#writephoto: No going back

This is a sketch from my next WIP. For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge.

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They scrambled to the top of the hill, and stopped, chests heaving, trying to get their breath back. The tree cover was sparse, rowan and birch and spindly oak trees, and overhead the sky lay, dark and heavy. Jon felt the weight of the dark sky and the pressure of the dark earth, the forest that was black and grey but never green, and the wind that sang in a colourless voice through the bracken.

He gazed out over the treetops to where the place lay where they would be safe. Safe from what, he wasn’t sure, but they had four legs, sometimes two, faces with narrow eyes, but sometimes the grimacing muzzles of dogs that had never been.

Halli recovered from the climb first and was was about to plunge down the hill and back into the forest when something made Jon grab her arm. “Wait,” he whispered. The silence thickened; he couldn’t breath.

Halli looked about in alarm then gasped, “The sky. It’s broken.”

Overhead the grey was as compact as ever, darkening to slate at the far horizon, slate the treetops that moved sluggishly in the wind, but away over the forest, the cloud and mist was torn and through the rent, a golden cascade of sunlight fell in pillars of brilliance.

“What is it?” Halli murmured, her eyes open wide as pools. “What’s happening? Is it the end of the world?”

“It’s the sun,” Jon said, and for the first time since he had burst out of the dark tree tunnel, he smiled.

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Winter blog fest

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I’m taking part in the Long and Short Reviews winter blog romp. The post is here .

Pop over to the LASR site and leave a comment on the post for a chance to win a copy of ‘Revelation’, the most romantic of ‘The Pathfinders’ series.

Revelation Blurb

Few are allowed into Paradisio—even fewer escape.

Wormwood has fallen, but the journey isn’t over for Carla and Tully. Erelah the Messenger leads them onward to Paradisio, where they hope they will find their real home. The Grigori recognize Tully as Israfel, and he takes to his new role of guardian of music like a duck to water, but Carla’s impressions are of a world with dark secrets hiding in the shadows.

Tully seems absorbed in his music and whenever he comes up for air, Erelah—with her neat little wings—is waiting. Carla finds consolation with Nathaniel, a Warrior who is a hunk and knows it. But she is playing with fire. Nat wants her—and what Nat wants, he takes.

As if her personal problems weren’t enough, Carla begins to piece together the mad plan that Nisroc, the Yazata of Paradisio, has lined up for the other worlds. And Tully—who has been promised a starring role—seems keen to play along with the lunatic scheme.

Carla finds herself caught up in a revolution, to stop Nisroc and the one who is creating his weapon of mass destruction—Tully.

 

Excerpt

Carla bent to touch the shoulder of the nearest body. It was warm. She laid a finger on the pulse and waited, her own heart thumping. It was there. Faint, but it was there.

“They’re not dead,” Nat said, mocking.

“They’ll soon wish they were,” one of the Marines added with a snigger.

Nat shot him a murderous look. “That’s for others to decide. Just stick to your own job.”

“Do we leave them here?” Carla asked, worried at how pale the three Warriors looked.

Nathaniel tapped his vest pockets. “Anyone got a stretcher on him? I seem to have forgotten mine.”

The Marines sniggered again.

“Isn’t first aid supplied in this ‘game’?” Carla asked. “They need attention.”

Nat put an arm around her. She felt the pounding of his heart, his excitement. His smell, hot, sweet and sweaty, enveloped her. “They’ll be picked up. Douma will know where to find them.” His hand slid down her arm to her waist, under her T-shirt, his fingers roving over her stomach. Her muscles flinched and she caught the flicker of a smile on Nat’s lips.

“Now, let’s finish this charade. I don’t know how I’m going to wait until tonight,” he murmured into her hair.

“Tonight?”

“When Douma gives you your mark, and you give me all the rest. The start of forever.” His mouth was so close to her ear that his breath tickled. His hand slid around the waistband of her pants. Her own breath grew short and hot. Her cheeks flared. The Marines watched her curiously, their eyes not quite so cold. Nat’s excitement was working on them. She wriggled out of his grip, forcing her mind to focus on the cold outline of the plan.

If we can get this over with by lunchtime, Tabbris can get on with starting an epidemic.

“Let’s get moving then.” She grinned at him and he flashed her one of his predatory smiles.

 

Free books from best-selling author

As you probably all know, since I’ve been shouting about it enough, Finch Books ha been running a promotion on The Pathfinders series. It’s five days since the BookBub feature, which sent the first volume, Abomination, to number one in the US and Australia in Teen Science Fiction and Teen Time Travel and Adventure categories, where Hunger Games and Harry Potter hang out. The glory lasted two whole days before the big boys and girls took the top place back again, but it was a big wonderful experience.

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It has been my theory (not original) that you absolutely have to pay for advertising if you want to sell your book. No matter how good it is, if it isn’t visible, nobody except family and friends will buy it. One of the democratising effects of self-publishing has been to give readers a stupifyingly huge choice of books, available in one click, as they say. How do you wade through 30 million plus books? Short answer—you don’t. You skip through the tiny sample Amazon gives you easy access to.

The whole of The Pathfinders series has been available since last September. The first volume, despite a clutch of excellent reviews, attractive cover and a proper publisher behind it, was lingering in the doldrums, and the sequels hadn’t taken off at all. Finch Books was going through a very rocky and doubtful start, which put marketing on hold. It looks as though the teething problems are over and we’re back with a vengeance.

Advertising put Abomination up there on the front page, and with a bit of luck it will hang about a while among the first pages where it is likely to be noticed by a casual browser. The sequels have started selling too, which is wonderful. Advertising is essential, but reviews are a must too, which brings me to the point of this post. If you have read Abomination and enjoyed it, I’m offering review copies of the second and third volumes. Please get in touch through the contact form with your email address and I’ll send you one (epub or pdf).

Meanwhile, the promotion continues if you’re keen to get into the series.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon Aus

Amazon Ca

The Apocalypse starts here!!!

Big day today, for a couple of reasons, but the first one is, The Pathfinders promotion starts now! This minute!

 

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Not only is the first volume at the extraordinary giveaway price of 99p/c but the sequels are at a special promotional price too. Here’s the Abomination blurb to set the scene:

As the end of the world begins, Carla and Tully hurtle through a wormhole five years forward in time, only to find they haven’t missed the Apocalypse after all.

Carla and Tully are picnicking in the quad of their international high school in central Paris when the end of the world begins. They are sucked into a wormhole that spits them out five years later to find that the world is a freezing desolation but still hanging on, waiting for something even worse to finish it off. The something worse turns out to be the Burnt Man and his horsemen. Taken prisoner by the Flay Tribe to their lair in the ruins of a shopping mall, Tully is forced to become a warrior, while Carla joins the other girls as a kitchen slave and comfort woman.

Tully might like the idea of playing soldiers, but Carla knows what is waiting for the girls when the food runs out, and it isn’t pleasant. The supermarket holy man’s vision of the return of the Burnt Man and his demon friends drags Tully back to reality. When the four fiends are reunited, the Apocalypse will really begin. Carla and Tully don’t plan on being there when that happens.

But in this post-Abomination world where only the young and brutal have survived, where food and fuel are running out and the climate is plunging into another final ice age, there is nowhere to run—except down another wormhole, with no idea of what might be waiting for them at the other end.

 

And here’s a short excerpt to whet your appetite:

 

“On that pallet over there. A few big cans of beans left. Bring one.”

“Have you all forgotten how to speak, as well as how to wash?” Carla snapped.

“Mostly. Yes.”

Carla staggered over with the ten-kilo can of white navy beans to where Kat was opening a much smaller can of frankfurters. She opened the beans and together they tipped the contents into a stew pot of dubious cleanliness. The sausages followed.

“How many is this for?” Carla asked. She had seen at least a dozen men and boys and nearly twice as many women.

“All of us.”

“Then those sausages won’t go very far.”

“Just for the men.”

“I might have guessed,” Carla sighed. “I suppose we ought to be grateful to get a few beans.”

The girl heaved a world-weary sigh. “If they leave any.”

Carla was about to ask why they let themselves be pushed about by a bunch of macho brutes who thought they were living in the Middle Ages when she took a good look at the girl. Carla had taken her for a skinny kid, but a closer inspection revealed the bony shoulders, scrawny breasts and haggard look of a woman, but under-developed and emaciated. Like Tully, Carla was beginning to put together a picture of their new environment.

“There’s not much to eat, is there?”

Kat just looked around. The warehouse was three-quarters empty. “You see much?”

“Can’t you get food somewhere else? Find another supermarket, I mean.”

Kat sighed. “This is Flay territory. Other places like this are in some other tribe’s territory. Not enough warriors left to fight over food.”

“What about hunting?”

Kat forced a wry smile. “Hunt what? Rats? Crows? Drax?”

“Drax?”

“Big dogs.”

“Why not, if that’s all there is?”

“Rats and crows eat corpses, drink poisoned water. Drax eat rats and crows and corpses. They are all sick, rotten. If we eat them, we become like drax. Drax used to be dogs.”

This was the longest speech Carla had heard from Kat. It had been a real physical effort for her, as if she had to drag the words from her memory, as if they were so rarely used they had almost been forgotten. Carla asked one last question, though she dreaded the reply.

“So, what will happen when the food runs out?”

Kat’s expression was dull and hopeless and she did not reply. She didn’t need to.

Carla bit her lip, trying to hang onto the strange, obscene ideas that darted like cockroaches in and out of the shadowy places in her mind.

 

The promotion runs for a week, so make sure you get Abomination now, read it and order the sequels before the offer ends.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon Aus

Amazon Ca

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New book release: Revelation

It is with great embarrassment that I reveal that on checking on the Finch Books website for the release date of Revelation, the third volume of The Pathfinders I discover that it’s today. Unnoticed by all, including me, which is a shame, because it’s a bloody good story though I say so myself.

Authors are supposed to be gung ho about promoting their work, praising it to the skies and shoving excerpts and banners in the faces of the general publick until they provoke rioting and lynch mobs. I’m going to kick against tradition and just say that I wrote it, I enjoyed writing it tremendously, and I think it’s pretty good. But nobody in their right mind would take the author’s word for the quality of a novel. You have to read it for yourself. There’s always the ‘look inside’ feature before you commit your pennies. It costs nothing.

The Pathfinders is a trilogy to be read in order, so if you haven’t started it yet, there’s not much point in banging on about number three. If you have read Abomination and Devastation, you can find Revelation here.

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

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Book review: The Fire Mages

The Fire Mages by Pauline M. Ross

YA fantasy fiction

Amazon UK

Amazon US

 

This is a curious story, told in the first person by a strangely detached main character, of a series of events that put me in mind of a nineteenth century penny dreadful or a silent Perils of Pauline type film. Yet it had me gripped right to the end. I admit I downloaded it with a half-dozen others because it was one of the books close to my own in the Amazon rankings, it sounded interesting, and I wanted to see what was popular. Pauline Ross’s book was the only one of the lot I read all the way through. The others, I dumped after the first few pages.

I read some of the reviews, and although I agree with some of the criticisms, I don’t necessarily see them as negative points. The heroine, Kyra, wants to be a law scribe. Pretty dull ambition, I hear you say, but Kyra finds some of the nitty gritty of legal stuff fascinating. Takes all sorts, you say. But, what she really wants to get to grips with is the magic of spell casting that law scribes are allowed to perform. She wants to study with mages and learn how to write out a spell and make it work. The story of The Fire Mages is how Kyra discovers her rare talent, and how she is thwarted at every turn in her ambition to use it. I could hear the frantic Keystone Cops background music playing as she escapes from captivity yet again, or as the bonk on the villain’s head wears off and the chase begins to tie her up again.

Yes, I agree, Kyra does have rather laid back attitudes to abuse, violence and the dangers of associating intimately with psychopaths. True, her male opposites are not prepossessing: said psychopath, a wimpy bully who turns into a wimpy lover, a totally camp escort boy, and a middle-aged sovereign who tries to enroll her as a concubine when she’s thirteen years old.

True, Kyra has zero understanding of human nature, falls into the same traps time after time, fails to see the most blatant dastardly coup before it slaps her between the eyes, makes excuses for or forgives rape, kidnap, denunciation, poisoning, murder, infanticide, you name it, she’ll just shrug it off with a ‘what the hell’.

Having said all that though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I don’t agree that Kyra is dull. She isn’t kick ass, if that’s what the critics mean, and that’s no bad thing in my book. She has a strange fascination, with her otherworldly detachment, her moral code that seems right up the creek, her willingness to have sex with men as a sort of therapy, because she feels sorry for them, because they give her lessons in local history, or simply because she’s feeling ultra randy and she grabs whatever’s within arm’s reach.

There’s a deadpan humour to Pauline Ross’s writing that saves the rather wacky story from being totally ridiculous. Kyra herself has a dry wit that made me laugh on several occasions. The characters are rounded, memorable and credible for all their weird behaviour. In fact, I think the psychopath’s brigand/gangster family is based on East European neighbours we used to have. The Fire Mages is a story that doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s a romp, not acute psychological drama. I would actually like to meet Kyra, and I shall probably read more of Pauline Ross in the future to catch up on how Kyra’s doing.

 

In Paradisio

Yesterday, despite a migraine that made me feel sick as a pig, I got on like a house on fire with In Paradisio, the third volume of the Wormholes series. In the cold light of a post-migraine morning, I can see that this story is not exactly a seamless web—we seem to have gone from William Blake to Bladerunner. Migraines do have an effect on the writing style and content! See what you think.

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He turned back to the path, a pale, sandy line in the darkness, and in a few moments, the ash, the yew, and the star were lost among the forest shadows. Within a few more minutes, the ‘forest’ petered out. Carla recognised the signs of an industrial wasteland, with dilapidated hangars, oil drums, plastic bags spilling their vile-smelling contents across the scrubby grass, and the quick scurry of rats. Memories of the mall and the hordes of rats that infested the rubbish heaps came back with a sharp shock and she stepped backwards. Harut held her firmly.

“You said you wanted to see other worlds.”

“But nice ones! This is too much like what Earth became.”

Harut’s teeth glittered in the wan moonlight. “Your Earth became like this, at the end. Some worlds have been like this for centuries.”

Carla shivered, dreading what the shadows of the crumbling warehouses concealed.

“Now keep quite.” Harut whispered in her ear. “We don’t want to attract too much attention. Even if we are armed.”

“Are we?”

“Of course. Remember the first exercises you ever did? What do you think you were supposed to do with the energy you transformed?”

“Self-defence, I suppose.”

Harut snorted. “Yeah. You’d better be prepared to defend yourself, then. And definitively.”

Carla looked about nervously

“There’s never much action here,” Harut whispered. “Let’s go into town.”

The pale moonlit sheds disappeared, replaced by the oppressive mass of tall buildings, some in complete darkness, others lit up like Christmas trees. A six-lane highway cut a wide gash between the buildings, joined by tiny dark alleys, not wide enough to walk two abreast. Vehicles whizzed past silently, and a skytrain flicked by on a rail that ran down the median strip. Apart from the muted sounds of rubber tyres on asphalt, there was little noise.

“Where is everybody?”

“Everywhere,” Harut replied. “Watching.”

“What?”

“Anything that moves in this place is suspect. Look.”

The shadows moved in one of the dark alleys at the far side of the highway, and something slipped into the flickering light of a passing train. Something that ran on two legs, then dropped to four. Whatever it was darted down the next alley, dragging a bag of refuse behind it. Carla started to ask a question, but Harut hushed her with a tightened grip on her arm. A scream of agony followed by a long drawn out howl broke the expectant silence. Moments later, two more hunched shapes broke from the alley, bent over cumbersome bundles, and disappeared into the darkness.

“Let’s go see,” Harut said, leaning into a running pose.

“No!” Carla hung back. “I really don’t want to get close to whatever went on there.”

“C’mon! It’ll be fun, you’ll see.”

Reluctantly Carla was scooped up in Harut’s aura to the far side of the highway, to the dark entrance to the alleyway the first creature had entered. She wrinkled her nose. It stank of something rotting, the smell that lingers in the bottom of dustbins, and the smell of corruption, of things long dead. Harut strode forward, his hands working as he gathered energy from the light sources, the electricity humming in the train rails, the fear Carla felt in the air all around her.

“There. Behind those waste containers.”

Harut pointed. At first it looked like a bundle of plastic bin bags. Until it moved. A hand reached out and clawed the ground, trying to get a hold on something, maybe to stand up. An arm reached out, a shoulder lurched from the shadows, then a head. Carla gasped. The head jerked and eyes opened, fixed hers, dark and glittering. Blood poured from the head, the shoulder, running along the arm, dripping from the fingertips. The face was the face of an ape. It grinned in terror. Its teeth were as bloody as the gash in its forehead. It scrabbled in the dirt, grabbed a bag and clutched it to its chest.

“It’s been eating man flesh,” Harut said. His voice was cold, but Carla sensed his rising excitement. “In the bag. What the other two left.”

Carla turned her head, not wishing to see what spilled out of the bag when Harut threw a fistful of power at the creature. She heard the soft splat as the bolt hit home. She heard the beginnings of a scream of agony that stopped, strangled in the throat by death. She dragged on Harut’s hand, but he shrugged her away and strode into the alley to inspect the remains. There wasn’t much left to inspect.

“Let’s go get the others,” he said, as he strode past her back out towards the highway.

“Why?”

“Why not? They’re vermin. If we don’t get them, they’ll only jump somebody else.”

“You mean, in the bags, it was… it was…”

“Yup. It was person.”

“Harut, let’s go back. I don’t like it here.”

In the dark, in the intermittent flashes of passing cars, Harut’s face grew cold. “You said you don’t understand why Nisroc wants to keep out the hordes of dead souls. You seem to think all spirits are peaceable just because they’re dead. Well, it’s time to open your eyes. Come on!”

Carla tried to hang back, but Harut took her in his arms and she found herself at the end of another dark alley. The walls, black with filth rose so high the night sky was lost to view. The same stench caught at her throat, making her gag. Harut crept deeper into the sinister ginnel, listening for the movement. When she heard the furtive sound of whispering, Carla stiffened, getting ready to run, but Harut leapt forward with a cry, the twisted mesh of energy in his hand glowing, lighting the huddled forms cowering against the wall. The same ape-like faces, dark and malevolent, or was that dark and terrorized?

The energy leapt and the two creatures flew backwards in a sheet of flame. Skin sizzled, hair glittered like ruby light, and the screams of agony were brief. When the glare faded, Harut stepped up to the carbonized carcases and kicked one. His boot caved in the shrivelled ribs. He drew back his foot in disgust.

“That makes three more dead souls crying to get into Paradisio. That’s the kind of thing you want to have walking the green valleys with you? Filthy cannibals?”