Spotlight on MG author Emma Carroll

To celebrate the upcoming publication of Emma Carroll’s exciting new book, The Week at World’s End, I’ll be taking a look at Emma’s work, how she researches her novels, and the events that prompted her to start writing. If you love historical MG stories with strong female characters, then read on!

Best friends Stevie and Ray’s boring, predictable life takes an exciting turn when they discover a runaway girl hiding in Stevie’s coal shed. The girl, Anna, needs their help: someone is following her, trying to poison her. As if that’s not dramatic enough, on the news the Americans and Russians are threatening nuclear war.  As the threat of war grows, Anna’s behaviour becomes more mysterious. And when Stevie unearths a dark family secret, she wonders if Anna has come to World’s End Close on purpose, with a special message just for her …

The Week at World’s End, out September 2nd 2021, from Faber.

In other exciting news, I learned MacMillan are to publish Emma’s Escape to the River Sea, a sequel to Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea, which was first published in 2001 and went on to win the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize, was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Whitbread Award and the Blue Peter Book Award. Escape to the River Sea will be published in hardback in May 2022.

Emma’s books are usually historical, often mysterious and full of strong female characters, earning her the title The Queen of Historical Fiction. Her books include The Girl Who Walked On Air, Strange Star, and In Darkling Wood which ‘came to me whilst I was talking to A level students one day about the Cottingley Fairies’. Two of her books, Letters from the Lighthouse and Secrets of a Sun King, were both chosen as Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month.

Carroll published her debut, Frost Hollow Hall at 43, having worked as a news reporter, an avocado picker and the person who punches holes into filofax paper. A secondary school teacher for just under 20 years, Emma managed to reignite a long-held desire to write through creative writing work with her students, and a serious cancer diagnosis in her early thirties. “It was one of those really life-affirming ‘wake up’ moments. If I’m not going to be around what’s the thing I really want to do? And that thing was writing… Though I loved being an English teacher, it always felt like the safer option. I’d often drive to work with the fantasy of being a writer playing out in my head.’

Emma went on to earn her MA in Writing for Young People and it was this that gave her the confidence to break free into writing, to pursue the career she’d always dreamed of. ‘The course helped me discover if I was actually any good at it. It also helped me take writing seriously, understand that it’s a process, that its hard work and that not all good writers find the success they deserve.’

‘I learned that the spark of an idea is just the beginning, that writing takes discipline, time, commitment, energy. It can be awful. Terrifying. Heart-thumpingly painful. Often, it keeps you awake at night. Yet awful is better than having never tried.’

Why I write by Emma Carroll
www.faberacademy.co.uk/news/2014/12/ why-i-write-emma-carroll

On the subject of research, Emma likes to immerse herself in the story world. ‘I read a lot, make Pinterest boards, and create a ‘world’, much like a fantasy writer would. Everyday details like clothes, food, transport, routines, phrases people used help with that. I’m also drawn to the little nuggets of story that history often gives you, the things that are intriguing or funny.’ Emma says she, ‘enjoys writing awkward conversations because that’s often when my characters behave in ways I can’t predict.’

You can follow Emma on Twitter @emmac2603, Instagram emmacarroll2603, or visit her website at emmacarrollauthor@wordpress.com

Resources:

https://www.thebookseller.com/profile/emma-carroll-it-s-lovely-see-middle-grade-having-its-moment-it-s-what-i-love-writing-793766

http://mattobin.blogspot.com/2017/08/an-interview-with-emma-carroll-about.html

https://www.thebookseller.com/news/macmillan-childrens-books-lands-carrolls-sequel-ibbotson-classic-1270136

MG books to get kids reading.

For parents struggling to get their kids to enjoy reading, these 3 books will be a godsend!

From author and teacher Andrew Jennings, Vocabulary Ninja Workbook for Ages 9-10 is perfect for practice at home, building children’s confidence and developing those literacy skills taught in the classroom. With clear activities and colourful illustrations, it’s a fun way to get to grips with reading, writing and spelling. It features:

– fun activities like code-breaking games and fill in the gap
– Helps children practise Key Stage 2 (KS2) vocabulary
– Boosts children’s confidence
– Includes advice for parents on home learning, answers to the questions, and a downloadable certificate!!

A tense thriller that’s impossible to put down – perfect for fans of Emma Carroll and Fleur Hitchcock.

Where has Faith’s dad gone? Why has he left his family living in an old house perched on a crumbling cliff top? A crack has appeared in the cliff and Faith watches anxiously as it gets bigger and bigger each day… Her brother is obsessed with the sea ghosts he claims live in the basement, and when he disappears as well, Faith starts to believe in the ghosts too. Can she find her brother and bring her father back before everything she cares about falls into the pitiless sea below?

A great mystery with real heart, from a captivating new voice in middle-grade fiction.

Bunny vs Monkey and the League of Doom! by Jamie Smart.

Since he crash-landed to Earth in a rocket, Monkey has been causing absolute mayhem! Bunny and the gang (Squirrel, Pig [the Pig], Action Beaver, and Skunky the Inventor) have almost had enough. Monkey’s eternal struggle for world domination is getting more ridiculous every day, and it’s impossible to predict which bizarre plan he’s going to put into action next…

In this comic extravaganza, the pint-sized friends must face a giant robot whale, a pig cannon, a camping trip that goes wrong… oh, and the actual end of the world! Can Bunny and Co stop the apocalypse before it’s too late?!

Interview at TheAudiobookReview

Today I’m thrilled to share with you an interview I did with Morgan Hobbes of TheAudiobookReview (eek, my first interview! I didn’t know what to expect, but Morgan was lovely.)

TheAudiobookReview is home of fantastic interviews with authors, amazing new audiobooks (and free promo codes!), and much more. Follow the link here to get the latest audiobook news, but for now read on as Morgan looks into what got me started writing…

Today I’m talking with author Jill London about her Middle-grade Fantasy Fairy-tale, Evertrue. We get a glimpse behind the inspiration of the book, which my kids and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to (check out the review!). Narrated by the talented Emma Stansfield, if you’re a fan of Roald Dahl and J. K. Rowling’s The Ickabog you’ll enjoy the heck out of this one.


M: Jill, thank you for taking the time to talk with us here at The Audiobook Review. Starting with an easy question to get us started, can you tell us a little about yourself and what got you into writing?

J: I live in the UK, in a small town in the Midlands, with my husband, two daughters and two dogs. I’m London born and bred, however, and it was here that my love of writing began. My teacher, Miss Scarlett, read to us often, introducing us to the work of Roald Dahl, Philippa Pearce and others, but it was C. S. Lewis’ Narnia stories that got me into writing.

My mother was an artist, but she was a gifted storyteller, and so my childhood was flavoured too with stories of her life growing up in Scotland, on a farmstead of curious, funny people. Some of her stories were pure fantasy, and I soon realised the lines between truth and fiction were fluid and that these tales could be made to delight or amuse or to frighten your socks off, but the best ones did all those things at the same time! I began writing stories while I was still at school, and mum drew the cover for my first book, about a firebird, set in a faraway, magical world.

M: It sounds like you never stood a chance! With so much inspiration surrounding you, it was inevitable. My kids and I were introduced to your writing through the audiobook for Evertrue, and my youngest (seven) was particularly taken with it. Are we likely to see any more stories in this world?

J: I’m so glad she liked it! Hearing from readers who enjoyed my work is the best thing ever. I do have a few sketches for another story set in Preznova, which I might return to for fans of Evertrue, but I’m currently working on a couple of other stories at the minute. One is a much longer, time-twisting, fantasy adventure based on Greek mythology which I’m in the final stages of editing. The other I’ve just begun; a story of witches set in a sleepy English village of ancient woodland creatures and magic but with – I’m hoping – a fresh, slightly chilling narrative.

I tend to write wherever an idea takes me, and I like to think that with each story I keep my readers as surprised as I am where that will be! As a reader, I know I never want a good story to end, but as a writer, I want each sequel to feel fresh and unique, with as much love lavished on it as the original. To do that, I think trust is vital. If a writer is good, I’ll follow wherever they take me.

M: On YouTube, you have a video from your trip to Slovenia, and I can see how it inspired the world of Evertrue. Was the idea for the story something started bubbling away during the trip or something that came after?

J: I was between novels, and I knew I wanted to write something much shorter and lighter. I’d recently finished reading Philip Pullman’s Clockwork and the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, and I was taken with the idea of writing something similar, but I had no subject matter in mind. So I put it aside and shortly after we went on holiday to Slovenia. I’ve long been fascinated with caves, and the cave systems in Slovenia are a big draw for tourists. They’re absolutely stunning, and every cave had something unique and awe-inspiring to wonder at: A huge bridge running across a deep cavern, an underground river, and a water salamander that, through a marvellous bit of PR, is transformed into a baby dragon.

The stalagmites in one section looked to me like a tiny replica of Oxford, with its dreaming spires, and I was soon imagining what creatures might live in this miniature city, gazing out of their windows at the big folk. And that was me off and running, dreaming up another story, and what with the dragon and the fairy-folk, it had to be a fairy-tale.

Evertrue

It really gelled when Mila turned up, so confident that she knew ‘her caves’ but with little idea just how far down they go and what monster might lurk there. I had a lot of fun writing Evertrue and loved being able to use such bright, over the top characters, which Emma went on to narrate so vividly. I think the fun really shines through for listeners.

M: What a coup it was to get such great voice talent! Emma’s reading was what sold it for my girls originally. They’re notoriously picky about who they’ll listen to, but Emma had them sold straight away. While on the subject of audiobooks, how was your first experience getting one made? Did anything in particular surprise you, or do you have any words of wisdom for authors looking to branch out into audio?

J: It was incredible good luck! I had no idea what to expect when I decided to turn Evertrue into an audiobook. I uploaded the script, wondering if I would even hear back from anyone, but I was pleasantly surprised – making an audiobook is a collaboration, and narrator/producers are looking for scripts to work on! I received a few auditions within hours and started to feel hopeful that something might come of it all.

Then I got an email from Emma, and I got to hear her read, and it just blew me away! Emma has been an actor and voice artist for over 20 years, appearing in films and in theatre, and her range of accents is amazing. I don’t think I’ll ever get over hearing my story narrated by such an awesome talent!

For anyone thinking of trying the audio format, I’d say go for it. You never know what might happen until you try.

M: That about wraps us up! Though, while I’ve only done a few interviews so far, each one so far has ended me asking about pets. So to keep the trend going – You mentioned you had two dogs. Do you have any fun stories you would like to share with us?

Ponyo as a Mountain Goat

Ponyo as a Mountain Goat

J: They’re my daughter’s dogs, and still puppies, really; a Labrador called Maisie, and a Pomeranian called Ponyo. Maisie’s cute, but a little slow. We often hear her trying to chew her bowl. Ponyo is a real character; fussy and delicate, but very intelligent.

We realised she’d got Maisie under her control when we saw her using bait to trick Maisie into doing what she wants. She picks up a toy she doesn’t want and pretends to be interested in it. Then she waits for Maisie to snatch it and run off happy, and when she knows Maisie’s distracted, she’ll go get her favourite toy to play with. Like I said, she’s a real character!

M: Brilliant! Jill, thank you very much for your time. I look forward to seeing what books you put out in the future, and I’m sure my kids do as well!


You can find Evertrue: An Underworld Fairytale by Jill London on Audible and Amazon. Be sure to leave her a review! Reviews help other people like you find the right book. Authors appreciate the feedback too!

Thanks for reading, guys! Remember to check out TheAudiobookReview, and follow Morgan on Facebook and Twitter.

Have a lovely day.

Love,

Evertrue on Audible

A few months ago I wrote a bit about using ACX to turn my book, Evertrue, into an audiobook. In that piece I said I would let you know how I got on–except in reality I said very little more about it. In fact, I’ve been struggling to keep the whole thing secret ever since, because what happened next was incredible! Now at last I can reveal all, including the identity of the amazing narrator for the Evertrue audiobook, which is available on Audible, Amazon and will soon follow on iTunes. Please do take a look, I will wait for you.

To save Grandma Crick from being fed to the ravenous Monger turtles, Mila must journey into the underworld to steal the Evertrue Emerald from the demon, Malrook. Joined by a motley bunch of experts through the deadly, dragon-infested caves, they meet Captain Tuna, the accordion-playing walrus, a karate-kicking fairy, and a colony of strange and grumpy troglonomes. As time runs out, Mila discovers that friendship and ingenuity can unearth the greatest strength of all and win her heart’s desire. Evertrue is available as paperback and eBook, and now as an audiobook, narrated by the lovely Emma Stansfield.

© Faye Thomas

Emma has been an actress and voice artist for over 20 years, she studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama. She is known for her TV work in shows such as ‘Call the Midwife’, ‘The Tudors’, ‘Endeavour’, and most recently ‘The Salisbury Poisonings’, and has appeared in many theatre productions including working at The National Theatre, The Donmar Warehouse and in the West End.

(Picture credits: Faye Thomas)

Hearing Emma bring Evertrue to life was an amazing experience, and she was a delight to work with. If she ever tired of my endless emails and questions she never let it show! Her range of voices and accents is dazzling and she narrates with such warmth and enthusiasm that I was absolutely blown away! Of Evertrue Emma said, “I really enjoyed myself working on your lovely story, it was a joy to narrate.”. (NB In the audio you can actually hear the joy in her voice :-D) If I was ever pleased to see Evertrue as a book, that feeling has multiplied to insane levels listening to it.

So now that the audiobook is finally here, and has been such a delight to see in its finished form I can say that the experience of using ACX has been a wonderful one, without doubt the best thing I could have done. It introduced me to not one but two amazing narrators, as I also had some of my short stories narrated by Dominic Cook, helping me reach listeners on YouTube. You can catch those here and here, by the way. I am so glad to be able to share the work of these amazing talents with you, and hope you will take the opportunity to check out their work.

P.s. For anyone interested in downloading Audible I have been given this link for you to check out here (UK) and here (US) as part of the ACX Bounty Program. It rewards Rights Holders and Producers for successfully promoting their audiobooks to new members on Audible. The unique link entitles the user to a bonus each time an audiobook purchased through that link is the first purchase of a new Audible member.

Dusk

Dusk.

A grey shore between day and night,

between death and life,

the boundary that cleaves us apart

though we cling to it.

We walk side by side in shadows of ashen pallor,

in water that numbs our tired feet.

The minutes scurry through my grasp, and here, this grey shore,

this no man’s land where the walls whisper with silken lips

of all that has gone,

in words that shrivel beneath their insignificance.

Do not ask me to let you go.

Jill London.

Update time.

My new WIP, The Moon on the Lake – a happy little village it’s not…

Goodness, it’s almost the end of June already and time for a catch up! And my word, the last few weeks and months have been marked by some highs and lows. On the writing front I’ve managed to get a few projects underway, including a creepy little thriller set in an English village which fans of Night Vale will enjoy. Plus, I’ve finally received my report back from The Literary Consultancy! The report was hugely positive, and I can now begin final edits with a comprehensive and encouraging set of points that hopefully will not take too long to implement. My story was critiqued by Craig of TLC:

“You write well. I thoroughly enjoyed the world of Greek myth brought to life in a story that raced along and kept me engaged throughout…” Craig of The Literary Consultancy on The Gods of Storm and Ash.

Updates on the progress will follow, I promise 😊 I’m also in the final stages of completing the Evertrue audiobook, and am hoping to have news soon of the final release date, so watch this space for details!

I’ve also seen progress with my shoulder injury. The pain has subsided a little and I’m slowly starting to regain movement of the arm and shoulder. Not as much, or as quickly as I’d like, but it’s out of its sling now and starting to function better.

I don’t usually use this blog to talk about personal issues but these are unusual times, and it’s difficult to focus only on my writing when what I write is affected by the things happening in my life. Sadly this year has seen another death in the family, again from cancer, the 3rd in almost as many years. These have been incredibly difficult times, and it’s hard to stay positive when so little of the world you knew and loved is the same as it was. As a family we are struggling to adapt to the losses, but we are nothing if not strong and we will pull together. I have to believe that the future will be brighter from here on, and that there are good things waiting just around the corner. If anyone reading has some good news to share now is definitely the time for it.

Wishing you peace and love,

Jill x

Wind.

Photo by Raine Nectar on Pexels.com

This is the wind, the wind in a field of corn

baked golden and heavy, heaving to the

wind’s caress, mirroring the yield and flex

of lovers moulding a nest in the corn.

These are the moonlit whispers of the old boys

weaving a course back from The Speckled Hen,

shushing themselves and chuckling as they

fold corn into tomorrow’s tabloid news.

This is tonight’s bed for the man from the north

who, searching for an answer in the shoal

of cold stars, finds myriad tomorrows

and reeling, clings like a babe to the corn.

And the sweet soil which yielded the wealth of man,

since the milk-thistle and briar held sway,

is the church to which we return as ash,

and become the wind in a field of corn.

Jill London. This adapted from the poem Wind, by James Fenton. The original is available here; https://poetryarchive.org/poem/wind/

The Cat and the Pigeons

Adam and Eve and Pinch-me were sat

wrestling thought by the shore

when the monster arrived.

It trampled their tea with its flat feet

and grumbled. It clawed at their

eyes when they laughed at its pain.

It gurgled with rage as they soothed it

with soft words, and waggled its fist

as they mocked its strange ways.

They packed it, by sea, to the spa

for a rest and sighed,

little knowing they too were condemned.

There was nowhere to run

and nowhere to hide

as Time has the last laugh, the master of all.

Jill London.

The problems that lead to more problems.

This is just a brief catch-up post, for anyone wondering where I have got to. The simplest answer is that I’ve been writing, which I hope to be able to share soon, plus the much anticipated critical read I’ve secured for my novel is going to take even longer. Apparently there were some problems, and someone was supposed to email me, and they were very sorry but it will be several more weeks, so that’s that.

On top of this I have been unwell, aside of some of the more usual suspects, I’ve had a horrible pain in my shoulder that’s been dragging on for weeks. I am booked in for an x-ray on Tuesday, to rule out anything sinister, as they tell me, but the pain and immobility is likely to go on for a few weeks more. The pain can be severe, and I am supposed to exercise it, but every time I do it flares up worse than ever, while the codine they gave me doesn’t touch it anymore. It is taking a toll on me, my health, and my writing, and on my poor family too, naturally. On top of this, being an intensely private person, I find it hard to talk about. Once you get into the habit of burying your difficulties under a rock, the act of digging it up again becomes a problem in itself. For your sake, dear reader, I hope you have no idea what I mean about this.

That’s as much as I will say on the topic but hopefully soon I will have some very good news to add here about another project I have on the back burner. In the meantime, you can check out how my latest short story is doing at http://www.shortkidstories.com where it’s been read almost 2400 times, at my last check, with 9/10 from 41 votes. For me, if the sun makes up its mind to come out today I might take my laptop out into the garden and get some vitamin D while I write, escaping reality in my own preferred way.

May the sun shine on you wherever you are.

The End of the World…and more!

Want to know what the end of the world looks like? I can’t say whether it’s a cataclysmic meteor or zombie apocalypse, but I can reveal what will be on TV.

The Turner Doomsday Video is the title of a video intended to be broadcast by CNN at the end of the world. The video, created at the direction of its founder Ted Turner before the network’s 1980 launch, is a performance of (wait for it) “Nearer My God To Thee” performed by multiple members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine bands. “Barring satellite problems, we won’t be signing off until the world ends,” he reportedly said. “When the end of the world comes, we’ll play ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ before we sign off.”

Hopefully we won’t be watching that anytime too soon. In the meantime, why not have a look at UbuWeb, a web-based educational resource for avant-garde material, available on the internet, offering visual and sound poetry, expanding to include film and mp3 archives. It states on its website:

UbuWeb is pleased to present thousands of avant-garde films & videos for your viewing pleasure. However, it is important to us that you realize that what you will see is in no way comparable to the experience of seeing these gems as they were intended to be seen: in a dark room, on a large screen, with a good sound system and, most importantly, with a roomful of warm, like-minded bodies.

However, we realize that the real thing isn’t very easy to get to. Most of us don’t live anywhere near theatres that show this kind of fare and very few of us can afford the hefty rental fees, not to mention the cumbersome equipment, to show these films. Thankfully, there is the internet which allows you to get a whiff of these films regardless of your geographical location.

So there you have it, the end of the world, and what to watch until it arrives. Enjoy!

Max and the Moonmaid

Listen to Max and the Moonmaid on YouTube, here. In this funny children’s story, Max catches a clever shape-shifting mermaid, but trouble is brewing! Can Max outsmart the creature and save his village from danger or will the moonmaid get the better of him?

To find out more about the narrator, Dominic Cook, just follow the link, here.

An illustrated eBook of Max and the Moonmaid is available at Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo and others. If you would like to buy this story it’s available here, however, a pdf is available to anyone who signs up to my newsletter. You’ll also receive occasional emails, with sneak peeks into my work, new books and projects, and special offers.

The Pirate, the Dinosaur, and the Slimy Snot Monster (Audio)

What starts as just another wet Saturday ends up in a BIG adventure when two children find a door onto a magical shop.

To find out more about the narrator, Dominic Cook, just follow the link, here.

New update: You can also read, and vote for, this story at the Short Kid Stories website, here.

Two Weeks All-In at the Hotel Sestina

Photo by Mu00e1ximo on Pexels.com

Did I tell you about last year’s holiday?

Oh my god, you’re going to laugh

when I tell you about the dirty great emu

that ate Dave’s crackers.

We wanted to go somewhere warm but not too hot

cause Dave always gets a gippy belly

but, of course, he got gippy belly

anyway ‘cause the stupid holiday

shop in the high street could only do somewhere hot

at that price for Christmas. Well you have to laugh

don’t you? You’d go crackers

otherwise, what with emus

running about all over the place! I had emu

on the brain by the end. Anyway, to keep his belly

happy, all Dave could eat was crackers

the entire holiday.

Ooh, I couldn’t help but laugh,

what with the all the dust and the hot

weather! No salad for him – just in case they threw in a hot

chilli (you know how foreigners are). Sunday’s entertainment was emu

racing and Mum had a go ‘cause she said it’d be a laugh

– and Dave said she was right, and he laughed till his belly

hurt! Well we’d only be home for the holiday

otherwise, pulling Christmas crackers

(and going crackers

with boredom) instead of somewhere hot.

We reckoned an all-in holiday

with emu

racing and belly

dancers is bound to be a laugh.

Well, laugh?

The waiters must have thought we were crackers!

What with the emu nicking a quick snack, Dave spat beer down his belly

and went bright red and got all hot

and out of sorts with us laughing at him… but then the emu

bit him and we had to end the holiday.

So, what with the gippy belly and the hot weather

and all the laughs we had. And the crackers for dinner,

and the daft emu racing… we’re just having a quiet holiday this year.

[NB views do not reflect those of the author, even though I AM the author :-D) Jill London

The Birthday Gift

A flash fiction story, about a girl who discovers her family’s luck is about to run out.

Experts of Persuasion

Evertrue update

So today I posted my book, Evertrue, on ACX in the hopes of turning it into an audiobook. For anyone thinking of doing the same, the process was fairly quick and easy, even despite having to do an Amazon Tax interview! [It wasn’t as painful as it sounds.] I discovered I can offer the project as a royalties share, which makes a huge difference. Having limited funds I need to keep costs down, and promoting the book itself, and making it available to different types of readers, is more valuable to me than earning from it. What I want more than anything is readers. I hate seeing my work sitting on my laptop unread.

So now I have to wait to see if a producer/narrator answers the call with an audition. I’ll let you know if I hear anything 😀 Even if I get no response, I see every step as valuable experience to use with my future projects, most notably with my YA fantasy, which is currently still out on its critical read. I hope the assessment isn’t too bad and doesn’t require a major overhaul. I’ve worked so hard on it, reading every structure book to polish it repeatedly, changing scenes, especially the opening, to make it the best I can.

In the meantime, let me know if you’ve used the ACX service, or any other platform such as Findaway Voices, and how you got on, or if you know of any good narrators who charge reasonable rates. I also like to think that any information that doesn’t work for me might work for someone else, so please do comment if you have any thoughts.

All the best,

Jill London on YouTube

The Pirate, the Dinosaur, and the Slimy Snot Monster.

What starts as just another wet Saturday ends up in a BIG adventure when they find a door onto a magical shop

It took all week, but by Saturday morning the rain had stopped.

“Finally!” I said, sliding down the hallway and making a heroic scoop for my trainers.

“Not so fast,” said mum. “Your little brother was sick in the night, and you haven’t tidied your room. I’ve told you half a dozen times to bag up your old games for the charity shop.”

“I’ve done mine,” Cat piped up.

“Yes, but you’re still grounded for locking Tom in the shed last week,” Mum told her.

“Fancy locking your kid brother in the shed,” I said. “I would never have done that.”

Cat stuck out her tongue at me. She was hanging on the living room door, as she does, sticking her finger in the hole where other doors have a handle.

“Sort your old toys,” mum told me, “then make Tom something nice to cheer him up (she told Cat) and you might go out when I get back from the vets.”

“A real might,” I asked, “or a grown-up might?”

But it was too late. Already she’d scooped Tigs into the cat carrier and left, making the letterbox clatter.

“Maybe we could…” Cat began.

“Not a chance,” said Dad as he shuffled past in slippered stealth for the sofa, a mug of tea in his hand and a newspaper under his arm.

Cat scowled some more and then we argued over what to watch on TV.

“Why don’t you play a board game,” said Dad, who’d luckily heard nothing of the chores or the Shed Incident. “There’s that new game Grandma got you for Christmas.”

We groaned. “It’ll be boring,” I said.

“Only old people like board games,” said Cat.

“Just a suggestion,” said Dad from behind his paper. “But you know she’ll ask if it was fun when she visits next, and you wouldn’t have me lie, would you?”

I fished out Whose Kangaroo? from the games shelf in the airing cupboard and we unpacked it onto the front room floor.

“It’s missing the dice,” Cat said, pulling a face as if a waft of socks had escaped the box.

I went for a spare in dad’s man drawer. Digging down, I noticed the handle for the living room door. I shook my head. This was a job Dad should have done long ago.

I slotted the handle into the front room door and suddenly we heard a sound—a great gaa-whooshh.

The handle stuck in the slot, and when I tried to tug it free, the door opened. But instead of the kitchen, it opened onto somewhere else. Shelf upon shelf of amazing objects lined the walls, like an Aladdin’s cave of treasures; of musical boxes, suits of armour, stuffed animals, marionettes and a thousand other things piled to the ceiling. Everywhere we looked, something incredible caught our eye.

“Have you left the back door open?” said Dad, from behind his paper.

“I’ll go check,” I said.

“Me too,” said Cat.

We crept in, and as the door shut behind us we realised there was no daylight here, just the flickering light of some dusty, hissing oil-lamps.

“I think it’s a shop,” I said. “There are labels on things, look. A pirate cutlass from the Caribbean.”

“A set of witches’ teeth from Salem,” Cat read, and shuddered. “Maybe we should go, I don’t want to leave any body parts behind.”

I pulled up short. “Another door,” I said.

I opened it and peeped through onto a tropical jungle.

“Excellent,” said Cat. “A holiday abroad! Do you think there’s a swimming pool?”

Cat and I crept through. A volcano in the distance spewed lava into the air and high up, a pterodactyl swooped overhead. The earth shook as a huge Tyrannosaurus stomped into view and caught a baby dinosaur in its jaws.

Cat and I both gasped. Whoa!

The Tyrannosaur turned and looked at us, and for a moment all we could do was stare in horror. A humongous bellow shook us into action, and we ran for the door, the Tyrannosaur pounding after us, making the ground shake. We darted through the door and I slammed it shut on the dinosaur’s gaping jaws.

We held our breath, expecting the door to burst into splinters, but heard only the ticking of the shop’s many clocks.

“We were almost dino-snacks,” said Cat.

“Let’s try another door,” I said.

I opened the next door and our stomachs lurched as we looked out onto nothing but empty sky, the earth far below us. Then an enormous ship appeared, its sail rippling in the wind.

“Ahoy there!” said a voice. It was the ship’s captain. “Quickly, jump aboard,” he said. “Captain ShiverMeTimbers, the dreaded cloud-pirate is chasing after us. He thinks we have treasure aboard and will do anything to get his hands on it.”

We jumped aboard just in time to see the pirate ship lurch into view. At its helm, Captain ShiverMeTimbers shook his sword at us, along with his scurvy crew, who growled and grimaced like dogs.

Our own captain turned our ship about and shot a volley of cannon balls at the pirate ship. They returned fire, then they threw a plank over to our ship and started to shuffle across.

“Turn the ship around!” cried our captain.

I ran to the steering wheel and swung it hard and our ship veered away from the gangplank, sending the pirates tumbling to the ground below us. Only Captain ShiverMeTimbers hung on to the side, his sword between his teeth.

“Quick Cat,” I said, “stop him!”

Cat grabbed a nearby hook and swung it at the pirate’s head. He bit down on his sword and made an oomph sound. He lost his grip and fell too. “I’ll get that treasure yet,” he shouted as he fell.

“That’s what he thinks,” said Cat, “no-one could survive that fall.”

“That won’t be the last we see of ShiverMeTimbers,” said our captain. “Somehow he always survives.”

We watched the pirate crew falling, but at the last moment their ship swooped in and saved them from the drop.

“See what I mean?” said our captain. “That man’s followed me for twenty years, and always comes back.”

“What treasure does he think you have?” asked Cat.

“The Lady of the Sea,” said the captain, “a beautiful pearl statue that used to be his ship’s figurehead. He thinks it brought them luck but, if you ask me, they’re luckier without it. Perhaps if he got this statue back, he’d leave me alone, but no-one’s ever found it.”

“I hope you find it,” said Cat, “but we should get home now. Mum will be back from the vets and wondering where we are.”

The captain sailed back to the shop door, and we jumped across the gap.

“Wait here,” I shouted across to the captain. “I have to check something, but I’ll be right back.”

I ran inside the shop and sure enough there it was, the Lady of the Sea, her pearly face glinting in the shadows.

“You grab the other arm,” I told Cat, but the moment we touched the statue the shopkeeper appeared; a disgusting, slimy green snot monster with long arms that waved up and down. When he spoke it sounded like, “Wibble, wibble, wibble!” but somehow we understood him.

He said, “Are you going to pay for that?”

“We don’t have any pocket money,” said Cat, giving me an angry scowl.

It kind of was my fault. I talked her into buying my comic after my money ran out.

“I’ve no use for coins,” said the monster. “Different worlds, different currency, see? I’ll do a straight swap, this statue for something of yours.”

“But we don’t have anything,” said Cat. “We’re just kids.”

“We might have something,” I said. “If you can wait?”

“Five minutes,” said the monster, “but no more. Some people have waited a century to get a visit from my shop.”

He pointed to a queue of skeletons sitting in a waiting area.

I ran back to our house and gathered my old toys and games from my bedroom floor, and balancing them on my arms I ran back to the shop.

“What’s all this rubbish?” demanded the snot monster when he saw me. “This stuff is worthless junk!”

“No, it’s not,” I said. “These skates were new last year!”

“I have hundreds of skates,” said the monster. “No sale!”

He ran at us, his arms waving wildly as he wibbled at the top of his lungs. Cat and I thought we were done for, but just then the dinosaur burst through his door and he snatched up the snot monster in his jaws and swallowed him in one gulp. Snot dribbled from his lips and he looked a little queasy.

“He looks set to vomit,” I said to Cat. “Throw the statue to the captain, quick!”

We carried the Lady of the Sea to the doorway and threw it across to our captain.

“That will stop ShiverMeTimbers chasing me,” he shouted, and he waved his hat at us.

We turned to the door home and made it through just as the dinosaur vomited up the snot monster. He ran after us, followed by the dinosaur, but we slammed the door shut and pulled the handle from the door. We stood there panting and looked at one another.

Just then the door swung open. It was mum with Tigs in his pet carrier.

“You got your room tidied then?” she said to me. “And what about Tom, have you apologised for locking him in the shed?”

“On our way now,” said Cat.

We ran up the stairs to tell Tom what had happened. He listened, amazed, and then he lay back on the pillow, looking much better.

“Oh, and I got you something,” Cat told him, “to make up for the whole shed thing, and missing out on the adventure. The captain threw it to me when the dinosaur was being sick.”

She opened her hand and there was a captain’s compass, its needle swinging wildly before settling toward the door handle in my hand.

Cat and I looked at each other and grinned.

“Maybe we can go on a new adventure when you’re better, Tom,” I said.

THE END

Turtles Alive!

In an exclusive interview, Grandma Crick, the eminent explorer and award-winning scientist, reveals that King Josef did order for her to be fed to the Monger turtles, and that she was held prisoner for FIVE DAYS while granddaughter Mila was sent to find the infamous Evertrue Emerald, just as The Scoop had reported. Many have called to have the turtles relocated, driven down to the lower plains, where they can hunt in peace. Zoologist, Hans Zynski, has claimed that the turtles provide balance to the local environment, eating the troublesome Nosewig beetles that feed on crops. However, he has since changed his opinion, after having his cart trampled by the giant reptiles.

The Monger turtles at Hangman’s creek.

TREE-SHIFTS SIGHTED IN PREZNOVIAN WOODS

There have been reports this week of sightings of the mysterious entities known only as Tree-shifts. The creatures, previously believed only to exist in the wild north, are thought to lure unsuspecting victims into the woods and to swap places with them, turning the miserable victim into a shift whilst the creature returns to their unsuspecting families. It is claimed that shifts are behind the disappearance of a number of people in the town. Teresa Zelena, 34, of Cowslip End believes her husband has met one. “He’s hardly said a word to anyone since he got back from his trip to Zilensk. It was a full moon when he went, and I begged him not to go, and then he came back like this! I’m scared out of my wits,” she added. In response to these stories, Mathilde the witch has offered the families of victims a reversal charm at the reduced rate of only 5 tolar or a similar value exchange. Interested parties may contact Mathilde at the Old Oak behind Gunter’s field.

WHITEWASH AT THE PALACE. Angry king not involved in GEMGATE, he claims. See pg 2.

Evertrue

Here today is a short excerpt of my book, Evertrue: An Underworld Fairytale, which is available in paperback and kindle from Amazon. Read on to find out more.

To save Grandma Crick from being fed to the ravenous Monger turtles, Mila must journey into the underworld to steal the Evertrue Emerald from the demon, Malrook. Joined by a motley bunch of experts through the deadly, dragon-infested caves, they meet Captain Tuna the accordion-playing walrus, a karate-kicking fairy, and a colony of strange and grumpy troglonomes. As time runs out, Mila discovers that friendship and ingenuity can unearth the greatest strength of all and win her heart’s desire.

Evertrue is a fairy-tale for readers young and old, and will appeal to fans of Philip Pullman and J. K. Rowling’s The Ickabog.

Falliiing! from chapter 6 of Evertrue:

A wind blew up around them as they edged across the bridge, catching their breath and making them gasp. The bridge seemed impossibly narrow and so old it was a wonder it hadn’t fallen down years ago—something Mila kept expecting at every step.

The end was in sight, but then Tomas slipped and suddenly they were falling. Tumbling down and down, their hearts in their mouths as they screamed. Mila saw something dark coming up toward them and they found themselves caught in a net.

“Hang on,” boomed a voice.

The net inched into what looked like a basket hanging suspended from a balloon, or rather, many balloons tied together. Inside the basket was a walrus, or something like one.

“I don’t normally catch things like you,” said the walrus. “Normally it’s just fish, but welcome aboard the Misty Queen. My name is Captain Tuna. Can I take you on a cruise of the pit? To be honest, it doesn’t really go anywhere exciting, just up and down, on and on in an endless kind of way. I’ve drawn a map of the pit if you’d care to see?”

He showed them a drawing of a tube that disappeared off the edge of the page in both directions. Apart from the places where Captain Tuna had marked out shoals of fish, and the occasional exit into a cave, it was a very dull map.

“Can you take us to Malrook’s Lair?” Mila asked.

Captain Tuna rubbed his chin.

“Let me check the map,” he said. “There might be a shortcut.”

On the map was a doorway further down, marked with the word ‘shortcut’.

“Yes, there it is,” said Captain Tuna. “It’s a bit below us, but once we get to that door it won’t be far to Malrook’s Lair. Can I ask why you want to go there?”

Mila explained about the king and the emerald.

“That’s bad luck,” said Captain Tuna. “Malrook is a tricky one. Lots of people have tried to get his emerald, and he’s fooled every one of them. You’ll need to be quick not to get caught in one of his games.”

Captain Tuna cut loose some balloons and the basket sank downwards.

“What kind of fish do you catch?” Mila asked.

“Flying fish,” said Captain Tuna. “A few climbing fish, but I hunt for the Great Swordfish of the Deep, though I’ve only ever seen the top of his great fin. I’m also learning the accordion,” he added.

He played for them as they travelled down the pit. The tunes were lively but loud, like a group of angry parrots arguing. Mila and Tomas had heard enough by the time Mila spotted the door some way below them.

“It even has a ‘shortcut’ sign,” she added as Tomas came over to look.

The captain brought them up to the door and let out a plank for them to walk across, and this time they made it without falling.

“I hope you manage to catch that swordfish,” Mila called out.

“Good luck getting the emerald,” Captain Tuna called back, and he sailed away, the squawking sounds of his accordion growing ever fainter.

***

Evertrue is available to buy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08X4SJYDD

Watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zThWDcNx14

Rating: 1 out of 5.

The anxious writer – how tension makes a story (but writer anxiety breaks it.)

Every writer knows that stories need tension in order to grip readers. Many self-help books teach writers how to add tension, with easy-to-understand points set out in a helpful framework to explain how a story might work. They direct a reader in much the same way that your dad taught you how to dance.

Just as your dad took control of your feet, the author places the newbie’s feet on top of their own and waltzes them through the process of writing, except, when the newbie is back on their own two feet, they aren’t entirely sure what just happened. The problem is that all stories are not the same. We all know it, deep down. Yet, when the going gets tough, the temptation of a magic bullet to fix things can be strong, but it can also result in a dead story.

Self-help books are vital to learning and, contrary to what I seem to be saying, I advise anyone interested in storycraft to read them all, as you must learn if you hope to improve. Just remember that, while they can show you the waltz, they must not guide your feet. They can help you understand how to write, but have no business directing your story – which, after all, you alone must write.

The vast majority of unpublished stories suffer from anxiety, not the good stuff a story needs but the bad stuff; the writer’s. In their drive to create plot [tension] writers try to implement all that self-help advice about framework but instead they strangle the relaxed [competent] storytelling that breeds reader confidence. Rules are necessary for the writer to learn and grow but cannot override story – which must, and does, rule them all.

So what’s a writer to do?

Let’s consider how that vital ‘good tension’ relates to story, as it’s often the main source of anxiety for the writer. It’s no coincidence that this is also the part where self-help authors get most tangled up and so I’ll be as brief as possible, with my take on how to untangle the problem, with a little help from Sandra Bullock.

Writers worry about what to put in their stories. They’re often told to avoid ‘padding’ i.e. the non-essential and boring writing that readers hate. Yet, in some ways padding IS story – just offered in a misguided, unformed way, because the writer doesn’t fully understand their own story and what’s important to it. In another attempt to help the newbie, authors sometimes tell them to focus on ‘story strands’, the plot and subplot running through a story. This is good advice, yet talk of ‘story strands’ in relation to a book comprising scenes [which read like pools of events] doesn’t help, because not all story is ‘plot’, in the traditional way we think of it [even within a tightly plotted thriller, there are moments when the writer must introduce things like setting and character]. There’s a difference between story mode and plot mode, though both are part of the story and, unhelpfully, one scene may contain both elements.

In order to see the difference we must be aware of moments when plot comes to the fore and when story world is dominant. The film Gravity is an excellent example, as the plot [story tension] is very pronounced, with deadly meteor showers, low oxygen tanks and fires in space illustrating how to keep the audience hooked. Yet even sure-fire elements like these can fail if poorly done. It’s the ease and competency of the storytelling that holds us, just like Shawshank (note, the story environment of both provide underlying tension). Think how these high-octane scenes compare with those in which the heroine can think beyond the crisis at hand. High-quality stories don’t need to worry about hooks and story arcs and the like once the story has your attention and pays you in treats. The hooks are there but aren’t regimented, which is the main failing of the ‘framework’ teach-yourself titles.

Whether you plot, or not, be aware of tension in your story. Be kind to your reader and treat them with lots of exciting scenes and underlying anxiety, but be aware of how everything in your story ultimately relates to truth. The more time you devote to thinking about your story, the characters; their relationships, problems and intrigues, the better you’ll be able to transform that padding into the essential texture of your tale. The more your characters and their lives seem true, that they exist beyond a writer’s rulebook, the more eager your reader will be to stay the distance and finish the book. This is why Stephen King tells us that plot is clunky and artificial, because the truth in your story is the guiding light leading to masterful storytelling.

It’s vital to seek help with the difficult job of writing when something’s not working but, in our rush to fix things, we must pause before arming ourselves with magic bullets. The story might not survive.

The Realm of Possibilities and the spark that leads us there.

Inspiring images

Today I want to find out what drives people to start a new writing project. What is it that sparks a story? Some start with a question, a what if?, as Stephen King reportedly does with many of his. Some start with an image, like C.S. Lewis’ picture of the lamp-post in the snow, while for others it’s a mix of the two. Whatever route you take there needs to be some kind of impetus, of in-put in other words, as ideas need material to spring from. For me, my latest story began with this image, of Old Father Time and his scythe and the baby new year with his hourglass.

The inspiration for my latest work.
New Year and Old Father Time

Its a commonplace image yet seemingly full of meaning and I began asking questions about it. Were the two characters one and the same (as is sometimes suggested, with Old Time representing the past year leaving to make way for the new year who then grows old, thus endlessly repeating the cycle) or was the old man really Time himself? If the baby was really in charge of the universe for a year how might it go awry (recent events account for much here!) and, assuming both are representations of mythical gods, how would the other gods treat this all-controlling child?

The original Aeon featured in a mosaic in Arles, France. VER.83.56.87. Mosaïque de l’Annus-Aiôn

There are gods of time in many mythologies but as I searched for the identities of the strange duo, some possibilities came to light. Greek perceptions of Time suggest three personalities, Chronos, Aeon and Kairos, whose roles sometimes merge but who embody distinct differences. Chronos is the classic god of time, a titan sometimes seen as a primordial god who gave birth to the world egg. Aeon is depicted as a youth representing eternity, often accompanied by a golden wheel inscribed with signs of the zodiac, whilst Kairos relates to the idea of opportunity. Might the answers to my questions lie with these three?

Chronos classic. Mutter Erde – Chronos,sleeping on Wolff grave
A new Chronos for a new story.
Image; Eclipse by Anne Magill.

As I played around with these characters and questions it seemed clear that a great deal of potential tensions might exist between them, as there are with other characters in Greek mythology. The greatest tension however involved Chronos, a cold and forbidding titan, and Aeon, who I began to see as the young keeper of the new year, and who – in my line of questioning – was about to see in some bad events. Was the boy acting out in reaction to his distant father? Did such a proud god as Chronos resent a wayward son and how far might he go to make him toe the line? The questions intrigued me and as I continued mulling them over other supporting characters began to emerge.

A heliocentric armillary sphere

Kairos in my story becomes Kaira, the personification of Time’s clock, a huge machine resembling a sort of geocentric armillary sphere. Other primordial entities suggested more ideas, like Death (Thanatos) and the elements, represented by many gods in Greek myth (Theoi Meteoroi) but which I fused into Tempest, not a traditional Greek god but someone perhaps excluded from the pantheon, thereby developing a host of complex issues. I soon realised that Aeon wasn’t the only bad boy that Mount Olympus took exception to, and more forsaken gods and goddesses appeared, all put out at their rough treatment and ready to unite!

Prometheus, fire-bringer. Angerer der Aeltere, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From the short story I had initially thought possible a much larger story began to emerge. What was missing in all this were the humans, who most often bore the brunt of the gods’ spiteful mistreatment. Representing the humans I picked those most maligned; the witches. To me, no single group in the history of humankind were more hated but similarly more likely to rise to our aid (and more able to stand up to to gods) than these persecuted women. The arrival of the humans in all this brought Prometheus, the creator of mankind and yet another banished titan. A theme was emerging, and this god soon became an integral part of it.

By this point I had so many questions and possibilities buzzing about in my head that I knew I had an obligation to the story, a need to see it written and, importantly, to get it right. I felt the weight of all those old writers of Greek mythology looking on in displeasure but here was a story begging to be written. It was heartening to remember that even with the original tales there was a great deal of reinterpretation, of reshaping and re-imagining, from the oldest storytellers to the newest, who even today still find new things to say about these fascinating gods. My story lies on the furthest edge of these, telling an entirely new tale but retaining all the energy of the original stories, all the intrigues and in-fighting which colour them. I had a great deal of fun writing Aeon Chronosson, building worlds for his story to play out in, and I hope some time soon I get to share that story with you.

Let me know in the comments below what drove you to start your latest work in progress; either a burning question, an image, or something else entirely. Has the pandemic given you more time to write or has it put writing out of the question. Either way I’d love to hear from you.

All the best,

Jill x

The girl who went her own way.

By John D. Batten, illustrator – http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/illustrations/goldilocks/batten3bears.html, Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21675946

She was not good at listening to advice. Not good at being told what to do, so contrary. She laughed when they told her to stay away from the woods, from the bears who made their home there. The bears that would blunder out from the undergrowth, their claws so sharp, their jaws so strong. It was no place for girls, they said, but what did they know?

The bears kept their cave immaculate, each building their bed to preference. The largest slept direct on the hard rock, his mate on a mound of soft leaves, the cub on a hard stone dressed with a leafy nest, making it just right. Wandering in the woods one day she stumbled on the bears’ home and made herself comfortable, but the bears returned early, stumbling in on her sleeping form. She woke with a fright and hitching her skirts, she ran.

There the story ends, but what became of the girl who refused to heed the warnings? How would she ever get used to the rules telling her to stay home when she had tasted the thrill of the deep, dark woods? Was there any hope for such a wayward girl? Better get smart, Goldilocks, choose wisely your path; safe is not always the right option.

Furbag

Today I’d like to update you on one of the short stories I’ve had published recently in My Weekly, a magazine published here in the UK. My main work in progress has been all-consuming, although I did manage to find time to write some short stories. Back copies of My Weekly are available on Pressreader and you can read about Furbag the cat-sleuth there via this link, here. If you enjoy reading about the residents of Mulberry Drive I have a further story about Maggie, teller of tall tales, whose fabulous story might not be as outrageous as our hero, Josh, thinks. If you’d like a copy do let me know and I’ll add your name to the mailing.

For all you writers out there, I wrote a post about increasing your chances of getting a novel published via the magazine market before, which you can read about here.

Also I’d like to thank all those readers who liked yesterday’s post and followed the link to my online children’s story, and for your lovely comments. It means a lot to me.

Best wishes, Jill x

Short Kid Stories

I have great news to post up today and a chance for you guys to check out some of my work. I was told this morning that Short Kid Stories are to publish my story, Max and the Moonmaid, about a boy who catches a clever shape-shifting mermaid but who soon regrets it when she turns into a ravenous dragon. You can read this 6 minute story about max here If you like the story there’s an option to rate it on the site, plus you can visit my author page via the link. The site has many short stories to read; originals, retellings and classics, featuring favourites from Hans Christian Andersen, L. Frank Baum and Countess D’Aulnoy and more.

You can leave comments below, or just say hello! I love hearing from you.

Jill x

Welcome to my new look website

So yeah, I haven’t blogged in a little while. Like most people out there things have been…different 😉 In fact there have been all kinds of things happen in my life since I sat down for my last blog post, some of them good and some just too rubbish to even contemplate, not at this hour and not without some solid moral support (probably involving a stiff drink). On the good side of the list, I’ve managed to get writing! I’ve had more work published and have a brand new work in progress ready to roll out which I hope to share with you soon, as well as adding more posts to my blog. In the meantime have a look around the new site and please do get in touch!

Wishing you all the best, Jill x

The Blue Hour magazine

blue_hour
The Blue Hour anthology

Guess who’s soon to be appearing in The Blue Hour magazine for the second time? Oh all right, you guessed it, it’s me 🙂

The Blue Hour magazine is an online art and literary magazine featuring the work of some very talented writers and artists, such as the wonderful Michele Seminara and Anne Bradshaw (If you haven’t discovered their work yet let me urge you to go and have a look).

The Blue Hour magazine welcomes submissions of all kinds and the editors are lovely so if you’re interested do consider submitting your poems, stories or artwork.

The Wood Beyond the Road

ahddfThe wood beyond the road is deep and dark as a sleeper’s dream. The leafy canopy blocks the sunlight from the detritus beneath and incubates the odour of mulch and rotting things. The path winds this way and that around the lattice of spiny leaves and jagged ferns hiding chirruping insects that underline the silence. The silence that is deep and dark.

In the woods, in a small clearing unnoticed by the world, a grey stone cottage hunches against the failing light. A thin thread of smoke drifts from the chimney and this, along with the faint glow of a bulb in the lower window, suggests somebody is home.

She is quite alone. Sitting by the low fire, motionless but for the steady rise and fall of her chest she appears cut from marble, cold and white as a midnight statue. A viewer, if there had been one in that barren room, would wish for some spark of life in her eyes, for some reassurance of animation in those limbs; lost in the form of her dress as they are. Her lace sleeves are stiff and cylindrical, two tunnels through which her arms thrust. Hardly real arms at all. But she moves, her breath halts, almost in anticipation, and she rises to her feet. She sways, and steadies, and for the first time her eyelid betrays a flicker. She stands motionless as if indefinitely fixed, as if she would stand all night, wound at last to the end of her mechanism.

She is breathing, though it cannot be heard, the sound has been replaced by another. Usurped by a tiny sound, a tiny scratching from the door. Such a small and innocent sound. Perhaps it is a little mouse, a cat, one sharp hooked claw or fingernail maybe, scraping the splintered wood. Her eyes flicker to life, and there are tears in them as she looks around, as if she has awoken to find the light outside extinguished. As if she has returned to realise the door lies unlocked. As if she has just remembered…

The scratching grows in strength as the darkness crowds in suffocatingly close; the door shaking, the old-fashioned latch bouncing fit to spring open. Her marble pallor heats suddenly, flares into flesh, and she springs toward the door, slamming it shut with the remains of her shaking strength. Holding it pinned with the last of her will, she wonders; where have I been?

.

© Jill London 2013

Want more like this? Try my latest novel Evertrue. It is a fairy-tale twist on the story of Orpheus, and is available now. Click here for a speedy wireless delivery to your reading device.

The Mask of a Genius

daliatomicus

.

He was late, though the set was ready weeks

before, and brought the women cherry nude

fondants and fondly pinched their pert young cheeks.

.

He preened his new suit in the interlude,

Oh, the praise he urged for his gold silk shirt!

His moustache erect and suitably crude.

.

The cats ran away, nibbled fleas and trod dirt

in the wet floor, drew blood when roughly dried

by assistants immune to price tag art.

.

Cameras whirred and bellies growled, hid by pride.

Dali grew bored and lured the assistant,

though round the corner Gala feigned to hide.

.

When asked her impression of that giant

the photographer paused with rheumy eyes

and framed a reply aptly elegant:

L’enfant terrible aimed to build a disguise

to cover a heap of nothing but lies.

.

© Jill London 2013

Deirdre’s Lament

I’ve been meaning to reblog this for a while, because I think it’s brilliant. If you don’t agree then, sadly, you’re wrong.

Three more from the notebook

Ageing

With age comes wisdom,

So say the monk and poet,

To ease the journey.

Flying Fish (Detail)
Flying Fish (Photo credit: Theron Trowbridge)

.

.

Concerning Errors

Fish may learn to fly

And man may learn forgiveness.

Wonders never cease.

.

.

Bliss

Rain falls silently

Seeping in through the corners

Of my pounding heart.

© Jill London 2013

Three from the notebook

The Flight of Memories

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wonder

Happy endings

 

August – Dorothy Parker and Charles Courtney Curran

charles_courtney_curran_-_nc3a9nuphars

Charles Courtney Curran – Lotus Lilies 1888

August

When my eyes are weeds,
And my lips are petals, spinning
Down the wind that has beginning
Where the crumpled beeches start
In a fringe of salty reeds;
When my arms are elder-bushes,
And the rangy lilac pushes
Upward, upward through my heart;

Summer, do your worst!
Light your tinsel moon, and call on
Your performing stars to fall on
Headlong through your paper sky;
Nevermore shall I be cursed
By a flushed and amorous slattern,
With her dusty laces’ pattern
Trailing, as she straggles by.

Dorothy Parker

 

The World of Dr Seuss

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This slideshow features some gorgeous art from the hugely talented and, in my opinion, little appreciated Dr Seuss. Really, I know his work is still in demand and all but how often do we pause to think of him as the gifted and surprising artist he was? I always adored his books and the pictures really fed into my imagination and created a world of wonder and delight. Book illustrations contribute so much toward the finished article yet they are almost an overlooked resource. For all the illustrators out there, here’s looking at you, kid.

More here: http://www.drseussart.com/gallery/

Advice for the writer – Thomas More

Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein the younger
Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein the younger

Advice for the indie writer can be found in the most surprising places sometimes. This extract, from More’s Utopia, is amazingly fresh and relevant considering it was written around 500 years ago.

“But to tell the truth, I’m still of two minds as to whether I should publish the book or not. For men’s tastes are so various, the tempers of some are so severe, their minds so ungrateful, their tempers so cross, that there seems no point in publishing something, even if it’s intended for their advantage, that they will receive only with contempt and ingratitude. Better simply to follow one’s own natural inclinations, lead a merry, peaceful life, and ignore the vexing problems of publication. Most men know nothing of learning; many despise it. The clod rejects as too difficult whatever isn’t cloddish. The pedant dismisses as mere trifling anything that isn’t stuffed with obsolete words. Some readers approve only of ancient authors: most men like their own writing best of all. Here’s a man so solemn he won’t allow a shadow of levity, and there’s one so insipid of taste that he can’t endure the salt of a little wit. Some dullards dread satire as a man bitten by a hydrophobic dog dreads water; some are so changeable that they like one thing when they’re seated and another when they’re standing.

Those people lounge around the taverns, and as they swill their ale pass judgement on the intelligence of writers. With complete assurance they condemn every author by his writings, just as they think best, plucking each one, as it were, by the beard. But they themselves remain safely under cover and, as the proverb has it, out of harm’s way. No use trying to lay hold of them; they’re shaved so close, there’s not so much as the hair of an honest man to catch them by.

Finally, some men are so ungrateful that even though they’re delighted with a work, they don’t like the author any better because of it. They are like rude, ungrateful guests who, after they have stuffed themselves with a splendid dinner, go off, carrying their full bellies homeward without a word of thanks to the host who invited them. A fine task, providing at your own expense a banquet for men of such finicky palates, such various tastes, and such rude, ungracious tempers.”

I don’t know about you but I was completely bowled over reading this. So often we’re led to believe that literature is scary and dull but More’s Utopia, like so many other works, has been a delightful surprise, and not a monster read either. If you have any interest in social reform, or finding out more about humanitarianism and the Renaissance Man, it will be right up your alley.

Sir Thomas More (7 February 1478 – 6 July 1535), known to Roman Catholics as Saint Thomas More since 1935, was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, and noted Renaissance humanist. He was an important councillor to Henry VIII of England and Lord Chancellor from October 1529 to 16 May 1532. More opposed the Protestant Reformation, in particular the theology of Martin Luther and William Tyndale, whose books he burned and followers he persecuted (!). More also wrote Utopia, published in 1516, about the political system of an ideal and imaginary island nation. More later opposed the King’s separation from the Roman Catholic Church and refused to accept him as Supreme Head of the Church of England, because such disparaged Papal Authority and Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Tried for treason, More was convicted on perjured testimony and beheaded. Source: Wikipedia.

You can read Utopia here: http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/more/utopia-contents.html

Daft dogs…and daft owners

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Brought to you courtesy of Jill of All Trades over at

 http://expertofnone.com/

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And here’s Lucy!

Her daft owners put the scarf on her but the sock in her mouth is all her own doing

(gun dogs like the feel of something in their mouths apparently –

which explains why she loves meal times so much I guess!).

She may be a little grey around the chops but she thinks she’s still a puppy.

Which reminds me of one of my favourite quotations from GB Shaw;

“We don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing”

 

The Blue Hour magazine – plus me

I have a poem appearing in The Blue Hour magazine! Check it out here

I don’t generally think of myself as a poet (or an artist for that matter) but I have enjoyed writing a few of them, including this one which I wrote as a response poem to James Fenton‘s poem Wind. I hope you’ll take a look and let me know what you think.

You can read Fenton’s poem here: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/wind-2

I must admit, I think it must be the best to have a book of your own poetry. Something to take off the shelf and idle over in a weak moment, even if no-one else got to read it. Just to please yourself. Isn’t it funny how ideas can grab you sometimes?

And now I’m feeling so dreamy and creative all at once, here’s a little something from my old drawing pad.

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Have a super weekend folks xx

Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast

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You find the darndest things in your cereal sometimes but today my daughter found this ‘weird & wonderful’ facts card in her Chocolate Curls.

It features a ‘weird quiz’ on the back:

1) Which sea creature doesn’t have a brain?

a. Shark

b. Lobster

c. Starfish

2) How do butterflies taste things?

a. With their tongue

b. With their feet

c. With their wings

3) What was the first soup made from?

a. Hippopotamus

b. Potatoes

c. Chicken

The answers are fairly obvious (c,b,a) despite the fact that they seem so unlikely.

Do you know what I mean?

I know I’m no David Attenborough but are these facts true (including the one in the photo) or a stretch of the truth? Anyone?

Please feel free to leave any more unlikely facts here too.

The ‘British Accent’ – A Rough Guide for the Perplexed.

So I was chatting the other day to my friend Matthew Curry of The Chia Pet Circus and he very kindly tweeted this clip to me, reminding me how quaint the BBC used to be:

“Don’t forget your cocoa, and don’t let the bed-bugs bite. Breakfast will be at six SHARP!”

One of the things that stood out for me as I listened was how old-fashioned the presenter’s voice sounds. The BBC used to insist on a posh accent but these days tends to choose a softer accent and often a regional accent. After some discussion about how I would actually place this accent (thoughts anyone?) I got to thinking about how many accents we have on our tiny island. I tried to google how many and came up with zip. So much for research. As a general guide we might come up with something like this:

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Scouse (Liverpool)

Mancunian (Manchester)

Geordie (Newcastle)

Cockney (Parts of London)

Brummie (Birmingham)

Yorkshire (Yorkshire)

West country (The west country e.g Bristol, Devon..)

Northern Irish,

Southern Irish,

Welsh (and some may divide this accent between North and South)

Glaswegian (Glasgow)

Aberdonian (Aberdeen)

My Scottish mother would add many more here including Dundonian etc.

The list goes on (please comment if I’ve missed any obvious ones) but for brevity’s sake I’ll draw a line here, but listen to this accent from the Scottish Islands:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/check/voices/media/scotland-whalsay-starmoment1?size=au&bgc=C0C0C0&nbram=1&bbram=1

Could you guess what they said? We used to have friends of my mum come down to visit sometimes and there was one very lovely old lady who couldn’t communicate with any but my aunt (not even my mum had a clue). She made these beautiful little cooing sounds and I would smile and nod as my aunt translated English into English! It wasn’t a different language she just had a very strong dialect. (Nothing to do with Dr Who btw.)

There are many more accents however. For example, ‘towns located less than 10 miles (16 km) from the city of Manchester such as BoltonOldham and Salford, each have distinct accents, all of which form the Lancashire accent, yet in extreme cases are different enough to be noticed even by a non-local listener’ so says Wikipedia. I would say Mancunian sounds nothing like Lancastrian but there you go.

In my newly adopted home county of Northamptonshire we can hear when someone is from Northampton and when they’re from Leicestershire (just a few miles away) for example. People hereabouts call women ‘duck’ as a term of endearment (like sweetie, lass etc. (It’s ‘hen’ in Scotland)) and they pronounce it ‘doook’ (a proper phonetics table would help here!) whereas from my mouth it’s a very different creature and doesn’t sound endearing at all!

My accent? Well some people say they hear Cockney, some say they hear the Queen’s; I would say it’s somewhere between the two, and yes, I have had a lot of comments in my lifetime, including from some (it’s happened more than once) who ask if I’m from New Zealand – really!! Some can even hear the Scottish influence in there. Would I record it for you? Not on your nelly. (That means no.)

The ever useful Beeb have gone about the UK recording accents and they have captured 1200 apparently. Take a look here:Capture2

http://www.bbc.co.uk/voices/recordings/

They have a map too.

The green dots can be clicked on (on the site) and will give you a taste of the accent from that area.

So, in summary, it would be fair to say that there’s no such thing as a ‘British accent’ as many foreign students will tell you. We sometimes can’t understand one another here, despite being only 603 miles from John O’Groats to Land’ s End and smaller than many states around the world. But we are all united. At least at present.

I don’t know about you but I think that’s pretty amazing.

 

The Few who Possess the Means of Livelihood

Julie Green Art & Photography

“The few own the many because they possess the means of livelihood of all … The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor. The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands – the ownership and control of their livelihoods – are set at naught, we can have neither men’s rights nor women’s rights. The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that the small remnant may live in ease.”

Helen Keller, Rebel Lives: Helen Keller

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Talking heads.

 

 

 

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cephalophore (from the Greek for “head-carrier”) is a saint who is generally depicted carrying his or her own head; in art, this was usually meant to signify that the subject in question had been martyred by beheading.

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In Dante‘s Divine Comedy (Canto 28) the poet meets the spectre of the troubadour Bertrand de Born in the eighth circle of the Inferno, carrying his severed head in his hand, slung by its hair, like a lantern; upon seeing Dante and Virgil, the head begins to speak.

230px-Gawain_and_the_Green_Knight

 

The Green Knight is a character in the 14th-century Arthurian poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The knight appears in the court of King Arthur and challenges any man to strike him with his axe, under the condition that he be allowed to return the blow in one year’s time. Sir Gawain takes up the challenge and cuts the Green Knight’s head clean off. Surprisingly, the knight calmly picks up his own head and reasserts his oath to repay Gawain.

 

One July Summer – Dorothy Ardelle Merriam

www.photographers-resource.co.uk
http://www.photographers-resource.co.uk

One July Summer

What has happened to summer,
That’s what I want to know.
Is she on a vacation –
Who knows where did she go?
Tell, what was she wearing;
A zephyr breeze and rosebud
Or grass and wild berry?
Could she be honeymooning
With spring or early fall
Or has she gone so far away
She’ll not return at all?

Dorothy Ardelle Merriam:
It’s July, guys! Can you believe it? We’ll be heading on into Winter before you know it and then next thing you know – Christmas! Any organised souls out there have their presents bought yet? I’m last minute.com unfortunately, always have been always will, and right now it’s still summer, or at least it’s supposed to be. The only way we can tell here in the UK is that we don’t need to put the central heating on. Other than that I still put on a coat to go to the shops 😦
Hope you’re having a great summer, folks xxx

Henry Tonks – Spring Days 1928

Spring Days 1928 by Henry Tonks 1862-1937

 

 

SPRING DAYS c. 1926–29

Inscr. ‘H. Tonks 1928’ b.l.
Canvas, 34×32 (86×81).
Chantrey Purchase from the artist 1931.

Apparently this painting was begun in 1926 and ‘repainted at various times with different models’ as Tonks was never entirely satisfied with it.

Henry TonksFRCS (9 April 1862 – 8 January 1937) was a British surgeon and later draughtsman and painter of figure subjects, chiefly interiors, and a caricaturist. He became an influential art teacher.

He was one of the first British artists to be influenced by the French Impressionists; he exhibited with the New English Art Club, and was an associate of many of the more progressive artists of late Victorian Britain, including James McNeill WhistlerWalter SickertJohn Singer Sargent and George Clausen. Source: Wikipedia

Undiscovered Voices – advice for children’s writers

Undiscovered Voices is a competition for unpublished and un-agented writers and illustrators living in the EU, in partnership with SCBWI British Isles. Find out more here: http://www.undiscoveredvoices.com/
(Entries open: 1st July to 15th August 2013)

I’ve got hold of 5 videos featuring some of the top names in children’s publishing giving advice to SCBWI members as part of the Undiscovered Voices competition launch of April 18th 2013. The videos are a little on the quiet side unfortunately but they make for a fascinating insight into the publishing world and the speakers have some really good advice to share.
The panel includes; Ben Horslen – Editorial Director of Puffin, Gemma Cooper – Agent at The Bent Agency, Sallyanne Sweeney – Agent at Watson Little Ltd, Samantha Smith – Publisher at Scholastic and Sarah Lambert – Editorial Director at Quercus Children’s Books.

Undiscovered Voices 2014 Writers part 1 Making Your Manuscript Stand Out:

Undiscovered Voices 2014 Writers part 2 Judging Panel’s Mistakes to Avoid and Advice on Genre:

Undiscovered Voices 2014 Writers part 3 – Tips for Undiscovered Voices Writers:

Undiscovered Voices 2014 – Writers Bonus – Ben and Sam discuss “Is there ever a time for exposition:

Undiscovered Voices 2014 – Writers Bonus – The Panel discuss their recent acquisitions and why they loved them:

10 links for writers

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Top links to help you discover more about the wonderful world of writing.

 

There’s no hook in my Nook

Sometimes you get so caught up in your writing it’s easy to forget the finished outcome. The act of creation is central to writing but if you want to write to be read please remember to spare a thought for the reader 🙂

Jill Weatherholt

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I have a problem. I love to read. Of course my problem isn’t reading, it’s finding the time to read without the guilt. I try to maintain a balance of work, family and writing by reading at night.

There are times when a couple of pages turn into a much needed double dose of caffeine the next morning because I couldn’t put the book down.  I love those times. A page-turner is the type of book I prefer to read and some of us strive to write.

Despite the strict guidelines in the world of publishing, not all books are created equal. Sometimes I reach the end of the first chapter, put the book down and forget to pick it back up. I intend to finish the book, but my reading time is too limited to spend on a book that doesn’t grab my attention and keep me reading.

If you’re a…

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Happy Birthday Chris Van Allsburg!

Happy Birthday to Chris Van Allsburg who was born on this day in 1949. Chris is an American author and illustrator of children’s books including Jumanji and The Polar Express, both of which won him the Caldecott Medal, and Zathura.

“His books often depict fantastic, uncontrolled events and utilize sometimes brutal irony. Van Allsburg breaks out of the comfortable world of children literature to explore the darker side of human nature. For example, his book The Sweetest Fig is about a selfish man who is suddenly given the opportunity to make his wildest dreams come true. His greed is eventually his downfall. This is not an unusual moral for a story in children books, but Van Allsburg’s chilling characterization of the man brings a frightening tone to the narrative.

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, a collection of images on one side, and one sentence on the other (meant to be ‘recovered pages’ of longer books) continues the themes of darker undertones and was the inspiration for the short story “The House on Maple Street” by author Stephen King, in his collection: Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

The Wretched Stone, in which a ship’s crew is mesmerized and corrupted by the titular rock, is an allegorical tale about the negative impact of television” Source: Wikipedia.

 

Double Arch and Milky Way stars at Arches National Park, Utah, USA

Double Arch and Milky Way stars at Arches National Park, Utah, USA
Double Arch and Milky Way stars at Arches National Park, Utah, USA

Arches National Park, Utah: “The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins and giant balanced rocks. This red rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, refresh you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets.” Source: National Park Service

Image source:

Find out more:

The Essential Rumi – Like This

Listen to this delectable recording of Tilda Swinton reading Like This (and try to forget that it is in order to celebrate the launch of a perfume…)

 

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