Invitation Accepted Chapter Twenty

Luke wasn’t exactly sure what had been happening in the non-normal community. All he knew was that Gareth was turning up at his desk with more bruises than usual, Rhys had disappeared and that Surjit had very reasonably handed in her notice. Now he was faced with a smooth talking businessman who he suspected knew more than he should about practically everything and had an uneasy feeling that he was coming a serious second in negotiations.

“Are you sure that these will sell?” Luke asked sceptically. He looked down at the crazed patterns. It looked like a colourblind hippy had taken a wild trip and vomited random colours over the board.

“Trust me,” Steve said. “If you can deliver the blankets in these colourways, I’ll want 500 up front and options on another 500 by Christmas. And if you can provide a few different colourways in similar styles, I’d like to take an option on those as well.”

Luke ran a hand over his thinning hair. “I thought that the Fair Folk would like all soft colours and greens and natural shades,” he said plaintively.

“Why?” Steve said in bewilderment. “Oh, they’re not like the stories.” He thought for a moment. “Well, they’re not like the nice stories. And these days they’re very rarely like the bad stories.” Steve thought for a moment. “Especially if they’re worried about being caught. Listen, it’s a good deal, and if you keep it exclusive then I’m happy to keep the price up.”

Luke looked again at the eye-jarring colours. “I’ll keep it exclusive,” he said. It was the sort of blanket that he couldn’t even donate. He’d get blacklisted by homeless shelters.

“Try it in monochrome,” Steve said. “I don’t need to have that tied into the exclusivity clause.”

Luke frowned as he checked over the pattern. “Yes, that would work,” he said. Years of working with textiles had honed his instincts. “I can see it with scarves, sweaters and skirts,” he said. “In fact, there are a few different garments that could work. I can get some samples ready for you if you like?”

Steve looked at the discordant design. “I can’t see it myself, but I’ll take your word for it,” he said. “By the way, if you’re looking for a new receptionist, I know someone who’s looking for a job.”

Luke felt a shiver of unease. “Are they like Rhys?” he asked.

Steve grinned. “Yes, she’s a werewolf, but she’s not likely to cause any trouble. Her boyfriend’s moved to Leeds and she’s looking for a job so she can join him. She’s a sweet kid, and no trouble at all.”

“What sort of experience does she have?” Luke asked. On the one hand, this meant that he wouldn’t have to go through the tedious and nerve wracking process of posting job adverts and interviewing. On the other hand, things were weird enough. “And is she, well, safe, you know?”

“She’s fine,” Steve said. “And Kidder hasn’t been a problem, has he?”

Luke had to admit that Kidder was turning out to be one of the best employees he’d had. He kept his head down, did his work and was no trouble. He’d been talking about organising a work’s football team, but that wasn’t the worst thing he could do. “Is she a bit older?” Luke asked cautiously. “It’s just that my sales staff can be a bit rowdy and I don’t want someone who gets upset.” Surjit had told them where to go when they started messing around. She’d also included a few explicit directions for good measure.

“Jasmine is fine,” Steve said. “She can be a bit shy, but she’s devoted to her boyfriend and probably won’t notice anything.”

Luke frowned. “Her boyfriend won’t make trouble, will he?” he asked. “He’s not likely to throw his weight around?”

Steve shook his head. “He’s a minister. He may have a bit of a sharp tongue, but he’s not the jealous type.”

Luke shrugged. He couldn’t imagine a werewolf being the girlfriend of a minister, but he wasn’t going to argue. He needed a receptionist. And how much trouble could she cause? “When can she start?”


Bron paused, panting at the gate. “That was a good run,” he said.

Gareth nodded. “I’m still getting used to it,” he said, fighting to catch his breath. He started stretching out as Bron hung around in the back of his mind. “But it’s good.”

Bron observed as Gareth went through the cooling down exercises. “There is so much knowledge now,” he said. “And we’re doing much better. Besides, it’s good that we exercise. Mortimer feeds us very well and we could end up fat.”

Gareth chuckled as he stretched his hamstring. “We’re putting on muscle, not weight,” he said. He kept the stretch going but his focus shifted. “That’s a new car in the drive.”

“Keep the warm down going,” Bron said. “And keep alert.”

Gareth nodded. “It’s a fancy car,” he said, changing legs. “It must have cost a fortune when it was new.”

“That was a while ago,” Bron said as he looked at its battered condition.

“The plates say that it’s a year old,” Gareth said.

“Then either the owner is a careless driver or it’s seen some action,” Bron said. “It’s even more battered than your car. That dent in the side looks like it was hit by a boggart.”

“Well spotted,” a voice said from behind them. “That’s exactly what happened. I’m Darren King and I was told that I could stay here. I’m an exorcist.”

Bron turned slowly before starting the quad stretch. “Nice to meet you,” he said. “I didn’t hear anything. But you’re welcome of course.” He noted the hard muscles, cold eyes and assured balance of the man facing him. “There’s room for all of us.”

“You need to start checking your emails,” Darren said. “Not that would have made much difference. Lincoln aren’t good at sharing information and neither is York. I believe that there’s trouble around here. While the non-normals of Leeds are having fits, I’ve heard that the real action is around here.”

Gareth looked Darren over. He looked more like a movie star in a battered leather jacket, faded t-shirt and supermarket jeans than an exorcist. “Do you have any sort of identification?” he asked. “And just for the record – you’re not going to exorcise me.”

“That didn’t sound like a question,” Darren said, pulling a card holder from his jacket pocket and flipping it open. “I have a duty to my calling and to protect the world. If you have spirit inside you, I have to ask questions.”

“It’s okay,” Sir Philip came out from behind Darren and grinned. “I know Darren from way back. And he’s come here because he’s helping police the threat from the Orache Stone and he’s from out of town.”

“I shouldn’t be here for too long,” Darren said. “I’m being translated.” He sighed as he took in Gareth’s confused look. “I’m a minister. I have a parish. But with things going so crazy here, I’m getting moved from York to Leeds. Being translated means being moved on from a parish.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Bron muttered. “You’re still not exorcising me. And now that we’ve got that sorted out, what’s for dinner?” He strode past Darren and into the house. “Something smells good.”


Gareth stuck his head into Carli’s office. “Are you ready to leave?” he asked.

“Just a second,” Carli said, grabbing up her bag. The rain rattled against the windows and she shivered. “Are you sure that you still want to go out?”

“I have been wanting a date for weeks,” Gareth said. “And so far we’ve been interrupted every time. Besides, I’m not taking you home to the madhouse.”

“Of course, you have a new guest,” Carli said. “What’s he like?”

“Bron respects him,” Gareth said. “Kidder and Mortimer are both terrified of him, though they’re starting to relax a bit. He brought his girlfriend around last week and I think she and Kidder sort of knew each other and that helped.”

“He must be terrifying if he’s got Bron’s respect,” Carli said. “How did he manage that?”

“Bron and Darren did a little sparring – which I stayed well out of!” Gareth said. He terrified the life out of me and kept up with Bron without much trouble.”

“That’s scary,” Carli said. She looked at the rain scything down in the car park. “We could get a takeaway and go to my place.”

Gareth felt temptation wash over him but fought it back. “No, I’m determined that for once we are going to go somewhere nice,” he said. “It’s about time I treated you to a meal.” He grinned down at Carli. “But we can still go to your place afterwards.”

She smiled back. “It’s a deal,” she said. “Come on.”

Talk turned to work matters as they walked down the stairs together. “The monochrome sounds like it could work,” Gareth said. “And I can think of a few places we could advertise, especially some of the more obscure websites.”

“You could just pass on the details to the sales team,” Carli said. “They’d appreciate the challenge. The trouble is that the monochrome isn’t straightforward from my side. It’s not just like adding black or white to a shade to get gradients. It’s more about getting subtle differences…” she trailed off as she heard Jed yell. “Oh no!”

Gareth raced ahead, flying around the last corner and landing ready to take on whatever had attacked Jed, stumbling to a halt at the unexpected scene. The new receptionist had Jed in an arm lock, twisting firmly against the joint. She was young, tall, slim, blonde and impossibly beautiful. She was also handling the bulk of Jed like an expert. “Try putting your hand on me again,” she said, twisting Jed’s wrist a little for emphasis. “And I’ll rip it off.”

Bron woke up, stretched and grinned. “I’m glad that someone’s teaching you how to behave,” he told Jed.

“Let me go!” Jed yelped. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

“My boyfriend will be picking me up soon, and you’ll see that he’s real if you stick around,” the blonde said. “But it doesn’t matter if he’s real or not. If I say don’t touch, you keep your hands to yourself – understand?”

“Yes! Yes! I’m sorry!” Jed cried, collapsing on the floor as the new receptionist released his hold.

“Hi Jasmine,” Carli said. “I’m sorry about Jed, but most of the guys here are okay. This is my boyfriend, Gareth. Gareth, this is the new receptionist, Jasmine Tait.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Gareth said, politely shaking Jasmine’s hand. He looked at Jed who was slowly picking himself up from the floor. “I’d ask if you were okay, but you seem to have it handled.”

“Are you sure that your boyfriend is picking you up?” Jed asked. Genuine admiration glowed in his eyes.

“Yes I am,” a voice said from the door.

“Hi Darren,” Gareth said, somehow unsurprised. “You didn’t tell me that Jasmine was working here.”

“You didn’t ask,” Darren said. His attention was all on Jasmine as he strode over to her.

“Carli, this is Darren, our new housemate,” Gareth said. “Darren, this is Carli, the genius designer here.” He watched the polite introductions and gave into the inevitable. “Why don’t we all go back to my place? Mortimer would love to make something substantial.”

Jasmine looked up at Darren, her face shining with love. “That would be wonderful. I’d love to see where you’ll be staying.”

Carli looked out of the window at the worsening weather. “And it’s definitely a night for staying in,” she said.

Gareth looked at Jed, standing forlorn and lonely. What the heck, he’d survived an attack by werewolves, seen the Orache Stone in action, at least from a distance, and was about to start selling to elfen. “If you keep your hands to yourself, you can come along,” Gareth said. “The food’s good and there’s plenty of it. The company…”

“Are they all as crazy as you?” Jed asked.

Gareth shrugged. “They’re possibly crazier,” he said.

Jed grinned. “I’m in,” he said. He watched as Jasmine scampered over to Darren’s battered Range Rover. “Does she have a sister?”

The story from the beginning can be read here.

Research and the Author: Fantasy Clothes

Research for fantasy clothing isn’t really a thing. After all, you could put elves in spandex and goblins in pink tutus because it’s your world. But to make the notes on clothing a little more complete, I thought I’d add some thoughts on research, clothing in fantasy and where I would take a little extra care.

Remember, the reason for research is to stop the author looking like an idiot. There is another point, which is, research should be to make the writer’s life easier. So the time that research comes up when writing a fantasy novel is if you are using a real world society at a point in time as a basis for your writing. And even then you have wiggle room. But let’s think about Kurt the Barbarian and Gwendolyn the Healer – what can they wear?

When we talked about fantasy locations, I had the brave duo in three separate settings based on Samarkand, Oxford and Havana. A quick internet search for clothing at the date of 1200CE, the date I picked at random last time, will throw up all sorts of information. You can pick and choose among the offerings. A word of warning, though. If your story is heavily based on a particular society, for example, fifteenth century Japan, there will be people on the internet who live for that time period. They will know the exact authentic hem stitch on every garment and the dyes used to produce the colours of every piece. If you are not that obsessive then skate quickly over vague details and concentrate on the assassin’s route into the closely guarded home of the hero. If you are that obsessive then you have a fan base. Ask questions on their forums, be clear about why you’re asking and then make sure to share a link to your novel when it comes out.

I use research to make it easier for myself. If I want to write a story set in a fantasy world, I’m likely to use Medieval Europe as a starting point before tweaking things to the way I like them. As I’m familiar with that, I’ll use that as an example. Let’s start with Kurt the Barbarian, mighty and manly.

One of the garments common in Medieval Europe was hose. It was a covering for the leg that also covered the foot, like the equivalent of pantyhose or tights. I had a quick look at ‘hose’ on Wikipedia and was somewhat surprised at the different fashions. And I think of a cloth legging that covered the foot would be perfect under boots and breeches if you were striding across the frozen tundra. It would certainly help to keep your assets warm. I can’t see me describing Kurt the Barbarian wearing tights, though, so I’ll stick to things like furs and tunics. Just because I find something in research doesn’t mean that I’m going to either use it or describe it. That goes double for codpieces. If you don’t know what a codpiece is then it’s probably not a good idea to look it up on a shared computer or at work. I’m going to stick to vague descriptions of clothing that doesn’t sound ridiculous in our era.

Kurt and Gwendolyn both obviously have cloaks. There are all sorts of cloaks for the time and place on the internet. As it’s still 10th of November, they need something nice and warm. I’m not a fan of fur in the modern world. My view is that if you have to defend yourself in an unexpected life or death situation with a fur bearing animal, and you win, then you can have a fur coat. Otherwise modern textiles will cover all of your needs. The medieval world, however, was lacking in microfibres and Kurt the Barbarian was much more likely to have fought off bears, wolves, polecats and possibly bunny rabbits with his bare hands so I’ll allow him the fur. However if you are using real world analogies and Kurt is brooding on the city wall of the equivalent of Oxford, then you should have an extremely good reason for giving him a cloak lined with jaguar fur. It’s worth having a quick look around to see what animals were being used for fur in that area, give or take, and what the story needs.

Gwendolyn’s cloak is more likely to be wool. In our day, the main source of wool are sheep, and there were plenty in the countryside near Oxford at that time. Obviously there are different qualities of yarn, spinning and weaving, but it all works with the plot. Perhaps Gwendolyn’s cloak is old and stained after difficult times and travel or perhaps she has a wonderfully warm new cloak lined with lambswool from a grateful patient. If, however, Gwendolyn is standing at the gates of Samarkand then her cloak could be sheep’s wool but it could also be cashmere or angora – or even yak. I have yarn in my stash that is labelled 40% yak and it feels lovely and warm. In the unlikely even that she needs a warm cloak in Havana, though, it’s more likely to be made of imported alpaca yarn. Wool bearing animals appear in all sorts of places, although as its original purpose is to keep the animal warm you are not likely to find many decent sources of wool in the jungle. Again, it’s worth looking around and seeing what the local equivalent in our world is, or even inventing an animal.

It may be that you need to talk about underwear. Practically all underwear in the north of Medieval Europe was linen of some type. Silk in Europe was horrifically expensive, so if you are giving Kurt the Barbarian a silk shirt then you need to know that it probably cost as much as a horse – the equivalent of a fancy car! Gwendolyn may have crazily expensive silk underwear but if she has the money then she’s more likely to have fine quality, easily washed linen and spent any extra money on ribbons or braid. There are plenty of resources on the internet about medieval underwear but remember that people like to be comfortable and the basics have been the same for many years. Don’t get too carried away.

Cotton is tricky. It’s one of the oldest fibres known and has been found in archaeological sites in both the old world and the new. Obviously some cotton could have reached Oxford, but it would have been unusual and comparatively expensive. An enterprising merchant could have brought cotton material from, for example, Egypt, but I doubt that they would have made much money. If you imagine holding some silk fabric in one hand and some cotton fabric in another, it’s likely that the silk is going to feel like it’s worth paying a premium to import at stupidly high costs to cover transport while cotton may not feel as good as top quality linen. It may be a staple in your world, but it’s more likely to be hiding under outer clothes in Samarkand or Havanna than it is in Oxford. Besides, if you’re concentrating on what the underwear is made of, you’re describing the wrong things.

I’ve talked about using research to keep consistency. After all, if I’m using Oxford as a sort of analogy and wonder if velvet was available there in 1200CE, I can just look it up and keep things consistent. I have to wonder, though, if that is overrated in fantasy novels. Tolkien, who really knew his stuff, had Bilbo run out of Bag End without a pocket handkerchief. While a hobbit may find these important, however, I can’t imagine Denethor worrying about a handkerchief or Elrond checking his pockets to make sure his handkerchief was in place. And, after all, clothes that were worn by nobility in London or Paris would be subtly different from those worn in Stockholm or Naples and incredibly different from the clothing available to a poor shepherd in Northern Scotland or a peasant in the Caucasian mountains.

And if you are running short of world building inspiration, it’s okay to look at what people wore in places in our world that are similar to your setting. You can get a feel of how people managed the heat/cold/damp/sun/resources to keep themselves comfortably clothed and extend that to your characters. As long as the focus is on the character and the stories then don’t worry about whether the hastily grabbed blanket is llama, alpaca, yak, angora, goat, camel or even muskox. It’s much more interesting to write about the feverish stranger shivering underneath it after a daring rescue than fibre content. After all, it’s all about the story.

If you have any topics you would like me to rummage through, please let me know. I can’t promise that I’ll know anything about a topic, but I can share how I look around and find out.

You can find more in this series here – Research and the Author Collected Posts

Invitation Accepted: Chapter Nineteen

Image from Unsplash, taken by Daniel Mirlea

“So how did you end up on the naughty table?” the boggart asked. “I’m Phil Neston, by the way, and I’m sort of a representative for the local boggarts.”

“I’m Gareth Peterson,” Gareth said. “I’m the paladin from Otley.

“And I’m Bron,” Bron added. “And I may be the reason we’re in the corner.” Phil blinked slowly at the dual voices and then shrugged.

“Not because he’s an ancient bronze age warrior whose spirit was called into me,” Gareth said. “But because he needs to be kept calm if Mark turns up.”

The third man, hard faced and hard muscled, raised an eyebrow. “Won’t Mark be here?” he asked. “I’m Ian Tait, by the way, the leader of a sub pack in York and here to represent Kieran from the overpack. I’m probably in the corner because I summoned a demon once and it still makes people twitchy.”

“You don’t make a habit of it, do you?” Bron said, looking at him thoughtfully.

Ian grimaced. “It was only once and that was by accident.” He waved a dismissive hand. “But what’s all this about Mark?”

Gareth answered. “Mark’s gone missing,” he said, picking his words with care. “And he needs to answer a few questions about how Violet died, and the whereabouts of the Orache Stone.”

Phil raised an eyebrow. “It’s pretty cut and dried from what I heard. Lord Marius has a lot of questions. Anyway, the point is that Mark’s missing.”

“Bron was close to Violet, years ago,” Gareth continued. “So he’s upset about her death. And he was the one who dealt with the Orache Stone the first time around.”

“I was talking with Steve about that,” Ian said. “We were kicking some ideas about getting it destroyed.”

“I didn’t know that werewolves did magic,” Bron said, looking Ian up and down.

“Most of us don’t,” Ian said. “I’m also a qualified plumber and there’s not many werewolves in that trade either.” He held Bron’s gaze. “But I’ve done my penance and me and Steve were talking about some work arounds. It’s elfen magic, from the sound of it.”

Bron nodded. “But it’s elfen magic that called to werewolves, bedded into the hills near Ilkley and seriously nasty. It drives the owner mad.”

“And Mark was…” Phil looked around the huge marquee filled with sharp eared werewolves. “Mark was already being driven mad with grief.”

“I’m sure I’ll listen closely to his excuses,” Bron said, icy sarcasm dripping from every word.

“So if Mark turns up, Bron needs to keep cool,” Gareth said.

“And I suppose that’s why we’re next to you both,” Phil said. “Just in case Mark turns up.”

“This isn’t the time or place,” Ian said. “But perhaps we can have a talk afterwards. I’d be interested in your experiences. Steve said that he couldn’t contain it.”

Bron nodded. “Sure, but hang on, it’s the toast.” He raised his glass of whiskey and water.

Rhys stood on the dais, a glass in hand, his eyes shadowed as he reached the end of the eulogy. “To Claire,” he said, raising his glass and then swallowing the drink.

“To Claire,” the room responded.

Rhys looked around. “And that’s the end of the formalities,” he said. “Now it’s time to eat, drink, remember Claire, remember old friends and family and come together. The buffet is open at the back.”

“Not so fast,” Mark stepped into the marquee, followed by three strangers.  “Rhys, get out. I’m exiling you from the pack.”

Gareth could feel the tension racing around the space. “What’s going on?” he murmured to Phil.

“Rhys has been running the pack unofficially for the last two years,” Phil murmured back. “Mark now sees him as a threat.” He grimaced. “Mark owes Rhys everything and Rhys has been nothing but loyal. It shows what the Orache Stone can do to you.”

“It’s not the effect of the Orache Stone,” Bron said as he stood. “He was heading down this path long before he got hold of that. No, this is Mark – a mad dog without a leash.”

“That could have been put better,” Ian said. He glanced around the tent and was unnerved to see that a lot of the werewolves agreeing with Bron. “Who are the goons with him?”

“I think one of them is a mad magician called Edragor,” Phil said. He caught hold of Bron’s arm. “This is a challenge that Rhys needs to answer. If there’s anything left of Mark afterwards, I’ll give it to you to play with.”

“Seems fair,” Bron growled. “Rhys seems halfway decent and the pack doesn’t deserve turmoil. And Mark waited until Violet was weakened before he attacked.”

“This Edragor,” Ian murmured. “I think I’ve heard the name. But there’s something going on…”

“I’m going nowhere,” Rhys said. “You owe me.”

“I said, get out, pup,” Mark said. He looked around the tent. “I’ve got plans, big plans, and the power to put them into practice. Claire will be back any day now, and between us, we’ll put things right.” He turned to Lord Marius. “And why are the werewolves always knocked back? Why aren’t there any werewolf princes? We need to know our worth.”

Lord Marius stood and put a little space between him and Rhys. “A prince isn’t an easy position,” he said. “And a few centuries of experience help. Werewolves don’t live long enough.”

“But you’re not a proper prince, are you?” Mark said. “You have no real authority in this tent. It’s just the pack, and I say that Rhys goes.” He glared around the tent. “Throw him out,” he snapped at the nearest men.

A shudder ran through Ian. He turned and grabbed Stella. “Get the women and cubs out of here now,” he said desperately. “Quickly! And you can help her.” He grabbed a gangling werewolf teenager and thrust him towards Stella. “Get the cubs and women out of here and get them somewhere safe!”

“What do you mean, Claire will be back?” Rhys said. “Mark, I’m sorry, but she’s gone.”

“Edragor, what is the meaning of this?” Lord Marius said sharply. “I do not permit necromancy.”

Edragor stepped forward, a mocking smile on his thin lips. “You are not the true prince,” he said. He looked around the marquee. “How many here have as good a claim as you? And no-one can interfere with pack matters.”

Ian stepped forward. “You’ve brought wraiths with you! Everyone – keep back!”

“Wraiths?” Gareth looked at Ian who was kicking the legs off a chair. “What the hell?”

“Don’t touch them,” Phil said, picking up a trestle table and hefting it carefully. “And don’t let them touch you. They drain your life force.”

“Edragor!” roared Lord Marius. “How dare you!”

“This is my hall, Lord Marius,” Mark said. “And I say get out.” He looked at the surrounding werewolves. “Throw them all out. Throw everyone out that isn’t one of that pack. And that includes Rhys.”

“No,” an older werewolf said, staring straight back at Mark.

Gareth felt himself pushed out of the way as Bron took over. “You’re not ready for this,” Bron said, glancing around and picking up a chair. Gareth watched helplessly as Phil hurled the table at the figures behind Edragor. It caught one of them on the arm and, to Gareth’s horrified shock, it crumbled to ash. Screams rang around the marquee as the few remaining cubs and women were hustled out of the back. The old werewolf snapped out orders to fetch scaffolding poles as tables and chairs were grabbed for shields.

“Your call,” Steve yelled over to Ian. “You know this stuff best.” Ian grimaced and nodded, holding up a hand. Gareth, helpless as Bron advanced with the chair, watched Steve throw a rope of sparkling green magic. It arched across the space over the heads of the werewolves, twisting and splitting as it writhed towards Ian. Ian caught it and swore as he shuddered, trying to control it.

“I’ve got it!” Ian yelled, hauling the green energy into his grasp.

Mark snarled and went to fur, diving at Rhys. Rhys stayed out of fur for a moment, grabbing Mark and using his momentum to run him head first into the edge of the dais. Mark howled and struggled as Rhys kicked him hard in the ribs. “Get rid of Edragor!” Rhys yelled.

“My pleasure,” Lord Marius snarled, advancing on Edragor.

Ian wrapped the power around his fist and then whirled his arm around, flinging the energy out towards the wraiths like a whip. “They’re tough!” he yelled.

Rhys went to fur and lunged in, fangs bared as Mark yowled, twisting away. He was trying to change back from fur but Rhys was going in hard. “Don’t let him use the Orache Stone,” Steve called. “I’m pulling more power, Ian. Brace!”

Ian caught the ball of green light in his free hand and seemed to feed it into the existing store, flicking the power out again and again to lash against the wraiths. Bron stalked closer to the whirling, snapping ball of fur. “I’m waiting, Mark,” he snarled.

The wolf flinched and fought to break free. As Phil threw another table at the fading wraiths, Lord Marius stepped closer to Edragor and snapped out a flash of blue light. Edragor deflected it into the wall of the marquee and flames shot up over the canvas.

“Everyone out!” Phil yelled. “Rhys, you need to get your people out of here. Ian – how are you doing?”

Ian was muttering under his breath, before yelling. “Discedite tenebris!” More energy shot from his hands and wreathed the wraiths in green fire. He sagged as they crumbled into shadows and slipped out through the flames. Phil picked Ian up bodily and raced towards the back exit. “Bron, Marius, get out of here.”

Gareth felt Bron’s hesitation, then saw Edragor reach out and grab a wolf by the scruff, then vanish. Lord Marius vanished after him and then it was him following Steve out of the tent as extinguishers hissed against the flames. “I’ll get him next time,” said Bron.

You can read the story from the beginning here.

Book Review: Optimal Delusions by Amber Fisher

I didn’t actually mean to read this. I was actually looking for another title. However I got distracted (which is normal for me) and started reading this book. And I really enjoyed it.

This is a cosy paranormal mystery set in the small town of Haven’s End in New York State. The heroine, Temperance Swift, finds out that her husband has not been exactly truthful or faithful and has her whole world fall apart. As the character puts it – “I discovered that my husband was a cheating bastard, so I burned our house down. Allegedly.” She makes a plea deal and heads to rehab.

Temperance finds herself on a farm instead of the fancy rehab place that she thought she would be sent to and sharing a farmhouse with Simon (who calls himself Cupid), Penny (a pathological liar and Oracle) and Colette (a completely forgotten goddess). Her arrival coincides with a murder and she is sucked into solving it.

The mystery is really well handled in my opinion. Everything is there in the run up to the solution but nothing is telegraphed. There are some lovely touches in the twists and turns of the story. The murder is solved during the book but there are still questions. Why is Temperance, an apparently ordinary mortal, able to find this Halfway House? I can see lots of little hints hidden around the story, but I can’t work anything out yet – I love it. There are also hints that there could be a budding romance with Simon, aka Cupid, but it isn’t over done and there is no insta- romance, just a tantalising possibility.

The story is told in the first person, but not in the present tense. The dialogue is crisp, the description is good, the characters are well drawn and individual and the plotting, as mentioned, is excellent. I desperately hope that there will be a sequel and I shall look forward to reading it. This is definitely a recommendation.

Research and the Author: The Bother with Bustles

I don’t know much about Victorian clothing, so I suppose it’s important for me to be clear. I’m not trying to pass on information in these articles. I’m sharing the way I look for information and some pitfalls I’ve found over the years in the hope that it will help others. So I’m starting with the hope that when I get stuff wrong, a kind reader will let me know (hopefully with gentle tact) and a reminder that the reason for research is to stop the author looking like an idiot.

From my point of view, skating over finer details sounds like a good start. If we are talking about Lord Kurt and Miss Gwendolyn racing around the foggy streets of nineteenth century London, we can probably skip quite a few clothing descriptions. A reader is hopefully too wrapped up in the mystery of where the bloodthirsty vampire Count Dominic has his lair to worry about whether Miss Gwendolyn is wearing a cape or a jacket. There may come a point in a story, however, where you need to know a detail or two. Unfortunately for me, a lot of people are interested in nineteenth century clothing so if I get details wrong, they’ll know. They may laugh and point. So I need to have a rummage around and research clothing.

I’m going to start with some basics that I do know. If we stick to the date of 1875 then there were no artificial fibres in general use. I’ve had a look around and ideas of making fake silk from mulberry bark and nitrocellulose were around, but in the main and by and large all clothes were made from natural fibres. When Miss Gwendolyn rips up her petticoats to stem the blood flowing from injuries to the valiant Lord Kurt, those petticoats are made from lovely, absorbent, well-washed cotton or linen and not the slick rayon and nylon that came later. The warm cape that Lord Kurt slips from his shoulders to put around the shivering Miss Gwendolyn as they are trapped in a chill cellar is almost certainly heavy wool, possibly lined with fur. Fine ladies wore silk, much of it woven in England (I found this article, which I found interesting) and housemaids wore cheap cotton prints.

The other thing that I remember is that chemical dyes became widespread during the nineteenth century. I got it wrong in that I thought Prussian Blue was invented in the nineteenth century and I was out by more than a century. It was invented around 1706, according to Wikipedia. Mauveine, a purple dye based on coal tar, was discovered in 1856, however, and all sorts of wonderful colours were available by the time that Miss Gwendolyn went shopping for a new dress.

While I was wandering around the wonders of the internet, I found an article about green dyes in England in the nineteenth century here By the time that Lord Kurt and Miss Gwendolyn were picking out their clothes, green dye produced with arsenic was known to be toxic and green dresses were associated with poison. Perhaps the dastardly Count Dominic surrounds himself with young women in green dresses – an instance of research bringing in ideas for the plot.

You can find a lot of information around concerning fashions and who wore what and when. Fashions changed then as much as they do now, although people used fashion magazines rather than TikTok. As a general rule of thumb, people can wear clothes that belong to fashions from before the date, in this case 1875, but they’re unlikely to follow fashion from years afterwards without a very good reason. When I researched the first post in this series, I found that if I had set the date a year later, the more fashionable dress would have been a slim princess line instead of a bulkier bustle. However, not everyone follows fashion all the time. People will be wearing out of date clothes just like you find people wearing older clothes that date them. Miss Gwendolyn may not have time to find a dress in the new fashion as she is too busy battling vampiric threats. Or perhaps someone will be coming from abroad and have a dated set of clothes. My personal preference is to keep things loosely in keeping with the time and only mention anything to do with fashion if it’s to do with the plot. Mentioning that someone is wearing an old-fashioned waistcoat or an outdated hat is a way of conveying information about a character.

Speaking of abroad, London was in the centre of a vast commercial empire. An expensive and rare Kashmir shawl would be an indication that someone with money had just come back from British India. Perhaps a character was coming back from China with Chinese brocades and exquisite silks. Was a dress decorated with particularly fine lace from France and does it tell more about the characters and story? But while Britain had made contact with Japan twenty years earlier in the wake of the Perry expedition, I doubt that there was much from Japan reaching the general public. If you are using a roughly historical setting then it’s probably easier to look up when, for example, gabardine was invented (1879 in its modern form) than making something up. Although gabardine could always be invented earlier and worn by Lord Kurt in your world. It’s not that much difference and as long as you keep things consistent then I can’t see how it matters too much.

I started thinking about Count Dominic’s clothing. Knowing that Vlad the Impaler fought the Turks, I’ll make a decision that Count Dominic would not adopt the Turkish dress but perhaps that of a Hungarian nobleman. I did a quick google and found this fascinating page which confirmed what I suspected. Most of the upper classes of Europe followed a similar fashion set by Paris with perhaps local trends. However Count Dominic may follow slightly older fashions that could give clues, or comment on the difference of the machine woven woollen cloth compared to the stuff woven by hand in the villages of the Carpathian mountains. Or perhaps he has made contact with some other evil monster elsewhere and imported fabric or fashion could give a clue. I wondered about imported alpaca fabric giving links to South America and dark forces there, but then I found that it was produced in Britain from the 1830s.

Let’s go back to those green dresses. I have found a few references to Paris Green – a dye containing arsenic and so toxic that it was used to poison the rats in the Paris sewers. I can’t find a date for that, but it was named Paris Green in 1867, so I’ll say that the poor rats were getting poisoned around then in my world. This means that there is an excuse to link Count Dominic and the green dresses of his young ladies and the sewers of Paris.

But that can wait. Next time I’ll be looking at fashion, clothing and fantasy.

You can find links to the rest of the articles in this series here

Book Review: Dust Off Your Magic by Claire Robyns

I signed up to the 52 books in one year on Goodreads and I’ve been failing epically, so there will be a few more reviews than normal. I write reviews because it encourages me to read out of my comfort zone, and hopefully there’ll be a good mix. I also hope that I can help a reader make an informed choice and perhaps encourage and support a writer, because I know how it feels to publish and expose yourself to the reading public. My choices may appear a little random, so I thought I would explain how I pick a book. Sometimes I get asked to write a review, and I will if I can. Most of the time I go onto Kindle Unlimited, look around fantasy or paranormal books and filter by ‘published in the last 30 days’. I try and look for the first in a series, as I’m easily confused. Then I read and share.

Dust off Your Magic by Claire Robyns is a relatively short book and a fun one. It’s a paranormal story as the heroine, Kristen O’Mead, has to go back to the magical village that she rejected and left ten years previously to deal with the problem of her ex husband’s ghost.

This was an odd read for me. It’s sort of like a taster book, or a part of a book, but it was also a complete story. Two more in the series are already cued up and it’s obvious that there’s more to learn. There are so many strands and hints that are hanging tantalisingly in the air. However the story begins with Kristen being framed for murder, and the murder is solved in this book so it’s sort of an incomplete complete story. There is also a slow burn romance going on, unless I miss my guess, and I think that will be interesting to read more of.

Technical details – it’s set in the modern day with witches and werewolves existing but unknown to the general population. It’s written in the first person, but not the present tense so it stays in my happy place zone. There is a lot of worldbuilding going on, but it’s tucked away in the background and not info dumped into the story. The pace is good, the description clear and the dialogue is crisp. I enjoyed the writing a great deal. For example: ‘Being a non-practicing witch was basically the equivalent of coloring your hair. Who cared what your natural color was? That wasn’t what defined you.’

If you want a longer and completely standalone book, this isn’t for you. It’s still a fun read, however, and later on it will be a wonderfully bingeable series. I definitely recommend this one.