Book Review: Realms of Ghosts & Magic by J S Malcom

This is a well-written, entertaining book about magic in our present day world, with a well thought out, logical magic system and a recognition that being a witch doesn’t pay the bills. The pacing was great, with some variation, the descriptions had depth and supplemented the story and the characters were well thought through.

It is written in the first person present tense, which can be an acquired taste, particularly with the use of the present tense. That means that you get quotes like:

A few moments pass as Dean considers his options. Which are basically zero, so I’m not bothered. The fact that my skin has gone from tingling to crawling tells me he’s got a serious problem on his hands. A problem that I seriously doubt a psychic could deal with. Add to that, I can’t imagine one being dumb enough to try. Any true psychic would steer clear. So Dean has me or no-one…

I love the details included, the way that everyday, mundane life is used as a touchstone and counterpoint to the magical world and I love the reality of the language. It is an interesting, detailed, well imagined world with great plotting and lots of hints that don’t give the game away until the end. I can say that it is a good book to settle down with.

I have two issues. The first is that it ends on a cliffhanger, but not an irrational cliffhanger, so that is down to personal preference. It isn’t my preference, but it isn’t a bad end to the book. It is a logical, sensible, rational and consistent end to the book that leads well into the next of the series. If you don’t mind this sort of cliffhanger, then you will be fine.

The second issue is my completely irrational prejudice against first person present tense. It has it’s value as a method of story telling as it makes all the action very immediate and, if well written (and this is), it can make it very relatable. I think it is utterly awesome for short stories. My completely irrational dislike is that I feel that it can affect the flow of information so that you get more ‘tell’ than ‘show’ and that it can affect pacing. JS Malcom has done a wonderful job conveying the information necessary for the plot and the pacing works great. In fact, the way that the background is gently introduced during the story is wonderfully handled. I still have this completely ridiculous aversion to first person present tense.

If you are okay with a cliffhanger ending and a story in the first person present tense then I would be happy to recommend this book and to perhaps check out the sequel.

A Brief Snippet: The Forgotten Village


Photo by Gábor Veres on Unsplash

It was a sad place, and a sadness that Karen had come to know very well in the last few
days. This garden had once been loved, as Miriam had once loved her garden. A small
cottage seemed to be fading away behind the weeds, with broken windows and the front door missing. Bindweed and nightshade were writhing over the doorway and into the house. Karen didn’t recognise all the plants, but she could see the remains of raspberries, the dregs of some strawberries, an apple tree that was full of ripe apples, plum trees surrounded by rotten fruit and mint running wild up to the ivy filled, bushy hedge.
“It seems such a sad place.” Karen said.
“I try not to think of it.” Carl shook some carrier bags from his pocket. “Right, let’s do my Mum proud.”
“How about things like the apples?” Karen asked as she shook out a well re-used carrier.
“Sam’s having the apples, he should have said about the plums, but he normally has them as well.” Carl started picking the blackberries nearest the gate. “Come on, city girl! You start over there, I’ll pick towards you, let’s see who fills a bag first.”
“Deal!” Karen said with a laugh and waded through a patch of raggedy grass to her
starting point.

Blackberrying, Karen found, was very absorbing. There was always one more berry to
find, one that bit out of reach, one more head of luscious, juicy berries nodding just a little way up… It was marvellous. With the sound of birds and the soft sun, Karen felt more relaxed than she could ever remember feeling.

Karen, don’t move, stay absolutely still.”
Karen froze. There was an edge to Carl’s voice. There was no sound, not even the birds
now. Then a rustle as Carl put down his bag.
“Come out, show yourself. I know that you are there.” Carl sounded like, well, like a
policeman or a seasoned soldier. There was a deep calm in his voice, an assurance and a
steadiness around a core of steel. “Karen, I want you to slowly move behind me towards the gate.”
“Don’t want to share?” A scrawny man slipped out of the cottage, wearing some dirty
track suit bottoms and nothing else. “Come on, it’s lush round here, there’s plenty to go
around.”
“Have you introduced yourself to Tyr Armstrong yet?” Carl kicked off his shoes as Karen eased herself around him. “Or Lord Lothar? Not a good idea to upset them.”
“Why should a wolf answer outside his own pack?” The thin man had ratty, shoulder
length brown hair, but it seemed to Karen that it was growing longer. “We aren’t all puppies, like round here. Does the meat know what you are?”
Karen felt sick. This was a werewolf as well, but not like Carl. This was a werewolf from
the horror movies – the nasty ones that she hated watching on her own. She eased around a little further, to give Carl room. She had no idea what to do.
Carl flexed his shoulders and worked his neck. “There are always rules, the rules of the
territory. Tyr Armstrong rules the pack here, and his word goes. Better stick to the rules, stray, or you could regret it.”
The skinny man was twitchy. “Yeah, well I have got to feed and I have got to feed now
and I aren’t letting a puppy try and stop me.”
Karen had reached the gate. She looked quickly up and down – she couldn’t see anything, but then, she had had no idea that there was this creature waiting for them. She looked back. Carl seemed to flow out of his clothes in an easy, controlled movement. He really was built like a barn, the strange werewolf must be crazy. He, too, was also flowing out of his clothes and into a wolf like shape. Again she glanced up and down the empty lane. How could she get help? Mobiles didn’t work and there wasn’t a soul around. She wasn’t even wearing a silver ring.
Carl started his growl, low and menacing. Karen felt a shiver down her, this was so much more frightening than anything she had ever seen. Surely the strange werewolf would flee. As a wolf, Carl was huge, with thick, glossy fur over well-muscled flanks. His gleaming teeth were exposed in a chilling snarl but unlike a dog there was a cold intelligence in the eyes, and a steel framed determination. The strange werewolf was scrawny with matted fur, with his eyes flicking all around. Carl looked solid, perfectly ready to leap, but the strange werewolf paced regardless of the chilling growl. He barked at Carl’s growl, hesitated, looked about to leap, hesitated, looked as if he may flee and then the strange werewolf leapt.
Karen was terrified. The two snarling wolves met in mid air and landed snapping and
rolling. For a few moments Karen could only see a whirl of fur. The two werewolves tussled and struggled for advantage. Carl slammed into the strange werewolf, then leapt into his rib cage, knocking the breath out of him. The stranger crashed into the cottage doorway and the doorpost broke. Fragments of wood flew in the air, but the stranger just rolled back into the garden. He tried a snap at Carl’s belly that didn’t connect and a vicious swat from Carl threw him back into the brambles, with Carl snapping as he fell. But Carl’s snaps at the throat of the stranger didn’t quite meet as the stranger managed to wriggle away. Carl tried to follow but was caught in the brambles and the stranger was heading straight at Karen. Carl managed to pull himself away from the tangle of thorns, leaving a huge hank of fur behind as he threw himself at the back of the stranger with all his weight behind him. The stranger crashed into the gatepost and Karen backed into the road, terrified. Carl coiled himself and then sprang as the stranger tried to get away from the brambles and they both fell snarling and growling into the hedge. Karen looked around frantically and picked up a long piece of the fencing that
seemed solid enough. She held it in front of her like a baseball bat as the two werewolves rolled out of the hedge and into the lane. Carl ripped into the stranger’s shoulder and spat out fur and blood. The stranger yelped, rolled away and paused, his eyes focused on Karen. There was a shot and the strange werewolf fell.

If you enjoyed this snippet, you can find the novel on Amazon: The Forgotten Village by Lyssa Medana

A Gentleman


Photo by Hean Prinsloo on Unsplash

Daisy shifted nervously in her seat. “Grandpapa, are you sure about this?”

Her husband held her hand. “It’s okay. We’re doing the right thing.”

“It’s okay for you, Russ, you didn’t grow up with Grandpapa.”

“He’s not exactly your grandfather, though, is he?” Russ said. “I mean, he’s your great-great-great grandfather. And he’s old enough to know his own mind.”

Daisy looked across at the ghost sitting next to the fire. It was an open fire, hissing softly with the smokeless coal they had to use in this part of the city. Grandpapa had never countenanced changing to central heating. “But it seems so final.”

“I know what I’m doing, girl.” Grandpapa puffed on his ghostly pipe. “But I’ve stayed here long enough.”

“Is it about Mrs Henderson?” Russ asked.

“Russ!” Daisy hissed.

“I’ll have you know that I was always faithful to my wife, your grandmama…”

“Great-great-great grandmother,” Russ whispered to Daisy.

“… but I do admit that when Mrs Henderson moved in next door I was struck by her character.” Grandpapa ignored Russ’s comment. “And, yes, now that she has passed over, it has made me think that perhaps I should go and join my Millie…”

“Or Mrs Henderson” Russ murmured to Daisy.

If you don’t mind.” Grandpapa snorted. “It’s time to join my Millie. I just hope you found someone suitable to take my case.”

“Are you sure you need help, Grandpapa?” Russ asked. “Can you not just, I don’t know, decide?”

Grandpapa shifted awkwardly. “I’ve not had any luck so far.” He admitted. “I may be a special case.” He puffed on his pipe again, enjoying the thought. “But hopefully you have engaged a suitable specialist, one who can manage matters with appropriate dignity.”

“He is the only one we could find,” Daisy said. The thought of the familiar, irritating figure disappearing left her unsettled. “But three separate people said he was very good. All the other people we asked were, well, fakes.”

“And he isn’t asking a fortune, like some of them out there.” Russ added. “If he can’t help us, it will have to be a priest.”

“No priests!” Grandpapa snapped. “I don’t approve of them. The old vicar ran off with his secretary and his replacement cooked the books.”

Daisy and Russ exchanged worried glances. There were plenty of stories about bad priests, but who else could get rid of ghosts? Daisy waved her hand at the table. “Are you sure we need to have this ready for him?”

Grandpapa snorted, “Anyone who can get rid of me will be a man of some courage, a man of discernment, a man of taste and refinement. It won’t be some teddy boy in a silly jacket or one of those punk mohicans. He will be a gentleman.”

Russ looked over the small table set aside for the ‘ghost whisperer’. “I hope he smokes.”

“All gentlemen smoke.” Grandpapa said. “Or they should. A man should be able to choose a good cigar. That’s how you can tell the quality of a gentleman. It may make all the difference in whether he accepts the case or walks away. And have you water for the whisky? I know we have soda, but some of the old guard take water with their whisky.”

Daisy and Russ avoided looking at each other. Grandpapa was becoming more and more out of touch, but Daisy had had the opinionated ghost in the background all her life and Russ had grown to love the old man – more or less. Neither could imagine the house without him. But now that the sprightly and scandalous Mrs Henderson had gone, a spark had gone out of the old spirit and he had become quieter and a little less visible. They jumped as the doorbell echoed through the room.

“Don’t keep him waiting!” Grandpapa said, “Or he may realise we no longer have staff! Go on – answer the door!”

Daisy and Russ raced into the hall and then paused at the door. Daisy looked at Russ. “If we open this door, we won’t be able to stop it.”

“If we don’t open the door, Grandpapa will carry on being miserable.” Russ said, “And he’ll make our lives miserable with it.” He looked at the door as if seeing it for the first time. “But I know what you mean.”

The doorbell rang again. “Open the damn door!” Grandpapa roared from the sitting room.

Daisy swallowed and, despite shaking fingers, opened the door. “Oh!” She looked at the skinny lad in the thin jacket and supermarket jeans and wondered what Grandpapa would say about this.

“Mr and Mrs Smyth? I’m Kane Thelwell. We spoke on the phone about a ghost.” Kane smiled nervously. “May I come in?”

Heavenfire: Interview with JK Allen

Latest from the awesome JK Allen

Not that I’m name dropping, but I was privileged to have an interview with J K Allen whose latest title, Heavenfire, is available for pre-order. I feel very smug.

Welcome, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you write.

Hello! My name is Julia aka JK Allen when I’m writing. I write primarily YA urban fantasy, but do dabble in lots of other genres, including poetry. I actually did my senior thesis in college in poetry and it’s a love of mine. I studied English and Creative Writing in college, and that’s when I decided to become an author. After graduating, I worked on getting published in several anthologies, and then released my debut series of novels, the Angelborn series starting with Angelborn. Now Heavenfire is coming out and I’m so excited to continue the journey of Ginny and Aiden.

I am also the President and Head Editor of Three Furies Press, an indie publishing house that I started with Isa McLaren and Rebekah Jonesy. We are starting out strong, with a full publishing schedule for this year already! I love my job as editor, because I get to get my grubby little paws on a ton of great books before they even come out! And I love helping authors make their stories shine. Check us out at threefuriespress.com!

How long have you been writing?

I have been writing since the day after I learned how to write. I learned how and thought to myself “what now?” Then I realized I could write a story! I wrote a fairy tale, complete with pictures, and showed my sissy proudly. She teased me mercilessly for spelling beautiful like “but”iful, and that’s how my love of editing began.

What inspires you most?

I find that reading and watching movies sparks my imagination most. When I’m not reading enough, I can tell because I get less ideas. As far as my writing style though, what I’m most inspired by lately is a dreamscape tarot deck I got for plotting. I do like to do some planning ahead and know where I am heading before I sit down to create the first draft. This tarot deck gives me great insights into my characters and different scenes. It’s a very intuitive way of looking at your story that really inspires me.

Who is your favorite author and why?

My favorite author is Jane Austen. Her characters are real and wonderful, and she writes about the everyday in such a beautiful and exciting way. If I can write my characters half as well as hers, then I’m very happy.

Who has influenced your writing the most? Is it different than your favorite?

I would say that Austen is my favorite and has influenced my writing the most. My stories are about character first, and I try to glean lessons from her with regular rereading.

Where do you get your ideas?

I get them from the things that inspire me and what if situations. Always ask yourself, “what if?” It leads you to wonderful places.

Do you have a process? What is it like?

I am a reformed pantser (one who flies by the seat of their pants) so I would say I’m a plantser (mix of plotter and pantser) who maybe leans more on the plotting side now. I used to never know where I was going, but then I also never finished anything. I started novel after novel, loving the storylines and characters, and then I would get “writer’s block” because I didn’t know what happened next and set it aside. When I got serious about publishing, I knew I had to rethink my writing process. So I researched different ways to outline and realized there were all sorts and I found the one that worked for me. I also employ scene lists, using index cards to add, subtract, and shuffle around to get the perfect order. Try something new and you may find the perfect process for you!

What’s one piece of advice you would give another author?

Write first, edit later. For me I need to just focus on being creative when I’m writing the first draft. If I put my editor hat on too soon, then I get too analytical and critical, and it kills my creativity. You can also start obsessing on making what you have perfect, instead of just moving forward. As someone said, you are shoveling sand into a box so you can make castles later. Get the draft down, then polish.

What character that you’ve written do you love most?

I really love Ginny from the Angelborn series. She is kind and caring, sticks up for her friends even when she’s scared, and does what is right rather than what is easy. I love writing characters who have the kind of courage found in ordinary people.

What character someone else has written do you love most?

My favorite character (that isn’t an Austen character lol) is Hermione. She is unabashedly who she is and doesn’t change herself to make herself more popular. She is intelligent, passionate, and brave. And definitely relatable.

So Heavenfire is releasing, it’s book two in the series. Tell us more about the Angelborn series and what happens in this new installation.

Ginny Gracehurst thinks she’s a normal teen until she gets a bruise that won’t fade and starts having strange dreams. Turns out she’s half-angel, and a half-demon is after her to bring his plans to life. Angelborn follows Ginny as she discovers who she is and what this new world is as she tries to protect the ones she loves. Heavenfire finds her on a new mission halfway across the world, trying to protect some precious relics from the half-demon who still wants her. Here’s the blurb to Heavenfire.

A divine sword, magic tomes, and uncontrolled power. Can 16-year-old Ginny Gracehurst keep them from an obsessed half-demon?

After retrieving the only thing that could set Jacob’s demon father free, half-angel Ginny has a new mission. She and Aiden are charged with collecting the Eternal Tomes, which teach how to use sigils in the Angelic Tongue.

They are in a race against Jacob and his minions, who can travel anywhere in a matter of seconds. Allowing demonkind to learn those sigils would spell disaster for them all. In order to get what he wants, Jacob needs one more thing besides the Tomes—Ginny herself.

What future projects do you have planned?

Right now I am plotting a new series set in the Angelborn world, but a few generations later. So we have new characters we will follow as things get dangerous once again.

Where can we stalk you online?

Here’s where you can find me!

Instagram: www.instagram.com/hijinkswriter

Facebook: www.facebook.com/hijinkswriter

Twitter: www.twitter.com/hijinkswriter

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/juliakyong

Website: hijinksblog.wordpress.com

amazon.com/author/jkallen

Family Jewels


Photo by Xuan Nguyen on Unsplash

“Can you see anyone?” Justin asked. He stood at the window, tension in every line of him.

“One moment, Mr Birstall.” Kane tried to concentrate on the sobbing ghost in front of him. “Calm down and just try and…” You couldn’t tell a ghost to take a breath. “Just take it easy.”

“All my life I’ve heard the story of the family jewels.” Justin said. “I’ve waited my whole life to buy back my family home.”

Kane nodded distractedly as the ghost slowly straightened up and looked at his sister’s great grandson. “That’s better. Now, this is Justin, and he wants to know what happened to his great grandmother’s jewellery.”

Justin looked between Kane and the gap that Kane was apparently speaking to. “Dad said that the jewellery wasn’t much, but it would be great to be sort of reconciled with that, to be part of the family.”

“I never thought she would leave.” The ghost started sobbing again. “I thought if I forbade her to marry then we would be together and comfortable. But she wanted to go to London with this clerk.”

Kane nodded politely. “I’m sure you missed your sister…”

“I missed her so much. How could I know that I would drive her away.” The ghost pulled out a spectral handkerchief. “I mean, if I had realised perhaps I would have at least had letters.” The ghost looked between Kane and Justin. “I have to know – did she die in poverty? Did she die in pain? Did she have a family? I’ve worried about it for so many years, I can’t rest.”

Kane looked at Justin. “Your great-grandmother, was she happy?”

Justin smiled. “I grew up with stories about her life. She loved the theatre, was devoted to my great-grandfather – she was so proud of him. She was always well dressed, and had all the latest fashions, especially when she went to the big dinners and galas.”

“What do you mean, big dinners?” The ghost forgot to sob into his handkerchief and stared at Justin.

“The ghost is surprised your great-grandmother went to big dinners.” Kane said, a little timidly. A skinny kid just out of local authority care shouldn’t ask questions of a high flyer in the City.

Justin didn’t take offence. “My great-grandmother ran off with my great-grandfather to the horror of all their families. But they settled in London, he went back to his father’s firm and they were very happy. Once he took over, there were shareholders’ dinners and charity events with the Lord Mayor.” He smiled. “Granny used to tell us stories about how they met with royalty and all sorts.” He sighed “But she used to whisper to Granny that all the fancy necklaces she had didn’t have the same feel as the locket her brother gave her and that she left behind.” He shook his head. “That’s why I’m here. One last chance.” He sighed. “Who am I kidding? That locket was probably sold or thrown long ago.”

“How dare you, sir!” The ghost stood, indignant. “The very thought that I would do something like that! Of course, I didn’t want the maids finding it and perhaps sending it on to London, so I hid it.” He turned to Kane. “Boy, you can fetch it for me.”

“What?” Kane said, bewildered. “I mean, what do you mean? Where is it?”

“I put it in the kitchen.” The ghost said. “No-one would think to look in the kitchen for something I hid. I never went there as an adult.” He shook his head. “Everyone forgot that I grew up in this house. I know every nook and cranny. Come on, lad, smarten up.”

Kane followed the ghost out of the empty study and down the echoing, uncarpeted hall and into the kitchen. Justin trailed after him.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m following the ghost, Mr Birstall.”

“What ghost?” Justin said. “I can’t see anything. Don’t you have to have a seance and call on them or something.”

As Kane walked into the kitchen, he wondered what it would be like to have to ask a ghost to come instead of trying to get them to shut up and leave him alone. “I’m getting a message.” He said.

“Hmph, a message.” The ghost snorted. “Anyone would think you were some sort of spiritist. Come over here, lad, and put your hand up the chimney, quick as you like.”

Kane looked at the soot-encrusted mantle and took off his jacket. “Whereabouts up the chimney?” He asked doubtfully, rolling up his sleeves.

“What?” Justin asked.

Kane ignored him and, following the ghost’s instructions, slid his hand behind the mantle. “The ghost, your great-great-uncle, would like to know if his sister was happy, and how she died.” The soot felt unpleasantly damp and a little slimy.

What?” Justin asked. He stared at Kane and then shrugged. “Everyone said she had a happy heart. She died in the Blitz, direct hit on the house.”

“She wouldn’t have suffered.” The ghost said quietly. “And she was happy.” He sighed. “Try a bit further left, boy.”

Kane looked down at the soot streaking his newest jeans and trainers. “Are you sure? Hang on…” His fingers found a loose stone and he wiggled it a little before he managed to prise it out. He set the stone carefully down on the hearth and tentatively reached in. “I think this is it.”

Justin took the small tin box from Kane, regardless of the soot falling on his bespoke suit and, after a struggle, opened it up. He swallowed and tipped the contents onto the dusty windowsill. “Great-grandmother’s locket.” He pushed aside the discoloured pearls and the garnet necklace and pulled out a simple locket, still faintly gleaming under the dust.

“She didn’t die poor, she died happy.” The ghost sighed as he started to fade and pass over. “I didn’t drive her to poverty. She was happy.”

Kane watched the ghost go home and turned to Justin. “The ghost has gone, Mr Birstall. I don’t think that there’s anything else.”

“Hmm?” Justin was staring at the picture in the locket. “Sorry, I was caught up with this.” He showed the facing pictures to Kane. “My great-grandmother and her brother. I have a similar picture of her at home, look.” He pulled out his phone and scrolled through to show Kane the picture of the same laughing young woman that was in the locket.

Kane looked at the faded photographs and smiled politely as he tried to brush the soot off his jeans. “So, I’ll see myself out.”

Justin came back to the present. “I’ll give you a lift to the station.” He handed Kane an envelope. “Agreed fee.” He added a second envelope. “And the bonus for finding the locket.” The smile on his face grew. “The family jewels.”

The New Building

Old foundation stone in the new building of the Church of the Nazarene, Morley

Kane Thelwell looked around nervously and slid into the church hall. It should be safe enough. All he had to do was keep his head down and no-one would look at him twice. He was just so desperate to get out of his small room and at least be around living people, even if he didn’t feel comfortable speaking to them, that he risked this trip to the church coffee morning.

It was standard stuff. Three old ladies were serving tea and coffee from a huge, overcleaned urn in one corner, together with a selection of bacon butties, sausage sarnies and toast. Another table had a selection of home made cakes. Kane looked over them and decided to buy one later. In his experience, competition between the ladies meant that the cake stall was always worth a visit. There was a sad selection of battered paperback books that had probably been trundled out every Monday for years, and a rail of ‘nearly new’ kids’ clothes.

The best thing about this was that the church hall was new. It was so new that you could hardly find it on the internet. It was a brand new, purpose built complex with a church, a church hall, a selection of meeting rooms and a large and extremely modern kitchen area. This was not a haunted building. It hadn’t had time. Besides, it had been blessed, so it had to be ghost free, right?

Kane couldn’t remember when it had started. He had always been faintly aware of ghosts, even when he was a child. There had always been the faint whisper on the edge of his hearing, the faint flicker on the edge of his field of vision and the sensation of not being alone. It was only as he got older, however, that the ghosts had started talking to him. As a young teenager in foster care, he had been glad of a sympathetic conversation and the old railwayman who had died forty years before in the bedroom now allotted to Kane had been a good listener with some sound advice. Kane had missed Eddie when his placement ended there. Then there had been Millie. She hadn’t been very helpful when it came to sorting out survival in a hostile household, and she hadn’t always listened, but she had some good stories and some great advice about how to talk to girls, which had been a real help to a fourteen year old.

The placement after that hadn’t been so much fun, and the elderly schoolteacher who had died in that room five years before was not sympathetic. He was, however, surprisingly tolerant when it came to helping Kane with his homework. Kane’s school attendance had been erratic at best even before he got into the system, but Mr Kettering had stood behind Kane as Kane scrolled through teaching sites on the council issued laptop and then patiently talked through the work Kane had missed. Kane had been almost sorry when the acerbic Mr Kettering finally passed over, comforted by the knowledge that he had got one more troubled boy through his exams.

His next placement had been a halfway house. There was no question of him going to college, despite his good grades, but the converted Victorian townhouse had been okay, and with the three ghostly parlour maids, the spirit of the old lady who had been the matriarch of a large family and the shades half a dozen kids and teenagers, there had never been a dull moment.

But that’s when it turned. One of the other, living, members of the facility had overheard Kane’s half of a long conversation with Mary, the maid from 1908, and had reported him to the resident social worker. When blood tests showed Kane to be drug free, a few further observations and careful questions led to Kane being held for psychiatric evaluation. That had been six months ago, and while Kane had illicitly stopped taking his medication, he was aware of being monitored in that same halfway house. Now he was careful.

Kane smiled nervously at the old lady as she poured him his tea, picked up his sausage sarnie and found a seat in the corner. As a defence he pulled out his battered phone and put in the headphones. There was nothing to listen to. Kane hadn’t been able to afford to pay for any phone calls for months. But if anyone saw him talking, perhaps they could assume he was having a conversation.

The sandwich was perfect – the sausages were crispy and brown sauce oozed from the soft, white roll as he bit into it. Then Kane’s heart sank. He could see ghosts. He could see their faint outlines as they wandered around the hall and inspected the latest information on the notice board. He started to bolt down his sandwich. He had to get out of here before the ghosts realised that he could see them. He drained the last of his tea, but he was too late. The ghost of an elderly lady caught his eye.

Kane’s heart sank as she grabbed her companion’s insubstantial arm and tugged the elderly gentleman towards Kane. He looked towards the door but it was too late.

“Hello, dear, I’m Margaret and this is Herbert. Herbert was the first minister on this site.”

Kane positioned his phone so he looked like he was making a call. “I thought this site was new.”

Herbert shook his head. “They rebuilt on the same site. I was completely against it, of course. I always said that there were issues with the traffic when the new supermarket was built.”

“Nobody listens to us, of course.” Margaret said sadly. “And now all we can do is listen to the endless rumble. It affected the foundations of the old building.”

Kane looked out of the window and onto the busy street. He could see the ghosts’ point. Traffic was edging along in a jam just before the turn off to the massive supermarket. “It’s progress.” He said quietly.

“We noticed the cracks in the cellar in the old building before anyone else.” Herbert sighed. “They never listened to us, and by the time the committee had spotted them, it was too late.”

“The old building had its problems, of course.” Margaret said. “They had a lot of trouble with the heating.” She looked wistfully out of the window. “Everything is working well, but there is so much traffic.”

“If there was only a way to escape this.” Herbert followed Margaret’s gaze. “Some way of leaving this endless rumble.”

“Is there a way?” Kane asked.

Margaret leaned forward, sinking slightly into the table. “You can see us. Perhaps you can find a way to get us some peace. That’s all we want.”

“If we could just find a way to silence the endless rumble.” Herbert said. He looked around the bustling church hall. “It is all so different from my day.”

Kane looked at Herbert who was wearing a frock coat and stiff collar and then glanced over to the young mums in leggings. “Time change.” He managed.

“And not for the better, young man.” Margaret said. “Surely you are willing to help us?”

Kane drew a breath to answer and then froze as a stern and elderly minister stalked over towards his table. Kane shrank back into his chair, miserably aware that a skinny youngster apparently talking to himself was never going to get a warm welcome.

The minister leaned down on the table and, to Kane’s utter shock, spoke directly to Margaret. “Are you causing trouble again?” He looked over at Herbert. “You both know better than that. This poor lad came in for a drink and a sandwich. He did not come in to be harassed by two ghosts barely better than poltergeists.”

Herbert pursed his lips. “I beg your pardon!”

“Which story were you telling? The tale where you just needed a picture of your descendants? Or the one where you needed to see pictures of the town.” The minister looked between the two ghosts. “Don’t tell me you were trying the traffic one again. You are on your last warning.”

“You are no fun.” Margaret pulled herself upright, drifting slightly above the ground. “It’s not like we meant any harm.”

“You never do.” The minister snapped. “But I’m still having to counsel those you contact.” He shook his head. “I think you need to leave this young man alone. And I am warning you, one more episode like this and I’m banishing you back to the churchyard.”

Kane watched the two affronted ghosts drift away through the nearest wall and then turned to the minister in surprise. “You can see them?”

“Most of us here can,” The minister smiled sympathetically. “But we’re an unusual bunch.” He hesitated. “I can talk you through some techniques to avoid the supernatural, if you like, or learn more about it.”

“I would really like to learn more about it.” Kane said without thinking. He paused. “I’d like to be able to ignore them as well, at least, the annoying ones.”

“I’m Charles Easton, the minister here.” Charles held out his hand. “If you’re free on Wednesday, I’m in my office all afternoon. We can have a chat.”

Kane automatically shook the minister’s hand. “I’m Kane Thelwell.” He said. “Pleased to meet you.” He took a breath. “I’ll be back on Wednesday.”

“Excellent,” Charles said briskly. “Excuse me, I need to speak to Mr Matthews.” And he was gone.

Kane took the last mouthful of his tea and stood up slowly. He couldn’t wait to tell the ghosts back home about this.

Guest Post: Riftmaker by Phoebe Darqueling

You could say that Jeremy was “lost in the system,” if Excelsior did in fact have a system for dealing with homeless kids. He spent a few years being passed around between disinterested relatives until finally finding his way to the orphanage at a rooftop settlement called The Kaleidoscope. Jeremy’s sticky fingers got him caught, but his Grace took pity on him and folded him in to her collection of kids. It didn’t take long before he became part of the ‘Scope’s extended family, and he met his best friend, Adam.

To makes ends meet, Jeremy started to venture down to the Grand Market and sing in the hopes that passerby would spare a few coins. Though he had a beautiful voice, the ‘crats didn’t have much of a taste for vocal music at all. It’s considered the realm of paupers and those who can’t afford to attend the Guild of Musicians and learn “proper” music. Evenso, Jeremy was so talented that he caught the ear of one of the maestros. The city’s elite would sometimes sponsor kids from the kitetowns in order to look generous, and soon Jeremy was an apprentice.

As much as the ‘crats liked having a few charity cases around to stroke their egos, it was hard to rise through the ranks regardless of his talent. So at 17, the age when kids in the ‘Scope have to strike out on their own, he still hasn’t reached the rank of journeyman. He may be bullied for being poor and the other students make veiled accusations that he’s really a Traveler, but maybe, just maybe, he can change his stars tonight.

Though anything that comes from the other side is technically illegal, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few Artefacts around. This includes a coveted amplified violin in the collection of Lord Corvid, the city’s most important figure. The aging lord is throwing a party tonight, and Jeremy will get to play a solo in front of all the lords and ladies. If all goes well, he’ll be promoted to journeyman and be able to afford a little place for he and Adam to share when it’s his turn to graduate.

Things seem to be coming up roses, but Jeremy has no idea that just as he lowers his bow to the strings, a stranger arrives in Excelsior and ruins everything…

I discovered Damien Escobar after I had already created the character of Jeremy, but when I saw this video of this passionate violinist, my heart nearly skipped a beat. He reminded me so much of Jeremy, I wanted to include the video so you could see him as clearly as I do.

Here’s a taste of Jeremy and his violin from Riftmaker.

Jeremy stood in the center of a Guild practice room, one of the only places he could ever be alone. He raised his bow and held it poised above the strings of the violin.

The air vibrates with anticipation. The storm gnashes its teeth. The sky above turns smoky and thick, and in the distance, the first patter of raindrops can be heard. The temperature drops ever colder. The thirsty earth stands ready.

Bile churned inside of his guts. His anger rumbled on the horizon like the threat of thunder. He inhaled deeply and stood on the precipice a moment longer before his bow plunged downward, breaking the storm in his mind with the first piercing note.

Lightning flashes across a patchwork of swirling clouds and the roar of their explosions follows seconds behind. The sky is torn apart, and the heavy drops of the lazy drizzle give way to the stinging pelting of rain. Muddy water streams in rivulets, exposing hidden colors in the stones.

All of Jeremy’s turmoil poured from his body and into the melody. The Guild violin was nothing compared to the exquisite instrument of the evening before, but the music in his mind was beyond anything either violin could have produced at the best of times. He’d worried that he wouldn’t get permission to use the school’s violin at all, but news of his warm reception had already reached the maestros, and they were glad to foster his interest.

The trunks of mighty trees groan with the force of the battering wind, the smaller branches cracking in the wake of its violence. Leaves of emerald, chartreuse, and jade shudder and glint in the moments the world is illuminated by the shattered heavens.

His eyes were closed, but the images were vivid in his mind. He gritted his teeth and swayed in and out of the crescendos of a melody of his own design, the lament only his shattered heart could utter.

Find out the rest of Jeremy’s story in Riftmaker.

Riftmaker is available for $3.99 from Amazon and a variety of other e-book retailers. Print price is $18.99 from Amazon and the Our Write Side store.

Find more character spotlights, book reviews, guest posts, and interviews with Phoebe Darqueling during the Riftmaker blog tour, Jan 24 – Mar 6.

Do you like free books? Sure you do! Get a FREE COPY of The Steampunk Handbook right now.

You can find more of Phoebe’s antics on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Book Review: Patrick’s Chocolate Cake for Dinner Diet

I love love love this! It is a book of poetry but not stuffy or formal poetry in any sense. It is a collection of Patrick’s writings and thoughts in a very real and immediate way.

Patrick uses words like a kaleidoscope uses colours. He has the words twisting and spinning and soaring in all sorts of unexpected ways to wonderful and creative rhythms. I am in awe of his control of language.

I am also in awe of his subject choices and the determination he shows to positively portray love and the struggle to get by in a difficult word. Here is an extract from on of his poems, ‘Ode to Damaged Souls’:

‘Running too fast, trying to change the dye that’s been cast, I’m trying to make a positive energy and doing the write thing last. Maybe I need some chocolate cake for dinner… sounds good to me, sounds like a winner, you… see this writing thing, I’m just a beginner, an artistic chain of consciousness spinner. Sometimes I am a sinner, but I try to learn something new every day. I try to be versed in the art of play…….’

Patrick covers more than just self description. He promotes love, an open minded attitude to life and an enthusiastic acceptance of the difficulties of life, even though he admits that sometimes that life is a struggle. I feel a surge of positive energy reading his work.

You can buy ‘Patrick’s Chocolate Cake for Dinner Diet’ on Amazon and you can find the author Patrick Wardell on Facebook where he often shares his writing, and I recommend you do both.

Just Coffee

I am defined by coffee.

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

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

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

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


Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Glass and Ashes: A Sparkling Character Spotlight

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

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

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

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

  • Cool and detached? Can you explain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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