Snippets of The Pathfinders

I’m over at Adventures in YA publishing today, talking about writing for young adults, if you’d like to take a look. And if you can bear any more, I’m also answering Sacha Black’s open call for self-publicity with a short excerpt from my current WIP which is the third volume of The Pathfinders series, winding up the adventures of Carla and Tully in wonderland.

So, this is a bit from Revelation.  Sacha asked for 150 words. This is an excerpt approaching 150 words, but I’m not saying from which direction.

 

Tully stopped humming and held his head on one side, listening. His eyes glittered with amazement.

“Can you hear?” he whispered.

Carla stood quite still and held her breath. The silence of the night sky was broken. Like ripples on a stream, faint music made by unearthly voices came to her over the waves of darkness. She looked at Tully, her eyes wide.

“It’s the stars,” he breathed, “the planets. They’re singing.”

“What does it mean?”

Tully beamed at her. “It means we’re in heaven.”

Carla grinned. “Seriously.”

“The possibilities here are endless. Nothing is beyond us if we try hard enough. You can see why Nisroc wants to protect his world.”

Carla frowned slightly as if a cloud had passed over the moon, and the music faded. “Yeah. I s’ppose.”

Tully took her hand and led her into a fiery nest of stardust. “You worry too much,” he said gently and pulled her down beside him. “Time for dreaming.”

Carla snuggled into his arms, loosening his shirt from his trousers, nuzzling into his neck, her senses filling with his unmistakeable Tully smell.

“I wonder if the Grigori dream too,” she murmured.

“Erelah said they all do.”

“Erelah?” Carla sat up sharply. “You mean we might bump into her up here?”

Tully pulled her back down to him. “What have you got against Erelah, anyway? She’s a good laugh, when you get to know her.”

“And you have?”

“Yeah, a bit.”

Carla fought to keep her ground in what felt like shifting sands. She held Tully tighter, finding the buckle on his belt. She bit his ear and whispered, “Like this?”

Tully kissed her hard on the mouth. “You ask the silliest questions.”

“Indulge me.”

Tully kissed her again. And again. “Of course not.”

His hands were on her skin beneath her shirt. His mouth was on hers. The stars were singing. Carla let the unpleasant thoughts slip into the gentle darkness between the planets and returned Tully’s kiss with the same passion as in the old days.

AbomPromo

If you haven’t read the first part, Abomination, you can get it here.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

 

WIP update

I’m going great guns with the WIP I’m working on at the moment. 34,000 words into the first draught. Here’s a bit from the opening.

Agents and editors for Big 5 publishers please form an orderly queue. I’ll give all offers fair consideration.

Selkie (working title)

It was a bright September morning, and I was starting my last year at sixth form college. The sun was shining, and although we were settling down to a tedious session of French grammar, suddenly the sky seemed more luminous, the air sweeter. I heard a blackbird sing, and my gaze was drawn out of the window to the white clouds sailing seawards. Somewhere close, something momentous had happened.

I found out what it was later, at the end of the afternoon as I made my way to the bus stop.

“Hi. Is this the right way for the bus station?”

I turned. Something in my blood, a distant memory perhaps, knew what I would find. I almost recognised the tall, golden-haired boy walking in step beside me. I must have stared.

“Is it?”

My throat was dry. I swallowed and nodded. “That’s where I’m going.”

The boy smiled. “That’s great. Mind if I tag along with you, then? I’m Ronan, by the way.”

I knew. His name was already dancing around inside my head as if it lived there. I smiled back, hoping I wasn’t blushing as much as I feared. “Course not. I’m Tara.”

He looked at me, green eyes, or were they blue? I never could decide. Lashes the colour of autumn leaves. He looked and saw right through me. “If you say so.”

My name wasn’t Tara at all. But up until then, I was the only one who knew it.

“What are you studying?” I asked to change the subject.

“Science stuff, engineering an’ that. You?”

“Modern languages. We won’t be seeing much of one another by the looks of things.” I smiled, but I didn’t mean it.

“Ah, you never know,” he said and gave me another of his golden smiles. I didn’t know, but I could guess. Tara Dwyer, the lonely only child was about to enter the most intense relationship of her life.

That was it. That was how it started, as simple as that. Ronan had looked at me through russet eyelashes and the world had started to turn. He looked at me and I knew that this was what I had been waiting for. Until this moment my life had been hanging in suspense. Now it could begin.

That is how it should have begun. It was how the stars shining in the ocean told the beginning of my story. But that’s the trouble with human lives; nothing we do comes without strings. They might lead the way to the future, but they also tie us to the past. So many people with their strings. Sometimes I think of it more like a net, a mesh so tight nothing can ever fall through. When I met Ronan, something new began, but it wasn’t so easy to break free of all the backstory. So many people and places with claims on me.

“You’re spending a lot of time with Ronan.” Mandy’s voice was matter-of-fact, but I could hear the acrimony in it. It was true. I did see a lot of Ronan, and it was obvious that Mandy resented it, as did half the girls in the class.

“I like Ronan.”

“Don’t we all? I bet Aidan loves him to pieces too.”

Aidan was one of the strings of my past, a string that was turning into a nasty, tangled mess.

Selkie

While I’m waiting to get stuck into my second round of edits and haul myself back to the shopping centre at the end of the world, I’ve been treating myself to a burst of my WIP. It’s romantic and slightly fantastic and I’m loving writing it. I’m up to 22,000 words, and this is the last bit I’ve written. Thought I’d post it because it’s mine, and I can.

The painting, by Franciszek Zmurko is a favourite of mine.

1280px-Żmurko_In_rapture

“Hiya! Will you slow down so a poor crippled lad can catch up with you?”
Ronan’s voice was infectiously cheery and dragged me out of my misery. For a second I lit up. He must have seen it because he beamed back at me. But it was only for a second. I couldn’t have Ronan. I belonged to Aidan—he has proved that to me. The smile faltered, too difficult to hold, and Ronan’s grin too faded. He moved closer, walking in step with me, his arm touching mine.
“What’s up?” he asked. “You look as sick as a plane to Lourdes!”
I tried to smile, but I wanted to cry. My lips trembled and I clamped my mouth tight to stop the sob leaking out. He knew though, and put his arm around me. “Hey,” he whispered. “Don’t be after embarrassing the both of us in the street.”
We walked quickly—me with my eyes fixed on the pavement, Ronan probably watching me. I was certain I could feel his gaze boring into the side of my head.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m just feeling sorry for myself.”
“When you have me to walk you to the bus?” Ronan feigned astonishment.
I lay my head briefly on his shoulder. “I’m not sorry about you…”
“Tara,” he said, a hesitation in his voice, “…would you come out with me?”
“What d’you mean? I already go out with you.”
“I mean, can I take you away somewhere? Just the two of us? Just for the day?”
I smiled to myself, allowing myself the luxury of imagining Ronan and me by the sea, lying in the sand, dancing our wild dances among the waves.
“It’s February,” I said finally. “Where do you want to go in February?”
“I can borrow a car,” he said and I stared at him, unpleasant memories drowning the idyllic picture of Ronan taking me in his arms in an underwater embrace. “It’s half term next week. We could go to the coast. I know a place. There’ll be nobody there at this time of year.”
“Too bloody cold, that’s why!” I said, venting some of my anger with myself on Ronan.
“We don’t feel the cold though, you and me.”
“How do you work that one out?”
“We’re special,” he said, with that daft grin. “We’re sea people.”
I laughed, and the feeling of despondency lifted. When I was with Ronan it seemed possible to believe in a future that did not involve Aidan’s oppressive presence.
“I don’t feel special,” I said. “Unless you count specially stupid.”
He kissed the top of my head, so quickly and lightly I hardly felt it, like the brush of his body against mine when we swam together.
“Well you are. You’ll see. Soon.”

When editing means murdering beautiful words

When you revise a story you inevitably end up discarding sections to the greater good of the whole. Sometimes, often, these sections are dearly beloveds and it breaks our hearts to see them go.
This is a section I’ve snipped out of my WIP and I can’t resign myself to consigning it to the bin.

After_the_storm_-_blue

Finna dreams of the Rök

Many fathoms beneath the waves, the Beast roared and hurled itself against the rocky walls of its prison, sending gouts of steam high into the ink-black sky. On the coast road to Silverfoss, foot soldiers, mere farmboys and fishermen, cringed, fearing the weight of the sky, the towering seas and the soulless raging from the ocean’s depths. But their taskmasters urged them on, careless of the unfettered elements, the torrential rain slicking off their shagreen garments, no more aware of the cold than deep water fish.
“It’s those fuckin’ odd-eyed fiends doin’ this,” Jussi Bjornsson said, looking fearfully out across the heaving water. “’T’ain’t natural, the sea chuckin’ itself about like that!”
His lined fisherman’s face was pale beneath the weathering, and his worries were not so much about the sea, but about his children left behind and how his wife would feed them. Frodi Four-Fingers nodded sagely. They had never been friends, not when they were simple neighbours, but now, with their world rushing towards its end, they stuck together like brothers. Frodi clutched his pike tighter and spat in the direction of the ocean. The wind caught his spittle and flicked it back into his flying hair. His thoughts were for his sons hauling a siege engine, and the youngest who was already dead—an exhausted stumble and down he’d gone, under the wheels of the great wooden tower.
“You’d think they were stirring up the sea beasts against us—they’ve stirred up everything else! Crops die, beasts sicken, fish won’t shoal—even the bairns are born dead. What’s left to us, Jussi, lad?”
Jussi opened his mouth to reply as a whiplash caught him across the shoulders. His pack took the force of the blow and he cried out more in fear than in pain.
“Move,” the voice hissed from above. Mounted on a massive black horse, the Dyrbörn loomed over the men, his heavy cowl casting his face in deep shadow. Only the eyes reflected a dull light, flat and pale, like the eyes of a dead fish. “You want your land back? Then work for it, idlers!”
The two men scuttled to catch up with the rest of their troop, bowed beneath the weight of their weapons and their packs full of parts for the construction of a catapult. They dared a glance at one another, and each saw fear in the other’s eyes. Before them lay the splendid borg of Silverfoss, where the Svartur trollkarls plotted and feasted, and let the land go to rack and ruin. Behind them, driving them on, were the Dyrbörn, Guardians in the common tongue, shrouded in their garb of strange, rough-grained leather. Their faces, only dimly glimpsed within the shadows of deep cowls, left an impression of sea carrion, of fleshy gills and inhuman teeth.
Above the thunder of the waves and the roar of the storm, the men were aware of a third power, a dark, evil presence that the sea barely contained. They knew it for the Beast, though the word never left their lips, and only their hatred of the Svartur trollkarls who had beggared them was greater than their horror of the creatures from the sea, and the terror that lurked beneath it.
Frodi spat again in disgust and despair, and hoisted his lumpy pack higher on his shoulder. With Jussi at his side, he fixed his eyes on the tall spires and towers of Silverfoss and let hatred take command. Hatred of the trollkarls who lived surrounded by wealth and riches while his children lived on kelp and the slimy dead things the ocean tossed up. He let it boil in his blood, dark and hopeless, until even his dead boy was forgotten.

#

In their watchtowers and along their battlements, the Valdur looked on as the Dyrbörn and their army of Vænnlanders swarmed down on Silverfoss from the north. The city faced the ocean, and at its back, a broad plain rose to a high ridge lit by the dying light of day and the flickering lightning of the coming storm. Sigmarr watched, his scarred soldier’s face blank and unruffled as the darkness clotted along the ridge of the nearest hills. Soon Vænnland would be no more—the Valdur seerlore would hurl the sea from its bed, draw the fire from the deeps, and the very bones of the earth would shake. The sea would cover Vænnland’s broken back, and the crawling sea fiends would be washed away. And with them would die everything Sigmarr held dear—that was the price.
The forest was already gone. Thousand-year-old oaks and yews had been hacked down; the earth lay bleeding. Here and there, a solitary tree stood, stark and black, burnt to a charred post. On the spikes that had once borne green leaves and been called branches, pendulous fruits swayed in the wind from the sea. Traitors. Rebels. Fathers who wanted only to return to their families. All dead. Hanged. Examples for the rest. Even at such a distance the stench of death reached the city. Sigmarr’s heart went out to his people, mislead and enthralled by the Dyrbörn, the Children of the Beast.
“How long?” Sigmarr’s closest thegn, Ageirr lowered the spyglass and turned to his general.
Sigmarr’s face was lined with worry and compassion. “How long before they attack? Or how long before we end it all?”
Ageirr swallowed hard. “Is there really no other way?”
Sigmarr placed a hand on the young man’s shoulder. It was a hand roughened with calluses, strong and firm. It was a hand like his face, criss-crossed with white scars against the tan of his skin. A soldier’s hand. “We could kill them all, Vænnlanders and Dyrbörn. The sea fiends have iron and steel and an army thousands strong, but we have seerlore.”
“So—”
Sigmarr shook his head wearily. “Would you have us rule over a charnel house? A dead world of ash and bare rock? The Dyrbörn will not rest until they have freed the Beast. As long as there is Valdur seerlore in the world they will try to harness it to that purpose. That is why they were created.”
Ageirr worshiped Sigmarr, but the bitterness of the words dashed the last of his hopes. “Would that we had crushed the vermin as soon as they crawled ashore!”
Sigmarr grasped his thegn’s shoulder. “Whatever stayed the hand of the Council—pity or pride—makes no matter now. Ragnarök, the destruction of the world and the skapariar who made it, is the only way to put the Valdur seerlore out of their reach.”
“Will nothing survive the Rök?”
“A little. Enough.” Sigmarr smiled suddenly and his lined face was transformed. “One day a child will be born from the line of Valdur and all the craft, all the wisdom, all the seerlore of the Valdur will pass into his tiny fists. When he grows, he will crush the sea slugs of Dyrbörn and fetter the Beast forever. He will raise up from the ocean the world we are about to destroy, and it will live again.”
Ageirr forced a grin. “So, there is hope, in a baby not yet born.”
Sigmarr nodded. “Hope. For the world to come, yes.”
But he was thinking of the present world, of his own wife and his own children, and tears crept into the corners of his eyes, one blue as the sky, the other, brown as a bird’s wing.

Insomnia and the writing process

This morning I started another project to add to my pile of WIP. It was too hot to sleep with the windows closed last night, and I had closed the window because of the feline activity on the veranda roof. I spend much of my nights awake what with one thing or another, and often get tremendous ideas between two and five in the morning. Usually they don’t bear close scrutiny in the cold light of day, but last night for some reason, whole chunks of a book I wrote about fifteen years ago came back to me.

As a novel it was a typical first novel. Laughable in places, full of clichés and plot holes, and with just a few lovely lines. What hit me though was that it would make a tremendous NA story. NA hadn’t been invented fifteen years ago so it’s a good thing I abandoned it before ever approaching a publisher. Now, thanks to fashion and literary trends, I might be able to turn it into something.

I need another literary project like a hole in the head but it seems such a shame not to dust it off and try and knock a proper story out of it. It should be completely contemporary and romantic enough to have me weeping like a fountain. But thinking about it, I can see a lovely fantasy twist that would take it in an entirely different direction…

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Flash fiction: Harbingers

Here’s a taste of the next series, Angel Haven. Also YA fantasy it follows on from The Green Woman. It’s jumping the gun a bit (a lot) but it’s what I’m reading and writing at the moment.

Harbingers

The last rays skimmed the oak grove while shadows swallowed up the forest paths. Scyld stared down the mountain, across the treetops, his gaze unfocused. Deep in thought he did not hear the creaking of the ropes, the sighing of the branches beneath the dead weights. He did not hear the noise of his feasting thegns or the raucous cry of the birds.
Scyld was reliving his blood dream. His fists clenched and his lips parted as he watched himself splash across the ford, a war cry in his throat. His thegns were about him, axes and swords swirling, throwing up great fountains of river water. In the dream the river ran red, red blood splashed and fountained, and the warcry in his throat was the death knell for the fools in the unguarded settlement.
The dull thunk of a heavy blade slicing through human flesh, the screams and shrieks of the villagers taken by surprise filled his dream ears. The river ran red, and the earth was black with blood. His parted lips curled into a smile. Donar was with them; the god sang in the sweep of the axe stroke, laughed in the whistle of arrows, and roared in the sacking of the wattle huts.
At his back the bodies twisted in the breeze. Sacrifices to Donar. He stepped closer, and peered with cold curiosity at the swollen tongues and bulging eyes, his nostrils flaring in distaste at the smell from the soiled breeches. A price well worth paying, he thought as he pushed the redheaded corpse, setting it twisting slowly.
The sound of feasting reached him at last, and a sudden thirst dried his throat, a desire to be with company to celebrate the sacrifice that would bring certain victory in the coming raid. He licked his lips and turned towards the fort. Deep in the grove yellow eyes stared, unblinking. Scyld looked from the yellow eyes to the twisting redhead.
The god comes for you, Hrothgar. He grinned, almost laughed, but that would have been unseemly in the holy place, and left the wolves to their own feast.
Feasting, he heard, and the raucous sound of birds. Scyld raised his head. Against the fire-streaked sky above the fort two black birds flapped with ragged wings.
More guests for the feast, Osmund.
This time he laughed out loud. The blood dream had shown him war and slaughter, he had made two sacrifices from among his finest warriors. Donar would be pleased with his offering; he would be in Scyld’s right arm on the morrow.
The raucous cry of carrion birds broke into his thoughts of massacres and bloodletting. Scyld paused at the gates of his fort and frowned. Two ravens. Flapping with their steady, powerful wing strokes they flew over the fort, then turned and back they came again. Scyld followed them with his eyes, waiting for them to reach the sacred grove. Suddenly uneasy, he started back; anxious to see them settle on the god’s feast. Before he could move they turned about, not reaching the grove, ignoring the enticing smell of dead men. Against the fiery sky they turned about, gracelessly, flying low, back through the open gates of the fort.
Fear gripped Scyld as the harbingers circled the houses, passed over the huts of wattles, and the finer halls of the wealthy thegns, circled once and settled on the roof of the big hall. Scyld’s hall. Cold settled in Scyld’s stomach. Harbingers.
The blood dream came rushing back. In consternation he saw the fording of the river, the bloody water splashing before his face, heard the war cries, the screams and shrieks as blades sliced through flesh. He heard the whistling of arrows. Cold turned to ice. He heard the whistling of arrows growing to a whine. The whine grew to a shriek, and he heard at last the death song the air crooned in his ears. Silhouetted against the blood red sky, two birds waited. Harbingers.