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