Tag Archives: Fiction

Beauty In Tears

Here’s a little something from an f/f historical paranormal tale of mine. Jemima is sent to be ‘guardian’ of a young girl in a gothic country house. Her real job is to break the creature, but she does not yet know why.

The following morning found her ready for work and curious about the nameless girl she had been sent to break.
“Through here Miss,” Katie gestured, then turned back towards the kitchen. Jemima had the impression the servant did not want to look into the room.

In the meagre shelter behind the door, a small figure lay curled on the floor. It was filthy, naked, and rather barbaric in appearance as a consequence. However, on hearing her approach, it raised its head, exposing a pair of large, luminous eyes. Jemima studied the face before her. The expression was alert, watchful and confused. A lithe frame, long limbed, folded itself defensively in face of her observation. From the build she guessed the creature must be at least sixteen years of age, but very likely older. The eyes gazing up at her seemed impossibly knowing, and full of emotion. Jemima had no idea how to read what she saw there, but found no trace of insolence. Melerton wanted the girl biddable. That could be achieved in a number of ways, some crueller than others. Looking at her new charge, Jemima had the feeling this was no spoiled rich girl to be punished, but something rarer, finer. All inclination to ruin died within her. Melerton had said to break her spirit, but she saw little sign of pride or self determination in that grimy face. She turned to the door and summoned Katie back with a sharp word.

“Have hot water prepared. We will render the girl presentable. She is to learn how to behave herself, and if she is to be civilised, she must be clean. What clothes are there for her?”

“None Miss.”

“Nothing at all?” she barely managed to conceal her disgust at this.

“Then we must make arrangements. Take her to the bathroom and bring hot water up immediately.”

Jemima did not possess a large wardrobe. She returned to her room and selected a dress – a simple, dark affair with no adornment. It would suffice. As the girl had nothing, Jemima would have to loan her own hairbrushes and pins as well.

Once the bath was full and steaming, she sent the servant away. “Do you understand me?” she asked the filthy girl before her.

No native curiosity whatsoever. The handle rolled beneath her fingers, allowing the door to swing open onto a bare space. An odd smell wafted towards her, sweet, musky and evocative of sadness, although she couldn‟t quite think why. No bed. No furniture of any kind in fact. Is the mute already deranged? Is that one of your ‘complications’ Mr Melerton? She eyed the empty space carefully, deducing that her charge must have hidden behind the door. She wouldn‟t be the first child to try that particular trick! Ready to fend off an attack, Jemima stepped into the room.

A shy nod answered her question.
“Can you speak?”

A shake of the head confirmed Melerton‟s assessment.

“Take off your clothes. You will bathe.”

The silent creature complied, pulling off the tattered, shapeless garments she had worn and dropping them on the floor. She showed no signs of awkwardness about being naked.

Jemima rolled up her sleeves, and set about scrubbing layers of filth from the narrow body. As the dirt soaked into the water, it revealed exquisite white skin and silken hair that gleamed where the sunlight touched it. There were blue and purple bruises contrasting vividly with the white. Lifting the tangled hair to wash it, Jemima drew in a swift breath, startled by what lay beneath. The young woman‟s beauty was marred by two horrendous wounds running in parallel from her shoulder blades to the base of her ribs. Washing had opened the injuries and they both seeped blood. She couldn’t keep her fingers from them. The girl started at her touch, evidently pained but still silent. When Jemima looked at her face, she saw slow tears rolling over pale cheeks. Another mystery, into which she would not pry. Still, she had to wonder what it meant.

Available from loveyoudivine also available on kindle, fictionwise and other good ebook outlets!

Phil Rickman

I’ve mentioned Phil Rickman in a couple of blogs now, because he’s an author I enjoy and admire. However, he’s not yet anything like as famous as he should be, so it occurred to me that I should devote a blog to saying a bit more about who he is, what he does, and why he has a significant pagan following.

 I first encountered Phil Rickman some years ago when he was interviewed by Pagan Dawn magazine. In that piece he talked about his interest in the occult, and his not being a pagan. Even though I’d never heard of him before, it was a sufficiently interesting article that I still remember it, many years later.

I used to review fiction for White Dragon – a pagan magazine based in the UK. Rowan, the editor, offered me a Phil Rickman novel, so I said yes. It was ‘The Fabric of Sin’ and brought me in a fair distance into his Merrily Watkins series. It stood alone perfectly well. I sometimes had the sense that there currents in the background and developments that might seem more important were I following the entire series, but the story itself made sense. I was impressed. A while later I picked up two stories from earlier in the series – “Midwinter of the Soul” and “A Crown of Lights” these too stood alone, and I filled in more character detail. I eventually got round to the first one – “The Wine of Angels” and now some of the larger story arcs make more sense.

The Merrily Watkins series follow the adventures of said character. She’s a widow, and single parent to a teenage girl, Jane. Merrily is a vicar, starting out when female vicars in the UK were unfamiliar and radical. Then she gets into exorcism – Deliverance Ministry, which puts her in an odd place in relation to the Anglican church. Her daughter dabbles in paganism. The stories are mysteries, although murder is not always the focal point – one centred around a suicide. The first one is heavy on the body count, but I suspect the author of not imagining he’d get to do a whole series. Rickman has an engaging writing style, good plots, interesting twists and a large cast of very strong and compelling characters, many of whom appear in more than one story.

His appeal to pagan readers stems partly from the character of Jane – he’s very much captured the teenage girl drawn to witchcraft, with all the challenges, pitfalls, mistakes and wonders that journey can involve. As a female vicar working with the supernatural, Merrily is easy to empathise with. I can’t help but feel she’d make a very good druid, in other circumstances. Frequently the occult elements of the story provide the tension and the bodies. Satanists feature as bad guys, but so do church figures, media folk, farmers, landed gentry… Rickman will keep you guessing. Witchy types are just as likely to be the good guys as the villains. So he’s very even handed in portraying occultism, and this is very appealing.

Rickman has done his homework. He knows his history, folklore, superstition, and plenty about occult practice, and natural magic. He might not be claiming to be pagan himself, but he has a great deal of insight into what might have been, and into what contemporary paganism is like. He reflects modern paganism (warts and all) in a way that is entirely recognisable, without relying on stereotypes, clichés, or too much melodrama. Reading his work as a pagan, I tend to feel that I am reading about people I recognise, lifestyles I know, and that’s rather pleasing.

The other great source of appeal to pagans is the degree to which his stories are rooted in landscape. Places, and their history, buildings and their connection to human activity, the wonder and danger of the wild, the magic in the apple tree… these things Rickman understands. Set along the Herefordshire border with Wales – an area rich in history, the Merrily Watkins stories have roots, and bring the landscape vividly to life. The sense of place, of season, of land and living close to it permeates his writing, and this will speak to any pagan soul.

His homepage is here – http://www.philrickman.co.uk/pages/Home.html and I heartily recommend checking him out.

Druid Life – Sex and the Occult

Following on with the exploring of sex magic in life and in fiction…

“Aiffe was chanting, the cold words whining out of her in the same rhythm with which Nicholas Bonner entered.” (Peter S Beagle, The Folk of the Air).

There’s a branch of sex magic that isn’t about the sex at all. The erotic content is a focus for a spell, or the means of raising energy for some other action. I own a book titled ‘The Art of Sexual Magic’ which offers techniques for just such things. I read it, I’ve never tried any of them. It’s all about using the energy of sex as a focus to send your intentions out into the world. Techniques mingle sex and visualisation. It didn’t inspire me in the slightest.

“It is in these moments of expanded consciousness that you can project a vision of your goal, your creation, into the harmonious fabric of the universe that surrounds you. In ecstasy, you come very close to the universal source. The creative womb out of which all things arise. What better moment to make magic?” (Margot Anand)

I recognise the connection and magic, but for me, the idea of using sex for something else is uncomfortable. The evidence would suggest I am not alone in this. The quote from Beagle above shows a couple undertaking sex magic, more excited by power than eroticism. Satanist villains in Phil Rickman’s fiction use sex for magic too. I can’t think of a single fictional example of people using sex magic in this way, when those people didn’t turn out to be the bad guys.

Sex is incredibly powerful and inherently magical. Taking that magic and subverting it for another purpose seems a betrayal of the essence of lovemaking. Most of the Druids I’ve encountered have expressed disinterest in this kind of magic. For Druids, magic is more usually transformation through experience and connection. Concepts of ‘harness’ or ‘use’ simply don’t fit in with how most of us choose to be. I don’t offer this as any particular judgement on people who do practise this way – each to their own – more as an explanation for why I wouldn’t. Other people may understand the subject in entirely different ways.

However, with all of the above in mind, the use of sex magic for other purposes is a very easy way of portraying characters as morally suspect. It’s something I first explored years ago when co-writing with Emy Naso. Since then I also used it in ‘Beauty in Tears’ – it’s the point in the story that defines certain characters as definitely unpleasant, and begins the redemption of another. Here’s the aftermath of some rather twisted sex magic…

“She located a lantern, and stood in the hallway for an hour, struggling to keep focused as exhaustion worked on her nerves. At last, one of the men came and unlocked the door for her. With faltering steps, Jemima descended into the darkness beneath the house. It smelled damp and unwholesome. After thirty or so stairs, she turned a corner into a large, underground space. The flickering light from her lantern barely reached the walls and thick shadows threatened to hide all kinds of evils. Stepping forward, she saw there were strange symbols painted onto the floor. Finding them ominous, she muttered a brief prayer. Religion had never played much part in her life, but the familiar words of childhood devotions offered some comfort. As she stepped over the sinister markings, her skin prickled and the hairs rose on the backs of her arms.

This is very wrong. Every instinct told her to turn and run, to seek cleaner air and sunlight. It seemed they had left Imogen down here all night, alone in absolute darkness, with only the cold and painted floor to lie on. Whatever the three men were about, she somehow doubted it had anything to do with money or inheritance. The scene struck her as being like something from a darker fairy tale – the bloodier kind that kept small children awake at night.

Taking small steps, she swung the lantern in slow arcs, illuminating as much of the room as she could. After a while, she found Imogen’s prone and naked form. Jemima dropped to her knees beside the girl, touching her shoulder. The skin was dreadfully cold, but the girl stirred. Releasing a breath she had not consciously held, Jemima brought the lantern nearer. It showed her dried blood in abundance.

I didn’t write the actual magic sequence in the end. It seemed better to imply. Sometimes things are more sinister for not being pinned down too closely.

Beauty in Tears available here.

Writing Sub-Cultures

I heard on an egroup yesterday that Steampunk is the new big thing, publishers are asking for it. Assorted rom-erotica authors commented on it seeming interesting, and pondered if it was worth trying to get in on the action. I buried my face in my hands. (And then I wrote a somewhat shorter version of what I’m going to post here. It was grumpier as well.)

I remember a few years back, when everyone seemed to be doing pagan deities, things stolen from Greek mythology (satyrs, dryads etc) and there were a lot of druid and witchy characters turning up in excerpts posted to egroups. No doubt a few publishers had decided that paranormal was the new buzzy thing, and that writers should be encouraged to cash in.

My partner Tom recently did a panel at the Steampunk’s World Fair, where he was talking about paranormal. He told me he pointed out to people to tread carefully, that one person’s ‘paranormal’ is another person’s belief.

As a pagan, it’s painful, irritating and depressing watching our deities, myths and superficial contemporary practice being appropriated by people who really don’t know the first thing about our lives, but who have heard that paranormal sells like hot cakes. I can usually tell from a book blurb if the author is a pagan or not. It’s exactly the same for the BDSM crowd, I gather from friends. The frustration of getting books where the writers clearly don’t have the first clue what a genuine BDSM lifestyle looks like. There are huge and hungry niche audiences for kink. The thing is, they don’t want kink written by people who haven’t got the first clue how it actually works. It’s not just about having the right slang and knowing who ought to put what where. This is a lifestyle choice, these are subcultures, just as paganism is.

The same is true of Steampunk. I know enough to know that currently I do not know enough to write it. Steampunk is not just a fiction genre, it embraces art, music, clothing and innovation in all kinds of ways, and it has a growing community. Steampunk enthusiasts can and do have complex heated debates about what is, and isn’t, proper Steampunk. A person who is outside that, would struggle to catch the attention of true Steampunk fans.

I’d be the first person to say that writers shouldn’t restrict themselves to purely writing from firsthand experience. However, if you want to write in a niche and for a specific market (whatever that is) you can’t just appropriate some surface details and imagine that people will lap it up. They won’t. At the very least, you need to know your niche, read other writers who are part of it, go where the communities of real enthusiasts are, get involved, find out what it actually is and how it actually works.

I’ll offer an example – British author Phil Rickman is not a pagan. He’s said as much, being interviewed in pagan magazines. His occult mysteries, with a central character who is an Anglican exorcist vicar, who has a pagan daughter, are hugely popular with pagans. Why? Because he’s done his research well and writes things that are good representations of us, and the kinds of world views we hold and experiences we have.

Just as setting your erotic fiction on a spaceship doesn’t make it science fiction that sf readers will lap up, so giving a girl a corset and goggles does not make your book and instant hit with steampunks. It is not ok to exploit communities, ripping off what you can of their culture, with no respect for who they actually are, just to make a quick buck out of the next buzzy genre. Like most ‘get rich quick’ schemes it doesn’t work anyway. There is money to be made catering to niche audiences, but it tends to go to the folk who give those niches what they actually want, not dodgy pastiches.

The Lion Roared

bloodiedquill

I’m just sneaking this under the wire for my day at the blog… family issues came up and I’ve only just arrived home. Still, I wanted to get this story up for you all, and I certainly hope you enjoy it!

It has some disturbing and violent pieces, so I’m placing it behind a cut, if you’d rather not read a creepy-kid horror story… 😉
Continue reading The Lion Roared

In the Beginning…

In a time when the world was at its end, there lived a Great Queen whose name meant “honor.” Her blood was made from the sweat of stars, and she lived fire and breathed the ocean’s depths.

She taught the people of love and life, of hardships and forgiveness, of truth and apathy. And when the time came for her to take a place among the Fallen, she was greatly mourned. A sadness fell over the land as the last light the people had known twinkled out into the darkness which covered them, and the earth was still.

The darkness grew, and soon her name was lost in the blackness and chaos which ruled the earth. The people spread across the land like locusts, the anger and grief they felt inside hiding the trust and security they’d known, and before long they began to devour each other in their confusion. A time without measure eased along the horizon, quiet in its progress and cold in its passing.

When the pinpricks of light suddenly pierced through the black and the sulfur scent began to lift, no one noticed. But as the land began to heal itself and green stalks fought through the pestilence and tar, the tears of the Grateful nourished the earth. The Queen’s echoes were felt, and the people began to speak of a time which no one remembered but all knew to be true. Their skin sang, muscles hummed; their bones kept rhythm. The moments changed direction, warmth and calm embraced them.

And in the footprints of the Forgotten, life began anew.

Walter William Melnyk – Interview

I first encountered Walter William Melnyk through his collaboration with Emma Restall Orr in The Apple and The Thorn. Hearing he has a new book out – The Marsh Tales, I was keen to read (they are great, proper review at www.druidnetwork.org)

Bryn:  First up then. This is your second book (that I know of) set around the marshes that once surrounded modern Glastonbury. From the way you write, it seems to be very much in your blood, so I wondered what your personal experience of it has been? Given it’s a landscape that isn’t strictly speaking there anymore.

Bill: I first visited Glastonbury in July of 2003 when I led a ritual for Christians and Druids at Stonehenge.  I had recently become a Companion of the Chalice Well, so my wife and I stayed in the new lodge and spent much time in the gardens in the quiet of the evening.  I was impressed by the bold power of the Tor, but was even more moved by the quiet power of the springs, and felt an immediate kinship with the surrounding Somerset levels.  As I began to visit the ancient marshes through the eyes and memory of Eosaidh during the writing of The Apple and the Thorn I began to feel a sense of “coming home,” although I had never lived there before. In this life.  The dark mystery of the old marshes sank deep into my heart and touched something that certainly was already there.  I have to believe that some old part of me once knew the marshes as home.  Perhaps there is a memory of ancient worlds in all of us.

Bryn: And what drew you to Eiosaidh? Is it that he is stood between the Christian world and the Druid one, or are there other things in his story that speak to you?

Bill: Eosaidh and I are not the same person, but there is a great deal of autobiography in his character.  He is very much a product of his own traditions, yet he has seen enough of the wide world over many years to know that truth is broader, deeper, more profound, and much more elusive than any one person, or any one people, can imagine.  But, more importantly, he knows that human relationship is more deeply important than matters of dogma or ideology.  This is certainly true in his relationship with his crucified nephew, as well as with the woman who lies beneath the persona of the Lady of Affalon.  In my best moments I hope I am a little like Eosaidh.

Bryn: Was The Apple and the Thorn your first foray into fiction writing, or have you done other books before?

Bill: The Apple and the Thorn was my first novel.  I’d published some poetry previously (and “The Promise of all Living” is a book of poems currently available on Amazon.)  It was originally intended to be a non-fiction exploration of the connection between early Celtic Christianity and pre-Christian Celtic spirituality.  But I thought no one would read that, so I decided to tell a story instead, and invited Emma to join me in the project.

Bryn: Are you working on anything at the moment?

Bill: Now that “Marsh Tales and Other Wonders” is in print, I am beginning work on adapting “The Apple and the Thorn” into a screen play.  It’s my first venture into that genre, but I think the tale would work well on screen.  I have four outlines for novels, but haven’t yet decided which one to go with.  Right now I’m spending a lot of time walking in the woods with Rudy, our Schnoodle.

Bryn: That’s a very exciting prospect. I can also imagine it working well on radio, there are such strong voices there. Who do you like to read?

Bill: Thanks for the kind words.  Of course I love reading my collaborator, Emma Restall Orr.  JRR Tolkien and Marion Zimmer Bradley have been great inspirations for me.  Also Diana Gabaldon (The Outlander series), and Terry Pratchett.

Bryn: Where can people find you online?

Bill: www.TheAppleandtheThorn.com Also on Facebook under William Melnyk and Walter William Melnyk.