so he can’t have me. Though I imagine that he requires a wife.” She glanced at Noah. “Fairy domains are better if they are ruled by a couple that are male and female. It’s an old tradition although I believe that Brighton is successfully ruled by two lords.” She looked around Noah’s office. “All these things confuse me,” she said, waving an imperious hand at the walls cluttered with mood boards and the cameras and lighting equipment stacked in the corners. “Follow me.”

Noah looked at Umbran and followed Lady Freydis through the door, stumbling as he realised that he was in a spring glade instead of the clean corridor outside his office. “I’m never going to get used to this.”

“That was deftly done, Lady Freydis,” Umbran said with a hint of awe.

Lady Freydis threw a smug glance at him then walked to the centre of the grove. “I’ve been searching diligently,” she said. “My magic is adequate for the basic searches.”

Noah frowned. “Is that a crystal ball?” he asked.

“It’s a form of scrying glass,” Lady Freydis said. “But it needs a great deal of patience. But the last piece of what I need is within my grasp. All I need to do is take it from Lord Cerdig.”

“What exactly are you planning?” Umbran said. “It sounds… tricky.”

“We could try going through Ferdi,” Noah suggested. “That worked before.”

“Even Lord Cerdig won’t believe that Noah is a double agent after getting reports from Umbran,” Lady Freydis said.

“Just pay him money,” Umbran said. “Add in a container of something pink, threaten him with injury if he hints at coming near you and demand the book.” He looked between Lady Freydis and Noah. “Lord Cerdig has finally paid off his gambling debts, but he’s still short of money.”

“And that’s why I was so attractive to him,” Lady Freydis said. “I have profited greatly from the success of the White Hart. He wanted my money.”

“I believe that he found you attractive,” Umbran added tactfully. “And he feels the need for a wife. His court is lacking.”

Lady Freydis frowned. “I did not realise that he was indebted.”

“Lord Cerdig has worked hard to better himself,” Umbran said. He grimaced. “Though there are a few areas of his personality that still need work. I can act as an intermediary.”

“What’s in it for you?” Lady Freydis asked.

Umbran paced around the crystal ball. “Lord Cerdig has been good to me,” he said. “I’m not sure that I’ll want to stay in York, but he got me out into sunlight – real sunlight. I hadn’t realised how much I missed it.”

Lady Freydis looked at him thoughtfully. “I am running out of patience with this quest. Please contact him and ask his price for his copy of the 1896 Welsh Language New Testament, the one stamped Four Pence on the cover. I’ll add in a large box of edible glitter, pink sprinkles and half a dozen of the latest candles from our workshop.” She frowned. “And I may be able to make an introduction.”

Writing Prompt Number 25

Quotation:

Any member introducing a dog into the Society’s premises shall be liable to a fine of one pound. Any animal leading a blind person shall be deemed to be a cat – Rule 46 Oxford Union Society London

Welcome to the Writing Gym. This is a prompt for you to play with. You can use the picture, the quotation, a combination or just whatever sparks in your imagination after looking at them. It can be prose, poetry or non-fiction depending on how you feel and which writing muscles you need to work on.

The rules are here, and if you feel like sharing, drop a comment on this post with a link to your writing on your blog, a website, Facebook, Tumblr, Threads or wherever you felt comfortable posting. If you don’t feel like sharing, that’s okay. The important thing is to have fun.

Happy Writing!