LGB characters

2016 #Pitchwars Mentee Bio

A little bit about me. If you took past last year, you’ll recognise most of this as I haven’t changed much over the last year, apart from one thing: I’m pregnant with my first child, nicknamed the little monster, who is due in October!

I live in the beautiful city of Bath, in the UK. Being British means I was able to queue about the time I learned to walk and was fluent in sarcasm by the time I went to school. Yes, I do drink tea, especially while writing, but it’s usual green tea. I have about two dozen types in the house at any one time. I’m dyslexic, which in writing means I tend to leave words out, or spell them in a mixed up manner. I love spellcheck with all my heart.

I met my partner at university. He’s my first boyfriend, my only love (beyond cheese), and we’re still together fourteen years later. I believe in the power of love.

I changed my name by deed poll, mostly because everyone kept spelling my original name wrong.

By day, I work in IT. Be aware, printers are powered by demons and will do everything in their power to mess with you. Never tell one you have a deadline. I’m still one of two women in the office, and I’m the one making the “that’s what she said” jokes. (I think I was fluent in innuendo by the time I hit secondary school). I can speak a bit of Japanese, less French and say take the first road on the left in German. I can sign the alphabet in BSL and sign the suspicious banana is on the table. I have yet to find a use for this talent.

A man once offered my mother two camels and half a bar for me in Cyprus. She said no. True story.

I like cheese more than chocolate, and being a west country girl my favourite drink is cider. (I’m missing it terribly at the moment!)  I’m partial to rum as well; Kraken is my preference.

I collect plushie animals. My latest addition is a whaleshark. My amazing partner finally found a plushie pangolin, my favourite animal for me. This is my collection (as of last year. I’ll try and update the photo):

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I’ve been writing since I was five. I’ve been writing well for the last five or six years. Apparently I’m good at torturing my characters.  I write fantasy and horror, usually featuring m/m romance. While I love a decent scary story in any medium, I’m a terrible coward and suck at any kind of horror computer game. I write because I love my characters (even the ones I hurt) and I want others to love them too. Getting fan-art would make my life complete.

My pitchwars entry is an adult fantasy novel, triggered by my partner saying he wanted to read Guy Richie-esque mockey adventures, set in a high fantasy world. It didn’t end up quite being that, but it gives you a feel for the flavour of it. It features a sarcastic, self-depreciating bi protagonist, his were-kitten best friend, an unlicenced wizard with a weak constitution, and Finn, his dashingly handsome romantic interest, who turned up rather suddenly and very naked.

Here’s a small snippet:

I allowed Darius to pull me back against the wall. Lights danced behind my eyes as if someone had lit chandeliers in my skull. The floor swayed beneath my feet and the air felt hot and stagnant. I leant heavily on Darius’s shoulder, trying to force myself to breathe normally.

“Are you all right? Don’t you faint on me.”

“I don’t faint,” I said, going for indignant but only managing to pull off slurred.

“What happened? Is he hurt?”

I looked up sharply at the sound of Finn’s voice, which set of an explosion of colours in my head, each one accompanied by a spike of pain. I’d never been assaulted by the colour orange before.

“Byran?”

He put his hand on my shoulder and his peacock-blue jacket filled my vision. I tried to say something witty, lowered my aim to something coherent, then gave up and focused on not throwing up on his shoes. He put my arm round his shoulders.

“We’re leaving,” Finn said.

All the colour was running out of the world like ink running off a page. Finn’s jacket turned a dull grey, the edges fuzzy and indistinct. Buzzing that might have been words or angry wasps mugged my ears and I gave up trying to hold on, letting unconsciousness and strong arms carry me away.

Find more lovely #Pitchwars writers here:
http://www.lanapattinson.com/pitchwars-2016-pimpmybio/

Happy Valentines Day

My partner and I don’t do anything for Valentines Day, so I forced a couple of my characters into a room to write to their significant other. Harry was not allowed to take part in this exercise. It would have only descended into dick pics…

Finn,

I don’t know why I’m doing this. I don’t see what this will achieve. I’m no good at letters. This must be fifteenth version and the others are all crumpled up at my feet, a pile paper and frustration. It’s probably best Belle’s not here or she’d be playing with them.

I’m only any good at stealing things. And that’s no good if I can’t find them. I…I miss you. I hope wherever you are that they’re treating you well. I hope you miss me, too.

Or maybe it would be better if you didn’t. I’m trouble, we all know it. I’m a scruffy little thief with a lax sense of personal morality. I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to run far away.

But…

I hope you don’t. I really hope you don’t. When I go to sleep at night I see your eyes, they way they glow like flaming brandy. I remember the line of the muscles on your arms, and that time we fell in the fishpond. I really miss your laugh. It sounds strange but I felt safe when you laughed.

I’ll get you back. I’m going to steal you one more time. And then we can go dancing as long as you like. Promise.

Byran

 

Dear Harry,

I feel that I am forever saying sorry to you. Sorry you were hurt because of me; sorry I did not have time for you; sorry I cannot stand on the top of the tower and shout to the kingdom about how much I love you.

I’m not even certain that I’ve told you that. I hope you know, even if I do not speak the words. I think I struggle because those three words are so very small. I worry that they cannot possibly carry all the meaning they need. How can they express the way my skin tingles at your touch? Or the way my heart beats when you so much as look at me? How you make me feel safe, and yet at the same time so alive.

I love you seems too shallow to express my feelings for the man who changed my life. Who has done so much and asked so little. I would give you everything in my kingdom, but it would not be adequate. So instead, I give you my heart and these three, tiny words.

I love you.

For all eternity,
Brendan.

#JanuaryWIPjoy

I did this on twitter for my current project. Now that’s over, I thought I’d collate responses to the same questions for Happily Ever After. The event was created by the lovely@simmeringmind CX4bzZRUMAEfSWC

1 – Hmm, I don’t have a good answer for this.

2- Why do I love Lavie? She’s a broken hero, and I adore that archetype. She’s spent the last three years of her life fighting for what she believes is right. And now the fight has stopped, she gets to find out just how the experience has damaged her. She’s also a wonderfully, viscerally angry young woman, which was great fun to write.

3- Harry. Everyone loves Harry. He’s a born optimist, whose ideal evening would involve good food, plenty of drink, and then going home and snuggling with the man he loves. He’s also very fond of innuendo, which I noticed affecting me when I was writing. Not that I haven’t always found the word knob funny…

4- The Usurper has the best dialogue, I think. He’s cruel and manipulative, but he only ever speaks the truth, something that makes his jibes even harder for Lavie to deal with.

5- That it made them laugh and cry and if I ever meet the author I’m going to hug and punch her. (If you’re going to provoke emotions in people, you might as well go the whole hog!)

6-I’d definitely be friends with Harry. Everyone needs that friend who always knows how to pick them up when they’re down.

7-The first idea or inspiration came from watching the film, Mama. I was left at the end of it wondering how on earth the characters were ever going to go back to their lives. And then I got to thinking you never find out what happens in fantasy epics after the big bad has been defeated.

8-“Harry would wear a title like I wear a dress,” I tell him with a grin. “Grudgingly, and with the intention of spoiling it at the first possible opportunity.

9- The short, scrubby vegetation around us clings for life while occasional larger rocks push through like breaching whales.

10-I enjoy most of the interchanges between Lavie and Harry, but this one is probably one of my favourites:

A blush spreads across his cheek like sunrise. “I am sweet, aren’t I?”

“You’re a hopeless romantic, Harry. You’re also still half-drunk and smell like a midden heap.”

 

11-Bit more than I line, but this speech always gets me when I read it:

“Of course I love him. Do you have any idea what this is like for me, Lavinia? Do you have an idea what I am going through? I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. It feels like there is a hand around my heart, slowly crushing it. I must hurt the person I care for most in the world and I must pretend I don’t feel a thing.”

12-I love this scene, but it didn’t really fit in anywhere. Deleting was done with great sadness:

“Your Highness? Harry?” I call as I approach and there comes a sharp ‘shh’ in response. As I walk round, I can see Harry sat at the head of the chair, while Brendan is stretched out. The prince’s head rests on Harry’s shoulder and his hand clutches Harry’s shirt. His eyes are closed and his chest rises and falls in the steady rhythm of sleep.

“Pass my drink,” Harry says, gesturing to a tankard on the table. “I’m stuck.”

I grin and hand it to him. “Have you been trapped for long?”

“No, I can still feel my fingers. This is the first time he’s been able to stop all day.”  He drinks deeply and then gives it back to me. “It’s been like this all week, and it’s not going to stop, is it?”

“I expect so. There’s a lot to be done before and after the coronation.”

He sighs. “As long as the days end like this.”

“What, with a dead arm and drool on your shirt?”

He glares at me, but cannot move to retaliate without waking Brendan and there’s nothing in reach to throw.

I think about the conversation with Lord Vayne, all his talk of marriage and duty. But how can I bring up with Harry the suggestion of my marrying the man he loves? Besides, this is not the right moment. Better to let them have their peace while it lasts. Deep down, Harry knows things won’t always be like this.

And a wedding won’t be needed immediately. Things like that take time, and negotiations. And who knows, maybe Brendan and whoever is chosen will end up like Stefan and I, putting on a face for court and then ignoring each other.

Brendan mutters something in his sleep, his lip twitching in a grimace. Harry runs his hand over the prince’s hair gently and kisses the top of his head.

“Long live the king,” he murmurs.

13-The feedback that makes me smile most is that addressed to the characters – “You tell him, Lavie,” or “I don’t think that’s the important thing, Harry.” I did laugh when I got a comment saying is this a sexual reference to a Harry saying he’s plenty good at bending the knee to the king (spoiler, yes, yes it is!)

14-I want them to bond with the characters. I want them to laugh, to cry, to ache, and to heal with them.

15- Has to be Buttercup, the only creature Lavie is scared of:

Harry’s horse is a monster, over seventeen hands with a coat of pale gold. It has the temperament of a hung-over dragon and I swear when it looks at me, it’s sizing me up. Harry, of course, dotes on it.

16-The main sight is Tallman’s Keep, the imposing castle situated on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea.

17-If you follow Lavie around, you’ll hear insults (at Harry), cursing (at the Usurper), and frustrated outbursts (usually directed at Prince Brendan)

18-Down in the kitchens the smell of fresh bread, roasting meat. Brendan wears orange oil in his hair, and Lavie can never quite get the smell of blood out of her clothes.

19-Cinnamon, honey, apple, and walnut are popular ingredients used in the kitchen products.

20-The rough granite stone of the keep contrasts with the smooth silk of the ceremonial uniforms of the king’s personal guard.

21-I’d love it be a movie, and get to see how actors would interpret my characters.

22-Most epic thing was the size of it. It’s the longest thing I’ve written by a long way, even after editing cut it down by 20k.

23- Cut the filter words, draw back the introspection, change the start point to later, show more of the emotions

24- Start earlier and show the war. This isn’t what the story is about, so I didn’t want to draw out the events before the war is won.

25- Shout out to @Ianbarnes, @Leighstanfield, @MichaelMammay, @KamerheLane, and ml_keller for the CP support. There are lots of others who have been very supportive as well with beta reading and encouraging comments.

26- Fantasy is a way of exploring ideas and themes without being caught up in the how and why of the real world. It’s a way of testing with what if and applying it to the human aspect.

27- I don’t know where this image came from, but it definitely reminds me of Lavie.

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28- Lavie and Harry. They have a completely platonic relationship, but each of them can read the other perfectly. They constantly insult each other, but know the other always has their back.

29- I want people to get to know the characters. When you’ve spent that long in people’s heads, they become real and you want people to meet them. I also think it’s important to have more representation in fantasy of other sexualities and also mental illness.

30- Lavie shares a lot of my frustrations and flaws. Her feeling of trying to turn back tides of pettiness, and trying to protect people she cares about against snowballing situations are ones I understand. Also having suffered depression myself, having characters who experience the same symptoms is important to me.

31-I’ve learned about the effectiveness of armor against projectile weapons, about palfreys, and a number of techniques for improving my writing.

Red Velvet

For Laura Heffernan. Hope you’re feeling better!

RED VELVET

 

6.00: I awaken. New. Fresh. Warm. Steaming slightly as the baker busies herself at the sink. Her name is Janice, I know instructively. Six others of my kind sit in a line beside me, and there are more on another counter: sponge, fruit, coffee and walnut, and one quite ugly lemon drizzle.

7:00: Janice smothers my surfaces with a mixture of cream-cheese and icing sugar. Pride spreads through me as I catch a glimpse of myself in her metal bowl. I’m perfect. She finishes off the others, doing what she can for the lemon drizzle, then packs us into boxes.

8:00: The door bell rings almost immediately, signalling the start of morning rush. It doesn’t take long for the cozy shop to fill with calls of ‘Morning and ‘How are you?’ punctuated by the sharp ding of the till. Janice sells two sponges, but most people are after bread. It’s not my time yet.

9:00: The rush dies away. Janice sweeps the floor, humming to herself. She’s flat, but it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be in tune when you’re happy; a smile carries the melody just fine. I’ll make someone happy today.

11:00: A trio of mothers come in and buy a selection of cakes for their coffee morning. One of them casts her eye over me, but her friend shakes her head.

“It’ll go straight to your thighs,” she warns. “The icing must be an inch thick.”

I can’t explain how little this matters and they walk out without me.

12:00: Lunchtime. I’m hopeful again. The queue stretches out the door for most of the hour. A policeman orders a ham sandwich with extra mayonnaise and looks at me hungrily, but holds up his hands when Janice offers me to him.

“I can’t. I need to watch my weight,” he says, patting his stomach with a grin.

15:00 Most of this morning’s batch are gone now. It’s just me, one of the coffee and walnuts, and the ugly lemon drizzle. Five minutes later, the coffee and walnut leaves, headed to cheer up an old man in hospital after a fall. What’s wrong with me? All I want is to bring happiness to someone. Why won’t anyone see that?

16:00 The bell rings. I try not to get my hopes up, but they soar when the diminutive old woman tells Janice she wants a celebration cake.

“Of course. Red velvet or lemon?” she asks.

“Oh, lemon please. I’m not fond of overly sweet things.” She goes on to tell Janice that she’s a great-grandmother now, and her whole family will be coming round. I imagine them, cooing at the new baby, reminiscing about when the older ones were young. Together. Smiling. Happy.

17:00: I’ve failed. Janice wipes down the counter and heads over to flip the sign. Perhaps she’ll take me home. Perhaps it’s Janice who I’ll make happy. Then I remember her talking to one of her customers about her husband’s diabetes and realise it’s unlikely.

The bell jangles as the door flies open, making Janice slide-step out the way. A woman stumbles in, breathing quickly.

“Are you closed? I…I need a-”

Her last word is cut off as the door opens again with a clang.

“I need a cake,” says a man. His words come out in a rush, mixed together like batter. He notices Janice and the woman for the first time and adds a muffled, “please.”

“I’m sorry,” the woman says. She’s short, a little dumpy, with curls of brown hair around her face. I’m sure I could make her happy. She doesn’t look the sort who worries about her thighs or dislikes overly sweet things.  “I was here first and I need that cake.”

I can barely believe what I hear. Overlooked all day, and now there are two people who want me.  The man frowns. “Seriously? There’s only one?”

“We’re closing,” Janice apologies. “If you would like to come back tomorrow, you can have your pick.”

“I’d prefer it today,” the woman says, wrapping her arms around herself. Despite the warm shop, she shivers. “Please.”

“Lady, it’s my birthday. It’s been a long day in a string of long, shitty days, and I want a birthday cake.” His voice rises as he speaks, like the high-pitched whine of something about to break. “I’m going to eat it, get drunk, and find a train to throw myself in front of.”

Her hand flies to her mouth and the man’s face turns red.

“I.. I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to… I… I’m sorry.”

They’re quiet. None of them moves; they don’t even look at each other. Then the woman looks at me.

“Perhaps,” she says. “Perhaps we could share it.”

“I’d like that,” the man replies.

Janice closes the lid on my box

 

17:30 The woman sets me down on a sideboard, over-looking a faded blue velveteen sofa. There’s a photograph of a young boy on a tricycle next to me. He smiles at the camera, the grin affecting every inch of his round face.

“I’m Kate,” the woman says, holding out her hand.

“Jacob.” He takes it cautiously, as afraid she might slap him, or he might hurt her.

“Take a seat.” Kate points to the couch. “Do you want tea or coffee?”

He doesn’t move. “Maybe I should go.”

“Nonsense. No one should be alone on their birthday.” She pauses in the doorway. “Did you mean that, about killing yourself?”

“I don’t know,” he says to his shoes. “I don’t think so. But sometimes I wonder what’s the point, you know? I’m thirty-seven. I have no friends, a job I hate, and my mother loves my ex-wife more than she ever loved me. So what’s the point?”

“I don’t think there is a point,” Kate says. Her voice is muffled by the sound of the kettle boiling. “Not to life. We just are, that’s all.”

“Maybe.” Jacob looks at the front door, then the kitchen door. He sighs and sits down on the sofa, his hands clasped together. A few moments later, Kate comes back with two cups of tea on a tray. She sets them down and sits on the other end of the couch.  Jacob picks up a cup and stares into it. There are no knives and plates, I notice with disappointment.

“I don’t know how it got to this,” he says suddenly. “Threatening suicide and drinking tea in a stranger’s house. I know I haven’t been happy since Rebecca, though.”

Kate takes a sip of tea.

“Rebecca was my wife,” Jacob continues. “I don’t think I ever loved her. Loved the idea of her, maybe. Lusted after her, definitely. She did her best to make me miserable, make me doubt myself. She was a cold-hearted manipulative bitch, but I didn’t see it until we were married.”

“How did you get out?”

He blushes, colour creeping up his neck and settling in his ears. “I fell in love with a man. For a while, it was great. Sneaking around was exciting. Then we got careless and we got caught. Turns out he was more in love with the thrill than he was with me. Rebecca dragged me through divorce court. Took me for everything I had. I never had many friends and those who were mutual all took her side. So did my mother.”  He sniffs and Kate hands him a pack of tissues from her handbag. “Mum’s the sort of person who thinks gay is something you catch from dirty public bathrooms, and I’ve never even bothered to try and explain bi to her. I might as well have leprosy.”

“I’m sorry,” Kate says.  It’s a small phrase, but Jacob sits up straight, as if a weight has been lifted.

“No, thank you. You never told me why you wanted that cake so badly,” he says, looking over at me.

“It’s my son’s birthday, too,” she says, and her voice trembles slightly.

Jacob blushes harder. “Oh, shit, sorry. I didn’t realise I was taking cake away from a kid.”

She smiles, but her eyes are wet. “It’s okay. He won’t be needing any. He died, when he was two. Every year, I buy a cake, light two candles, and go through my photographs.”

He reaches for her hand. “I’d like to see them.”

 

18:00 The photograph albums lie discarded on the table, by the now cold cups of tea. Kate has finished crying, those loud, painful, yet cathartic sobs. They’ve moved from opposite ends of the couch to the centre, and Jacob has his arms around her.

“I’m sorry,” she says, and blows her nose.

“Don’t be. I feel like I’ve done something good for the first time in years.”

She smiles and it reaches her eyes this time. “I’m glad you wanted to buy that cake. I’ve missed human contact so much. It’s funny, how you never notice something missing until you find it again.”

They continue talking, about unimportant things now. Things on TV, the weather, their favourite foods. They don’t go back to opposite ends of the couch.

 

21:00 I’ve been forgotten again, left on the sideboard by the photograph of the smiling toddler. But I don’t mind this time. Kate cooked dinner. Jacob did the washing up. Now they’re sitting in the middle of the couch together, not watching some nature documentary. Kate’s fingers entwine with Jacob’s, her head against his shoulder. Things might be different in another hour, another day, another year. But at this moment in time, thanks to me, they’re happy.

 

 

Happily Ever After, chapter one rewrite

The old, sea-warped gate in the bailey opens with a bitter squeal, dusting me in flakes of rust. I cringe at the sound, hoping the keening seagulls cover it. Sea-salt on the wind mixes with the smell of blood and anticipation in the air. I slip into the narrow space between the inner and outer bailey and signal my team to follow me.

Today, I take back my home. Today, I kill a man and end the reign of a tyrant. The idea of it makes my body tingle. Everything ends today. Either we defeat the Usurper and set the prince on the throne where he belongs, or we fail and nothing matters anymore.

“…Lavie.”

The voice makes me start and I curse under my breath. I’m getting ahead of myself and it will get me killed if I’m not careful. One of the soldiers accompanying me points up ahead and I hear something else. Footsteps.

“Sir,” I correct the man sharply as I draw my sword. “Wait here.”

I slip into the inner bailey and press my back against the wall by the steps. The unseen figure is almost at the bottom and my fingers twitch on my hilt. As he emerges, I step out and drive my sword into his belly.

Our eyes meet in the gloom. He’s not a soldier, just a runner, carrying messages and equipment where they’re needed. He’s also barely more than a boy, fifteen at most. His pale hands clutch at his stomach, trying to push the blood back, and a gurgling cry spills from his lips. I put my sword through his heart. He doesn’t even make a sigh as he falls, eyes now glassy, to the floor.

I choke down nauseous fury. Another life destroyed by the Usurper. There’s no time to mourn or rage though, and all we can do with the body is stuff it out the way by the sea-gate. Our mission is too important to jeopardise for the dignity of a corpse. I add the nameless boy to the list of those I will avenge as I wipe his blood from my sword.

In the shadow of the bailey wall, I split my team. Half make their way to the gatehouse to let in the prince’s army. The rest follow me to the keep. I can hear the battle on the wall raging, steel on steel echoing off the dark stones. Every shout and scream ignites my blood until I’m sure I must be glowing.

The killing ground between the wall and the keep is empty. Maybe the gods favour us, but a wash of dread douses my battle lust. It shouldn’t be this easy.

“Don’t stop until you’re in the keep,” I tell my men. “If anyone falls, even me, keep going. It doesn’t matter who kills the Usurper, as long as someone does.”

I want it to be me. The idea of someone else doing it disturbs me more than any thoughts of swords or arrows. Even still, I run as if every creature from the pits is after me to the heavy oak doors of the keep. They’re not barred, which sends another icy shudder through me.

I remember the way to the throne room with ease. I know that’s where he’ll be. Since our army drew up outside the castle, we haven’t seen the Usurper once. It doesn’t surprise me. He took the castle through cowardice – posing as an envoy of peace and trade, then poisoning King Reynald at a feast in his honour. He’ll be clinging to the throne as long as he can.

The steps to the throne room rise up like a mountain. For a moment, I cannot even contemplate the idea of reaching the top. My legs shake. Sweat soaks the hair under my helmet, spreading through the padding beneath my armour.

“This isn’t right,” one of the soldiers mutters. “Where is everyone?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I say. “It ends, now.” I put one foot on the first step, then the next, and the next until I am standing at the throne room door.

There is a hastily erected barricade across the door that seems to be made mostly of the couriers’ benches. It does nothing to stop us and we tear into it like it was a suckling pig. As enough is dismantled for me to push through, I see him.

As I suspected, he’s sitting on the throne. The Usurper, the man who killed my king and plunged my home into three years of chaos, watches me with a smile. I tighten the grip on my sword and stride towards him.

“In the name of Prince Brendan, prepare to die.” My voice is too high, sharpened by my emotions. His smile grows.

Something gleams in my peripheral vision. I stagger back and catch sight of a bull of a man charging towards me.  I duck as an axe grazes the edge of my helmet.  Deafened and dazed, I bring up my sword, head ringing too much to think beyond that. He swings the axe round and the impact judders up and down my arm. My grip on the weapon falters and my heart starts to beat faster. I bite my lip, forcing myself to focus.

Kicking out, my boot connects with his knee and I push my sword forward, driving his arm back. My opponent grunts with surprise. He wasn’t expecting my strength. They never do. I thrust, out and up, catching him at the point where his gorget meets the neck of his breast plate. The sword squeals over the steel and grates on his collar bone. It does not penetrate far into his flesh, but it’s enough.  As he falls, the blood spilling from his neck in ever more feeble jets, two of my men take down another of the Usurper’s lieutenants. A third man hangs back, injured, but not fatally. I’ve gotten good at telling what’s fatal these last few years.

The Usurper stands up from the throne, King Reynald’s crown perched on his head at a disrespectfully jaunty angle. My hatred seethes like boiling oil. I signal for the others with me to stop. This is my moment. This is what I have been waiting for. His jet-black armour clanks and creaks as he steps down towards me and I examine it carefully, looking for weaknesses.

He sweeps a low bow. He wears no helmet and there are blue veins running under the skin of his hairless scalp. His eyes seem to change colour as I watch.

“I have been waiting for you,” he says in a soft voice that carries through the carnage of the throne room. I can feel the eyes of all my men on me. It makes me feel strangely naked.

“Draw your sword.” My grip tightens on my own weapon. “Or must I cut you down like a toothless dog?”

“My, the young prince did well in finding such a ferocious champion.”

Hah, shows what you know. I found him.

“Your sword,” I say again. My cheeks burn as they flush with anger.

“No need.” His voice is so smooth, like honey on a warm day. There is something equally sickly about it, and my stomach turns in a way that blood and broken bones have not managed. “No need, my dear. I surrender.”

I draw back my sword, ready to swing, ready to take his head from his shoulders. Ready to end it. And then I realise what he has said.

“I…what?”

It is not, on reflection, the best reaction. Brendan would have said something noble, and Harry would have made a quip that shattered dignity like a weapon, but I can only trip over my tongue.

The Usurper kneels at my feet, neck bent in supplication as he offers me the hilt of his sword.

“I surrender.”

 

 

Sun vs Snow Query Critique Workshop

See here for details. Of course, of anyone has any feedback I’d appreciated it. This is an unedited manuscript, so I haven’t really considered the query. As such, it’s very rough, I’ll warn you now!

Title: Happily Ever After

Wordcount: 107,000

Genre: Fantasy, Adult

Query:

Dear [agent name]

They say that endings are just new beginnings and that could not be more true for Lavie Streaver. A noblewoman turned knight, she and her childhood friend, Harry, have fought long and hard to survive, raise an army and set the rightful heir, Prince Brendan, back on the throne. Enough blood, sweat and tears have been shed to drown the kingdom thrice over, but the war is finally over.

Lavie finds peace is harder to live in than she expected. She no longer has reason to be with soldiers, and doesn’t fit in with the nobility. Searching for a reason for her life, she finds herself seeking out conflict wherever she can. Fortunately, it does not seem to be in short supply. Assassins, raiders, and politics all threaten the fragile kingdom. Lavie worries the new king will not have the strength of resolve to reign, especially when he cannot chose between his duty to the throne and the man he loves.

As the cracks begin to appear in the kingdom, and their friendship, Lavie finds herself turning to an unlikely source of help – the man they worked so hard to defeat. Happily Ever After is an adult fantasy exploring what happens to heroes when their quest is over and featuring a strong LGBT cast. 

Yours Sincerely

Rose Black

250 words:

The stone steps rise up like a mountain. Standing at the bottom, for a moment I cannot even contemplate the idea of reaching the top. I’m exhausted. There’s sweat soaking the hair beneath my helm, spreading through the padding beneath my armour. My blade is coated in blood already, and my mail is choked with gore and viscera.

There’s a roar from ahead which reignites my determination. I can still hear the words Harry whispered to me before we parted: Go kill that bastard, Lavie. Signalling the men behind me, I put one foot on the first step, then the next, and the next until I am standing at the throne room door.

A hasty barricade has been erected, but we tear into it like a suckling pig. If there had been archers we might have been in trouble, but arrows only last so long in a siege and so long passed a while ago. As the gap grows wide enough for me to push through, I enter the last part of my journey.

He is actually sitting on the throne. The Usurper, the man who killed my king and plunged my home into three years of chaos, is sitting there, watching me with a smile. I tighten the grip on my sword, hearing the soft crunch of my steel grieves as my wrist locks into place.

I’m going to gut you like a fish.

Last-minute instincts kick in as something gleams in my peripheral vision. I duck as an axe nearly takes off my head.

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Goblins

This is a first draft, and the title likely to change too.

Two hours to sunrise and I was already running for my life. Not the best start to the morning, I had to admit, even for me. The sound of dogs – large, angry dogs – was horribly close as I pounded down the muddy streets. Jake the Lock was going to be in trouble when I caught up with him. Selling shoddy lock-picks was fine as far as I was concerned – less competition in the thieving business that way – but selling them to me? There were going to be words about this.

This was the nicer part of the city, which sadly meant it was comprised of wide open streets and houses full of people who noticed things like strange men running through the night. Even the mud was higher quality. I had one chance of survival and I didn’t like it much.

I could practically smell the dogs’ breath now. My destination was in sight, but I wasn’t as confident as I liked to be. I don’t like uncertainty. I don’t get out of bed for less than pretty damn sure. Unless I’m really hungry.

Something snapped at my ankle. I didn’t look round, because only people who want to end up dead look round, but I knew I was in trouble. Story of my life. I blamed my mother.

The creature snapped again, catching fabric this time. I winced as I felt damp teeth slide over my skin. The dog pulled and my foot slipped. I twisted with the practiced reflexes of one who has been in this situation far too often. I wasn’t going to become a mud-covered dog-toy for anyone.

Weight now firmly on my back foot, I pulled the knife out of my right sleeve and threw it. I always kept my least favourite blade there because it was the one I went for first and thus was most likely to lose. I was rewarded with a squeal and the dog let go, pawing at its face. If I’d been an animal person, I’d have felt bad. I’m more of a me person, though.

There were two more dogs barrelling up the street towards me and I resigned myself to losing more than one knife. I’d take the money out of Jake the Lock. As the second dog hit the ground with a whine, I heard a cry of dismay. Great. The masters had caught up with their pets. I spun, slipped a couple of steps and regained my balance.

Yes, there were definitely going to be words.

The bridge loomed up ahead, glowing in the light of the torches. It was a beautiful bridge: statues at each end, smooth, white stone body. I had no time for beautiful things. Ugly things had more honesty in my books. And more value.

Two guards were walking across it, away from me, but they stopped and turned at the sound of shouting. That’s why guards have such a low life expectancy in this city. Always doing silly things like turning round and investigating crimes. These two were lucky. I didn’t have the time, effort or inclination for a fight.

I put on a burst of speed, using the last of my energy, and reached the parapet before they did. Two hands on the cold stone, I swung myself over and then I was falling towards the river, praying I was correct about the depth here. The last thing I needed right now was a broken leg.

The river was freezing and it knocked all the breath out of me as I sank under the surface. Looked like it wasn’t broken bones that were my biggest worry. The current was strong, pulling me towards the ocean like a prized possession. My lungs burned and I had to fight the primal urge to take a breath with all my might.

It was dark too. I couldn’t see the surface. Which way was survival and which way was murky, bottom-feeding death? I kicked, not having any other option, and hoped I was going the right way. I don’t like praying. It can attract attention.

My head broke the surface and I gasped, drawing in a breath of air sweeter than honey. I looked back towards the bridge. The guards and my pursuers were still standing looking for me, but they were a good way away now, thanks to the current. As if to make the point, an arrow hit the water more than ten feet from my little toe. I ducked my head back under the water, leaving my middle finger above the surface for a moment longer, and then swam on.

The river is the blood supply of the city. It passed though the whole length, which meant it was able to drop me off close to home. Pulling myself out, I shook off, making a largely futile attempt to at least prevent myself from dripping. I was cold, tired, and I stank, but damn if the city didn’t stink more.

I think that’s why I loved the city of Neros so much. It reminded me I wasn’t the most unfortunate thing out there.

“Hello, Trouble,” a voice purred in my ear.

I jumped, tripped over my ankle, and ended up on my butt. No, this really wasn’t my day.

“Dammit, Belle, I told you not to do that.”

“Do what?” she asked innocently, twisting a lock of white-gold hair around her finger. Belle was very good at playing the innocent, but it was a bad idea to fall for it. Give her an inch, and she’d break your arm and take your purse before you could say kitty-cat. “Scare you or call you Trouble?”

“Both,” I muttered as I allowed her to help me up.

“It is your name.”

“It’s my middle name.” Seriously. What parent would saddle their kid with that kind of baggage? My mother claimed she could smell trouble on me from the start. If that were true, you’d think she’d keep a better eye on her valuables around me. My “leaving-home fund” had set me up nicely.

Belle looked at me with those golden eyes – the only part of her condition visible – and then said the magic word: “Breakfast?”

“Only if you’re paying,” I said, because she’d expect it. Truth was, I’d give my right arm for some dry clothes and a hot meal right now.

“It’s fine. I’ve got this.” She put her hand on my shoulder and then took it off again with a grimace. “Ugh, you’re cold.”

“Happens when you go swimming before dawn. I’ll meet you at Dales?”

“Sure.” She turned away, heading back up the street at an easy saunter. Men got out of her way. In her human form, Lylabelle was a big woman with the grace and temperament of a bear fresh out of hibernation. She was the ideal partner in crime for a number of reasons, not least being her ability to roll people up into little balls of broken limbs.

My home was a single room over a fishmonger’s shop. It didn’t smell great, but it was better than a tanner’s yard. Moll was setting up as I arrived.

“Got a message for you, Byran,” she called. That’s why I liked Moll. Not What time is this to be rolling home? or Why do you look like a drowned rat?

“Thanks. Anything I need to actually listen to?” Lots of people left me messages, but most of them weren’t worth my time.

“Something about a job. Be at the Jugged Hare tonight if you’re interested.”

“That’s it? Just ‘a job’?”

“That’s all he said, and I wasn’t going to press him for details. You’ve got your work, By, and I’ve got mine. And never the twain shall meet, you hear?”

I gave her a grin. “Fair, fair. Guess I’ll have to wait and see.”

“Go on, get on with you before I mistake you for a fish and put you out on display.”

I sometimes wondered how I would have turned out if I’d been raised by a woman like Moll. She’d never call a child Trouble.

Dry and changed, I made my way to Dales, an eating establishment of cheap but dubious nature. I found Belle sitting at a table in the corner of the room. The woman knew me well.

“Breakfast is on its way,” she said as I sat down opposite her. “Do you fancy telling me what you were doing in the river?”

“Practicing my technique?” I suggested and she gave me a very dirty look. “Fine. I was escaping. A job went bad. Which reminds me. I need to drop in on Jake later.”

“Can I watch?”

A couple of bowls were set in front of us, hot and greasy. Belle slipped the man some coins. She, at least, had a productive evening.

“If you like. Might have something else lined up if you’re looking for work?”

She slurped down a mouthful and wiped her hand over her lips. “My day job pays fine. Look at this.” She set a leather collar decorated with rose quartz on the table.

“Cute. You could wear it as a bracelet.”

“People pay good money for cute, By. Probably why you’ll never amount to anything. Oh, don’t pout. Tell me about your job. I could use some more excitement in my life and you’re good for that, at least.”

“Well.” I cleared my throat. “I don’t really know much about it. Someone left a message saying be at the Jugged Hare tonight if I wanted to know more.”

Belle laughed, and flicked a lump of congealed fat from her bowl at me. “The Hare isn’t excitement, Byran. It’s a death-wish. You been pissing people off again?”

If I didn’t know better, I’d say she was concerned. “Not deliberately. Not interested then?”

“Are you?” she asked, one eyebrow raised. “Seriously, you can’t be considering going to a dangerous place on the word of a complete stranger because there might be a job in it for you? Are things really that tight at the moment?”

Now she did sound concerned and it made me bristle. I didn’t want her sympathy. But… “Things have been lean for a while. I could use a well paying job.”

“Fine. We’ll check it out. Can’t have you depending on me for breakfast every day.”

It wasn’t the breakfast that bothered me. But I was getting to the point where making rent was going to be tough and I didn’t want to let Moll down.

“Whatever it is, I want a good cut.”

“I haven’t agreed to anything yet!” I finished the last greasy mouthfuls and set the bowl down. “Meet you at dusk?”

She picked up my bowl to lick it clean and gave me a dismissive wave.

I only meant to go home for a couple of hours of sleep, but I woke to something soft butting my head in a darkened room. Great. I rolled over to find myself staring into a pair of amber eyes. On a small, buttermilk-coloured kitten.

“That’s how you’re going, Belle?”

The kitten made a soft chirruping sound.

“Fat lot of good you’re going to be if a fight breaks out.”

Somehow her expression managed to convey the fact that she had chosen that shape for exactly that reason. She had a point, I supposed. It was easier to slip out of a bad situation as a kitten than a woman.

“Whatever. Come on, let’s go.” I held out my arm and she scrambled up to my shoulder, where she gave my cheek a friendly rub. She was always better natured and more affectionate as a kitten.

The streets were still busy an hour after dusk. People making their way home, or going out in search of beer and good company. Lovers on their way to trysts. There were fewer on the approach to the Jugged Hare, a dank establishment that backed onto the river. I wasn’t sure whether that was for the smuggling connections or simply because it made it easier to dump the bodies after the inevitable knife fights.

The place attracted a very particular clientele. Mostly men who all believed they were the toughest thing in the room. As long as no one made the claim out loud, there was relative peace. Of course, someone always did.

I pushed open the door, and tried to ignore the quiet as everyone present took in a stranger entering. Every eye would be on me, and if I made contact with any of them, and they saw weakness, I’d be looking for my kidney on the floor.

There was a table in the back corner that looked dark and empty enough for me. Belle dropped down and made herself comfortable on my lap. I paid a passing barmaid one of my few precious coins in return for a pint of what appeared to be horse-piss.

And then I waited.

That’s how these things work. You sit there, trying to work out who is watching you. And they try to work out if you’re genuine or if you’ve got the city guards or a rival gang waiting outside the door. Either of us moves too soon and the whole thing will fall apart.

About an hour and another begrudging beer later, someone approached my table. He was wearing a hood, his face invisible in the murky inn. I wasn’t surprised. Keeping an advantage like that is common. So I was a little surprised when he lowered it.

“Are you Byran Tarn?”

“Who wants to know?” I took a drink, trying to be nonchalant. It was a mistake. It’s hard to be casual when you’re trying to suppress your gag reflex.

I tried to size him up slyly, then decided there was little point in being subtle. This man wasn’t a threat. He was tall and thin, with floppy brown hair and a good crop of pimples. He looked like what would happen if you put a twelve-year-old on a rack and stretched him up to adult size.

“My name’s Darius Small. I was told to meet you here.”

“Really. And who told you that?”

Darius scratched at his ear. “I don’t know his name. He said come here and find you and I’d find out more. I’m guessing you don’t know anything then?”

“Didn’t say that.” I didn’t, of course, but I wasn’t going to admit it. “Sit down. You’re making people nervous and that’s not something you want to do around here.”

He swallowed, looking around him, while I tried to calculate my odds of getting out of here with both kidneys. They were dropping fast. As soon as he was sitting, the barmaid set a flagon down in front of him. I held my breath until he paid for it.

“So, Darius. What exactly is it that you do?”

“I’m…” He lowered his voice to a timid whisper. “I’m a wizard.”

That wasn’t good. I didn’t have much time for those who thought poking the fabric of reality with a sharp stick was a good idea. And those who did it without a licence terrified me, frankly. There are few things more likely to cause disaster than a man who proclaims “I don’t know what I am doing, but I’m going to do it anyway!” I felt Belle shift on my lap. She didn’t have much fondness for magic, either.

“Why do you have a cat?” Darius asked as she poked her head over the table.

“In case I get hungry.” Darius went a dangerous shade of green, but I was more concerned about the way Belle was digging her claws into my leg. I flicked the back of her soft head. “Don’t have a sense of humour failure. This is Lylabelle, my associate,” I added, looking up at Darius.

“But she’s a cat,” he said.

“The wizards are really missing out, not having you in their ranks,” I muttered. “She’s a cat currently. Sometimes she’s not. She’s a were-kitten.”

“Then…she’s very young?”

“Only in this form. Look, it’s a long story and she gets grumpy when I tell it, but the short version is be very careful what you wish for.”

“Oh.”

I was grateful when he didn’t press the matter. Belle was more comfortable with her situation these days, especially now she had learned to make money from it. People didn’t much like cats, outside of the necessary mousing business. But a cute kitten that would come to your house, be attentive to you for a few hours, and then leave without demanding anything thing more than a few coins? Belle had found being a sentient kitten was surprisingly well received in city full of busy, anxious, and lonely people.

Not pressing the matter meant we sat in silence, which was unfortunate. I decided to give it another ten minutes and then risk leaving. I wanted to at least hear the proposal, but I wasn’t particularly interested in being forced to buy another drink, or spending more time with the wizard. He made me nervous in more ways than I had fingers to count.

“Well, looks like we’re all here.”

I jumped for the second time that day, almost spilling my drink. Belle dug her claws in, arching her back. Darius, to my chagrin, seemed the least fazed of the three of us.

“Are you going to tell us what’s going on?” he said to man who had appeared, ghost-like, at our table. There was a nervous tremor to the wizard’s voice that made it sound as if his voice was breaking again.

The stranger slipped into a chair and looked around at us with a predatory grin. He was a weasel-like man, slender, but with the air of one who’d rip your throat out if you looked at him wrong.

“I hope, gentlemen, that I’m going make you very rich.”

I very nearly got up there and then. A good rule in this city is that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A lesson I learned from Belle.

“Most people don’t have a problem with rich,” he said, catching my eye. I pushed myself back down in the seat.

“Most people have less brains than fleas,” I replied, running my hand down Belle’s back. It was relaxing, I had to admit, and I needed to keep my calm. “When a man says he’s going to make you rich, he usually means he’s going to rob you blind. Begging your pardon, of course.”

I watched him, waiting for the reaction that would show I was right. But either I was mistaken, or he was a very good actor. I decided to hope for the former but assume the latter.

“The only robbing is going to be done by your good selves,” he said, resting his elbows firmly on the table. “My boss needs something stolen. Get it for him, and you can take anything you like from the property. Rich pickings, I promise.”

“And if I choose to walk away?” I didn’t like the way the man was smiling. Never trust a man who smiles but isn’t happy.

“Of course you are completely free to do that. But I would like to let you in on a little secret. We picked you two carefully, which meant we watched you closely. And that means we know everything there is to know about you. Where you live, where you sleep. Who your friends are. What you care about. So, walk away if you like, my friend. But I promise you it won’t be the last you hear from us.”

I knew he was going to say something like that.

 

New project

I had an idea for an evil circus plot, (because clowns are terrifying and you’ll never be able to convince me otherwise.) I really want to make something from it, but I wasn’t getting into the beginning. I think it felt a bit too much like a prologue and I don’t tend to get on with them, certainly when writing. I need to have a think about the characters and come back to it.

I hate not having something on the go, so I decided to play around with an idea my partner had suggested: a kind of Guy Richie mockney adventure, but in a fantasy setting. So rather than  dealing with Boris the Russian, it would be Boris the dwarf I don’t think it will quite turn out like that, but this is the synopsis currently playing around in my head. The place-holder title is currently Lock Stock and Two Smoking Goblins.

Byran Windemere is a thief with a reputation for planning and strategy. Lylabelle is a were-kitten and a lesson in being careful what you wish for.The two are recruited for a heist which should pay out enough to keep Byran comfortable for a very long time. What could go wrong? Steal an artifact, help yourself to anything else in the mansion and return with the goods in tact. What no one remembered to tell Byran, was the merchandise was sentient. And he’s not terribly keen on being handed over to a criminal cartel.

Now Byran has to make the choice – hand over the man and save his own skin or face the wrath of the cartel. It doesn’t help that he’s starting to fall for the merchandise.

The Worst Kidnapping in the Galaxy – Short Story

This …was not going to plan.

I stared at the body in front of me, dribbling dark red blood onto my cream Antarian leather upholstery.  That was going to stain, no doubt about it. I took a deep breath. Stains were really not the most important thing here.

No, the important thing was that I had a human rock-star in my spaceship and I wasn’t sure if he was still alive. I tried to remember that module of xeno-biology I had taken in the first year. It was a struggle, because I’d mostly taken it to ogle the beautiful silicate life-form from Epsilon-Perseii IX. The memory of her sand-coloured body and scent like the cliffs looking over the beach at home filled my mind, driving out any thought of human anatomy.

“Uuugh…”

That was a good sign, right? They didn’t do that if they were dead, right? I forced away the memory of Raffitia, and looked back at Zayne: human, rock-star, drop dead gorgeous. I liked to think of myself as an appreciator of the greatest art-form there is: the living being. I didn’t like saying that out loud though, because it made me sound unbearably pretentious.

Zayne groaned again and I leaned closer. His skin was a shade paler than my expensive leather seats and it probably wasn’t due to being coated in makeup. His glossy, dark hair fell in soft waves over his neck and shoulders, with a few locks straying over his face. I had an irresistible urge to brush them away, so I could see his long, delicate eyelashes and sharp cheekbones.

I was just reaching for him, when Zayne opened his eyes. He blinked twice, made a choking sound and spewed a foul-smelling liquid all over my boots. I was pretty sure that wasn’t a good sign. I leapt back as he sat up, added to the puddle twice more, and then lay back down again, resting a hand over his eyes.

“Um, Zayne?”

He sat up again and blinked slowly, squinting around him. His eyes, dark as an empty patch of space, seemed blank and unfocused. He groaned and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Where am I?”

His voice sounded different to how I remembered it. It still had that melodic quality that made it ring, but it sounded weaker now, and there was a trace of an accent that hadn’t been there before.

“You’re…” There didn’t seem much point in hiding it now. “You’re aboard my spaceship.”

If he heard me, I don’t think he understood. His eyes settled on me and I felt my hearts quiver slightly. A delicious shiver ran down my left-hand spine.

“Tom. What the hell did you slip me?”

“Slip you?” I wished I’d studied harder before coming here. Then I might be more familiar with the local idioms. Then I might not have a semi-conscious rock-star in my ship and his breakfast all over my shoes.

“Yeah. You drugged me, didn’t you? Someone did.”

I thought he might be annoyed at this, or maybe frightened, but he sounded resigned.

“So, what’s the ransom this time? Let’s get this over with quickly.”

“Ransom?” I repeated, hating myself for sounding so stupid. There was just something about this man that turned my very core to a quivering mess, like fresh slatch-cake.

Zayne sighed, gently probing at the cut on his forehead with an elegant finger. It had mostly stopped leaking now, at least. “You know, Tom, you may be an even worse kidnapper than you were photographer.” He reached into the pocket of his tight leather trousers and tossed something silver at me. “Go on, make the call. I’ve got better things to do than sit here surrounded by my blood and puke.”

I looked down at the little silver rectangle in my hand. “Zayne, I have a confession to make. I’m not a photographer, and I’m not a kidnapper.”

He laughed, though I couldn’t detect any humour in it. “The first one I guessed. The second one is going to require some more explanation.”

“Can you walk?” I asked him, offering my hand. He gripped it and stood up slowly. Zayne took an experimental step forward, but stumbled and ended up clutching my arm tightly. That shiver was racing up and down both my spines now. “Are… are you all right?”

He nodded, though his face was not just pale but vaguely green now. “I’m good. Are you sure you didn’t drug me?”

“No, I hit you with a mic stand.” I hung my head. “Sorry about that.”

“What did you do that for?”  Now he sounded annoyed and I couldn’t really blame him. He was still gripping my arm like a tractor beam, though.

“I wasn’t aiming for you! It all got a bit out of hand after I kissed you.”

We had been slowly moving across the deck of the ship towards the main screen. Zayne was concentrating on his feet, every now and then making these odd coughing-hiccup sounds that were both adorable and alarming. Now he looked up and his face went whiter than the sky on Rigel VII.

“Tom…That’s the Earth,” he murmured, pointing at the screen. “Why is the Earth down there? Where are we, Tom? Where the hell are we?” His fingers dug into my arm.

I took a deep breath. No one ever taught me how to deal with situations like this at university. “We’re in orbit around the Earth. On my spaceship. And my name isn’t Tom. It’s Xct.”

“Now I know you drugged me!” Zayne laughed, his eyes wide. “No way am I actually orbiting the Earth on a spaceship with an alien named Zit.”

“Xct. It’s pronounced Xct.”

“I don’t think I can pronounce that.”

“It’s possible. You do lack an Olfman’s organ.”

Zayne stared at me, as if he had forgotten how to blink. Then his eyes rolled up in their sockets and he collapsed in my arms with a soft sigh.

Zayne woke up about five minutes later, and I was careful to keep my boots away this time. Fortunately he didn’t seem too bad and was able to sit up and watch me with a guarded expression almost immediately after coming round.

“So, Tom or Zit or whatever your name is. Perhaps you better start from the beginning.”

I nodded slowly, feeling strangely nervous. I was aboard my ship; I wasn’t injured; in fact everything was in my control. But I felt terrified at revealing my true self to Zayne. What if he didn’t like what he heard?

“My name’s Xct, and I’m a second year student at Betelgeuse University,” I said, not meeting his eye. “I won a sports scholarship, as I’m not exactly what you would call academic. Last year I took a module in pan-galactic music because it sounded easy and the lecturer was hot. I heard your songs and they… they were like nothing I’d ever heard before. They were like… like…a storm in a nebular crossed with your first kiss crossed with the most painful memory imaginable. They spoke to me, and that was really strange because I didn’t understand the words.”

Zayne frowned, but his expression had softened somewhat. “You’re a fan? I have an alien fan?”

“Oh, you’ve got lots of fans, but I’m your biggest.”

“They all say that,” he laughed. “Go on.”

“Well, I really wanted to see you in person, and this year I found a way. There was a journalism module that included a project to make a report on something outside your own culture. I got my father to pull some strings – planets which don’t have official contact are generally off limits – and he set me up as a photographer for this music magazine who was doing an interview with you.”

Zayne was starting to believe me, I could tell. His eyes were still wide, and his cute mouth was hanging open, but somehow I knew he didn’t think I was lying.

“That… that explains why you were in my dressing room, and why you took such lousy photographs. But not why you hit me with a mic stand. That bit’s still a little hazy.”

I looked down at my boots. I’d cleaned the mess off them, but they still reminded me of my shame. “I…er… I didn’t mean to hit you. You have to believe me on that. You’d just started singing a few lines of your newest track, and I lost it. I just had to kiss you. Have you ever felt like that? Like your life will end right there and then if you can’t touch a person?”

“I can’t say that I have,” he admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. There was a blush of red across his narrow cheeks and I hoped that wasn’t another bad sign.

“Well, one day you will. It’s powerful. You need to feel it for yourself.” I cleared my throat. I was getting away from the point. “I had to kiss you and so I did and you looked shocked, but you didn’t pull away. And then suddenly there was this man in the room and he was yelling, and you were yelling, and then you were crying and I just knew I had to stop him. So I grabbed the mic stand and I swung at him. Unfortunately, you tripped and got in my way and I knocked you out. You fell into my arms and I panicked, so I teleported back to my ship.”

Zayne licked his lips. “I do remember that. That was my dad who was yelling. My music is aimed at the teenage girl market, and he doesn’t like anything that jeopardises said teenage girls idolizing me. Kissing another man in front of a reporter was pretty much the ultimate sin. Wonder what he’d say if he knew you were actually an alien.”  He looked up at me with those big, deep eyes that just seem to pull me in. “So what happens now?”

“I’ll have to get everything cleaned up. There will need to be memory-wiping, and any camera footage erased. I’ll get into a lot of trouble. They might even kick me out of university.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“It was worth it,” I replied and I meant every word.

“Will they have to wipe my memory too?” he asked quietly. “I… I don’t think I want that.”

“Sorry, it’s the rules.”

“But I don’t want to forget!” he cried out, clenching his fists. “I never wanted to be a rock-star. I wanted to be an astronomer. Or maybe one of those people that wave ping-pong bats in front of aircraft. I hate crowds and stage lights make my head hurt. My name isn’t even Zayne. It’s Roger. Roger Davis. Not very rock-star, is it?”

He was breathing heavily, his face scrunched up. I hated to seem him hurt, and hated more that I was the cause of it. But what could I do to make things right? Maybe… I reached out and touched his hand, which made him look up sharply.

“Want to run away for a bit? We’ll probably get in even more trouble, but this is a pretty sweet ship and I think I can show you a few things before they catch up with us.” It wouldn’t fix anything. In fact, it would make everything a thousand times worse. Looking in his eyes, though, I could see he was thinking the same thing. And like me, he didn’t give a damn.

“That… that sounds amazing. Can we see Saturn? And the storm on Jupiter? And get up close to a comet?”

“Anything you want.” His enthusiasm was adorable. “Let me show you the galaxy, Roger Davis.”

“You know, I was wrong about you, Zit,” he said, squeezing my hand. I let out an involuntary squeak. “You’re the best kidnapper I’ve ever had.”

Finished!

So today, I finally finished my current project, Happily Ever After. If you want to know what it’s about, you can read the synopsis here, and read some (unedited) extracts here and here. The manuscript is just over 107,000 words and took eight months to write the first draft.

It originally started as an idea that wouldn’t leave me alone after watching the film Mama. I enjoyed the film up until the ending, which I won’t spoil. I was left wondering how the characters were going to pick up their lives after everything that had happened. Which got me thinking. There are lots of fantasy novels about epic quests and wars and good vs evil. But I can’ recall reading one that focused on what happened after. It might say “… and they all lived happily ever after” at the end, but how true was it? Could heroes put down their swords and go back to their old lives? Could the romances forged in the fires of war survive the calm waters of peace?

The idea wouldn’t die, so I thought “I’ll just write the first chapter so I can get the characters on the page, then go back to my other project.” Which was clearly foolish, as I haven’t touched Nightingale Road since. I will go back to it, I promise! But Lavie was a very easy character to get inside, and I couldn’t put her story down. It was hard to get a story out that didn’t feel too much like a sequel to a book that doesn’t exist, and I think I’ve got quite a bit of work to do on the pacing. The first hurdle (completing the book) is done, though, and things can only get better from here. Feedback so far is very positive, and I’m looking forward to seeing what my initial beta-readers think of the completed story.