Thursday, 21 June 2012

Shall I? A #SatSunTails Winning Entry.

I'm a winner!  

This week I'm proud to be the winner of Rebecca Clare Smith's #SatSunTails contest.  I love #SatSunTails - the prompts are always challenging and as a consequence, the quality is always great.  I'm always really thrilled to do well!

As always there was a visual prompt (below) and a written prompt: "incarcerated risks."

Shall I? 

I can’t see her face. No features. Just shadow and shape outlined against the light above me. Typical that - just a little bit lofty.

It’s the frill of feathers that’s the giveaway. Stubby, adolescent, jutting from her back like some fluffed up duckling. She ain’t looked temptation in the eye and walked away. Nah. She’s stuck in the middle, a soul looking to prove herself. And if she don’t?  Them pearly gates’ll slam in her face faster than you can say Old Pete and she’ll be down here with the rest of us proles who didn’t make the cut.

With me.

Question is do I want her? Can I be arsed twisting myself into some trussed up version of her darkest fantasy? Or playing the vulnerable baby? It’s a cracker that one, sweet as a nut for them with a martyr complex.

Nah, fuck it. Gabe can have her. This time. 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Top 10 Classics-Inspired Books

I haven't yet read Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles (it's on the list) but I'm thrilled beyond belief that it has won the Orange Prize.  YEAY for Classics and a whole generation of people getting excited about the Iliad.

Besides being a kick ass novel in its own right, Ms Miller's book stands in the proud tradition of fiction that reinvents myth.  Greek Myth, to be precise.  It's a genre I grew up on.  So when I saw in the Guardian that the talented Ms Miller had listed her top ten classical books, I was excited.

Only, as it happens she was listing actual classical books ie Oedipus Rex.  Now don't get me wrong, I love the originals too and the Iliad, the Aeneid, Euripides' Medea and the Bacchae and the fragments of Sappho would all feature on my list.


But what I wanted to read was a list of classics-inspired books, people who've reinvented myth for their own generation.  So in the absence of a list from Madeline, here is mine - in the end I focused on books inspired by Ancient Greece (my first love).  In no particular order:

1. Electra by Henry Treece

This is a darkly powerful retelling of Elektra's story, and one which captured my imagination and which continues to inspire me now.  You can see its influence in the snippets about Daughters of Leda which abound on my blog. I've been fascinated by Mycenae ever since I first picked it up.

2. Myths and Legends by Anthony Horowitz

One for the younger generation, this is one of the best collections of myths and legends around.  Dominated by Greek Myth, it also features stories from China, Scandinavia, West Africa and beyond.  It was my first introduction to the Judgement of Paris.

3. Mythological Monsters of Ancient Greece by Sara Fanelli

One for the even younger generation (pre-school), I first came across Sara Fanelli's book when I had my daughter and was bought it as a present.  Simply told stories with incredible, imaginative illustrations that have captured my four year old's heart and mind.

4. The Alexander Trilogy by Mary Renault

Okay, so this is a cheat, but if I took each Mary Renault novel in turn, they would take up an entire list themselves.  Her novels are absolutely wonderful, utterly convincing reimaginings of the world of Ancient Greece.  Comprising Fire from Heaven, Persian Boy and Funeral Games, the Alexander Trilogy traces the life of Alexander the Great.  My favorite of the three is the Persian Boy, which explores the deep personal connections in Alexander's life, including his love for Hephaistion.

5. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I didn't love The Secret History, because I found all the characters fairly unlikeable but I admired it hugely.  Furthermore I do love Euripides' Bacchae and Dionysiac ritual is strung through this book with ingenuity and skill.  It's ambitious, ingenious and compelling.  Well worth a read.

6. Pyrrhus (also known as An Arrow's Flight) by Mark Merlis

An incredibly original book, Pyrrhus brings together two world's simultaneously - the world of Homer's Iliad and a postmodern 1980s world of go go bars and hustlers.  Hard to imagine, difficult to pull off but Merlis manages it.  I've never read a book quite like it.

7. Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

A light-hearted romp of a romance, Phillips book takes the Olympians and transposes them to a relatively seedy house-share reminiscent of 1990s classic series This Life.  Dionysus runs a nightclub, Apollo is on the telly.  As a book it amused me, as an idea it pleased me.  There's an ingenuity to it which kept me flicking pages until the end.

8. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Witty, poignant and dry as a bone, Atwood retells the story of the Odyssey from the point of view of long suffering Penelope, now a shade in Hades.  It's a treasure of a book, written deep in Penelope's point of view with a clever, gossipy tone and using some of the devices of Greek drama (a Greek chorus features throughout).  Outstanding.

9. Autobiography of Red and If not, Winter by Anne Carson 

If not, Winter strictly speaking doesn't belong in this list.  It's not a re-telling, it's a translation.  But it's a beautiful, stark and unforgettable translation that should be shouted from the roof tops.  I used it at University and had to buy my own copy.  It blew my mind with its sheer charm. Autobiography of Red is another beautiful, startlingly evocative work - this time dealing with the myth of Geryon.  Buy both. And her other stuff. She's the finest poet alive today.

10. The "Theseus Novels" (The King Must Die / The Bull from The Sea) by Mary Renault

The second entry for Mary Renault on this list (note I've actually snuck five books in).  This pair of novels deal with the life of Theseus, his period as a 'bull leaper' at King Minos' court and his subsequent kingship.  What I love most of all is the way Renault captures a culture vastly different from our own, weaves in myth and magic but preserves the real humanity and tragedy of her characters.  A great author.


And on to the Romans....  I haven't done a top 10 of Roman-inspired books.  There are lots of good uns out there, but my thing is Greece.  So, with apologies to Allan Massie and many other fine authors, here are my top 3 Roman-inspired books:

1. The Emperor's Babe by Bernardine Evaristo

Outrageous and audacious, The Emperor's Babe is written in loose verse and tells the story of Zuleika, daughter of Sudanese immigrants. It's funny, tough and imaginative, hooking you into Londinium 211 AD with a freshness rarely found in this type of literature.  Absolutely brilliant.  So brilliant I have to include a quote:

One minute it’s hopscotch in bare feet,

next you’re four foot up in a sedan in case

your pink stockings get dirty.  No one

prepared me for marriage.

2. The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliffe

I read the Eagle of the Ninth as a child and loved it to bits.  Following the story of Marcus Flavius Aquila who is trying to find out the truth behind his father's disappearance, it is a wonderful adventure story with great battle scenes but also a story about friendship and loyalty that is as good today as it was when I read it twenty years ago.

3. I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Of all the Roman novels I have read I have never yet found a single novel which matches up to I, Claudius (although Augustus by Allan Massie is pretty damn good) . Graves apparently didn't rate his Claudius books, and wrote them purely from financial need.  Well thank goodness he did, because I Claudius is outstanding. Written as the 'autobiography' of Tiberius Claudius it's a funny, wryly observed history lesson with a central character who is flawed, likable and entirely believable.

So over to you - what and who would you have on your list?  Where are my glaring oversights?  Who am I missing? 

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Dice Games 3: Achilles Choice

The woman’s whispers sighed like the sea carrying warnings and unrest.   Dark plumaged, they crowded together the black-headed gulls that flocked to rocky shores of Salamis.  On the knee of the Princess, a red-faced child squalled.  “Pyrrhus.” She pressed him to her bosom.  “Hush.”

Dusty and salt-stained, two armour-clad men standing in the doorway exchanged glances. “We will get nothing from them,” the larger of the two muttered. 

A slow smile twisted his companion’s lips.  “Not from them.  But we are not looking for them, Ajax, my warrior.” With a neat bow, he waved forward the warriors standing behind them.  “Gifts for the women of Scyros,” he said.

Silk of Tyrrhian purple was spread across the floor, chains of gold and silver tossed on top, girdles and cloaks, tunics woven from the softest wool.  Hands stretched out, plucking and stroking, cries of delight echoing around the room.

“Odysseus?”  Ajax raised his brows.

The King of Ithaka raised his hand.  “Wait.”

Gleaming like blood, the silk shifted to reveal a bronze spear, bright as a lightning bolt.

In the distance, a bell began to toll.  “Invaders!”  A soft shout from the back of the room. 

“Wait,” Odysseus said beneath his breath, keen eyes scanning the room, watching for movement.  

“Where is he?”  His voice rose.  “Will the Son of Peleus allow Skyros to be invaded?”  His gaze fell upon the child, tear streaked and sobbing against his mother’s shoulder.  “Will he allow his woman to be raped, his son to be butchered?” 

He had been sure, so sure that no man of warriors’ blood could resist. Sure that Achilles would leap forward from the shadows unable to resist the sword’s siren call.  Sure that they would find him here, disguised.  Sure they could drag him to Troy.

The spear remained.

In the chaos of swirling veils and coloured silks he lost sight of the princess, of the child, failed to see her touch the broad shoulder of a tall woman.  Failed to see them slip away into the shadows, hurry to the stone workshops at the back of the palace complex.

Away from Odysseus’ sharp gaze, the princess laid the child to kick on the dry earth and slipped her hands beneath the veil of the woman, thrusting her hands into her companion's red-gold hair.  “It’s a trick my love,” she said.  “You know that?”

“I know that.”  Deep, resonant, a man’s voice replied.  “They want me at Troy.”

“And you?”

“I didn’t play suitor to the Spartan whore,” Achilles said, cupping her face.  “And I owe the kings of Hellas nothing. Let them fight their petty wars. I stay with you.”

“You give up the chance for glory,” she said.  Her voice cracked, thin and dry as the arid air. “You must be sure.”

“I’m sure,” he said. Under the shaded veil, her warrior smiled. “I choose life.”


This story is inspired by a myth from the Trojan mythic cycle, wherein Achilles has been sent to the court of King Lacomedes to be disguised as a girl, to avoid being drafted into the Trojan war. However, there is a prophecy that Troy cannot be won without Achilles and so Odysseus and Ajax go to Skyros to find the young warrior. Odysseus tricks him into revealing himself by hiding a spear amid piles of clothes and jewellery, which the young man can't resist.  In another version he stages an invasion and when the women run, Achilles prepares to defend them, thus giving himself away.  

Here I present an alternate version in deference to the prompt I was given which forbade me from killing any of my characters.  In this version, Achilles makes a different choice.  He chooses a peaceful existence at home.

Written for the #DiceGames contest run by the fabulous Timony Souler following these rules:

This challenge will run over 3 days:-
·         Monday 4th June
·         Wednesday 6th June
·         Friday 8th June
So, the RULES:
o    You will roll a die – THREE TIMES
o    Each number you roll will give you a PROMPT (Which can be found HERE)
o    You will post a piece (between 250 and 750 words) on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

My prompt:  
"don't kill any of your characters."

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Dice Games 2 - The Cleaner

My key grazes the lock, slips away.  Irritation spikes.  I try again, stabbing harder at the crooked hole, expecting it to slide in, click open.  Nothing. He’s changed the locks.

Icy fog washes over me.   I’m numb with incomprehension.  He’s changed the locks?

Stepping back I stare up at the house.  Our house.  No, our home.  A tidy, suburban pile. Semi-detached, red brick, square double glazed windows.  Always cosy, even when there’s a North wind blowing.

I kept it nice, our house.  Even when I was working.  I’d be up at 4am, scrubbing, mopping, folding.

He said, “Relax, chill out.  Come and sit down.”

As if.  Bad things happen when you neglect the dark corners.  Spiders.  Dust.  Things you don’t want to look at.  Things that scuttle and climb.  I didn’t neglect the dark corners.  I cleaned under the cooker, behind the fridge.  Then I went out to work, and when I came back I started over.

That’s how I found the earring.  Maybe another person wouldn’t have noticed it.  Or maybe they would have trodden on it in the dark, squealed a little.  It was clear as day to me, winking amethyst purple, glinting in the fading sunlight. 

I picked it up.  God knows what I could’ve caught, picking up a dirty earring. 

Not mine, but I already knew that.

I smelt it then, faint beneath the bleach.  A smell of hot salt, warm bodies.  Sex. 

No crying, not from me.  I don’t give in to things like that.  A woman has to be prepared, has to take care of her house and her family.  He’d been stupid, being tricked by whatever slut had rolled in our bed, but I would make it right.  I would protect him.

It wasn’t hard, when all was told.  I just watched. Listened.  Waited.  Lost my job, but who cares about that? No point in turning up when your family is falling apart.  Odd watching them together, watching the way she let her paw him.  Lift her skirts in doorways and cars.  He hadn’t even washed his hands.  Dirty slut, letting him do that. No hygiene.

It was easy when it came to it.

Easy to lock him in the bedroom when she went for a glass of water.  Easy to slash her throat.  Blood spurted across my kitchen, splashed against the all.  Looked like a Jackson Pollock painting.  I almost enjoyed that.  Almost liberating.  I knew I’d get it off; wipe clean paint in the kitchen after all.
Just the sound of his thumping disturbed me, his screams from upstairs.  Not very manly.  Almost off-putting. 

I enjoyed cleaning her, tidying her.  Used up all my Tupperware but that was okay. I could invest more.  It was for the family.

When the police came they said it was the cleanest crime scene they’d ever found. I was proud of that.  It’s on my record.

That was ten years ago now though, God knows what state the kitchen is in.  I couldn’t wait any longer to find out.  That’s why I broke out, came here.  Found the keys inside the shed where they always used to be.

But he’s changed the locks?

I don’t understand that.  Didn’t he know I’d be coming?


Written for the #DiceGames contest run by the fabulous Timony Souler following these rules:

This challenge will run over 3 days:-
·         Monday 4th June
·         Wednesday 6th June
·         Friday 8th June
So, the RULES:
o    You will roll a die – THREE TIMES
o    Each number you roll will give you a PROMPT (Which can be found HERE)
o    You will post a piece (between 250 and 750 words) on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

My prompt:  
"keys, amethyst earring, bedroom."

Monday, 4 June 2012

Dice Games 1 - The Morrigan

The Morrigan

Fear flicks the ridge of my spine. 

It was nothing.  A streak of sunset.  An autumn leaf drifting through the twilight.  Nothing.  Just a tawny flash caught from the corner of my eye.  Nothing.

Say it often enough, maybe it’ll be true.

“It’s not my time.” The words hiss between my teeth followed by an immediate stab of regret. Acknowledging it makes it real.  Makes it possible.

And I don’t believe in curses.

Not really.

Laughter in the breeze, a tinge of mockery.  I’m coming.  The words sound in my head, clear as though they’d been spoken out loud.  I spin round.  Sweat breaks out, clammy on my skin.  A scream bubbled up in my throat, choked down.

I reach for my phone, then freeze, pinioned by memory.  Aunt Cass called me, the night she died.  I can still hear the panic streaking her voice, the rapid blur of her words.  “She’s coming! She’s coming Brady.”

But Aunt Cass was delusional. On a secure ward, surrounded by eyes and ears.  Hard to believe she still found a way to hang herself, even there.

She’s coming Brady.

I’m coming.

Aunt Cass was delusional, like Nan.  Strong genetic link, so they say.  Runs in families.  But not me, I’m fine.  Aren't I?

She’s coming Brady.

Something touches my back and again I turn, jerking like a marionette.  Nothing, no one.  The night sky is darkening now.  I don’t know why I’m still standing outside, coatless, feeling the chill.  Feeling afraid.  It’s just… the open door looks dark now.  I’m sure I left the light on inside, I’m sure I did.  But it’s dark. 

I take a step towards it.

I hear a laugh.

Behind me.  To the right of me.  Someone moving, circling. 

“Who’s there?”   It sounds a shrill squeak in the thick night.   A cruel prank, it has to be.  Someone that knows the family legend, the story of the curse.

I’m coming.

The voice echoes in my ear and I hit out, my fist closing on nothing but empty air.   I don’t believe in ghosts.  I don’t believe in goddesses.  I don’t believe in curses that barter firstborn daughters away.  

Aunt Cass believed in it, that’s why they locked her away.  It wasn’t the Morrigan that took her, it was psychiatrists and ECT and locked wards and orderlies.  The nonsense Nana had filled her head with, the talk of the curse… it was enough to drive anyone mad. 

Not me. 

Show me the evidence. 

The thought steadies me.  Taking a deep breath, I walk in slow, dragging steps to the front door.  Safe. 

Reaching the front step I pause, relief flooding me.  Home, safe. It will be fine now, always would have been.

Apart from the flash of red there is nothing. Just superstition and groundless fears, as insubstantial as smoke.

Just as well then, I don’t look back.

To see the face of the Morrigan staring back at me.


Written for the #DiceGames contest run by the fabulous Timony Souler following these rules:

This challenge will run over 3 days:-
·         Monday 4th June
·         Wednesday 6th June
·         Friday 8th June
So, the RULES:
o    You will roll a die – THREE TIMES
o    Each number you roll will give you a PROMPT (Which can be found HERE)
o    You will post a piece (between 250 and 750 words) on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

My prompt:  
"A red haired vixen is trying to kill you. Deal with it."

Forbidden Love: Heaven and Hell

Sweat beads the young priest’s neck, his black cotton shirt clinging like a shroud. Glancing back at the dim altar he pauses, closes his eyes, takes a deep breath. 

Opening a side door, he steps into the alley.

My territory.

Pleasure sighs through me.  No, not pleasure, I can't feel that.  More like an itch scratched.  Temporary relief from the torment screaming in my blood, gut twisting, skin clawing. 

But the Guardian won't give up his soul without a struggle.  I know that. It's why I'm here. For the bigger prize.

I sense him instantly, his presence plucking my strung out nerves.  Angel-fire licks my skin, excruciating.

“Nybras.”  On the Guardian’s lips, my name is harp song.  I don’t look, can’t look.   

“Servant of God,” I acknowledge.  I don’t say his name, he thinks names unnecessary.  His obedience, his oneness is perfect. Memory punches me: for a moment the world disappears.

“Let him go, Nybras.  His soul is pure.”  

Purity.  That's what the Guardian chose, to be unsullied by me. Bile rises, the taste of bitter betrayal.

“Pure? In two minutes he’ll be shoving money at a whore, fucking him in this alley.  His soul is mine.”


“You inflame him.  Let him go, Nybras.”

“Why should I?” I turn.  Terror grips my throat at his celestial beauty. I am consumed by longing. Dying of it.

“For love.”  Serenity in his face.  No trace of my disorder.

“My love for you?”  Laughter strangles me.  “Fuck you, Gabriel. I was cast out for love.”

He hesitates. “Repent.  God is Mercy.”

I drink him in, the flaming glory of his eyes, the whiteness of his throat.  “Leave Him,” I whisper.  “We could be together.”

His sudden absence scars the air, echoes in my damned heart.

The priest is mine.

I lost.

300 words

This is my entry for Ruth Long, Lillie McFerrin and Janelle from 'Me & Mia''s  300 word "Forbidden Love" Blog Hop challenge.  Find out more about the contest and contestants over on Ruth's fabulous blog!

This story was inspired by thinking about lovers who were as far from each other as possible (heaven and hell) but also, by thinking about the nature of love - divine love, platonic love, passionate love and what happens when those things are in opposition too.  I liked the thought of playing it out over the soul of  man who is also tempted by forbidden love. 

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Baby Dragon Found on Beach

This is my baby's baby dragon.  Her name (chosen by her) is RaRa.


Once upon a time RaRa was sitting on a rock.  And one day she had a baby and she teached it how to fly and how to blow fire.  And how to scare everyone. And roar.  And Cora was very happy. And happily ever after.



Friday, 1 June 2012

Faerypin - Third Time's the Charm


You have to be bloody joking.  When the selkie said transformation, this is not what I had in mind.  I’ve read fairy stories.  Hell, I love fairy stories.  Got more fairy stories in my gaff than there’s Irn Bru in Paisley.  Seriously.   I’m practically a fairy queen, so I know the deal. 

Read the small print.  Always read the bloody small print or before you can say “Superkalefrage-whatever” you’ve lost your first born to a ginger dwarf.

But selkies aren’t fairies are they?  Not really.  They’re sea-slick sexy fuckers with a glint in their eye and a penchant for having in quick and dirty in a rock pool right?  No strings attached.  No mini-breaks to Tír Na Nog that take a century or two off your life.

I did everything right.  Seven tears in the sea... well that wasn’t hard.  Fucking Cameron.  The trip to Orkney was supposed to be romantic, not an excuse for him to get rat-arsed and plaster himself over the nearest slut.   Again. 

Well fuck that.  So I had a cry?  What of it.  Wouldn’t be the first time.  I deserved to get my own back.  Wouldn’t be the first time for that either.  Last time it was his brother, on the back seat of the dickhead’s Ford Fiesta.  Served him right.

But a selkie.   That beats some skinny ned who lasts fifteen seconds and then wants a second go.  I don’t think so, Finlay. No chance.  A selkie though, looking like Chris Hemsworth mixed with Hugh Jackman’s better looking brother.   Arse you could ping a pound coin off, naked as sin. 

Yeah, I’d say that was better.

Told me he’d change me forever.   

He didn’t tell me his middle name was Puck, the twat.  Could’ve been worse I suppose. Could’ve been a donkey.


This story is inspired by the story of Puck and Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night's Dream and the legend of the Selkies

In my joy that it's Friday this story has a very different take from my previous Faerypin entries (part of Anna Meade's Faerypin contest.  We've had loneliness and heartbreak, we've had hauntings...  I thought this time I'd go for a mildly unpleasant character with a comic twist.