It’s Nearly Here!

First of all, check this out! It’s available for pre-order here and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am.

My first medieval fantasy novel is coming soon! The wonderful people at Three Furies Press have been absolute saints as they edited, especially as I got hung up on research. They deserve medals, or, at the very least, strong liquor.

This is the first novel I started writing. I was fleshing out the idea back in the 1990s. Since then I’ve had two steampunk novels published by the awesome Three Furies, self published some urban fantasy and generally had fun on my blog with all sorts of flash fiction. I always wanted to come back to this, though. It’s a big deal for me.

There will be a sequel, of course, and while I was working on that (and very much enjoying it), I realised I couldn’t remember a tiny detail from King’s Silver. So I skimmed over and realised that I had missed a huge chunk of detail and would have to ditch at least a thousand words from Castle Viburg. Harsh language may have been used.

As I was deleting, I thought that it was really possible that a reader could know a lot more about a book than the writer. I’ve been kicking ideas for this novel for thirty years. Not all of them made it into the book. Then there’s dialogue that I may have written recently but decided to delete, or a quick change of name because I realised I’d used the same name twice for minor characters. Some writers take years to hone each word to perfection, immersing themselves in their world. I envy them. When I write, I write quickly and I can forget the details. It’s the difference between being on a leisurely canal barge and a busy ferry. The canal barge has the better journey, but I get bored and want to keep moving.

I’ll be posting further details nearer release. I had such a wonderful time writing this, I hope that you will feel able to enjoy it.

Sweet Stuff

Today is National Marzipan Day. It’s an odd time to have a celebration of this sticky stuff. Most people are still recovering from an overload of sugar at Christmas and couldn’t face another sweet morsel. Besides, Christmas in England is one time when most people get their yearly sample of marzipan as a layer on a Christmas cake. For those who aren’t fans, and for those who have had far, far too much of the Christmas cake and marzipan fruits, it must be the last thing that they feel like snacking on.

I am not a huge fan of marzipan. I used to love it, but Father got given a bottle of Amaretto, and it went downhill from there.

My late father liked a drink. He wasn’t a drunk. He wasn’t drinking from a bottle wrapped in a paper bag on a park bench. He liked his Famous Grouse whisky with Seven Up (never straight lemonade) and he enjoyed it. When this story happened, he was in his eighties and took the view that he may as well have a little of what he fancied. What he enjoyed was his whisky, his football, his rugby, his crosswords and his Chinese takeways. He wasn’t a fan of anything sweet.

Then somebody gave him a bottle of Amaretto as a Christmas present. This is a very pleasant almond flavoured liqueur. It tastes of marzipan and it is sweet – far too sweet for Father. But he couldn’t get rid of it – it was a nice drink from a good friend who had kind thoughts. So he put it on the table next to me and told me to help myself. I agreed, thinking that I could have a nice glass later on.

A few hours later, Father nodded at the bottle. “It’s not gone down much.” I fetched a glass. I wasn’t sure what to mix it with and it didn’t look that strong, so I poured myself a neat measure and settled back in my chair.

Drinking Amaretto neat is like being mugged by an alcoholic Christmas cake, but in a good way. It wasn’t one of the fancier brands, but it was smooth, it hit my sweet tooth right on the spot and warmed me all the way to my toes. A small measure was just fine as I was watching the Christmas film. Father frowned. “It’s still not going down very quickly.” I poured another measure.

Amaretto is all very well in small doses, and I am sure that there are plenty who can drink it all year round. I can’t. I don’t think I will ever be able to drink it again as Father kept putting on the pressure with meaningful glances and I kept pouring myself another tot. I drank the entire bottle in three days. Father outpaced me with the whisky, but it was Christmas, after all, and he was fine. I wasn’t. Amaretto gives a foul hangover, especially if you are looking after an excited kid the next morning. I couldn’t look at Christmas cake and craved salty snacks for the contrast. I have never finished a glass with so much relief as when I had the last drop from that bottle. Father approved and was very happy to have given me such a treat. I felt nauseated.

So I will not be celebrating Marzipan Day today, except to remember wistfully the days when I looked forward to the Christmas cake and the traditional marzipan fruits. And for those who enjoy the stuff, Easter and the marzipan filled Simnel cake isn’t too far off.

Dark Woods

You can find the story of Alex from the beginning here.

Alex stumbled over a root and caught himself just in time. He ached. He straightened slowly and looked around. Why hadn’t he waited?

He prodded one of the logs. It seemed safe enough so he sat down and worked his shoulders, taking a small sip from the bottle in his backpack. It was nearly empty. He had no idea how long he had been wandering. He didn’t dare check his phone. The battery had been full when he entered this place, but somewhere in the foggy mists filling his head he knew that there would be no chance of recharging.

He screwed the bottle top on tightly and settled it back into his backpack. He was losing track of everything. He closed his eyes briefly, then forced them back open. He couldn’t risk sleeping here, he knew that at least. He couldn’t let his mind wander. He was Alex Poole, who had just got a job at a shop called the White Hart. His mind slid off for a moment as he stared at the small fern curling at the base of a tree. He was caught by the intricate fronds delicately unfolding and spent another few minutes before he brought himself back. He was Alex Poole and he had bought a second-hand camera with pictures of a vampire on it. He’d caught a vampire feeding, but the victim had chased him off. There were others who knew about vampires. They were, they were…

Alex pushed himself to his feet. He could see the faces of his friends. But he had come here alone, to the vampire’s lair. He was Alex Poole and he had come alone because Rhys – yes, that was his name! Rhys was nervous and Jack was weird so he, Alex Poole, had decided to go alone. He had worked out the entrance from the pictures on the camera and the notes from the flat and he had come to kill the vampire.

Alex stumbled again but kept his feet and carried on along the track. Things had not worked out exactly as expected. He’d got through the iron grill without too much trouble. There were no fancy alarms or cameras, just lots of padlocks. And then he had stepped through the door.

Alex spun around. He strained his ears. Was that someone calling his name? He leaned towards that direction, over in a dark thicket of oak. Yes, someone was calling. All he had to do was leave the path and strike off towards the sound. Alex dug his nails into the palms of his hands and held on to what he knew. He was Alex Poole. He was trying to hunt a vampire. He seemed to have stumbled into Fairyland.

It wasn’t the Fairyland of children’s stories, with the bright flowers and sunshine. It was all the dark, brooding stories that dripped with blood and terror. He mustn’t leave the path. He had tried to turn back to the gate, but when he turned, it wasn’t there. Just this endless, hard dirt track through mossy, fern filled woods. He was exhausted, but he didn’t dare sleep. Bad things happened to those who slept in Fairyland. He pushed himself to take another step and on around the huge ash that hung heavily over the path.

Alex groaned out loud. A clear spring ran over the rocks, clattering and chuckling as it tumbled in a miniature waterfall. Next to it was a crystal goblet, perfectly placed. It looked like something from a fantasy film. Alex’s mouth was dry and sore. He was desperate for water and had perhaps two mouthfuls left in his backpack. He didn’t dare drink from the stream. He couldn’t look away. He was desperate. How much longer could he go? What would be the worst that could happen? He couldn’t remember what the stories said. He couldn’t remember why he was there. He couldn’t remember anything except this frantic, all-consuming thirst.

With a strength of will he didn’t know he had, Alex forced himself backwards away from the temptation and against the ash tree. He couldn’t force any words out of his dry mouth, but his lips made the shape as he tried to cry out, ‘No!’ Then the tree grabbed him.

Alex struggled as he felt branches whip over him and pin him tight against the trunk. He could feel the trunk giving and his back sinking into the bark. It shouldn’t end like this. He had to find the vampire – he couldn’t give in! But his body ached and his mind was full of fog and it was only his reflexes that kept the struggle going.

“Hang on!” A voice rang out along the path. “He’s here, and in trouble!”

“Don’t worry, Alex, we’ve got you,” a familiar voice said.

It sounded like glass in the background. “It’s gabble ratchets. Dave, can you keep them back? Someone help Alex.”

“I have them Padre,” another voice said.

Alex tried to form the sounds. “Jack? Watch out.”

“It’s okay, Alex, we have you. We’re the rescue party.” Jack grabbed Alex’s hand and started a steady pull.

“Release him!” another voice said with authority. “Ian, Callum, set up the howl.”

Alex fell forward into the arms of Jack, who grinned his irritating grin and pulled him away from the ash. “Don’t worry. You’re safe now.” He frowned. “Have a drink of this, take slow sips.”

Alex didn’t know how he managed to control himself as he took a small mouthful and swilled it around his mouth before swallowing. “I thought it was the vampire’s lair, but it isn’t.”

“It’s sort of that,” Jack said. “That particular vampire managed to grab a corner of Faerie but left it a little tainted. Most of the elfen, the fairies, can’t get near here because of the iron in York Station. But Steve here will sort it out, and I think that Lady Freydis will be along any minute. You can hear the doggies howl.”

A huge wolf broke off its howl to give Jack a cold look and a sharp bark before returning to the howl.

“My apologies, Ian,” Jack said, unrepentant. He grinned at Alex. “Werewolves can be so touchy. Just never mention fleas.”

“A little help over here,” another voice called.

“Excuse me,” Jack said, bounding off.

Alex swayed a little, sipping from the water bottle. The howling had stopped and small, malevolent creatures were being batted away by the priest, Rhys, the vampire and someone that Alex didn’t recognise. Jack used a fallen branch to swing wide and hard at them and they broke with the sound of glass and evaporated. A huge swarm was rapidly being reduced as Alex’s rescuers pushed forward with purpose. The werewolves had taken a station either side of him and didn’t seem hostile. Instead they were snapping at the twigs that were pushing towards Alex and Steve and keeping a watchful eye on the fight. Behind him, Steve was muttering at the tree and pulling dark strands out. Alex stared as the strands became iridescent and multicoloured. “I’m hallucinating.”

One of the werewolves gave a gentle woof and leant against him briefly. Alex looked down at the water bottle and wondered what was in it. He had just felt comforted by a werewolf’s touch.

“I don’t think so!” A feminine voice rang through the woodland and, to Alex’s fevered eyes, the landscape seemed to shimmer. A tremor ran through the trees and the ground under their feet. Sunlight raced across the trees and birdsong echoed. Alex stared as flowers bloomed like bad stop motion, jerkily unfurling until they were surrounded by blossom. The woman who strode out was tall, blonde, impossibly beautiful and queenly. She was also very annoyed. The men who followed seemed like heroes to Alex’s dazzled eyes. The woman turned to Steve. “I am most grateful to you. I will not forget this.” She turned to the huge ash, her eyes narrowing. “How dare you!”

Alex stared as the ash tree, at least six feet across, started to dwindle. Branches and twigs retracted as the trunk shrank and faded. Then the monster that had nearly destroyed him was just a sapling.

The woman frowned. “No excuses!” She uprooted the sapling and snapped it in half, throwing each piece in widely separate directions. Everything went quiet and a sense of peace and serenity stole across the small clearing.

After a moment, she turned to Alex. “I apologise for your experience. Please come with me, and I will make sure that you are looked after.” She turned to Steve. “Could you close everything down here? I had better get this poor young man back to the White Hart. I will make a short cut.” She turned back to Alex, her huge blue eyes sympathetic. “Poor, brave boy. I think you have seen enough today. Sleep.”

And for Alex, everything went blessedly dark.

Clean Up Your Computer

Did you know that January is ‘Clean up Your Computer’ Month? They suggest opening up the computer and clearing out any dust. I don’t dust anything unless I absolutely have to and I have a terror of opening up my laptop. What if it never works again? What if I accidently hack something? What if it all goes horribly wrong? There is stuff on my computer that is older than my teenage son and has followed me from machine to machine for years! I can’t risk losing that.

On the other hand, it isn’t a bad idea to have a sort of cyber clean up. I am desperately in need of it. I have three separate folders labelled ‘knitting patterns’ which lurk on my desktop or nestle within other folders. And I have all sorts of helpful snippets and useful guides stashed all over my desktop and in a swathe of folders. I wish I could remember to look at them. Perhaps I need a ‘clear up your memory’ month.

For example, I have a really cool guide about how to search using Google. I found it as I was rummaging. I wish that I had found it earlier when I was looking up the details for The King’s Silver (coming soon – watch this space!). It would have been a real help. It obviously looked good as I saved it in two different places, neither of which I checked when I was looking for the type of saddle used in Medieval Europe. I suppose I could create a new folder labelled ‘Useful Guides’. Then all I would have to do is remember to read it.

‘Create New Folder’ has not been as helpful as perhaps it could have been. I want to be organised, and I desperately need to be organised, but I end up having a gazillion and four folders nestling inside each other like Russian dolls holding ghosts of projects. Besides, which of these dratted folders holds the exact document I’m looking for?

An example is a story that’s been on my blog called ‘Cold Chills’. It features Rev Darren King, who has appeared in The Forgotten Village, Digging up the Past, Dinner at Dark, Tales from the White Hart, More Tales from the White Hart and Further Tales from the White Hart. He’s also in quite a few of the short stories that I use for my Monday writing gym session. I’m in the middle of collecting them into a book, so I can’t link anything, but I think that there’s around half a dozen stories where he is featured. This means that this short story could belong in any of five separate folders – I counted. Perhaps I need a folder that holds an index to folders?

When the nights draw in and it’s great to snuggle in with a mug of hot chocolate, scented candles, and some relaxing music, I suppose it is as good a time as any to spring clean the computer. I suspect that it could easily take me all month.

For those interested, I found while writing this that if I right click on the start button, I can go down the list and search for ‘file’. This is pretty good, especially if I can remember what I’ve called the dratted thing. And you can defrag my model of computer by going to the ‘Control Panel’ and following the instructions I found with an internet search. There are so many types of computers these days that I don’t feel qualified to give any more guidance than that, and I suggest that you take independent advice!

Happy ‘Clean up Your Computer’ Month!

And while I am here I thought I would add a copy of that guide for Google Searches before I lost it in the folders.

Entrance to Fairyland

The story of Alex from the beginning can be found here.

Rhys followed Jack down towards the station. “So you say that there’s an entrance to Fairyland under York Station?”

Jack winced. “That’s not the best description, and there wasn’t one until a few years ago, but it will do.”

“And we’re going to meet a vampire?” Rhys asked.

“Yes, we are,” Jack said. “Perhaps the most powerful that you will ever meet.”

“And the problem with Fairyland…”

Jack interrupted. “Please can you call it the faerie domain. People will think that you are peculiar.”

“I’m a vampire,” Rhys said, controlling his voice with some effort as they edged past some tourists. “And I’m supposed to be meeting a couple of werewolves, an exorcist, a paladin – whatever that is – and another vampire. I’ve gone past peculiar.” He shook his head. “And the problem was caused by a vampire, a different one from the one we’re meeting.”

“Yes,” Jack hurried his pace. “He’s been destroyed, but it seems like it was quite a performance. I’m sorry that I missed it. There were all sorts of dark things left around. He’s the one who Alex found, the one who had that room.”

Rhys swallowed. “And he isn’t around anymore.”

“No, he was dealt with,” Jack said. “Will you please hurry yourself.”

“What about the other vampires?” Rhys asked, picking up the pace.

“There is only Martin, Dean and you now. There was a bit of a cull, apparently. I missed all the fun. Here they are!”

Rhys recognised Martin and flinched. When he tore his eyes away from that dark gaze he saw two huge Alsatian dogs, or perhaps husky crosses, and two hard muscled men with grim expressions. “Hi,” he said, uncomfortably aware of how lame he sounded.

“You must be Rhys. I’m Martin, this is Dave, the paladin. This is Darren, an exorcist and this is Callum and Ian.” Martin indicated the huge dogs. “Yes, werewolves. They’re staying in fur for this. Come on.”

They strode over the road away from the war memorial and then cut across the Memorial Gardens. “There are a few old tunnels,” Martin said. “Steve is checking them out now and looking for the entrance. Of course, he’s half elfen himself so he has a better chance of finding something.”

“And he’s not affected by iron either,” Jack said. He turned to Rhys. “You are in powerful company. How strong are you?”

“I don’t want to leave Alex in there,” Rhys said. “I don’t know what to expect or what it all means, but Alex is a good lad. It’s my fault.” His voice broke.

“Lady Freydis thought that he would be strong,” Martin said. “And she is usually right.” He thought for a moment. “That is, if she is concentrating. Regardless, we can’t abandon him. The part he entered is likely to be…” He looked at Darren. “How would you describe it?”

“Lethally unsympathetic,” Darren said. He shifted the huge kit bag on his shoulder. “I’ve got some stuff here, if we need it.”

Martin led them around a corner to a grating covering what looked like an old, stone built tunnel. “What we will need most is our wits.” He unlocked the cover and motioned them in. “I hope you have included torches, if only for this part.”

Dave pulled out a torch and shone it down the tunnel. “Is it far?”

Jack shuddered. “I can feel it close enough. I’ve never felt such malice.” He looked around. “Can anyone explain why you didn’t put him down?”

“It’s amplified now,” Darren said. “And I think it was complicated.”

Rhys flinched. He could feel it as well, the heavy oppression of dark swirling evil.

Martin noticed. “How long have you been turned? I mean, how long have you been a vampire?”

Rhys could feel his nails becoming claws and his fangs lengthening as he fought against the fear. “I’m not exactly sure. Perhaps two years.”

Martin was unimpressed. “We shouldn’t have brought you, not so young. Stay close, don’t take risks and play it safe. When we find Alex, he will want to see familiar faces.”

One of the werewolves gave a sharp bark. Jack nodded. “I think if you stay close to Ian and Callum, you’ll be alright. And Martin is correct, as usual. Alex will want to see someone safe and familiar.”

“He doesn’t know that I’m a vampire,” Rhys said.

“When we get out, you are going to have to explain why you took up with a vampire hunter,” Martin said. “Cruelty is not a survival trait.” He peered down the tunnel. “Here we are. Have you opened it, Steve?”

The tall, slim man waiting shook his head. “It was already open. I’m pretty sure that someone has come this way.” He looked anxiously at the group. “It’s bad.”

Darren unzipped the holdall and handed swords to Dave and Martin before taking one for himself. “I think a quick prayer is a good idea before we go into this.”

Martin looked through the portal next to Steve. There was no colour in the misty woodland stretching away from them, and the stench of decay hung in the damp air writhing out of the portal. “I think we need all the help that we can get.”

Still Need to Do Day

I look on the calendars a lot. Not to see what I should be doing or when an appointment is due. I just look to see what sort of day it is. I don’t mean Mother’s Day or Father’s Day but something more fun, like National Flip a Coin Day in the USA on June 1st. The world is a strange and wonderful place, and I love finding strange corners like that. Besides, flipping a coin is a useful way to make a decision. You find out what you really wanted when the coin lands and you are pleased or disappointed. Then you can go away and do what you actually wanted because the coin flip wasn’t legally binding.

If you go on the right sites, there are often a list of things that the day is for, some more serious than others. Today, 29th December, is the celebration of the Constitution of Ireland, which is important. It is also a day to celebrate Pepper Pots, which some may argue is also significant as it isn’t about the containers for pepper that are put on tables as I first thought, but about the soup, Pepper Pot, which is said to have won the American War of Independence. I found a recipe for it here, on I’m not going to make it. The last thing I need in my life is to start cooking tripe.

It caught my eye, though, that today is National ‘Still Need to Do’ Day and Tick Tock Day, both of them a subtle, or not-so-subtle, nudge to clear your ‘to-do’ list, and get moving to clear the decks for the New Year.

This is a great idea. I fully support it. I’m not acting on it today, though. If I sat down and wrote a list of all the outstanding tasks, half finished projects and looming deadlines, it would run to several volumes. I may spend the day making a start of a list…

One thing that I am learning, slowly and the hard way, is that it is easier to avoid entries like ‘sort out the disaster area called the dining room’ and instead have separate entries like, ‘clear one of the book shelves in the dining room’, ‘find a use for that cute tin or throw it out’ and ‘sort out the socks’.

I wonder about any ‘to-do’ list that my characters may have written. I wouldn’t touch any written by Mrs Tuesday or Lady Freydis. I think the ‘to-do’ list of Lord John Farnley could be full of engineering stuff and very short on things to do with his home or title. I may add ‘write to-do lists of characters’ to my to-do list.

One of the entries on my ‘to do’ list is learn Instagram. It’s mainly pictures and I don’t have the right way of looking at the world, so I struggle. However, in the spirit of the day, I have taken a picture of a to-do list, shown above. It is an authentic, true to life representation of the way I use to-do lists and my awful handwriting. Wish me luck on getting my list moving, and I would love to hear what you think about lists and your experience of them.

Only the Bravest

The faerie domain underneath York where Lady Freydis, Prince of the non normals, ruled, was not the most stable of places. Like all homes of the elfen, it reflected the mind and the mood of the ruler. This was a problem as people kept giving Lady Freydis lifestyle magazines. There could be minimalist and boho in the same issue. Lady Freydis would read articles on ‘twenty ways to use yellow in your decorating’ and the next day her hall would be like the inside of a buttercup.

Today was relatively calm with a ‘Handmade, Homemade House’ feel. Dave and Steve crossed the strewn rag rugs, passed the beautifully upholstered, throw covered sofas and joined Lady Freydis in her private study (‘use books as accents to give a calming feel’) where at least the chairs were comfortable. Dave nodded at Martin, Jack and Kadogan standing next to Lady Freydis. This looked serious. They sat down warily.

“Thank you for joining us,” Lady Freydis said. “You are under my protection while in my domain and can walk where you will without fear.” Dave and Steve exchanged worried glances as she turned to Martin. “I blame myself. But there was so much confusion. You weren’t here, you don’t know what it was like.”

“I saw some of the aftermath,” Martin said grimly. He looked over to Dave and Steve. “Apparently a vampire called Rey made a play for the throne of York while I was sleeping.”

Steve nodded. “He tried to get to us through Fiona. I dealt with it.”

Dave still had nightmares about Steve’s destruction of Rey. “But that was years ago.”

Lady Freydis waved a hand. “There was a lot going on at the time, if you remember, and then there was all that dreadful darkness infecting everywhere, and the disembodied hands. So no-one really checked the station. Besides, the elfen can’t get there easily. There’s too much iron.”

“What has happened?” Steve asked. “I thought Rey’s little domain under there collapsed when I killed him.”

Lady Freydis shifted a little in her pink, overstuffed armchair. “The part of his little patch that was underneath the station mostly collapsed, but there were still loose ends that overlapped into the faerie domain under York. We didn’t really get near there because all the iron nearby made it hard for us to notice.”

Martin’s expression was dark. “We thought that we had unravelled all of the dark essence left behind, but someone or something seems to have found that small pocket and it’s let loose again. It’s spreading through the domain.”

“Fortunately I’m in charge now,” Lady Freydis said, “But I need help with this.” She looked at Steve. “I would owe favour and gratitude to someone who could brave the iron and close the connections to my land. I do not feel comfortable having an entrance that I can’t guard.”

“What is more to the point, someone has got in there,” Martin said. “We could have anything or anyone wandering around.”

“I’m mobilising my defences, but it’s a tricky part of the realm,” Lady Freydis said. “I’m doing my best with aid from the werewolves, but even Mark is struggling with the conditions.”

“Um,” said Jack.

“I can see if I can get in from the station end,” Steve said. “Perhaps I can bring in a couple of werewolves with me from there. It sounds like we need to move in numbers.”

“Um,” Jack repeated, shifting uncomfortably where he stood.

Lady Freydis nodded. “I can only think of it being a fierce and powerful enemy, finding a weak spot and entering my domain from a hidden entrance – one that is full of dark, distorted power. It is not a safe place. Only the bravest can travel there.” She turned to Dave. “There is a chance that it is an unknowing normal, and you may be needed to explain things. That’s why I invited you.”

“Um.” Jack was looking more uncomfortable by the second.

“I’ll take Ian and Callum in with me,” Steve said. “Callum has some experiences of Rey’s paths anyway. We’ll start from the station…” He stopped and looked hard at Jack. “Anything that you want to share?”

Suddenly Jack grinned, bubbling over with mischief. “Do you remember that amateur vampire hunter? The one who saw Martin feed? Damned indiscreet, by the way.”

Martin stared at him as he saw the implications. “You are kidding.”

“You see, he found out about vampires when he got hold of a second-hand camera that used to be Rey’s. Apparently Rey liked to take pictures of his food.” Jack shrugged. “Everyone seems to take pictures for their social media, but Rey’s images were a little specialised.”

“So there is now proof vampires exist all over the internet,” Martin stared in horror.

“I don’t think that they’re out for general release,” Jack said, “Just safe, in several places. But it made Alex rather keen to fight vampires.”

“Trust me,” Dave said, “Rey would make anyone want to fight vampires.”

“He’s terribly clever,” Jack said. “The vampire hunter, I mean. He’s not a great warrior, or even a fighter, but he worked out where Rey lived and broke into the apartment.”

Martin turned to Lady Freydis. “You didn’t think to check where Rey lived?”

Lady Freydis shrugged. “There was a lot happening, and I wasn’t in charge.”

“Your little friend broke into someone’s flat?” Dave asked.

“Well, sort of,” Jack shrugged. “He used lockpicks. I was quite intrigued. He wasn’t fast, but he was remarkably skilful. We found quite a few bits of useful information. And some truly dreadful clothes. The man had no style.” He looked around. “There was a lot of mail as well. Apparently there was enough money in an account to cover the direct debit and so the rent was still paid. The landlord left him alone. But there was so much dust. It took a while to dig out the information.”

“Would the information include how to get into an elfen domain through the passages underneath York station?” Martin asked with dangerous calm. Jack shrugged again.

“And what are his chances of survival?” Dave asked.

Jack lost his smile. “His chances are quite slim. And that makes me sad, because although he is quite weak and very scared, he just wants to do the right thing. That is something that should be praised and protected.”

“You can come in with us, then,” Martin said. “From the sound of it, we will need all the help we can get.”

“I have an address for his other vampire hunter,” Jack said, “Though I haven’t met him yet. I’ll fetch him.” He hesitated. “The vampire hunter, he’s Alex Poole, the young man you hired for the White Hart. He wanted to find information on vampires.”

Steve looked appalled. “He’s only a young lad. I was worried that he’d not be strong enough for the warehouse!”

“I remember him,” Lady Freydis said. “We may be able to reach him. I remember that there is a strength inside.” She took charge. “Martin, use the information from Jack and his vampire hunter to get into the domain from the station side. Steve can go with you as well as Ian and Callum. I’ll lead a rescue party from my side, but I don’t know how far in we can get. And it’s been at least twelve hours. We can’t waste any time.”

“I’ll pick up Darren as well,” Martin said. “He knows the vampire hunter and hopefully the young lad will trust him – if we can find him in time. Dave, you had better go with Lady Freydis in case she meets him first. Jack, I’ll meet you at the War Memorial at the corner of Station Rise in thirty minutes.” He caught the eye of his wife and nodded.

“And I’ll leave now,” Lady Freydis said, the glamour around her shifting from an elegant cocktail dress to utilitarian leather jacket and jeans. She glared at Jack. “And then you and I will be having a long conversation.”

You can read the story of Alex from the start here

Christmas Tradition

It’s that time of year. People are dusting off their Christmas traditions and huddling inside away from the cold, dark days. In Iceland, there is a tradition of Jolabokaflod where people give each other gifts of books on Christmas Eve and then settle down to read them straight away. The more I hear about Iceland, the better it sounds.

Mind you, knowing how people are, those books may be read with different degrees of enthusiasm. I honestly think that there will be lots of happy people curled up with their favourite author, or a favourite genre, or even a completely new type of book that is perfect for opening up new ideas and thoughts in a wonderful and well-received way. I also suspect that there will be people muttering in corners, ‘My mother-in-law got me a book on Swedish Death Cleaning and I know exactly what she means by that!’

We don’t have that tradition in our family, mainly because my lovely husband has mostly audio books and I read a lot of books on a reading app, so we don’t usually buy physical books. Son reads in fits and starts and I just let him get on with it. Besides, he’s old enough to raid our bookshelves now when he feels like it. I also don’t want to force reading on him because he is overloaded with schoolwork and I would feel guilty trying to make him do anything more.

Speaking of schoolwork, son has been blessed by some amazing texts for his school syllabus, and one of them is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. We don’t have many Christmas traditions, but one of them is watching A Muppet Christmas Carol every year. We snuggle in, have the room nice and toasty with a scented candle, pile up snacks and drinks and enjoy. It’s years since I read the original, but I dipped in again the other night. I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the original work made it into the Muppet version. I have watched dozens of versions over the years, but I think that the Muppets get it the closest. Drop a comment if you agree or disagree. I’d love to hear what you think.

One thing that struck me was the original story, written in nineteenth century London, doesn’t have much to do with religion. It refers to Christianity, but that was natural for a nominally Christian writer in a nominally Christian country. However, it doesn’t really bother with theology. It talks about people, and a reminder that people are important. That it is worth cherishing the bonds of love and friendship. That it is a human duty to look out for others who cannot look out for themselves.

The language of the original is dated. Some of the expressions are unfamiliar to a modern reader. It’s a cracking story, though, and the dozens of films inspired by it (some a lot better than others) take up the sentiment. It seems that there is a deeply ingrained impulse to have a celebration at the darkest time of the year and to remember those who need a little help. I have watched A Muppet Christmas Carol so many times I can practically repeat the dialogue along with the film. I’m still looking forward to it though. It’s not a bad Christmas tradition.

Pictures on a Wall

This is the sixth in a series of short stories and you can find the full story here

Alex spread out the photos. “I got all the pictures from the camera printed out,” He said. “These ones show the…” He hesitated for a moment. “The ones that look like vampires.”

“It’s okay,” Rhys said quietly. “You saw one feeding. You know that they are real, and so do I. I’ve known it in my bones for a while.” He looked at the pictures spread across the wall of Alex’s bedsit. “This is well thought out.”

“Thanks,” Alex said. “I’ve watched a lot of crime shows.” He pointed to the central picture. “That’s the most obvious one. You can see a lot of details.” He swallowed. It wasn’t a pleasant picture. “But I don’t think that it’s the most important. If you look at this picture,” Alex pointed to another feeding picture slightly above the centre, “you can see a little of the window. And here there is a reflection in the glass door of a cabinet.”

Rhys leant forward. “I never thought of looking like that.”

“That’s the Minster, there. I’m pretty sure of it. But if you look at the reflection there, it’s a hotel. I think this picture was taken in a flat on Tanner Row.”

Rhys opened his phone and pulled up a street map of York. “Yes, I think you’re right.” He frowned. “But not the ground floor. It’s at least two floors up.”

“There’s some student housing around there,” Alex said. “It could be one of their flats.”

“Or someone who has a flat among them,” Rhys said. “I mean, it’s good cover. No-one is going to be around long enough to keep track on who lives where. And there is likely to be people coming and going all the time.”

“We need to visit,” Alex said. The implications of that hung in the air.

“We need to be prepared,” Rhys said. “There could be anything there.”

“Or nothing,” Alex said. “I’m not sure when these pictures were taken, but it must be a while ago. There’s no sign of any masks or anything, even in the background.”

“I wonder who that is?” Rhys pointed at a picture of a dark haired woman. “She seems to be important.”

Alex nodded. “I made a whole section of her pictures,” he said, gesturing at a spray of pictures. “I don’t think that she’s a vampire, though.”

Rhys looked closely. “She looks ill in most of them,” he said. “You can almost trace the way she is fading. She looks quite well here, but she’s paler here, and she looks really ill in this one.”

“I wonder if the vampire had an obsession with her,” Alex said. “Perhaps she was a victim, like the woman I saw a few weeks ago.”

Rhys leaned back. “I think it’s a little more sinister. The woman you saw was obviously consenting. This doesn’t look like she is enjoying herself.”

“I wonder if she is okay,” Alex said. “I mean, the last picture is pretty bad.” He tapped on the picture on the extreme left. The woman was looking almost colourless, and the hollows and shadows on her face were an unpleasant contrast to the bright expression on the first picture.

Rhys swallowed. “I hope so. Perhaps she escaped. Perhaps they killed the owner of these pictures. Perhaps we are chasing a ghost.”

“But I saw that one feeding,” Alex reminded him. He shrugged and hesitated. “You weren’t around, and I saw an opportunity.”

Rhys’ heart sank. He couldn’t bear the thought of his friend risking himself. “What sort of opportunity?”

“I was browsing jobs, and I saw that they needed a new staff member at the White Hart,” Alex said. “I called in, went into the interview an hour later, and they gave me the job.”

Rhys shook his head. He could feel his fangs lengthening with the shock and fought it back. Alex did not need to find out that his vampire fighting comrade was actually a vampire. “It’s too risky!”

Alex shook his head. “I need to know. I can’t get that picture out of my mind. Besides, it’s good money and it sounds interesting. I could be helping in the café, the warehouse, making local deliveries, stocking the shop, and they even included ‘other duties as required’ which makes me think that I could end up doing anything. It would be a nice change from the old place. I gave in notice this morning.”

“There are a lot of pictures of the place,” Rhys said, waving his hand at the wall.

“So it’s even more important for me to work out what’s going on,” Alex said. “There may be some talk I overhear, some sort of group or network. I’ll have a chance to spot any subtle signs.”

Rhys swallowed. “Okay, I suppose it’s a good idea. But you need to be careful. I got this for you.” He carefully handed over a silver crucifix on a chain. “Perhaps you could see if that priest would bless it for you.”

Darren frowned at Alex. “It’s not like a slot machine,” he said. “You don’t just insert prayer and have a blessing shoot out of the bottom of a dispenser. You can’t order the divine around.”

“Please,” Alex said. “I could really use the job, but there’s a lot of scary stuff in there.”

Darren drummed his fingers on his immaculately polished table. “There are plenty of jobs around,” he said. He sighed and stood, pacing up and down the sparse study. “I never feel comfortable refusing a blessing, but you have to understand, it isn’t a magic spell. It isn’t a film or a computer game. It’s about faith.” He frowned and held out a reluctant hand. “If you’re still worried about vampires, then perhaps a blessing will help. I’ll pray over this, but in return I will ask that you come to me if you think that a crime is being committed. Predators come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and keeping within the rules can be a form of protection in itself.” The priest sighed heavily as he took the necklace. “I call in to the White Hart quite often, and they’re a good bunch.” He sighed again as he arranged the chain in his hands. “If you are worried about vampires, it’s perhaps not the best place to be, though.”

“I thought it would be a good place to be,” Alex said quietly. “There must be a lot of stuff that fights against darkness there.”

Darren thought about his friends at the White Hart. “Well, a couple of the staff come to Bible study here.” He hesitated. “You’re welcome to come as well, if you like, if you feel that you need the protection of faith. I’ll still bless this crucifix no matter what you decide, but you need to think. Ask yourself why it is so important to you to have this blessed by me.” Darren shook his head. “Let us pray about this.”

Jack took his time studying the wall of pictures in Alex’s room. “I think that this is a remarkable work of art,” he said. “And you are starting work at the White Hart next week?”

Alex nodded. “They want me to start training in the warehouse,” he said. “The current staff are moving to a new location.” He hesitated. “The priest blessed my crucifix, just in case.”

Jack glanced at the crucifix. “That was a good idea, if it works,” he said, as if he couldn’t see the vivid holy aura surrounding it. “I know a few people at the White Hart,” he said. “They’re okay.” He pointed to the pictures of the woman. “That is Fiona Adderson, and I am very fond of her – in a non-romantic way!” he added quickly. “Her husband, Steve Adderson, is someone I think neglects her, but they are happy enough. Mrs Tuesday is a scary old lady. Never take alcohol from her. And the Tarot reader, Dave Kinson, doesn’t believe in Tarot.”

“That sounds a little unusual,” Alex said.

Jack shrugged. “Better safe counsel than true divination,” he said. “Oh, and the priest’s girlfriend works there as well. She is a beautiful blonde lady, called Jasmine. Don’t try and romance her.”

“She doesn’t sound like my type,” Alex said stiffly.

“You don’t like blondes?” Jack asked.

“I’m not into ladies,” Alex said quietly.

Jack shrugged. “It won’t make much of a difference at the White Hart,” he said. “Anyway, I must leave. I have an appointment. But I will be back soon. We can perhaps find the flat of that vampire together.”

Jack almost danced out of the flat and down the street. He wouldn’t even need to tempt Martin to meet the vampire hunter. Martin called into the White Hart at least once a week. All Jack needed to do was to be there when Alex met Martin and enjoy the fireworks.

Feeling Poetic

My son is coming up to his GCSEs. For those who are unaware, GCSEs are the national standardised exams, usually taken at the age of 16 by everyone. Schools are marked on how well their students do, and funding is allocated accordingly. Students have access to further courses limited by their GCSE scores. I sometimes think that there is more pressure on these classes than the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

With most of the subjects I just nod, smile and encourage. It’s all changed since I was sitting the equivalent, back in the eighties, and I was never much good at the STEM subjects that my son enjoys. The only time that I would venture a slight opinion is on English Literature. I am deeply envious of the works that he has to study. My son has Macbeth (a lovely, meaty play), An Inspector Calls, A Christmas Carol and a selection of poetry.

I don’t head to poetry regularly. I have old-fashioned and, I suspect, shallow tastes. I do enjoy it, though. Years ago I had a huge tome of poetry that was mainly nineteenth century English poetry with a few outliers. It got me fascinated by Shelley, gave me an appreciation of Byron, and made me very comfortable with rhyming poetry – not necessarily a good thing. I suspect that I miss out on a lot.

However it did give me a few pieces that will always warm my heart. The first poem in the book was called ‘My Cat Jeoffrey’ by Christopher Smart (1722-1771). I believe he wrote it in a lunatic asylum, and he later died in a debtors’ prison, so it wasn’t the most logical poem to come out of the Enlightenment. On the other hand, it is awesome for all those owned by cats. The poem doesn’t rhyme, doesn’t scan and doesn’t entirely make sense. In other words – it’s perfect for cats. For me, the best line is – ‘For he can spraggle upon waggle upon the word of command.’ Every cat owner knows exactly what that means and it is a wonderful way to describe a cat turning itself inside out for the sheer pleasure of it.

I hope that you feel able to click on the link above, and perhaps even browse around the poems on the site. The poem is a little long for me to put on here, so I have made do with a link and added my somewhat inferior contribution to cat poetry. And thank you for visiting this page. After browsing around the poetry, I feel encouraged to spend an evening expanding my poetic knowledge, so thank you for giving me the opportunity to be inspired.

My Lion

My little lovely tabby is looking rather sweet.
The elegant and tabby tail is curled around her feet.
Expressionless she looks at me with bland and secret eyes,
Assured the plate of sausages was dinner in disguise.

I want to read the paper but my lap is occupied.
A tabby cat is dozing so I’ve put my read aside,
And though it’s really painful as the claws are sinking in,
The sound of cat contentment keeps me tickling her chin.

It’s as if a dozen devils are fighting on the floor,
And a screwed up piece of paper is tossed from paw to paw.
It’s thrown, bit and fought and then chased across the stairs,
Then the tabby runs in panic from a fright that isn’t there.

My cat lies soft in sunlight and her fur is golden bright,
Her eyes are slits of slumber as she turns into the light,
She stretches like a lion sprawled who drowses in the heat,
And dreams of Serengeti mice are twitching at her feet.

My tabby’s meditating and her limbs are all tucked in,
Her head is nodding forward as she draws herself within,
And. who knows, if she meditates to the fire’s gentle hum,
Her focus will reward her and a lion she’ll become.