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.”