Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Thorstein of the Murúch

Writing an earlier post about my unfinished Selkie story (One Dark Night) I suddenly recalled the (fictional) existence of another Selkie, who appears as a minor character in my (also unfinished) novel Serendipity.  I love Thorstein.  He's bold as brass, unrepentent and larger than life.  Here's an extract, when my heroine Perdita Moon meets Thorkstein for the very first time.


“Murúch skin?” Thorstein’s eyes grow round.  I have never before seen a shocked seal, before tonight I should not have thought it possible that I could. “You cannot be serious.”

“It is but for a few hours,” Sirius says, his tone as beguiling as honey and a soothing smile upon his lips.  “They will be returned.”  

“You expect my people to be frozen as men?”  Thorstein rocks back on the ledge.  He looks ready to slip into the sea.  Sirius makes a scoffing sound and his black brow rockets quizzically.

“It is a full moon – do you expect me to believe they are not in man-form seducing the mortal women of the island?  We both know they are.  They will have their skins back by dawn – they will never even know.”

Thorstein’s eyes narrow.  “And what do you give me to take this risk?”

“Dragon piss.”  

A tut escapes me and Sirius grins at my obvious revulsion.  “Dragon urine is very useful, Perdita.  If you soak a cloak in the stuff, it will become immune to fire, even dragon fire. Only the Ignisari Fae and the Dragon Sídhe themselves usually have access to it – it is very rare in the Outerlands.”

“True, true,” Thorstein sighs.  “How much?  For a gallon you can have three cloaks. Only until dawn, mind."

“We need only two.  And you will have them long before dawn.  Actually no, we will take three.  We could use a picnic blanket.  Throw in some saffron bread and álfar mead and you have yourself a gallon of the finest gold elixir any dragon can piss.”

“A picnic blanket! By Lir, I did not hear you say that.” He shakes his sleek head.  “You will ruin me, you thieving son of a goblin.”

Sirius grins.  I can feel the taut excitement in his muscular arm; it is obvious he is enjoying bartering with the beast.  “I am sure you have a son in law you would like me to squat on.”

Thorstein bares his teeth.  “Aye, you can take Sett Lodansson’s pelt.”  Tremors of laughter shake the grey slabs of his flesh.  “I like that.  A deal!”  He slaps the ground with his tail.  

“What pool will Abelard use?”

Thorstein rears up and cranes his neck.  “I’ll show you.”  Before our eyes his great bulk quivers, bulges and grows indistinct.  In the bright moonlight his metamorphosis is obvious and striking.  I gasp, fascinated as he roars and stretches his arms, shaking his shaggy mane of hair. 

“Good gracious!” I exclaim.  “He’s a Viking!  And a most immodest one at that.”

Thorstein smirks into his chest length beard.  “Why be modest, when you have my looks?” He rumbles, his colossal shoulders shaking.  “You’re not far wrong though, little human.  I have many sons amongst those Vikings, many grand children.  A fine, strong people.” 

“Quite,” I say, feeling rather faint.  It is difficult not to feel somewhat awestruck when faced with such a mighty and unashamedly nude male.  I had thought Sirius’ shoulders the broadest I had ever seen.  I was wrong.  Sirius glances down at me sharply, detecting the trace of awe in my tone. A frown appears between his eyes, but I barely notice. “So you are not a Viking then,” I muse.  “A titan? No, who was that fellow with the world on his shoulders? Ah, yes – Atlas?” 

Thorstein grins, his teeth gleaming white in the dark wool of his beard.  “Getting colder!” His eyes glint.  “I expect you’ve heard the legends of the Murúch; famous lovers of mortal women. Unforgettable. Potent! Lesser folk beg for drops of our blood, just to deliver a flicker of what we have to offer.”  

“Really?” I lean forward, intrigued by this information.  “How fascinating!”

Thorstein takes a step towards me, muscles bunching in his tree trunk thighs.  “Perhaps you would –“

Releasing me, Sirius steps in front of him and grab a fistful of his beard, yanking him off balance. “It may be full moon, blubber-belly, but I don’t see Perdita weeping into the water do you?  So keep your hairy charms to yourself before I gut you with a fish hook.   Show us the pool, give us the skins and we will be gone.  And you might even keep your potency that way.” 

The Selkie.... an unfinished tale

Thanks to the auspices of two marvellous writers and tweeps Matt T Dillon and Amalia Dillin, I had the great pleasure of being introduced (twintroduced?) to some fellow myth enthusiasts like Chris Ledbetter and Melpomene Selemidis.  Melpomene told me she had written a siren/selkie story and I confessed I had a selkie story in my distant past too.

Okay, not too distant.  My 2010 Selkie story was an attempt at writing for Harlequin's Nocturne line. Dare I say it, I was a bit bored of reading about bloodsuckers and hairy things. I wanted to write something different.  

Sadly, it was a bit rubbish (too much back story, superficial characterisations, difficult plot) and frankly, I don't think my future lies with Harlequin Nocturne (though never say never!).  But still, I have a fondness for the Selkie story in the way you might for the first boy you kiss (even if it was an appalling, dribbly fumble of a kiss) or the first time you taste chocolate (like I can remember that).  My Nocturne was the first in a long series of unfinished stories until I finally SET MY GOAL and forced myself to complete Merely Players.  Now I'm all about the finishing. 

So, for Melpomene's viewing pleasure, here is the start of my Selkie story.  The plot features a betrayed telepathic weather witch, a psychopathic drug dealing vampire-phobic warlock and oh yeah, its set in Alaska.  Why? I don't know.  Just liked the idea of it. 

Raylin-Selkie Pictures, Images and Photos

Conn knew the moment she stepped into the sea.  He could taste her tears on his lips as they fell, blending with the wine-dark waves.  Basking in the shallows behind an outcrop of rocks, with the waves slick against his heavily muscled body he could feel the woman’s rage and pain.  The siren call of a human woman betrayed was a law as old as time to the Murúch.  Seven tears in the sea and a heart filled with longing was a powerful spell to summon a Murúch lover.  Those on land had long since forgotten the deep magic of the sea and the delicate balance between land and sea dwellers, the balance which must not be broken: it had become a fairy story.  

So she wouldn’t be expecting him.  Perfect. 

The woman’s tears, carried to him by the rhythm of the waves bound her to him for this night at least.  For tonight a full moon would shine upon the bustling sea port of Valdez and at full moon, the Murúch were powerful on land as well as sea.  He had the scent of her now, and could taste her essence upon his lips.  In a crowd of one thousand people he could walk straight to her, though he had never laid eyes upon her face.  He craved her essence with every fibre of his being.  Hunger and desire tore through him, stirring his blood.  

Tonight he would bring the woman the passion she longed for and ease the sorrow in her heart.  No human woman was capable of resisting him – the night could have only one conclusion.  Conn smiled and sliding off the slab of weed-streaked rock, dived deep into the sea.  He would be restless now until sundown, but perhaps a hunt in the ocean’s depths could distract him until the moon rose.

Monday, 27 February 2012

SatSunTails Winner!

There's nothing like coming home from a ropey day at work to find you've won a contest.  This week I was the proud winner of Rebecca Clare Smith's SatSunTails contest, with a short story based on two prompts.  It's called The Watcher. 

Here's what Rebecca had to say:

"I’m sure that when you read this you will appreciate why I chose Margaret’s entry as the overall winner. She builds the tension beautifully up until the final moments. Enjoy."

Prompts:  "with ear-splitting indifference" and the image below.

The Watcher

Dust coated his withered skin, seamed his dark eyes. 

Still he watched.

Around him arid winds laid waste to the barren fields, tattered his robes.

Still he watched. 

He watched as the three moons circled in the tawny sky.

He watched as skeletal bushes bloomed, faded, bloomed again.

He watched as dwellings were built, the salt smell of labour drifting in the parched air.

He watched as they were razed to the ground.

He had been The Watcher for three millennia.  It was his birthright.  To watch for the Prophecy Fulfilled.  The Coming.

The Watcher was bored.

As the billionth sandstorm raged across the brown plains of his home planet, the Watcher yawned.   Stretched.  Closed his eyes.

In his ear-splitting indifference, he missed The Coming and failed to give The Welcome. Two days later (when the Apocalypse came) he was heard to cry, “At least it makes a bloody change!”

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Being a Jewel of Mythic Splendor

Gorgon by clayrodery at Deviantart
I'm thrilled to share that one of my stories (Medusa) has been featured on Australian author Matt T Dillon's blog.  A fellow lover of Greek Mythology, Matt is the author of Gorgoneion, a reimagining of the story of Medusa and Perseus which I for one can't wait to read!

It's always SO exciting to find like-minded folks who are willing, no KEEN, to indulge in what others might view as deeply random chitchat about Clytemnestra's moral compass. 

I highly recommend a visit to Matt's blog and a wander round his mythic universe. Not least because he describes me as a Jewel of Mythic Splendour - a piece of hyperbole so marvellous that I'm thinking of changing both my name and job title to reflect it.

Just imagine the business cards.

Here's a link to the story on Matt T Dillon's blog.  Read my Medusa and then check out the story of his Medusa.  Someone publish that book already!

Friday, 24 February 2012

#DearValentine: La Belle Part 4

This is the final week of the Dear Valentine Blog Challenge, inspired by @timonysouler poet, writer and queen of Toxic Musing.  A recap of the rules:

4 days, 4 stories, 300 words.  Each with a different set of prompts.  I've chosen for once to make my four stories a set of interlinked tales entitled La Belle sans âme . To get the full benefit, do read them in order.  You can read the earlier installments here:

 The prompts for Sat 25th February are as follows:

Surgical tools, a car, in the countryside

La Belle sans âme Part 4

Cain’s car smelt of leather.  It was a hybrid, noiseless and sleek like its owner.   “There’s a bag on the back seat – change,” he said.  

“But -“

“It’s a masquerade, K. Change.”   He slid in the driver’s seat without looking at her.  Heat spilled into her cheeks at his indifference.   Time was when the sight of her bare body would have affected him.  Now his black eyes – demon eyes – stared straight ahead at the dark country road, the trees flashing by. 

She changed.  Clinging silk spilled like blood over her body.  Red.  He’d always liked her in red.  She looked up, met his eyes in the mirror.  She looked away first.

red silk Pictures, Images and Photos

The fairground was fairyland.  A thousand lanterns swung from abandoned rollercoasters and rust streaked carousels.  In the sultry darkness, masked revellers danced. Masked but not hidden.  Karen could feel their thoughts, the swollen tide of their emotions.  All but his.  Cain was an absence in the collective unconsciousness, a tear.  Demon-spawn.   Thinking of him, she didn’t feel the woman’s touch until it was too late.  

“Karen.”  The voice was unfamiliar, but warm.  Soothing as a breeze.   She swung around.  A woman stood beside Cain, cloaked, masked.  La Belle?  “You’ve been looking for me.”

Demon Eyes Pictures, Images and Photos

“I...”  What to say to a murderer?  To a thief?  To Psych-Corps most wanted?  “Yes.  I need to take you in.”
The woman smiled.  “Not possible.”  Reaching beneath her cloak she removed something slender, pointed, silver in the moonlight.  Impossible.  

“It’s an animacultellus,” La Belle said.  

Karen stared.  “A myth.” 

“I had a soul once.”  Behind the mask, La Belle smiled.  Familiarity tugged at Karen.  Familiarity?  “But then I had a daughter and my daughter did not.  Would you give up a piece of your soul for someone you loved Karen?” 

She felt Cain’s gaze on her, his soulless demon eyes.   

“Because you can save him. Just like I saved you.”

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Doing a Dark Moment Well: Princess Bride Lesson 2

This month I'm all about the Princess Bride, one of my top ten films of all time.  Swashbuckling.  Romance.  Giants and Sicilians.   It has it all.

And it has a dark moment.

Without rehashing the plot elements too much, our story goes something like this:

Let's take Westley, our hero.  Not only did his True Love not keep faith once (believing he was dead, she agreed to marry the Prince), but when he returned and rescued her, she failed to keep faith again.  Faithless Buttercup! To add insult to injury, he dragged to the Pit of Despair and put on a rack to be tortured and killed.  And all for nothing. Buttercup has not kept faith. 

And let's not forget Buttercup's torment - knowing that she stupidly placed the man she loves in the hands of his enemy.  Knowing that she betrayed him, in her efforts to keep him safe.  Knowing that once more, she failed him.  The one thing she promised never to do again. 

And let's not forget Inigo Montoyo, a secondary character who utterly steals the show.  Having resurrected himself from his pit of drunken misery, he has gathered his forces, resurrected Westley and managed to break into the castle to chase his nemesis: the six fingered man who killed his father.  For more than twenty years he has devoted himself to hunting down and killing this man.  And at the last moment?  WHAM.  A dagger in the guts.   He is going to fail his father. 

Arguably, the most utterly joyful moment in the Princess Bride is the moment when Inigo Montayo pulls himself to his feet and says, "My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father, prepare to die."

Again.  And Again.  With gathering strength.

Inigo's is the strongest dark moment in the film.  And why?  Because he stands to lose everything.  His whole life has been devoted to one end: avenging his father.  The six fingered man is a loathsome sadist.  Inigo has to prevail.  He HAS to.

In the years since he lost Buttercup, Westley has become clever, skilled and rich.  Since she lost Westley, Buttercup has become a princess in waiting. Okay, okay, it's all irrelevant because all either of them wanted was each other...


Inigo's life has been a tragedy.  A wasted, wine-soaked failure.  His love of his father is the one thing keeping him alive, sane and active.

He can. Not. Lose.

It would be too devastating.


What's the one thing that would destroy your character?  What's the one thing they have longed for and worked towards all their lives?  What would happen if it was destroyed?

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

#MenageMonday: It's Almost Time... WINNER!

Hurray! I'm a #MenageMonday winner!  Menage Monday is run by the lovely Cara Michaels (she of #WIP500 fame) and the judge was Kathleen DoyleYou can read all about it here.  Here's what the judge had to say:

'Margaret (@charitygirlblog) is the Overall Winner for her gritty and poetic use of words: ”…spilling vomitsome tarmac from its fume-filled maw.” Gorgeous prose.'

Prompts were a phrase, an image and a scenario e.g. 
Phrase: "It's almost time."
Scenario: Strange and fantastical happenings in the garden. 


Paint peeled from the shed, burst and scarred by incessant sunlight.  

Dobbler didn’t like sunlight. 

It was still standing though, just.  Despite the incessant music from the yahoos next door.  Despite the rumble of the stinking new road that cut through the old woods.  The shed was still standing. 

And almost, almost the experiment was about to come to fruition.

He bent down to whisper to his children, stroked their shining heads lovingly with one bony finger.  “It’s almost time, my darlings.” 

They shifted restlessly, scrambling over each other in their rush to escape his touch.  They had never seen the cruel light, not his babies.  Never been scorched by its harsh rays.  He had tried to protect them.  Whilst the concrete jungle spread, spilling vomitsome tarmac from its fume-filled maw. Whilst his garden grew tangled, wild, unkempt. 

Still the shed stood.  Still he waited.

Until now.  

With shaking hands he pushed the rusting door open, forced his way into the light.  A jogger ran past the fence, feet pounding.  Noise, more noise.  More intrusion.  

No more.

The plague was unleashed.  His contagion bearing ant babies.  Ready to spread, carry, kill. 

With the sun on his face, he smiled.

Monday, 20 February 2012

“The man carries the book”: Princess Bride Lesson 1

 “The man carries the book.”  I read it in Beyond Heaving Bosoms and it caught my attention.  So much so that it I blogged about it. It's true. So true that it makes my beat my head repeatedly against a brick wall for never noticing it before.

I'd thought about the heroine.  She needed to be likable.  Someone you might pal up with, share a beer.  No?  No.  Heroines can be Too Stupid To Live.  They can be Too Annoying To Be Allowed to Live.  But when it comes to it, it doesn't really matter.  Maybe it's because we've had moments of being annoying, capricious and down right dumb and wanted someone to love us anyway.  Maybe it's because we are focused on falling in love with the hero and the heroine is just a foil.  I'm not sure, but I know it's true.

Evidence 1: Today I saw the Princess Bride at the cinema.  Remember that?  Ace swashbuckling fantasy romance with a dashing Cary Elwes and a beautiful Robin Wright.  Indisputably, Princess Buttercup (Wright) is beautiful.  She's also a right royal pain in the backside.  It doesn't matter.  Because Westley is clever, witty and utterly indomitable.  He believes in True Love and he knows that his True Love is Buttercup.  Gratuitous quote coming up:
Buttercup: We'll never survive. Westley: Nonsense. You're only saying that because no one ever has.

"As You Wish"

Cue a wonderful, wonderful film and a hero who makes it into my Top Heroes of All Time not once but twice (pre and post pirate makeover).

"Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while." 

I was going to write an Evidence 2 but in actual fact the evidence lies all around.  Disney's Princess Jasmine?  Pain in the ass, but Aladdin loves her feistiness.  Sarah in Labyrinth, passing up on David Bowie's Goblin King?  Wake up teen princess, you'll never meet a man in breeches like that again. Baby in Dirty Dancing? And let's not even get onto Andie MacDowell's character in Four Weddings and A Funeral.

Of course, let's not be down on the heroine.  A superb heroine matched with a superb hero is unbeatable.  Let's take Powell & Pressburger's black and white classic I Know Where I'm Going.  Or Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr in the King and I. Damn it, Deborah Kerr in almost anything - she's always good value. Ditto Katherine Hepburn.  Seemingly, in the war years, heroines were made of sterner stuff.

But it's the hero you fall in love with.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

#SatSunTails: Ragnarok

"It was an incongruous silence that bled dry the earth".
A story in 150 words

This story is my entry to Rebecca Clare Smith's brand new writing contest #SatSunTails.  As you can see here it got an honorable mention, coming second to Jeffrey Hollar's wonderful story.

The prompts are this image and the quote above.  Here is my story....


The birds were silent.  That was the first sign.

The second was the absence of wind.

And then the lights went out.  All the lights.  The headlights that beamed from Leif Eriksson’s battered campervan, the tiny reading light embedded in the roof.  He saw the leap of a flame, as though a bullet had shot through them and then they were gone.  There was just darkness and starlight.  Until the stars too, began to fade.

He swallowed, steadying himself against the tree.  The knowledge of what was to come had been passed from father to son through three hundred generations.  There should be peace in the knowledge but he felt no peace.  Just cold terror that tore his throat and sucked the air from his lungs.

In the darkness, he  smelt the acrid scent of burning, the chill of frost.  Fire and ice.  The earth will bleed.

Ragnarok.  Twilight of the Gods. 

Saturday, 18 February 2012

#DearValentine: La Belle Part 3

Oh I am enjoying February's Dear Valentine Blog Challenge, inspired by @timonysouler poet, writer and queen of Toxic Musing.  A recap of the rules:

4 days, 4 stories, 300 words.  Each with a different set of prompts.  I've chosen for once to make my four stories a set of interlinked tales entitled La Belle sans âme . To get the full benefit, do read them in order.  You can read the earlier installment here:

La Belle sans âme Part 1

La Belle sans âme Part 2

 The prompts for Sat 18th February are as follows:

 A gun, a tuxedo, an abandoned fairground
Gun Pictures, Images and Photos

La Belle sans âme,  Part 3

Kinickie Airport wasn’t a bustling commercial place.  It was a private airfield.  Not the kind of place Karen went, not on her wages.   She was careful this time, let her mind drift, exploring.  Touched the flickering souls of baggage handlers, guards.  Nothing untoward.  But it wasn’t a soul she was looking for, it was a gap. 

“Looking for me?”  She froze at the rich, deep tones.  Molasses.  That’s what she’d used to think of when Cain spoke.  Warm, dark, sweet.  

“Yes.” Slowly, she turned around.  She’d expected his beat up jacket, faded jeans.  Black hair cropped close.  Not a tuxedo.  Not groomed and gleaming, bold as brass.  Demon-black eyes unreadable in the twilight. “You look... good.”

His dark gaze dropped to her stained jeans, her oversized coat.  “You look tired.”  

And she was.  Tired of this case, of chasing a phantom in the night.  Nervous too.  Damn Cain for showing up.  It had been nearly three years since he’d gone.  Since the incident.

She nodded at the planes on the runway.  “Where to?”   

“Change of plan, Cinderella.  We’re going to a ball.”  

She glanced up, startled.  “What are you talking about?” 

“The Hampton Masquerade at the old fairground.  Target 1, Code Black.”  Psych-Corps talk.  She tensed at hearing it on his lips.  Once that had been natural as breathing.  He’d been one of the best, no, the best bar none.  Deep souled, mind like a heat-seeking missile.  Before the demon spliced him, planted his seed fathoms deep.  Before he’d fallen off the grid, broken from the Collective.  Gone. 

“Why are you helping me?” 

His lip curled, a half smile.  “Old loyalties?”

“You expect me to believe that.”

The smile faded.  “No.  Ready?”

She slipped her hand into her pocket.  The gun fell against her fingers, reassuring.  Crystal bullets.  Demon killers. 


Thursday, 16 February 2012

Fairy Ring Contest: Serendipity

Thanks to Twitter I stumbled across Yearning for Wonderland's fairyring flash fiction competition.  The rules are a 300 word first person account of your first encounter with a fairy.  Now as it happens my very first and as yet unfinished novel Serendipity features just such an encounter.  Coming across the contest forced me to open it up and read it again.  It was like embracing an old friend.

I love Serendipity.  I love the character Perdita Moon and relationship with her rogue fairy, Lulu Larch.  What I didn't have quite right is the plot.  Or the romance.  Or the confidence.  I got scared about writing it in the first person.  I suddenly thought I needed a male perspective.  I lost my way and abandoned.

And it's a shame.  Because I think it's good, perhaps the best thing I've written.  One day it will get it's place in the sun.  At the start of the book Perdita receives a note from her brother Nick, Lord Moon, foisting an unknown young lady upon her hospitality.  She is not pleased, but she finds she can't send Lulu away.


It is one of my particular principles that I should take people as they are and not to judge them on their history or the way that they earn their living.  I don’t speak of it as it would brand me a radical and I do enjoy polite society.  “What were you doing before you met Lord Moon?”
“This and that... I’m a musician.”  I nod.  It is as I expected.  “And a dancer,” she continues, “and a teacher.”  I frown, struggling to imagine Lulu Larch as a seminarian.  A chorus girl seems more credible.
 “And a fairy,” she finishes, drinking the last dregs of her lemonade.
I think I have misheard her. “A real fairy?” There is a laugh in my voice.
“Is there any other variety?” Her eyebrows lift. There is the faintest suggestion in her expression that I have been less than polite.   I raise my eyebrows in return.  I do not relish my manners being brought into question.  
“Do you mean you have to dress as a fairy on stage?” I imagine her in a tawdry theatre, dancing lightly across the stage trailing a pair of fairy wings.  It seems like a reasonable assumption.
“How do you imagine a fairy dresses?” Miss Larch asks, sounding genuinely curious.
I think of the last time I saw A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. “Wings, a wand, a crown.”
“In children’s stories perhaps,” says Miss Larch, her lip curling in scorn.  “As I am a fairy, it follows that fairies dress like me.”
I am commonly held to be an intelligent and well informed woman but she speaks to me as though I am a small child. 
“A fairy,” I repeat and my voice sounds sarcastic to my own ears. A well bred woman is never sarcastic.  I feel slightly shabby.

The Fairy Ring Contest: Details....

#TuesdayTales: Cavalier Treatment

This week saw me get an Honorable Mention in Stevie McCoy's Tuesday Tales - a runner up to the Jonathan Volkmer's compelling and sinister fairy tale (read it here). Jonathan is another in a long line of great Tuesday Tales winners.  You read the full set on Stevie's Blog

The prompt was, as always a word:  Cupidity and an image (see below).
The judge was the rather marvelous and multi-time Tuesday Tales winner Jen DeSantis

The word limit: 100 words. 

Mine was inspired by an enduring love of the names followers of Oliver Cromwell called their children "Praise-the-Lord Sampson" and the strong impression of a dark-hearted and funny Cavalier. 

Cavalier Treatment
England, 1662

Bodies twisting, hot and slick, in a tangle of red silk.  Panting, pounding.

Someone coughed.

Looking up, Sir Gervase Montague-Hortley froze.  The etiquette for conversing with one’s puritan mother-in-law when buried between the fleshy thighs of the Duchess of Mulgrew eluded him. 


“Agnes,” Sir Gervase said, politely.   Beneath him, the Duchess sighed.

“You’ve got an heir.”  Agnes stood in the doorway, a bundle clutched to her shoulder. 

“And my wife?”

“Dead.  Don’t pretend you care.”  Her eyes glittered.  “She named him Cupidity. A reminder of your sins.”

He smiled thinly.  “I’ll call him Charles. The King will like that.” 

Monday, 13 February 2012

Pigs Bladder & Lemon - historical preventatives

Nothing says I love you like a bit of dead pig

I've just been privy to a fascinating twitter chat between authors Isobel CarrJo Bourne and Lynne Connolly about historical contraception.  

Do you like a heroine who takes measures to protect herself from pregnancy?  Or a hero who slips on a bladder to protect himself?

Do you like your contraception up front and explicit, vaguely alluded to, or completely absent? 

Me, I quite like to know that these things have been considered.  And if they have been considered - and ignored - I like there to be some thought, or mention, of the consequences.  Unless a heroine is utterly ignorant of the Ways of the World and the processes of her own body (possible, I grant you), there should be something.  

This is a Modern Thing.  In Old Skool romances, your average alpha didn't think too much about putting a cap on before taking a dip.  No doubt he was too bent on rapine folly.  However, these days we expect more of a hero - and certainly more of a heroine.  Which presents the modern author with a challenge - how to make contraception sexy?  Or at least, how to stop it being unsexy. 

What are the options? 

Well, there is the pig's bladder.  Soaked in water - or milk - so it was sufficiently soft and squidgy (how about a little spontaneity folks?), your average hero can tie it on and away he goes.  Oh and for the environmentally minded amongst us, it's reusable too.

But who needs to slaughter a pig when there are lemon trees in the hot house? Most recently seen in Elizabeth Hoyt's marvellous To Beguile a Beast, half a lemon could provide a tangy treat and still serve as a diaphragm (though apparently only to the lesser endowed of the less fair sex).  

On reflection, I was persuaded by Lynne's view that sponges were the way to go. Still in use today (kind of, if you can count the modern descendant) the old sea sponge steeped in lemon gave the woman power over her own body.  

Still, not exactly sexy is it? 

Writes good cunny 
But here's the thing.  Anything can be sexy if it's written right.   A parallel discussion about sex vocabulary highlighted some significant differences in opinion.  Do you prefer a honeypot over a cunny?  Are you willing to overlook the historical inaccuracy of using the word sex (for intercourse) in order to avoid a jarring (to our modern ears) swive

The fact is, I've read some great sex scenes using the word cunny - in dialogue.  Again, I point you to Elizabeth Hoyt (can you tell what I've been reading lately?) - this time Wicked Intentions - whose hero Lazarus indulges in some rather explicit sex chat. And yes, he uses the word cunny.  More than once.  And yes, it's sexy. 

In the end it doesn't really matter what word is used, it's how it's used.  Used with confidence and well written, despite sounding like a small furry rodent, even cunny can work.  

And tup.  

Well, okay, maybe not tup.  Tupping reminds me of sheep, and sex with sheep ain't good.  Even when it's well written. 

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Massacre of Glencoe

The 11 February was my husband's birthday.  The time of year at which my husband was dragged, bum first and bawling, into the world was fiery, blood soaked and angry.  His first breaths were taken under emergency lighting due to power cuts relating to the miners' strikes in a country just coming to terms with the tragedy of Bloody Sunday across the Irish Sea.   And the third day of his life marked the 280th anniversary of the Massacre of Glencoe.  As the midwife cut his umbilical chord something of this must have seeped into his infant body: he has spent his whole life campaigning against injustice and bigotry.

This weekend he was forty, so we headed for Glencoe.  A complete coincidence.  It wasn't until standing in the Glencoe visitor centre that we realised it was nearly 320 years to the day since the Clan Macdonald were slaughtered on the ground on which we were standing.

Any visit to the Highlands is awe-inspiring and eery.  Standing in Glencoe, watching the clouds roll across darkening skies and the shadows dance on the hills I was struck by its stillness.

Time was that crofts would have dotted the heather, worked by real living people.   Time was that forests would have spread across the land.

Not now.  Silence reigns in the Highlands.  It's why people go there - to get away from it all. And yet, there's a sadness that echoes down the centuries.   We have a wonderful, desolate landscape but it came at a bloody price.

The story of the Glencoe Massacre is well documented.  I won't repeat it (you can hear the Corrie's sing it).  What got my imagination running on wheels wasn't the massacre itself but that the Campbells who raised their hands against the Macdonalds knew them.  They had spent twelve days feasting with them before, acting on government orders "to put all to the sword under seventy" they massacred their hosts.  

What must that have been like, to murder the people whose roof you had shared, whose food you had eaten and whose children you had played with?  People you knew.  Girls with whom you had flirted, men with whom you had shared jokes?

It's said by some that some of the soldiers warned their hosts and gave them a chance to escape into the blizzard.  It wasn't much of an escape.  Forty women and children died in the snow. 

Here are some pictures from Glencoe and Rannoch Moor, taken just today:

Waterfall in Glencoe

Rannoch Moor

Bridge, Rannoch Moor

Rannoch Moor

Derelict House, Rannoch Moor

For more about the Glencoe Massacre pop over to the BBC History pages, listen to the Corrie's haunting Massacre of Glencoe, watch a documentary about the Massacre, or read T S Eliot's Rannoch, by Glencoe:

Here the crow starves, here the patient stag
Breeds for the rifle. Between the soft moor
And the soft sky, scarcely room
To leap or soar. Substance crumbles, in the thin air
Moon cold or moon hot. The road winds in
Listlessness of ancient war,
Langour of broken steel,
Clamour of confused wrong, apt
In silence. Memory is strong
Beyond the bone. Pride snapped,
Shadow of pride is long, in the long pass
No concurrence of bone.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

#DearValentine: La Belle Part 2

Time for Part 2 of  February's Dear Valentine Blog Challenge, which was cooked up by the inspirational @timonysouler poet, writer and twitter queen.  The rules:

4 days, 4 stories, 300 words.  Each with a different set of prompts.  I've chosen for once to make my four stories a set of interlinked tales entitled La Belle sans âme . To get the full benefit, do read them in order.  You can read the earlier installment here:

La Belle sans âme Part 1.

The prompts for Sat 11th February are as follows:

 A box of chocolates, plane tickets, the Eiffel Tower

La Belle sans âme,  Part 2

She hated the sea.  Had always hated it.  Hated the rotting salt-tang seaweed.  Hated its unpredictability, its murkiness.  As she picked her way through the derelict docks, disturbance rippled around her, a projection of her own unease.  

“Karen.”  She glanced back.  He was leaning against a faded poster of the Eiffel Tower, arms crossed.  In the dusk his eyes looked black under dark slashed brows.  Demon eyes.  She’d been so caught up she hadn’t sensed him.  Stupid.  The kind of stupid that got a girl killed. 

Demon Pictures, Images and Photos

“What you doing here, Cain?”

“Watching you.”  The ghost of a smile flitted across his face.  

Her fingers tightened on her bag strap.  “This is Pysch-Corps business.  You’re disturbing the scene.” 

Lifting his head, his glanced around.  “Don’t see no tape, angel.  This is the badlands - even the Corps don’t come here without an invitation.”  In a blink he was beside her, demon-fast.  She’d forgotten how big he was – or had he got bigger?  Swallowing, she stepped back.  

“I didn’t sense you,” she said.  “Why didn’t I sense you?  I can’t sense you now. How far gone are you, Cain?”

His smile was crooked, all too human.  “Pretty far.”

Nearly full blood.  She could see it in the obsidian flatness of his eyes.  Psych-Corps didn’t tolerate full blood demons.  He’d be outlaw.  Enemy.   “Why are you here?” 

“You’re looking for La Belle.” 

She gasped.  “How...?” 

“Never mind how.”  He pulled out a bulky envelope from his inside pocket and thrust it in her hand.  “Plane tickets.  You want La Belle?  You meet me at Kinickie Airport at 9pm tomorrow.  Don’t be late.” 

In a flash he was gone.  With shaking hands, she split the envelope.  Two plane tickets slid out and a tiny box containing a single chocolate, two words scrawled on its surface.  Happy anniversary

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Walks through Regency London

It's a red letter day today, because I have reserved for a whole day for my very own self to go exploring round Regency London.  No, I am not Dr Who's latest sidekick and no, I have not built me a time machine.  I don't need to, because London is a time machine. 

Whenever I visit I wander around with hungry eyes seeing traces of history, clues to what might have been.  I lived in London for five years.  I could have eaten it alive, delved into all it's mysteries.  Sadly, in those days, I was too busy getting pissed and having a jolly time.  These days I'm more reflective, more appreciative and more curious. 

But I never have time. 

Either I'm working, or I'm parenting.  One or the other.  On this one occasion, I plan to do neither.  My baba is with Daddy and I'm on annual leave.  So roping in my silver haired elf of a sister, I am going exploring round the prisons, alleyways and high class haunts that Regency London has to offer. 

My guide in this matter is the wonderful Louise Allen AKA Melanie Hilton AKA half of Francesca Shaw, who has kindly written an exciting tome called Walks Through Regency London.   With this tucked into my handbag, camera in hand and sister in tow I plan to feast on all the titbits of Regency wondrousness London can disgorge. 

Doing this, I'm following in the footsteps of other worthy adventuresses.  Check out the fabulous pictures taken by An Accomplished Young Lady in the company of Louise Allen herself. 

Sunday, 5 February 2012

#DearValentine: La Belle Part 1

New month, new blog challenge!  This time inspired by the lovely @timonysouler who delights in inspiring her community of flash fictioneers.  The theme:  Dear Valentine.  The rules:

4 days, 4 stories, 300 words.  Each with a different set of prompts.  Without further ado, I shall reveal week one's prompts:

Saturday 4th: A note, a photograph, the docks

docks Pictures, Images and Photos

In a break from my usual style, I'm going with a fantasy theme and four interlinked stories. 

La Belle sans âme: Part 1

The photograph was faded to yellow and ochre, the faces barely distinguishable.  Karen traced the blurred outline of a child with one finger.   An uncertain image, it would barely be a clue if it weren’t for the emotions vibrating from the paper.  Psychic imprints outlasted ink.   She could sense laughter and agony.  The regret.  Stains on a soul; something that was unique as DNA and traceable in this world and beyond.

And that was the weird thing - because if she was right about the child in the picture, she should have left no trace at all.  

La Belle sans âme, they called her.  Not a vamp.  Not a were.  Just soulless.  The best kind of agent: untraceable, even by Psych-corps.    Three of Karen’s colleagues were in the morgue now.  Secrets had been stolen.  The security of Psych-corps was at stake.   And what would the world without Psych-corps be?  Post-apocalyptic chaos.  War, famine, murder, greed.  The barely remembered horrors of the distant past, before Enlightenment. 

A shiver ran through her and automatically she reached out for the silver web which spread across the collective unconsciousness, smoothing fears, warming hearts, soothing, neutral and cool.   Enlightenment.  The age of logic and reason.   It poured through her like liquid moonlight, bathing her in its serenity.  She steadied herself and looked once more at the picture.

Crabbed handwriting marked one corner.   Holding it up to the light, she peered at it.   “Dockyard, Calabrisky Bay.”   Karen smiled.  A starting place.  Somewhere La Belle had stood once, bursting with the soul everyone said she did not have.  A clue. 

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Climactic moments: the best ever

When I first saw the BBC adaptation of North and South it was on box set. I watched it back to back over two nights. I stayed up until silly hours. If it were a book I would call it un-put-downable (and let's not forget it IS a book, by the marvelous Elizabeth Gaskell).

After such commitment it might perhaps be expected that the end would disappoint. It didn't. North and South's climactic scene, when its two protagonists find their compromise - and each other - is one of the all time greatest. Possibly, THE all time greatest. I've yet to see its equal. And here, thanks to youtube, you can enjoy it too:

Friday, 3 February 2012

#ThursThreads: No doubt it's a murder

This week I popped on over to Siobhan Muir's blog to join in her #ThursThreads flash fiction challenge.  The rules are simple:
  •  100-250 words
  • Incorporate chosen line from last week's story. 
This week the prompt was: 

"No doubt it's a murder." 

The hush was palpable, thick as tobacco smoke in the crowded room.  Two men huddled around a simple wooden table, in front of the audience.  A chair scraped on the back row, a throat cleared.  Before their naked eyes, the autopsy had been completed.

Benedict Marlowe PhD coughed.  “And thus, I argue that the death of the Amazonian Chulipoteridae represents an unusual form of self sacrifice.  This is voluntary act and the horned males compete to win the opportunity to die in what appears to be the throes of ecstasy.”   He lowered his head, modest.  Never did to appear cocky in front of the Most Learned Society of Coleopterists.

Leaning over the microscope, Cranbourne Roberts laughed.  At least he uttered a kind of elongated wheeze, rusty at the edges.  Enough to make Ben stiffen, press his lips together.  The old bastard had never liked him. 

“A pretty argument, lad.  But there’s no doubt it’s a murder, no doubt at all.” He wheezed again, looked at the faces on the front row.  Hungry.  Ready to see blood on the floor.  “Throes of ecstasy did y’say?  Ah well, I was young once.”  One wrinkled eye squeezed slowly shut.  A wink.  A titter ran round the crowd, a communal sigh of satisfaction.  

Professor Roberts never disappointed.  Ben clenched his teeth.  Five years in the jungle, three on this thesis.  This was his moment, his!

His fingers curled, as if they were already round the old bastard’s throat.  Murder. Oh yes, there’d be murder.