Lost in Books with Veronica Strachan

Launch party cake: The Ochre Dragon

Veronica Strachan spent most of her childhood lost in a good book. She spent most of her adult life lost in a good job as a nurse, midwife, CEO, coach, and facilitator (amongst other things).

After years of encouraging others to follow their dreams, she remembered what she wanted to be when she grew up. Five years later she has six published books: a memoir, a workbook/journal, and a children’s picture book series illustrated by her daughter, Cassi.

Cassi & Veronica Strachan

As V.E. Patton, Veronica has written a fantasy and a novelette. She is co-founder of Australian Book Lovers and co-hosts their podcast.

In keeping with my theme of 2021, I asked Veronica about her inspirations.

Veronica: Thank you for the lovely opportunity to contribute to your blog.

What inspires me?

Such succulent bait to my chronically overactive curiosity and imagination. Reel me in!

‘Learning’ in all its forms inspires me. But, let’s keep it to what inspires my writing life…

Age attenuated the urgency of making a living and bringing up children. So, having given myself permission to make writing my next best thing – as it had been my first thing during childhood – inspiration began coming from all points of the compass, the clock, and life.

Nature can inspire
Small things can inspire stories

I see a person frowning into their phone – what’s their backstory? A cat staring superciliously at its human slave – character for a villain. Autumn leaves skittering across chilled black dirt – setting. An anecdote from a friend – plot twist. Heated exchange in a shop queue – dialogue. Flick of a fringe or straightening of a cap – character trait. A quiet walk: still air and sunshine are the soil, imagination is the seed, inspiration bursts forth – a new stand-alone science fiction story about genetic engineering.

No, perhaps a trilogy with a second trilogy to follow!

I jog home to scribble down some notes. Most of all, I’m inspired by people: my husband, children, friends, and clients. Whether I’m coaching an individual, facilitating a room full of clinicians or chatting with a friend over a cuppa, I see potential in everyone, hope for a better future, be it this minute, this month, or this life. All food for putting words on a page.

Breathing While Drowning was inspired by my daughter, Jacqueline Bree, who died at four years old. Twenty-years later as I wanted to creatively write, I had her voice in my head encouraging me to write our story. I transcribed journals I wrote to Jacqui in the short years she was alive and for several years after as I struggled through grief. And I was inspired by myself. Perhaps an odd thing to say, but reading back over what that younger me had done, lived and felt, I was so grateful for how she’d held our life together – not always well, but hold it together she did. And ever so slowly, she opened herself to healing from the life and love around her.

Six book covers
Six books by Veronica, as VE Patton and as Veronica Strachan

Ochre Dragon was inspired by every science fiction and fantasy book I’d ever read, every utopian or dystopian world I’d ever escaped to and the absolute dearth of female protagonists over fifty! So, inspired by every clever and courageous woman I’d met, I wrote the book I wanted to read. Middle-aged woman battles her own demons, all the villains, and saves the universe – or does she?

My oldest sister, Mary inspired my picture book series: The Adventures of Chickabella. Mary died two years ago from breast cancer, a dearly loved and respected kindergarten teacher, leaving five young grandchildren to miss her reading stories to them. Mary was the oral story-teller in our family, every moment was history, and every moment a memory. She taught as easily and effortlessly as breathing. My eldest daughter Cassi created the beautiful illustrations for her Aunty.

Book Extract!

Veronica has very kindly given us a free extract from her writing. This is from Ochre Dragon: The Opal Dreaming Chronicles Book 1, Chapter 2.

VE Patton The Ochre Dragon cover
VE Patton The Ochre Dragon cover detail

Here we meet middle-aged project manager Ali just after she’s been attacked in her office!

***

If the assassin stops to kill her, then I can escape. Ali felt sick at being so gutless. Indecision kept her frozen to the spot, expecting a scream at any moment. With her eyes glued to the door, rainbow sparkles began to crowd her vision.

A trilling female voice hooted with laughter in Ali’s head. She clutched her temples. You should SO run. Impossibly, the voice sliced through her brain like a hot knife.

She’s not who you think she is. She’d definitely run if the shoe was on the other foot.

‘Who’s there?’ Ali rasped, fear drying her mouth.

Come on. Did you see what I did there? Shoe on the other foot. You’re only wearing one shoe. SHOE-ON-THE-OTHER-FOOT. Surely that’s worth a groan at least.

‘Who is it? Come out now. This is not funny. We’re in a Code Black,’ Ali couldn’t imagine how the voice was in her head.

You know who I am Ali Morrow. That is who you’re calling yourself in this incarnation, isn’t it Alinta? Invisible, anonymous Proji and Cataloguer Extraordinaire.

The voice continued in a huffy tone. And that was very funny by the way. I’ve been practising my comedy routines while I waited for you to come to your senses.

Ali swivelled, searching the foyer for the owner of the voice.

We don’t have time for theatrics. We’re close to the century congruence. It’s me. Jiemba. I’m through. I’m back. We needed a life-threatening event so I could break through this ridiculous nightmare you call existence.

Ali’s gift flashed a picture of a cranky red dragon in her mind. Dragon. Mammoth body, sinuous neck, enormous frilled head, covered in scales, dragon. Dark red threads charged around her gift like lit fuses, blasting holes and breaking connections in her mind’s tapestry.

The dragon sat on its massive haunches in the chaos and bared a set of sharp, glistening fangs. It tilted and lowered its head so that Ali got a glimpse of one enormous eye peering at her – from inside her head. Apart from the vertical obsidian pupil, the dragon’s eye was like a gigantic opal. The eye drank in light, leaving the smattering of sparkling rainbow flecks a brilliant counterpoint.

Hello breakfast.

Ali shook her head, her heart hammering a ragged tattoo. She must be going mad. The old woman had told her to remember Jiemba. Something about her shadow seemed out of sync and Ali glanced down to see that it had transformed into the shape of an enormous dragon, its head crowned with curled horns.

She dragged her gaze past outstretched wings, taloned forelimbs, and a lashing spiked tail. Its hind legs and enormous feet joined at her very real single shod pair. Her mind threatened to explode.

‘No. Absolutely not. There are no such things as dragons.’ She barely realised she’d spoken aloud and closed her eyes as an offended huff sounded in her head.

There certainly are such things. And you and I are one. So let’s get outta here. The voice turned a little plaintive. I wanna go Home.

Ali squeezed her eyes tighter.

Aren’t you even a little bit glad to see me? I was only kidding about the breakfast thing. I haven’t eaten a human in ages. At least a couple of hours. Kidding. I’m just kidding. I only eat the bad ones. Kidding again, Well, no actually. That bit is true.

Ali put her hands over her ears. ‘Not real. Not real. Not real,’ she chanted.

Jiemba sulked in the background, mumbling about humour and bad gigs. All of which only upped Ali’s panic level. A noise had her whirling as her office door opened and Sophie strolled out, the epitome of composure.

She looks more like a bloody manager than me, all cool and graceful. Ali did not qualify for cool or graceful just now.

‘Nothing there but shadows and an over-active imagination. Come on, come and see.’ Sophie beckoned her closer.

How can she be braver than me? I’ve got at least a quarter-century on her, and she’s just an addi.

I could’ve helped you with that. I have enough courage for both of us. And then some.

Sophie’s not hearing the voice.

Well, she wouldn’t, would she. I’m only in your head.

Ali gulped, swallowing the bile that fear had driven to her throat.

Ugh, that burns. I am so heading to that stress session tonight.

Sophie beckoned again, her lifted eyebrow questioning Ali’s hesitation.

Ali approached, limping in her single high heel, and peeked past Sophie’s smile. Nothing. No one. She stepped into the small room, getting a whiff of Sophie’s citrus perfume and nothing else. She edged past the upended chair, bent and looked under the desk and then over to the floor beside the window.

Nope, no ninja assassin. No silver thingies.

Her body sagged. She ran her fingers through her hair, gathering the soft escapees and tucking them behind her ears.

‘What about the conference room? Did you check in there?’ Ali asked.

Sophie nodded. ‘Nothing.’

‘Jeez, I must look like an idiot.’

Sophie patted her shoulder sympathetically.

Can’t disagree with you there, Jiemba chuckled.

‘Ali, you’ve been working like a fiend to get this report out. You’re exhausted. And you don’t eat well. Is it any wonder you’re jumping at shadows? Go and save your work and I’ll make you a cuppa for the trip home. Time we both left anyway. Federation won’t love us if we file for burn out.’

Sophie marched off and Ali listened to her confident clip, clip, clip across the tiles to the kitchen. The sound of the boiling kettle seemed so prosaic to her overwrought senses.

She realised she was standing forlornly in the middle of her office, adrenaline still churning her gut. She took a long, slow, deep breath, remembering her stress relief classes and glanced around.

‘Right, nothing to see. You’re ridiculously busy, so stressed that even in the daytime you’re imagining wandering wild women and nefarious ninja assassins.’

Seriously, why the hell would ninja assassins want to kill me? It’s not like I’m anyone important. I’m nothing. I know I’m good at my job, but jeez.

You forgot a dragon talking in your head. Jiemba sounded snarky. Ali ignored her.

***

Wow! All that and DRAGONS! Thank you so much Veronica, for being my guest tioday.

Check out the links below for more 🙂

Veronica’s Links

Website https://www.veronicastrachan.com.au/
Breathing While Drowning: One Woman’s Quest for Wholeness https://books2read.com/BWD
Ochre Dragon: The Opal Dreaming Chronicles Book 1 https://books2read.com/OchreDragon

Ocean Currents: inspiration by Rebecca Fraser

Front Cover_Coralesque detail

The lure of the ocean and a love of speculative fiction combine in the works of Australian author Rebecca Fraser. But these are not this writer’s only strengths. I recently read and reviewed Rebecca’s book of short stories Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract for Aurealis magazine, using words like:

“Fraser’s insight and eye for detail imbue every story, and her imaginative scope encompasses a prodigious variety of settings and characters. Keep this little book of horrors close.”

Going forward with the idea of an inspiring 2021, I recently asked Rebecca to contribute to my blog with a reflection about what inspires her writing, and – you guessed it – a bonus FREE EXTRACT! Read on…

Inspired by Life

REBECCA: Thanks so much for having me on you blog, Clare. I always love reading answers to this question! For me, inspiration is usually drawn from multiple sources. Sometimes it’s a snatch of overhead conversation (I’m a dreadful eavesdropper, but aren’t all writers?), that inspires the kernel of a story. An article or news item might trigger inspiration, or sometimes a random sequence of words strike me as an intriguing story title. I often glean glimpses and glimmers of inciting incidents or thought-provoking situations from random sources, and little building blocks of plot and setting start to form a framework.  The characters always seem to come later.

Rebecca Fraser, Australian author, lives on Victoria's beautiful Mornington Peninsula
Rebecca Fraser, Australian author, lives on Victoria’s beautiful Mornington Peninsula

I walk a lot too—for physical and mental exercise. There are some lovely walks that surround my home on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, and when it’s just me alone with my thoughts, immersed in nature, this is usually when the threads of a story come together, or when I get resolution to a plot point that might have been proving problematic.

As far as what I find inspiring on a personal level, it’s often drawn from deep wells where people have thrown off the cloak of repression or revolted against the abuse of power and privilege and marginalisation, sometimes at enormous sacrifice and cost. It’s people at their best versus people at their worst—the human condition is a perennial source of fascination to me. Courage, retribution, and comeuppance often find a place within my stories.

 

The gift of an extract

REBECCA: This is the first chapter of my middle grade fantasy adventure Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean (IFWG Publishing Australia, 2018).

Front Cover_Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean
Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean

I chose this piece as the events, characters, and setting are a fusion of my love for the ocean and my love of speculative fiction. Much of my work carries a nautical theme or features a coastal setting, so it was a pleasure to write in familiar territory.

I also wanted to tackle issues and themes that are relevant to today’s youth, and thirteen-year-old Curtis Creed proved a worthy vehicle to use for this. The book highlights several themes: the acceptance of great loss, the differing effect grief can have on family members, courage in the face of adversity, self-worth, self-belief, self-acceptance, and respect for our environment.

On a lighter note, Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean is predominantly a fun, fast-paced fantasy adventure story, filled with characters I hoped many readers would be able to relate to.

It’s set in Queensland,  in the fictional coastal township of Midnight Cove. I’m a former Queensland girl, so I feel like I’ve walked the shoreline of Midnight Cove many times, and delved deep into the hidden world of rockpools. Perhaps, like Curtis, I should have delved deeper … who knows what I might have found? 😊

 

EXTRACT from Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean

Curtis Creed stood at the water’s edge. Come back to me, the ocean sighed. Come back to me. But he couldn’t. Not today. Not ever.

He squinted against the afternoon sun and focused on the line-up of surfers gathered out past the second break. Even though they were far offshore, Curtis’ trained eye was able to pick out their various techniques—weight transfers, body positions, timing. It was second nature. If you weren’t in the surf yourself then you were watching other surfers; scrutinising their moves, checking out their styles.

He’d stood at the shoreline for so long his feet had become anchored, buried ankle-deep in the sand with the ebb and pull of the tide. Out among the breakers, a surfer powered down the face of a beautifully formed wave before disappearing into the pipeline. Remember that feeling? the ocean breathed. Remember? Of course he remembered, but he couldn’t return to the surf. He just couldn’t.

Instead the school holidays dragged along—lonesome days spent wandering the shoreline of Midnight Cove or sitting high up on The Bluff, watching others chase waves. Sometimes, when the surf was really pumping, his sense of loss and failure was so suffocating it was easier to avoid the beach altogether.

Thwack. A wad of wet sand hit Curtis hard in the back, right between his shoulders. His buried feet caused him to lose balance and he pitched forward. He flung his arms out to steady himself too late, and landed in the water on all fours.

“Whatcha doing, Shark Crumb? Looking out for sharks?” The hated nickname. Loud guffaws. It was Dylan and his moronic mates. Why couldn’t his brother just leave him alone?

“Yeah, Shark Crumb. Seen any sharks lately?”

“Better get out of the water, Shark Crumb. They’ll smell your fear.”

Curtis stood up. His board shorts and the front of his singlet were soaked. He turned to face his tormentors. Dylan was flanked by Blake and Jordo, two of his mates from high school. They were fresh from the surf with wetsuits pulled down around their waists. Water dripped from their hair and trickled down their torsos. The boys had pressed their surfboards into the wet sand, where they stood upright like silent sentinels.

Then Curtis noticed Dylan was using their father’s surfboard and anger boiled inside him like lava in a volcano. The thruster stood between Blake and Jordo’s boards, a falcon between two pigeons. It was handcrafted for speed and could cut down the face of a wave like no other. Dimples of wax glinted from its surface, wax that remained from another time, applied in dawn’s first light by their father’s hand. The image sliced Curtis’ heart as cleanly as the board’s fin cut through water.

“Why have you got Dad’s board?” He was screaming now. He couldn’t help it. Didn’t care.

“What’s it to you? You never use it.” Dylan folded his arms across his chest.

“That’s not the point.” Curtis took a step closer to Dylan. “Dad left it to me. To me.” His voice was shaking now. Blake and Jordo circled like a pair of seagulls, cawing out the familiar taunt Shark Crumb, but Curtis barely heard them.

A tendon in Dylan’s neck began to pulse. He shaped up to Curtis so closely he could see the peppering of blackheads across Dylan’s nose. “Dad never would’ve left it to you if he knew you were going to turn into such a pussy.”

Before he’d even thought about what he was doing, Curtis punched Dylan in the face as hard as he could. The swing harnessed every ounce of his rage and the punch landed with a clap. Dylan fell backwards. His eyes widened with surprise then quickly clouded with danger. A droplet of blood fell from his nose and made a coin-sized stain on the wet sand.

It was time to go. Curtis turned and pelted off down the beach. Behind him he could hear Blake and Jordo give chase, but he knew he could outrun them. The stupid nickname rang out behind him, but as the distance grew the voices became fainter until they were eventually torn away by the ocean breeze.

He ran without looking back. His breath hitched in his chest. A ball of embers burned the back of his throat, but still he ran. Tears stung his eyes, but he also felt a thrill of exhilaration. He’d hit Dylan before, of course, and received his fair share back. Heck, they were brothers. They’d grown up with horse bites, birthday punches, Chinese burns, and the dreaded typewriter. But he’d never all out hauled off and decked him. It had felt good, but the brief rush of exhilaration was quickly replaced by terror at the thought what awaited him when he returned home. Especially as he’d managed to floor Dylan in front of his mates. His brother would no doubt have all kinds of retribution in store.

He decided to delay for as long as he could. As he rounded the southernmost end of Midnight Cove he slowed to a jog. Here the long stretch of beach gave way to a rocky shoreline heavily strewn with ancient lava boulders and rock pools. The rock shelf—a labyrinth of stones and shallows—skirted the great cliffs that rose to form Midnight Bluff, the town’s highest point.

The ocean’s teeth had gnashed the cliffs for thousands of years carving an alien landscape of rock face and rivulets. The rock pools closest to the sandy beach made safe watery playgrounds for children to explore with buckets and spades. Further round the headland, however, access was difficult and discouraged. The gentle waves that undulated through the bay had nowhere to go when they met land here, and they boomed and crashed over the rocks. The boulders were larger and denser, filled with ankle-breaking crevices and rock pools that were deceptively deeper than their beach-hugging counterparts. They filled and drained with the tide’s highs and lows.

Curtis knew Dylan wouldn’t follow him here. It wasn’t just the difficulty of access that would stop him, there were too many memories.

Curtis ignored his aching fist as he jumped gazelle-like from boulder to boulder. The ocean’s salt-tinged air whipped and whistled and he ventured deeper into the network of rock pools until the beach was completely out of sight.

***

Oh my goodness, that’s an exciting extract! Thank you so much, Rebecca, for sharing it with us today.

You can find Rebecca’s work at the links below. Enjoy 😉

 

Front Cover_Coralesque
Coralesque and other tales to disturb and distract, by Rebecca Fraser

REBECCA’S LINKS


Website:
  https://writingandmoonlighting.com/

Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Oceanhttps://www.amazon.com.au/Curtis-Creed-Ocean-Rebecca-Fraser/dp/1925759032

Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distracthttps://www.amazon.com.au/Coralesque-Other-Tales-Disturb-Distract/dp/1925956709

Not Just Cricket: Bowl the Maidens Over

Bowl the Maidens Over cover

Can you guess when and where we played the first women’s cricket game in Australia? Bendigo, 1874!

You may know that I have a history decades-long of loving cricket. I’m very excited about this book.

MCC First XI Premiers 1994/95
Melbourne Cricket Club First XI Premiers 1994/95…that’s me, the scorer. And yes that is the late great Dean Jones top left.

History, culture, sport, feminism…

Today’s guest, Louise Zedda-Sampson, is about to release a wonderful book called Bowl the Maidens Over: Our First Women Cricketers.

The book is an intriguing account of the first Australian women’s cricket matches. In 1874 at the Sandhurst Easter Fair (Bendigo, Victoria), two teams of women cricketers assembled to play a cricket match in front of a rather large and enthusiastic crowd. It was a charity match raising funds for the Bendigo Hospital and Benevolent Asylum.

Louise’s book follows the women players as well as the members of the Rae family. The Raes were pivotal in creating and running the matches. From the first ad in the paper to the media storm afterwords, this is an amazing story.

First, Louise shares her inspiration for the book.

LOUISE: I’m never short for inspiration and find it comes in the weirdest ways.

This one came about during my last year of the Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing at Melbourne Polytechnic when the course coordinator asked me if I would like to contribute to a volunteer project. The Youlden Parkville Cricket Club wanted to recreate the club’s history. The club president, Paul Sinclair, is a very passionate player and president and wanted this to be something special for his club. After compiling this information for the club, there were several stories that wouldn’t let me go. I’ve written one about Harry Boyle and David Scott who owned one of the sports emporiums ‘Boyle and Scott’  in the 1800s prior to the Depression. My new book book focuses on the first Australian games of women’s cricket. A topic that’s barely had more than a line or two in any other book on women’s sports to date!

You could say that the women wouldn’t leave me alone until I shared the story! So they were the inspiration and I just stumbled across them while digging through the history of early cricket.

It was a challenge to find the right piece to include as an extract as each section offers something different. Rather than explaining how it all began, I’m going to put you right there, at the very first game.

Second, a free extract from Bowl the Maidens Over!

The match begins. Read on…

 

An advertisement for the match
An advertisement for the match

At noon, as the fair opened for the second day, the cricketers arrived at the cricket ground in the same three carriages they had ridden in as part of the parade. Spectators numbered in the thousands. Mrs Rae led the Reds, and Barbara Rae the Blues, from the tent:two by two, arms linked – one pink one blue – backs straight, heads held high. They were greeted with loud applause. The women assembled on the ground in their teams: their ability for organisation further impressing the crowd.

A report by the Bendigo Advertiser on 8 April best covers the entire match and offers a clear sense of pride in the players.

THE LADIES’ CRICKET MATCH.

Bendigo Advertiser, 8 April 1874

It certainly required a very considerable amount of courage on the part of the ladies to undertake to play a cricket match in public. The thing was unprecedented as far as Australia was concerned, and such a remarkable event as a ladies’ cricket match has seldom happened, even in the old country—the home of cricket. The cause in which they were engaged however—that of “heavenborn charity”—over-came all scruples, and they came nobly forward to aid the destitute and the suffering.

Sandhurst has the honor of turning out the first twenty-two lady cricketers, and from the exhibition of their capabilities yesterday in this new field of love’s labor they have added an additional charm to the game of cricket, and shown that, as a healthy exercise, it is alike fitted for the gentler as for the sterner sex. The match was originated in aid of the funds of the hospital and asylum, and the large crowd of spectators who gathered yesterday to witness it evinced an amount of public interest in it far beyond what was expected.

For some weeks past the ladies had been practising the game on the Back Creek Cricket Ground, kindly placed at their disposal by the B.U.C.C., and the progress which they made was astonishing, for they picked up the points of the game with wonderful aptitude.

At first it was expected that they should play in the Bloomer costume, as being less likely to interfere with their freedom of movement than any other, but the innovation was considered too startling for a British community, and the idea was given up in favour of an attire of the ordinary shaped dress, made of calico, with a colored jacket to distinguish the respective sides. These dresses the ladies purpose handing over as gifts to the charities. The game was intended to be played on the Back Creek Cricket ground, but unforeseen circumstances prevented it taking place there, and it was played in the Camp Reserve.

At one o’clock the ladies, in full costume, arrived in three carriages. The wickets were pitched in one of the crosswalks by the umpires—Mr. J. Latham and Mr. John Glen who officiated in the absence of the Hon. A. Mackay. Everything being in readiness, the ladies—the one side wearing red Garibaldi jackets and sailors’ hats; and the other blue jackets and similar hats—marched in pairs—red and blue being linked together—from the tent into the field, headed by respective captains—Mrs. Rae for the Reds, and Miss B. Rae for the Blues.

Their appearance was very pretty and picturesque; and they were loudly applauded by the onlookers. It was suddenly discovered that though the ladies had brought bats and wickets, they had forgotten the ball, but this little difficulty was got over by one of the umpires producing one of Duke’s best. The respective captains having tossed for innings it was decided that the Reds should go to the bat and they secured a total of 62 runs before the last wicket fell.

The highest scorer was Miss Kate Petrie who obtained 27 runs. This young lady not only acquitted herself well with the bat, but she trundled the ball with effect. Miss Nellie Rae distinguished herself by smart fielding, effecting a capital catch by which a good bat, Miss Clay, was got rid of. Miss J. Murdoch proved herself a first rate bowler. After the lapse of half an hour the Reds took the field, and they put their opponents out for 83 runs. Miss B. Rae was top scorer, with 36 not out; while Miss Gerber scored 10; and besides did good execution with the ball, bowling underhand with precision, and lowering six wickets. Miss Clay caught out Miss Luthwhyte by a splendid left-hand catch, which evoked tremendous applause, and brought the innings to a close. One innings each only was played, and victory therefore rested with the Blues. Mr. Coffin acted as scorer. When the ladies had assembled in the booth Mr. Abbott, chairman of the hospital committee, thanked the ladies for the successful effort which they had made on behalf of the charities, and the gentlemen present sang “They are jolly good fellows.” Mrs. Rae, on behalf of the ladies, replied, stating that the ladies had thoroughly enjoyed the game, and had the utmost gratification in knowing that their efforts had been productive of a substantial addition to the funds of the charities.

Annexed is the score:—

The Garibaldi Jacket
The Garibaldi Jacket

THE REDS.

Mrs. Rae (capt.), b Gerber. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

Miss K.Petrie, run out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27

Miss N. Rae, b Gerber . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

Miss J. Murdoch, b Gerber . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

Miss L. Williams, b Gerber . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

Miss E. Carr, b B. Rae . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Mrs Hoffner, b Gerber . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

Miss A. Williams, run out . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Mrs. Leeds, not out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

Miss R. Shalders, b Gerber . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

Miss Luthwhyte, c Clay, b Gerber . . . . . . . . . 0

No ball, 1; bye, 1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Total. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .62

 

 

 

THE BLUES.

Bowl the Maidens Over cover
Bowl the Maidens Over cover

Miss Richardson, b K. Petrie . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

Miss Carpenter, b K. Petrie . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

Miss C. Shalders, b K. Petrie . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Miss Clay, c N. Rae, b K. Petrie . . . . . . . . . .0

Miss A. Petrie, b Murdoch. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

Miss B. Rae (cap.), not out . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

Miss E. Gerber, c K. Petrie, b N. Rae . . . . .10

Miss Wiseman, b K. Petrie . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

Miss Westhead, h w, b Mrs. Rae . . . . . . . . . . 8

Miss M. Bell, b J. Murdoch . . . . . . . . . . . . .8

Mrs. Drought, b J. Murdoch . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Byes 3, wides 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5

Total. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .83

 

 

Bowl the Maidens Over will be released in June 2021.

You can pre-order at https://louisezeddasampson.com.au/shop/bowl-the-maidens-over/

Keep an eye out for event announcements at https://louisezeddasampson.com.au/

 

Midnight swims and the omnipresence of story ideas

jumping into water!

Swimming at midnight – could it possibly help? Today we’ll ask author Faith Hogan about her latest book and her inspirations.

Faith lives in the west of Ireland with her husband, four children and a very busy chocolate Labrador called Penny.

She’s also going to share an excerpt from her novel The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club.

Author Faith Hogan
Author Faith Hogan

Inspiration – The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club

FAITH SAYS: Inspiration for a book is a funny thing. As a writer, it’s probably the question you’re asked the most – where do you get your ideas? The truth is, the ideas are everywhere, just waiting for you to grasp them.

Sometimes, an idea comes from little more than a few off-hand words, a comment in a voice that you know would work great in a character. It’s not necessarily, even a real voice, just one that seems to enter my head from nowhere.

At other times, inspiration can be as simple as the beauty of my surroundings. Quite a number of my books are based on a fictional village called Ballycove. It’s a place that doesn’t exist, and yet it very much does. It’s a mish-mash of all the best of the rugged coastline that runs from west County Sligo to the far reaches of County Mayo, here in the west of Ireland. Local readers will often tell me they recognise various landmarks. At the same time, many locals could pick up my books and not have the foggiest that they are actually living in some part of the story.

I think that’s the magic of inspiration – it’s very personal. Where you and I see beauty or the nugget of a story can be poles apart. It’s also why there are so many books and all so different.

They say that there are only ten different plots. Fewer depending on who you believe. But the same plot in different hands becomes a completely different book and none the less satisfying for that, if the writer is worth their salt.

In The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club, I was spoiled for inspiration. It came from all around me – literally.

It is set in Ballycove, a windswept corner of the west of Ireland.

The Wild Atlantic Way stretches along the west coast of Ireland, from Cork at its tip to Donegal at its head. It’s a symphony of small villages, unspoilt beaches, crashing waves and green fields. It’s truly breath taking, no less in winter when we’re blown away by gales than it is in summer when the sun shines and it feels as if the heavens have opened up before you.

And then there are the people. My books are all character driven. In The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club, it is Lucy, Jo and Elizabeth who are steering the story. We meet each of them in their own moment of need. Each of them faces their own personal crises, some of which can be resolved. Others are out of their hands. But in life, it’s not always about how you fix things – it’s about how you cope with them.

What we’ve all learned, if we’re lucky enough to have a solid network around us, is that there is no problem that can’t be made to feel smaller if you can laugh at it. And there is no-one better to help you put things in perspective than another woman.

The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club is a story about friendship. It’s about reaching out not because you have to, but because you can. It’s about the therapeutic benefits of laughter and kindness and the fact that every problem is halved once it’s shared.

After the year we’ve all put in, I think it’s exactly the sort of book I would like to pick up and read this weekend. It’s been described as ‘joyful, life-affirming and inspirational‘ and isn’t that exactly what we need right now?

 

Excerpt from The Ladies’ Midnight Swimming Club

Diary of a Sea Swimmer

The cold burns against my skin, numbing it instantly. I wade out, warily knowing that the icy water stabbing against my legs is an inevitable part of this. A bitter blanket weaving about my body welcoming me, a dear friend; I plunge violently in, gasping, salt water teasing my lips. I feel the small jagged stones beneath my feet. And then, I’m in. My arms and legs cut automatically through the water, until the cold has eaten from the outside in and there is nothing to do but surrender to the vastness and in it know that I am somehow suspended safe and all is well. I turn on my back for delicious blissful moments before I must go back to the shore and take up my life where I left off before … From Jo’s Journa

Prologue

Mid May and to Elizabeth, the night felt almost balmy. The cove was just half a mile along the beach. Elizabeth knew she’d come here again, even if she wouldn’t have admitted it to herself. When she did, she stood for a few moments. This was where Jo came to swim every single night. Like her window washing every Thursday afternoon, Jo was a woman of routine, albeit to the beat of her own drum. Each evening when all the other women in Ballycove settled down to fall asleep before the television, Jo pulled out an old shopping bag with a threadbare towel and a comb that once belonged to her mother. She walked along this beach until she came to just this spot and then she stripped down to her faded swimsuit and swam energetically for at least ten minutes in the biting waves.

Elizabeth stood for a long while, a little transfixed with the recollections and ghosts that played along in her memory. She had come down here often when they were children, but she hadn’t swum for years.

‘I thought it was you,’ Jo’s familiar voice called out from behind her. ‘What brings you down here tonight?’ She dropped her bag on the ground.

‘Oh, just out for a bit of a ramble,’ Elizabeth said easily, regretting now that she’d come here to impose on what was Jo’s own form of meditation.

‘Maybe you’ll join me?’ Jo laughed.

‘Oh, I don’t think so. For one thing, I’m not sure I have your constitution for the cold.’ She laughed at this for a moment, and then she remembered as Jo shed layer after layer of clothes that she was nowhere near as strong and robust as Elizabeth had always assumed. Rather, beneath the layers, she had shrunk into a sparrow of a woman with stick-like arms and legs, and not very much more in between.

‘You’re missing out – that’s all I’ll say.’ And then she was picking her way down towards the waves and Elizabeth was left to think about the fact that she had spent her life sitting on the sidelines. It wasn’t where she wanted to finish out the rest of her days.

The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club
The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club by Faith Hogan

There was something about today. Something Elizabeth couldn’t quite put her finger on, as if it was the start of a new chapter. The water ahead seemed suddenly so inviting. She really wasn’t sure that she was in full command of her actions or her senses as she began to throw off her clothes, but soon, she was running with the energy of an excited child, shrieking with an abandon she’d never known before, naked as the day she was born, she ran into the water.

It was exhilarating, a baptism of biting cold that felt as if it might chew her up in no time. It rattled her nerve endings, sending an extravagant swell of emotion through her. It was initiation, as if she was being culled of her old staid life, and suddenly, this unbearable cold became part of her, a wholly new sensation, freeing her from the life she’d lived until now. This was liberating. It was overwhelming. A cascading of emotion welled within her, the salty cold now insulating her from any pain, rather, for the first time, it felt as if all of those fears and secrets could reside as one within her and the biting sea was powerful enough to hold her in equilibrium. Finally she was free.

This moment was her whole life, all rolled up – past, present, future – but mainly, she was here and now and she’d never felt so alive. She dived beneath the water feeling the freedom of it while shocked with the cold, but she filled with immeasurable warmth. It was madness, passionate, wonderful living perfection. She lay on her back, squinting off towards where she knew the horizon sat. She swam out further, far beyond her own depth to where Jo was lying on her back, gazing up at the fading light.

‘You did it,’ Jo murmured as they treaded the freezing water together.

‘It’s bloody cold here,’ Elizabeth said unnecessarily.

‘It is that, but don’t you feel alive? I feel the same thing every day I come here. It anchors me in a place that’s mine within the vastness.’

‘Okay.’ Elizabeth wasn’t sure what she meant. She just knew that here, in the sable saltiness of the ocean, she felt as if she could do anything – nothing could faze her at this moment.

‘I wonder what Eric would say now?’ Jo smiled and suddenly they were both laughing their heads off like lunatics. For once, he’d have been completely lost for words. The notion that his respectable wife would be out swimming in the altogether in the moonlight; it might very well have been enough to shock him into sobriety.

The beach was completely empty, apart from a few circling gulls who probably thought they were wholly mad. Elizabeth laughed again; perhaps they were right – maybe she had finally tipped over into a state of happy lunacy, but she didn’t care. For the first time in far too long, she felt what it was to be truly blissful.

***

 

Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Faith. More power to you!

 

IMPORTANT LINKS

Faith’s website

Other Titles by Faith Hogan

My Husband’s Wives

Secrets We Keep

The Girl I Used to Know

What Happened to Us?

The Place We Call Home

 

 

Us versus Them – or is it? with Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Factions

Mikhaeyla Kopievsky is an Australian speculative fiction author. She is the author of the Divided Elements series and an upcoming gothic novel set in Tasmania. Mikhaeyla was longlisted for the 2019 EJ Brady Short Story Competition for her piece, Grasshopper.

Mikhaeyla is an administrator of the Australian Speculative Fiction facebook page (if you write sci-fi, fantasy and/or horror, I really recommend that you join this wonderful group!) and a developmental editor with their Deadset Press imprint.

Black Australorp chooks (chooks is Australian for 'chickens' or 'fowl')
Black Australorp chooks (chooks is Australian for ‘chickens’ or ‘fowl’)
Image from
https://www.knowyourchickens.com/australorp-chicken/

Born in Sydney, Mikhaeyla now lives in the Hunter Valley with her husband, son, two rescue dogs, four Australorp chooks, a hive of cantankerous bees, and the occasional herd of beautiful Black Angus steers.

When she is not writing or reading, Mikhaeyla enjoys cooking with the produce harvested from her kitchen garden, going to the beach, stargazing, and training to be a ninja.

I’d better watch out, because ninjas are a bit scary. Time to turn over the post to Mikhaeyla!

 

Mikhaeyla talks about inspiration

Mikhaeyla: I’ve always been interested by stories that explore the (artificial) divide between us and themRomeo and Juliet, Brave New World, Handmaid’s Tale, Hunger Games, Red Rising – they all show what it is to sort people into pre-defined boxes so that you can align yourself with one side and demonise the other. It’s part of our evolutionary psychology to seek out our ‘tribe’. Our biochemistry is designed to give us hits of happy chemicals like serotonin and oxytocin when we’re accepted into (and by) a group. It’s why we get so much pleasure from social validation or feeling like we’re part of a team, and why it’s so hard to break away from social norms or reject peer pressure.

Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
Book Punk and SFF Author Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

I enjoy writing stories about characters who have to confront the neat boxes they’ve constructed for their identity (and the perceived identities of others) and engage in more complex, uncomfortable, and nuanced relationships because of it. Ellie Safak, a brilliant writer, gave a great TED talk a few years ago on the politics of fiction and she used this wonderful metaphor of circles – explaining how everything dies when it is surrounded (almost entombed) in a circle. I like putting my characters in situations where they are forced to break out of that circle.

 

Fascinating! And you have an extract to share?

This is an excerpt from the first book in my Divided Elements series, Resistance. The series is set in a future, dystopian Paris where everything is engineered, including identities, and a resistance movement has emerged to upset the carefully-constructed order. The first book follows Anaiya, a Peacekeeper who has her mind realigned to a different identity so that she can infiltrate the resistance movement and bring it down. In this scene, Anaiya has just got her first real lead and is about to embark on a night out in the hedonistic and carnival-like nightlife of the Northern Area:

Extract from Resistance

The late afternoon light filters through oppressive brown clouds as Anaiya makes her way back towards the Ravignan Strip. She shivers past the long jagged shadows cast by Stricken Core on the ancient bricks of Ruzais Street, her boots slapping the uneven surface as the descent falls steeper and steeper.

Arriving at the start of the Ravignan Strip she stops to survey her target. The Lavoir izakaya rises seven storeys, its pale-brick walls following the sharp angle of the intersection and forming a wedge. Anaiya tilts her head back and stares up at its heights, intrigued by the way its triangular shape is softened by rounded corners that defy the geometric rigidity of rectangular bricks.

The strange perspective pushes her off-balance and she finds herself swaying like the treatment boats in the nearby River Syn. Closing her eyes tightly, she steps back to regain her balance, stopping abruptly when she collides with something behind her.

Spinning around, she is confronted by a smiling Elemental. It takes a moment for the surprise to fade, for her neocortex to kick in and allow her to assess him.

Male. Sixth lustrum. Six feet four inches, maybe five. Traces of skin ink on left arm from mid-ulna upwards. Non-hostile stance. Intelligent eyes.

“Hey,” he offers casually, reaching for the entry panel next to the izakaya door.

The door clicks and he pulls it towards him. Anaiya watches as his sleeve recedes further up his arm, revealing more of the skin pattern – thick, dark lines stretch into twisting ribbons, reaching up to cradle a skull.

“Hey,” she replies.

He stands there, the door still grasped in his hand.

“Going in, butterfly?” he asks, inclining his head towards the activity just beyond the door.

Anaiya blinks in recognition of the familiar nom de douceurThis Elemental with the interesting ink is the same one who barred her exit from izakaya last night.

She stares at him, trying to gauge his approach, interpret his intent. His body language is neutral, the smile still dancing at his lips. He is teasing her. Anaiya returns the smile involuntarily, enjoying the moment of levity even if it is at her expense, and ducks through into the Lavoir.

Inside, the lighting is dim. A score of ancient incandescent bulbs dangle from plastic cables, throwing soft light around the low-ceilinged, narrow space. Music beats and pulsates, bouncing off the wall and blending with the low hum of conversation. The air is rich with smells and noises.

Anaiya pauses, allowing her limbic brain to revel in the feast of sensations presented before her. The breeze at her back dies as the door to the izakaya clicks shut. She drifts between Air Elementals, slow-dancing a wandering path towards the bar. Her gaze tracks along its architecture; a long piece of graphene, suspended on transparent glass to seemingly float above the polished concrete floor.

The Earth Elemental behind the bar is two generations older than Anaiya, the lines of hard working and hard living marking her handsome face. Beside her, a now-familiar inked arm reaches out to plug its silver cable into the terminal.

“Five lyseracids,” he requests.

He looks over to her, eyes glinting in the yellow light.

“Six,” he says, amending his order.

The bartender turns her back to fill the order, leaving them alone in the small space buffeted by the throng of Elementals around them.

All Air Elementals possess a certain charisma: A freedom, a spontaneity, that sweats through their pores. As a Peacekeeper, Anaiya had detested it – passed it off as an arrogance and independence bordering on Heterodoxy. Tonight, she envies it.

“Where are you from?” he asks, tapping his fingers against the matte grey surface of the bar.

She runs her fingers along the graphene in a subconscious response, shadows lengthening and retracting under her fingers – her neocortex feeding her an appropriate response even while her limbic mind surrenders to the tactile and audio sensations assaulting it.

“Eastern Area,” she says.

“Yeah, you looked green,” he says, turning back to the bartender.

Green.

For Peacekeepers, the adjective is used for pups – inexperienced Trainees who don’t yet understand the way of the world.

“Why the transfer?” he asks, stacking the shot glasses in a narrow rectangular tray.

“Hypoxic demotion,” she says, feeding him the standard response.

He nods, handing her a shot glass brimming with the liquid lys.

“Bienvenue,” he says, his voice lilting in the pidgin convention of Air Elementals.

Welcome.

And with that, he retreats from the bar, never looking back, gripping the tray of lys and walking to the far end of the izakaya.

Anaiya shoots the dark liquid, a cloying sweetness coating her tongue. To her left, Air Elementals download their wristplate playlists via one of two terminals attached to the bar. A screen embedded in the bartop flashes with the music’s identifier – sometimes a name, other times a visual – before adding it to an updated queue. Bodies sway and dip and writhe in a contorted imitation of Anaiya’s free-running; their movements chaotic where hers were precise.

 

Thank you so much, Mikhaeyla. What an intriguing set up.

I’m so glad to meet you and your writing. Till next time!

 

Liked this excerpt?

The good things keep coming. Get your copy of Resistance (Divided Elements #1) to keep reading!

You can read more about Mikhaeyla and her novels at www.mikhaeylakopievsky.com

There’s also a free Divided Elements novella for you when you sign up to her mailing list.

Past inspirations, secrets, and gifts

writing
At the launch of The Stars in the Night
Launching The Stars in the Night

Preparing for the annual Anzac Day celebration, I’m taking a break from interviews.

Around this time every year, there is renewed interest in my World War I academic book, The Purpose of Futility, as well as my historical novel, The Stars in the Night. Both of them came out of my PhD studies at the University of Melbourne. Today I have three goals:

  1. to share some of the fascinating background to my story
  2. to let you in to some of the secrets hidden inside the covers
  3. and offer you a free copy of The Stars in the Night*#

 

*#UPDATE April 18th: Thanks all, the free copies are GONE 🙂 … but feel free to sign up for my newsletter if you wish in any case

Behind the story

Here are some facts and figures for you. I know some of you love numbers and weird trivia.

Fact:

Australia of all the combatant nations in the First World War did NOT execute any of its own soldiers.

The Purpose of Futility: writing World War I, Australia style

Figure:

Over 316,000 Australians served overseas in WWI, but only about 7000 remained in service from Gallipoli to Armistice.

Fact:

Originally, only those soldiers who served at Gallipoli were called ‘Anzacs’. Their identifying colour patches were distinguished by a gold letter ‘A’.

Figure:

After the war, more than 250,000 servicemen returned to Australia, bringing with them a new perspective on our place in the world.

 

Hidden Secrets

My reasons for studying WWI novels in the first place had to do with family. My paternal grandparents arrive in Port Adelaide in January 1914, escaping the threat of European war. My father had some stories of their experiences. Some of these have made their way into my novel.

Secret 1:

Harry Fletcher’s German grandmother, Liesl, is modelled on my grandmother Albertine. She died when my dad was only 9 years old, so I never met her. Quite possibly, I have a rose-tinted view of her.

Secret 2:

Harry Fletcher’s birthday is the same as mine!

The cemetery at Poperinghe
The cemetery at Poperinghe, photo by Clare Rhoden

Secret 3:

Harry’s mother Ellen is based on my mother-in-law Nell. Watch out. I’m sure she’s still around in one way or another.

Secret 4:

The German widower and his son, who come into Harry’s bakery early on in the story, represent my dad and his bereaved father. I wanted them to have jam doughnuts.

 

Finally, free copies!

*#UPDATE April 18th: Thanks all, the free copies are GONE 🙂 … but feel free to sign up for my newsletter if you wish in any case

To help commemorate Anzac Day 2021, I am offering a free print copy of The Stars in the Night to the first three readers who sign up for my newsletter. *Australia only this time. See the panel to your right to sign up. I promise there not to deluge your inbox with spam!

The Stars in the Night
The Stars in the Night by Clare Rhoden

 

 

 

Safe and Sound: Philippa East and the psychology of suspense

Philippa East is a fiction writer with HQ/HarperCollins and she also works as a clinical psychologist, which I guess can come in pretty handy for writing thrillers.

Author Philippa East
Author Philippa East

Philippa grew up in Scotland before moving to Oxford and then London to complete her clinical training. A few years ago, she left the NHS to set up her own part-time practice and dedicate more hours to writing. The result was her debut novel LITTLE WHITE LIES, which was long-listed for The Guardian’s Not-The-Booker Prize and shortlisted for the CWA “New Blood” Award 2020.

Little White Lies by Philippa East
Little White Lies by Philippa East

Philippa’s next book SAFE AND SOUND is another twisty and compelling tale. For a fun preview, check out the video trailer on Philippa’s Amazon Author page (best with sound on!).

Philippa now lives in the beautiful Lincolnshire countryside with her husband and cat. She loves reading (of course!) and long country walks, and she also performs in a local folk duo called The Miracle Cure. Alongside her writing, Philippa continues to work as a psychologist and therapist.

I’m excited to have Philippa as my guest today, as she tells us about what inspires her. Philippa also shares an extract from SAFE AND SOUND, which you’ll find below.

 

Inspirations

Phillippa: It’s a funny question, isn’t it? ‘Where do your ideas come from?’

For me, a book often comes alive when two (or even better, three) different ideas come together in my head. That’s generally how I know I might have enough material for a whole 90,000-word novel!

I write in the psychological suspense genre, and actually get a lot of my ideas – full disclosure! – from watching true-crime documentaries on TV. At heart, I’m fascinated by what people are capable of and why they do the things they do. This also overlaps with my day job as a clinical psychologist.

More specifically, individual plot ideas, character motivations or story twists can get sparked for me in various ways: reading other books in the genre can help get my brain in ‘thriller’ mode; I also often go for long walks around the Lincolnshire countryside to get the brain wheels turning, plus sometimes I just have to pin down a friend and brainstorm relentlessly with (at!) them until the pieces finally fall into place.

The inspiration for my latest book, SAFE AND SOUND, was actually the true-life story of Joyce Vincent, a woman in her thirties who died at home in North London in late 2003. Her body was only discovered in 2006. Around 2013, I found myself watching ‘Dreams of a Life’, the incredibly moving docu-drama produced by filmmaker Carol Morley about Joyce’s life and death. The film stayed with me for years, itching away at my brain, until I was compelled to write my own version of this heart-breaking story.

***

Thank you so much Philippa for sharing that with us, and especially for the (rather scary) extract. All the best for your work and your writing.

***

Extract from SAFE AND SOUND

Chapter One

Before I started in this job, I used to picture bailiffs bashing in people’s doors and dragging furniture out into the street.

Of course, it isn’t like that really. We’ve sent this tenant a letter to let her know we’re coming, all correct protocol with the London Housing Association that I work for. I have two bailiffs with me but, really, all we want to do today is to ensure that this tenant, Ms Jones, knows about her debts, and hopefully sort out a means for her to pay them. That’s why I’m here: as her Housing Manager. Hopefully, I can agree a payment plan with her, something to help her out of this mess.

The bailiff with the kind face takes a deep breath and knocks hard on the door. ‘Ms Jones? Ms Jones, we are here about your unpaid rent.’

Safe and Sound by Philippa East
Safe and Sound by Philippa East

I think I can make out voices coming from inside the flat, but as I lean closer I hear someone saying Capital FM!, and I realise it’s just the radio playing. If the radio is on though, I can be pretty sure she’s in there.

The bailiff knocks again, thump thump.

A song comes on a moment later: ‘Everywhere’ by Fleetwood Mac. We’ll keep knocking and hope that eventually she will come to the door, even if she doesn’t open it. She has a right not to open it to us, but I really hope we can speak to her today. That way I have a chance to help. We can let things go for a while – the longest I can remember was four months – but we can’t just let it go on forever. Ms Jones is already three months behind. We’ve sent half a dozen letters already, but she didn’t reply to any of them, so now it’s come to this. If we can’t arrange some kind of payment schedule today, the next step is an eviction notice and I would really hate for it to come to that.

‘Ms Jones?’ the bailiff calls again.

There are footsteps on the stairs above. I step back and look up to see who’s coming. A neighbour from upstairs, nobody that I recognise, a black woman, smartly dressed, probably on her way out to work. There are dozens of people living in this block but now I wonder how many of them speak to each other or even know their neighbours’ names. But she must pass this way at least, most days. ‘Excuse me,’ I call out to her. ‘Do you know the tenant in this flat? Is she usually home at this time?’

The woman comes down the last few stairs.

‘She’s got the radio on,’ I say. ‘We’re assuming she’s in.’

The woman pauses next to us and shrugs. ‘Her radio is always on,’ she says. ‘I hear it every time I go by.’

She loiters for another moment between the staircase and the doors to the outside, sizing us up. But she is busy, she has her own life to be getting on with, and no doubt she’s learnt that it’s best in a big city like this not to get involved. ‘Sorry,’ she offers as she hitches her handbag more securely onto her shoulder and makes her way through the heavy door to the lobby.

We turn back to the flat and the other bailiff knocks this time, his fist bigger, his knock that bit louder. I look down at the file of papers I am still holding against my chest. I’ve been in this flat before; I checked the last tenant out. I can still picture it: the tiny apartment is only a bedsit really, tucked away on the ground floor, hidden under the stairs so you could quite easily miss it. The living room and bedroom are one and the same, the sofa tucked behind the front door doubling as a bed, and there is a kitchen, but only an archway divides the two, so you could hardly even call them separate rooms. There’s a tiny toilet, with a shower attachment that hangs, a little bit crooked, above a plastic bath. And that’s it.

The last tenant, I remember, only stayed a few months. They complained about the commercial waste bins that always somehow ended up against the rear wall of this block, even though they belonged to the restaurant twenty yards away. Then the flat was empty for a good while, until this tenant moved in a year ago. Into this flat, now allocated to me.

The song has flipped over and it’s another tune that’s playing now. I recognise this one too: ‘Beautiful Day’ by U2. Out of nowhere I get a sort of roiling feeling in my stomach and a prickling up the base of my spine. I hand my file of papers to the bailiff with the plain, kind face and walk right up to the door. I bend my knees so that my eyes are level with the letterbox and lift up the flap. With my cheek against the flaky wood of the door I look through the slat of a gap that has opened up.

I see all the post, a slithering pile of it silting up the floor on the other side of the door. No doubt the letters we sent are among it. The strangest smell reaches me in thin wisps from inside, and suddenly I find myself thinking back to last year and the annual inspection I was supposed to carry out. I let the flap of the letterbox fall and straighten back up. My chest has gone tight. I can’t seem to speak.

Now both bailiffs are looking at me, but I can’t find a way to tell them what’s wrong. The older one leans down, copying what I have just done and sees for himself what’s through that narrow space.

He puts a palm on the door, as though to steady himself.

He manages to say something and he says: ‘Holy shit.

***

Oh my goodness! What a great beginning. Thank you Philippa for sharing.

Philippa’s Links

Safe and Sound book link (via Bookshop.org who support independent bookshops): https://uk.bookshop.org/books/safe-and-sound-9780008344047/9780008344047

“A gift from the sea”: Heather Ewings

What the Tide Brings by Heather Ewings

Celtic myths abound about the selkies – seals who can shed their skins to become human…or is that humans who can take up a skin to become a seal? Our fascination with creatures of the sea is a long-standing one, from the classical sirens who tempted Jason and the Argonauts to Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid. Yes, long before Disney. And who can forget the Attack of the Mermaids in Pirates of the Caribbean?

Of course, all earthly life started in the sea. We’re mostly water, after all.

Today’s guest is Heather Ewings,  a fellow Australian speculative fiction author. Heather lives and writes on the land of the Pallittorre people of Northern Tasmania, and has an MA in Modern History. She also has a particular interest in Tasmanian colonial times, as well as a fascination with myth and folklore.

I’m fortunate to day to speak to Heather about her writing inspirations.

What inspires me?

Heather:

I once won a book by answering this question! That was about fifteen years ago, but the answer I gave still applies today. I’m inspired by hearing how other people have achieved their dreams, whatever they may be. I love hearing of the so-called ‘over-night’ success after years of hard work – it encourages me to sit down and put the effort in to take that next step. Whether improving my writing or editing skills, or learning how to market and promote my books, there’s always more to learn. But it’s not always easy to find the motivation to sit down and do the work.

Author Heather Ewings
Author Heather Ewings

… And for those who want to know which book I won, I’m pretty sure it was Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult, which I won through a competition run by Allen & Unwin!

***

Heather has kindly provided an extract from her novel, What the Tide Brings. Here’s the blurb, just before you start reading the story:

In most tales of selkies it is a woman whose magical skin is stolen, who is forced to marry the lucky thief and live a life of misery, pining away for her home in the sea.

But what if the stolen skin belongs to an infant, taken before they have memory of life under the waves?

Extract from What the Tide Brings:

Myna tossed and turned on the rickety bed as recent conversations circled her mind.

There was Wayanna’s hopeful plea: ‘That’s my seal skin. You have one too,’ quickly followed by Father’s defensive tone: ‘You’ll never find it. Your ma hid it too well, even from me!’

Could it be true?

Myna wanted her walk to the beach to be a dream, but it hadn’t ended suddenly, as dreams always did. Instead she’d had to walk the long cold path back home, and undress again, and climb back into bed beside her still sleeping husband. And then she’d lain there, for an awfully long time, as thoughts whirled around inside her head.

When the faint light of dawn crept in between the shutters, Myna sighed and slipped out of bed.

In the main room she stoked the fire, setting the kettle to boil before starting on the morning’s oats.

Father slept on a cot by the wall. Ronan intended to build an extra room for him, one that would be Ebba’s once he’d passed, but though the foundation stones had been laid the walls hadn’t been started, and Myna felt a stab of irritation. How long can it take?

As though he’d heard her thoughts, Ronan exited the bedroom, crossing the room to give Myna a kiss before leaving the house to start the morning’s chores.

Myna carried the heavy pot, hanging it on the hook over the fire when she heard the cot creak.

What am I doing here?’ Father propped himself up on one elbow, blinking at her.

You live with us now, Father.’ Myna turned to remove the tea cups from the shelf and place them on the table.

Nonsense. Take me home. Your mother will be wondering where I am.’

Mother died years ago.’

Father sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed in a rare moment of agility. ‘You’re trying to find it, aren’t you? She’ll spank you when she finds out.’

Myna lost her patience. ‘My mother. Really? You’ve been full of tales these past months. Accusing me of searching for something I never knew existed. I thought you’d gone mad—that you suffered the derangement of old age. But you haven’t, have you? You’ve just lost the ability to hide the truth. So, tell me this thing I’m supposed to be looking for, that my so-called mother doesn’t want me to find.’

He frowned, and blinked, his eyes gaining a clarity Myna hadn’t seen in such a long time.

Oh Myna.’ His shoulders sagged. ‘I told your mother to leave you there.’

No question how Myna found out, not even a hesitation.

I told her it were no good, taking you from the sea. And look where it got us, a fishing village with no fish, and your mother and me ostracised, and all because of you.’ His finger pointed at her, and his voice filled the room. ‘But she wouldn’t ever give you back, no matter how we begged and cajoled, she just wouldn’t let you go.’

He sighed, his arm dropping to his lap. When he spoke again his voice was softer.

I’m sorry, Myna, love. We were going to tell you. We just…it’s hard to know when the right time falls for such talk. At every point we feared destroying your present happiness or upsetting you more than you were. Your mother struggled to conceive a child; you know that. And when she saw you…’ He sighed again.

She thought I was a gift from the sea.’

He nodded.

So you just found me, abandoned on the beach?’ Myna wanted it to be true, that the people who’d raised her had saved her, but when Duncan’s gaze dropped to the table between them her hopes sank.

You were there with a selkie woman.’ His gaze flicked to Myna’s face and back to the table. ‘Your mother, Dyllis, she asked to hold you. The selkie seemed unsure, but agreed. Then Dyllis ran.” Duncan’s eyes flicked again. ‘Selkies aren’t used to running, are they? She couldn’t catch up. And then once Dyllis made it to the trees there were too many sharp sticks underfoot. Selkies’ feet aren’t used to sharp sticks.’

Myna’s knees gave way beneath her, and she sank into the nearest chair.

You and Dyllis took me from the shore. Even though I was there with my mother?’

Father cringed. ‘She loved you, from that first moment. We both did.’ He stopped, met her eye. ‘We both do,’ he amended. ‘You know that, don’t you?’

Myna’s eyes stung as she shook her head.

You may have thought you loved me, but you hated not being part of the town, living on the outskirts. And what about me? I grew up with no friends—always the outcast, always the focus of stares and whispers.’ She wiped the tears building in the corners of her eyes. ‘My own mother would have loved me. And I would have grown up as one of a group, not always the odd one out.’

Myna—’

If you and Mother had loved me, you would have sought out what was best for me. You would never have forced me into a life of your choosing. You would never have taken me from my family to begin with.’

She stood, and strode the few steps across the room to the door, slamming it on her way through.

She was a selkie, was she? Selkies hadn’t been seen since before she was born. Long extinct, her parents had told her when she’d asked about the tales. Ronan was from a larger town, further down the coast. He considered them folklore. How could she tell him they were real?

How could she tell him she was one?

***

Keen to read on? Check out Heather’s website – sign up for her newsletter and receive a free copy of the prequel yo What the Tide Brings – Maggie and the Selkie

Links:

www.heatherewings.com.au

Fantasy meets Science with Fi Phillips

Haven Wakes by Fi Phillips

Fi Phillips is a fantasy author living in North Wales with her family and a pooch called Bailey. Writing about magical possibilities is her passion.

Her debut novel, Haven Wakes, was released in 2019 by Burning Chair Publishing and the second instalment in The Haven Chronicles is due to be released later this year.

When she isn’t ‘authoring’, Fi works as a freelance copywriter. Fi tells me how inspiring she fins the potential in that space where imagination meets science.

 

Fi Phillips: Fantasy with a touch of Science

I’m a fantasy author. I love all things magical – from people with spell-casting powers, to mythical creatures, to artefacts that can do the most marvellous things. If there’s magic involved, let me at it.

But here’s the thing. I also love reading about scientific developments. I’ll give you an example – robots. There’s a whole world of robots out there, right now. Some are the kind of robots I remember from childhood viewing, like Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet, clumsy and cumbersome and unlikely to outrun or even outwalk you in a chase. Others are altogether more advanced and scarily relevant to the world we live in. You just have to look at the progress that Boston Dynamics has made to realise that. And then, there are the robots which are currently floating around and being useful, like the Astrobees (no, that isn’t a kids TV programme – they really exist) on the International Space Station.

Robots are kind of magic too
Robots are kind of magic too…photo by Possessed Photography from Unsplash

My favourite fantasy novels and films are those that have a mixture of fantasy and science, stories like Sheri S Tepper’s The True Game series or the Nicholas Cage film The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. That’s why my debut novel, Haven Wakes, includes all of that – magic and robots and plenty of future-tech that is being developed as we speak (read?).

Inspiration for me is the place where imagination and science meet.

 

Extract from Haven Wakes

“Mind yourself.” Steve pulled Hartley aside as a small robot struggled down the centre of the pavement, pulled equally ahead and back by the four dogs it held the leads to.

“Is that normal?” said Hartley.

“Of course. That’s the kind of job robots do. Walk the dog. Serve in a shop. Clean up.”

“So what do people do?”

“Everything else, I suppose,” said Steve. “Or nothing.”

“Sounds peculiar to me,” said Hartley, still watching the robot as it untangled one of its limbs from the dogs’ leads. “Where’s the fun in having a dog and not walking it?”

***

The retail and eateries district that the department store sat in was a grid of mismatched shop fronts. The stores were split into three main types.

There were the older stores, like Sebastian Green and Sons with their faux-old pillars and marble-floored entrances, that attempted to mimic old world prestige. They sold the type of item that needed to be seen before purchase. It was also the kind of item that only the richest could afford, from rhodium jewellery to the latest solar sports car and the rarest of plants.

Dotted in between the shop fronts were the pick-up pods that varied in size depending on exactly what you were collecting. The largest pick-up pod that Steve had ever seen was one that supplied cars. Scan your identity from your wrap-phone, the door opens, and away you go.

“Surely that isn’t edible?” Hartley pressed his face against the window of an eatery, the third type of store in the district.

A conveyor belt of food-filled glass plates travelled around the eatery counter. At one end of the belt, waiter robots recovered the plates to serve to the waiting customers. At the other, the nozzles of the 3D food printer moved speedily around each plate, forming the pre-ordered food.

“That’s the advantage of synthetic food,” said Steve. “You can form it into any shape you want, and it’s fast.”

“Ludicrous,” said Hartley, shaking his head as he stepped back from the window. “There’s not enough on one of those plates to touch the sides.”

***

Oh, I love that! Especially the part about why you would have dogs but let the robot walk them! And 3D printed food. Wow. More please.

Author Fi Phillips
Author Fi Phillips

 

Fiona’s Links:

Author Website – http://fiphillipswriter.com/

Haven Wakeshttps://burning-chair.myshopify.com/collections/fiction-books/products/haven-wakes-by-fi-phillips

Find Fi on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/fiphillipswriter/

Songbird Inspiration: J Victoria Michael

Songbird quote

My author friend Judith Michael is a New Zealand-born writer now living in Melbourne.

Judith is fascinated with other dimensions, time travel and unexpected, remarkable talents. She writes as J Victoria Michael.

Inspirational

Judith has a passion for epic stories that stir the imagination, so we have a lot in common! Judith’s imagination takes her into shadow worlds where strange things happen, and words make music. She’s very musical and loves dance as well. The GriffinSong Trilogy is her debut as a novel writer. Judith’s short stories have been awarded and published in hard copy and e-zines.

You can read my review of the first novel in the series, Songbird, here. I loved it!

I asked Judith to tell me about what inspires her. She responded by explaining all about the main protagonist of the GriffinBird world, Irenya O’Neil. Here’s what Judith told me.

Irenya O’Neil

Who is she, and how did a thirty-one year old Melbourne mother, teacher and musician finish up in a story with fantasy elements?

Irenya O'Neil from the GriffinSinger Trilogy by J Victoria Michael
Irenya O’Neil from the GriffinSinger Trilogy by J Victoria Michael

Irenya and I agreed to meet up early in the writing of GriffinSong Trilogy. She arrived, carrying her own chair, which was one of those wickerwork things with thin cushions. It didn’t take much to get her talking. Here’s some of what she told me…

David and I were planning to marry soon, but I’ve had problems. The panic attacks were getting worse. I was shit-scared of dying – still am – and the anti-depressants were doing piss-all to help me. Supermarkets are the worst. It’s that Musak. Does my head in. Same as my grandmother. What if our little boy has inherited this too? It worries me sick. Then, just before Christmas, and with no warning, I finish up in this place called Dar Orien. Trying to find my way home is exhausting. If I was one of those show-off, kick-ass teenagers, I might find life in another world interesting. But I have a 15-month-old son, for Pete’s sake, and I miss him so much. All I want is to go back home. Now you’re telling me there are two more volumes to my journey here…”

Irenya doesn’t realise it but she is on a liminal threshold. As the year 2020 has shown us, the shift from one reality to another can be long-term and devastating. You may no longer be sure of where you are, or even who you are, as Irenya discovers in Songbird the first volume of my trilogy.

Liminality

Liminal exactly describes Irenya’s journey. Arriving in the alternate world of Dar Orien means she has crossed a physical threshold, but has yet to complete the transition across mental, spiritual and sensory boundaries. She is standing on the threshold between two worlds, on the verge of something new, and praying for the chance to return home, unaware that what she is waiting for is transformation. For her, it is a state of being that is painful, distressing and exhausting. It’s a state that threatens to tear a vulnerable woman to pieces.

Liminal also describes the realm of Dar Orien and its inhabitants. They too, are on a threshold, waiting for transformation, yet hamstrung by their inability to see beyond the tenets they have accepted for millennia.

The liminal state does not allow a return to where you were.

That particular place and moment is gone, as Irenya comes to realise. There is only one direction she can go, and that’s forward. As for her being in a story with fantasy elements, I am an author who loves stretching my imagination. Apart from that, it was luck of the draw.

In my latest release GriffinSinger (GriffinBird #2), Irenya finds a new state of grace, which, in the year 2021, is something we’re all hoping to find.

Fleetwalker (GriffinBird #3) is due for release this year.

 

Thanks Judith, that’s so interesting. And now for a gift extract!

Songbird by J Victoria Michael
Songbird by J Victoria Michael

 

From Songbird (GriffinSong Trilogy #1)

Elaaron clasped his hands together, his expression changing from courteous to grim. His cool gaze was unsettling. ‘Tell me about Tire. When were you last there?’

It was several seconds before Irenya could reply. ‘Wh… Where’s that? In this valley?’

‘Tire is a town more than one hundred leagues from here.’

She tried to work out the difference between leagues and kilometres. ‘I’ve been here all the time. The physicians will confirm that.’ She waved a hand at the snow-capped mountains outside the windows. ‘Why do you think I’ve been anywhere else?’

‘I have come from Tire. You were seen there four summers ago.’

She wanted to laugh, but his manner did not invite that response. ‘And…?’ she prompted.

‘I spoke with several of the townspeople who remember a woman who fits your description. Your face. Your voice. Your name. They were describing you.’

‘I… I’m sorry. I just have to laugh because that’s impossible. A long way from here and four years – I mean four summers ago? I haven’t been here anywhere near that long. It can’t have been me. It…isn’t…it just can’t…’ She subsided. Her face was beginning to overheat. In the prickly silence she felt a bead of perspiration run down the nape of her neck.

He unclasped his fingers and placed his hands palm down on the table, precisely shoulder-width apart. ‘Do you deny that you and your brother, Mikey, were in Tire four summers ago?’

‘What! My brother died when we were children. And my son, Mikey, is still an infant. Yes, I do deny it, because it’s impossible.’

To distance herself from his outrageous claims, she pushed her chair back from the table, folded her arms tightly across her chest and squeezed her eyes closed. She heard the chime of glass and the gurgle of poured liquid. A cup of water appeared before her. He clasped his hands again.

‘So.’ She met his gaze. ‘According to the good people of Tire, I was there four years ago – summers, years or whatever – with a child I would not conceive for some time.’ She raised the cup and drained it. It was his word against hers, and in this place, he was the authority.

‘Did you bring me here?’ The question had hung in her mind for days.

‘No.’ He shook his head once, the movement glancing light off the single gold earring he wore. ‘Meia willing, I hope I am never called upon to keep a mother from her child. Why did you choose to come here?’

‘You think I just came to Dar Orien? As if this is a holiday!’

He had shaken her with the Tire story. His constant scrutiny and his claims were exhausting. She looked at him, wanting him to give her the faintest ray of hope, anything that might tell her how she could go home.

He made a study of her face before replying. ‘You came here for a purpose,’ he said. ‘Though being here appears to constantly surprise you.’

Irenya was silent. The only surprise she wanted was to find herself back in Melbourne, one second after she’d left. How that might work, and what their problems might be here, was not her concern; she wanted to go home to David and Mikey.

‘Now, he said. ‘The seer, Fis… If the accounts I have are correct, she may still be living in northern Ishter, possibly over the border into Midrash. Given the slowness of our communications I can give you no assurances. I plan to journey north with a small company in spring. You should travel with us.’

‘Spring!’ She reeled in shock. ‘I don’t even want to be here then, let alone searching for a seer who may or may not be able to help me. Can’t we go now?’

‘We do not have a choice in this. The mountain pass is already dangerous, even for an experienced rider. We cannot leave until the spring thaw has melted most of the snow. I will not risk lives. Talk to Leachim. Ask him to tell you everything he knows about the Gifteds, and the fleetwalkers. After all, he was one.’

This was not the first time she’d heard words that filled her with dread, words that opened chasms beneath her feet. Living in this world was like walking on ice with no idea how thin it might be. Each step she took could land her in danger. She had already experienced that.

As if he had read her thoughts, he said, ‘If the MageGate had survived the invasion it would not have been necessary to test you with primitive fire. Though I apologise for the ill treatment, I would not wish to mislead you. Had I judged you harmful to this realm, I would have let the flames take you.’

Her skin prickled hot then cold and her throat tightened.

‘Lady,’ he continued. ‘I will overlook your tendency to appear disrespectful, on the grounds that you are unfamiliar with our customs. Be mindful, and do not give others cause to complain. We are living in hard and testing times.

‘With regard to the mirror, it has been fixed to that wall for a very long time. It is no more than an ornate, oversized looking-glass. I believe it is a portal that you alone may open. If someone did not send you through the mirror, then you must surely have journeyed here yourself. That leaves two questions. Why did you come here? And why do you deny yourself a passage home? Open your mind to what makes Dar Orien different from your world.’ He sat back in his chair and she sensed a dismissal.

She rose to leave, thanked him for his time and his advice. The squire reappeared and Irenya stepped into the passage, acutely conscious of the intense blue stare at her back. He can’t help me, yet my life is in his hands…

Thank you so much for sharing! Here are some links to Judith’s books.

Highly recommended!

Judith’s Links

Judith’s author site:   www.jvictoriamichael.com