Poetry

Off you go, heart dream.

Quick, a new one is seeking!

Use the great weight of anxious pride to condense

Every detail of your precious work into a paragraph or two.

Ready? Are you sure?

Yes. Okay, hit send.

Inhale. Breathe. Don’t faint, it’s done.

Now to move on, distract yourself for a while.

Go and dive back into the wonderous wordyness of words.

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Behind the Scenes: Volunteering for a Literary Magazine

A good thing to keep in mind when submitting work!

A Writer's Path

by Manuela Williams

I have been a member of Carve Magazine’s Guest Reading Committee for about a year now and I can’t say enough good things about it. Not only have I had the opportunity to work on the other side of the publication process (through reviewing submissions), I also read for annual contests (and even conducted my first author interview earlier this year!).

While I can’t speak for every literary magazine out there, I would still like to give my fellow writerly friends a sneak peek behind the scenes and encourage everyone to volunteer for a magazine at least once. It is a great way to familiarize yourself with the publishing world, connect with others, and hone your craft.

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Cool hashtags that help

So I was in the query slump again recently, where I wait and wait to hear back and end up losing hope that my books will ever get picked up. This happens quite a lot (every time I send out a new round of queries, in fact (and by round, I mean I make a list of 12 agents and then send off to them individually, but usually all within the space of a few days)), so I know by now that I’ll get over it.  Mostly it’s by hearing stories by other authors about how they got picked up by agents or publishers (there are a few of these in the Writer’s and Artist’s yearbook, and of course, if you look at author bio pages on the web, you’ll find them there too) and copious amounts of chocolate or cake, or simply chocolate cake…

This time, though, I discovered the hashtag #500queries, which shows you queries from an agent’s point of view (in this case, Laura Zats of Red Sofa Literary agency), which may seem harsh at first, but after reading a few it really helped reassure me that my query wasn’t a total shambles, and also showed me what needed to be improved, too. There’s also a #10queries/#tenqueries version, which is equally helpful.

I also recently discovered #MSWL which is a great tool to find agents interested in your genre, and a few other cool hashtags that help with querying, like #pitmad and #PitchCB (Curtis Brown’s twitter pitch tag).

So, even though I’m sure I’ll slump out again, for now I’m feeling more positive about all those queries and submissions I sent out.

Still rather impatient, though.

Extracts/ Flash Fiction

Extract: Necromancer’s Cage

Nodnol. The city of alchemy and invention. Its bustling streets were filled with shops of every kind, from humble florists and clockmakers to whole emporiums of spas and beauty parlors, garages for automobile alchemy, and Kerical (alchemy and electricity, a power source hailed for its efficiency) research centres.

Shop chimneys spat out colours from across the spectrum, vibrant oranges and pinks to inky purples and blues, and everywhere, in every street and every shop, was the sense of determination and drive; the drive to be the next big inventor or the one who would make the next alchemical breakthrough.

Well, every shop except for one.

In a small street backing off from Nodnol’s main square was a neat, green painted shop with the words ‘Alchemical Pharmacy’ stencilled above its broad windows in large, white lettering. But it showed no dispays of powders or jars of loose ingredients as one might have expected to find in other alchemy-based pharmacies. No, instead the windows revealed only cardboard boxes, being packed by a silver haired man still wearing his dispensing apron. His movements were slow and weary, as if he was packing away his very life into those boxes.

Extracts/ Flash Fiction

Wyld Times- a story idea

Aelfire’s head rested on a small, moss covered mound, his body stretched out on the grass as the sun lit the hill. His long hair was splayed out around him, and so deep was his sleep that he didn’t even feel the gentle tug as the pond nymphs plaited it into the lengths of silver rope weed growing out of the pond’s spongy bank.

‘Ladies, please,’ Gwenti said, striding towards them from where she had stood watch over Aelfire from the shadows of the woods. ‘I think that’s enough playtime for now. Run along.’

The nymphs chittered angrily and dived back into the murky waters of the pond. Gwenti sighed. Those mischievous creatures were always up to something when Aelfire rested there. It was as if they couldn’t leave the boy alone. She knelt down beside him and carefully untangled his hair. He didn’t stir, but the day was well underway and she needed him awake. ‘Lord Aelfire,’ she said, putting a hand on his shoulder.

Nothing.

She shook him. ‘Lord Aelfire, it’s time to move.’

He yawned and rolled onto his side, blinking as the sunlight reflecting off the pond hit him full in the eyes. ‘Already? I thought you said we had til noon?’

‘It is noon, my Lord. The city beacon has already been lit, in a few moments the Gulls will be released. We need to be well away from here by then. If they catch us so close to the city gates, then it’s an automatic fail. Not only for you, but for me too. If you fail this trial, my role as your guardian will be over. They’ll choose someone else to train you in the Wylds, and believe me when I say you don’t want that, and nor do I. Your mother would never forgive me if I let you end up in the hands of one of them.’ 

‘You worry too much, Gwenti. We’ll win this trial,’ Aelfire said with a grin. ‘Just…where’s the first checkpoint again?’

Gwenti cast him a long, hard look.

‘Hey, I’m joking, I’m joking,’ he said, picking up his pack and slinging it over his shoulder. ‘I know it’s the Mergrave stone. Let’s go.’

Reviews

Review: Arma-garden – The Diary of my Allotment During the Zombie Apocalypse by Tracey J Morgan

Arma-garden is a light-hearted, fun take on the popular zombie apocalypse trend of horror stories.

As the name suggests, the story follows the diary of Susie, a young woman who keeps an allotment to grow fruit and veg as a way to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Except that one day, she sees an old woman attacked by a youth. Not just attacked, but thrown to the ground and having her face gnawed off. Immediately, Susie knows something’s wrong, but she’s lost her keys to the gate and can’t get out to help the old woman – the metal fence surrounding the entire perimeter of the allotment is too high, and spiked to boot. However, as soon as realizes the reason for this attack, that the youth is actually a zombie, she’s quite grateful for that impenetrable fence. To her luck, the allotment happens to have all the supplies to survive – fresh food, running water, and a few sheds for shelter, and, in the form of the old woman’s dog, who squeezed through the fence in sheer terror, a companion.

As the story progresses, we’re introduced to more characters who add a lot of humour and I really did laugh aloud several times while reading this piece. There’s a mysterious jogger always running past listening to several on point songs (really, one of them is ‘Thriller’) despite the crowd of zombies, a vegan zombie, the girlfriend of the vegan zombie, Susie’s boyfriend, a cat, and a 100 year old bed bound woman who always asks for sweet food to eat.

I really, really enjoyed this story and would heartily recommend it to anyone who likes ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and other tongue-in-cheek zombie tales. It’s well written, well thought out, the main character is likeable and witty (despite her desperate survival situation)

Extracts/ Flash Fiction

The Face

There was a face in the tree. It rippled up the branches and into the leaves, finally coming to a stop in the soft white flowers. There it would wait, until an unsuspecting bee or wasp landed on the delicate petals searching for pollen. Then: gulp! The insect would be swallowed whole by the face, with not even a furred black leg or crystal-like wing left as proof that it was ever there. Once full, the face would retreat down to the roots of the tree and hide. Hide away from the sharp senses of the woodland huntresses, with their sharp, hooked nails and unrivaled speed at climbing trees: dryads, the protectors of the wood. They had been chasing the face for more years than it could remember, ever since it had stole away from them one night when it was little more than a babe.

You see, the face was once a male dryad, and it was well known amongst all dryad kind, from those in the great wilds to those in small country woods, that a male babe was an omen that the woods would soon die. Fearing that her sisters would turn on the babe, the face’s mother placed it by the road where humans often passed by, in the hopes that it would be found and cared for by them. But seeking its mother’s breast as all infants do, the face had crawled back to dryad’s dwellings in search of her. There it was discovered by the dryad queen, who, repulsed by all it represented, sought to gauge it to death with her savage nails. Yet the earth did not wish the babe to die, and granted it the power to become one with the woods, with only its face ever visible. It eluded the queen, and rippled across the ground and out of sight. Angered and fearful of what it might do, the queen ordered her sisters to seek it out and kill it on sight.

Soon after, the trees of the dryads’ dwellings began to fade. They could not see that it was their own neglect doing so, and not the babe. For the babe was now a face, and no longer a dryad at all. While the trees of the dryads died, the trees the face inhabited thrived, growing tall and strong for another year.

Reviews

Review: Three short stories by N C Stow – The Leshy, The Kupala Night, and Voopyre

All of these short stories are based off of Russian folklore, which I’ve never explored before, and as well as introducing me to new concepts and ideas, I learnt a few new words too:

Izba – a traditional log house of rural Russia, with an unheated entrance room and a single living /sleeping room heated by a clay or brick stove.

Pech – a large stove used not only to cook with, but also to heat the izba. They normally have a nook (the small space between wall and stove) where small children can sleep to stay warm.

Although these terms aren’t explained in detail, you get the idea of what they are quite quickly from their usage, so it doesn’t interrupt the story flow in any way.

Now let’s get to the actual review (before I get distracted and end up running away with the fairies). I’ll start with The Leshy, which is the first one I read and I believe the first one to be published. This story was very poetically written, with beautiful imagery and strong characters, despite its length. Without giving away too many spoilers, the plot focuses on the onset of Winter, a spirit. Winter kills the Leshy, a tree spirit, and Mavka, a young girl, wakes up having seen this happen in her dream. She the ends up being summoned by Winter herself, a summons that she can’t refuse.

I felt there were a lot of whimsical, magical touches to this piece that reminded me a lot of more well-known fairytales, but this story had the edge in that it stayed with me for a long time after I’d finished reading it.

I read The Kupala Night next, and as with The Leshy, spirits/gods played a large part in the story. This time, however, the focus was on Night looking for his true wife, Day. Kupala refers to a night of traditional celebratory dances, of which there are six. However, Varvara, a girl who has just come of age to go to the Kupala games, is warned by her grandmother (or ‘Baba’) not to stay for the seventh dance, which confuses Varvara because there isn’t one…at least not one that she knew of.

This wasn’t written as poetically as The Leshy, but there was still a lot of strong imagery and a soft touch of romance, too, plus a nice twist at the end.

Voopyre is the newest of these three stories, and though I did enjoy it, something about it just didn’t click as strongly with me as the other two. I can’t fault the writing, it’s just as good as The Leshy and The Kupala Night, but there’s still something that didn’t gel. Then again, I was very tired when I read it and I did get interrupted quite a bit…

Anyway, in Voopyre the story focuses on Zverovoy, the beast master/spirit as he takes an interest in a girl who walks through his forest. But he can’t get to her, so he calls upon the Voopyre, a creature that can tear apart the Kerchief of the world, to do just that. Zverovoy knows that to save her friends, the girl will need to call on him to find the Voopyre to replace the torn part of Kerchief, and thus he will see her again.

It was interesting and the idea that “‘Earth is a headscarf, and we are the thread'” really gripped my imagination, as did many other parts of this story. So, even though it wasn’t my favourite of the three (my favourite is The Leshy, because it’s just so beautiful both in how it’s written and what it’s about) it’s still worth a read.

They all are, in fact.

 

 

Poetry

Small Cares

 

Why do you hang your head

so low, my pet?

You may only be the size

of a snow drop or crocus,

and a puddle may appear

as a small lake to you,

but why is that a sad thing?

Think of all you can

see and hear

that no other can.

Observe the flowers as they first emerge,

seek the moment they reach for the sun!

See the bees buzzing back to their homes

and help them carry their bags of pollen.

Listen to the secrets of dormice

and ask to fly on the backs of butterflies.

Sleep in the shade of a snail’s shell,

be carried by a team of worker ants.

But most of all, my pet: live!

Poetry

The Long March

One, two, one two.

 

Line by line,

side by side,

up the steep mountain path

following the piper’s march.

 

One, two, one, two.

 

Rock and stone,

wind and rain.

Soon we’ll reach the river,

He doesn’t care if we shiver.

 

One, two, one, two.

 

Unable to stop.

Unable to think.

Unable to breathe.

 

One, two, one, two.

 

All because the villagers;

our family, our kin;

refused to pay the price

that was owed

to him.