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I’ve always been a fan of the story ‘Rebecca’, the novel written by Daphne Du Maurier, the Hitchock film, and the later TV series, featuring the ever reptilian Charles Dance as Maxim (was never comfortable with that casting.) I knew that several novels had spun off from the original story over the years, but considered this a travesty, a calculating ploy by the publishing industry to claw in more bucks, rather than any honest attempt to continue the story with integrity. As it happens, I was wrong.

Only recently, and after a conversation at one of my ‘writing and dining’ evenings with my friends Louise Coquio and Paula Wakefield, I decided to get hold of these novels, see for myself. The three of us are interested in the Gothic in fiction and all engaged in writing rather dark stories of our own at present. Our discussion of inspirations led us to Du Maurier and inevitably to ‘Rebecca’. Paula had read one of the ‘sequels’, ‘The Other Rebecca’ by Maureen Freely and said that she’d enjoyed it and that it was written well. Lou had been given another of the three, ‘Rebecca’s Tale’ by Sally Beaumann, but hadn’t yet read it. We took a look at Amazon and discovered the third book ‘Mrs De Winter’ was by Susan Hill, one of my favourite ghost story writers. The next day, I ordered all of the books.

I will assume that anyone reading this will be familiar with the plot of the original novel, but if not, it can be found easily online. Here’s a link so my following article will make sense. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_(novel) But if you haven’t read that book, why not?! Be aware though that spoilers concerning the original novel inevitably litter this article.

As Paula had recommended ‘The Other Rebecca’ (2011) I read that first. It’s a modern retelling of the story, with allusions to the original and includes quite clever twistings of that narrative. The Midwinters, as the original De Winters are renamed, are mostly monstrous. Mrs Danvers is not the cadaverous, looming creature we know from ‘Rebecca’, (sister in spirit clearly to the housekeeper of Hill House!), but a more youthful, red-headed, while completely bonkers old friend of Rebecca’s – Danny – who is still very much attached to the family after Rebecca’s death and cares for her rather dislikeable children. (Maxim and Rebecca had no children in the original.) The story is told in the first person and the protagonist is a writer of minor importance struggling to make a career, while (like the original un-named second Mrs De Winter) being fraught with insecurities and anxieties. After her marriage to Maxim, she comes into a crazed nest of creative people and is at a loss at how to cope with them. They’re cruel, sneering and condescending. Maxim’s sister Beatrice, the stout rock of Du Maurier’s novel, is presented as still strident but scheming and untrustworthy. She’s one of the more sympathetic characters, though. Big plot spoilers next, so skip to the next paragraph if you intend to read this book……………………….

There is a ‘Gone Girl’ twist to ‘The Other Rebecca’, and the latter novel definitely came first. As with ‘Gone Girl’s male lead, the selfish and priapic Maxim is being set up all the way through the story. The difference to the original ‘Rebecca’ is: I didn’t particularly care what happened to him. He’s an unpleasant character, in turn whining and then callously aloof, bragging about his sexual conquests. Whatever his faults, I never saw the original Maxim as a whiner, blubbing into his wife’s arms. He kept himself rigidly contained. If he’d ever had affairs, he would never have mentioned them, and certainly not to his wife. But this is a modern novel. The original Maxim would be an anachronism in it. As with the major characters in ‘Gone Girl’, Rebecca and Maxim are loathsome, spoilt, hedonistic and careless. Self-obsessed and narcissistic creative souls, who happened to have great talent, despite their failings. The bone of contention between them was always their work. (Still part of the spoiler: a neat detail is Danny ‘getting messages’ from Rebecca, which you imagine are lies or delusions, rather than true psychic communication, but of course… they’re actually real, and Rebecca orchestrates everything from afar.)

But despite the nature of the characters, or perhaps because of it, the author pulls it off. While I did find the over-extended Midwinter family and its inter-relationships hard to follow, I suspect this is deliberate, since the protagonist herself can’t keep track of the milling relatives either. Sometimes the story is too inscrutable and I found myself rereading parts to see if I’d missed something. Maybe a second read through is required to ‘get’ everything. Danny like Mrs Danvers is still obsessed with Rebecca, who was a famous poet, and is engaged in collating her correspondence in order to write a book. She keeps Rebecca’s workroom as a shrine. In this story, it isn’t the dead woman’s silky negligees that are the fetishes, but her comfy slippers under the desk, the ash trays, the little clay models her children made. Danny isn’t a reliable biographer. She has an agenda, and while there’s no indication she has a murderous hatred towards and jealousy of the protagonist, she does see this woman as an instrument to help her achieve her aims. This is a world of novelists, tabloid journalism seeking thrills, and professional rivalry.

Manderley, the De Winter house, was a major character in Rebecca, but Beckfield, the house in ‘The Other Rebecca’ plays no great part. It’s Bea’s house. Maxim and his wife live in a large cottage in the grounds. Strangely, though, when the new wife arrives at Beckfield to attend a sprawling garden party, full of twittering authors, artists and poets, the first thing Danny says to her is: ‘Welcome to Manderley.’ A knowing aside, as if the book ‘Rebecca’ exists in that world and Danny is aware of the peculiar similarities between her life and the novel.

Apart from borrowing the central idea and skeletons of the characters from Du Maurier, Freely has written a book unconnected with the original. But I didn’t dislike it, read it quickly, and appreciated the strength and skill of the writing, although even as I’m writing up this review can’t remember the end. It’s not a book I’d want to read twice.

I wanted to save Susan Hill’s ‘Mrs De Winter’ (1993) till last, as I like her writing so much and considered the Beaumann novel might be lightweight, as I associated her work with ‘women’s romantic novels’, a sort I don’t like to read. (Happily, later proved wrong on that count!) But I just couldn’t resist picking up ‘Mrs De Winter’ after the Freely, probably because I wanted to snuggle into writing I knew I’d really enjoy. And I’m glad I did because chronologically (in the ongoing story) this is the book that should be read after ‘Rebecca’. Beaumann’s carries on from Hill’s.

Hill keeps the voice of the original novel and this is truly a sequel. Maxim and his wife are still in exile at the start, living in posh hotels, with few belongings, wandering about Europe, settling for a few months here and there. Ten years have passed. They have a found a quiet space between them, where it’s comfortable for them to live, after the traumas of the past and their flight from England at the end of ‘Rebecca’. But even so, right from the start we’re made aware that Mrs De Winter can’t suppress the memory that her husband killed Rebecca. He has a murderer’s hands. Much as the mild, damaged man she cares for now seems removed from the person who could commit such a crime of passion – he still did it. His wife also misses her home country immensely. When they receive a call from Giles, Beatrice’s husband, to tell them she has died from a stroke, Mrs De Winter’s first thought is that they must return home for the funeral. Maxim stalls, clearly terrified of the prospect. But duty wins through and they return. Manderley is long gone, and is never mentioned by the family. Mrs De Winter doesn’t know if it’s still in ruins, has been restored, or whether the land has been bought up and modern houses built on it. We never find out. But once she’s back on English soil, she knows she can’t bear to leave it again, and wonders how she can persuade Maxim to let them settle there. The past is done. There’s nothing left to haunt them, no reason not to come back. (Slight spoilers follow but nothing major.)

But of course, the central conflict of the story is that there is a reason to stay away. A simmering desire for vengeance still burns in the hearts of those who most loved Rebecca – or were obsessed by her. The first sign of trouble is a wreath left on Beatrice’s grave, which Mrs De Winter stumbles upon after the funeral. Perfect white flowers in dark green foliage, and a card signed with the single letter R, in Rebecca’s distinctive curling script. This must be a cruel joke. Mrs De Winter eventually takes the card and hides it.

Suppressing this information, coupled with a visit to Maxim’s former estate manager, Frank Crawley’s new home in Scotland, plus the sheer bewitching glamour of the British countryside, enables Mrs De Winter to convince Maxim they can come home at last. On a final motoring tour of England before they return abroad, they come across the house Cobett’s Brake, a vision of beauty and old England. Not immense as Manderley was, but a comfortable, sagging manor house in the heart of the countryside. Both fall in love with the place, even though Maxim is clearly nervous of admitting that to himself, and for a while he stalls and insists they return to Europe. Mrs De Winter simmers with resentment and anger, but it’s not in her nature to shout and stamp her foot about it. While touring Italy, she has a peculiar experience when Manderley housekeeper Mrs Danvers’ voice returns to her, whispering in her ear, savaging her self confidence. But again, she remains silent. And when on her birthday, Maxim presents her with the information that Cobett’s Brake is now hers, (he has secretly negotiated its purchase with Crawley), she feels her life is to begin anew. And so it does for some time. She and Maxim enjoy an idyllic few months in their new home, which is as far from Manderley as it’s possible to get. It’s like a mother to Mrs De Winter. She feels protected there.
But then, on a visit to London to visit a gynecologist, (she hopes to have children), she bumps by chance into Rebecca’s louche cousin, Jack Favell. He looks as if he’s been living on the street, and because Mrs De Winter lacks the strength of character to tell him where to go, or indeed call the police when he follows her into a hotel, she ends up having tea with him, giving him money, hoping this will be enough to get rid of him. As if! Then, on her return home, the newspaper clippings of Rebecca’s death start to arrive. And so begins the build up to the storm that will engulf Mrs De Winter and her world. As her strength wanes, Mrs Danvers comes back into her life, turning up at the house, apparently on a polite social call, as she’s been engaged as companion to an old lady in the area. As terrified of and intimidated by this dour female as she ever was, Mrs De Winter keeps Mrs Danvers’ visit and proximity secret from Maxim, and limply allows Danvers to manipulate her. She even accepts an invitation to tea at Danvers’ place of employment. Whatever spurts of strength she experiences are literally like damp squibs, sputtering a bit but failing to explode.

As the secrets build up, and the storm clouds build, and Mrs De Winter attempts to hang on to control of her life and protect Maxim from the past, we know that her world will inevitably tumble about her. We knew that from page one, really.

The spare version of the plot above makes the story sound more exciting than it is. ‘Mrs De Winter’ is a very slow-moving book. The De Winters don’t get to Cobett’s Brake until two thirds of the way through the novel, and it’s only then, really, that the story gets going. Until that point, there are endless – if beautiful – descriptions of countryside, houses, nature and weather. Endless self pity. Too much of all that, and not enough story. But I thought then, and still do, that this perhaps was intended, to make the novel ‘literary’ rather than ‘popular’ – the exciting elements are played down. I got fed up of Mrs De Winter telling me she’d found new strength, only to find that no, she hadn’t. She was as limp as ever and remained so throughout. Rebecca would have had none of the nonsense her successor passively subjects herself to. She’d have had Favell and Danvers out of her home with a gun pointed at their heads the moment they appeared. But still, the fact remains that Maxim was guilty of murder, however much he was pushed to it. And he did get away with it.

I did enjoy the book but not as much as I’d hoped. On the cover, one of the gushing blurbs called it a ‘ghost story’, so I was hoping for one of Hill’s superb, eerie tales with more than a hint of the supernatural. But the ghosts in ‘Mrs De Winter’ remain firmly in people’s minds. That didn’t disappoint me so much, though, as the fact the story was turgid, too slow, too full of hand wringing and sighs. It would have been more satisfying for me if Mrs De Winter had in fact grown up, grabbed her demons by the throat and turned the tables on them. However, the voice of the narrator is perfect, and it’s a convincing sequel to Du Maurier’s original. This book was my second favourite of the three.

But first prize must go to Sally Beaumann’s ‘Rebecca’s Tale’ (2001). Again, she keeps the voice of the original well, in terms of time and place, but the first narrator, in a novel of four parts, is the aged Colonel Julyan, who presided over Rebecca’s inquest. He’s always had his suspicions about what truly happened, but the mistake that Favell made, and perhaps readers too, is that he didn’t keep his suspicions quiet in order to protect Maxim and his family name, as was implied. He kept his silence in order to protect Rebecca, as he’d been very fond of her. The novel starts with him reminiscing over the past, because an upstart author wants to write yet another book about the Manderley mystery, which has become folklore in its part of the world. Julyan recollects his long relationship with the De Winter family, and I loved his description of being a boy, playing at the great old house. His portraits of the terrifying De Winter matriarch, (Maxim’s grandmother), the kind but wilting Virginia (his mother) and her glorious sisters, and of Bea and Maxim as children, are wonderful. The story draws you right in from the start because what happened to Rebecca was wholly tied up with the way the De Winters were, an ancient family going back eight hundred years. There’s more than a whiff of authors like P G Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh, in the light, acerbic wit of the writing. This is nowhere near a ‘women’s romantic novel’.

I was surprised – and pleased – to find ‘Rebecca’s Tale’ keeps to the ‘canon’ found in Hill’s ‘Mrs De Winter’ – i.e. what happened to the De Winters when they returned to England, or at least as much of that as Julyan and other major characters can possibly know – which is only the bare facts. Still, this novel carries on neatly from Hill’s, and it seems to me that Beaumann must have known of that book and kept to the same story. Or the similarities are just uncanny coincidences…

Part Two of the story is told by Terence Grey, the writer who’s in Kerrith investigating the story of Rebecca. Grey is a complex character, with secrets and tragedies of his own. His interest in the old story lurches towards obsession, dangerously so. Through Grey we meet some of the other characters from ‘Rebecca’ and hear their version of events – such as the cousin Jack Favell, Frith the erstwhile butler of Manderley, and other colourful Kerrith characters. The truth about Rebecca, it seems, is more convoluted than everyone thought. Her own history is revealed in tantalizing glimpses – the girl she’d once been and the woman she became who was mistress of Manderley. The reader begins to learn about her heritage. While Grey investigates, an anonymous individual is sending notebooks of Rebecca’s to Colonel Julyan, and is also perhaps the same person who leaves a wreath at Rebecca’s old boathouse cottage, and sends a piece of her jewellery to Favell. Mysteries mount, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!

Part three is Rebecca’s own tale, as found in the second notebook sent to Julyan. But we know already that Rebecca is often a minx. Is her testimony reliable? Whether this is true or not, it’s riveting to read. A free spirit, Rebecca was born ahead of her time, totally unsuited to a woman’s life in the early part of the 20th century. She suffered for her difference, as she was rarely understood. And the tragic way she narrates her story to an unborn child she believes she is carrying is moving while being unsentimental. Naturally, Rebecca’s tale is cut short by her own death. Many threads are left dangling.

Part four is related by Ellie, Colonel Julyan’s daughter. Hers is a strong, true voice, but even she has her obsession with Rebecca, seeing in the dead woman a promising template for female emancipation at a time in history when women were fighting for their rights, and most men still regarded them as mistresses, mothers or domestics. Ellie’s is undoubtedly the most political account, but she is also a vibrant, convincing character with her own desires and dreams. Ellie uncovers more mysteries, and in one case solves one, while simultaneously growing as a person. During her account, the narrative never falters. All four narrators, each with their distinctive voice, carry the story along at a good pace, but it is still deep and ponderous – and I don’t mean that in a bad way. This is not a short or shallow book by any means.

Most, but not all, the threads finally weave together and the reader is left to make up their own mind. You don’t feel in any way short-changed by that, though. What Beaumann has done is create a convincing account, including the difficulty of discovering historical truths, when the main protagonists are dead. Some truth died with them. Rebecca affected everyone she met, often dramatically. She is perhaps all the things everyone ever thought her to be, and more, a girl who fought to survive throughout a difficult childhood and adolescence, who set her will at making an adult life for herself, to her liking. But she is always human, believable. Her gift to Ellie is revealed at the end of book, perhaps far different from what you expect all the way through. I loved that. My favourite book of those I’ve read over the past few years is ‘The Little Stranger’ by Sarah Waters, but Sally Beaumann’s ‘Rebecca’s Tale’ will now be stored on the same shelf.

Of these three Rebecca novels only the Hill and the Beaumann can be seen as continuations of the story. In fact, with the original they effectively make up a trilogy. And yes, there could be more to tell, should some other writer be urged to take up the tale. The Freely is entirely separate, while still quite an interesting read. But it’s not connected with the beguiling, mysterious Rebecca as we know her.

I’ve been meaning to do a new blog post for ages but have been very busy! My new Wraeththu novel, ‘The Moonshawl’ has now been edited by Wendy Darling and I’m currently working on her suggestions for improvements. We’re aiming for an early December release for the book.

I’m also writing an article that will appear on here very soon, on the various sequels to Daphne Du Maurier’s novel ‘Rebecca’ – or ‘inspired bys’. I have to finish reading the last one in order to complete the piece.

I noticed today that some responses to my posts have ended up in the spam folder without my realising it. I’ve now ‘unspammed’ those. Thanks to those of you who responded to my earlier post about e-cigarettes and to which I didn’t reply.

Once ‘The Moonshawl’ has received its final polish, I’ll be back working on half a dozen or so half-finished stories for my Newcon Press’s ‘Imaginings’ release. ‘Imaginings’ are collections of short stories by single authors, and I’m very proud and pleased to be invited to join the great list of writers already published in this series. I don’t have a release date for this book, as I’ve still to finish off the stories, but I imagine it will be mid to late 2015. Only a couple of the pieces in the book have been previously published, since Ian wants only uncollected stories in the book, and the ones that haven’t already appeared in my own Immanion Press short story collections have been mostly been in Ian’s anthologies of various themes. He didn’t want to include stories he’d published. But this has given me good reason to complete ideas that have been languishing on my computer for years.

Can I just remind interested parties again that we are open for submissions to the next Wraeththu short story collection ‘Para Animalia’, which will include stories that in some way concern both hara and creatures they might work with magically or in day to day life. Anyone wanting the guidelines, please contact Immanion Press at info(at)immanion-press(dot)com

Book News

Immanion Press’s first blog hop is now over, bar selecting a winner of the competition. It was interesting to try this way to promote Para Kindred, and I’ll certainly do similar promotions for future Wraeththu anthologies. Thanks to Nerine Dorman and Shauna Knight for their help and advice on this procedure!

As far as the Wraeththu Mythos is concerned, my own current novel, ‘The Moonshawl’, is edging towards its climax. I’ve got to a part now where I really have to put myself inside Ysobi’s head and think, ‘ok, what would this character do next, credibly?’ He’s acquired a lot of needed information about the mystery he’s investigating; now he needs to take action. But as to which other characters are with him on this final stage I’ve yet to decide – or maybe I should let the character decide simply through the writing.

I’m happy to report that we have Wraeththu Mythos novels by other writers on the horizon, from Wendy Darling and anthology contributor E S Wynn. Wendy, of course, has been involved in the Mythos for many years, and was the co-author of ‘Breeding Discontent’ as well as co-editor on all the Mythos anthologies. Her novel ‘Angry City’ explores the early days of Wraeththu, as does Earl’s ‘Hollow Hills’. Both of these books will present gritty visions of the mythos, and I’m really looking forward to reading the completed manuscripts.

Para Kindred contributor Nerine Dorman is also working on ideas for a mythos novel set in South Africa. I loved the story she gave us for PK so again I’m really looking forward to what she’ll come up with for a novel. I’ll post news about that once she’s worked out a plot line for it.

Wendy and I are currently swapping ideas for the theme of the next Wraeththu Mythos anthology. So all in all, things are looking interesting for the future of Wraeththu.

Short Stories

Happy to say that my story ‘The Saint’s Well’ was accepted by editor David Barrett for his ‘Mammoth Book of Tales from the Vatican Vaults’. I believe this will be out next year, but will give more details when I know for sure. I really enjoyed writing this story and am glad to appear in the excellent line up David has secured for this satisfyingly fat collection!

A Storm Constantine ‘Imaginings’ short story collection is in the pipeline with Ian Whates’ Newcon Press. This is scheduled for mid 2015. The collection will include a few previously published but uncollected stories (none that have appeared in Newcon Press anthologies), and also a selection of new pieces.

Currently Reading…

I’m a fan of ghost stories and have been reading some of the Dark Terrors collections. I’m not a fan of gore, however, and am somewhat disappointed sometimes that well set-up stories then conclude with the cop-out, typical horror ending: ‘the protagonist is murdered in horrible detail by whatever supernatural thing is in the story’. Some of the best stories are brave enough to do something different. After reading Liz Hand’s ‘Near Zennor’, I had to order her own collection ‘Errantry’ that includes it. What I loved about Liz’s story is that it’s supernatural, eerie, but also credible. The supernatural part is just ‘off centre reality’ enough to be believable. Also beautifully written. I’ve just started reading ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn, but Liz’s book is next on my reading list.

I’ve also got into Simon Kurt Unsworth’s work, firstly through his book ‘Quiet Houses’, which I got for my Kindle and then through other pieces of his in anthologies I’ve read. I loved ‘Quiet Houses’, not least because one of my greatest loves in supernatural fiction is haunted houses. The protagonist (a paranormal investigator) at one point investigates a haunted Victorian public toilet! I believe Simon has a new collection in store, which I’ll also be quick to order. Evocative writing, interesting new slants on the haunted house. I posted a link today on my FB page concerning creepy photos of abandoned buildings, such as hotels, amusements parks and asylums. They could well illustrate Simon’s ‘Quiet Houses’.

Cats… Well, There Has to be Cats

New girl Pashti has discovered a new pastime – net curtain climbing. To Pashti, I imagine the navigation of our half window net curtains in the living-room is the equivalent of some perilous jungle vine network. She swings herself around, generally in pursuit of moths, throwing herself onto the tiny ledge of the sash window’s ledge, wobbling precariously, sometimes falling, only to rescue herself with a timely grab of the nets, then to swing wildly as she scrambles to safety on the thin ledge again. From outside, our nets now appear full of rents and tears, lending the house a rather Steptoe ambience! I learned today from friend and neighbour Danielle Lainton, who lives opposite me, that several neighbours on the opposite side of the road have been observing Pashti’s antics with amusement. She provides street entertainment, it seems. Someone said to Danni: ‘Has your friend Storm got a new cat? A sort of mottled, weird looking animal?’ Yes, that must be Pashti, lol. People who aren’t familiar with orientals don’t quite understand her exquisite beauty. Our friend Bob Forse called round yesterday. Pashti’s greeting to him was to launch herself from the ground right onto his chest, all claws out, and cling there. He said, ‘you’ve been feeding her after midnight and got water on her, haven’t you?’ She is rather a little gremlin, bless her, but despite the injuries she inflicts on guests, everyone loves her. She’s clearly worked out that climbing people, or destroying parts of the home, if accompanied by ecstatic purring, means she doesn’t get chastised.

This is the second of my two contributions to the blog hop, this time based on my story ‘Without Weakness’. Fernici’s story, of course, did not end with him going to Immanion; if anything that was just the start. Whether I’ll ever get time to explore his adventures as a Listener and an otherlane explorer, I don’t know, but here is just a short vignette, concerning what happens when Fernici comes face to face with Ashmael once more. That is certainly a tale that hasn’t yet ended!

A Social Incident
by Storm Constantine

Fernici stood at the edge of the gathering, not wanting to feel intimidated but unable to help himself. His companion, Reydis, had momentarily left him alone, and this was his first big social event in Immanion since he’d arrived. It was being held in a salon of the palace Phaonica, and Fernici didn’t know anyhar there. It wasn’t too grand a gathering because no Aralisians were there, but it was still overwhelming to Fernici. He had half hidden himself amid immense obsidian pillars at the edge of the room and hoped Reydis wouldn’t be long.

As if this nervous thought conjured a har into being, an apparition dressed in matte peacock blue silk manifested before Fernici. He’d glided up from the side. ‘You’re the newly incepted little har, who Ash found in the wilderness, aren’t you?’ this being drawled. His eyes were a cruel green.

‘That would be me,’ Fernici said,’ scanning the crowd, desperate to find Reydis’s face among them.

‘How are you finding Immanion?’ asked the apparition, and by that question, Fernici knew the har was really asking ‘How are you finding civilization?’

‘Very big. It will keep me occupied for a time simply exploring it.’

The har laughed. ‘Yes, you could say it is very big.’ He put his head to one side. ‘You’re something of an enigma, aren’t you?’

‘Am I? I’m not sure what you mean.’ Fernici braced himself for some slicing remark about a human being incepted so late upon the Wraeththu timeline.

‘I wonder what’s so interesting about you, that’s all.’ The har grimaced, but in a sly way. ‘Whenever any of us ask Ash for the story of what happened out there, he won’t speak. Was it all so terrible?’

‘I… no, I don’t know what you mean.’

‘Well, you must be somehar of note, something interesting, to be here now. We wonder what the story is.’

‘There’s no story other than that I was incepted and brought here.’

‘Oh, I think you hide your light, tiahaar. I can smell a story.’

Fernici realised he was at the point where the only way he could extricate himself from this uncomfortable conversation was to say something rude. He looked at the har, this elegant and confident creation. Did he mean to be insulting or was it simply the way socializing was in Immanion? Fernici had no idea, but he did sense that it might not be advisable to offend this har.
‘Well, if it is a story, and I don’t think it is – much – when they tested my abilities after althaia, the results for one of them were good. They thought there could be work for me here.’

‘Which ability?’ asked the har, both his eyebrows raised in amusement.

‘Psychic ability. They thought perhaps the Listeners…’

‘Oh, how dull.’ The har grinned. ‘Never mind.’ He glanced around, perhaps looking for somehar else to bother, then clearly noticed the opportunity for sport. ‘Oh look, there is Ashmael.’ Before Fernici could do or say anything, the har had raised a hand and in a voice like a bell called, ‘Ash, over here.’

Fernici saw Ashmael raise his head, the blankness that came over his features. Ashmael hesitated, then crossed the few feet of floor between them. Fernici was shocked again at how tall he was, almost alien. ‘Good evening, tiahaar,’ he said and then nodded his head at Fernici. ‘Hello, Fernici, you have settled in well?’

‘Yes. Thank you.’

‘I was just talking with your little protégé…’ said the peacock har.

Ashmael laughed politely. ‘No protégé of mine, I assure you.’ He smiled stiffly at Fernici. ‘No offence, tiahaar, but I consider you are your own creation, not mine.’

Fernici, for a moment, was flooded with the remorse of lost opportunities. He realised that Ashmael’s pride would never forgive him for what he’d done, and yet, it had been entirely the right thing to do at the time. Fernici had said no when Ashmael had offered himself after the althaia, and Ashmael Aldebaran Har Gelaming was not used to being refused. But what could Fernici say to mend this affront, especially in front of this gossipy other har, who would no doubt report any conversation across the entire gathering?

‘Well, thank you for your part in it,’ he said eventually, inclining his head, but wincing inside.

The peacock har laughed. ‘Oh, two corpses in a badly-written play,’ he declared. ‘And you say there is no story.’

There was a silence, and perhaps having decided he’d got enough gossiping meat to be going on with, the peacock har drifted away.

And now we are along together, Fernici thought, with a bottomless gulf between us.

‘They found you useful employment?’ Ashmael asked, but Fernici could tell he didn’t care.

‘I’m training for the Listeners,’ he said. ‘They said I could take it further one day.’

‘Makes sense.’ Ashmael looked around himself, perhaps hoping to spot an escape route, somehar he must go and speak to.

Fernici thought he might mention the invitation Ashmael had extended for Fernici to visit him, the last time they’d been together, but was afraid Ashmael would only look at him blankly and pretend he didn’t remember. If Ashmael wanted to see him, he could make that invitation again now, but Fernici knew it wouldn’t come.

‘Don’t stay on my account,’ he said, offering – rather mercifully, he felt – the escape route. ‘Reydis is here with me. He’ll be back shortly. I expect you’ve got lots of hara you need to talk to.’

‘Well, yes, that’s true.’ Ashmael smiled unconvincingly. ‘You look well, Fernici. I’m glad things have worked out for you. Until later, then…’ He inclined his head and walked away.

Fernici steadied his breathing. This encounter had had to come. He’d known he’d have to face it, yet knowing that hadn’t made it any easier. The reason he’d refused Ashmael was because he’d liked him too much. He’d wanted to be fully har, to understand his new self, before any meaningful closeness with another har could even be considered. But clearly Ashmael could not see past the word ‘no’. Now it was too late, yet perhaps for the best. Fernici could always tell himself it was for the best.

Reydis wandered up, carrying two drinks. ‘Sorry that took so long,’ he said, ‘but hara kept waylaying me! Were you all right on your own?’

‘Yes,’ Fernici said, taking the drink. ‘I’m all right on my own.’

Here we are on Day 3 of the Para Kindred blog hop and it’s my turn to post! For anyone reading this who doesn’t know what this venture is, here are the details as from the Immanion Press blog:

“Welcome to the Immanion Press blog hop for the new Wraeththu anthology, Para Kindred. Every day until 25th June the PK authors will be posting a blog post about their story in the collection. Read every contribution to the blog hop, answer all the secret questions about the posts, and you will be entered into a prize draw to win an item from the New section of our Café Press store.”

So without more ado, here is my contribution, inspired by my story in the anthology, Painted Skin. I have to confess it does have a major spoiler in it concerning the story, which if someone wants to read it to enter the competition, and also read the story in PK without knowing anything about it, it might be a tad difficult! My secret question, plus details of previous bloggers will appear at the end of this article.

From Out the Earth, Amid the Pines...

There was once a harling named Cherrah, who lived in the far north, where the mountains meet the sky. He knew, because his hostling had told him, that his tribe was not like other hara. They were creatures far older, who had lived hidden for a very long time, when humans had ruled the world. But when humanity had fallen, they had crept from the cracks in the earth and found other cracks to creep into; the minds of hara, their flesh.

One night, Cherrah was woken by the cries of an owl outside his window, and went to follow its ghost shadow on the soft snow. At length, he came to precipice over a chasm so deep there were stars trapped in its depths, which had fallen and could not get out. The owl spread its white wings on the night and said, for it was rather more than an owl and could speak, ‘Here is the pit where your heart will lie.’

Cherrah grew up and on the night before his feybraiha, the owl came again and, as before, the harling followed it out into the darkness of the high murmuring pines and the endless sky. The owl led him to the biggest pine in the forest and then swooped down upon him and opened up his back to the spine with its claws. ‘This is where your beauty lies,’ said the owl. Cherrah fell back against bark of the tallest pine, his body aflame with pain. And it seemed the tree pitied him, for Cherrah could feel it filling his empty back with parts of itself, so that from the front he looked like a har, but from the back was a hollow tree.

The harling went home to his tribe, where everyhar was gathered waiting to celebrate his feybraiha. They stood around a fire, all in clothes of russet and green. His father came over and put a cloak of dark green wool about his shoulders that hung all the way to the ground, and his hostling came forward and pulled the hood of the cloak so that it covered the top of Cherrah’s face. He could peer out beneath the edge of it, and as he did so, he saw his whole tribe turn their backs on him, as if he must be forgotten. But it was not this. It was merely to show him they were all like he was, kindred to the pine.

‘It is not always,’ said Cherrah’s hostling, ‘that you will show your true nature. As we crept from the earth so we brought its secrets with us. You will learn how to seal your flesh, and your face is enough like a har to fool any who might look, not of our tribe.’

‘But can’t I stay with the tribe, so nohar else might ever see or have to be fooled?’ said Cherrah.

‘No,’ said his hostling. ‘You will go out into the world and be part of it. Your father will take you to the cities of hara and you will learn his trade of clockmaker, and bring our arts to these cities, for we have a way with time. This is your duty to your tribe, to bring us riches.’ His hostling kissed him upon the brow. ‘But for tonight, you need think of nothing but he who waits for you. There he is, beyond the fire. Do you see?’

And then the har came to Cherrah, who would lead him to adulthood, and he went into a moss-roofed house a harling and came out in the morning a har.

On the night before he was to leave for the cities of hara, the owl came again to Cherrah. ‘I won’t follow you,’ he said. ‘You bring only bad to me.’

And the owl replied, ‘Truth is never bad. My task was to take you to the forest, which I did.’

‘But you opened my back with your claws, and now I will never be truly har but half tree, because of the pine’s pity.’

‘Rather my claws than any other kind,’ said the owl, ‘for what I did was with love, not fear or cruelty. And you were always half tree. Come, follow me now. This is the final thing I can teach you.’

So Cherrah followed the owl, expecting something he would not enjoy or that would make him sad. The owl led him high into the mountains where breath turns to frost upon the air and the sky fractures with cold like glass.

‘Do you feel the cold?’ asked the owl.

Cherrah drew his green wool cloak about him. ‘Of course. It’s always there.’

‘Does it pain you?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Does the cold bring pain to your body, discomfort?’

‘Of course not.’ Cherrah took off his cloak, folded it, and set it upon the ground so he could sit on it. He gazed out across the jagged peaks with their green cloaks of pines. Tomorrow, he would be gone from this land and didn’t know when he would be back.

‘You are more than har,’ said the owl, perching on a fallen tree nearby, ‘for as the cold does not blight your flesh, neither can water drown you, nor fire consume you. You cannot be crushed. You can walk inside the mountains and listen to them speak. Ordinary hara can die by the elements but you cannot, because you are their creature. And that is a reason to be happy not sad.’

‘But I will be lonely,’ Cherrah said, ‘I can already feel it, looking at this landscape to which I belong and which I must leave. Loneliness might crush, or burn or drown me. As could love, because you’ve already told me my heart lies in a pit from which it can’t get out.’

The owl lifted its wings wide upon the night. ‘Ah, but you are a creature that came from the secrets of the earth,’ it said. ‘Your hara do not obey the ordinary laws. You came from a fairy tale and everyhar knows that such tales can end in miracles. You must never give up hope, because a miracle might always be around the next corner.’

‘I suppose I must be content with that,’ Cherrah said, ‘and thank you for words that did not make me sad and no experiences with claws that hurt me.’

‘Goodbye, Cherrah,’ said the owl.

Cherrah returned to his tribe and the owl stayed behind in the white mountains. In the morning, as he readied himself to leave, Cherrah put into his bags a sprig of pine, an owl feather and a small cold rock to remind him of home. Then he followed his father out into the world, hoping to come upon a corner in a city that had something wondrous round it.

Secret Question:

What can Cherrah do in the mountains that ordinary hara cannot?

Previous blogs:
Monday 16th: Earl S Wynn – http://www.eswynn.com/2014/06/ghost-wolf.htm
Secret question: Who do the spirit wolves watch over, according to legend.

Tuesday 17th: Maria J Leel – https://ipmbblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/para-kindred-blog-hop-day-2/
Secret question: Where was Chenga’s servant Dolah planning to escape to?

Where is this year going? April already. Anyway, been working hard on short stories and also the new Wraeththu story collection, ‘Para Kindred’. I’m really happy with my stories in this one, and also love the contributions I’ve had in from the other writers. There is a Goodreads Giveaway for this book, URL here: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/88603-para-kindred-enigmas-of-wraeththu

I know I have to get into social media promotion a lot more than I do. I see horrendously poor novels, self published as ebooks, but whose authors have dozens of 5 star reviews on Amazon, presumably from friends. This is what serious writers are up against, sadly. The whole ‘recommendation’ thing is a sham on these sites. It can be abused so easily, as I see often when I download a book to read on Kindle before I sleep. Atrociously rotten books have gushing reviews. It must be orchestrated. I have simple hopes the reading public have more sense.

I’ve read a couple more of Susan Hill’s ghost stories recently – ‘Mist in the Mirror’ and ‘The Man in the Picture’. Ms Hill really knows how to set a ghost story up, and I adored ‘Mist in the Mirror’ until the end. I don’t know why, but as with ‘The Small Hand’, this superb writer really can’t finish a book satisfactorily. There were so many story threads left unresolved. It was almost as if she said to her publishers, ‘ok, hit word limit, here’s the book and my invoice’. Really disappointing and more so because I love Susan Hill’s writing. Why does she short change her readers so clunkily with these ghost stories? Only ‘The Woman in Black’ is fully-rounded. The others, while great reads for the most part, are let down by the endings. I read there’s to be a TV adaptation of ‘The Small Hand’, so hope the adaptors do more with it than in the novella. Wasted opportunities. I look back at Sarah Waters’ ‘The Little Stranger’ and that’s how a novel of this type should be crafted. Also Diane Setterfield’s ‘The Thirteenth Tale’. Why on earth hasn’t ‘The Little Stranger’ been televised? That’s now one of my favourite novels of all time.

It galls me, but work on my novel ‘The Moonshawl’ has foundered recently, not least because of the shorts I’m writing. Plus I’m trying to do more with publicity and promotion for ‘Para Kindred’. ‘The Moonshawl’ is still very much in my thoughts, and I play out scenes in my mind as I’m doing housework. Would really like to finish it soon, though.

On a more personal note, we lost one of our veteran cats recently – Uriel. What we thought was bad teeth turned out to be a malignant tumour in his jaw. Uri had lived to a ripe old age, so we have to expect this to happen, but what’s been most upsetting is the effect on our young Siamese, Grimley, known also as Stringy Bob (that’s Jim’s name for him). From the moment Grim set foot in our house, he decided Uri was his mate. Uri could not fight against Grim’s determination to love him. They were inseparable. After Uri’s death, Grim wandered around the house looking for him, and at night simply howled. He and Uri always slept with me when Jim was at work (he works most nights) and it was pitiful to see Grim’s sadness. Whoever says cats don’t have feelings can just sod off, in my humble opinion. So we made the choice to get a companion for Grim (seeing as the other cats sort of blank him a lot for his ‘in your faceness’). We’re hopefully going to pick up a girl Oriental cat companion for him next week. Superstition forbids me from saying more than that, but if she comes home with us I’ll post pics on Facebook.

I’ve been working on Para Kindred over the weekend, the forthcoming Wraeththu story collection. I’ve edited one of Wendy Darling’s stories for it, and another from Daniela Ritter. I’ve also attended to editorial corrections Wendy asked for my story, ‘Painted Skin’. After making this post I’ll take a look at my second story for the anthology and start work on it. So far it hasn’t got a title. The collection’s shaping up well and if the last couple of stories come in on time we’ll hit our desired March publication with no problem.

Short stories seem to be taking centre stage for me at the moment. I’ve just finished one to send off to an anthology, (superstition forbids me from revealing more until it’s taken or rejected!), and I’ve heard word of another couple of collections I’d like to submit to. After a long break from writing shorts, it’s great to get back to them over this past six months or so, and I’m really enjoying dabbling in them once more.

I have some news concerning the collection I mentioned in my last post that I was in talks about with another publisher. This was Ian Whates from Newcon Press. He’s going to bring out a collection of mine in 2015 for his ‘Imaginings’ series – which comprises limited edition, nicely-produced hardbacks from various authors across the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres. To date, this series has included authors like Tanith Lee, Liz Williams, Lisa Tuttle, Stephen Baxter and Stan Nicholls, so it’s a prestigious project to be part of. My anthology, yet unnamed, will include uncollected works and a few new stories. So these will be pieces not available in any of my Immanion Press collections. I’ll give more news of the book’s Contents once they’ve been finalized. Newcon Press’s full catalogue can be found here: http://newconpress.co.uk/

Work on my Wraeththu novel, ‘The Moonshawl’, is still going well too, and I’ll be spending a couple of days on that this week – two days seems to be about all I can manage at the moment, what with all the short story writing. But writing is writing, and what wants to come out has to be allowed to come out. I feel as if a creative dam has burst after years of drought!

My own writing aside, I want to let off steam about something that’s increasingly getting on my nerves: the poor standard of grammar, spelling, syntax and punctuation in so many of the published works I read, and also in magazines and newspapers, and even in broadcasting on the radio and television. Every editor, I’m sure, has pet hates. (I won’t go in Ian Whates’ long-standing war with the word ‘it’!). Mine include the wrong use of verb forms, in particular the now all too common ‘he was sat’, ‘she was stood’ etc, instead of the correct forms of either ‘she stood’ or ‘she was standing’. I’m reading a novel at the moment and am being tripped up and ejected from immersion in the story every few minutes by one of these appalling bloopers. Strangely, it’s not consistent, and the author gets the verbs right as often as she gets them wrong. I can only assume she doesn’t have a full knowledge of grammar and therefore lacks control of her prose. This particular, horrible corruption has crept into all aspects of the written and spoken word, and I really hate it. Whenever I see it I can’t help thinking the writer is just lazy and uneducated in their craft.

Another pet hate, and I think this has come over to the UK from America, is the use of ‘off of’ for ‘from’, such as ‘off of that programme on the telly’, instead of ‘from that programme on the telly’. It’s forgivable in toddlers, i.e. people learning to talk, but not in adults, and certainly not in writers. I see this horror all over the place, and the mere sight of it is enough to raise my blood pressure! Call me a grammar nazi if you like but I really detest the sloppiness it reveals.

Another annoyance is misuse of the word ‘that’, when ‘who’ should be used, i.e. ‘these are the people that were stood’… oops I mean, ‘these are the people who were standing’! It’s clear the writers concerned aren’t aware that when it’s a person or people we use ‘who’; when it’s an object or an animal, (and some writers might even contest the latter), we use ‘that’.

I often see weak punctuation, syntax and spelling, as if the books I’m reading haven’t been edited properly, if at all. I also see cases of endless repetitions of words and phrases close to each other on a page, (and not in a deliberate, poetic or dramatic way), which should be spotted by an editor, even if the writer is blind to them. (I know I make mistakes in my work all the time, which is why I ensure it’s read by several people and also edited thoroughly.) Not only ‘popular’ novels suffer in this way – I’ve seen it in allegedly literary works, whose covers have been crowded with unctuous praise from ‘names’ and whose authors have even won awards for their writing.

It worries me that we are heading into literary Dark Ages, where standards plummet to the quality of text speak and the construction of language – our basic tool of communication – dissolves. Even now, (and perhaps for a long time), students emerge from schools and colleges barely able to string a sentence together. Friends of mine who are teachers and lecturers constantly lament the illiterate state of their students, many at so-called university level. The most horrifying part is that people at the top, with the power to do something about this situation, don’t seem to care that much. Standards are lowered so that barely literate students can get degrees. I too see countless manuscripts from would be writers that are almost unreadable, so poor is their grasp of the tools of their trade. And yet they think they have the ability to produce novels and stories, patently not realizing they have to learn their trade – and most likely work hard to educate themselves in English language skills they were never taught at school – just like in any other profession. Perhaps this is a tide us old school writers cannot swim against and it’s the inevitable fate of literature in our modern society, a heart-breaking dumbing down. I really hope I’m wrong.

I’ve been super busy since I wrote my last blog post and – am happy to report – very productive. I finished ‘Painted Skin’, one of the stories for the forthcoming Wraeththu anthology ‘Para Kindred’, and am about halfway through a second. The second story, as yet un-named, is a return to canon characters in that it features Ashmael Aldebaran from the Wraeththu trilogies as well as the Kamagrian, Kate. I began the story quite a few years ago, concerning a human community that has survived against all odds in the midst of a wilderness, where the threat of the remaining unevolved Wraeththu tribes is still immense. The Gelaming have their own reasons for wishing to contact these survivors, and the har sent to do the job is Ashmael, with Kate along as negotiator, since they assume a more ‘female’ looking person will be more acceptable to the humans. They discover that a son of the human family has outstanding abilities beyond what’s normally found in the old race. The Gelaming want him incepted, the family and the boy himself don’t, and the drama unfolds from there. This story has enabled me to vent my gripes about interfering, busy-body ‘health’ officials, who think they know what’s best for us, when sometimes they really don’t. They just tick boxes and stand by the current ‘fashions’, whatever the consequences for the individual. I’ve got plenty more horrors to relate before the end of it.

The novel, The Moonshawl, is still going well, although at the moment I’m finding it difficult to devote more than two days a week to it, and of course those end up being less than full working days because of little tasks I continually have to attend to. But I’m happy with the progress, even if it’s not as fast as I’d like. A host of new ideas came to me, which have to be incorporated. I sat down to write a few notes on ‘the dark history of the Wyvern family’, only to end up with 10 pages of what could be a separate short story. Not all of this might make it into the novel, but as least *I* know what happened in the past.

This week I’ve written an introduction for a new edition of Algernon Blackwood’s first two short story collections, which will be combined into one volume by Greg Shepard – who some of you might remember published American editions of several of my novels, plus ‘The Oracle Lips’ story collection, through his Stark House Press. I’m not sure if that’s still the name of his publishing house, but will post further news when I have more details about the book. Blackwood is one of the most influential supernatural writers of the earliest twentieth century and inspired many other authors, even to the present day. I hesitate to use the term ‘horror writer’ for authors of his time, since to me the word horror nowadays often just entails blood, guts, dismemberment, torture, etc etc and I’ve never liked that kind of fiction. To me, the best horror is that which implies more than it shows; feelings of unease, the inexplicable, the subtly chilling. Anyway, I recommend Greg’s book, which includes ‘The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories’ and ‘The Listener and Other Stories’.

One thing I think is really important is that works like Blackwood’s are still available for everyone. So many of the ebook editions you see of these ‘historical’ writers are really badly produced, full of errors, and in one case recently – utterly empty of everything except the first page. I’ve read quite a few of these ebooks, since I’ve been devouring stories of this kind recently, and have been astonished at the sloppy production, as if the text wasn’t even read through once before it was slapped on the Kindle store. I know how difficult, if not impossible, it is to produce an absolutely pristine manuscript – mistakes will not be spotted because of human error – but really some ebooks have appalling amounts of them. Several stories have been virtually unreadable, owing to strange fonts and symbols littered all the way through. Hopefully, more publishers like Greg will restore these works with a bit of actual care.

Another thing I’ve noticed as I’ve been reading all these short story collections is how superior the older writing often is. It’s noticeable particularly when an editor has collected the new with the old. So many of the new ones are weak, uninteresting, or just gore fests. Dull, in other words. Whereas there are some real gems to be found in the older writing, often by authors completely unknown, who perhaps just produced a few stories to be published in magazines of the time. There were a fair amount of women writers involved in the genre too, and I read one ebook ‘The Lady Chillers: Classic Ghost and Horror Stories by Women Writers’, which was excellent. All of the collections have a few duds in them – inevitably – but this one was superior to most. Sadly, you won’t find collections by the majority of these writers, although there is a printed version of Edith Wharton’s ghost stories available. The ebook of Edith Nesbit’s ghost stories – forget it. This was the one I bought that was an empty file. (Actually it looks as if since I complained to Amazon it’s been removed from the Kindle store.) The Mary E Wilkins Freeman Megapack ebook is worth getting, despite the second half of the book comprising rather twee children’s stories. The first half, the supernatural tales, is great.

As for my plans for 2014, first of course I want to finish The Moonshawl, but I will be working on short stories alongside it. I’m in talks with another independent press about producing a book of my uncollected stories plus some new ones, and will again give more news about that when I have it. Once The Moonshawl is complete, it’ll be time to start on a new novel – I already have a few options. But as can often happen, a different idea might come to me before then.

I thought that in the absence of any spectacular news – life is fairly uneventful apart from writing and dealing with Immanion Press – I could give a sneak preview of the novel I’m working on. Now under the working title of ‘The Moonshawl’ (which may change), this is the third book in my Wraeththu Alba Sulh sequence and, as I’ve already said, it will be a mystery/ghost story – rather different from its prequels. Whether I get the book finished this year is difficult to tell, but I’ll certainly get most of it done. This will free me up to explore other projects, and the mountains of notes, ideas, half written things and synopses I have on my computer.

But all that is in the future. For now, here is a scene from ‘The Moonshawl’, where Ysobi is doing some psychic investigating. It’s not the final draft so might be expanded, and certainly refined, before publication. Apologies for lack of first line indentation – can’t work out how to do it on here! Enjoy!

Excerpt from ‘The Moonshawl’ by Storm Constantine © 2013

As soon as the glade opened up before us, I could tell that Moonshawl Pool was an ancient sacred place, and perhaps was still regarded as such among the local hara and used for rites. The damp grass was vivid with new growth beneath our feet; Rinawne’s pony was eager to tear at it, devour it.
Rinawne led me to the edge of the clear water. I could see that the pool was maintained by a spring and that a quick stream gulped away from it, perhaps to join with the river. Opposite me was an immense mossy rock, from which it seemed ideal for harlings to jump into the water. Sunlight came down in rods through the unfurling leaf canopy above, but even so the glade was partially in shadow.
‘Eldritch place, isn’t it?’ Rinawne said carelessly. ‘You should drink the water. It’s supposed to be lucky.’ He knelt down and scooped a handful to his mouth.
I knelt beside him. ‘I’d like to meditate here for a few minutes, if that’s all right.’
‘Of course. Do your hienemarly thing.’ Rinawne grinned. ‘There are usually mushrooms in the hedgerow to the next field. I’ll go gathering while you ponder the mysteries of life.’
Not until Rinawne had left me, his departure accompanied by a theatrical wave of his hand, did I stoop to drink the water. It was as cold as winter, and so pure as to be almost without taste. There was a faint sparkle to it that fizzed in my throat.
‘May the guardians of this site reveal to me it secrets,’ I said aloud, and then composed myself upon the grass, sitting cross-legged with my hands upon my thighs, palms uppermost and open.
I tried to concentrate on the story Rinawne had told me, visualising the har he had named Grass coming through the trees to the pool, his harling in his arms. The image wouldn’t stick in my mind, and on the brief occasions it did, I felt Grass was always looking behind him, as if pursued. I sensed urgency. But another image wanted to impose itself across that of Grass, and it was so strong, eventually I let it have its head.
In the mind picture, I was unsure whether it was day or night time. I caught brief glimpses of something pale through the trees, drawing haphazardly closer to the pool. Within the visualisation I got to my feet, cautiously approached whatever was weaving towards me. I saw a pale figure, its arms held out in front of it, touching the trunks of the trees, as if blind, and trying to feel its way forward. It wore a tattered white robe, and very long white hair fell over its face, obscuring its features completely, but it was not the white of human old age, more like the platinum white found rarely in hara. This must be a har. He was stumbling, disorientated, and now I could hear he was moaning softly, monotonously.
‘Tiahaar,’ I said softly, and the har paused. Then he began to grope his way in my direction.
‘Help… I need…’ The words were broken, ragged with the most awful despair, and shook me from my visualisation.
Opening my eyes, for a moment I too was utterly disorientated, unsure even of where I was, but then the sound of breaking undergrowth brought me to my feet. This was no visualisation. A har dressed in white – a torn robe, filthy to the knees – and with long white hair hanging over his face was trying to reach me. Pitifully, he patted the trees around him, turning in a circle, his robe catching on shrub branches, tearing further. All the while he uttered that relentless, frightened moan.
‘Tiahaar!’ I ran towards him. ‘Stay where you are. I’ll help you.’
As I reached him, the har fell heavily into my arms, and I staggered backwards beneath the burden. His hands clutched my arms, the fingers digging into my flesh, then withdrawing, then digging in again. He smelled… of sickness. ‘Wraeththu,’ he gasped, ‘help me, help me…’
And then… Then there was nothing in my arms, no sense, no physical memory even, of the weight against me. Nothing.
‘So this is your secret,’ I murmured shakily to the glade.
Around me was silence, no birds singing, no rustle of life in the bushes. Not even the soft gurgle of the water as it flowed away to brighter realms.
I sat down heavily where I stood, put my head in my hands, experiencing a strong desire to weep, yet no tears came. Something horrific had happened here once. There could be no mistake. It had left its mark, its imprint, and it was so strong it could feel like the physical weight of a har in my arms.
Ten minutes of deep breathing restored me almost to normality, yet I could still feel quivering anxiety within me, the gift of whatever apparition it was I’d seen.
I heard the sound of a har whistling and guessed this was Rinawne returning to me. For some reason, I knew I would not tell him what had happened; it was as if the har of my vision had begged me to silence.
‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost,’ Rinawne remarked cheerfully as he emerged from the trees.
I smiled, gestured with both arms. ‘Well, I went… quite deep into the landscape.’
Rinawne rolled his eyes. ‘By Aru, don’t end up like Rey and not come out again!’ He sat down beside me. ‘No mushrooms to pick today, sadly. Shall we go back to the Mynd? You can stay for dinner again if you like. And I can show you the whole house. Would you like that?’
I sensed he was speaking to me as if I were… well, perhaps slightly ill. Did I look that bad? I tried to pull myself together, put aside what I’d experienced.
‘I’d love to see the house. Not sure about dinner, though. I need to write up some notes, so I don’t forget things.’
Rinawne slapped my shoulder. ‘Oh, plenty of time for that. You can sit in the library for a while to do your writing. The day is young. Come on!’ He dragged me to my feet.

I’m happy to report that I’ve been able to work on my novel this week – I refused to write another blog post until I could say something positive about the book. I’ve also started another short story for a forthcoming collection. But the most important thing is that I’m able to get back to the full length work. One thing I find I need when working on a novel is immersion – I need to be on it every day, thinking about it, listening to music that inspires scenes, and so on. I can’t just do a bit and leave it for weeks, then go back to it and find it easy to write. If I’ve slipped out its world, I need to get back in.

I had a number of scenes for which I’d written notes and have spent time writing those up. I’m not sure yet where these scenes will go, but as they were there, determined to come out, they needed to be written. These scenes were ‘eerie happenings’, ideas that came to me for the Tower in the story. It’s not exactly haunted but its occupant is.

I wanted to finish off the Alba Sulh sequence of the Wraeththu books, begun with ‘The Hienama’ and ‘Student of Kyme’. In the second one, the story took a rather miserable turn. Unfortunately, that’s what wanted to be written, and few of the characters came out in a good light. For the third one, I wanted a departure and to leave all that angst behind. The main character is Ysobi, who ended up being rather a villain in the previous book. A little punch drunk from his experiences, and also contrite, if not confused as to his earlier behaviour, he takes on a commission to help a rural community establish a spiritual system based upon the landscape and local folklore. He finds a magical, almost surreal environment, where in some of the harish families their human roots are still very important. The family who have hired him still live in the ‘ancestral home’ and it quickly becomes obvious that – like any ancestral home family worth its salt – there are secrets in its past. It’s also clear something unusual happened to the hienama of the community, with hints he disappeared into the landscape, leaving his son in the care of the ruling family. But while it seems Wyva, his brothers, and his chesnari Rinawne are the benevolent leaders of the community, there is another mysterious family, the Whitemanes, who appear to wield more power, certainly in a magical way. The community holds them in awe. Ysobi is soon involved in ancient plots and a personal haunting, while trying to complete the job he was given to do, against a nebulous opposition that seeks to terrify him and drive him away. Ignorant of this undercurrent, the harish community simply sees him as a replacement for their vanished hienama, a job Ysobi really doesn’t want. He’s had his fill of such positions of responsibility and yearns only for the life of a scholar. But nohar else seems keen to take on the position, and Ysobi is shuffled into it, despite his misgivings. He also refuses to be intimidated by his shadowy enemies and resolves to fight back.

Anyway, that’s the idea and there’s a lot more to go into it, but I’m glad I’ve got back to it at last.

Immanion Press news:

We’ll be publishing some of Tanith Lee’s work in e-book, as well a new printed novel called ‘Turquoiselle, which is part of her ‘Colouring Books’ sequence. The e-books will be ‘Kill the Dead’, followed by the Flat Earth series: ‘Night’s Master’, ‘Death’s Master’, ‘Delusion’s Master’ and ‘Delirium’s Mistress’. ‘Kill the Dead’ should be on Kindle very soon, with the others following after.

I have Tanith fans writing to me all the time, bemoaning the fact her work isn’t available in e-book. This is because her work is tied up in rights, and a couple of years ago the UK publisher, Orion, bought up most of her back catalogue for e-book publication (but not all of it.) As I’ve said to those who’ve written to me about it, there’s no point going on Amazon and requesting e-book editions from the original publishers of her books. This is simply because that in most cases they do not hold the rights. The best option for those wishing to campaign on Tanith’s behalf is to contact Orion, who have the majority of her titles. A little nudging, and a clear fan interest, might help the books appear sooner rather than later.

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