30 March 2011

Reviews! Reviews!

It’s great getting reviews, and I know I should show a little decorum – it comes with being a Brit – but…. Yayyy!!!

Two Ends Of The Pen gives Torc of Moonlight 4.5* “…The riveting climax of the story will keep you on the edge of your seat.  Is it real or a nightmare?  Can you drown in a hallucination?”

Readers Favorite gives Beneath The Shining Mountains 5*  "...an interesting story that is easy to get caught up in. The characters are captivating... Highly recommended."
Goodreads member Rita gives Torc of Moonlight 5* "...Great story, very atmospheric. Some of the images stay with you after you've read it....I'm looking forward to reading the next book 'The Bull at The Gate'."

Leetid's Reading gives Beneath The Shining Mountains  4* "...This was an interesting read as it was completely different to all the other romances I have read and it was a nice change. It was a good book..."

Amazon.com reader Toni V Sweeney gives Torc of Moonlight 5* "...the vivid descriptions made the countryside and the various Celtic sites come alive. Sad, haunting, even poignant, the characters of Nick, his beloved Alice, and Leonard are finely drawn to make us care about them..."

There are more, but let's let's calm down here.

The big surprise is how, for a non-erotic historical romance, Beneath The Shining Mountains has been embraced in the USA and Europe. As more e-readers are sold in the UK perhaps it will get picked up here, too. And I've no doubt, now, that Torc of Moonlight will catch up in sales. It's certainly gaining admirers among those who have read it.

Do all Indies a favour... review that novel you're reading. You may never speak to the author direct, but I'll guarantee they'll be pleased.

27 March 2011

#SampleSunday 16: Beneath The Shining Mountains Chapter 3 Pt1

 This week the story moves into Winter Man's perspective. To bring you up to date, to restore his bruised pride, Winter Man is joining a horse raid, but not content with stealing horses from the milling herd, he has vowed to steal a prized buffalo horse staked outside its owner's lodge, therefore putting himself in mortal danger....


When the sky had darkened and the stars were bright, the raiders left the comforts of their tipis and headed south. One of the village guards, a Muddy Hand whose society had been elected to the duty for a season, counted eight figures past him, eight figures and two dogs, but no horses. Although the men were leaving on foot, it was a certainty that they would be riding back. He smiled as he watched them, memories of raids he had been on springing easily to his mind. His smile faded. Not every raid was as successful as it might be. Sometimes events overtook those who had so meticulously planned them. Sometimes the results were disastrous. It would not hurt to sing for these men. It would not hurt at all. He raised his arms to the sky and called upon First Maker to watch diligently over his brothers.
Running Fisher called a halt at daybreak, as was his custom. Winter Man had been chosen to accompany him on three other occasions and he knew the reason for the delay lay in a taboo connected with his Medicine. Being a pipe-carrier, a leader, was a heavy responsibility. Not only did Running Fisher have to acquire enough booty for everyone on the raid, but he had to ensure that none of his followers was lost to the enemy. No matter how large the booty, no matter how many coups were taken, if Running Fisher lost a man he would be disgraced. No one would follow him again until he could persuade the people that his Medicine had regained its former strength. Every ritual, every taboo of that Medicine, had to be strictly adhered to. Their lives depended on it.
Since seeking his first vision when he’d been eleven springs old, Winter Man had wanted to be a Good Man and lead his own raids like his father and three of his grandfathers. Mystics had prayed over him. Wise men had counselled him. He was a Good Young Man now, as were many of his age, but would he ever gain the honours he needed to rise to leadership? He needed three major coups to be considered. He had gained only one, the taking of a gun from an enemy.
The man had been a Lakota, a member of a scalp-raid the previous summer. In the ferocity of the hand-to-hand fighting, the Lakota had pointed the weapon directly into Winter Man’s face. Perspiration beaded on his back as he recalled the moment. If that weapon had not misfired . . . If the powder had been dry . . . He threw aside the remembered hand of fear. That day his Medicine had been stronger than that of the Lakota. The weapon had misfired. He had taken a gun from the hands of an enemy and gained himself a coup. When he wore his best clothing, he wore the shirt with the locks of hair on the sleeves. Everyone knew what the decoration meant, even visitors from other peoples who had come to trade. He was recognised. He was a warrior. Two more coups and he would be a Good Man. He would carry the pipe on his own raids — if he could prove that his Medicine was strong enough so that others would follow him.
A cake of pemmican landed by his moccasin. He raised his eyes and found Hillside grinning at him.
‘Your thoughts are far away,’ his friend said. ‘Is it the horse you are wishing for, or the touch of that woman with the appealing dark eyes, the chaste one who cannot throw to save her life — or catch herself a husband?’
Winter Man smiled and broke off a piece of the foodstuff, but he didn’t reply to the taunt. He’d been the butt of repeated jokes since the day they’d returned from their hunting. Everyone in the village knew what had taken place when they’d met the root-diggers. If Hillside hadn’t spoken loudly of it, Frost had. There’d been no escape for him. He’d been so affronted by the woman’s attitude that he’d not recognised the exchange for the challenge it had been.
It had also left him in a delicate situation with Bear On The Flat. They were both members of the Fox society, Moon Hawk’s father being an elder. He wasn’t the sort of man to look upon lovers’ games with a ribald eye, especially if the woman in question was his daughter, yet he’d remained almost aloof, as if such antics were below his dignity — which, Winter Man supposed, they were for a man of his standing.
He lay full length in the sun-withered grass, turning Moon Hawk’s name in his mind. She certainly had the haughty look of a hawk. The way she had ignored him — he still couldn’t accept it without astonishment. If he’d counted correctly, there’d be a sliver of moon to guide their steps the next night. Perhaps it was an omen. He wished he’d made enquiries into how she had come by the name. Bear On The Flat might have given it to her at birth to commemorate some deed of his. She was, after all, his first daughter by that Piegan woman.
She, too, was chaste, he remembered. How many times had Bear On The Flat sat in the Fox lodge after the wife-stealing ritual and boasted of her chastity? No Lumpwood man had ever stood outside his tipi and called his Piegan woman out. He’d been married to her for so many years that no one could remember the number. Winter Man shook his head in incredulity at his thoughts. His own father had divorced seven wives. What would it be like to share the same bedding-robe with a woman for so long? What would it be like to have a wife?
He caught his musings, drew them up sharply like a runaway horse. He didn’t want a wife. Making Moon Hawk his wife was not even the challenge. To entice her into being his lover, that was the challenge, though even as he dwelled on it he was no longer sure. He’d had many lovers, had not regretted a single one, but none of them would ever be asked to notch the Sacred Tree at the height of the summer ceremonies. None of his lovers would ever know such an honour. Only the families of chaste women could carry that prestige, families with women like Moon Hawk.
‘Have you spoken to her yet?’
The voice of Skins The Wolf was terse and, unlike Hillside’s, devoid of all humour. Winter Man didn’t know what to make of him. He’d been like this for days now, scowling or silent. At times it was difficult to know which was the worse. Despite belonging to opposing warrior societies, they’d kept their childhood friendship. They were, after all, distantly related, not through blood as clan members, but through the marriage of one of their grandparents. Like a true brother, he’d been the first to offer to guard Winter Man’s back when he entered the Shoshone village.
‘Of course I've spoken to her,’ Winter Man replied, disdainfully waving his hand in the air. ‘She trembled at my very nearness, hiding her blushes behind a robe she held.’
‘Ha!’ Skins The Wolf threw back his head and scoffed. ‘That one would not tremble if she stood naked in the presence of First Man!’
Even as he heard the words, Winter Man felt his stomach lurch. All about him turned in horror to look at Skins The Wolf. How could he be so unthinking as to tempt the goodwill of First Maker at a time like this? They were about to enter an enemy village.
Winter Man looked across to Running Fisher. He was the pipe-carrier. If he felt the breach of respect was too severe, he would order them to hang their heads and return to the village empty-handed rather than risk their lives in a venture no longer sanctified.
Running Fisher sat for long moments with his pipe-bag in his hands. No one spoke. No one wished to interrupt his meditation. Older than his followers, wiser for his experience, they waited nervously for his judgment.
‘We go on,’ he said.
Everyone sighed with relief. Skins The Wolf stood and raised his hand to the rising sun.
‘However many horses I capture, I pledge half of them to the poor.’
Winter Man could hardly believe his ears. Half of them? If he’d been so foolish as to say such a thing, he would have pledged them all!
They ran on. There were no paths to follow, no markers to point the way, but from the angle of the sun and the individual peaks of the Shining Mountains ranging along their right-hand course, they knew they were leaving the hunting grounds of the Apsaroke and entering enemy lands. The dogs, brought by Otter Robe and Spider to carry food and spare moccasins, trotted gamely along, their tongues hanging out in the late summer heat.
The land undulated in increasing sweeps as the high plains buckled into the foothills of the mountains. The coarse grass, baked almost brown beneath the sun, gave way to willow and gorse and lodge-pole pine. Jackrabbits fled in panic before the jogging raiders. Prairie dogs screeched their high-pitched warnings and darted down their holes. A group of antelope stood and stared. The heavy-limbed buffalo ignored them.
Running Fisher had picked two scouts to sprint ahead and spy the land from distant hilltops. Hunts The Enemy and Frost had donned their wolf-skins with pride and raced on. Winter Man had been a wolf on four occasions and knew the excitement the first sighting of their quarry could bring. He hadn’t been asked this time. He was intending to gain a picketed horse, gain a recognised coup. Running Fisher had felt that was enough for him to concentrate on, and Winter Man had accepted the leader’s judgment and hidden his own disappointment. A man gained prestige in the eyes of his peers by discharging his duties well. The role of wolf carried prestige. A man was nothing without prestige. Only the men with the highest prestige, the highest war honours, only those men were asked to take the burden of their people upon their shoulders and become true orators.
The stars were growing bright in the eastern sky when one of the wolves was seen running back towards them. The jocular atmosphere of the little group changed at once. Something was amiss. They were another night’s journey from the area of the Shoshone village sites.
Hunts The Enemy eased his pace and the others crowded round him. His chest was heaving, but his words were not strained.
‘Bannock,’ he announced. ‘A party of five. They’ve killed themselves a buffalo-cow and are roasting her flesh over a small fire.’ His eyes rested on each man in turn. ‘They are young.’
Young meant inexperienced. Five. It was a number the eight Apsaroke would willingly take on. The thought passed through every mind.
‘They may not be alone,’ Running Fisher said.
‘Frost and I have watched them since noon. They played in a creek like women, splashing each other and singing songs. They smoked for a while, and chased buffalo just for the fun of seeing them run before cutting one out and killing it. It needed three arrows to bring it down,’ the wolf snorted contemptuously. ‘None of their number left to tell others of their kill. Frost circled round them, but found no sign of anyone else. They are alone.’
‘And asking to die,’ Spider added.
Hunts The Enemy nodded. ‘They have even let their horses wander.’
Winter Man didn’t know whether this development was a good thing or not. If they did attack the Bannock, the raid would end. There would be no Shoshone horses, no picketed horse to parade before Moon Hawk. There would, of course, be the chance of a grand coup, the touching of an armed enemy who was trying to kill the coup-taker. The prestige gained through that act was more than through the taking of a picketed horse, but he’d need both to be a Good Man. And what if he wasn’t quick enough? There were eight Apsaroke. Eight men attempting to take the same coup. Even if all of them succeeded, only the first to call the strike would be allowed to drag a wolf’s tail behind his moccasin. If Winter Man wasn’t the first, he’d have nothing.
He thought of Moon Hawk, of her dark, beguiling eyes gazing at him over the top of the buffalo robe that night she’d come out of the lodge. He thought of the contemptuous look she’d given him when they’d spoken at the root-digging. He, a Good Young Man, and she’d treated him shamefully in front of all those old women. If he didn’t return with a picketed horse as he’d promised, he would forever hear her laughter ringing in his ears.

If you have enjoyed this excerpt, do leave a comment or Tweet the post. Many thanks.

25 March 2011


I've just attended my region's Litlunch, and even managed to sit on one of the speakers' tables hosted by my friend and prolific saga writer Valerie Wood. Either side of her sat a local historian and a celebrity launching a memoir. Sitting on another table was a writer of widely acclaimed historical adventure novels that I'd particularly come to hear.

A good lunch was enjoyed, and the speakers rose to strut their stuff. The celeb, even though I didn't know him, was very entertaining; the local historian absolutely riveting. The novelist hardly mentioned the title of his book, never mind how it came to be written, but launched against the downgrading of history teaching in schools, how Governments on a war footing never learned from history, how... His arguments may have carried weight, but did I buy his book?

On the way home I called into the supermarket. While in the queue at the till, I picked up an on-offer paperback by another writer of acclaimed historical adventure novels set in the same era. I'd read two pages by the time my turn arrived, and the novel went on top.

For us lesser mortals, the moral of this story is...? And bear in mind that both authors write series.

20 March 2011

#SampleSunday 15: Beneath The Shining Mountains C2/Pt3

Sunday is here again. Enjoy this week's excerpt! If you enjoy it, leave a comment and/or Tweet. Thanks!


‘He is not there again,’ Moon Hawk stated emphatically as she entered the lodge. ‘Three days have—’
She caught her mother’s agitated movement and her eyes flicked over the low-burning fire to the semi-prostrate figure of Bear On The Flat. Her father’s head was inclined to one side in a doze. A good ten years older than Little Face, his body was still firm of muscle, his eye quick and keen. Although a member of the esteemed Fox warrior society, he was more renowned as a fearless hunter than an adventurous warrior. He’d gained five coups in his life, including taking a picketed horse from inside an enemy village, but these honours had not been enough to elevate him beyond being a Good Young Man and he’d never led a raiding party in his own right. Exactly how much he knew of his women’s plan to bring about her marriage to Winter Man, she wasn’t sure. Little Face had soothed his affronted authority as head of the lodge over her refusal of the marriage enquiry from the family of Skins The Wolf, but she’d not told him of their blatant manipulation of Winter Man. Such a course of action was not considered at all proper, and Bear On The Flat, had he been directly told, would have had no alternative other than to call a halt to it.
Moon Hawk eyed the reclining form of her father. He’d not been in the lodge when she’d left to refill the water-paunch, slipping out to a meeting of his clan-brothers after the family’s large evening meal. She’d not expected him back so soon. Turtle and Bobtailed Cat were playing together close to his feet and were making more noise than warriors in a victory parade without any disturbance to him. He couldn’t possibly have heard her own words.
‘He’s asleep,’ Moon Hawk hissed.
Her mother’s grimace bade her be quiet. She was not so certain.
‘I’ve told you about going out on your own,’ Little Face whispered. ‘You must be chaperoned at all times. It is imperative, now, that there must not be a hint of gossip about your character.’
Moon Hawk rolled her eyes, tired of her mother’s constant remonstrations, but the words she heard came from another, deeper, voice.
‘It has always pleased me that my eldest daughter is strong in limb and pleasant of features. It pleases me even more to know that she is chaste like her mother. I would be the proudest man alive if she were to marry well, but I would warn the two of you to step warily. The land you tread has more quicksand than you think.’
With an affected snort and a trembling exhalation, Bear On The Flat resumed his doze, if ever he had truly been asleep. Moon Hawk and Little Face exchanged an astonished look and then suffocated a shared giggle. It was impossible for Bear On The Flat to give his blessing to their scheme, but at least they knew he wasn’t going to reproach them from it.
Little Face began her monthly flow the next day and left the family tipi to take up residence in the small women’s lodge used for such occasions. Late that night, in a bout of high spirits, Bobtailed Cat knocked the entire contents of the water-paunch over an embroidered robe. As quickly as she could, Moon Hawk caught up the edges and took the heavy skin outside.
It was a warm, starlit night without a breath of wind to stir her unbraided hair. Noises travelled in the clear air: horses whinnying far outside the circle of the lodges, the soft, slow beat of a drum and high-pitched voices raised in song, the giggle of lovers, the demanding cry of a baby wanting its mother’s milk.
Moon Hawk spilled the water from the robe away from the door of the lodge and shook the skin several times to ensure that no drops still clung to the fine porcupine-quill embroidery, but it was damp in several places. She stretched it in her arms, ready to throw it over the roof of the sunshade, but drew it back into her body with a gasp. Deep in the shadow cast by the roofing-boughs a tall, slim figure was leaning casually against one of the supporting uprights. He uncrossed his ankles and stepped into the bright starlight. It was Winter Man. Moon Hawk’s heart-beat doubled.
‘I’ve stood outside many lodges waiting to speak to a woman within,’ he said wearily, ‘but this one . . .’ He turned his lazy gaze on to the buffalo-skin tipi, the brightness of the fire within making it almost translucent. ‘You are more closely chaperoned than a Sacred Woman. I thought I’d grow old and lose my teeth standing here.’
A smile crept across Moon Hawk’s lips, and she pulled the edge of the robe up to her nose to hide it from his sight.
‘There’s no need to cower behind that robe. I’ve not come to entice a kiss from you. I have a more willing partner waiting for my touch.’ He inclined his head, indicating some other lodge lost in the darkness. Moon Hawk felt as though a bowl full of icy water had been poured over her head.
‘You trilled well for your sister’s doll. I’ve not heard you trill so well for the return of a Good Young Man.’
Moon Hawk affected an unconcerned shrug of her shoulders. ‘Perhaps your ears were attuned to other voices.’
Perhaps? Moon Hawk’s eyes widened. Was Winter Man openly admitting his interest in her? Could she drop this pretence and at last speak of her love for him?
‘We lost horses to the Shoshone during the last moon,’ he said. ‘Running Fisher is leading a raid against them in retaliation.’ He raised his hand level with his waist and wavered it slightly. ‘The horses of the Shoshone are not the best, but those Bad Lodges need to be shown that we will not tolerate their childish antics. I’m among those going with Running Fisher.’
A chill ran down Moon Hawk’s spine. He was going on a horse-raid. There was nothing untoward about that, she told herself fiercely. Wealth was measured in horses. Raiding horses from an enemy’s herd was the principal way of acquiring wealth. Only frightened men caught wild horses and broke them for riding. There were no frightened men among the Apsaroke. Her father had been on many horse-raids and had never returned without a string of mounts to his credit. Winter Man, too, was well versed in the art. Why was she so fearful for him?
She watched him raise his hands and rest them on the cross-pole of the sunshade roof. The blue-grey starsheen glided over his tautening muscles; it reflected off the abalone shell gorget tied about his throat. His eyes bore into hers, cold and calculating and proud. Far away a coyote howled its mournful cry and the half-wild village dogs answered it in turns. The sound made Moon Hawk’s flesh creep. It was as if they had caught the scent of a fresh carcass.
‘The others ride for wealth,’ he said, ‘but I have prayed to the Spirits. I have spoken with my Medicine. I will return with a single horse, and it will wear a short rope round its neck. I will hear you trill for me and see how well you do it.’
No! No! The words screamed inside her head. She had never intended this, never. To raid horses from an enemy’s herd was bravery enough. Scattered in their hundreds on the hills outside a village, men could take them and escape before the alarm was raised, but a picketed horse . . . A picketed horse was the pride of its owner. It was tethered to a tipi staking-pin outside the door of a lodge; an enemy lodge in an enemy village. One sound, one snort of the horse, one growl of the dogs, and that village would rise as one to rain death on to the intruder. On to Winter Man. He couldn’t do this, not just to flaunt the deed before her, not just as part of this courting game they were playing — she was playing. First Maker, what had possessed her to start it?
She swallowed down the fear risen into her throat. She would have given anything at that moment, made any sacrifice, to have been able to beg him to abandon his quest. Had he known her thoughts he would have hung his head in shame and gone high into the Shining Mountains to wail his grief like a wretched thing. Even though he might forfeit his life, she could not dishonour him that way. She took a breath to force courage such as his through her veins and lifted her head as any proud Apsaroke woman would on such an occasion. She only hoped that there was not enough light in the starsheen for him to see the tears standing in her eyes.
‘Bring a picketed horse to this village and you shall hear me trill for you,’ she said.
Winter Man did not smile. He did not give any sign that he had heard her words. As silent as a cougar, he turned and stalked away into the night.

This completes Chapter 2. Next week we're off on a horse raid... that doesn't quite go according to plan. If you enjoyed this sample please Tweet and/or leave a comment. Thanks.

17 March 2011

Yorkshire is HAUNTED - it's official!

Earlier this month one of our leading UK daily newspapers carried a story "Yorkshire Tops Spook League". And this is news?

My novel Torc of Moonlight draws on tales of apparitions seen at ancient springs in the area, and I make no bones about using the landscape as a character set, describing rural and urban places exactly as they appear because, well… they can’t be bettered.  

Just up the road from where I live, in a village called Ulrome, there’s a small road called Bugg Lane. At the bottom of it sits a large, natural spring-fed pond. A local name for a ghost? A boggle or a bugg.

At Harpham there’s the legend of the Little Drummer Boy, cheated out of the manor he’d won in a race by one of William the Conqueror’s nobles the best way possible. He killed the lad and stuffed him down one of the local ‘wells’ – though it would have been a spring as it still is now. When a descendant of the murderous noble is about to meet his maker, the sound of drumming is said to be heard issuing from the waters.

Just up the road from there is Burton Agnes Hall standing in a village of the same name. There’s a very large pond there, almost a lake, supporting a lot of mixed waterfowl. All very picturesque. However, the hall itself – a beautiful Elizabethan country house – is haunted. In 1620, while it was being built, Anne Griffith was visiting – guess where? - the descendants of the murderous family at Harpham, when she was set upon. Knowing she would die of her injuries she made her family promise to keep some part of her within the new house so that she could enjoy it as they did. God-fearing people that they were, they buried her in the churchyard. The moral of this story is, do not go against the wishes of the dying. To cut a long story short, her skull still resides somewhere within the Hall, probably built into the wall of the great hall. The present family aims to keep it there.

Supernatural fiction? Don’t say that in my home county, it's all too real.

14 March 2011

Cats and Dreams and Magic Charms

It isn't often I host another writer on my blog, but I'm pleased to welcome Icy Snow Blackstone, a writer of fantasy romance. In this and another guise she has 26 novels in print and ebook. Her latest, Gypsy Charm is out tomorrow from Class Act Books.

When Lisa Carpenter befriends the gypsy Mrs. Lee, she doesn’t realize what a chain of events she’s set into motion.  The girl has a soft heart, that’s all there is to it.  She pays for the groceries the old woman’s accused of stealing. And she takes Lisa back to her camper, where she’s introduced to grandsons Isaac and David, two gorgeous muscular hunks complete with golden earrings.  They move with the grace of panthers stalking prey, their touch when they shake hands with Lisa leaves her skin tingling.  There’s another gorgeous earringed hunk there also…Mrs. Lee’s cat, Tomas.  When Lisa leaves Mrs. Lee’s, she takes two things with her:  a magic charm, good for one wish, and Tomas as her bodyguard, though she isn’t aware of that gift.

Once Lisa discovers Tomas has followed her home, their association doesn’t begin very auspiciously.  The first thing the hapless feline does is get himself mauled by a neighbor’s Great Dane.  A scratchy visit to the vet and another dip into Lisa’s paycheck saves the day, but then Tomas has to win over roommate Annie who has definite ideas concerning stray cats, and one of them involves neutering, so the two definitely don’t hit it off.  Nevertheless, Tomas takes his assignment very seriously, and sticks to it, being on guard against Annie and sharp instruments. He’s going to protect Lisa…from over-amorous boyfriends, and anyone else who threatens.

One thing Tomas can’t protect Lisa from is her own dreams…or does he have a hand…uh, paw…in those, too?  The night after he arrives, Lisa’s sleep is invaded by the image of a man whose face she can’t see…a man moving with animal grace…a man over whom the shadow of a giant cat hovers.  He knows her; he believes she knows him.  He says she’s the only one who can save him…
      Who is he?
      Only Tomas knows and he isn't telling! Not yet, anyway.


Tomas was going on his self-appointed rounds.
He'd gotten a good look at the layout of the house while Annie washed the pizza dishes, and now—while those two were out of the way—he was making certain the house was secure.  Protecting Lisa.  Just as Mrs. Lee ordered.
Studying the kitchen door, he gave a cat-nod. Okay, backdoor shut and locked.  Trotting briskly into the living room, he looked at the two windows opening onto the front lawn.  Hmmm, better check that left one.  He scampered over, standing on hind paws to tap the bottom of the sash with a front paw.  Good, shut tight.  The front door was locked also.
So...that leaves only the bedrooms...
For just a moment, he stood there, looking from Annie’s room with its open door to Lisa’s on the opposite side of the living room.  Which one to check first?  Tomas didn’t really want to bother with Annie.  That neutering remark still rankled.  The girl was rude, sharp-tongued, and had made some pretty crude comments.   What does she eat for breakfast, anyway? Cactus?
Sauntering cautiously over to the open door, he peeped in.
Empty.  Good.
A few steps brought him to the bedroom window.  A quick swipe at the curtains knocked them out of the way to reveal the sash in place and locked.  So far, so—
“Hey, what are you doing in here?”  Annie appeared in the bathroom doorway, toothbrush in hand, mouth smeared with white foam.
Uh-oh!  Tomas backed away.  He stared at her face, eyes wide.  My God, she’s foaming at the mouth!
“What's the matter?  Haven’t you ever seen anyone brush her teeth before?” Annie spluttered toothpaste as she spoke.  Tomas turned his head, making an odd disjointed little sound sounding suspiciously like laughter.  Cat laughter.
“Get out of here!”  Picking up a pillow, she swatted at him, and as he galloped for the safety of the living room, tossed it back on the bed and returned to the bathroom.
Okay.  Fine.  Tomas watched her disappear inside  Let someone break in and steal you.  See if I care...
...but he knew he’d better not let that happen.  Mrs. Lee had entrusted him—not Isaac or David—and for a very good reason, and he’d better not screw up this time.  Turning his back, he stalked with feline dignity into Lisa’s room.

Gypsy Charm will be available from Class Act Books on March 15, 2011.  http://www.classactbooks.com.

13 March 2011

#SampleSunday 14: Beneath The Shining Mountains C2/Pt2

Did you enjoy Read An Ebook Week? Gosh, there was a lot of good stuff on offer. My TBR pile has just doubled, and that's saying something. Thanks to readers who downloaded mine.

Here is the next part of Beneath The Shining Mountains. Enjoy! And if you do, leave a comment and/or Tweet. I appreciate it.

The sound of the snort was unmistakable, and to Moon Hawk’s practised ears it did not come from Winter Man’s horse. She didn’t look back, though, but kept walking, a smile of satisfaction lighting her face. She might have instigated this odd courtship, but Winter Man was going to have to fight harder than that to take her.
She saw him again on each of the two following days. His approach was more measured, more subtle. The first time he was standing outside a neighbour’s lodge discussing the relative merits of different saddle girths; the second he was washing down one of his notched-eared buffalo-horses in the creek when she went to refill the water-paunch. He did not look towards her on either occasion, and she did not look at him, but she knew he was only there because of her, and it filled the rest of her day with song.
‘How long do you think this will go on?’ she asked Little Face.
The older woman shrugged. ‘It’s hard to say. Until he tires of it, I suppose.’
‘Tires of it!’ Moon Hawk was beside herself. ‘You mean, until he loses interest?’
‘Oh, there’s no chance of that. You threw him a challenge in front of his friends. Even if he wanted to ignore you they wouldn’t let him. You know what men are like. They make up the most derisive songs about each other for the most insignificant of causes. It’s his reputation as a wooer of women which is being put to the test here. If it should be seen to fail him . . .’ Little Face chuckled to herself. ‘The longer you can keep him at arm’s length, the more chance you have of keeping him for good. You must give him no encouragement — not any.’
Moon Hawk felt a twinge of dejection. Winter Man was being heedful of her only because of a dare. She’d known it from the start, but it seemed harsh put so blatantly, so bound to failure. She carried on waiting, seeing him each day and ignoring his presence, until something happened that made her feel the sky had fallen in on her world.
She ducked into the lodge, almost tripping over the raised threshold in her hurry to be inside. Little Face looked up from the porcupine-quill embroidery she was working on.
‘He’s out there,’ Moon Hawk stammered, ‘sitting under a sunshade with Swallow in his arms. They are laughing and talking and . . . and he is kissing her and . . .’
‘You should not have even seen them. If you have carried on like this in front of Winter Man’s eyes, you will have lost everything. He’s wily. This is a test to see how you react.’
Moon Hawk let her gaze fall in her despair. Swallow. She was tall and lithe and beautiful. And she was lying in Winter Man’s arms.
Moon Hawk watched her mother cross to the doorway and lift the flap to peep outside. Little Face turned back to her, her eyes alight with excitement.
‘Two can play at this game! Grind meat ready for making into pemmican for the winter. Work diligently outside the lodge under our sunshade and be most courteous to all who come to speak with you. Remember that.’ Before her daughter could ask any questions, Little Face stepped out of the lodge.
Moon Hawk collected the items she’d need from behind her mother’s back-rest, and with a deep breath to steel herself, slipped out of the low opening of the tipi. Winter Man was still sitting under that same sunshade with Swallow. They had been joined by Hillside and his wife, and all four were laughing together and eating choke-cherry rounds. Moon Hawk studiously ignored them and set out the utensils of her labour beneath her own lodge’s sunshade. She laid a piece of dried buffalo meat on the flat stone pounding-dish and started hammering at it with the maul until it crumbled. Tipping the pulverised meat into the centre of a clean skin, she began her work again. Laughter drifted to her across the heat-haze; the deep, gusty laughter of the men, of Winter Man. Moon Hawk did not look up, but try as she might, she could not ignore it.
A shadow crossed her hands and she raised her eyes to find one of her more elderly clan-grandmothers standing there, kneading her thigh with the heel of her palm. From the other hand dangled an empty water-paunch.
‘Moon Hawk,’ the old woman said in a loud voice, ‘the young girls have gone swimming and left no water in the lodge. They have no mind for their duties. My leg pains me. Would you stop your work and fetch water for your grandmother?’
Moon Hawk stared first at the old woman’s odd stance and then at her tired and care-worn face. She had seen her grandmother not half a day ago, cursing ferociously and running after a dog which had stolen a length of the sausages she’d been making. What could she possibly have done to her leg in so short a time? She was about to ask when her perception cleared. There was nothing wrong with the woman’s leg, nothing wrong with it at all.
Moon Hawk rose to her feet, her face full of concern. ‘Of course, grandmother. You seem tired. Rest here awhile. I’ll bring you a fan to cool yourself.’ She helped the old woman to lower herself on to the robe she had made her seat, and ducked into the lodge to retrieve her own hawk-wing fan.
‘Here, grandmother,’ she said. ‘I’ll not be long.’
‘You are a good grandchild, Moon Hawk. Many look with favour upon you. You never desert your work.’
The old woman’s voice boomed out far beyond the reach of her own ears. Winter Man would have had to have been deaf not to have heard every word. Moon Hawk skipped down to the stream, unashamedly laughing all the way.
She had no sooner settled herself back to grinding the buffalo meat than Turtle arrived at her side. The young girl thrust a boy-doll purposefully beneath her sister’s nose.
‘Hail In His Eyes has been on a horse-raid and has counted a grand coup on a Lakota warrior,’ she announced loudly. ‘But I’ve nothing to blacken his face with in honour of the deed.’
Moon Hawk suppressed a smile, and told her sister that she would find something. She brought out a piece of charred wood from the lodge’s fire-pit and offered it to Turtle.
‘You do it,’ she ordered, and offered the doll to Moon Hawk’s hands. Moon Hawk blackened all of his face as any returning warrior would to announce that he had taken the coup, and handed back the doll.
Turtle looked at her sister’s handiwork and nodded her approval. ‘We should salute him for his bravery,’ she said in earnest.
‘Of course we should,’ Moon Hawk agreed, and the pair threw back their heads and trilled loudly for the doll the way any woman would for a man who’d risked his life in the gaining of a coup.
As Turtle ran back to her friends, Moon Hawk risked a glance in the direction of the other sunshade. Swallow was talking gaily, but, by the look on his face, Winter Man had no ears for what she was saying. Caught by a streak of sunshine flooding through a gap in the cut boughs above his head, his eyes were narrowed against the glare, his steady gaze only for Moon Hawk.
She turned quickly, picking up the maul to continue with her work. She hoped that he had not noticed her glance, but her heart sang just the same. She would win him. She knew, now, that she would win him in the end.
 Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear from you, so drop me a line.

9 March 2011

Ebooks, Rankings and Cheques - sorry... Checks.

After digging in their heels for a couple of years, their arms crossed against anything electronic, major print publishers in the UK are beginning to change their collective tune. I heard that Robert Hale, which barely offers paperbacks of its mainly hardback canon, could be about to start offering ebooks. Avon, the Harper Collins imprint, is starting a new, multi-genre romance line 'Impulse' - as long as writers don't mind uploading their typescripts via the submission site and waiting three months to see if it's lucky enough to be drawn from the slushpile. I'm sure there are more. Once upon a time I would have known because I'd have been scouring the forums for such news, devouring the small print with bright-eyed rapacity. Now it hardly warrants a raised eyebrow. I'm an indie author - and I prefer it. It's less stress, less frustration, more money, and instant sales advisement.

Tonight Beneath The Shining Mountains is sitting at #10 US Kindle Store > Native American; #18,360 in US Kindle Store Paid Bestsellers. It's my biggest selling novel, much to my surprise, and the fact that I've cracked the #20,000 sales rank is a cause for some celebration at Acaster Towers. Glass of wine all round time.

The ranking will dive, of course, because it doesn't just rely on my sales, but on everyone else's as well. And I'm British, so my glass is perpetually half-empty, not half-full. But the trend is up, so I'm quietly confident. Especially as today my first Amazon cheque arrived, and one is now likely to arrive each and every month. Why would I possibly want to return to the old days of working in the dark? With no money.

6 March 2011

Read An Ebook Week - 50% Discounts

This week is Read an Ebook Week, and I, and hundreds of indie authors, are joining with Smashwords.com to discount our ebooks in a festival of exuberance for the electronic word.

Torc of Moonlight : Special Edition discounted 50% to $1.50
Hostage of the Heart discounted 50% to $1.50
Beneath The Shining Mountains discounted 50% to $1.50
Contribution to Mankind and other stories of the Dark discounted to FREE!

Right-click the chosen link, decide on your preferred format - "mobi" for the Kindle, "ePub" for the Sony, I-Pad, Nook and Kobo, or even "pdf" to read on your computer - purchase the ebook, and at Checkout add the discount coupon code RAE50. Follow the instructions to download your chosen ebook. It's as simple as that.

But don't delay: Read An Ebook Week finishes at 23.59hrs Pacific Standard Time on Saturday 12th March.

Remember, you don't have to own an e-reader to read an ebook, just a computer. Why not download the free applications listed in the right-hand column. You'll be able to alter the size of type and width of reading page to your own preference.

Happy Reading. It's what it's all about.

#SampleSunday 13: Beneath The Shining Mountains C2/Pt1

Here is the start of Chapter 2 of Beneath The Shining Mountains. If you enjoy reading it, please Tweet. Or this week only - Read An Ebook Week - it is available to purchase at half price $1.50 (approx £0.99). See instructions on the post above.


Moon Hawk spent three anxious days watching for a sign of Winter Man, praying that he would show himself, fearing to turn round in case he stood there, looking at her.
‘He’ll do nothing so obvious,’ Little Face told her. ‘He’s a man, not a gawky youth. First he’ll make enquiries about you, and then he’ll watch you, but you’ll not see him until he wants you to.’
Moon Hawk tensed. ‘You mean, he could be watching me at this very moment?’ All along her back her flesh pricked and rose as if a hundred pairs of eyes were burning into her. She didn’t know which way to look.
Little Face chuckled. ‘Did you think he’d sit outside our lodge and play a courting flute for you? That you would be able to walk over to him and take his hand in yours? Did you think gaining Winter Man for a husband would be so easy?’
Moon Hawk averted her gaze. She hadn’t thought it would be easy at all, but, in truth, she hadn’t contemplated the difficulties, either. When her mother had offered her a chance of gaining her heart’s desire, she had jumped at it without noting how far that prize lay beyond her reach, or how far she might fall if she failed.
She set her jaw and raised her head. She wouldn’t fail. She was the woman for Winter Man — and she’d make him see it if it was the last thing she did.
‘I’m hungry.’ Bobtailed Cat wrinkled his brow and turned his face up to his elder sister towering so far above him. ‘I’m hungry,’ he repeated.
The heat had slipped from the land and the sky was paling ready for the onset of twilight. Moon Hawk eased the tumpline which secured the bundle of firewood against her back, and offered him her free hand. ‘Come. Mother will have a fine stew simmering on the fire and there will be roasted turnips if you are good.’
‘I’m always good!’
On their way back to the village, Moon Hawk spied a number of sticks dropped by another returning with firewood.
‘Can you hand me those?’
‘I am a man!’ Bobtailed Cat retorted indignantly. ‘I do not collect wood for fires. Do you want my friends to laugh at me?’
Moon Hawk altered the weight of her load and carefully bent low enough to pick up the sticks. ‘You’ll have to fetch firewood when you go on your first raid, and water, too, or the Good Young Men who take you will chase you back to the village and sing derisory songs about you outside our father’s lodge.’
Bobtailed Cat hung his little head, and muttered to himself. ‘I am not a woman!’
Moon Hawk smiled indulgently at him. The years slipped by so quickly. Already he was acutely aware of what was expected of him. Soon he’d be bringing a rabbit to the lodge, triumphant in his first kill. It would be a buffalo calf next, and then . . . She sighed. In no time at all he would be riding with the men. Would she be a wife then? Winter Man’s wife? A smile burned away any disturbing doubts. She’d have young sons of her own by that time, and would be telling them that collecting firewood was no work for a man!
Just outside the outer edge of the village another encampment had sprung up, and though the tipis were much smaller and far fewer in number, it was the same in most respects. Older girls were cooking over small fires, pretending to be wives and mothers. Some had little cradleboards on their backs, and carried dolls made from deer-skin stuffed with buffalo hair. Others trailed younger siblings with them, claiming them to be their offspring. One girl even had her pony picketed by her half-size lodge and was proudly showing the rest that she was more than capable of handling a horse-travois, the large triangular drag-frame a woman used to transport her family’s belongings. Not to be outshone, other girls had made themselves smaller versions to be harnessed to the wolf-like dogs which roamed the village.
Bobtailed Cat pulled back on Moon Hawk’s arm. ‘We’re not going over to them, are we?’
‘Your sister may well be hungry, too.’
Bobtailed Cat curled his lip. ‘She’ll want me to be her son again.’
‘I don’t think so. It’s too late in the day.’
Turtle saw them approach and ran to meet them. ‘Look!’ she called, waving a long stick on which were skewered several pieces of meat. ‘Snow Rattle brought these for me to cook for him. I am his lover!’
Moon Hawk noticed her sister’s beaming face and decided not to be too harsh in her reprimand. ‘It’s better that you be a chaste woman when you grow. You’ll gain much respect.’
Turtle shrugged her shoulders. ‘It’s more fun having a lover. I can ride on the back of Snow Rattle’s pony when the boys have a victory parade.’ Her expression became more serious, Snow Rattle and his pony forgotten. ‘Do you think father will give me another pony to replace the one the Shoshone stole?’
‘I don’t see why not. If you help Mother, and you do as our father wants the first time of asking, you’ll show that you are worth being given another pony.’
Turtle nodded, deep in her thoughts. Angrily, she kicked at a clump of withered grass. ‘I hate those Bad Lodges! Stealing my pony . . .’
‘Yours was not the only horse stolen,’ Moon Hawk reminded her.
‘I don’t care! I’d dance with their scalps if one was given to me!’
Moon Hawk raised a disparaging eyebrow. ‘You are hardly likely to be offered a scalp just because your horse was stolen; besides, no one was killed in the raid, so I doubt the Good Young Men will be riding for scalps.’
‘I’ll not be offered one of the horses they bring back, either,’ the girl muttered.
‘I’ve told you, if you are good, father will give you another. We’re returning to the tipi to eat. Are you coming?’
Turtle shook her head and moodily stalked away, trailing the skewered meat behind her.
‘No man will take her as a lover,’ Bobtailed Cat said. ‘She grumbles too much.’
Moon Hawk laughed out loud and took his hand in hers again. There were times when her youngest brother talked so much older than his years.
Winter Man! It was Winter Man, there was no mistake. He was sitting astride his dappled grey racer in the space between the two villages. He had come. He had come!
She drank in the sight of him as if he was the only sweet water in the vastness of a salt desert. How imposing he looked, dressed in his warrior society regalia. She’d seen him in it on many occasions, but this time she knew he was wearing it for her. There was a dignity in his bearing, in the way he carried the russet fox-skin cape over his broad shoulders. His leggings, too, were not of the usual elk-skin, but were made from scarlet cloth expensively bartered from the hairy-faced traders to the north. Across his back was slung the finest otter-skin bow-case any man possessed, and cradled in his arms was a cut-down powder-gun, a single black-tipped eagle feather fluttering from the end of its shortened barrel. He was showing her his possessions, that he lacked for nothing, that he was a man who had the courage to take whatever he wanted; that he could — and would — take her if he so wished.
The racer lifted its forelegs in turn, tired of remaining so still. Winter Man calmed it with the lightest touch of his antler riding quirt, but it had altered its stance enough for Moon Hawk to see more of Winter Man’s face. He had been painted vermilion and yellow; his arms, too, banded in the same favoured colours of the Fox society. Like an angry thunderhead, his dark hair spread out behind him, the sun glinting off each oiled lock as if feathers in a raven’s wing. And there she was with twigs in her wind-blown hair and a great bundle of sticks on her back! Oh, why come now? Why now!
Bobtailed Cat pulled on her arm. ‘Are we going?’
Moon Hawk felt a trembling in her legs. She would have to walk by Winter Man. What should she say? How should she act? Her stomach tied itself in a hundred knots. If there had been another way to go she would have taken it, but there was no other way. That was the reason he was there. That was the reason he’d chosen the moment, the only moment of the day when she was tired and dishevelled. Her indignation began to mount — and then she realised something else. He was not looking at her. He wouldn’t look at her, he wouldn’t even speak to her as she passed him. He was parading himself for the prized catch that he knew he was. The conceit of the man! Flaunting himself before her so that he could watch her drool over him. She’d show him. She’d walk straight by him and not even notice his horse!
Clutching her brother’s hand, she headed towards the gap between the two nearest tipis where Winter Man and his grey racer stood as still as wooden carvings.
‘And what have you been doing all day?’ she asked of Bobtailed Cat in a loud voice.
He answered her, but she heard no more than a low murmur in the background of her noisy thoughts. Winter Man had painted his horse with his war honours so that she might be reminded that he was a man of valour. She could see hoofprints painted in red in an arc on its shoulder, telling of the many successful horse raids he’d been a party to. There were black lines signifying the secondary coups he’d gained, and red dots to indicate the number of times he’d been wounded during engagements.
She was close to him now, not four paces away, and still his gaze hadn’t so much as flickered in her direction. Curse the man!
‘And have you enjoyed yourself?’ she asked her brother.
What was that smell? Could it be . . . It was! Winter Man had rubbed himself with some mixture of herbs, the way lovers did, he was so sure of himself. She put a spring into her step and raised her chin a little higher as she drew level and passed him.
Bobtailed Cat slowed, pulling on her arm, turning to look at the adorned warrior, his little face full of questions.
Do not say a word! Moon Hawk pleaded. Not now, please!
‘Why is Winter Man sitting there like that?’
Moon Hawk felt her heart turn over. If she didn’t answer him he would make a fuss, but whatever she said would be heard by Winter Man. She pulled her wits about her and tried to make the tone of her voice sound as cutting as possible. ‘Who?’
Bobtailed Cat pulled hard on her arm and pointed behind them. ‘Winter Man!’
There was no other course now, Moon Hawk realised. She’d have to acknowledge that she’d seen him. Slowly, she turned round and looked behind her. As she had expected, his eyes were not on her, but she made a great display of looking him up and down, just in case he could see her out of the corner of his eye. She curled her arm about her brother’s shoulders and began to lead him away.
‘I really have no idea,’ she told him loudly. ‘Perhaps he’s hoping to entice some man’s wife. I hear it’s a favourite pastime of his.’
The sound of the snort was unmistakable, and to Moon Hawk’s practised ears it did not come from Winter Man’s horse. She didn’t look back, though, but kept walking, a smile of satisfaction lighting her face. She might have instigated this odd courtship, but Winter Man was going to have to fight harder than that to take her.
If you enjoyed reading, leave a comment and/or Tweet under the #samplesunday hashtag. There are lots of excerpts each Sunday. Simply search Twitter under  #samplesunday and your chosen genre hashtags. Have a good day!

2 March 2011

Displacement Activities R Us

You know how it is, some days writing well is like pulling teeth, and some days writing at all is... So I succumbed to the dreaded Displacement Activity. I've done the dusting, and I refuse to clean behind the cooker with a toothbrush, so I thought I'd while away a few minutes on a writing analyser.

If you've not come across these try I Write Like which states that it analyses word choice and writing style and compares the sample text against the great and the good. Now, I know I don't like to be pigeonholed, but...

Chapters 1 & 2 of Beneath The Shining Mountains was compared to the writing of Ursula K le Guin. [Er... right.]

Chapters 1 & 2 of Hostage of the Heart was compared to the writing of Gertrude Stein. [I'm speechless]

The Prologue of Torc of Moonlight was compared to the writing of Jack London, Chapter 1 to James Joyce. [James Joyce??]

A second opinion is needed here, methinks, so I tried inputting the Prologue and Chapter 1 of Torc of Moonlight into I Actually Write Like. The result?

"I actually write like someone about to go on a killing spree."

Now that I might believe. But I won't be sporting the accompanying dog turd on my blog, thank you. Not today, anyway. I'll just quit this displacement activity and get on with the writing.