23 December 2011

Unexpected Christmas Gifts

Just when I thought I'd be cutting back to concentrate on the family, I hear from The Review Girl blog. An interview and ebook giveaway that had been requested some time ago has been chosen to be the site's Christmas Special -woo-hoo!

As well as interesting info about my novels, writing in general, and...er...what I did in Iceland... five copies of Reading A Writer's Mind: Exploring Short Fiction - First Thought to Finished Story are on offer in a free draw that runs until 1st January.

How's that for an unexpected Christmas gift? Go indulge your e-reader.

21 December 2011

Festive Frivolities

Well, the Christmas Newsletter has been well received and the lucky winners of free ebooks have been drawn; the ebooks will be winging their way tomorrow. Did you enter? Did you know about it? Ah, you should sign up (right) for my Newsletter.

There's been a sudden surge of mostly unexpected marketing. Torc of Moonlight is featured on Dave White Books  and my novels have a mention in the Christmas round-up of both the Contemporary Fiction Network Blog and Historical Fiction Excerpts where you'll find all sorts of goodies on offer.

I'm still fighting with work and the Festive deadline, but tomorrow it'll be a dawn dash to the supermarket to pick up the fresh meat & veg. My blood pressure is high enough without my being locked into a queue for the tills that snakes halfway to the delivery area - and that is exactly what'll I'll face if I leave it until Friday.

Are you looking forward to the big day? I actually prefer Boxing Day. It's the family's quiet day. Feet up, nibbles to the left, slurps to the right, a new ebook on my Kindle, and true relaxation. Wonderful.

Whatever you have planned - enjoy!

3 December 2011

Old Tom Pie

The nights draw in, the skies are clear, the wind keen. Time to bake Old Tom pie.

I'm not sure how this translates to those outside the UK. Here an Old Tom refers to a mangy male cat of a certain age and disposition, but I hasten to add that the meat used in this pie is beef, not feral puss. The Old Tom is the Real Ale used to moisten the meat mixture and give it a cracking taste. It is a dark ale, with aromas of rich autumn fruits and ripe malted barley, but with an 8.5% alcohol rating it is not for the fainthearted palate to sup, which is why, in our house, it goes in a pie.

It was a quirk of fate that we happened to have a bottle lurking in a corner, as obnoxious cats tend to do. I could have baked a Black Sheep pie, or a Nutty Black, or a Blandford Flyer, or a Sleck Dust, or a Speckled Hen pie beloved by gastro-pubs, or any of a host of others just from my area, each with its own distinctive flavour.

Real Ale has had a true resurgence in the UK thanks to micro-breweries housed in farms and privately owned pubs together with the quaffing capabilities of CAMRA members. These are not binge drinkers of British infamy, but discerning connoisseurs of regional draughts the same way true wine drinkers are.

And it’s nothing new. Back in mediaeval Britain when it wasn’t always a good idea to drink the water, it was part of a woman’s house-wife duties to provide a palatable and safe drink. And being Britain, if it had a kick to it, all well and good. And if it brought a little money into the household coffers, so much the better.

Two mashes would be produced from the same grain, a strong ale which could be stored or be sold, and a lighter ‘small beer’ which the household would drink. Often different herbs, and spices if they could be afforded, were added to each mash, the recipes closely-guarded to ensure that satisfied customers returned. If they returned often enough, a true business enterprise ensued.

There’s nothing new about Real Ale, or even Real Ale pie. Except, perhaps, that now the meat that lurks beneath the crust can be vouched for.

Bottoms up.

16 November 2011

An Indie author's work is never done

When I was print published I had no say in the design of covers, or of anything else. By the time I, the mere author, was allowed into the loop, the decisions had been made and I was expected to smile nicely and rubber stamp them. As far as the publishing house was concerned, its decisions were set in stone.

Now as an Indie, I have the opportunity to alter or augment my book covers, change the blurbs, and add in reviews, and this is what I've been doing.

I've been taking lessons, ie looking over the shoulder, of a gent who has an eye for fonts, and Hostage of the Heart was our first project. I've left the original in the left column to highlight the difference.

I'd been invited over because I'd shown him my work-in-progress with Contribution to Mankind and other stories of the Dark; again the original is in the left column.

He took a sweep over this, too, providing an easier to read, and slightly edgier, font - see right.

I agree that it doesn't wreck the image the way my offering does, so I'm living with it while I make up my mind. What do you reckon?

My next job will be to upload a new holding page to my eon-old, original website. Not only is it still live, but for some reason I haven't fathomed it still ranks 2nd in a Google search of my name. If you happen to be jumping across from it, welcome!

13 November 2011

Remembrance Sunday

It's a bare field in November. Next year's crop is leafing; a hedge and line of thin trees show on the horizon. The field is situated off a narrow lane connecting two East Yorkshire villages, Atwick and Bewholme. Nothing extraordinary. Vehicles pass it every day. It hardly merits a glance.

Just after midnight on Sunday 20 February 1944, Halifax bomber HX351 NP-S lifted off from RAF Lissett, one of 255 Halifax bombers heading for a formation of 823 aircraft enroute to Leipzig. Less than ten minutes later it was in this field, all seven crew members dead, gaining the sad distinction of being the first of 78 aircraft lost on the raid, at the time the most costly of the Second World War.

What happened? I doubt even they knew.

I'm lucky. Both my parents, and my husband's parents, returned from WW2 to create new lives for themselves, and then for us. And so, today, we remember the very young men who could not do that for themselves, but helped to do it for others.

Peter Jennings
Pilot Officer 157100 - 28 years

Norman Caffery
Pilot Officer 169502

Gerald Fitzsimmons
Pilot Officer J/86434 (Canadian - Air Gunner) - 22 years

George Gillings
Sergeant 1393396 - 21 years

Harold Jones 
Flight Sergeant 1537023 (Welsh - Air Bomber) - 21 years

Samuel Morris
Flight Sergeant 1503563 (Welsh - Air Gunner)

Charles Seymour
Pilot Officer 160592 - 22 years

As the massed ranks of Veterens pay their respects at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, we, too, remember these brave young men who gave their all.

11 November 2011

The 11th of the 11th

Remembrance Day - the 11th of the 11th - isn't just to remember the dead of the two world wars, or even of the wars and 'police actions' since the beginning of the 20th century. It is also to remember the returned, from the Somme, Monte Casino, Malaya, right up to Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

A single day, a single date, is to remind us that young men and women are returning to their homes with horrific physical and mental injuries, that their families are having to cope, often alone. They need our help, both financially and spiritually.

No one who gives so willingly for their country should believe they've been forgotten.

We will, we must, remember them.

7 November 2011

That was the month that was

Ever felt your life was disappearing down the tubes? Yes, yes, I know that it happens to us all at some point, but it still came as a bit of a shock when it happened to me. I'm busy; I can't be doing with it! But that's been half the problem. So goodbye October and...

...welcome dreary November. NaNoWriMo - (Inter)National Novel Writing Month - has passed me by, again, but I have friends I'm encouraging along the way. My priority is to make sense of my desk and to get back into the swing of updating my blog and my website. For those wondering what had happened to my Newsletter, a revamped bells & whistles version is on its way. I'm chatting about the delights of fracture clinic, and of updating book covers, so if you aren't a subscriber but want a peek... there's a subscribe link top right.

What I need now is an eye-catching button... then there'll be the inevitable search for some cotton, and a needle, and the eye and hand coordination to thread it.

That's me me sunk, then...

3 October 2011

Interviews & Reviews!

Today I'm being interviewed across at Close to the Bone by a curmudgeonly individual called Old Seth. And he didn't provide biscuits! What are blog interviews coming to? Anyway, we chatted about both Torc of Moonlight and Reading A Writer's Mind... as well as what I think of ebooks and my reading habits, or lack of habit. Why do people always think you should have a favourite author? Am I the only one out of step here? Drop by to have a chat. I'll bring the biscuits.

 I've also another 5* review on Amazon for Reading A Writer's Mind: Exploring Short Fiction:

...Linda's book has made me see the vital importance of characterisation. I now understand why some of mine seem to have a life of their own and others are not as satisfactory as they might be.... 

That's what it's all about.

28 September 2011

Thanks to my knights on Eastgate

There's nothing like living in a small town for people coming to your aid in a time of trauma. I'd like to thank the young man and the woman with the dog, and everyone else who showed concern when I decided to audition for a starring role in Swan Lake across Eastgate crossroads - either that or I was attempting to make a leap for an imaginary try line with my shopping. All I could think of as the tarmac was rushing up to meet my face was "my mother did just this in August".

Thankfully I didn't end up in A&E, but managed to walk home with the shopping, though hobble would be a better description by the time I had the key in the lock. I'm going to be sporting an large irridescent bruise across one foot by tomorrow. There has never been a better use for frozen peas.

Good job I'd bought some.

17 September 2011

Guest Blogging + 5 star Review for Reading A Writer's Mind...

I have a guest post today on Stuart Aken's blog, and the fantastic man has not only read the book in very quick order, but has given it a cracking in-depth review which closes with...

"...I place this one alongside the excellent Dorothea Brande's book ['Becoming A Writer'] ...and Stephen King's 'On Writing', both of which have been formative in my writing..."

Who could ask for better? Check it out.


Reminder: Reading A Writer's Mind: Exploring Short Fiction - First Thought to Finished Story is on a launch offer of 86p/99c until the end of September.

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16 September 2011

Guest Blogging with "Reading A Writer's Mind"

Ooh, it's beginning to happen! My first guest posting has gone live on Toni V Sweeney's blog. Drop by and chat, or leave a problem for me to solve . I'll be dropping in all weekend.

And talking of weekends, my first #SampleSunday for the new book will be ready. Do call back!

11 September 2011


Remembering the day.

Remembering the horror.

Remembering the bravery.

Remembering the survivors who remember every day.

4 September 2011

It's Live! Launch Day Offer: "Reading A Writer's Mind...

That caught me unawares. I only uploaded to the Amazon Kindle Store late yesterday evening. I hadn't expected it to go live until tomorrow. It's been live on the Smashwords site for a couple of days and should be filtering through to the Barnes & Noble store, the Apple i-Bookstore, the Sony store, and the rest, in the next couple of weeks.

Reading A Writer's Mind: Exploring Short Fiction - First Thought to Finished Story is a culmination of my other life as a tutor of fiction, first for an East Riding Adult Education establishment, then a UK distance learning college, and currently as a reader for a London literature consultancy - with a liberal sprinkling of series and single print articles on the techniques of writing fiction.

The book is aimed at those wanting to improve their writing techniques. Ten stories are taken from initial idea, through the story itself, to a commentary explaining the decisions made during the writing, thereby setting a path to follow and showing the tools to use. Each commentary concludes with suggestions for using the discussed techniques in the reader’s own fiction.

Sections include:
* Lyrical narrative v terse dialogue; using tone as a descriptive tool (Mainstream)
* Characterisation through deed and thought (Horror)
* A calendar structure using the Tell technique (Women’s Fiction)
* The importance of pacing, and of duping the reader (Twist in the Tail)
* The use of alliteration, rhythm and subliminal detailing (Romance)
* Using the Show technique to elicit an emotional response (Cross-generational)
* Building fiction from a given line using an unsympathetic narrator (Crime)
* Working with a parallel storyline via past and present tense (SF)
* Making the everyday fantastical by preying on insecurities (Fantasy)
* Writing for performance and sound effects (Historical)
* Editing: ten common problems explored

From October the ebook will retail at $2.99 / £2.10 / Euro 3.05

Launch offer valid until 30 September: 

Kindle UK £0.86  
Kindle USA  $0.99

Smashwords for formats: mobi / e-Pub / pdf (for I-pad, Nook, Sony, etc)
Add 66% discount code BN46H at Checkout for sale price of  $1.02
If you live in Europe you *may* have to pay 15% VAT on top. Unfortunately this can't be helped; just feel proud that you are helping to pull millions out of recession (yeah, right). 

If you find something of interest, or some useful tips to help your own writing, don't be shy: leave a short review so other prospective readers & writers can see what's waiting for them.

And thanks, I appreciate it. 


27 August 2011

Reading a Writer's Mind: Exploring Short Fiction - First Thought to Finished Story

Those with sharp eyes will have noticed the work-in-progress meters nestling way down the right-hand column. After far too many delays my non-fiction writers' aid is nearing upload and the cover is available, so I thought I'd give it its first airing.

Covers for non-fiction are worse to visualise than even fiction. I wanted something striking, that would remain striking at thumbnail size as initially it is being launched as an ebook. My own efforts were not exactly greeted with enthusiasm. This is the problem for indie authors: we stand by our writing skills. I can speak long and fervantly on the use of tone, atmosphere and pacing, and do so in the book. What I know about graphic design can be written on the back of a postage stamp. But I know a man who knows lots, and we bartered our skills. It's not what I envisaged, but it's definitely striking. Thank you, Mark.

Reading A Writer's Mind: Exploring Short Fiction- First Thought to Finished Story is designed to help those wanting to improve their fiction-writing skills. By taking ten stories of different genres from idea to completion, and explaining the decisions made en route, the book offers a clear view of a writer's thought processes that can be replicated to help improve your own writing.

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25 August 2011

La Scala Short Story Competition - Closes 15 September

Following my allowing characters from Torc of Moonlight to chat directly to readers outside the confines of the novel, I thought I'd mention that it will soon be the final chance to enter this year's La Scala Short Story Competition.
La Scala  is a leading equestrian photography studio in East Yorkshire, England, but its annual short story competition is open to submissions world wide for its sections offering cash prizes. For those a part of the horse-riding fraternity, there is also a fantastic range of horse-related prizes including, especially for non-riding enthusiasts, a day trip to a choice of UK race courses, large hat and Chamagne glass to the ready!

I'm one of the sponsors, but you won't be seeing a riding crop or hard hat from me. I'm sponsoring a cut price critique for those competition entrants who want one, and I’m offering the judging panel five copies of my forthcoming ebook Reading A Writer’s Mind: Exploring Short Fiction - First Thought to Finished Story. It contains the sort of information I wish I’d had pointed out to me when I was starting out. More about that in the next blogpost.

La Scala short story competition info - Entry form - Rules
Wordcount: 2,000 max
Deadline: 15 September 2011
Prizes: vast selection ranging from £200/£100/£50 cash in Open Section, to horse saddle / day at the races, etc, in Equestrian Section.
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7 August 2011

Torc of Moonlight - Introducing Characters - The Other

And me? Do you ignore me?

You cannot ignore me; I am everywhere. I cling to you in the dew. I caress your skin in the rain. I am the morning mist you breathe. You drink me as you lick your lips.

The old fool set the path for me. The young fool became my beating heart. Alisssss believes she holds the secret. She is the secret. My secret.

Did they speak of Yslan? Yslan the forgotten? No. Yslan with her toad magic. Yslan with her acolytes. Yslan ignored me.

Ignore me and I will tear you apart. I am Ognirius Licinius Vranaun, and I will pass through to stand with you.

Just as I did with them.

Torc of Moonlight - $2.99 / £2.10
Also available in paperback.

3 August 2011

Torc of Moonlight - Introducing Characters - Alice 2

Following our chat with Alice a few days ago, here she is early on in the novel...
Alice closed her eyes, crossed her arms over her abdomen and waited for the spasm to fade. Her back ached, her stomach ached, her legs ached, her head ached. She was three days late.
What on earth was the matter with her? She’d never been late in her life. Textbook regular, had been since the very first. And there was absolutely no reason. She wasn’t ill. She wasn’t run down. She wasn’t under any stress.
A face filled her mind and she snapped open her eyes so as not to see it, but the scarred cheek and staring eyes followed her into the lamplight. For several seconds the dismembered head hung in the night air before dissolving away, to be replaced by a trail of willow fronds and the brick paving of the courtyard.
Alice fixed her gaze on the porch light above the yellow door in front of her, willing her heartbeat to slow. The stillness of the night crowded in as if the darkness were solid planes, and the distances, and the unnatural neon lighting, were no more than illusions in an ebony mirror. She refused to look left or right in case she caught a fleeting glimpse of something she preferred to believe did not exist.
It couldn’t be. Not again.
Yet, it could explain so much.
A pain zig-zagged through her abdomen and wrapped itself around her kidneys. She gasped aloud, hugging herself once more, holding her breath until the cramp eased.
His face swam before her pale and cold. Alice tried to block it out. It was almost as if she were calling him to her.
The activity holiday had been part reward, part gift for her thirteenth birthday. She hadn’t wanted to go, not wanted to leave the house and the Clarksons, but her parents had insisted, as they always did.
She’d seen Andrew that first afternoon, across the tumult in the reception area. His smile had been so warm and full of joy. They’d been teamed together for many of the activities that week. He’d explained the rules of badminton and she’d shown him how to read a map for the orienteering. She’d kept close when his gelding had tried to throw him. He’d insisted on partnering her in the canoe.
The dreams... It had been him in the dreams. The wind, the water lapping against the shore, the overpowering scent of that woman who had hugged her and hugged her until she feared she would never breathe again.
I mustn’t think of him, I mustn’t.
His arm was reaching out for her, his fingers, open and grasping, trying to tangle in her hair. But the hand was too broad, the knuckles skinned. Her gaze ran along the extended arm, across the shoulder. Even before she reached the scarred face she knew it was not Andrew but Nicholas Blaketon.
The splash sounded loud in the still air and Alice lowered her hands to look about her. Despite the lighting, the courtyard was edged with shadows, some surprisingly faint, others impenetrable. She could see no one, but that didn’t mean no one was there, that he wasn’t there. She’d felt his stare in the seminar room. Again in the library. There was no denying it now, no brushing the intuition aside as mere coincidence. If there was one thing her life had taught her, there was no such thing as coincidence.

1 August 2011

Torc of Moonlight - Introducing Characters - Alice

My guest today from Torc of Moonlight, is student Alice Linwood.

Hi. I’m at the University of Hull studying History, or ostensibly studying History. I was lucky; I had a choice of offers – Hull, York or Durham, but Durham’s a bit far out and when I visited it didn’t feel right. My parents made me put in for Cambridge, you know what parents are like. The atmosphere was appalling when I turned it down but, as I explained to Nick, I needed somewhere within easy travelling distance of the North York Moors to continue my research, and it simply can’t be done from the south of the country. When I take a First, it’ll mollify them. A bit. Well, it’ll have to do until I write my paper. Perhaps that will mollify my tutors. They don’t think that re-discovering a shrine to a Celtic water goddess a suitable subject for my final year. The atmosphere wasn’t very good there, either, but I’m determined. I’ve held this dream too long.

I became interested in history when I was very young, seven or eight, I think, maybe earlier. There were burial tumuli near to where my parents live, and I used to wonder what life would have been like for the people who built them. Short and hard is the answer to that one, not romantic at all, but those mounds fed my imagination and over the years my imagination was tempered by research. I didn’t have many friends and my parents encouraged my studying. I had an open account at a bookshop at one time. Well, they thought I was becoming obsessive, narrowing the period down to the late Celtic, Romano-British period, but you see, I knew something worthwhile was in my grasp. You’re not the only one to ask if I believe I’m an empath. The notion is ridiculous, of course it is, but I was impressionable, and if the question is asked enough a person is bound to wonder if there’s some truth in it, aren’t they? Ridiculous, of course it was. Anyway, that’s all in the past, my past. Very fluid, the term history. In ten minutes that is just what this conversation will be. History.

Hull? Oh I knew the moment I opened its brochure and saw that the on-campus residences were named after Romano-British sites in the area. The Parisii were here, you know, had an organised ferry system across the Humber before the Roman legions ever arrived to stamp their civitas on Brough. That’s the point, it’s what I can’t get over, that everyone hails the Romans for bringing roads, towns, their ubiquitous under-floor heating as if the people here had been living in caves. One of my teachers even told me that the invasion brought civilization to these islands. Can you believe that? Talk about propaganda!

I’m sorry, I can get carried away sometimes. A shrine to a water goddess near Hull? No, I’m not looking so close. I mean, there will have been some, just look for Christian churches named All Saints for deified water courses. No, it is the wild land above the Vale of Pickering that draws me. Malton museum has a lot of artefacts from its Roman fort Derventio. That’s the beauty of the landscape up there, it hasn’t been urbanised to the same extent. There’s so much still to see in the landscape. There was a lot of Roman activity up there, far more than there should have been considering it wasn’t good farming. They obviously had to be there for a reason. And during the Norman period religious houses were built in a line ringing its western boundary; all so very close together. I always thought that odd, but it’s not my period, and you can only do so much.

Nick’s been a great help to me, field trips, and other things, though he knows nothing about the period at all. He won’t mind me saying that. We’re as alike as chalk and cheese; I really don’t know what it was that attracted us. I do worry about him, though. He’s very laddish at times, and he always seems to be getting injured playing sport. I worry about him, I worry how I’m affecting him. He seems to be losing his friends. Leonard Harkin? Isn’t he one of the site’s gardeners? Yes, he built a pond outside the door to my residence. We chatted a bit. I remember because there’d been a peeping tom at the rear windows, near my window – ooh, not nice, is it?  He said he’d report anything unusual to the university authorities. I never heard any more though. You've not heard anything, have you?

27 July 2011

Torc of Moonlight - Introducing Characters - Julia 2

To follow our meeting with Julia Marshall a few days ago, here she is in her usual environment.

Clapping her hands, Julia began to separate members from their initial cuppa and conversation. Within a few minutes everyone was seated and she was able to switch on the music. At the first tinkling notes most present closed their eyes and cradled their hands across their laps, well used to the routine. Maxine’s head began to nod. Julia felt she hardly needed to lead them now. Most were perfectly capable of leading themselves.
‘Breathe in. And out. In. And out. Slow. And deep. Slow. And deep. Concentrate on the sound of my voice. On the rhythm of my speaking, and allow yourself to sink deeper, and deeper, into relaxation...’
Her own eyelids became heavier as she took the group by the hand, leading them along the well-used lane, through the break in the hedge, and into a meadow of sweet-smelling flowers. It wasn’t the meadow she was expecting; the colours were of a slightly different hue, the hillocks more pronounced, but the sun was shining, and she felt very warm, very light. The narrow track was there. It led down, down, beneath shady oaks and ash to the edge of a mist-shrouded pool. Someone was swimming. She could see an arm rise and fall through the swirling mist. A woman’s arm, beckoning. A pale arm, almost translucent, beckoning, beckoning...
‘No!’ Her eyes sprang open. Julia could see the circle, the group, the inclined heads. Between them and herself, as if a pastel-shaded painting on glass, was the pool, and the mist, and the beckoning arm.
‘No!’ Aware of the alarm in her voice, she steadied herself, her gaze darting round her group seeking signs of distress. They were all with her. All safe.
‘We mustn’t go in. The water’s too cold; we mustn’t go in. Not today. Back up to the meadow, now. Hold hands, hold hands tightly and go back up to the meadow.’
One of the group raised her head. Another opened her eyes. Julia could see them quite clearly through the pastel-shaded glass, but the pool was still there, between them, shrouded in mist. The arm was still beckoning, not beckoning but waving, not a woman’s arm but a man’s, not waving but—
Three rasping coughs were followed by a great whooping breath that seemed to fill the room with sound and commotion. Maxine was clutching at her throat, her eyes wide and terror-stricken. Julia stood, her concentration centred solely on her distressed participant. The painting loomed large as she stepped towards it, shimmered and dispersed as she cut through it to the woman’s side.
‘Someone get a glass of water,’ she called. ‘You’re all right, Maxine. You swallowed the wrong way, that’s all.’
She was holding her by the shoulders, patting her back. Others were standing, looking. Some were talking in low, serious tones. A glass was brought and Julia stood aside. She had to smile for them, had to show that nothing was amiss.
‘Everyone else okay? Yes? Well... That was a bit of a shock to us all, wasn’t it? Brought us round a little faster than anticipated.’ She turned her smile into a grin. ‘It certainly sent my heartbeat soaring.’
The ladies smiled at each other. One nudged her companion and chuckled, relieving the tension for everyone. The coughing stopped.
‘How are you feeling, Maxine?’
‘I thought I was drowning.’
Julia looked down at the woman with the ashen face and felt her own smile grow taut enough to shatter.

23 July 2011

Torc of Moonlight - Introducing Characters - Julia

To complement this month’s summer sale of Torc of Moonlight, I take pleasure in introducing Julia Marshall, hypno-therapist, and a close friend of Leonard Harkin.
I’m sorry, I realise you’ve come a long way, but I shall have to make this short. I have a very full diary and hadn’t realised this appointment had been slipped in by my administrator. Yes, clients. I’m a leader in stress management attached to a number of medical groups in the Oxford area. I help people sustain their rehabilitation. Heart attack, stroke, those on stringent medical diets. Drug rehabilitation? Only those being weaned off prescribed…

I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name. You are here about the medical benefits of hypnotherapy counselling..? Leonard? Do you have credentials I could see, please? You’re not from the media? The police? Then, I’m sorry, I don’t understand the connection— 

I’ve never visited Hull. Yes, I come from the York area; I know it’s only an hour’s drive. No, I wasn’t there at college with Leonard. He was a student at York, I was younger. We met as young people do and became friends. For a while lovers, yes. Whether my parents approved or not is of no consequence to you. My—? Who gave you information about my mental health? It was an incorrect diagnosis, a mere label affixed by so-called professionals of the era. Had there been hypno-therapy counselling then… And before you ask that is exactly why I became involved in this line of work. Leonard? Leonard believed me. He was the only one who did. He might not have understood, but he believed me, and that is why we have remained in touch over the years. I know nothing about his current relationships, nor do I wish to. His private life is his own. As is mine.

I'm sorry, we seem to be at cross purposes. I was under the impression that you were here to learn about the benefits of

Alice? No, I’ve never met her. She is not a consort of Leonard Harkin. I know because I’ve met her boyfriend. Yes, Nicholas Blaketon. Plays contact sports, I believe. He looks the type, has a… presence about him. Mother Earth Society? An unfortunate lapse of judgement on Mr Harkin’s part, I agree, but I understand it disbanded some time ago. Pagan? Well, I would have thought that went with the group’s euphemistic title. I know nothing of any so-called rites.

Newtondale Spring? I believe it’s a tourist attraction. Three Wives…? I’ve not heard of that one. I’d be more inclined to visit the Christian abbeys on the North York Moors – Byland, Rievalx, Fountains – yes, there is a horse carved into the chalk escarpment. Maps? The abbey ruins can be found on modern maps, certainly, but not the reason they were built there.

I’m sorry, I shall have to cut it short. I have a client appointment so I need to leave. I’m sure my administrator will organise refreshments for you. Thank you for showing an interest in my work. You’ll find leaflets about the benefits of hypno-therapy on the…  No, I don’t travel north. There’s a definite chill up there. It can be debilitating to someone sensitive to it. But you'll be fine. Having met you, I’m sure you’ll be fine.
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20 July 2011

Torc of Moonlight - Introducing Characters - Leonard 2

To augment the characters chatting each Saturday, midweek I’m going to add a section from the novel to show them in action. To follow on from Leonard’s… Mr Harkin’s… interview, here is a scene from halfway through the novel.

     The sheeted clay head stood on the workbench Leonard called his own and to which he would allow no student access. He had set himself a deadline, and in truth the head was nearly completed, but he couldn’t face working on it yet. It had been a strenuous day. The enthusiasm of the first year students had not permeated the remnants of the weekend’s frenzy. The initial euphoria of Clare coming back into his life seemed to have dissipated as quickly as the bubbles in her expensive champagne, though it was barely three days. The nightmare of the forest nymphs was still uncomfortably close, and felt, if anything, more real. He had hoped to be able to work the dread from his system, but it lingered.
    Another cigarette was lit on the stub of the last, and he walked round the untidy studio seeking physical labours to occupy his hands and his mind. Bins were emptied into waiting black sacks; discarded artcard returned to the paper chest. He rewashed brushes, sharpened pencils. The tall glass window overlooking the sports field dimmed through deepening shades of blue, camouflaging the last of the rain-washed mud on the outer surface. He was pleased to see it fade. The work of drunken yobs, without a doubt, but the smears had pulled at his attention throughout the day. It was as if someone, something, had been trying to get into the studio.
    The cigarette finished, he again pulled the pack from his shirt. Only one remained. He held it in his fingers, stuffed it back in the pack, the pack back in his shirt.
    This was ridiculous. What was he playing at? The head was nearly ready: the face-mask, the jaw-line, the classical nose. The curls had refused to hold, but the clay should be drier now. Why hadn’t he done as he’d first intended and completed it over the weekend? Clare would have understood. Clare would have brought her wine and her damned smoked salmon and made a picnic of the enterprise.
    He brought forward the life-size head, patting its winding cloth with his palm. Too dry. He should have wrapped the entirety in clingfilm. Sweeping up the spray bottle, he pumped a light mist over the cloth. The last thing he wanted was for any of the clay to be transferred to it as the head was unwrapped.
    Tentatively he caught a fingernail beneath the leading edge. The cloth lifted at his touch and he grasped it between thumb and forefinger, gently teasing it from the layer beneath. The cloth was long enough to enshroud the head three times, keeping the clay moist despite the centrally heated studio. He sprayed again, the fine mist chilling the back of his hand. The cloth unwound steadily, its once white threads blotched a fungal red-ochre as if covering a bloody wound.
    Leonard caught his lower lip between his teeth as he concentrated on the final layer. Another misted spraying. A tentative separating of cloth from clay, sticking plaster from skin.
    It was free. He breathed again, depositing the soiled cloth on the workbench beside the plinth. The head was facing away at an oblique angle, giving him an almost full sight of the rear. There was something very wrong with the hair, but he’d known that when he’d enclosed it in the cloth at the end of the previous session. The classical finger curls had been straightening as he’d worked on them. Dried out they looked as stiff as a hedgehog’s spines.
    Even as he released the catch he knew the sculpture was rotating under its own weight. Instinctively his hand reached out to steady the plinth. He faltered. The hairs on the back of his neck were starting to rise, mirroring those of the sculpture.
    It wasn’t just the hair. There was something wrong with the cheek. A long gash had been etched from eye to chin. As more of the face came into view he recognised the swelling of a bruise over one eye. A scream built in his chest, a pressured pain, but his throat constricted and would not let it pass. Birds pecked at his face and head, and his flailing arms careened into shelves which fought him in their turn, loosing canisters and palette knives to bounce up from the tiled floor and attack his shins. Bags of powdered paint followed, splitting on impact to scatter autumn colour underfoot.
    Through its own weight, or will, the head kept on rotating. There was nowhere in the littered studio for Leonard to flee its searching eyes. On hands and knees he scrambled into an alcove, pushing aside its contents, until his nails were tearing at the plaster wall. He collapsed on one thigh, whimpering from a cramped chest and aching arms. There was no escape.
    The eyes, the carefully crafted eyes of sightless smooth perfection, had been torn away. In their sockets were carved the bulbous spheres of a seeing youth hell-bent on his destruction. He knew who it was, knew beyond a doubt, but could not draw his gaze away.
    When a moustache began worming from the clay to cover the upper lip, Leonard could not believe what he was seeing. When the lips drew back from gritted teeth, Leonard screamed.

16 July 2011

Torc of Moonlight - Introducing the Characters - Leonard

Concentrating on this month’s summer sale of Torc of Moonlight, I’m calling Leonard Harkin into the spotlight. For some years Leonard has been a tutor at Hull’s university where Nick Blaketon is a second year student. Leonard, if you please…?

Mr Harkin, if you don’t mind. And I’d like to make it quite clear from the outset that Blaketon is not a student on any of my courses. He barged into my studio, dripping water all over my benches, and in the most uncouth and surly manner threatened me with physical harm. I’d never even met the youth. I still believe it was he who tampered with the Roman head I was—

I know sculpture is not a part of the Art & Design syllabus, but I am a Fine Artist by training, and I have leave from the Vice-Chancellor to use the studio to continue my own work, including occasional commissions. That head was sabotaged, and I am convinced that I’d been slipped something noxious. How do you account for the hallucinations? These students come from their schools fluttering their ‘A’ levels and most of them can’t even draw a straight line without the aid of pixels and a mouse. They don’t like being told, that’s the trouble. No, I do not own a vivarium. Toad-licking? I’ve never heard anything so preposterous. Who gave you leave to ask these questions?

Mother Earth Society…? I am not a member. Yes, I was some time ago but it isn’t good for tutors and— That charge was not upheld. But I’ll have you know that my counter-claim for harassment was. Yes, I own a student house; yes I live on the top floor – it’s my house, where do you think I’m going to live? It’s large, it’s situated close to the campus, and accommodation is always tight. It is perfectly reasonable to let out the lower floor to— Because female students are less bother. They clean up after themselves for a start. And don’t tell me I can’t smoke. If I want a cigarette I’ll damned well have one.

Paintings…? I’ve told you, I’m a fine artist.

No one by that name ever sat for me. I never painted her. She was not a member of the Mother Earth—


You invited me here under false pretences. You know nothing of what you are alluding to. It’s got nothing to do with this university. Mother Earth Society… I thought at one time we’d opened a portal, but no. It started years ago, in York. Julia was the one. We were students together. She understood. She understands. That’s why she moved away. I should have gone with her. She begged me. I should have gone with her.

I will not speak her name. Do you understand nothing? To name is to imbue with life. Don’t call it!

I should have gone with Julia, gone south out of its reach. Why didn’t I?


Torc of Moonlight: Book 1 in the Celtic Goddess Trilogy
July offer 99c / 86p
UK Kindle: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004FEFCKK

9 July 2011

Torc of Moonlight - Introducing the Characters - Nicholas

As July is Summer Sale month for Torc of Moonlight – 99c / 86p – I thought I’d step back to allow the characters to introduce themselves. First up is the lead, Nicholas Blaketon. C’mon Nicholas, put down that beer and chat to these people.

Oh, pleeeze… Nick, the name’s Nick. I like Real Ale, playing rugby and shag— female company. Not necessarily in that order, eh? What can I say, a young man’s healthy lifestyle.

When I opted for uni – college some of you might call it – I gained a place at Hull up in Yorkshire with half an eye to the distance. Home is way below London on the south coast, and I didn’t want the parents checking on me every weekend, did I? A few texts and the odd phone call keeps them happy and off my back. Phew, peace.

I’m doing an English/American Studies degree. It looked a fairly safe bet in the brochure and I’m into the second year now. My mate Murray’s doing Law and you should see the tomes he carries about! Mind you, he’s built for it. That’s how I met him, at a trial for one of the uni’s rugby union teams. Rugby? Think American football without the armour. We play for speed and manoeuvrability, not bulldozing. The warrior spirit, y’know? Fast and sharp. Adrenalin, camaraderie, alcohol. Tempered aggression. The sheer elation when I drop the ball between those posts. Yeah.

Except…except I wonder, sometimes… if that wasn’t what drew it. Him. The Other. If we weren’t somehow broadcasting and…

But I shouldn’t be talking about that, I should be telling you about Alice. My ex had dumped me over the summer and I met Alice on the rebound. Well, I heard her first. We were in a crowded seminar. I wasn’t well, had some bug or other, and it was the timbre of her voice that caught me. Oh, but she’s a looker, too, don’t get me wrong – hair that dances like a fall of russet leaves, and a scent… I was smitten from the off. It wasn’t reciprocated, though. Sheesh, did I have to work at it. Of course, I didn’t know about that lecturer then. Harkin. Settled him, though. One fell swoop and I settled him.

But Alice, she’s a History major and is obsessed with finding a Celtic water shrine. I ask you, we’re talking 2,000 years here. A village pond is a village pond, right? There are dozens of the things, hundreds. But I was willing, of course I was willing. On my own with her among all that lush vegetation… Did it pay off? Ooh, did it pay off! Hey, don’t crowd. I might brag a bit to my mates, but I don’t kiss an' tell, okay? Certainly not here.

The thing is, the more I learned about the history she was into the more odd … things… began to happen. Or maybe they were happening anyway and I just started to become atuned, I don’t know. But who to tell? Alice seemed oblivious and I didn’t want to wreck our relationship. I mean, would you? And what to say? I’d have been carted off to a looney bin. And then… and then it all got out of hand and… it…him…The Other…

It wasn’t me. I must make you understand that. I tried to stop it, to stop Alice, to stop… It wasn’t me.Enhanced by Zemanta

3 July 2011

99c / 86p July Sale - Torc of Moonlight

It's official, it's The Summer Sale.

First up is Torc of Moonlight, which for the month of July will be on offer for 99c / 86p for the Kindle. The cover has had a make-over to celebrate.

Sex, sport and alcohol are why Nick Blaketon escaped to college, but when pieces of his life start disappearing he locks on to chaste Alice for stability. Only it’s not the alcohol that's affecting him. And seducing Alice lays a path to a past that isn’t buried, and definitely isn’t dead.

Multiple 5* reviews - “Riveting”
Book One of a trilogy that will keep you nailed to the page.

Likened by reviewers to Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock, and Phil Rickman's occult works, this supernatural thriller, and its two sequels to follow, is a culmination of years of walking the landscape, Ordnance Survey map in hand. The places exist. The woodlands and moorlands are real. 

So is the belief in The Otherworld.

Amazon UK Kindle: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004FEFCKK

21 June 2011

Launching mp3 download of "Hostage of the Heart"

Today Audiolark.com launches my Mediaeval Romantic Suspense "Hostage of the Heart" as a DRM-free mp3 download, so it can be played on a variety of devices, or saved to CD for that car journey. And you can play it with the kids listening, as the romance is 'sweet' even as the suspense is full of intrigue.
It is also a full length novel, one of the last from Audiolark for the time being I think, so you can enjoy 8 hours playtime for $9.99 - discounted for launch week to $3.49.
1066, on the eve of momentous battles that will change British history, there are lesser wars being waged on the English/Welsh borders. Young Lady Dena is taken as a battle hostage by the marauding Welsh eager to reclaim lost lands. But nothing is as the minstrels sing. Who is she to trust? Certainly not her own kin who refuse to pay her ransom. The brooding warrior-knight Rhodri ap Hywel? Can she trust him? Is he a Welsh prince?
I'm also guest blogging today -
talking about audio downloads & with a new excerpt on:
and about the "fun" of proofing audio files on
Come join me and let's have an (Audio)lark!!

17 June 2011

Interview on BlogCritics.org

After a fallow period it's all go. Today I'm being interviewed on BlogCritics.org about the reasons for going indie with Torc of Moonlight. If you have time, drop by and leave a comment or give the piece a Tweet. Thanks.

14 June 2011

Video and MP3 launch date

Well, it all happens at once: Avril Field-Taylor, kind soul, has produced a video for me. Do click on the link in the heading and have a smile. I can't wait for some time of my own to play.

News! Finally the mp3 of Hostage of the Heart is being launched on 21 June. The cover is so different from the ebook.... I think I need to dedicate time to the latter.

First, though, there are deadlines to meet. More on those later.

11 June 2011

Life and Newsletters

If it's not one hassle it's another. This week the vacuum finally gave up the ghost. Well, it rattled its chains and made all the usual noises but it was plainly not sucking air, never mind bits off the carpet. Husband: "It was doing that when I last used it, so I put it back in the cupboard" - like he puts empty cereal packets back in another cupboard. Exasperation + 1, and several hours lost to researching vacuums on the internet. Bottom line? The pattern on our carpet is brighter than I supposed. Mmm... Might invest in a shampooer. I can see this getting expensively out of hand.

Addendum: I've added Zemanta to this blog with the intention of uploading an occasional image with posts. So why, from the above, is it offering me variations on 'sex in video games'? Obviously a man's mind at work here; see above.

And back to my own work: my June e-Newsletter will be going out shortly. As well as news, not of the above sort,  there'll be a new book cover and a video. Drop me a line - see Contact on right - if you'd like to receive a copy. You won't be bound for the rest of your life, or even seven years. Honest.

7 June 2011

The Indie Spotlight Interview

I'm being interviewed on The Indie Spotlight today about how I came to write Torc of Moonlight, and explaining some of the fact behind the fiction. Do you throw coins into a wishing well? Ah, thought you might...

3 June 2011

Short Story Competition - Prizes Galore!

It’s that time of year once more: the La Scala Short Story Competition is upon us, and yet again I’ve been strong-armed into offering sponsorship. LOL.

No, honest, it’s an honour to be asked. I recall with perfect clarity earlier in my career when writers took the time to sit and listen, to offer advice, to nudge me a little further down the path I wasn’t sure was mine; people like Barry Hines, author of ‘Kestrel for a Knave’ who gave me 10 minutes at a literature event that unlocked a door, and Mary Mackie who took me into a quiet corner at a writers’ conference and chatted for half an hour, giving me the sort of advice and general fillip that fired my confidence to step out of my comfort zone and onto the next level. Only later did I discover that she was no newbie like me, but a prolific author of historical, romance and suspense novels.

Forget the back-stabbing literati of London, Paris or New York, this is what true writers do: they offer a hand to help those who follow on the stony path. And they do it with a smile because it’s called paying back.

So from me there’s a cut price critique for those competition entrants who want one, and I’m offering the judging panel five copies of my forthcoming ebook Reading A Writer’s Mind: Exploring Short Fiction. It contains the sort of information that I wish I’d had pointed out to me when I was starting out.

La Scala short story competition info - Entry form - Rules
Wordcount: 2,000 max
Deadline: 15 September 2011
Prizes: vast selection ranging from £200/£100/£50 cash in Open Section, to horse saddle / day at the races, etc, in Equestrian Section.

 Good luck!Enhanced by Zemanta

29 May 2011

Know Thyself

Life has a habit of getting away from us. It certainly has a habit of getting away from me. My To Do list should be written on an old fax roll. Or better, toilet paper, because that's where I feel it should go, down the pan.

So it was a spare of the moment decision, like the day before, to add another job to my overwhelming list - a job that would take all day: attending the internet based Massive Action Day organised by Jurgen Wolff. If you've not come across him he's a NLP Practitioner and a writer, not just a writer in his profession, but a writer for movies, television and the stage - which is what drew me. He's a person who has juggled with our sort of creative writing and come out the other side.

I logged on, said hi to other participants via a text window, and named my task. The system was to concentrate on one task - any task - for 55 minutes, then as the clock struck he'd chime in with a 5 minute video giving tips for creativity or time management. Participants could log off if they wanted, or stay live and along with Jurgen offer encouragement and suggestions via the text window throughout the session. At the end of each session we'd chime in with how we'd done and our goal for the next session.

If this had been explained this to me beforehand I would have raised a cynical eyebrow, as I am sure you are doing, too, but it worked, and in more ways than I ever would have imagined. Biggest lesson self-learned? I underestimate how long a task will take – by a huge 50%. No wonder my To Do List needs that toilet roll.

The MAD event went on from 9am-1am UK time with Jurgen staying at the helm throughout, welcoming the world as different time zones logged in, and the rest of us dipping in and out or finishing as we needed. My expectation was to stay with it for four hours – after all, I had loads to do. Apart from lunch and cooking the family dinner I was there 13 hours. Time flew by and I didn’t feel tired until the end; now there’s a first.

How much did this MAD event cost me? Not a bean. Not even a hard sell, or even a gentle sell. Jurgen Wolff is an extremely amiable, grounded fella. He runs http://www.timetowrite.blogs.com/ and offers a free monthly newsletter Brainstorm & Focus. With a bit of luck the next MAD event will be in July. That’ll be a date then.
Enhanced by Zemanta

9 May 2011

Eyeing the Literary Trap - Again

I am not a banner-waving politico, but what I read today chilled my blood.

A teaser in this morning’s Book Trade News Book2Book rang an alarm - “Government Considers Reading List For [UK] Primary Schools” - and I followed the link to an article on BBC Education  which starts “Primary schools could be asked to teach an approved list of books and authors, under new plans being looked at by the government's curriculum review.”

Ooooh, have I been here before…

Many years ago, like back in 1995, I answered the phone to find myself being solicited by a pressure group to endorse the principle “all children should learn by heart from a canon of great literature”. I didn’t even need to think about it; I refused point blank.

My early teenage reading had been turned from a journey of delight into a war of attrition by being forced to read and précis twelve set books a year, their titles staring down from the wall above my desk. I recall huge blocks of impenetrable dark print, convoluted sentence structures I could barely comprehend, words I could hardly pronounce. At the tender age of eleven I had been quietly immersed in The Great British Classics and left to drown.

I remember the pressure-group petitioner being appalled by my reaction. In return I demanded to know whose ‘canon of great literature’ would be used as set texts: those of the English, the British, the Indian sub-continent, the West Indies? All I received was an echoing silence.

I make the same point now as I tried then. Which approved list of books will primary children be made to read? Those suited to the preparatory schools of the Harrow and Eton look-alikes? Will the same list be shovelled down the throats of a 90% ethnic Pakistani class in the Midlands, or a 90% ethnic Eastern European class in Lincolnshire?

All under-elevens attending school should be introduced to the wonderland that waits beyond the portal of the written word, not indoctrinated in what is perceived to be good and what is perceived to be bad by a set of faceless bureaucrats referring to themselves as “experts”. Especially when friends of these “experts” are either closing libraries or replacing knowledgeable librarians with counter assistants taking home the minimum wage.


And if readers are wondering how my memory is so sharp that I can recall a single phone conversation from sixteen years ago, it is because I've just reread the stinging article on the exchange I wrote for my regional newspaper The Yorkshire Post. Now, there's an idea...

5 May 2011

Renewing my faith in the BBC

I hardly watch television. Basically, because it is... yes, well... reality shows, quizzes, and sport, aren't my thing. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy, and often tape, the various history programmes, and as I write I have Boudicca's Lost Tribe to watch.

It was Boudicca's LTribe I was intending to watch tonight, when my tenuous grip on the TV remote happened to coincide with the start of The Shadow Line on BBC 2. From the cracking opening to the introduction of the various characters, I was enthralled. This is the sort of writing I have always aspired to. Thursdays are now *mine* - the family has been warned.

27 April 2011

More History Than Anyone Should Have To Deal With

Sixty years ago - 1951 to be precise - petrol was 3s 4d (that's shillings and pre-decimal pence) per UK gallon of  4.5 litres, making the cost equivalent to 3.5p a litre in today's money. For the non-Brits reading this, it is currently coming in at around £1.33 a litre, that's a whisker short of £6 a UK gallon. A pint of beer cost 1s 3d (1/3d I believe we used to write it), and a three bedroomed semi-detached house £1,450 - which I know to be correct as I've just found the receipt to my parents' house bought in 1952. The average weekly full-time wage was £8 6s 0d for men; £4 9s 10d for women (equivalent to £8.30/£4.49 in modern money).

Still nostalgic for the "good old days"? Well try this one. In 1951, that's six years after the end of the Second World War, the meat ration per person stood at its lowest level ever, 10d (4p) worth per week for an adult, which could buy you, if you could find it, 4ounces of rump steak. And meat didn't finally come off ration until 1954. Pretty dire, eh?

I thought so until I was reading Alan Wilkinson's blog. He's a writer friend of mine who, in true English eccentric style, has gone to live on the Nebraska range for six months, ostensibly alone, to write. The family who own the land got it under the Homestead Act in 1904 and lived first in a dug-out, then in a sod-house, before building the first home-made block-built ranch-house in 1923. It's now used as a hunting lodge, and it's the house he's staying in. There's a lot of history mixed in with his observations. Drop by, you'll find it interesting.

24 April 2011

#SampleSunday 20: Beneath The Shining Mountains Chapter 4 Pt1

Having been placed in unacceptable danger in the enemy Shoshone village - by accident or negligence - and putting himself in an unenviable position with the experienced war band leader by covering for a man he considers his friend, Winter Man's heart is no longer filled with lovers' games.

‘Is it true? Are they back?’
Moon Hawk’s eldest brother gazed at her in open-mouthed astonishment. Adult siblings maintained a strict sense of dignity in their exchanges. His sister’s lack of propriety embarrassed him. Turning to their mother, he spoke directly to her.
‘Bear On The Flat sends me to tell you that Running Fisher has returned with horses and coups. He said that you’d be eager to know.’
Little Face took a step towards him, smiling. ‘Thank you, my son. Were there any injuries?’
He shook his head. ‘Not that I’ve heard. There will be a great deal of singing tonight. Here, I’ve brought you something.’ He opened his hand and showed her the slender dentalium shells he had hidden there. ‘These will look well hanging from your ears.’
Little Face uttered her delight as he tipped them into her offered palm. ‘You’re a good son, Antelope Dancer. You make a mother proud.’
He smiled, nodding his acceptance of her thanks. Without a glance towards Moon Hawk, he bowed his head and went out through the door opening.
Little Face frowned at her daughter. ‘If you talk to him like that again, he’ll refuse to visit us while you’re here.’
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t think. I’m—’
‘I know. I know. You’ve been like it for days. I don’t know which is worse, falling over Winter Man every time I leave the lodge, or coping with your anxieties when he’s away from the village. I’ll be pleased when it’s all over.’
Moon Hawk relaxed a little, and smiled. ‘Mother . . . You know you’re enjoying every moment.’
‘Perhaps,’ she mused. ‘But I’ll still be pleased when his family offer you an elk-tooth dress.’
An elk-tooth dress. A wedding gift. It was all Moon Hawk could dream of, that and lying in Winter Man’s arms.
‘Don’t stand there like something carved,’ Little Face admonished. ‘Bathe. Dress. I must paint your face and oil your hair. He will be here soon!’
 The face of Skins The Wolf seemed to be set in a permanent scowl. While Otter Robe had dressed his hair and attached bright beaded temple ornaments to the thin braids he wore in front of his ears, Spider had painstakingly painted his eyes vermilion and his face black, the honour colours of a coup-taker. Running Fisher had divided the captured Shoshone horses, generously keeping no more for himself than he had given to his men, but Skins The Wolf could speak of nothing but the group of boys they’d met some little while before.
‘They’ll have run straight to the village and told everyone we’re here. What surprise will there be when we ride among the lodges now?’
It was the third time he had said those same words. Hillside bent his head nearer Winter Man’s ear as he applied vermilion to the torn skin of his back.
‘He likes to hear his own voice. He sounds like a prairie chicken trying to encourage a mate.’
Winter Man turned his blackened face so that he could see Hillside from the corner of his eye. ‘You sound like something, too, ridiculing his every move.’
Hillside narrowed his eyes. ‘I carry a fire in my chest for him, the way he’s treated us. I don’t know how you can remain so calm.’
Calm? Winter Man nearly laughed. Was that how he looked to Hillside? Was that how he looked to them all?
‘I feel unworthy. I have gained a coup, taken a picketed horse—’
‘—and rescued me.’
Winter Man sighed. ‘I don’t feel that it should be my shoulders these honours should be heaped on.’
‘Then whose shoulders should they be heaped on? Those of Skins The Wolf for deserting us? Your only mistake was to protect him by not disclosing all you saw to Running Fisher. It’s too late to alter that now. It’s gone; it’s past. Your honours are good. You’ll stand tall and raise your head high. What will people think if you skulk into the village hiding your face? What will Moon Hawk think? She’ll be waiting for you to pass her lodge.’ He slapped Winter Man playfully on the shoulder. ‘Say that she won’t be there, all coy and affecting a tired disinterest, while she wears her most prized clothing for you. Ah, you’ll feel differently when the celebrations begin.’
Winter Man hoped so.
When Running Fisher felt the time was right, he told his men to mount their horses. They began at a sedate pace, singing songs of valour and cunning, but as they neared the tipis they eased their mounts into a trot, finally entering the village at a gallop, driving the stolen horses before them.
The village erupted in its excitement. There were calls and shouts. People waved painted robes and ran alongside the horses of the returning men. The air was filled with dust and noise; the women’s continuous high-pitched trilling punctuated by the deafening booms of powder-guns. Round the village, the stolen horses were driven by every tipi so that all might see and admire them.
Once the horses had been shown, Running Fisher paraded his men: Skins The Wolf to the fore in recognition of the precedence of his grand coup, Winter Man behind him leading the roan, the wolves came next, in honour of their duties, and finally Hillside, Otter Robe and Spider in a line bringing up the rear. They stopped outside the lodge of Running Fisher so that his family and clan members could hear the deeds of the raid and applaud his leadership. They stopped outside the lodge of Skins The Wolf so that he could re-enact the taking of his coup for his family. They stopped outside Winter Man’s lodge so that all there might hear at first hand how he’d come to take the roan and save the life of Hillside. Slowly the raiders made their way through the rejoicing village, stopping before a group of Lumpwood society members who sang songs for Skins The Wolf, and again before a group of Fox society members who sang songs for Winter Man.
It was as Hillside had predicted. The jubilation forced all melancholy thoughts from Winter Man’s mind. He was treated as a hero – and he felt like one. He told his tale time and time again, showing off the red-painted wound on his back, emphasizing his bravery as custom demanded. One of his clan-grandfathers, a mentor since before the time of his vision quest, loudly recalled the other deeds Winter Man had accomplished: the taking of a gun, the striking of a second and a third coup, so that the people might know and remember that he was a Good Young Man with a strong heart, destined for mighty things.
Swallow came to hug him and bathe in his glory. Several of his cast-off lovers did the same, but not Moon Hawk. He wondered if she had been standing outside her father’s lodge as the men had paraded by it. He had made a point of not looking, half-hoping that she would seek him out herself.
As the sun slipped towards the mountains and the clamour of the village began to subside, Winter Man felt a new excitement kindle within him. He was pleased Moon Hawk hadn’t come to fawn over him the way his lovers had. Very likely, it would have meant an end to their game. But she hadn’t come. The game was still on – and it was his turn to play.

If you've enjoyed this excerpt, leave a comment and/or Tweet. Thanks.