#52weeksofnaturepoetry, Poetry

#52weeksofnaturepoetry Week 23 – Old Timers

In return for appreciation of its rays, the sun

bestows cloaks on everything it touches.  Swishy

cuts of darkness, lengthening or shortening

depending on the gift giver’s fancy.

But what of those it rarely touches, beings

which get only the sparsest sprinklings of gold, or

are shunned by it altogether, existing within

those cloaked spaces?

Are they ever considered by anyone?

Patches of green everywhere,

ranging from

vast and feathered ferns

to mosses and liverworts

with minute leaves and ruffles,

often wet to the touch and covered in curious

craters and mini umbrellas

rising like antennae.

All of them survivors

making the most

of their surroundings;

reproducing via spores,

not seeds or pups.

They’ve endured for eons, needing to evolve little

compared to many species.

So, exactly how much thought do we give these primitive old timers?

Barely any

unless

they’re messing with the neatness

of our preciously manicured gardens.

This poem is part of a project I’m doing to raise money for the RSPB, a UK wildlife conservation and protection charity. Being autistic, nature is often my only place of solace, and I want to do all I can to protect it. As I’m not very comfortable around other people, most of the standard ways of helping out (volunteering, ‘traditional’ fundraisers etc.) were not a good fit for me, so I came up with #52weeksofnaturepoetry, where I have to post a nature poem here on this blog each week for an entire year without fail.

If you’d like to help, please share this poem to encourage others to take joy in nature, and if you have the time and means to donate, you can do so here. Let’s help keep our wildlife wild!

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Querying, rewriting and ADHD

Hi everyone, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything other than my fundraising poems, which, though I’d appreciate you all having a read of them and sharing, aren’t the sole purpose of this blog. I like sharing my writing journey and the struggles I have, in the hope that others currently struggling with writing (or anything, really) don’t feel so alone.

And wow, have I been struggling.

Last year, I did quite a few edits of older projects, drafted a new book — something I try to do every year — and starting querying literary agents for the…seventh time, I think?

Meaning that come New Year, I was quite worn out. Add to that a broken laptop, and work became rather hard, to put it mildly. (I’m currently still using my partner’s laptop, which I’ve grown used to and he’s more than happy to let me use for as long as I want, so I got over that hurdle pretty quickly). My focus, however, has been particularly bad.

I wanted to rewrite a project that, from feedback I got from agents, was about 15,000 words too short for the genre. As I never know how to relax and get bored between projects, I actually tried to start the rewrite just before Christmas, but then my laptop failed and it got put on hold until I could grab the files from the hard drive. (I’m usually good at backing up my stuff, but as I’d only started the rewrite about three days beforehand, I hadn’t gotten round to it. Naturally, the one time I delayed, ‘disaster’ struck.) When I did manage to get back to it again, despite engaging with the story and characters, it took hours to go over four double spaced pages. I tried repeatedly to go faster, to try and be more productive with my time, but it simply wasn’t working. By the time I reached the half-way point in the book, working on it felt comparable to digging a trench with a teaspoon, and I’m incredibly impatient with certain things.

Now, here I’m going to jump in with the ADHD part, as it’s likely relevant. I’ve been on the waiting list for assessment since mid 2019. I knew it’d be a long wait, just like for my ASD one, and when the pandemic happened, I resigned myself to an extra long wait. Several times I considered getting it done privately, but it does cost a lot, and as I get imposter syndrome, one week I’d be convinced I needed a diagnosis, the next I’d be unsure — I’ve heard this is common regarding ADHD in adults, particularly as it can present quite differently depending not just on age, but gender too. That aside, I was then super surprised when I got a phone call last month saying in-person assessments where I live were no longer supported due to costs, so the people in charge had decided to go with online assessments and mine wouldn’t be too far off. After another phone call and some screening questionnaires to make absolutely sure I’m eligible, I was finally given an assessment date. It’s early next month, and I am nervous as hell. But I already sent them extra notes, so hopefully it’ll go smoothly, whether the conclusion is ADHD or something else.

Anyway, back to writing talk. I’ve always struggled with focusing on and maintaining projects, but I’m stubborn and refuse to quit. So I ended up giving myself a tight deadline and marathoning the work until it was done. It worked, but as always when I do that, I ended up exhausted as it’s really not good for me. That’s the main reason I haven’t posted much lately. All my energy has gone to rewriting, recovering, or writing poetry. (I am happy with the way the rewrite tuned out though!)

As for querying, this round is going better than past attempts in that I’ve actually had a couple of full and partial manuscript requests, but not as many as I’d hoped. Which is disheartening and has led to many hours of ‘what if I never get an agent?’ thoughts. Of course, there are many options, one of which I’ve already pursued for my previous books — finding indie publishers. But the rejections piling up still hurt.

On a side note, though, my publisher recently informed me that two of my contracted poetry books are moving to the editing stage, so that’s something to look forward to (and also be anxious about. You may be thinking I’m anxious about a lot of things, and you’d be right. That’s just my brain.)

So, to bring this ramble to a close: if, like me, you’re a creative struggling with current projects, I see you and I understand. My family keep saying productivity shouldn’t be linked to self-worth, and while I get the idea of that sentiment, I haven’t yet found a way to make it stick. Even writing this post, which I could have left until I felt better and had more energy, is part of that. I didn’t feel like I’d done enough today, so words had to be written. But maybe someday, I’ll have a healthier approach to self-worth.

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My work caught up to me (as always).

It’s been a while since I posted something other than one of my #52weeksofnaturepoetry poems, so I thought I’d rectify that with a ramble about what’s been happening lately.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been busy with various writing projects this year – drafting, revising, going through major edits, most of which came back to back. In early November, I finally managed to finish the ‘final’ revision for the book I wrote last year in order to get it ready for querying (which I’m currently doing).

Shortly after completion, the weight of all the energy I’d used up doing everything hit me hard: my sleep, which has never be good, got worse, and I couldn’t handle much physically or mentally. I probably should have seen it coming, because it’s happened before, but even if I had, I’m not sure what I could have done about it. I’m terrible at taking breaks and resting. I’m not even sure if I know how to rest – no matter how hard I try, my brain won’t stop chiming in with all the projects I’ve got lined up, and if I don’t have any, it ‘helpfully’ comes up with some.

The thing is, the longer I put off resting, the worse my energy levels will be affected when I do get to it. So I had to force myself to slow down, because my body was telling me I had to. So I spent a while playing games, which I rarely do otherwise despite how much I enjoy them, went out for more walks, cared for and added (substantially!) to my houseplant collection, and only worked on my fundraising project.

This did work for a while, but then I got a few emails about being part of a story festival, which meant I had another project to prepare for. And it seems that, if I have any sort of deadline, no matter if it’s ages away, my brain will not let me settle until whatever it is is done.

I ended up doing it all as fast as I could so I no longer had to think about it, and I felt so much better afterwards that I even managed to do some small festive crafty things (I like the idea of making things, but generally I’m too impatient and get bored halfway through, which then means I end up resenting it while being too stubborn to give up. Conundrums, conundrums.)

But then I got the itch to rework an older book, and though in some ways, I probably would benefit from taking a few more weeks to recover, when I started taking a look at the story and began tweaking, I felt like I was achieving something again. It’s an odd headspace to be in – I’m tired as I’m still not sleeping well, and I can’t really handle more than one activity a day (I disregard general cleaning, as that’s part of my morning routine, and I get so badly thrown off if I don’t do it that it’s just not worth skipping it. Also, I have birds, and their care comes well before mine). Yet if I don’t have some sort of work on the go, apparently I feel unfulfilled.

I do wonder if other creatives, especially those who are neurodivergent, have the same problem?

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Querying — why I’m now nervous about it

I’m no stranger to querying literary agents — I’ve been in the ‘query trenches’ on and off for nearly six years now, I think.

It started with naive, three line query letters that told agents hardly anything about the book, sent to one agent at a time. And I’d wait, and wait, and wait before sending off again because I hadn’t paid close enough attention to the agency’s submission guidelines — which not only stated it was fine to query multiple agents at one time (at other agencies) but also that if I didn’t hear back within the stated time, I should consider it a pass. Sometimes I did get responses, polite rejections that it never occured to me were simple form responses.

I wasn’t too upset, because I had other books to work on. And the more I worked and improved my craft, the more my desire to one day see them in print grew from dream to goal. Quite suddenly, it seemed, I realised no agent would take me seriously unless I was serious. Partnering with a literary agent is a business partnership much like any other. Sure, they love books and want authors to succeed, but they’re not there to babysit. So I researched the querying process as much as I could. Through books, Youtube channels, agency websites, talks by agents at literary festivals and many other resources. And I’m still doing it.

Now, I’ve queried at least seven different manuscripts over the years, and my query packages (letter, synopsis, writing sample [usually the book’s first 3 chapters]) have gotten better over the years, as have the responses. I’ve had a few full manuscript requests on some, and most recently, I got a revise and resubmit. And though they eventually resulted in passes, I feel that I’ve upped my game enough that getting an agent is definitely achievable. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of other querying authors who have put in just as much work as I have, with every bit as much drive. So the competition is very real.

Which is why, having polished one of my most recent projects and prepared my query letter and synopsis ready for submitting, I’m more nervous about it than before. I have huge faith in this book — not only do I love the characters and story, but it’s my first ownvoices (I know I mentioned some of my characters in previous books are autistic, but this is the first that outright states it and is set in the real world). I’ve also been very strict with myself not to send it out too early, which has been one of my biggest mistakes with previous books. Usually, I’m too eager to get them out there without taking the proper time over them, so they’re rejected on things easily fixable.

I’m not convinced there’s really a point to this ramble, other than to express my jitters. But I’ll end by saying going the traditional route in publishing takes a lot of time and drive. Each rejection hurts, some more than others, and have kick-started bouts of depression. But I’ve seen other authors achieve the things I want to, so I’m not giving up. And I think that’s the key to breaking into this industry: the people who do keep pushing, no matter what.

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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?

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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?

books

Nekromancer’s Cage releases in 10 days!

In an alchemy rich industrial city, mix one apprentice apothecary with a group of bandit musicians, a talking cat and a whiff or two of necromancy, and what do you have? Nekromancer’s Cage!

image (24)

 

Hi everyone, I just thought I’d pop up a reminder that my latest upper middle grade/teen book, Nekromancer’s Cage, comes out this month on the 24th!

It’s filled with lots of intrigue, magic and whimsy, and I’m very proud of all the work that’s gone into it.

If it sounds like a book you or a younger family member would like to dig into, you can PRE-ORDER IT HERE.

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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.

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It’s World Book Day! Here are a few of my favourite books and series of all time!

These aren’t in any particular order, but I will say that Howl’s Moving Castle is probably my favourite book. It’s utterly marvelous. (Plus my partner and I have a long standing joke that I’m actually Sophie Hatter.) I’ve treasured my copy for many years, and will treasure it for many more. The rest of the books in this list are ones that have sucked me in so completely that I had no idea what was going on in the real world at the time, and I often had dreams about them too.

Howl’s Moving Castle (there are actually two sequels, written many years after it came out: Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways):

HMC

“How about making a bargain with me?” said the demon. “I’ll break your spell if you agree to break this contract I’m under.”

In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on her. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help – the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.

But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls…

 

The Crisanta Knight series:

Crisanta

The next generation – the children of Snow White, Cinderella, and others – have lives and stories of their own. And not just long ago and far away but (sort of) here and now! Enjoy!

I was going to be a great protagonist. At least that’s what my mom, Cinderella, kept telling me. I, however, had my doubts. Unlike most main characters at Lady Agnue’s School for Princesses & Other Female Protagonists, I was opinionated, bold, and headstrong. Moreover, for a princess, I had a lot of issues. I’m talking vicious nightmares about people I’ve never met, a total stalker prince, and a Fairy Godmother for an enemy.

But I digress. Because here’s the thing about living in an enchanted realm of fairytale characters, crazy junk you never planned on happens all the time. One minute you could be practicing fainting exercises in Damsels in Distress class, sword fighting in a field, or flying on a Pegasus, and the next, BAM! Your book has begun and you’re saddled with a prophecy that changes everything.

I still don’t know if I will be a great protagonist one day. But I know one thing about my fate, for certain. Despite what The Author and the antagonists have in store for me, whatever it costs. . .I’ll be the one taking charge of my own story…

 

The Abhorsen/Old Kingdom series:

Sabriel

Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him. She soon finds companions in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories. As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death — and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own hidden destiny.

With Sabriel, the first installment in the Abhorsen trilogy, Garth Nix exploded onto the fantasy scene as a rising star, in a novel that takes readers to a world where the line between the living and the dead isn’t always clear — and sometimes disappears altogether.

 

Lockwood & Co. series:

Lockwood

When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

 

The Legendeer trilogy:

ShadowMinotaur

“Real life” or the death-defying adventures of the Greek myths, with their heroes and monsters, daring deeds, and narrow escapes–which would you choose? For Phoenix it’s easy. He hates his new home and the new school where he is bullied. He’s embarrassed by his computer geek dad. But when he logs on to The Legendeer, the game his dad is working on, he can be a hero. He is Theseus fighting the terrifying Minotaur, or Perseus battling with snake-haired Medusa. It feels as though he’s really there. The Legendeer is more than just a game. Play it if you dare.

 

The Karmidee trilogy:

otto

Otto is our endearingly bewildered young hero whose world suddenly becomes very odd. Going with his father, Albert, to the FireBox Launderette, Albert is called to help with ‘failing machinery’ and is seen by Otto calming a purple dragon in the back room. When his baby sisters start to fly, his grandmother becomes a unicorn, and street waifs fly along the street at night on magic carpets pursued by the new Normal Police force, life becomes odder and scarier. Otto learns – often riotously – that his city and his family are very special indeed. Here the last remaining magical people – the Karmidee – are living as an underclass of pedlars and tinkers, known as the ‘magicos’. But legend tells of a King, birthmarked with a butterfly, who will save the Karmidee from extinction. Particularly from the new Minister for Modernisation, Councillor Eifina Crink. With her Impossible List and Normal Police, she is determined to stamp out the Karmidee spirit. As repression intensifies, the Karmidee and their powers go underground, but their magic bursts out in the most unexpected places as a bid for freedom, with surprising, hilarious and extraordinary results.

 

The Wind on Fire trilogy:

wind singer

In the city of Aramanth, the mantra is, “Better today than yesterday. Better tomorrow than today.” Harder work means the citizens of Aramanth can keep moving forward to improved life stations–from Gray tenements and Orange apartments, upwards to glorious mansions of White. Only some families, like the Haths, believe more in ideas and dreams than in endless toil and ratings. When Kestrel Hath decides she is through with the Aramanth work ethic, she is joined in her small rebellion by her twin brother Bowman and their friend Mumpo. Together, they set the orderly city on its ear by escaping Aramanth’s walls for an adventure that takes them from city sewers to desert sandstorms. Guided by an archaic map, they know that if they can find the voice of the Wind Singer, an ancient and mysterious instrument that stands in the center of Aramanth, they can save their people from their dreamless existence. But the voice is guarded by the dreaded Morah and its legion of perfect killing machines, the Zars. Are three ragtag kids any match for an army of darkness?

 

The Belgariad series:

belgariad
Long ago, so the Storyteller claimed, the evil God Torak sought dominion and drove men and Gods to war. But Belgarath the Sorcerer led men to reclaim the Orb that protected men of the West. So long as it lay at Riva, the prophecy went, men would be safe.

But that was only a story, and Garion did not believe in magic dooms, even though the dark man without a shadow had haunted him for years. Brought up on a quiet farm by his Aunt Pol, how could he know that the Apostate planned to wake dread Torak, or that he would be led on a quest of unparalleled magic and danger by those he loved – but did not know? For a while his dreams of innocence were safe, untroubled by knowledge of his strange heritage. For a little while…

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The IW Story Festival and my anxiety

On Friday, I had the pleasure of giving a workshop on writing poetry about dragons at the Isle of Wight Story Festival.

However, as I have quite severe social anxiety and get easy overloaded by sensory stimuli – some of the more negative things about being autistic, I was dreading being at the festival and talking to people while I waited for my turn (I went a few hours early, as my partner’s brother was giving a talk on butterflies, which I’m really glad I attended as it was utterly brilliant, but also meant that I had two hours spare until my own workshop).

I ended up hiding in the green room, with other authors and illustrators in there with me, and though they were lovely to meet and listen to, I was so unsettled and not sure what to do that I didn’t feel comfortable enough to say much or eat my lunch until they all left. I also had to wear my ear defenders as the kids attending the festival were shouting excitedly and running around – not a bad thing, as it meant they were enjoying themselves, which is what the festival was all about, but the sound was a little too much for me to handle.

Still, I had a decent amount of kids attend my workshop and they all wrote some brilliant poetry. I wasn’t sure if they were enjoying it much, as it was a quieter workshop than some of the earlier ones, and was very much based on their own creativity, but when we finished, most of them came up to me and said they did. The parents did too, which was nice, and I was even asked to have my photo taken. I also did a giveaway of some of my books, so I was able to sign those, along with some of the bookmarks I had on hand.

Part of the workshop was making a group poem, where I asked the kids to write a single line of poetry, which I then wrote down and, while they were busy coming up with their own individual poems, I used those lines to craft a complete poem. We also voted on a title for it, too. So below is a photo of the completed group poem, made entirely of parts from the lines they gave me. (Apologies for my handwriting, it’s always terrible.)20200223_111600

I’m not sure if I’ll take part in the festival again, as being there has completely drained me (I expect for the next week, as it usually takes a while to recover from events like this), and it weighed so heavily on my mind during the few weeks before it that I couldn’t focus on any other work. But listening to the poems the kids wrote was a really wonderful moment, so I do feel greatly privileged to have had that opportunity.