Tag Archive: short stories


The Harvest of Smoketide

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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Every time I start a new blog post, it always seems as if I have to begin with ‘sorry for not having posted for ages’, or something similar. I’m not the best of people with social media and blogging. I know what good things they are in many respects, especially for the self-employed, and extra-especially for writers. ‘Get yourself out there more!’ I’m told, by informed friends and acquaintances who use the internet to its limit to promote their work. ‘I will,’ I answer, (usually just to shut them up). I don’t mean it, of course. Is it because I’m lazy, or too busy, or simply feel distaste for this voracious medium? Maybe a bit of all three. I’m certainly not the type to share intimate details of my life with strangers online, or even people I know vaguely. Close friends will get to hear news over the phone, and that’s where it’ll stay. Sometimes I’ll post pictures of my friends and I on Facebook when we’re visiting a site of interest. The only other personal thing I’ll post is pictures of and anecdotes about my cats. (A little disappointing how they always get a ton – literally a ton – more ‘likes’ than posts about writing, whether that’s my writing or someone else’s.) Otherwise, to me, Facebook is for work.

I had a submission the other day, whose accompanying mail began by explaining in great detail the social media success of the writer, how they were such a booming youtuber and so on. Eventually, this mail said, (and here I’m exaggerating just because I can), ‘Oh yeah, and they just wrote this novel.’ My first instinct was to reply with a succinct profanity, but then I let it simmer for a few days and replied, along the lines of: the work is more important than the social media popularity of the author. Unfortunately, the work, when I got to it, was dull, derivative and not any great shakes style-wise. Pass! However, I was so tempted to end my rejection email with, ‘This one isn’t for me, but I guarantee the author will find great success elsewhere.’ I know a lot of (perhaps more sensible) editors and publishers will take one look at all those thousands of ‘youtube’ hits and think to themselves, ‘magnificent, look at all that potential self-promotion’. And quite honestly, they’ll be right. No matter how mediocre the work, if thousands of people are into your blog, there’s a good chance they’ll buy the book you write. I’m old-fashioned and curmudgeonly, I know, but I find that depressing. Does success really have to depend so heavily nowadays on social media and the fleeting popularity you can get on there – often for sod all? For people who share my distaste, I recommend the Charlie Brooker ‘Black Mirror’ episode (series 3 on Netflix), ‘Nosedive’. That to me says it all.

Anyway, onto more cheerful subjects. One of the reasons I’ve not posted is, as I’ve stated honestly (honest) above, is that I’ve just been really busy. For some reason, I took it on myself to produce six books this year – books that will involve my own work, not just other people’s. Five of those titles are through my own Immanion Press, and one is through Ian Whates’ NewCon Press. First off, I’ll talk about the latter. A mockup of the cover (which might be slightly different eventually) is below:

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Back in the 1990s, Louise Coquio and I ran a small press fiction magazine called ‘Visionary Tongue’. I suspect that the majority of people who read my blog and look at my posts on Facebook already know about this venture, and perhaps even contributed to it. But for those who don’t, the thing that set VT apart from other little magazines was that we recruited a team of successful, established writers to act as editors and mentors for new authors. Each accepted contributor got to work with a ‘pro name’, who passed on tips and advice about the stories, as well as a thorough edit. No-one had done that before. Lou and I didn’t realise what a huge job this would turn out to be, and as other commitments mounted up, we realised we hadn’t got the time to continue running the magazine. We passed custodianship to Jamie Spracklen, who kept it running for around a dozen more issues. Some of our contributors went on to have strong writing careers – such as Liz Williams, Justina Robson and Tim Lebbon. When Ian asked me last year if I’d ever published a collection of VT stories as a book and, if not, he’d happily do one, I said yes at once. But… tracking down authors proved impossible in some cases, and even with the help of Jamie and his co-editor Donna Bond, I’ve not managed to trace them all. Ultimately, Ian and I have decided to publish the stories and poems of these ‘missings’ in the book, with the disclaimer that we searched as much as we could, and free copies of the book will be waiting to be handed to ‘missings’ should they ever come across it. Another time-consumer was translating all the stories into electronic versions, since the files for many of the older issues have been lost, as were some of the magazines themselves. Some stories had to be scanned and then carefully edited, which is always a long job. Still, the book is shaping up now and is all but done. I’ve used illustrations that artist Ruby did for the original magazine throughout. The cover too is by Ruby, an adaptation of cover art she did for issue 20. This book is due to be published in September through NewCon Press.

Projects 2, 3 and 4 are Wraeththu-related. Not all of them might appear this year – that depends on contributors. First off, there’s ‘Para Spectral’, a collection of supernatural stories set in the Wraeththu mythos. Whenever Wendy and I start a new ‘Para’ anthology, I always want to get it out the same year. This never happens. The books always take longer than I’d thought – but this is generally down to contributors being so busy and needing extra time to finish submissions. Wendy and I usually write two stories each to go in the ‘Para’ books, so that’s more time I need to find.

The next Wraeththu book is ‘Songs to Earth and Sky’, which revolves around the Deharan Wheel of the Year. This is a reimagining of the familiar Pagan cycle of the seasons, with its eight festivals – several of which survived into the Christian era as Christmas, Easter and so on. The Wheel of the Year in the mythos is known as Arotohar, and each has one – or in some cases two – dehara (or gods) connected with them. I invited a few authors to contribute to the collection, which I’ve long wanted to write. I knew this would be a huge job to do alone, (as I have plans for its interior, as well as simply writing stories), so I chose a few writers to help with the work! Each selected a seasonal festival to base their story around. At the moment, I have two stories to write myself for this anthology but it might end up being three. The proposed (and most desired) release date for this book is December 2017. I want to try and bring it out on the day of Adkaya, which is a few weeks before the winter solstice, a ‘sub-festival’, when the dehar Solarisel delivers the pearl of the sun-harling Elisin, which hatches at the solstice. This seems a propitious time to release the book, so I hope we can keep to the deadline! I’ve just finished writing a story based on Rosatide (or Imbolc), which is currently entitled ‘A Message in Ashes’. This title might change. I’m really pleased with this piece, and again (as with a couple of my recent mythos stories) I’ve been drawn to a harish community out in the wilderness, who are very much in touch with nature. My dream world, obviously. This story took on a life of its own once I began writing it, and has some poignant, if not tragic, moments. I really enjoyed writing it.

The final book related to Wraeththu is the third volume of the ‘Grimoire Dehara’ series I’m writing with Taylor Ellwood. The Deharan magical system is based upon the fictional system in my Wraeththu books, which we’ve expanded into a pop culture magic system. As there was over ten years between book one and two, Taylor and I both feel we need to bring the third one out as soon as possible after the second. This will be the volume that focuses upon ‘Nahir Nuri’, the third tier of the system. We’ve endeavoured to keep these books of interest and use to practitioners who aren’t familiar with Wraeththu, but are intrigued by its androgynous nature in a magical sense. The book will again be fully illustrated by Ruby and me, and will be out in the final quarter of 2017 – all being well.

After these titles, we have ‘The Darkest Midnight in December’, which is a book of traditional Christmas ghost stories. Again, I’m not sure if this will be out this year or the next, but will endeavour to make it this year.

The next book I’ll talk about is currently entitled ‘Brides of Blood and Shadow’, although I’m desperately trying to come up with a different word to ‘Brides’, which has a good ring and rhythm to it, but it’s not what I want to convey about the book. This is a book of pathworkings with what are known as ‘dark goddesses’ – not the motherly types, or love goddesses, or goddesses of hearth and home. These will include deities such as Hecate, Ereshkigal and The Morrigan. Andy Collins and I will write the actual pathworkings together, although I’m doing all the accompanying essays, explaining the symbolism of each goddess. Caroline Wise is writing a guest article for it. Again, I don’t have a firm release date for this. Researching each goddess is taking me some time, (as we’re including some quite obscures ones), along with all the other projects I’m working on simultaneously.

It’s strange but I’m finding it most effective to spread my work out over my working week on these books. I’ll do a chapter of the Dehara, then work on one of the short stories, then write essays on a couple of goddesses. It might be an illusion, but I feel I’m making more progress this way.  Of course, with some books I’m having to wait on the work of others so can’t do much about that. This is good, though, because it means I can concentrate fully on the other books (and stories) and hopefully have them finished by the time I have enough material to put the anthologies together.

So that’s about it for current projects. If anyone would like to submit to ‘Para Spectral’ or ‘The Darkest Midnight in December’, please let me know and I can send details. Mail to editorial(at)Immanion-press(dot)com

 

Summer is virtually here already, but at least most of my plans this year have worked out. A couple of projects have slid into the cupboard under the stairs, but at least one of those is due to be hoiked out and dusted down very shortly.

I’m putting the finishing touches to the ‘Dark in the Day’ weird fiction anthology, which I’m co-editing with Paul Houghton, the Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Staffs University. The book will include the work of several students at the university – both past and present – as well as stories by established writers, and maybe (still not quite decided on this), one or two authors from the early 20th century, whose work is now public domain. The main problem with the latter idea is that the work of dead writers Paul and I would most like to include – Robert Aickman, Oliver Onions and Algernon Blackwood among them – is still very much tied up in copyright, mostly with agents and estates (rather than actual relatives), who demand high sums for reprinting. This is beyond our means. There is other writers’ work available to us, but these wouldn’t be our first choices. But anyway, we do have some great stories from current writers, a few of whom have donated previously unpublished works. I’m also really pleased that John Kaiine, Tanith Lee’s husband, has allowed me to print one of her stories in the collection – as far we know, this has not been published before. Other new stories are from Rosie Garland, Elizabeth Counihan and – me.

I didn’t intend to write something new for this book as I’m so busy, and thought my piece ‘At the Sign of the Leering Angel’ would be a fair example of a weird tale to include in the anthology – it has previously only been published in ‘Dark Discoveries’, a magazine in the States. However, one night in bed last week, while I was reading the ghost (and weird) stories of Edith Wharton before going to sleep, one line from ‘The Looking Glass’ stuck in my mind. From that, a whole story grew. I wrote it in two sessions a couple of days later. The line was ‘…like a guide leading a stranger through the gallery of a palace in the twilight, and now and then lifting a lamp to a shimmering Rembrandt or a jewelled Rubens…’ An image came to me entire of a secret gallery of unsettling works… the story grew swiftly from there.

At the time, I was – and still am – working on a science fiction story for an anthology to which I’ve been asked to contribute. I was keen to get this piece finished last week, as I want to return to ‘Blood, The Phoenix and a Rose’ (my next full length work). But because ‘The Secret Gallery’ made its presence felt so strongly, I had to write it without delay. As a tribute to Ms Wharton, one of the paintings in the gallery is named ‘The Looking Glass.’

This story was also influenced from another direction, or rather the influence insisted to be included whether I wanted it or not. A few weeks ago, I saw the film XXY on DVD, a story about an intersex teenager growing up in an isolated community in Uruguay. The film had a beguiling, fairy-tale ambience, (not least that the family name is Kraken, a mythical sea-monster), and I loved the main character, played by a young female actress, who captured perfectly a shifting ambience of gender. I felt that this character, who might or might not have sharply-honed senses, if not a degree of psychism, would surely go on to have a life of strange and wondrous adventures. She is named – appropriately androgynously – Alex, and my character in ‘The Secret Gallery’ also has this name. The Alex of the film haunted this story. When I’d finished writing and was re-reading the piece, I thought ‘it’s clear now my character is that Alex, who she grew up to be.’ The gallery itself, unintentionally on my part, seems to mirror the protagonist’s life. But then, I suspect, that gallery mirrors the life of any who find their way to its hidden gate.

The weird anthology’s cover will feature a photograph by author Michael Marshall Smith. I always enjoy seeing the strange and haunting photos he posts on Facebook, so asked him if he’d mind if I used one as cover art for this book. Happily, he said yes. The book should be out in the early autumn.

Taylor Ellwood and I have finished writing ‘Grimoire Dehara: Ulani’ and are now only waiting for the final few pictures from Ruby to go in the book. I envisage this title will be out in July at the latest. We’ll then start work on the final book in the series, ‘Grimoire Dehara: Nahir Nuri’, rather than wait another ten years to do the next one – as happened with the first book! ‘Grimoire Dehara: Ulani’ will be published through Megalithica Books, as part of our non-fiction list, as it’s a pop culture magical system based on the magic in the Wraeththu books.

‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’, my three linked Wraeththu novellas have been left alone for a few weeks while I completed the grimoire and worked on short stories, and the editing for ‘Dark in the Day’. However, if all goes well, and I get my science fiction piece finished before Tuesday, (writer meeting that night, so I want to take it with me), I’ll get back to the novellas later in the week. Two of them are written, although need a little work, and I have the idea worked out for the third. I hope to get this book out later in the year, if I don’t get too distracted by other tasks.

I noticed in the ‘Blog Post’ folder, when I was creating a Word document for this post, that my post from June 2015 was about ‘The Shadowbirds’, a novel that was a follow-up to ‘The Moonshawl’. I can’t believe a year has passed since I first thought about that book. I’d begun writing it, too, but then ideas for the current project elbowed it out of the way, and I had to run with that as it was demanding to be written! However, I do still intend to return to ‘The Shadowbirds’ at some point.

Early in my career, I managed to write one novel a year – and this was when I had a day job too – but as time passed, and work for Immanion Press increased, it’s been difficult for me to produce novels so regularly. I’ve also upped my output for short stories, as this is a good way to get your work better known out there in the world. Plus, I enjoy writing them.

My ‘Through the Night Gardens’ project has been put on hold too, and part of the reason for that is I’m not as happy as I used to be in the game Rift, in which I’m creating landscapes to go with the story. The world of Rift is still enchanting to me, but I’m not enchanted by the way the developers now treat their customers and seek to milk relentlessly people who enjoy creating dimensions (the landscapes) in that game. I forgave a lot, but when it got to the point where new art assets were concealed within ‘gambling bags’ you had to buy with real money – and then not be guaranteed contents you’d want or could use – my dissatisfaction spilled over into actual resentment. I understand parting with cash is part of the deal. Rift is free to play, (although I do have a patron subscription to help support it), and needs income to survive. I shelled out quite a lot at the start of my project to fund it, but I prefer to spend my money on what I want and need, not be cheated by randomness, the dreaded RNG of all MMOs. I don’t think that belongs in an activity like dimension-building. I hate leaving projects half finished, especially as I’ve created a special blog for ‘Night Gardens’ and made a fanfare about this transmedia endeavour, so I expect I will return to it at some point, but I can’t escape the fact the experience has been soured for me. This, coupled with all the other work I’m doing, means ‘Night Gardens’ got pushed further back in the queue.

That’s it for current work news – more when I know it. I do want to put down my thoughts about the Warcraft movie, but will save this for a WoW blog post (The Necklace of Evil Faces) – I’ve neglected that blog for a while.

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.

Happy New Year to everyone – hope you had a good seasonal holiday. I have lots of plans for writing projects this year so it’s time to share news of these forthcoming ventures!

First off, I’ve put the next Wraeththu novel on back burner (although safely with a great many notes on the story) for a while, as I’ve launched a new fiction venture – ‘Through the Night Gardens’ –a novel told in part as a serial, which will appear for free on the blog Through the Night Gardens This is a transmedia project, in that it encompasses landscapes created in the MMORPG Rift, and I have plans also to produce an audio book of the story, as well as videos of the landscapes I’ve designed for it. Eventually, this will become a novel produced in the traditional, printed form – and will then include sub-plots and other additional material. For the interactive part, I need to keep it relatively simple, but I hope also this will whet readers’ appetites for the larger work to follow. The first chapter is now online and I intend to release at least one more chapter this month.

However, even though ‘Night Gardens’ is taking a larger part of the stage this year than I thought it would, it doesn’t mean my Wraeththu stories will be totally neglected. Wendy Darling and I are in the latter stages of producing the next shared-world anthology ‘Para Animalia: Creatures of Wraeththu’, which I envisage will be available round about March at the latest. The book includes two new stories from me, and from Wendy, and also tales by E. S. Wynn, Fiona Lane and Nerine Dorman, as well as other Mythos writers. Here is a preview of the cover art by Ruby:

Para Animalia front smaller

I’m also working on a Wraeththu short story collection of my own that will include previously unpublished early works, as well as completely new stories, plus all the Wraeththu Mythos stories I’ve written to date, so as to collect them all in one volume. I don’t yet have a title for this book, but will be writing the stories alongside the chapters for ‘Through the Night Gardens’ throughout the early part of this year. It will contain around half a dozen completely new tales. I’m loosely planning for the Wraeththu collection to be available in the summer.

Additional to these projects, I’m working on ‘Grimoire Dehara: Ulani’ with my colleague Taylor Ellwood, again with the aim of publishing it this year. This is the pop culture magical system based on the Wraeththu mythos, the first volume of which was ‘Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana’. We’ve been asked repeatedly to release the other two volumes in the series, and now have the time to commit to this project.

My short story collection ‘Splinters of Truth’ will be published by NewCon Press to coincide with the Mancunicon convention, this year’s Eastercon, which is held in Manchester.  I will be on hand to help promote the book, as well as appear on a panel with my fellow Night’s Nieces, the writers who donated stories to the Tanith Lee tribute of the same name, which Immanion Press published in December last year.

Immanion Press will be releasing a paperback edition of ‘Animate Objects’, the short story collection by Tanith Lee, which was a special limited edition hardback published to commemorate her ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ at the World Fantasycon in 2013. Tanith fans are often completionists concerning her work, and as only 35 copies of this book were printed, we’ve had a lot of enquiries about it from readers who are desperate to acquire it. Tanith’s husband, John Kaiine, has given the go-ahead for new paperback edition, which will include an additional story and different interior artwork to the original.

That’s the news round-up for now. More to come later.

‘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?