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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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Isle of Wight Story Festival 2021 17th – 20th Feb

Hi everyone, just a short post to say I’m part of this year’s Isle of Wight Story Festival. I’ll be giving a reading and mini workshop based on my book Nekromancer’s Cage, and reading some of my #52weeksofnaturepoetry poems.

The festival is completely online this year, as most other literary festivals have been, which means it can be enjoyed by everyone. Along with myself, there’s plenty of other authors taking part plus oodles of fun stuff going on including shadow puppetry, story telling, arts and crafts, nature themed workshops and much more.

If you’ve been home schooling, tuning in to the festival would be a great way to keep kids excited about learning during half term!

All events can be found on the festival’s Youtube channel here, and below is the complete programme:

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.]
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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.
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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.
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(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.)
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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.
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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.
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Now, onto the main parts of the book:
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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).
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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. 
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(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.)
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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.
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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).
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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).
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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.
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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).
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The book is published by New York University Press (www.nyupress.org), and I believe Amazon has it too.
Elizabeth book cover
Reviews

Book review: A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll

 

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I heard about A Kind of Spark a few weeks ago, as I’ve followed its publisher, Knights Of, since they first formed some years ago. Knights Of are an independent UK publisher looking to boost the voices of marginalised writers and artists, so it came as no surprise to me that they took on this book, which is an own voices by a neurodivergent author.

The story is about 11 year old Addie, who is autistic, and her campaign to get a memorial made for all the ‘witches’ trialled in her small village in Scotland in the 1600s. She can’t help but see the parallels between those who were accused of being a witch and herself – both she and they are seen as other by everyone around them, and she longs to right that.

Before I started this book, I thought it might feature Addie going around different sites and compiling facts about the witches to use for her case, but it’s actually more about how everyone in the village treats her, and her older sister who is also autistic, Keedie.

This made it a very difficult read for me, because the teacher Addie has is truly horrible to her – tearing up her work, humiliating her in front of the class, accusing her of copying, trying to tell her parents that she’s a problem and shouldn’t be in that school – and when I was in Primary School, in the infants class, I had a teacher who bullied me just like that and scared me so much that I got ill and couldn’t physically go in. So for a lot of those scenes, I was in tears trying to squash down my own memories. Added to that were much newer memories that came up in the scenes where Addie would talk to Keedie (who is also the twin of Nina, a neurotypical girl who clearly loves her sisters but doesn’t understand them the way they do each other).

Keedie is about 18, and in the first few months of university. She’s able to commute, so she comes home every night, but it’s clear that it’s taking a toll on her, especially when she tells Addie that she hasn’t told anyone there that she’s autistic and is constantly masking. I connected just as much with Keedie as with Addie because of this, as I masked so much while I was at college and then when I tried working. There’s a scene where Keedie can’t take it anymore and gets thrown into burnout, and it really resonated with me. Well, the whole book did, but these parts were the most intense.

I won’t give away any more of the story, but I will say that reading from Addie’s perspective (it’s written in first person present tense, so it’s a very close narrative style) completely echoed the sensory and social experiences and difficulties I have, along with what it’s like to get wrapped up in a special interest and the strong urge to right things that are clearly wrong. So, if you want to know what it’s like to be autistic, this is the book you should pick up. In fact, I encourage everyone to, as it contains many of the things I want others to be aware of while saying them in a more coherent way than I think I ever could.

I will say, though, that if you’re a neurodivergent person with similar traumatic experiences to mine, then to be gentle with yourself reading this. It’s hard. Things bubbled up in me that I thought I’d buried long ago. However, I spoke with the author, Elle, about it (she’s very active on Twitter and open to DM’s) and she said that she used a lot of her own experience for this, and it shows.

Also, on a side note, a lot of the people who worked on this book are neurodivergent too. I’m very hopeful that A Kind of Spark will be the start of a big change in the publishing industry, where opening doors to neurodiverse creators is the norm, not the exception.

Once again, please take a look at this book!

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?

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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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Thoughts on the past year

Hi everyone, as it’s that time of year when many people take a moment of reflection on the past year and think about the future, I thought I’d take a moment to do the same.

Last year was a mix of good and bad. On the personal side, I had a long bout of depression and autistic burnout, had frequent meltdowns and shutdowns, and suffered from intense imposter syndrome regarding my work. But I also learnt a lot about my neurology, began implementing coping strategies to reduce meltdowns and shutdowns (like using ear defenders, sunglasses and fidget toys to help with sensory overload and not doing too many tasks in one day) and celebrated a year and a half with my partner and, in November, actually moved in with him.

I also realised that I’ve achieved an awful lot with my writing, too:

  • I did my first edit of my YA sci-fi, Unsung.
  • I put together my short story collection, When The Bard Came Visiting, which comes out this February.
  • I re-edited my Half-Wizard Thordric trilogy to catch all the continuity errors that had slipped through.
  • I wrote a middle grade fantasy involving time travel.
  • I edited two poetry collections and submitted them to my publisher.
  • I did my first author visit at a school.
  • I did another edit on Unsung, and prepared a query and synopsis for submission to literary agents.
  • I put together a poetry pamphlet and a children’s poetry collection for submission to an independent press.
  • I wrote (and illustrated) a bespoke story that the client had won at a local school fair.

Writing it all down in a list like this gives it a lot of substance that I can’t ignore, because it wasn’t until I started writing this post that it fully hit me how much work I completed. When I think about how unmotivated I felt for most of the year, it’s incredible that I managed to do so much. I suppose it does make sense though, because no matter how hard writing can be, it’s the one thing I’ve always known I’ve wanted to do, and is the way in which I express myself best. I know a lot of the poetry I wrote released a lot of frustration and helped me to accept who I am, and writing fiction let me live an adventure I’d otherwise never know.

For this year, I haven’t made any strict resolutions. I simply intend to keep the same goals I always have: to keep writing, appreciate the small things and (this one is slightly newer) ask for help when I need it. I’m sure there will be times when I get distracted, overwhelmed and stubborn, but as long as it’s not too often, I know that’s all okay.

So, here’s to a new year full of self-care, appreciation for those who support us, and determination for whatever it is that we wish to achieve.

Poetry

From brain to paper

The image is stamped over and over in your mind,

the press never runs out of ink, drawing from a well that

refuses to appear when you actively call it.

 

The blueprints are solid, you can touch them

until it’s time to build.

 

Then they slip away, silently on the breeze

as the foundations are being laid.

 

You chase them, following every turn

whether it leads to rivers or hills, the top

of a rainbow or the boiling pot at the bottom,

 

only to find they’ve expanded somewhat

and become richer.

books, Uncategorized

It’s publication day! The Origin Stone is here!

Hello everyone, as you probably guessed from the title, my first young adult book, The Origin Stone, was released today!

WIN_20190331_12_09_20_Pro (2)

After some hassle with Youtube, I managed to upload the Q&A video I promised, which also contains a bit of background info on how the book came to be, and a reading of the first chapter.

I’d be thrilled if you could check it out and share it with anyone you think might enjoy the book.

Here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=is0-mc8O5Sk&t=1s

The book is available in paperback and as an ebook from the following:

Book Depository

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Foyles

 

Happy reading!