Category: Wraeththu


I’ve realised that it’s almost impossible to plan precisely my writing in advance. I’ve written blog posts over the years describing my intentions but a lot of the time these get modified – not least by the writing taking over and deciding for itself what’s going to happen. I’ve been thinking a lot about my career recently, not least because I hit sixty this year. Can’t believe so much time has passed! It’s frankly very scary. Anyway, I’ll talk about my realisations concerning writing – and Wraeththu – later on. First, current plans (but I – and you – might as well accept now that some of them may be subject to change):

After the successful launch of both the Wraeththu short story collection ‘Para Animalia’ and my new anthology ‘Splinters of Truth’ (the latter published by NewCon Press), I’m now concentrating on other projects. I’d planned initially to release all my Wraeththu short stories in one collection this year, including half a dozen or so new tales. But I’ve had to revise that idea. First of all, after discussing it with various friends, I’ve realised that as nearly all my Wraeththu pieces are still fairly recent, in the ‘Para’ anthologies, there probably isn’t much of  a market for a collected anthology yet. And even if there were, wouldn’t that be short-changing readers somewhat? Another consideration was that when I put all the stories into one book file and formatted it, it was already quite hefty – before any new pieces were added. So to me, this led to one major change in my work schedule this year: ‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’ would comprise all new stories. A comprehensive collection can come later. I’d intended for this book to be fairly simple to compile, with just a few new additions, but no, the book has decided it’s something else entirely, and has clear views on how I must write it.

The initial idea for Wraeththu came from several directions, but primarily it was through my fascination with magic and the unseen. When I began reading books on these subjects as a teenager, I discovered alchemy, and this arcane art enchanted me. Even as a fledgling writer, it filled me with creative ideas. The alchemical rebis, the sacred hermaphrodite, was one of the most compelling images of all, and of course kick-started the idea of a race superior to humanity who were androgynous. In ‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’, those words in themselves alchemical symbols, I want to explore the idea more fully.

So what has this alchemical beast evolved into? So far, the book will consist of three connected novellas, rather like a mini-trilogy, plus a few other pieces that are unconnected with them. I’ve completed the first two novellas. The first story was actually another of those ideas I’d had knocking around on my computer for decades. It was called ‘Song of the Cannibals’. When I began writing it, I didn’t know why it had that name – it had just come to me and I liked it. I imagined I could make the story fit the title as I wrote it and produced at most about three pages of it. Then I let it lie for around thirty years. Looking at my old notes (because I hate to see ideas wasted, however antique they might be), I came across ‘Cannibals’ again, and knew exactly what happened next and where the cannibal aspect came into it. Unfortunately it required junking nearly all of what I’d written, but for the name of the main character, the house where it’s set, and a somewhat sinister visitor. Here is a brief synopsis:

Tambril goes to work for a renowned alchemist/teacher named Melisander, who lives near Ferelithia. In the sprawling house, Sallow Gandaloi, which bustles with students and staff, Tambril discovers an important shrouded secret – his employer’s brother lives in a suite of secluded rooms and is most definitely ‘not right’. Melisander calls the weird Gavensel his ‘brother’, yet they are of completely different skin colours and clearly not related in blood. Yet Melisander never speaks about this. He is a fair and generous employer and teacher, and those living in his establishment, whether to learn or to work, are prepared to ignore or put up with the unnerving and ghostlike Gavensel in order to enjoy all the benefits of Melisander’s patronage. But then, one day, a mysterious visitor, a ‘crow of hara’, arrives at Sallow Gandaloi with an apparently priceless artefact to sell. Or is that his true purpose? Is he not perhaps there to steal rather than sell? And what is it he knows lies hidden in the house, something that is above priceless? Tambril, inevitably, becomes involved in the mystery, which becomes increasingly dark and threatening.

The second tale in the collection, which I finished this week is called ‘Half Sick of Shadows’, and is partly inspired (or perhaps informed) by the poem ‘The Lady of Shalott’, although bizarrely the characters themselves found the connection while I was writing, rather than me choosing deliberately to fit the story around the poem. During one conversation, a har refers to another present as ‘the Lady of Shalott’, and the whole thing took off from there. I didn’t plan this; it just came out. When the har in question seeks out and reads that poem, intrigued, he sees his own life reflected there, as he feels it fits him perfectly. That was pure coincidence rather than design. Or perhaps not coincidence at all! I can’t say any more than this about the story, as to do so would cause spoilers for the first piece.

The final story in this mini-trilogy doesn’t yet have a name. All I know is who the narrator is going to be, and an intriguing one he is too. Can’t say more – sorry! He has to be a surprise. I intend to start working on this piece once I’ve got another short story written, for a science fiction anthology to which I’ve been invited to contribute.

Something that’s been made abundantly clear to me while writing this new material is the thing that fascinates me most at the moment about the world of Wraeththu is how the original, incepted hara have adapted, a hundred years after their species was created. I’ve been hinting, and even overtly saying, for a long time in my stories that the incepted, the First Generation, are often regarded unfavourably by the later pureborns, who equate the incepted with madness, ignorance and instability. As one character in ‘Half Sick of Shadows’ says, ‘Hara like us are obsolete. We were merely mechanisms to get the whole thing going.’ The dust has settled, Wraeththu have gradually evolved into their potential, and continue to do so. But the casualties of war, those who fought for survival at the very start, the progenitors of Wraeththu, how do they fit into the new world, when very often they are scarred veterans of ancient conflicts? In Immanion, there is an establishment for such hara… I suppose much of my fascination lies in the fact that I am so much older now than I was when I first wrote feverishly of Wraeththu and their world. My dust has settled too, to a large degree. Now I’m able to observe my own youth in what I created, my own aspirations and hopes and ideals – my own silliness too, which I look upon with affection rather than regret. Wraeththu, if anything, have become even more intriguing to me.

I’ve written a great deal about hara over the past few years, and until quite recently have sometimes heard this niggling little voice in the back of my mind telling me I shouldn’t just luxuriate in the harish world. Write something else – something more commercial, harps the voice. While I’ve produced quite a lot of short stories not connected with Wraeththu over the past decade, the Magravandias Trilogy was the last full-length work not set in the world of Wraeththu, and that was released around sixteen years ago. That’s far too long, wheedles the voice. Stop indulging yourself! With this in mind, I began work on my ‘Through the Nightgardens’ project late last year, and wrote the first two instalments of this fantasy novel. I planned to write a chapter a month, and allow the first six to be available free online, illustrated by landscapes I created in the MMORPG, Rift. The first two are up, but… I’ve been so busy since the New Year, not just with writing, but with administration tasks and ‘any other business’. I’m also nearly at the end of ‘Grimoire Dehara: Ulani’, the book of pop culture magic, which I’ve been writing with Taylor Ellwood. We want to get this out around summer time. There have been short stories to write as well, as I hate to turn down offers when they appear in my mail. And shorts, while short, still take some time to write. So ‘Nightgardens’ hasn’t progressed as much as I’d hoped. It hasn’t been helped by the fact that Trion, the company who developed and maintain Rift, have changed a lot. I dislike the way they operate now and how they treat their loyal customers. This has soured my feelings towards the game and quite honestly has contributed towards me feeling less inspired to go and work on my landscapes for ‘Nightgardens’ in there. I will take both story and landscapes up again eventually, as I don’t like to leave projects half-finished, especially when I’ve already done so much work on them, but my desire to work on this was so much less than my eagerness to work on ‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’. I love that project and want to complete it before I consider doing anything else.

It was a dilemma I struggled with for a while. My first love really is Wraeththu, and although my books about them have never been popular in the mainstream, they’ve always had a consistent and loyal following. That world has allowed me to explore so much about ourselves, as humans, and so much about gender, through the medium of these sexually unsundered beings. As I said earlier in this post, I’m sixty this year, and I feel now I have to write what I most want to write. I might have another 30 years left to me – or not. We don’t know these things about ourselves, but there comes a moment when you have to accept that the first half of your life is long gone, and time becomes a far more precious commodity. My writing is my legacy. I’m never going to be rich and famous; I got over the hope of that years ago. I’m never going to be the sort of writer who’s in the spotlight, grinning at cameras while I win awards. The disappointment about that disappeared some time ago too. But I do believe in what I write, consider myself a good writer who has worked hard at her craft, and know instinctively it’s what I’m here to do. I’ve never found writing incredibly easy, or felt it pour out in beautiful, perfect streams as if I’m a channel for it – as my late, much-missed friend Tanith Lee experienced. But I do feel I’m approaching the height of my powers as a story-teller, and have decided I don’t want to waste a minute of that trying to write things to please other people, in the hope it will make me more successful. My work is more precious than that and deserves more respect. I often day-dreamed wistfully of living in a big old house, much like the sort I sometimes write about, but know now that’s unlikely to happen. I comfort myself with the thought that if I’d ever had a house like that, I’d probably have been terrified in it – my imagination being what it is. Once I’d cast off these unrealistic hopes and dreams, I got down to the real reward – loving the act of writing, cherishing my developing stories, simply enjoying my work. The freedom that accepting all this gave me, which can only come with age and experience, simply opens up myriad avenues into new creative areas to explore, new stories to discover. And that’s the greatest prize of all.

When I was deciding on what to write next, I contacted a previous editor of mine, asking if they’d be interested in seeing something new from me. Not *publishing* it, mind – nothing so demanding – just *seeing*, considering. I was not even given the politeness of a reply in the negative. I received simply, as has so often been my experience of editors and agents, a deafening, indifferent silence. This is part of the same attitude that kept Tanith Lee’s work away from major publication for years, as well as many others of my generation.

But anyway, resigned and not surprised, I thought, what’s the point of trying to write something that might appeal to editors who are simply looking for the current *hot* topic? Even if you somehow manage to hit the spot, perhaps submitting under an alias, so that your age and experience don’t go against you, the chances are you’ll be discarded just as quickly once the next hot topic or author comes along. Unless you’re J K Rowling or some other, often lesser, writer who’s somehow hit the Young Adult screen/book jackpot, the chances are you’ll be treated dismissively, almost as a necessary nuisance. And that’s even when you have a contract. Screw that!

I’m glad to be out of that carnival of miseries. Creating your own publishing house has its drawbacks – no fat advances for one, learning how to market and promote your work another – but the freedom is exhilarating. Plus the fact that if I’m rude to myself, I can be rude back! It’s very difficult to ignore yourself too. It’s important to secure a trusted editor to work with, who can be a writer friend or colleague willing to do it – because I believe even the most accomplished and experienced author still needs impartial eyes to examine their work prior to publication. But given what happened to Tanith, to me, and to many others, I do advise any authors out there, who are in the same position, to give self-publishing a go. Get all those back catalogue novels out there again that you had published in earlier decades. Allow a new generation of readers be able to immerse themselves in your worlds and visions. It’s not expensive now, either. You can opt, as I did, for a printer/distributor (Lightning Source in my case) who works only with publishing houses – i.e. you have to give yourself a company name and buy some ISBNs for your books from Neilsen’s Bookdata or the US equivalent. Or you can give outfits like Amazon Createspace or Lulu a go. The latter two being more helpful to those who are mystified by the actual publishing process and need a bit of handholding concerning book and cover design.  I could write a whole article on the pros and cons of various publishing routes, and the whole self-publishing experience, and might well do that at some point, but for now, just want to say: you can do it. You don’t have to give up and think there’s no writing future. The internet is our friend. It’s freed us from being manacled to big publishing houses in order to be published at all.

Anyway, that particular rant over, I’ll return to the initial subject. What was I going to start working on next? I’d considered taking the Young Adult path, as most people making pots of money nowadays seem to have tapped into that vein, with huge movie franchises erupting from their books: Hunger Games, Divergent, City of Bones, Twilight, et al. But that’s not something I *want* to do. Even the lure of potential big money doesn’t inspire me to start thinking of a suitable story. In order to write, I have to love what I’m working on and, most importantly, believe in it. Friends have often said to me ‘churn out some chick lit’ or to write about whatever is the current fictional flavour of the month, but I haven’t the heart. Even if I tried, I know my efforts would inevitably turn into something supernatural or weird, because that’s just the way I’m wired. Ordinary simply doesn’t interest me. In my hands, Bridget Jones might possibly have become a psychic mass murderer!

I have synopses for a lot of books on my computer, but inevitably the one that drew me the most was another supernatural mystery, in the same vein as ‘The Moonshawl’, again set in the world of Wraeththu. I’m just not done with those characters, and am still very much *in* that world.  Plus the idea for a story had already come to me, while I was finishing off ‘The Moonshawl’. I’m fascinated by the concept of mass hysteria, how fear itself can be an infection, how superstitious beliefs can become reality if a collection of minds focus strongly enough to vitalise it. I had a vague vision of where this story would happen. Not in the gilded fey lands of Alba Sulh or the exotic yet civilised countries around Almagabra. Not even in the uncharted regions of Jaddayoth, which even in the original Wraeththu trilogy were already feeling the effects of civilisation. I expect it has become a popular tourist location by now!

I wanted to go further, into the corners of the world where the civilising influences of the strongest and most organised tribes had not reached. I saw misty mountains, immense forests, silence, sacredness, savagery, mystery. I saw a pristine body of water worshipped as a deity. I then discovered such a place actually exists: Lake Baikal in Siberia. So I had my basic premise – hara affected by mass hysteria – and a suitable locale.

In the Wraeththu world, civilisation has been pushing both east and west, from cultures who – in the time frame of that world – are only just making contact again following the fall of humanity. Decades have passed, nearly a century. And in that time, all the flotsam of Wraeththu has been driven into the most unfrequented areas. Where else but the frozen north? Into the great territories of Siberia and Mongolia, natural wonders that even in our world are not that familiar to the average person.

But this being a Storm story, the mass hysteria is not simply hysterical. There are supernatural elements at play, or maybe hypernatural. The tribes around Baikal (which will have a different name in the book – just not decided on it yet) have been fashioned from feral hara escaping Gelaming justice (i.e. remnants of Uigenna and Varr tribes), and  others driven out from various once-European countries, who have mingled with hara derived from the native human population of the area.  This is a melting pot of different cultures and beliefs that have dissolved into each other to form a new whole.

A young har falls dead inexplicably in the shallows of the lake, and then his companions, who’d been with him, become ill, debilitatingly so. As these are hara, and sickness is rare and when it does occur short-lived, these developments are terrifying. The local braihara (shamans) cannot cure the condition. They do not know what it is or what caused it. The ruling hara know how to protect themselves physically and psychically, but this is something else they cannot defend against. And it’s targeting their sons. Reluctantly, the most prominent phylarch seeks the aid of the Gelaming, who have an agency in the area. The Gelaming are regarded with contempt and suspicion, but their help seems the only path left open. The Gelaming agents, though, cannot help. They too are mystified, so they contact Immanion, seeking the bigger guns who might eradicate the threat.

So that’s the setup. I then had to decide upon the characters, the protagonists who would be sent to this wild land to solve the mystery. I wanted this to be Ysobi and Nytethorne’s first case, and Ysobi’s old friend Malakess can conveniently involve him in it. But I wanted more than that, something that might potentially interfere with the case. That’s when I decided to include Gesaril, Ysobi’s erstwhile nemesis, in the party heading into the unknown.

It’s not my intention to have another angst-ridden emotional nightmare enacted between them. Fourteen years have passed since the original events described in The Hienama and Student of Kyme. Both hara have found contentment in their lives. Gesaril has powerful friends in Immanion; he’s eager to progress in his career, which involves working with underdeveloped tribes that might require help. This new case, endorsed by Malakess (very powerful), and offered by Gesaril’s mentor Fernici (very influential) is too good to turn down. The downside is that Ysobi is part of the deal. Gesaril can overcome any lingering personal feelings, yes, but when faced with an ex who was part of a fraught and messy breakup, it’s not easy to feel totally comfortable, no matter how much time has passed. Also, Gesaril is aware he’ll have to prove himself among his own party, not just to his supervisors in Immanion. And what he has to face amongst the savage, throwback tribes in Akruviah, as the area is known, will test his strength of every type immeasurably. None of the group have any idea of what they’re heading into.

There is one particularly unpleasant event I’ll have to write I’m not looking forward to, as I’m rather squeamish. I don’t do graphic details of such things, as I hate that sort of torture/killing porn found so often now in books, films and TV shows, but even so, can see them in my head as I’m carefully writing the scenes – implying rather than describing. As a writer, you can’t avoid horror completely, because it’s part of life, and to try and ignore it is to create a simplistic world that’s cosy and fluffy and – well – not real.

So far, I’ve got copious notes to work from and am doing a lot of research on the area and on mass hysteria. I see there’s a new movie out soon, called ‘The Falling’, on the subject, which I’ll have to see. I’ve also read Meg Abbott’s novel ‘Fever’, which is a real page turner and a fascinating study of this group phenomenon, especially among younger people. (Typically, there are synchonicities. Even though I’d decided to write about Baikal before reading this book, ‘Fever’ also features a lake as a possible cause, although that’s where the similarities end, other than the basic idea of group hysteria.) I’m also reading about eagle shamanism, and other aspects of Siberian/Mongolian pagan beliefs.

As far as the plot goes, I’m weaving that as I go along, as I did with ‘The Moonshawl’. So far, I’ve written twenty pages of the book, and that’s really just setting the story up. It’s taking some work to include enough information to satisfy readers new to Wraeththu, but not too much for readers who’ve read all the previous works. As I said, I don’t want to dwell too much on the past history of Gesaril and Ysobi, but it must inevitably play its part, because it contributes to what makes them the hara they are. Also, I think readers enjoy reading about awkward situations and character conflicts. It’s like hearing gossip!

I don’t know how long it will take me to write this book, as I don’t get as much time to write as I used to, and also don’t write as fast as in earlier years. However, I’m aiming to release it early next year at the latest. I feel that once I get over all the setup and can get to the meat of the story, the writing will speed up, as it did with my last novel. But I am working very carefully on the setup, with lots of rereading and rewriting, it’s so important to the frame of the story and has to be just the right balance of past, present… and of course future.

As a taster, here is a segment told from Gesaril’s point of view (at this moment, I’m intending to give both Gesaril and Ysobi first person narratives of their own, as I did for Gimel and Rayojini in ‘Burying the Shadow’). This is not the finished draft by any means, so forgive any roughness and gaps. I’d just like to share the experience of creating this new story.

Except from ‘The Shadowbirds’

Piegull was eight years old when he died. Only a few weeks past feybraiha, vibrating with lust and energy he was ready to throw at life, there was no clear reason for his collapse. They said it was sudden. One moment he and his friends had been racing their hounds beside the great lake, the next Piegull’s body had arched backwards into an unnatural, tortured bow, yet amazingly remained on its feet. A plume of liquid, which the observers said smelled of pus or rot rather than vomit, spurted from his mouth, which was drawn into a rictus grin.  For a few stultifying seconds, as his friends either closed in to assist or shrank back in disgust, Piegull shuddered on his feet. Then his eyes closed. His mouth closed. He fell dead into the shallows where the lake licked the shore.

Two of the young hara who were with Piegull when this event occurred swore later that strange dull green lights had danced above the surface of the lake for nearly a minute. Not far off, quite near, but not close enough to touch. Others did not see these lights.

The young hara carried Piegull home; perhaps they should not have done. Perhaps he should have been burned where he fell. For within hours of Piegull’s body being laid on a bier outside the braihar’s dwelling, other young hara of the tribe fell sick. Illness: a terrifying thing for hara because in extreme forms it is rare. Our bodies are resilient, can fight back, laugh at the organisms that seek to dominate and wither our flesh.

The other young hara did not die, but they were crippled. Haunted by hallucinations of shadowy figures loping around their beds, or eyes gleaming from the dark corners of night time rooms, they became weak, listless, the skin loose upon their bones as if from dehydration. Water, they could keep down, but not milk, nor indeed any solid food. Their eyes sunk into their heads. They whimpered piteously like abandoned puppies.

At first, only the hara who were with Piegull by the lake were affected, but after a week, another young har fell sick, this one not yet at feybraiha. This was the son of Catblood, a har close to the tribe’s leader, Talysman. The braihar of the tribe, and even those called down from the mountain forests to assist him, were not only unable to cure the affliction, but could not divine its cause or origin. Had the lake poisoned the young ones? Had the malediction of another tribe erupted within them? Nohar knew the cause, although many suppositions were offered.

At last, driven by need more than desire, Talysman sent his theruna, Grail, to the Gelaming station fifty miles south. These prissy interlopers, these sly do-gooders, these mealy-mouthed, would-be conquerors, perhaps they might be able to help, seeing as they were super-hara, or considered themselves to be. Talysman was torn. Part of him didn’t want to believe the Gelaming could succeed where his most trusted hara had failed, while another, perhaps more sensible part, hoped that they could. Grail told the Gelaming this when he arrived. He said also that Talysman had to keep his position firm within the tribe; he must solve all dilemmas, vanquish all foes, make miracles. ‘So make a miracle happen for him,’ said Grail, to the astonished har, Therumin, who interviewed him.

Therumin went to investigate the case himself, found only a mystery. He took a healer with him, whose powerful agmara – the life energy of all – had no effect whatsoever on the afflicted hara. Therumin later admitted to us freely he’d anticipated only an afternoon’s work, for the healer to practice his art, then they’d return home. He’d expected a happy result: the tribe would be grateful, and – more importantly – perhaps the beginnings of a more trusting relationship would be forged. This did not happen – any of it.

Talysman would not speak to the Gelaming himself; Grail and the braihar led them round.

After a few hours, the healer murmured to Therumin, ‘This is beyond us. This is… I don’t know what it is. But we should know. We must know.

The implications hung like burned rags in his words. If these hara could be made sick like this, might not the illness travel, become an epidemic? Was this perhaps a remnant of some human biological weapon? Humans had tried many things to kill hara; such weapons had been generally the most effective. Yet we believed we’d conquered those long ago, made them toothless. Had something survived in the soil around the sacred lake, something we’d not encountered before?

The lake too was mysterious, always had been, long before Wraeththu walked the earth. Could its waters be responsible, as some had suggested? But the lake was regarded as a hostling to those who lived around it; inexorable, inscrutable, but ultimately benign.

Therumin knew he should not waste time. As soon as he returned to his station, he had his pod of listeners contact Immanion.

In Immanion, after some discussion had taken place, the Guild of Listeners contacted the Temple of Wellbeing, who contacted the office within it presided over by my mentor and employer, Fernici. I knew he’d always had an interest in that part of the world – mostly our work revolved around hara from the earliest of times of our species, who’d not evolved as they should have done, who were afflicted or maimed in one way or another, if only socially or culturally. Occasionally, the work had involved sizeable groups of hara, not merely individuals.

Fernici summoned me to his office. He is an ethereal creature in some respects; a century old yet appears still kissed with the fine brush of feybraiha. His inception, they say, was unusual, yet he does not speak of it. ‘The thing is, Gesaril,’ he said, his long hands expressive as they moulded the air, ‘throughout our history, the flotsam of Wraeththu has been continually swept northeast from the west, or northwest from the east. Up into the cold – I expect that was the idea. But what lives there now…’ He was pacing. He always paces when his interest is most ignited. ‘…strange evolutions, throwbacks… They killed some of our agents up there around a decade ago. Now, the station near the lake is heavily fortified. Yet it is intriguing, like a nature reserve. Dangerous predators, beautiful in their savagery perhaps…’ He shook his head, laughed. ‘Listen to me! Almost salivating!’ He paused, fixed me with his swift arrow stare. ‘I’d like you to go. Investigate. If possible, solve the problem.’

While I’d been on field trips before, they had not been particularly major cases. I was flattered Fernici wanted me on this job. ‘When do we leave?’

‘Oh, not me,’ he said, waving an arm at me and turning his back to examine a sheaf of papers he’d left on the low table that served as a desk, ‘much as I’d like to go, I can’t at present, so I’ll send only you from this department.’

Not you?’ I said, alarmed.

‘There will be a team,’ he said, ‘security, a couple of other investigators. I’ll speak to Malakess.’

‘Oh…’ A heaviness dropped over me that was faint dread. I hoped Malakess wouldn’t be on the team. Despite our attempts to be polite to one another, there was still discord between us; slight and easily ignored in the vastness of Immanion but perhaps prickly and uncomfortable within a small team far from home.

‘I doubt he’ll go himself,’ Fernici added, having read my discomfort accurately. He peered at me keenly, ‘Gesaril, it must be at least fourteen years ago, surely?’

I glanced away from him. ‘One of my faults is I find it hard to forget excruciating embarrassment.’

Fernici smiled. ‘Well, this is work, so overcome your personal feelings.’ His smile widened to a grin. ‘Also, it could be worse, couldn’t it? Malakess is the least of your historical demons.’

I grimaced at him, wishing wine on the occasional nights we had spent together had not loosened my tongue.  We’d swapped stories of our histories, (or more accurately I had told him much of mine), but the problem is that however therapeutic such spillings might be, the result is always that somehar knows more about you than you’d like. Still, Fernici’s words tolled a bell within me like an omen. Malakess har Kyme, with whom I’d once been intimate back in our home country of Alba Sulh, was a pale ghost in comparison to the one he’d once reminded me of. Malakess was a substitute, an imitation. I realised I’d not thought of the original demon for perhaps nearly a year: Ysobi har Sulh. So, that was healing too, I suppose.

‘The Moonshawl’ is out today! We’re having a promotion on Amazon in which the ebook version of the novel is available free for five days. And there will be a Goodreads Giveaway also in the next day or so.

As part of the promotion for the book I’ve done some guest posts on a few blogs, and here are links to the first of them:

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2014/12/guest-post-storm-constantine-offers-a-glimpse-into-the-working-life-of-a-writer/

http://www.fantasybookcafe.com/2014/12/guest-post-storm-constantine-on-inspirations-for-wraeththu/

http://www.afantasticallibrarian.com/2014/12/author-query-storm-constantine.html

Many thanks to the owners of these blogs/sites who allowed me to visit!

I’m yet to decide for sure what full length novel I’ll be working on next year. I do have several short stories to finish, plus the anthology for Ian Whates’ Newcon Press, which will include several new pieces. I’ve also been talking with Taylor Ellwood (my colleague at Megalithica Books) about doing further work on the Grimoire Dehara magical system.  Plenty of ideas – just have to make a decision about order of work!

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.