Uncategorized

I’m going to be doing some fundraising! #52weeksofnaturepoetry

Hearing about the effects of climate change and deforestation has long played on my mind — I’m at my most comfortable when I’m outside in nature, away from cars and sirens, bright lights, crowds, and the myriad of other things that often overload me — and the idea that everything I care for so deeply will be gone one day if we don’t stop wounding our planet is utterly terrifying.

Like many people, I wanted to do something to protect the wildlife around me. It means too much to me to simply give in and let things happen. But as I struggle when I’m around other people, and my mental health (I’m talking about you, anxiety) is not up to allowing me to physically volunteer somewhere or write long, detailed letters to organisations and MPs to encourage them to do better, I wasn’t sure what I could do.

Fundraising was in the back of my mind, but as I tried it some years ago and didn’t really get the response I wanted (and some even insinuated that I was wasting my time — talk about a hope squasher), I was scared that if I tried again, the same thing would happen. However, having recently listened to interviews with Diary of a Young Naturalist author, Dara McAnulty, along with other authors writing about their own love of nature and using it as a way to encourage and educate others, I thought perhaps I could do the same with my own writing.

Though narrative non-fiction is difficult for me, I adore writing poetry and often use it to explore what I’m feeling. So, at first, I simply considered writing a poetry collection and having all the proceeds go to my charity of choice (RSPB – they’re UK based like me and do some great work), but then I thought of a better idea. Or rather, I improved upon that one — what if, for a whole year (or 52 weeks), I wrote a poem about some of my favourite wildlife, and with each one, encouraged readers to donate to the RSPB and/or share and reblog? And, at the end of the 52 weeks, I could still publish all the poems together in a collection and have all the proceeds go to the RSPB, just like I originally planned.

The sharing and reblogging part is particularly important, as I know lots of people wish they could donate to things but can’t, and that way they can still help bring awareness to the wonders of the UK’s wildlife and thus encourage more care and protection for it.

So, after contacting the RSPB’s fundraising department and getting the go-ahead, I’ll be starting my #52weeksofnaturepoetry next month, and as the name suggests, it will run until this time next year. (You may already have noticed the new menu option at the top of this blog, all poems under the hashtag will appear there for easier reading.)

I’m still rather worried that this will turn out like my last fundraising attempt, but if I manage to encourage just one person’s love for nature, then I’ll be happy.

(Oh, and for anyone wondering, I’ll also be writing my usual, unrelated posts alongside this project.)

Also, if you’re curious about the RSPB, their website is here.

And if you want to take a gander at the Just Giving page I’ve recently set up in order to do this, it’s here.

books, Uncategorized

Well, this snuck up quickly — The Curse of Earthias, my latest book, is now out!

Hi everyone! Just a little announcement post (I know the title says it, but I thought I’d elaborate).

After much hard work revising and editing (read about it here), I’m finally able to share with you the book which evolved from two different ideas I had back when I was about twelve. It’s been a long time coming, and I put it aside so many times to work on other projects, so it’s amazing to think my little manuscript is now an actual real life book.

While not the first full manuscript I wrote, I started drafting very early versions of chapters one and two when I was in high school, and while those chapters have been lost in the depths of time, I believe that the tone I tried to capture then still resides at the heart of this final version.

Also, on an interesting note, one of the main characters is autistic like me, though as he isn’t human (he’s an Earth Healer – similar to an elf) and the entire story is set in a fantasy world, the term ‘autism’ is not used anywhere in the book – but the traits are there. It was interesting discovering this, as it wasn’t intentional and the first draft was completed long before I was diagnosed. I suppose I put more of myself into him than I thought.

Anyway, without further ado, I present to you The Curse of Earthias:

Taken in by Queen Celeste of Xylantria when she was a child, a young woman called Yusumi finds herself accused of murdering her beloved mentor.

With the help of her friend, the enormous wolf-lion Jidan, she flees the royal city. Soon after, they meet Xanna and Kai, two Earth Healers from the mystical forest of Earthias. They are on a journey to find a cure for their cursed Wise Woman – a curse cast by human magic, which has been dead for centuries.

But behind the scenes, a darker power is at play. Pursued by demonic and undead forces, can they find answers for the Earth Healers and clear Yusumi’s name?

Reviews, Uncategorized

Non-fiction book review: Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

A few weeks ago, my nan told me about a book written by an autistic teenager that recently won the Wainwright Prize (which is a UK award focusing on books about nature) and offered to buy me a copy. Naturally, having a great love of nature myself and also wanting to read more autistic voices, I said I’d love to read it. (Though, amusingly, the book is yellow, which is the one colour that is absolute sensory hell for me – an easy fix though, as I simply turned the dust cover inside out.)

The book is written in journal format and is compiled into sections based on the four seasons. It’s difficult to fully articulate my feelings on it, but I’ll try. (A warning, though: this is likely to be a long and rambling post detailing some of my own life experiences rather than just focusing on the book. I promise it will be relevant, though!)

Firstly, Dara’s writing is very evocative and poetic – I had serious writer envy on this one. He seems to have the ability to place you exactly in the situation he’s describing; every detail fed to you as if your own senses were picking it up. At least, that’s how it was for me – maybe it’s because the way my senses work are very similar to his, but judging by the amount of praise this book has had, I doubt it’s just that. This did, however, present something of a problem in that it was sometimes too much for me to handle. My head would be reeling after reading a section just like it does when I’m experiencing sensory overload. I was also a little intimidated at the beginning by the sheer knowledge he has; every species and sub-species mentioned is identified, which meant a lot of names to get my head around. I did get used to it once I got past the first quarter, but it took some time. But nature has been central to his entire life, so it makes sense that his knowledge is so vast.

Secondly, his passion leaks from every word, and while noting the intricacies and completely fascinating things, he also goes into detail about the very real threats to the world (I would say the natural world, but we are part of nature rather than separate from it): climate change, deforestation, hunting, pollution, just to name a few. Now, as mentioned above, nature is one of my loves too, and I’m very passionate about protecting it. But over the years, the apathy and unkindness of others has beaten down my willingness to express why it’s important to me. I used to share all the petitions I sign on my social media pages, but now only share a handful, and in 2013, I tried fundraising for a charity (Cool Earth – check them out if you can) by getting tattooed in the armpit, only to have very little response. Realising that I’d pretty much silenced myself without even knowing came as quite a shock. And I felt like I’d let myself and the environment down, that I wasn’t doing enough.

But I kept reading, and as Dara also documents his mental health, having experienced intense bullying at school because of his interests, I came to understand that the key to why I stopped was because my own mental health wasn’t good enough to handle such negativity. That, and I get so overwhelmed about how much of a crisis the world is in that I feel like I might be crushed by it.

However, I also came to realise that though I haven’t been as vocal as I would like, I’ve still continued doing things to try and bring about the changes I’d love to see. I still sign petitions, and when my finances allow, I donate to relevant charities. I also sneak bits into my books to generate awareness, like including several stories focusing on endangered animals and deforestation in my short story collection, When the Bard Came Visiting, and having characters interact with nature in quite profound ways. So, while I might have too much anxiety to go to a climate march (not that that would be a good idea during the current pandemic), or experience too much overwhelm to constantly share facts about how much the rainforests have been cut down or the oceans have been polluted by plastic and oil spills, I can continue to do the little things within my area of expertise. And if I spark even one person’s passion for the environment, then it’ll be worth it.

Now, back to the actual book.

Dara’s ability to reflect on his experiences is really what makes this book come together, and though at first it seems quite simple, it covers an awful lot of ground. As I mentioned above, he talks about mental health and bullying, and how it’s often quite hard for autistic people to express themselves. I know from my own experiences how difficult it is – the ideas are there in my head but refuse to come out in any intelligible way. He also splashes in bits of Irish and world mythology here and there, which creates yet another layer to what he’s reflecting on. I really loved reading those parts.

In short (after taking far, far too much space going over the ‘long’), this book is a beautiful exploration of our world and being part of a minority within it, and despite the mental turmoil it caused within me, left me with an awful lot of hope, too.

If, as I would urge, you decide to pick up a copy, you can get it here. I would also encourage you to check out his blog and Youtube channel too.

Reviews, Uncategorized

Non-fiction book review: Living on the Spectrum: Autism and Youth in Community by Elizabeth Fein

At the beginning of last month, I received an email from Elizabeth asking if I wanted a review copy of her book. She stated that there were some sections in it which looked at the connections between autism and fantasy literature, and thought I might find it interesting. (If you’re new here, hi, I’m autistic and write fantasy books.)[Also, please excuse the bird images, WordPress is being odd and not allowing me to use paragraphs, so I decided to cheat and break up the text this way.]
minimal-4093114_1920
Elizabeth Fein is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Duquesne University and a licensed psychologist in the state of Pennsylvania (as stated in her bio on the book’s back cover), and so actively works in the field. At first I was unsure of whether to take up her offer, not only because I find academic texts extremely hard to read, but also because I was afraid that the book would take a very medical approach to autism and possibly speak positively of a cure. However, after re-reading her pitch a few times, I decided that her approach sounded a lot more considerate of autistic people as actual people, rather than patients with something solely negative that needs to be removed.
minimal-4093114_1920
Here is the pitch she sent:
The book combines approaches from psychology and anthropology to look at how youth diagnosed with autism spectrum conditions reconcile controversies around autism as a disease vs. autism as an identity.  I spent several years doing research in places where people on the spectrum come together to work, play, live, love and learn. The book describes how youth on the spectrum are looking beyond medicine for narratives that make sense of their lives, re-telling their own stories through a shared mythology drawn from roleplaying games, anime, and other forms of speculative fiction.
minimal-4093114_1920
(The book delves into these things solely within America, as that’s where Elizabeth is based, and only briefly mentions other countries. It also mostly focuses on teenagers and young adults diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.)
minimal-4093114_1920
The book starts with a very comprehensive introduction, which outlines how her research was carried out (lots and lots of field work, much of which was talking to autistic individuals and the people who work with them), where her personal interest in autism started (I found this part extremely heart-warming) and also a bit about the history of autism as a diagnosable condition – she mentions both Leo Kanner (who noted what is still sometimes called ‘classic’ autism; meaning individuals with high care needs who may be non-verbal) and Hans Asperger (who looked more at individuals who are often highly verbal and excel in topics they’re interested). She also mentions the controversy around Hans Asperger (which is highly Google-able), and notes how terminology around autism has changed over the years, and presently all variants of autism are diagnosed under one umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Condition/Disorder (some places prefer to say ‘condition’, others use ‘disorder’). When I was diagnosed early last year, it was under this umbrella term, though the psychologist I spoke to said the way my traits manifest are closest to what was previously called Asperger’s Syndrome.
minimal-4093114_1920
Elizabeth also notes that she uses both autistic person and person with autism to refer to individuals on the spectrum throughout the book, taking particular care to use the version the person she’s interviewing prefers. (Many people, like myself, prefer to say they’re autistic, however, there are some who like to say they have autism.) I actually liked this, as despite my own preference, I felt she was trying to be as inclusive as possible. Other notes she includes are that everyone interviewed has been given a different name in the book to protect their identity, and that as her research was done over a number of years, the way the participants referred to themselves in terms of gender may also have changed. There are many others, which all helped to put me at ease with the prospect of the topics the book talks about.
minimal-4093114_1920
Now, onto the main parts of the book:
minimal-4093114_1920
The first chapter looks at the idea of structured socialising, in this case through a live-action role-play camp specifically for autistic kids, and how having that structure can put people more at ease in social situations. Basically, the kids were given the ‘rules’ of the particular fantasy world and their characters, and interacted with those in mind. For me, the idea that having more structure makes socialising easier seemed kind of obvious, but then, as that’s how my brain responds best, I suppose it would. I also really enjoyed the journal/diary based style that parts of this chapter were written in – Elizabeth attended this camp and took a very active part in it.
minimal-4093114_1920
The book then moves on to looking at how autistic kids navigate school and followed a number of individuals and schools themselves. This section was particularly interesting for me, as because I was diagnosed as an adult, I attended mainstream schools without any assistance (I ‘coped’ by taking a lot of work home and getting my family to help), whereas theses kids were already diagnosed and trying to access the services they needed, which were often limited and difficult to get.  The difficulties in accessing suitable support for autistic people were highlighted strongly, which I appreciate. This isn’t often talked about.
minimal-4093114_1920
Following chapters talk about the different concepts of what autism is and whether the two main views of it can co-exist, and how individuals on the spectrum feel about them. One of the chapters is called ‘The Pathogen and the Package’. The pathogen part referring to the view that autism is a negative thing akin to a disease that is stopping someone from being the person they ought to be; whereas the package looks at autism as a different way of being that has positives and negatives, and that the idea of removing it (or curing) would change a person’s very being.
minimal-4093114_1920
This was the part that I was the most concerned about reading, and parts of it made me angry – not what Elizabeth herself was saying, as she deliberately maintained a very neutral discussion of the different views so as to fully explore them, but where she quoted speakers from talks she attended. She mentions the organisation Autism Speaks, fully explaining how it was formed and that one of the organisations that it’s made up of was previously called Cure Autism Now!. She notes how, because of the controversy of a cure, Autism Speaks removed finding a cure from their list of goals and also makes use of very careful language (which, as Elizabeth quoted so much of it, I interpreted as the organisation still being willing to spend money and resources on finding a cure while not directly saying that’s what they’re doing).
minimal-4093114_1920
There is a chapter where Elizabeth looks specifically at the idea of a cure and what people on the spectrum and their families think of the idea. This section was delightfully heavy in interviews with said people, and very much reflected the difference in opinion between autistic individuals and their family members. The trend seemed to be that the autistic people themselves viewed a cure as something that would stop them from being who they were, while their family members, who saw how much these kids struggled in the world, thought a cure may ease some of those struggles and thus might not be an inherently bad thing. Elizabeth speculated that this may also be because of the age difference and continuously evolving views on autism and neurodiversity as a whole. However, there were one or two autistic individuals who thought that maybe something like a cure would be useful, and I’m glad she included these too. 
minimal-4093114_1920
(My personal view is that my struggles are largely due to the fact that the world around me is not designed for people outside the norm; therefore, the problem is more with the environment rather than my brain. I’d hate not to have the insights and fascinations that come from being autistic. To my mind, non-autistic people miss a lot of things. Thus, I find the idea of a cure utterly repulsive.)
minimal-4093114_1920
The last chapter moves on again (or perhaps back) to looking at the use of fantasy in how autistic kids see themselves and their position in society. Again, this chapter made excellent use of interviews and quotes, and I identified with a lot of it. Many of the examples were of characters kids had made up based around their own behaviours. There were a lot of half-demon, half-human concepts, which I suppose reflect the things we struggle with and often feel we have to hold back versus the things we’re good at.
minimal-4093114_1920
Elizabeth ends with a conclusion, which summed up, says that autistic people should be allowed to carve out their own space in society and that perhaps current medical views and interventions might not be as effective as others involving more active settings (like role playing or going about town in a group to explore and learn how to do/interact with different people and things – something that I feel would have benefited me greatly, and probably still would).
minimal-4093114_1920
So, as you might notice by how long this post is, there’s an awful lot to consider about this book. As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m not very good at interpreting and understanding academic texts, and some of the sections were very heavy with that kind of writing, so my take on this book may well be very different to that of someone who is actually able to take in all of that rather than getting the general ‘gist’ of things. However, though I found parts difficult to get through or follow, the more narrative parts and interviews were very fun and fascinating to read. I think Elizabeth’s research was conducted in a very careful, considerate way with full respect for everyone involved (this is also confirmed at the end of her acknowledgements).
minimal-4093114_1920
Though I was worried about the segments surrounding ideas of autism as a disease and whether it needs a cure, the very fact that she was so thorough in every part of the discussion (everyone was given space for their voice to be heard) left me with little doubt that she is very much a person who cares about autistic people being allowed to be their own selves (and make their own choices). My one peeve about the book is that few individuals with more drastic care needs were included, however, the reasoning for this is clearly explained in the introduction, so I can’t complain too much. Still, it would have been nice to hear from individuals from all areas of the spectrum. I appreciated the voices from autistic adults as well as young people, though, as I feel that autistic adults are often forgotten about.
minimal-4093114_1920
I very much appreciate and respect the level of work that has gone into this book, and I’m more than grateful that she reached out to me about it. If you can happily read academic books or are open to the challenge, I would easily recommend this one. I hope it gets read and shared by as many people who work in the medical field as possible, plus many more (perhaps it should be a library staple).
minimal-4093114_1920
The book is published by New York University Press (www.nyupress.org), and I believe Amazon has it too.
Elizabeth book cover
Poetry, Uncategorized

A complete ramble, plus the first piece of writing I had published…

Hi everyone, I’m happy to say I’ve now finished the revamp, line edits and proofreading I was doing on one of my books and sent it off to my publisher.

I’d like to say it was a pleasant experience – and parts of it were, like getting acquainted with my characters and falling in love with the world all over again – but on the whole it made me question every aspect of my writing ability, particularly my grammar. I didn’t know it was possible to spend hours agonising over the correct usage of was and were (look up subjunctive mood, and you’ll see what I mean – technically the rule is fairly simple, but I have oodles of self-doubt), but apparently it is. Even after I sent the manuscript off (after reading and re-reading and fretting back and forth), I was still worried I’d got it wrong (‘it’ being the entirety of my grammar usage).

So my conclusion regarding having to do line edits and proofreading on my own work is that I never want to do it again. Hopefully, this was a one-off scenario and whatever is happening with the editing team at my publisher gets sorted, so I won’t have to. Still, I honestly felt like I was losing my mind.

The other side of it is that now I have finished, I’m not sure what to do with myself. Which is a little ridiculous because I know full well that I need a break, but for some reason my sense of self-worth and achievement is so thoroughly linked to my productivity that I can’t shake it. I think I was relieved for all of ten minutes after I hit send, then the overwhelming heaviness of ‘What am I going to do now?’ hit me and I spent a good few hours stimming and being lost in my thoughts.

Anyway, now I’ve expressed my thoughts on all that, it’s time for something a bit lighter. I thought I’d share with you the first piece of writing I had published, which is a poem I wrote when I was ten.

My primary school encouraged years five and six (I think it was both, but I’m not quite sure) to write a poem for an anthology called Poetic Voyages, created by an organisation called Young Writers. I think quite a few kids in my class submitted a poem, but only some were chosen. This is the cover of the one my poem is in, as there were separate anthologies put together for each region. It was published in 2002:

20200822_120845

On the back it says:

Young Writers was established in 1991 to encourage the reading and writing of poetry by young people.

Young Writers’ books nurture interest and confidence by giving young people the opportunity to see their work in print in a series of regional anthologies.

The books represent a generation of voices having their say on a wide range of themes from home and school to the environment and sport.

These anthologies are a showcase for the writing talent in schools today. 

And here’s a bit more info:

20200822_125753[1]

Lastly, here’s my actual poem in all its glory…

20200822_121006

(The note about whisky in the last line was supposed to be in brackets, but my pa said it’d look better without. I still think brackets would be more effective.)

It’s interesting that, considering the wide range of topics I could have written about, I chose to write about ghosts and school. Perhaps my ‘ghost’ was actually a metaphor for how terrified I was at school (if you haven’t seen my previous posts, I was severely bullied at school by one of my teachers, and quite a few of the kids too. It was not a happy time for me). That, or I’d just been watching Ghostbusters or The Frighteners. Who knows.

 

Uncategorized

Just an update

Hi everyone, I know this blog has been quiet recently, and the reason why is that I’ve been weighed down with edits on my upcoming book.

My publisher had a few…shall we say, hitches…with their editing team, in that at the moment, they don’t appear to really have one. I had a message from them saying my manuscript came back clean, and the majority of writers know that brilliant as their work may be, very rarely is it so perfect that no tweaks need to be made whatsoever.

So, I asked to take a look at my manuscript before they proceeded to the next stage, and as I suspected, it was littered with errors. (I wrote and redrafted this particular book about five years ago, and though it was accepted not only by this publisher, but one before {the company changed hands and I decided to part from them before the book had any work done to it}, the writing was well and truly terrible. For some reason, I’d tried to emulate the style of old time fantasy books, and what I ended up with did not hold up to today’s standards.)

I wasn’t particularly happy, but as the entire writing style needed updating to reflect my current one, I decided to revamp the whole thing, which took a month of hard work (and when I say a month, I mean it — I don’t have another job, so my time was spent wholly on that).

Now, it’s very true that editing your own writing (with publication in mind – self-edits and re-drafts before querying publishers and agents are essential) is not the best idea as generally, you’re too close to see the things that need the most work. However, because it’s been so long since I looked at this book, when I first started going over it, I discovered that it was like reading someone else’s manuscript, giving me the confidence to believe what I was attempting to do might actually work.

Having now done the major edits – I don’t think there’s a single line that hasn’t been tweaked –  I’m now on the proofreading stage. For this, I switched up how I was reading, choosing to upload the document to my Kindle and note down errors on paper as I go. This seems to be working fairly well, as the large font makes typos and grammar issues jump out at me, and allows me to do it at a decent pace and not get caught up reworking the same sentence ten times on the document. Every few chapters or so, I take my notes and apply them to the document, and when I finish the read through of the whole thing, I have a master list of overused words to check and give it that final polish.

All this work came right after doing a revise and resubmit for an agent (who ultimately passed, but in a very encouraging way) and finishing my latest work in progress, so it’s been a long time since I’ve had a break. But I’m close. Really close.

That’s all for now, though upon reflection, it’s a lot more detail than I initially planned on writing. Oh well. (Also, if there are typos in this, I apologise, but I’m too tired to correct them at the moment.)

 

books, Uncategorized

Nekromancer’s Cage is out at last!

Hi everyone, I’m pleased to say it’s release day for my upper middle grade book, Nekromancer’s Cage.

Get ready for alchemy, witches, musical bandits and talking cats — oh, and add just a little mystery and casual sleuthing to the mix too!

In celebration of its release, I’m posting the first chapter here for your reading pleasure. If you enjoy it, you can find the book here.

Happy reading!

 

Chapter One

‘Here, let me,’ Johnathan said, easily loosening the knot on his mentor’s apron strings so they fell free, enabling the old man to lift it off over his head with shaking hands. It pained Johnathan to see how much Alfred had deteriorated already.

Johnathan had studied under Alfred for three years, learning all there was to know about remedial Alkemy, from how to define a customer’s problems to mixing the right powders for their medicine. The work had been hard, but under his mentor’s guidance, Johnathan had slowly picked it up until he was proficient; in another year, he would have been able to take his exam and become an Alkemical Apothecary himself. Yet, for the time being at least, that dream would have to be put on hold.

Alfred had been diagnosed with Acute Energy Loss, a disease which had no cure and soon would leave him bedridden, unable to work at all. And because Johnathan was not yet qualified to take over, the Board of Alkemists had deemed it necessary to close the shop for good. Alfred’s clients had taken their business elsewhere, and all that was left to do now was to finish packing up their well-used equipment.

‘Thank you, my boy. We’ve only got one job left,’ Alfred said softly, resting on a stool next to the carefully packed boxes containing the many tools and ingredients he’d used daily for the past forty years. ‘The lettering outside needs to be scraped off.’

Johnathan cast his eyes to the floor, a cold, empty feeling settling in his stomach. Scraping away the sign had such a finality to it. He wasn’t sure if he was ready. ‘But I’ll need a ladder for that. Do we even have one?’ he asked, knowing full well that there was one tucked away in the back cupboard, half rotten and full of cobwebs.

‘A ladder?’ Alfred chuckled warmly.  ‘Nonsense, John. You’re a gangly young thing; hop up on one of those stools and I’m sure you’ll be able to reach it. There’s a metal scraper in the second drawer to your right. I left it out especially. It should be sharp enough to do the job.’

Opening the drawer, Johnathan found the scraper, a short-handled tool with a flat, triangular blade. He tested it with his thumb and concluded that it was indeed sharp enough. After sprinkling a mix of powders over his newly-earnt cut to help stop the bleeding, he reluctantly gathered one of the round wooden stools and headed outside to where the words ‘A. Vancold: Alkemical Apothecary’ were stencilled above the shop’s broad windows in large, white lettering.

Despite being tall, one of Johnathan’s biggest fears was heights. Even being a few feet off the ground as he was then, trying to balance himself on the stool’s small seat, was enough to make him dizzy. Still, he couldn’t leave this job to Alfred. If the old man exerted himself too much, it would only advance his condition, and by order of the Board of Alkemists, the shop had to be completely bare by the time they were due to leave the premises that afternoon.

So, gripping the outer wall for dear life, Johnathan steeled himself and began scraping the words away. The peelings floated down to the floor like snowflakes, and by the time he was finished, real snow was beginning to fall from the darkening sky.

‘Well, John,’ Alfred said when Johnathan finally came back inside. ‘I think that’s everything.’

With their hearts heavy, they loaded all the boxes of equipment and ingredients into the motor carriage that the Board of Alkemists had provided and then locked the front door before giving the keys to the driver. The driver put them in a small, secure black case and then ticked off the equipment on a list attached to a smart clipboard. Satisfied everything was there, he gave Alfred a single Ren coin for each box and then got into the motor carriage and drove off, taking their whole livelihood with him to be stored in the Board’s warehouse. All except for one small, neatly stitched travel bag.

With his mouth twitched up in a crooked grin, Alfred held the bag out to Johnathan. ‘I can’t do much to help you continue your studies, but at least I managed to save you these. It’s only a small selection, mind, but it should be enough to deal with some common ailments, at least.’

Johnathan took it and peered inside; dozens of tightly packed packets filled it to the brim, each neatly labelled in Alfred’s handwriting. A bundle of ingredients like that was worth more than two week’s pay! ‘I … can’t accept this, Alfred,’ he said, trying to hold back the emotion in his voice. ‘You should keep them; after all, the shop was yours.’

Alfred shook his head. ‘My time is over, John. I’m too old and certainly too tired to do any dispensing harder than making tea. Take them. I’m sure they’ll come in handy.’ He inhaled deeply and put his hands on Johnathan’s shoulders. ‘You’ll make a fine Alkemical Apothecary one day, my boy, I’m sure of it. Don’t let this stop you from achieving your goals. It will take a while to find another shop to finish your apprenticeship at, but you will find one. Anyone worth their salt will see just how good you are if you show them.’

With that, Alfred wrapped his thick cloak tightly about him as a chilling wind blew through the street, and with one last glance at the empty green shop, turned and walked away.

Johnathan stood for a moment, letting the snowflakes build up in his black hair so that, in the light of the alkemically charged Kerical lamps flickering on every few feet throughout the street, he looked just as grey as Alfred had.

He’d been fourteen when he began his apprenticeship at the shop, a teenager full of enthusiasm and energy, eager to learn every detail about remedial Alkemy there was, and also some of the general Alkemy that Alfred often spoke about.

His parents had been less than thrilled with his career choice; in a city as big as Nodnol, where nearly everything used Alkemy or Kerical energy – a modern fusion of Alkemy and Lectric energy – it was hard to make a name for oneself in the small, selective circle of Alkemy-based Apothecaries. But Johnathan had ignored their snide comments and attempts to make him interested in a different school of Alkemy (like engineering, which was an ever-expanding field far from short of opportunity), and as soon as he’d finished his final school year, he had run to Alfred and begged him to take him on as his apprentice.

At the time, Alfred hadn’t been thrilled either. He’d had hundreds of customers daily and scant time to teach Johnathan even the basics. But the boy had stood and listened to every conversation, watched every tiny measure of powder or mix of dry ingredients until Alfred only had to say the slightest word and Johnathan would be dashing to the well-stocked drawers and jars to fetch everything his mentor needed. They made a good team, and as Johnathan’s knowledge expanded, both from Alfred’s guidance and from his textbooks on theory provided by the Board, he found alternative ways of grinding and mixing that improved the longevity and potency of the medicine without any changes to the ingredients.

Now that time was over, and Johnathan had to move on. Shaking the snow off his head, he reluctantly pulled the shutters over the shop windows for the last time, and like Alfred had done ten minutes before, turned to head home.

It was bitterly cold, and some of the lamps flickered in distaste as the wind rattled them from side to side. Holding the bag close and turning the collar of his long coat up to try and warm his ears, Johnathan trudged through the throng of people milling about, making his way across the square. Even this late in the evening, Nodnol’s shops and factories were buzzing with activity. There were whole emporiums of spas and beauty parlours, florists, clockmakers, motor carriage garages, haberdasheries, tailors, food markets and a hundred others. Chimneys puffed out colours from across the spectrum, vibrant oranges and pinks to inky purples and blues, every one of them reflecting off the settling snow, and no matter where Johnathan looked, the hum of the city’s determination and drive rattled through him. Normally, he found it inspiring, but today it was mocking, laughing at his and Alfred’s misfortune. All he wanted to do was get away from it.

After twenty minutes, he finally turned the corner and saw the familiar apartment building where he was currently living. It was hardly luxurious, built from grey brick and set back slightly from the buildings on either side so that it was constantly cast in shadow, but the rooms were spacious enough for what Johnathan needed and, more importantly considering his apprentice’s wage, cheap. Most of the other tenants were people who worked long hours and lived on their own, so it wasn’t unusual for professionals to move in – they didn’t care where they lived, as long as they could get their work done, even if they could afford somewhere more expensive. They were always nice enough if Johnathan happened to bump into them, but very rarely did they offer more than a few pleasantries.

He put his key in the lock of the main door and turned it, hearing it click. With a practiced nudge to encourage the rusted hinges into motion, the door opened, and he walked into the hall beyond, about to go upstairs to his rooms. Unfortunately, the noise of his entrance had aroused the attention of Mrs Higgins, the landlady, whose own apartment was just down the hall, and before he could even acknowledge her approach, she was standing in front of him.

‘So, this was it, was it? Your last day at that shabby old shop?’ she asked acidly, adjusting her stiff skirts. Despite being a foot shorter than Johnathan and in her late seventies, Mrs Higgins was one of those people who have such a commanding presence that it’s impossible to ignore them. He sometimes thought it was the severity of her eyes, or perhaps the fact that her clothes were so rigid, they demanded extreme discipline simply to wear them.

‘Uh, yes, Mrs Higgins. We closed the shop down today,’ he replied. ‘But don’t worry, I’ve got enough money for two months’ rent, at least.’

Her eyes narrowed. ‘Are you certain? I don’t want to hold on to that apartment for you with no income, when I know there are far more reliable people around to rent it.’

Johnathan swallowed. Her gaze was so penetrating that he couldn’t help but feel like a child under it. ‘Yes, ma’am, I’m certain. And I won’t be hanging around just waiting for my money to run out. From tomorrow morning, I’ll be looking for another Alkemical Apothecary to apprentice with, I promise you.’

‘Very well, but if I get even a whiff of you being an idle layabout, I’ll have you out of here faster than you can blink. Now, be gone with you, I’m tired. Oh, and if you catch Mr Edwards on your way up, tell him that his rent needs paying for this month. I haven’t seen hide nor hair of him for days.’

‘I’ll let him know. Uh, goodnight, ma’am,’ Johnathan said, and hurried up the stairs without giving her the chance to say anything else.

He dashed into his apartment and threw his things on the chair, and then rushed to the apartment opposite, where Mr Edwards lived. He knocked urgently on the door. There was no answer.

‘Mr Edwards?’ he called, knocking again. ‘Mr Edwards, it’s Johnathan from across the hall. May I come in?’

Still there was no reply. That was odd. Mr Edwards was usually home by this time – even if Johnathan hardly saw him, he couldn’t miss the unmistakable sound of a kettle whistling when he passed his neighbour’s apartment on the way to his own every evening.

Concerned that Mrs Higgins might harass them both even more than usual if he didn’t at least try to give Mr Edwards fair warning about his rent, Johnathan tried once more. He might well have been knocking on the door of a wardrobe, for all the response he got. Wary of intruding upon his neighbour’s privacy, he tried turning the handle. The door was unlocked, so he opened it a few inches to peer inside. He caught sight of stacks of open boxes, filled with notepads of varying shapes and sizes. ‘What in Phlamel’s name is that all about?’ he whispered to himself, automatically using Alfred’s old expression of the famed Alkemist, Nikoli Phlamel, who had first brought Alkemy to Nodnol.

On the few occasions that Johnathan had been in Mr Edwards’ apartment, it had always been pristine and tidy to the point of being art. Never would he have expected to see such a haphazard assortment piled all over the place.

Curiosity overtaking him, he opened the door wider to get a better look. But what he saw shocked him so much that several choice curse words slipped from his mouth. Lying limply on the floor was Mr Edwards. If it wasn’t for the slight rise and fall of his chest, Johnathan would have thought he was dead.

Rushing over, he took the man’s hand. ‘Mr Edwards, can you hear me?’ He squeezed Mr Edwards’ hand; there was a movement in the fingers in response. Good, at least he was somewhat conscious.

Dashing from the room and across to his own, Johnathan snatched up the bag that Alfred had given him and came back to kneel next to the poor man. Fishing through it, he found a powder labelled ‘Essence of Wormkeel’, a staple he knew Alfred would never have let him go without. Fetching a cup of water from the kitchen, he mixed the powder with it until it formed a light paste, and then applied some to Mr Edwards’ upper lip, just under his nose. Within seconds, the man shuddered and opened his eyes.

‘John … Johnathan,’ he said, weakly. Sweat ran down his brow, and his breathing was ragged.

‘Mr Edwards, what happened to you?’ Johnathan asked gently.

But Mr Edwards shook his head and pointed to the boxes. ‘The Super Notes … take … them.’ His eyes shut once more and his breathing slowed to a stop.

Johnathan’s hands leapt to Mr Edwards’ neck, searching for a pulse. There wasn’t one. ‘No!’ Johnathan said under his breath. ‘Come on, Mr Edwards!’ He rooted through his bag again. Please let Alfred have put it in there!

His hands found a packet bulkier than most and as he pulled it out, he saw with satisfaction that it was what he was looking for. Golden Shellhorn, the most powerful single ingredient he knew of to shock a person’s system into action. Taking one of the small golden pellets in his hand, he placed it under Mr Edwards’ tongue and waited. Any second now, any second, and Mr Edwards’ heart would start again. His lungs would take in fresh air ….

Johnathan waited for the Golden Shellhorn to take effect, but with each minute that passed, he knew that he had been a moment too late. He couldn’t save Mr Edwards. His neighbour was gone forever.

Johnathan sat back from the body and buried his head in his hands. What had caused the man to collapse like that? He’d only been in his late forties, and as far as Johnathan knew from their brief encounters, had hardly ever needed to visit a Doktor or one of the Apothecaries. Johnathan just couldn’t understand it.

He dried the streaks of tears from his face and looked at the boxes. Super Notes. That was what Mr Edwards had called the notepads inside them. He got up and went over to the nearest box. On the top of the pile, typed in neat lettering on marbled paper, was a flyer headed ‘Super Notes: the handy notepad that never lets you forget important appointments!’. The flyer went on to detail three different types of Super Notes; ones that sang to you every so often so that you wouldn’t forget what was on them, others that let off an alluring scent, and some that floated along behind you until whatever task or appointment was on them had been completed.

Johnathan grimaced. These sounded like an enchanted gimmick from a Wytch, and though he had never met one, he shared the common dislike for Wytches that all Alkemists had, for a Wytch could do naturally what an Alkemist might spend years trying to achieve, a thoroughly irritating fact of life. Fortunately, most people thought Wytches untrustworthy, for the simple reason that there was no explanation for how their powers worked. Alkemy, on the other hand, had a sound logic and required hours of study to perfect. However, it was not unknown for some in desperate situations (such as those with lifelong illnesses who believed that because a Wytch’s powers were natural, any remedies made by them would be more effective than normal Alkemical-based medicines) to turn to one for help, and for the Wytch to oblige – for adequate payment, of course.

He read further down the flyer and realised it was a guide on how to sell them, with a full price list and tips to make customers interested. Had Mr Edwards truly planned on selling these?

Johnathan bit his lip. An idea had taken root in his mind that he didn’t like, but given he was now jobless, he might not have any other choice. After all, Mr Edwards had begged him to ‘take them’ with his dying words. Would it really be such a terrible thing to try and sell them himself for a while, at least until he found another shop to take him on?

Uncategorized

Getting into a new WIP

It’s been difficult choosing what project to do at the moment with all the changes in place. Change is hard for me in general: I like to stick to my routines because I know what I’m doing, and if something happens that means I have to alter them even slightly, it can leave my brain completely unfocused for the rest of the day.

That’s why I decided to leave one project for a later time and try something easier. My original project was a YA speculative fiction with many threads weaved into the narrative that I’d have to keep track of, which I knew would drain my energy too much, so after moving away from it I went into full pantser mode (if you don’t know, a pantser is a writer who does little plotting before writing the first draft, so makes things up as they go along, and it’s my preferable way to write) and pulled together several ideas I had written on a sticky note.

I’m now just under 20,000 words into this new work in progress, and as it’s a middle grade book, that equates to  near the half-way mark, and I’m enjoying it. I know there’ll be lots of fixes to make to the beginning when I return to it after it’s finished, but that’s all part of the process. I’m only setting myself the goal of writing 500 words a day as I am having a hard time concentrating, as a lot of people are at the moment, but though it seems like it’ll take forever, I keep reminding myself that I’m not in a rush. I want to enjoy the process and get lost in it as much as when I’m reading a story, so a little bit at a time is plenty. Plus, when I get carried away and write more than that, it feels like a real achievement.

The main thing is that I’m enjoying all the turns it’s taking and how the characters are developing. So I’m sticking to the goal I always have when I write, and that’s to write what I want to read.

I hope telling you this gives you some comfort if you’re also getting stuck with a creative project. Many creatives are having the same difficulties, so you’re not alone. Do what you can, not how much you think you should be doing.

 

P.S the audiobook for my short story collection, When The Bard Came Visiting, is now available. Get it here.

 

Uncategorized

Updates!

Hi everyone, it’s been a while since I spoke about any writerly stuff, so I thought I’d share a few things I’ve been working on.

I’ve just finished going through the edits I received from my publisher for my upper middle grade/YA fantasy, Nekromancer’s Cage (which is coming out in June!). I had to rework the first chapter and fill in a few little details here and there, as well as approve the changes made during proofreading.

As editing goes, it was quite a light one, but I had a tight turn around time, so it still took a lot of energy and concentration to get done. And, of course, the moment I sent it off once I’d finished, I discovered a typo in the first paragraph. I quickly addressed it and sent the fixed version off straight away, so in the end it all turned out fine!

I’ve also started work on a new middle grade novel featuring witches, trapped spirits and a stroll into death, though as I’m a very light outliner, many of the details are still hazy. But for me, that makes the writing process much more fun, and I’m looking forward to continuing with it.

Last month, I set myself the task of illustrating one of the picture book stories that have been lounging idly on my desktop for far too long. It was definitely a challenge, as I haven’t spent any significant time drawing since I left school, and as lockdown was put in place mid-way through, I was short on a few tools that I probably should have used. The results aren’t spectacular, but I’m still pleased with myself for sticking to a project like that — normally, if there’s little writing involved in a project, I lose my drive for it after a week or so and it gets put on hold indefinitely. Not this time, though! I’m not sure what I want to do with it now, so I’ve put it away for a while so I can come back to it later with fresh eyes.

It was definitely a learning curve, as I quickly realised that my text didn’t leave as much room for the illustrations as I’d thought, and so the story had to be reworked and worded more succinctly. Even if nothing comes of this particular story, at least I have that lesson to take away from it.

That’s all from me for now. I’ve decided that I’m not going to talk much about lockdown unless it’s directly relevant to my work, as I’d like this blog to be an escape from all of that (even if I do post infrequently). I also believe that there are people far better at discussing things like that than me, so I’ll leave it to them.

Happy reading/writing/querying!

P.S. I forgot to mention, a few weeks ago my publisher released the Italian edition of my middle grade portal fantasy, The Door Between Worlds. It’s the first time one of my books has been translated, which is exciting.

Uncategorized

Cover reveal and pre-order!

Hi everyone, just a quick post to say that one of my latest young adult books is up for pre-order on Kindle, releasing on June 24th, and I can now officially reveal the gorgeous cover my publisher has designed for it:

image (24)

When Apprentice Alkemical Apothecary Johnathan finds out that the Board of Alkemists are forcing the shop to close down due to the severe illness of his mentor, his career hopes are shattered.

To make matters worse, Johnathan returns home that evening only to discover his neighbour on the verge of death. Unable to save him, Johnathan is left only with his dying words and boxes of notepads, along with a marketing leaflet naming them as ‘Super Notes’, handy notepads that never let one forget what was on them – something that would certainly come in handy as a business opportunity.

Unfortunately, Johnathan’s new venture leads him to encounter an unlikely gang of thieves, and a deadly conspiracy. Facing the reality that he could be responsible for the disaster, Johnathan teams up with the thieves to root out the origin of the Super Notes, and stop whoever is behind the danger that threatens their city.

 

If you’re interested, then you can pre-order it here.

 

Happy reading!