Smoketide is the Wraeththu equivalent of the autumn equinox, which is upon us! It’s been such a busy year – and I’m horrified to find it’s now in its last quarter. I took on a lot of work but fortunately most of the projects are either finished or nearing completion. Only a couple have been shuffled into next year.

The Wraeththu seasonal anthology ‘Songs to Earth and Sky’, featuring stories by me and a few other writers is on track to be published on 14th December – the deharan festival of Adkaya. I’m in the process of organising a launch event for it, in collaboration with local businesswoman Maggie Jennings, who runs ‘Hart’s Magical Gifts’, a New Age/Witchcraft shop in Stafford.  More details of that when the event has been fully organised.

I’ve written three stories for this collection. The first one, ‘A Message in Ashes’ focuses on the festival of Rosatide on 1st February. This is traditionally a time of reawakening, of the first stirrings of spring. But what came to me for this piece isn’t simply about the turning of the year. As I began writing it, and more so as the story developed, I found myself thinking about how much us humans are prey to disease and conditions, and we are terrified of them, but for a species who is less prey to these horrors, when they do strike, they will be triply terrifying – if not more so. ‘A Message in Ashes’ is told by a narrator who witnesses a har born without the full protection a harish form should provide against disease. It’s not a miserable tale, but inevitably has its poignant moments. Primarily, it’s about learning, coming of age, growing up – in the sense of undergoing inner realisations rather than physical changes.

The second story ‘The Old Fierce Pull of Blood’ revolves around the festival of Reaptide –more commonly known as Lughnasadh or Lammas, on 1st August. I’ve always found this time of year to be wonderfully spooky – the weeks when ghosts might walk at mid-day. As I was writing it, I came across a usefully inspirational film on this subject on Netflix. It’s now called ‘Trauma’ (and you can also buy the DVD under that name, which I subsequently did), but its original title was ‘Lavender’.  It’s not particularly gory, nor particularly horrifying, but it is creepy and atmospheric. A photographer is drawn to take pictures of an old house, which she doesn’t realise has some historical attachment to her. The story goes on from there, and while it doesn’t offer anything radically new to the haunted house genre, it is a pleasurable watch for fans of ghost stories. But some aspects lifted it above the run of the mill norm. The thing that appealed to me most was the landscape of high summer, how the ghosts there walk at mid-day, in full light, often unseen, and that sunlight can be no less scary than darkness. I watched the film 3 times while writing the story to get into that ambience – the slant of light across a field, with the shadow of trees reaching out like hands; a hazy horizon beneath the sun; the heavy branches of trees weighed down with their foliage, the somehow pregnant stillness and a sense of imminence – something waiting to happen in the hot, breathless day. That was the feeling I sought to put into my story.

My tale is also inspired by an old house known as Guy’s Cliffe in Warwickshire, and the landscape around it. The place is well worth a visit. For a long time, the ruin of the house was off-limits, privately-owned and inaccessible, but in recent years it came into the hands of the Freemasons of Warwickshire, to whom it was donated. Now, it’s open to the public and you can book a tour around the house and land. Not much of the house remains, but the Masons have a couple of temple rooms in the old chapel, which is still intact. Parts of the remaining building have been converted into function rooms that can be hired for events. The old mill to the estate is now a restaurant called The Saxon Mill, (and an excellent one at that). The mill wheel still turns in a shadowed chamber, and wooden decking now allows visitors to sit right at, if not over, the lake side, to catch glimpses of Guy’s Cliffe through the trees. The lake is technically a river, but is wide at that point, with a thundering weir behind the inn. In summertime, the huge ancient trees are lush, their foliage hiding most of the old house. Nearby, across a crop field, lies a weird old church with a pyramid-topped spire. There are several tales about the house and its environs that I won’t go into here, but when I was writing ‘The Old Fierce Pull of Blood’ I was transported back there continually. The story involves a young har who goes to work at a large garden nursery specialising in roses for medicine and magic, which has developed from the ruins of an old rural estate. The land is haunted, of course, and as Reaptide draws near, the ghosts wax strong. The present begins to mirror the past, with weird and dramatic consequences, and a mysterious ‘guiser’ troupe set up camp in the field by the river – masked mummers, who might not be what they seem. Verdiferel, the dehar of Reaptide, can be tricksy and cruel, or he can be kind and benevolent. It depends which mask he wears, and the har who catches sight of the dehar at this time of year is responsible for shaping the mask – often without knowing it.

The final story is a sequel to ‘The Old Fierce Pull of Blood’, and is named ‘Solarisel’s Covenant.’ This is set many years after the Reaptide piece, at Adkaya. This mini-festival lies two weeks before the winter solstice, when the dehar Solarisel gives birth to the pearl that will hatch at Natalia into the infant sun-dehar, Elisin. Isoldis, the protagonist of the Reaptide story, is en route to a growers’ assembly some distance from home, and as the snow falls in the build up to Natalia, he comes across a secret at an old coaching inn. He’s never been there in his life, yet it appears the staff know him – he’s told he’d been a guest there only a couple of night before. Isoldis thinks at first the guest must have been a har who looks like him, then events unfold during the night that reveal a different reason, if not a different reality.

The other stories I’ve had in so far for the collection are two from Nerine Dorman (The Dreamstone for Bloomtide, the spring equinox, and ‘Isangxa’s Gift’ for Cuttingtide, the summer solstice.) These stories are set in South Africa, so deviate from the typical seasonal trappings found in northern climes. I like the way this expands the mythos into new territories. Nerine has come up with some colourful, new, indigenous dehara too. E. S. Wynn has written a story based around Shadetide, known to us as Halloween, which involves a har taking on the persona of Lachrymide, the dehar of this season, to combat a threat to his tribe. Fiona Lane’s contribution is set at the winter solstice festival of Natalia, when a disruption in the cycle of the seasons calls for a hienama to take radical, magical action. Fiona always writes with a witty touch, and this story doesn’t fail to deliver that, but it’s also immensely poignant and touching – it literally brought tears to my eyes when I read through it. Two further stories are due for delivery in the very near future to complete the book. Cover art will be by Ruby.

The second book from Immanion Press due to be published on 14th December is ‘The Darkest Midnight in December’, ghost stories for Christmas. This is a traditional English sub-genre of the ghost story and you’ll find many collections of such tales on Amazon. The original idea was that this book would follow in the foot-steps of ‘Dark in the Day’, the weird fiction anthology we published to showcase the work of creative writing students at Staffs University, along with established authors. As it turned out, I didn’t get any stories from existing students at the university, but went ahead with the project (since I’d formally announced it), and asked for stories from writer friends and colleagues, so I’d have enough to fill a book. I was surprised that young or aspiring writers don’t leap at the chance to be published in a ‘proper book’, with comparatively little effort on their part, so that it might aid their chances of publication once they’ve finished their studies. I know I’d have been really grateful to be offered something like that when I was starting my career. But I guess times have changed… Anyway, contributors to the anthology include Rosie Garland, Wendy Darling, Louise Coquio, Hannah Kate, Nerine Dorman, Rhys Hughes, J. E. Bryant, Fiona McGavin, Jessica Gilling, Misha Herwin, Adele Marie Park and Fiona Lane. As you can see from that list, I asked several of the Wraeththu Mythos writers to submit, and I’m grateful they obliged me! Cover art will be by Danielle Lainton.

As for the third book in the Dehara magical series, ‘Grimoire Dehara: Nahir Nuri’, the plan is to bring it out this year – it all depends on how much time Taylor and I get to finish it. We’re about a third of the way through and will do our best! The book will be illustrated by Ruby and have a cover by her to match the previous two paperbacks. There will also be a hardback limited edition of the title.

The two books that have been shuffled into 2018 are ‘She Demon’, my collaboration with Andy Collins, which is a collection of path-workings with various faces of the dark goddess, and ‘Para Spectral’, the fifth of the Wraeththu Mythos ‘Para’ anthologies. Time has been an obstacle with both these books. Andy has been swamped with work, and I’ve had a lot on my plate with the other books I’ve been working on. As for ‘Para Spectral’, some of the prospective authors have been writing stories for other Immanion Press books I’ve mentioned previously, (along with all their other work), so it made sense to move this title forward to give everyone much more time.

That’s all the news on my work for now. I have tentative plans to start a new novel next year, but will have to see how time and other projects go!

 

 

 

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