Saturday, 31 December 2011

Year's End

Hello there.

There’s no fiction today. I’m still working on the next prologue, which should be up in the next couple of days all being well. I’m having some issues with the tone of it but we’ll see how it goes. You can tell me what you think.

So, no fiction. I just thought it’d be good to do a post as it’s the last day of 2011. Sort of a round-up and a thank you sort of thing. It’s been an interesting year in which quite a lot didn’t really work out how I hoped it would, but given what I was aiming for, it’s not a massive surprise that they didn’t on the first attempt. There have been good things too, I wouldn't want to give the impression that there hadn't been. Plus I saw two PJ Harvey gigs in two days. And Michael Sheen thanked me for moving out of his way at the first gig. I think I said "No problem" but it may have been "Nyaadyrha" or something similar.

2012, though. I am constructing plans for 2012. Plans and strategies. There’s the novel that will hopefully continue to cooperate as it has been doing. I’m very pleased that you seem to have been enjoying the prologues that I’ve been putting up. At least, if you haven’t been enjoying them, you haven’t told me. So there’s that, which I will keep working on. What I’m really hoping for is that it will have an actual plot which, as I think I’ve discussed on this blog before, is not typical for the things that I’ve written. So far I’ve really enjoyed writing the characters. Wendy and Solveig were both completely new characters for me, as is the upcoming vampire, and I’m having a lot of fun with them. Mathieu, Émilie Étienne, and the monster are characters I’ve written before, but they will grow and change quite a lot. Big fun, basically.

Novel aside (if and when I think of a title, I will tell you), there are other plans afoot. There’s Anna Land Comes Home, which was ever-so-slightly put on hold for a bit. That would be, as you may remember, the script I am writing for Benjamin Sheppard (read his blog Treppenwitz here). A first draft was finished, and when I say first draft, I mean that about three words will not be changed. The rest will be ripped out and gutted and we will never mention them again. I’m looking forward to getting the Parisian Martin Parsons involved as he helped to come up with the idea in the first place, and there’s the fantastic music from Dr. Iain McGibbon that we’ll get to use. Early stages. Early, early stages. But still, something good may come of it.

Other plans are in even earlier stages, involving collaborations and generally aiming for better promotion, and getting things finished. It’s much too early to even consider talking about these, but I’m excited by the idea of them.

There are also non-fiction plans in the offing. I would like to remind you to keep checking out the blog that Mr. Martin Parsons and I write film reviews for: Fohnhouse. Plus there are more academic plans afoot but we'll see how that goes. And if I bump into Michael Sheen again I will calmly tell him how much I admire his work.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank friends of this blog. It’s not widely read, but some very kind people have been helping to get it read a bit more...widely. My good friends Mr. Benjamin Sheppard, Dr. Iain McGibbon, Mr. Nate Barker, Mr. David Hayes (his livejournal thing here) and Ms. Avgi Daferera have been wonderful at spreading the word and telling me what they think, new friends Mr. John Josiah and Mrs. Stacey Siddons (her blog here) have been brilliant at re-tweeting my shambolic self-promotion, as have lovely Twitter friends Mr. Dan Cole (gizmo151183, find him on the Twitter) and SongWarmonger (her blog here). (I don’t know how kosher it is putting @ before twitter names on blogs. Is it kosher? Apologies). I would also like to mention a blog called Sarahcastically as Sarah has kindly put me in her links sidebar, which sounds like I’m saying that sarcastically though I’m not. And how could I forget my friends and fellow writers of horror at Tales from the Red Barn: Mr. Adam Z. Robinson and Mr. Max Dorey.

And thank you for reading this. I hope you’ve been enjoying it, and I'm very glad if so. Hopefully we can keep that going.

I’ll see you in the New Year.


Oh, here's a song!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

We Do This Every Year: A Christmas Story

I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel and flicked the ash from my cigarette out of the open window. Sarah shivered audibly to let me know that she was cold. I took another drag and she cleared her throat.

“Couldn’t you close the window? It’s freezing?”

“Sorry, do you want me to smoke with the window up? With a child in the car?”

She sniffed loudly and looked out of the window. I was being difficult on purpose. It was her friend that was late. This friend from the hospital she’d suddenly found three weeks ago who had a house in the woods that was exactly what we had been looking for. This friend who we were supposed to be very nice to. I knew Sarah had a lot of friends but she’d never actually introduced us to any of them before. I looked at Joe in the rear-view mirror. He had that “the grown-ups are fighting” look on his face so I turned round.

“He’ll be here in a minute, Joe. We’ll get there in plenty of time, don’t worry about it.”

Joe managed a small grin. Joe’s my brother’s boy. I look after him every Christmas; give him a break from the orphanage. Take him out Christmas Eve; drop him back on Boxing Day. He’s doing alright. Well, as alright as he could be, living there. I would take him all year round, I really would, but I’m away all the time in different places and I couldn’t be taking a kid where I’m going. I tell myself that’s why I don’t take him, anyway.

And Sarah, well, I’ve been seeing Sarah off and on for years. We met and discovered we came from similar backgrounds, that we had similar needs. It could be good and it could be awful. We weren't doing well. Pressures of this time of year, it’s always tough. She'd dyed her hair black again which she only seemed to do to let me know she was unhappy. I took another drag off the cigarette and tried to blow the smoke out of the window.

“Here he is, look,” said Sarah and I tapped the steering wheel again.

The old man looked like he could barely walk, shuffling along the pavement to the car. I wondered if I should get out and help him in but decided against it pretty quickly. If he was with us then he could make his own way. He opened the door and sat down heavily in the back. A lock of his hair fell in front of glasses which he smoothed back over his scalp. Sarah gave him a smile that I just knew was designed to make me jealous, which I ignored. I gave him a polite nod, and Joe looked at me to see what he should do before giving him a nod too.

“So...” I started, but the old man waved his hand.

“Just start driving,” he croaked. “I’ll tell you how to get there.”

I did what I was told. No time to lose.

It was a couple of hours on the motorway before we turned off and got onto the narrow country lanes. It got dark early and I knew that we were all anxious to get there. I went as fast as I could but didn’t break any speed limits or do anything that could have been seen as dangerous driving. Thank Christ the snow had been cleared off the roads. The old man looked like he was asleep in the back but occasionally he’d growl an instruction.

Finally we reached it. A dirt road sheltered from snow by massive overhanging trees led to a small cottage by a lake. Sounds idyllic, and the setting was, but it was barely two stories, hardly the glamorous retreat Sarah had made it out to be. I resisted the urge to voice my opinion that it looked like a fucking shithole, and gestured to Joe to keep his mouth shut. He wouldn’t have said anything anyway, he’s a good lad. Sarah helped the old man out of the car and pretended not to notice his hand grazing her arse as she helped him towards the front door.

I got the bags out of the boot and followed them up the front steps. It was nicer inside. The front door opened onto a spacious living room/kitchen sort of combination, and a narrow staircase went up the far wall. It looked cosy.

“I’m upstairs, Sarah too,” the old man said. He saw the look on my face and grinned. “Two bedrooms. Don’t get jealous for no reason. There’s a room for the boy, too. Sarah said you’d be fine on the sofa.”

I nodded. I’m sure he was looking for a reaction but the truth was I didn’t expect to sleep at all. Sarah and the old man went upstairs. When Joe looked for permission to follow I nodded. He took the bags from me and went up after them. When they’d gone I stepped outside again and felt the cold wind coming in off the lake. Its whistling was the only sound I could hear. We really were all alone out here. So much the better.

We ate early. Sandwiches from the supermarket. No one really said anything. No one wanted to be the one to address the issue at hand so we all just sat there, eating in virtual silence. The clock struck nine and we started yawning. Before long, Sarah and the old man had gone upstairs. Joe looked at me sleepily.

“I don’t want to this year. I can’t Do we have to?”

“I know you don’t to, son. But we don’t have a choice, do we? Come on, it’ll all be over in the morning.”

He shook his head and went upstairs. I felt bad. I did. I wish I could have said more to comfort him but there wasn’t really anything to say. I heard some muffled talking from upstairs and the sound of doors closing. I sat down on the sofa and stared out of the window. There was no denying the beauty of this place. The snow on the trees, the ice on the lake. It was like a Christmas card.

I must have fallen asleep because I came to with a start.

She was standing in the middle of the room about two feet away from me. Mum. Looking like she did when she used to drop me off at school, when she used to tell me that if I worked hard I could be anything I wanted to be, not like she did at the end. Smiling at me like nothing was wrong. I took a deep breath.

“It’s starting, isn’t it?” I asked.

She nodded.

“Do we have to? This year, this one year, can’t you leave me alone?”

She shook her head.

“You know that I didn’t mean to, don’t you? And she fucking knows that, doesn’t she?”

Mum didn’t lose that smile.

“She knows. It doesn’t make a difference. She’s coming, Henry, she’ll be here in a minute.”

I couldn’t take it. I never could.

I heard Joe cry out from upstairs. I could smell that smoke that I knew couldn’t possibly be there. I knew what I’d see if I went upstairs. I’d see my brother and his wife wreathed in flames, their skin cooking, holding their hands out and demanding to know how the fire had started. I’d see Joe weeping on the bed, howling how sorry he was, that he hadn’t known what he was doing.

Sarah started to scream. I knew she was seeing a teenage girl in school uniform, clothes sopping wet, mouth wide open trying desperately to get that breath she needed, wanting know why the game hadn’t finished, why Sarah hadn’t stopped holding her down when the other kids had let her go. I’d see Sarah on the floor, screaming that it hadn’t just been her, demanding to know why she wouldn’t leave her alone.

I got up and went to the foot of the stairs. The old man was shuffling backwards out of his bedroom, wearing light blue pyjama bottoms and no shirt, and just before I turned away I swear I saw some long, broken fingers inching their way towards him. He was trying to scream but couldn’t get the sound out. I knew from the look on his face that I never wanted to know what he was looking at.

I ran. Straight out of the front door, down the front steps, and into the woods. I ran as fast as I could for as far as I could before my legs gave out from under me and I went down on my knees. I knew she was there before I looked up.

She was standing in her white nightgown, bare feet. Long brown hair, barely out of her teens. She was rubbing the sleep from her eyes and looked at me, trying to think if she knew me. I had to watch the realisation dawn on her that I was a stranger, that she needed to be frightened. I had to watch her mouth open and see her lower lip start to quiver. That hesitation, her trying to think if she should turn to run or try and reason with me. And I did the same thing I do every year. I tried to tell her that she should be quiet, I didn’t want to hurt her, I was already going. But there was that banging sound from the next room and I was so startled that the finger I had curled around the trigger instinctively flinched. And the red patch blossomed on the front of her nightdress like it always did.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t want to.”

But that didn’t make a difference. And her expression changed, as it did every year, from terrible sorrow and confusion to the darkest rage. Her eyes went black. Her teeth lengthened and sharpened. Her hands became claws, and she screamed. Or maybe that was me screaming. And she ran at me.

It was morning by the time I managed to drag myself back to the house. Joe was putting the chairs and table back in their right place. The banister on the stairs was completely smashed, and the old man lay on his back in the middle of the living room floor. Sarah was laying a sheet over him as I walked in. I could smell the turkey in the oven. There were three places set on the table. I went over to the corner and found my bag. Joe and Sarah’s presents were in there. I smiled at Sarah as she walked over the kitchen, ruffling Joe's hair as she went.

If you wondering, she did show me my future. I know it’s the same for all of us. The same thing every year. It doesn’t matter where we are. We do this every year.

“Smells good,” I said.


Hello there. I hope you enjoyed my Christmas ghost story.

Yes, so, that wasn't particularly full of Christmas cheer. So I apologise for that. I hope you enjoyed it anyway. This went through a few changes. I wanted to write a dark Christmas story. Initially I thought about doing something a bit more traditionally Christmassy, or Christmas-quirky anyway. Then I had the idea for this and it just stuck. I thought about making it a period costume thing, then I thought about setting it in America, but finally I just thought I'd keep it simple. It's not the setting that's important; it's what happens in it. It was also a lot of fun to write something in first person again, unpleasant as Henry may be.

If you want a good Christmas story, there'll be a great one on Adam Z. Robinson and Max Dorey's Tales from the Red Barn blog on Wednesday. Great stories and great illustrations. That's how those boys do it. Tell your friends.

Things are continuing in much the same way elsewhere, I'm on the verge of a plan. I think. Who knows. Christmas is a good time for me, despite what you might think reading this! I would recommend that you go and see Carol Morley's documentary on Joyce Carol Vincent, Dreams of a Life. Not only is it incredibly moving and sad story, it's such a fascinating reminder of how there's so much we don't know about each other.

Anyway, I hope you all have a lovely Christmas. I'm very grateful to everyone who's read the blog this year and to those of you who've let me know what you've thought. I hope you’ve been enjoying this blog over the past few months. There may be another post between Christmas and New Year, but for now, let me leave you with this:

and the even stranger real-life counterpart

Monday, 12 December 2011

Fifth Prologue - The Wolf

Hello again. Or, you know, welcome if you've not been here before. The collection of prologues rambles on. As you probably remember, each one is presenting a character from the great lump of fiction I'm currently working on at the start of their journey. We've had The Monster, Wendy parts One and Two, and The Killer and The Witch. I've tried to build the plot a bit with each one, so I would recommend reading them chronologically. But if you're up to speed, here's Solveig. Hope you enjoy it


It was getting close to 2am when Solveig steered the car off the autobahn and into a spot far enough from the petrol station. Dorothy undid her seatbelt and arched her back. “Do you want anything?” she asked, turning to Solveig with a smile, tilting her head forward so her black hair framed her wicked grin. Solveig had seen her do it before and was no longer impressed.

“I’m not hungry,” said Solveig, and Dorothy grinned.

“Liar. Be back in a minute.”

She slipped out of the car and closed the door softly behind her. When Dorothy was out of sight Solveig sighed and pulled her phone out of her pocket. She could never get used to these disposable ones. She'd been told not to attach names to any of the numbers. To be fair, she wasn’t getting a lot of messages. It would either be Otto or the head office. None of her friends had this number. But it was boring work, driving around on these night shifts. She would have had trouble staying awake if she hadn’t been so nervous around Dorothy. No, not nervous. Cautious. And caution was sensible, she knew that.

It wasn’t as if she had a choice, not really. This collaboration, this partnership was her obligation. There were to be fifty teams across Europe, one wolf partnered with one vampire, and she had been asked. It had happened about six months ago. She’d been called, along with her husband and a lot of men and women she didn’t know, to the local head office. They had been told what the situation was. If you wanted to keep living in the community, if you wanted your kids to keep getting taken care of, there were new conditions. Solveig hadn’t resented it, not really. She'd been told that, because of her standing in the community and her age (nearly forty, a couple of months to go), she could be relied upon to be sensible and a good ambassador. She took the car keys and she took the gun and she shook hands with the dark-haired, pale-skinned woman with the big grin and off she went.

Dorothy wasn’t too bad. She was vindictive and she was vicious, but that was par for the course. Solveig knew that. As long as she kept what she did out of Solveig’s face then there wouldn’t be a problem. She knew that the creature couldn’t change how she was any more than she herself could. She didn’t have to like the fact that she would sneak off for a snack every now and again, but she could ignore it. She could even ignore the fact that Dorothy called her Wolfmother. What she couldn't ignore, and what she'd made very clear to Dorothy, was that any further reference to her children would result in serious reprisals. So Dorothy pretended that she was teasing Solveig about her music choices and didn't drop the nickname.

She muttered as she pulled her thick woollen jumper free from her underarms. Freezing weather or not, she hated driving in warm clothes. But it was force of habit, partly for the time of year and partly for her passenger. She liked the idea of several layers between her skin and Dorothy. Her phone buzzed. A text from Otto. He was doing the exact same thing with his partner. “Yawn,” it said. Solveig smiled. Neither of them had had much to do since they had started. They’d never been expressly forbidden from talking about what they were up to while on duty, so of course they talked about freely when they saw each other. They both agreed that the training had been easy enough. Solveig had needed to shift a bit of the baby weight but it had mostly come off, and stayed off. She wasn't going to be running any marathons any time soon but it wasn't as if she could outrun Dorothy anyway. They had been told to introduce themselves as detectives if they ever needed to, because that was what they were. Unofficially, of course. It wasn’t like they had any authority over people. But over the vampires, werewolves, and all the other monsters that were dotted around this area, they had the authority to do whatever they wanted.

She occasionally wondered what would have happened if she’d said no. She knew she would have to, of course, but she had thought about what would have happened if she’d said no. Solveig and Otto had given the offer some cursory discussion. But it had only been cursory. They’d both lived in the community all their lives. They had two small children. There really was nothing to do but take the job. The community had asked for them and it would have been wrong to turn them down. They had not thought that it would last for so long.

Wolves and vampires didn’t get on. They were different. If they left each other alone, that was one thing. But this forced collaboration felt like a measure that was doomed before it began. But it was an apology measure.

Solveig had thought that it hadn’t been apology enough. She had known the Schmidt family. She wouldn’t have called them as friends, exactly, but she had known them. And she had seen the photographs of their bodies. All of the bodies, from the grandparents in their bed to the baby that had been found in the cooking pot. The vampire responsible had had his arms and legs removed before being left outside for the sun in front of a select group of friends and relations. Solveig thought he got off easy. There were worse things than burning.

So now the vampires and wolves patrolled together. “Deal with any offences that you find,” they had been told. What Solveig found hard to understand was what sort of offence they were looking for. As repulsive as she found the vampire’s need to drink blood, it was what they did. It wasn’t as if she could grab a vampire by the hair, pull it away from the lonely teenager with a gaping neck wound, and tell it she was taking it down to the station. So far the entire extent of her police work had been having a word with any monster that had been seen hanging around, making sure that they weren’t wanted for anything, and then sending them on their way. Every now and then she wondered what Dorothy had been told. But that kind of thinking wasn’t helpful.

Solveig’s phone buzzed again. She fished it back out of her pocket and checked it. One message, number withheld, though she recognised it instantly.

“Put her to bed.”

Solveig had been prepared for this but found herself breathing a little quicker. There was no time to wonder why this message had been sent. She looked out of the passenger window and saw Dorothy returning to the car. She felt around her inside jacket pocket until she found what she was looking for. The door opened and Dorothy slid inside. She wiped her lower lip with her glove and Solveig saw it glisten slightly. She thought about what Dorothy must have left behind and felt a little better about what she was about to do.

“All better,” said Dorothy. “Ready to go?”

When Solveig didn’t reply, Dorothy turned to look at her. Her eyes widened and Solveig knew that she’d realised what was happening. No time.


Solveig’s arm whipped out of her jacket. Her hand flew across the space between them and onto Dorothy’s chest, planting the silver stake right through her black woollen jumper, past her ribs, and into her heart. Dorothy screamed and writhed. Solveig held tight. She had practiced this manoeuvre many times but never with a real vampire. She also knew that Dorothy had fed. This was not ideal.

All the blood that Dorothy had just consumed was pumping quickly out again over the stake, making it hard for Solveig to keep her grip. Her hand could not slip. It was vital to keep it in place, to not loosen her grip, until Dorothy was truly dead. She tried to ignore the increasingly desperate scratching of Dorothy’s hands and her mewing and her hissing. Dorothy grunted as the blood coursed over her and onto the seat, down onto the floor. She looked up at Solveig.

“Solveig...” she hissed, and opened her mouth. “Kiss me goodbye...” Her fangs were stained red. “Solveig,” she repeated, and Solveig caught her voice changing, growing hoarser. “I don’t want to go.”

The attempts at manipulation were weak, embarrassing. Her grip on the stake was getting weaker too. Dorothy's skin wrinkled and sagged. The flow of blood grew weaker as it become thicker, changed from bright red to dark brown, like the mud from the bottom of the river. A stench of sour, rotten meat filled the car. Solveig did not let go.

“It doesn’t seem fair to die twice,” Dorothy whispered as her clear blue eyes turned brown. The flow finally stopped, and her head fell down onto her chest.

Solveig reached over and lifted her upper lip. She realised that she had never asked how old Dorothy was. She didn't care. She pressed one gloved finger, carefully, to her left fang. It fell away as she touched it and crumpled like a tiny piece of crêpe paper. She flinched needlessly, then took out her phone and called the number.

“Is it dead?” he asked.

“It’s finished,” she answered.

“Good. Burn the car. Come home.”

“Can I ask why?” she asked. She wasn’t sure if she really wanted to hear the answer but there was barely any hesitation at all on the other end.

“They’ve made a move. Children are missing. We can’t tell whose, but it's bad. Something has happened. We need everyone back here. Burn the car, and run home. Now.”

The children. Solveig felt her stomach fold up against itself and hung up the phone. She frantically dialled Otto's number. He wasn’t answering. There was no time to think twice about her husband, not yet. She got the can of petrol out of the boot and emptied its contents all over the inside of the car. Once it was burning she threw her phone in with it. This was why they used disposables.

Now was the time. She thought of the children and she thought her husband. The rest was easy. Her bones cracked, her organs pulled and stretched, and her whole body was on fire. She howled.


So, hello. That was Solveig. Hope you enjoyed it. Not too much to say about her really. The influences for her are pretty obvious. That'll need some tweaking as she's definitely too much of a straight lift at the moment. But I'm enjoying writing her and hopefully I can do something interesting with her.

Life marches on at a frightening pace. Not enough time for everything, but things are progressing slowly but surely. I'm currently burying myself in books and essays and interpretations of Gothic monsters, which is great fun. But there's always the deadlines. Trying to find time to write horror fiction is a bit tough at the moment, but I'm managing, just about.

Anyway, next week is The Vampire, then after that there's The Fool, and then we conclude these prologues. I hope you like reading them, and thank you for doing so. Thank you, too, for those of you who leave comments or get in touch with me elsewhere (it's mostly Twitter. I'm on it.)

Sorry, not a lot to say this week. I'm tired and stressed but aren't we all?. The writing is going OK and I'm looking forward to getting the Christmas story written. Oh, and first one to guess where the names Solveig and Otto come from without using Google gets some sort of prize. I'll know if you use Google. Now, here's a song that I've had stuck in my head this week:

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Fourth Prologue - The Killer and The Witch

Hello there. So, another prologue for you to enjoy. So far we've had The Monster, and Wendy parts One and Two. I'd recommend that you read them before this instalment. But if you're ready, here's The Killer and The Witch.


Mathieu stood in the centre of the room, back straight, eyes front. He kept his mind on the situation at hand. He was trying not to think about the blood that had caked the hair under his armpits into clumps or the drops of stale sweat that were drying in the small of his back. He was trying not to think about the fact that his brother’s corpse was still somewhere in this house. Having escaped with his life less than twelve hours ago, he was trying very hard to not think about the fact that he was now back in the very same house, the very same room. He had done his job and got his employers to safety. He had returned to the city because he had an obligation to his brother. He had washed the blood from his face and hands and he had not been surprised to receive the summons. He would mourn his brother later. For now, he would maintain respectful eye contact with Émilie Étienne, the head of the Paris coven of witches, and do his very best not to say anything that would lead to his joining the piles of body parts that were stacked outside the door.

Émilie Étienne sat in her chair. It wasn’t a throne. Just an armchair, really. The last time Mathieu had seen it it had been on its side and thrown some way across the room. Now it was back in its rightful place at the far end of the room from the doorway, sat in front of the gigantic windows looking out over the city. She was the first thing a visitor would see. She had made no effort to fix her appearance. The black hair that normally fell down past her shoulders had spiralled into unruly curls and there were strands that were visibly singed. The smoke had smudged dark patches on her cheeks and streaks of tears had run her mascara down her cheeks. Her hands were stained a deep, dark red. Mathieu suspected that this had been done for effect. It was working.

While men and women bustled about around her with sponges and buckets of water, she sat perfectly still, watching him. She didn’t even break eye contact when one of her servants exerted audible effort tugging a fingernail out of the windowsill. He’d stood in front of Étienne before and he knew that this stare was part of the routine, that it was supposed to intimidate him. It didn’t make it any less intimidating. She shifted her weight a little and cleared her throat.

“So, Mathieu,” she said, “tell me what you saw.”

No pleasantries, then. Given the circumstances, he could understand.

“Madame,” he replied, “You were there. What can I tell you that you don’t already know?”

“Humour me. Weren’t you always the talkative one? You came here with Isobel Fisher and her two tourist friends. You and your brother were acting as her bodyguards. Now I know that her intentions beyond Paris are unimportant to you, whatever she’s doing now, otherwise you would not have returned. But you were here last night. You helped get them out. I was busy trying to help my friends; you were busy trying to help yours. Tell me what you saw.”

This would be difficult. There had to be a way to relate the events without implying anything unfavourable either about himself or Madame Étienne. After all, they were both still here while others were not. He hoped his tongue would work quickly enough to find it.

“The patchwork. I didn’t hear her come in. Perhaps Vincent did. It was the patchwork that Isobel Fisher had told us about, named Charlotte, the one that had been following her. Charlotte told you that she was acting under orders, and then...”

He paused. It had not been the first time he had seen death like this and had no problem with continuing his story but it was appropriate to pause. She gave him a small nod, which showed both appreciation and an indication that he should continue.

“And then she attacked your coven, Madame. She seemed unconcerned with Miss Fisher. She went after the witches. It was...efficient.”

Étienne gave a hollow laugh and Mathieu thought he felt the floor underneath him weaken.

“Efficient? Yes, I suppose it was. Then what?”

“I saw you escape. You fire walked out through the fireplace. Then my brother and I helped Miss Fisher and her companions to escape.”

Émilie stood up. Mathieu straightened his back again and assumed his most respectful expression. It was her turn to talk now.

“I appreciate that you must have wondered about my reasons for the invitation, Mathieu. You must have wondered about the wisdom of accepting it. After all you were here, working for a guest who brought a patchwork into my house.”

She spat the word patchwork with all the hate that she could muster. Mathieu felt his courage waver and felt it necessary to establish the facts.

“Madame Étienne, there was no way she could have known.”

“Oh, of course she knew. She knew that she was being followed, and she knew that there was a possibility that the patchwork would come here. But what she couldn’t have known was that the patchwork would attack my coven. There has never been anything like this. Of course, there have been isolated incidents of patchworks attacking witches out by themselves, but never a group, and never anything this overtly political. This is a statement, do you understand?”

She paused. Mathieu knew better than to interrupt, that had not been a question. She was building towards something, he would just have to wait and see what that was.

“And now I have...pieces of my sisters all over the room. I know you saw me leave, but I was the first one back in here. I still stink of smoke and blood but I will not leave this place until my coven are buried. But this affront needs to be answered. Now, you and your brother haven’t worked for us for some time, is that correct?”

Mathieu nodded. Before Isobel Fisher had asked them for help, he’d enjoyed many quiet years with his brother. They had perhaps grown a little content, a little slow. But there hadn’t seemed to be any reason not to. The coven had been strong; they had no need for two Parisians approaching middle age whose muscles were slowly turning to fat. Without thinking he adjusted his stance and tucked in his gut. Étienne cocked an eyebrow and gestured towards his waist-line.

“I never held the work you did in particularly high regard and clearly we haven’t needed you for a while. I never understood what it was that you did that a witch could not do by herself. You are killers, of course. But so are we.”

When they were very small, Mathieu’s parents had taught him why he and his brother had their life chosen for them. It had all seemed very romantic. Looking around at the assembled men and women wiping the last traces of the Paris coven off the marble floor, he thought that Étienne was probably right to hold him in so little regard. But she was not finished.

“And yet, while I have not changed my mind, exactly, I have thought of a way that you could be useful to me. And a way to redeem yourself for the insult you gave me by stepping into this house in the employ of another.”

Mathieu nodded. There was nothing else to do.

“The patchwork was one of Chalk’s. We know that. What do you know about him?”

He cleared his throat. His reputation as the talker of the partnership was more than justified, but he had always been careful to know what he was talking about. In his line of work knowledge was invaluable.

“Chalk is based in Scotland. He’s the oldest that we know of, but he’s been around for going on a hundred now. We don’t know who he took over from, only that no one seems to threaten him. He doesn’t stray from the United Kingdom, or at least he hasn’t before. The only members of his flock that we’ve seen have been women, which is not uncommon.”

Émilie smiled. She would never tell him that she was impressed, but she could grace him with a smile.

“So you would agree that this is out of character for him?”

“I wouldn’t go that far, but he’s never done anything this...big before. No one has.”

“He’s made us look weak. Of course we can rebuild but our position is...unsteady at the moment. Not only do we need to reform the coven, we need to assure our sisters around the world that we are as strong as we ever were and find out whether this is an isolated incident. Not to mention the fact that there are bound to be some who will see this as an opportunity to take Paris. The fucking vampires will almost certainly be up to something. Did you hear they’ve come to an agreement with the wolves now? Some kind of partnership to keep the peace?”

He had. While he had been living in peace and quiet it was impossible not to stick your head out of the door every now and again just to see what was going on. They were working in partnerships, one wolf and one vampire. A way of monitoring each other, he’d heard, a way for the vampires to assure the wolves that they would stop trying to eat them and start trying to get along. It wouldn’t last. He told her he was aware of it and Émilie sat back down and folded her arms.

“It will end in tears, you’ll see. But that’s beside the point. What do you know about patchworks, Mathieu? Since you’re clearly up to date with current events.”

He ignored the taunt and told her what he knew.

“The history? Not much, but no one does. They first appeared around two hundred years ago, picking off tourists, occasionally something more challenging. But that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been around for longer. It’s rare to run into one and live to talk about it. They’re nasty but they’re territorial. Like I said, this is unusual.”

“And how does one kill a patchwork?”

He snorted. He didn’t mean to. Étienne nodded at him to continue.

“With difficulty, Madame. It’s extremely hard to put a patchwork down. Cut it, shoot it, burn it. It heals. No matter how many holes you put in it, it gets back up.”

He and Vincent had come across a patchwork only once before, on the side of a forest road near the Alps. Vincent had pushed Mathieu to the side of the road and brought an axe down on the creature’s arm. She had laughed and taken the weapon from him. By the time Mathieu had managed to get his brother in the car Vincent had barely been conscious. He had heard the patchwork laughing as they had sped away. He had no illusions of his chances facing one by himself.

“You’ll be working for me from now on. You’ll be accompanying a small team, I will tell you where and when. I don’t expect you to be too much of a help but you will go and you will do your best to keep them out of trouble.”

Mathieu had no choice but to accept. It was time to ask his favour.

“My brother. May I take his body?”

“Of course. Ask for it on the way out. Go and bury your brother, I’ll call you when it’s time. I’d much rather be talking to your brother now, he was always more reliable, stronger, a superior fighter. But cheer up. We’ll find Chalk. You can tell yourself that we’re doing it for Vincent, if you like.”

Mathieu nodded and turned to leave, trying not to slip on the wet floor.


Hi there. Hope you liked that.

I was worried about this, and still am. I'm much more comfortable writing characters like Wendy who are awkward with their supernatural nature. Here we've got a witch queen, and we've got a werewolf and a vampire coming up. I get very self-conscious when I start to feel things getting over the top, but sometimes you just need to write a witch queen. I make no apologies for Émilie Étienne being a bit grandiose or campy. The person who would be the head of a coven of Parisian witches looks and sounds, to me, like she does. There's work to do on Mathieu, however. Originally he was going to be the tougher of the two brothers, with all the middle-aged gut and revenge issues of a hard-boiled hero, but I liked the idea of making him the weaker one. Not massively original either, if we're being honest, but it's more to play with and it will make him more fun to write once he's in his element. The thing for me is trying to find ways to make the characters a bit more interesting. There is too much INTONING OF EXPOSITION here but it had to come out at some point.

Time continues to be a horrific constraint, as I've added yet another "thing to do by a certain time" that will probably come to nothing. Because of this, all I will say is that it's not creative but it's something I'm very passionate about. So there's a lot of work to do for that. I've left the script for a little bit in the hopes that I will return to it feeling fresh and be able to edit the hell out of it. Let's see how that goes. There will also be a Christmas horror story because if you can't find time to write a Christmas horror story then you've lost the fight, really, haven't you?

But all this constant stress and time pressure is good because it means things will get done, which is the important thing. But enough of my whining. Please let me know what you think of Mathieu.

I would also like to take the opportunity to

Hope you enjoyed the story. Here's a song that never fails to cheer me up:

Monday, 28 November 2011

Third Prologue: Wendy (Part Two)

Hi there. So, as I'm sure you're aware by now, this is the third instalment of a series of prologues I'm putting up for your consideration. This is Wendy's Prologue: Part Two. If you didn't read Part One, you can and should do that here. This a long one, but there's some actual plot here (yes!) so I hope you enjoy it.


Wendy woke up to the sound of running water. Panic gripped her as she struggled to remember where she was. She got out of bed quickly and found some clean clothes in the suitcase that she had been too tired to unpack. As she left her room the bathroom door opened and Madeline stood in a white robe, drying her hair with a thick blue towel.

“Good morning! Fancy some breakfast?” she asked, the size of the smile on her face belying the time of the morning. Wendy told her that she would indeed, and Madeline stepped to one side.

“Shower’s all yours; there should be plenty of hot water. I’ll see you downstairs in a minute.”

Wendy didn’t realise how hungry she was until she stepped out of the shower and the smell of frying bacon came wafting up the stairs. In the kitchen Madeline was standing over the frying pan, pushing the crisping bacon around with a wooden spatula. She wore a plain white apron. Thickly cut brown bread sat on a plate next to a bottle of brown sauce.

As Wendy ate she became aware of Madeline watching her. She looked up and saw that her new housemate was beaming at her.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “It’s just that it’s been a while since I’ve had anyone to share my time with. It gets very lonely. You’ll see that. More bacon?”

After breakfast Wendy made her way out of the house as Madeline pulled a formidable set of keys from her purse and locked up. She then followed Madeline’s instructions to sit down in her little red Punto. While they waited for the frost on the windshield to clear she looked up at the house. It seemed a lot less intimidating in the daylight. Madeline chatted about various things on the drive into the village. Wendy listened to about half of her conversation. Before she knew it, Madeline was taking the keys out of the ignition and opening the door.

“Here we are, then,” she said as she stood up.

Wendy got out of the car and looked up. They had arrived at an old brick house. It had been painted white long ago, and plant pots adorned the various windows. It looked like a home rather than a doctor’s office, and she told Madeline so.

“That’s sort of the point,” Madeline replied with a grin. “I’ve worked hard to make this place look friendly. We’ve got to be as friendly as possible in our line of work. Be a love and grab that bag out of the back and I’ll show you around.”

Madeline got her jangling keys out again and unlocked the front door. Wendy paused in the doorway as Madeline bustled off, turning on lights. Shortly after she went out of sight Wendy heard the sound of a running tap followed by the flick of a kettle’s switch.

Before long she was sat in Madeline’s office at the back clutching a steaming red mug of tea. Madeline had settled in her office chair and was staring intently at Wendy.

“So I was thinking we should just run through things again,” she said.

Wendy nodded with conviction. The nerves that she had forgotten about had returned. She looked up at the clock on the wall. Surely it couldn’t be long before the first patients started to arrive. Madeline saw where she was looking and chuckled.

“Don’t worry too much about that,” she said. “It doesn’t exactly get busy around here. We probably see between ten and twenty people a day. We’ve had some days where nobody comes in at all. Most appointments are made well in advance, check-ups and things like that. What we mostly deal with is people coming in with the sniffles, kids with their parents mostly. It’s pretty boring but it’s important that we’re always here and always ready.”

Wendy was listening intently. “Everything you will need is in the files,” Madeline continued. “I know you’ve been through the procedure a hundred times or more back at the head office, but I’ll make sure that I’ll be there to help you through them today. As far as people are concerned you’re a friend of the family who I’m looking after. You’re doing work experience.”

“What if I stay here for a long time?” asked Wendy. She thought, too late, that her question was a bit presumptuous but Madeline didn’t seem to mind.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, sweetheart. Now I need to get some things ready in here, do you want to go through to your desk and get acquainted with the files we have? The first appointment is for ten past nine, Mrs. Shelley. She’s a regular, just get her to tell you what she’s here for and wait for you to tell me that she’s here before you let her in.”

When Mrs. Shelley had been and gone without saying more than a few words to Wendy, Madeline came back out into the reception area and made a cup of coffee.

“It’s the parents that we need to deal with, to be honest with you,” she said. “The children will basically do what they’re told, and if we can get the parents on side then it’s just that much easier. It’s not too difficult to convince them that something’s wrong with their child, the trick is convincing them that we can deal with it rather than having them cart the little boy or girl off to a hospital. Where, of course, they would be told that there’s nothing wrong with them at all.”

“And we only take blood,” said Wendy. She knew the answer but she wanted reassurance anyway. Madeline seemed like a very nice lady but she had learned from past experience that nice didn’t always mean good.

“Yes,” she smiled. “What’s more, we only take the blood we’ve been told to. No more, no less. I assume you heard about the Fishers?”

Wendy had heard about the Fisher sisters. They had been a popular story back at school, a warning about what would happen if you overstepped your bounds and stopped listening to the ones in charge. But she was curious to know just how much of what she’d heard was rumour. Madeline had been around for a while, maybe she knew something closer to the truth.

“I’ve heard the name,” she told her. No need to embellish beyond that, might as well let Madeline start at the beginning. Madeline walked around the desk and drew one of the chairs closer.

“The Fisher sisters were called Isobel and Roberta. They worked together in a clinic just like this, down south. They weren’t really called Fisher, you know. They belong to the Génessier line. But Isobel didn’t want to keep the name, she wanted to be judged on her own merits. Which, to be honest, was fair enough. Isobel was phenomenally talented. But she didn’t do well with people, which was where Roberta came in. Roberta wasn’t as bright but she was incredibly beautiful and knew how to handle people. So Isobel did the work, while Roberta handled the parents and the kids.

Only Roberta wasn’t following orders. It turns out that someone had got to her and convinced her to sell some blood on the side. She was taking blood from all of the children in the village. It wasn’t too long before the parents found out. The sisters were spirited out of the village and Émilie Étienne figured out what to do with them. But Roberta escaped, she ran off. Étienne thought that Isobel knew where Roberta was and gave her a choice: give up her sister or give up her powers. Isobel choose to keep quiet, and she was sent away. No one’s found Roberta yet, but I hate to think what Étienne would do to her if they ever did.”

Madeline stood up, her story finished.

“So, that’s why we follow the rules. And that’s why families or old friends can’t work together any more. Do you have any family, Wendy?”

Wendy shook her head. Madeline’s eyes widened slightly and she clicked her tongue.

“I’m sorry, that was a completely tactless question. I was born into this; I forget that a lot of us had to come into it the hard way.”

Wendy shook her head and smiled.

“It’s not a problem, honestly. I’d just prefer not to talk about it.”

Madeline put her hand on her chest.

“I promise that I won’t say another word on the matter. Now, shall we have a look at the paperwork?”

Madeline was slightly less lively over dinner that night. They had covered everything at the office, with Wendy remembering more than she thought she had. Wendy looked down at the slightly burned pork chop on her plate and tried to think of something to say. How were they going to live together if they couldn’t even have two nights of conversation? She wanted to put Madeline at ease. She knew that she hadn’t meant anything by asking about her parents. But that awkwardness just hung there like the smell of a dead rat under the floorboards.

As Wendy opened her mouth to say something nice about the food the telephone rang. Madeline hopped up and lifted it from the cradle.

“Hello? No, it’s fine. Well, yes we were having dinner but it’s fine, honestly. I understand. And how long has he had it for? OK, give him some Calpol and bring him in tomorrow. We’ll take a look at him. Yes, it sounds like the flu but I agree, it never hurts to make sure, does it? Alright, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She returned the phone to its resting place and smiled at Wendy.

“Looks like you’ll be having your first time a bit sooner than expected,” she said. Wendy nodded. She wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or not.

The next day Wendy woke up to the sound of the shower running again. Madeline was singing something that sounded familiar, but only vaguely. A golden oldie. Maybe the Shangri-Las.

Before she knew it she was sitting at her desk in the clinic. She clicked her pen nervously, trying not to stare at the clock. The appointment had been made for nine but Madeline had told her that parents were often at least half an hour early bringing their children. She could hear Madeline singing, the same song, from her office. She was doing questions and responses. It was definitely the Shangri-Las.

The doorbell rang. “Get that, would you?” called Madeline. Wendy stood up and walked over to the door, smoothing the dress that Madeline had recommended she wear instead of trousers. She opened the door just a crack, as she had been told to do.

A man and a woman, both in their late twenties, stood just outside the door. When they saw Wendy they opened their mouths to talk at the same time, and the first word out of each of their mouths was “Sorry.” They laughed nervously at the overlap, and the father deferred to the mother.

“I know we’re early,” she said, “But we were really anxious. George has been up all night with this cough and his fever hasn’t gone down.”

Wendy looked down at the small boy who was holding tightly to his mummy’s hand. He was certainly pale, and she noticed a thin trail of snot running from his right nostril to his upper lip. He saw her notice it and wiped it with his sleeve.

“George, really, use a tissue,” scolded his mother, but patted his head to let him know that she wasn’t really upset.

“Of course you can come in,” said Wendy. She opened the door of the clinic and the family moved quickly but politely inside. “I’ll just check with Dr. Hill, I’ll see if she’s ready for you.”

She left the family on the sofa and knocked on the door of Madeline’s office before slipping inside. Madeline gave her a little nod before she could even open her mouth to ask the question. Wendy waited for what she thought was an acceptable amount of time before returning to the waiting room.

“It’s fine,” she said, “She’s ready to see you now.”

The parents nodded gratefully at her and ushered the son through the door. Wendy heard Madeline’s warm greeting, then asking one of them gently to close the door behind them. Wendy felt a tiny bit hurt before she remembered that it was for their sake. The sense of intimacy between the parent and the doctor was vital. They absolutely had to believe that Madeline had their child’s best interests at heart.

Wendy busied herself with preparing the paperwork. She ordered the papers together, filled in all the relevant boxes herself. Of course, the paperwork was never really going to go anywhere.

After about ten minutes the family came back out again, both parents with a hand on their son’s shoulders. He looked slightly paler than before but was sucking on a lollipop. Madeline appeared behind them.

“I’ll send the sample off for some work and get back to you as soon as I hear anything,” she told them. “In the meantime, make a start on the antibiotics and keep him out of school until you come back and see me on Friday. Alright?”

The parents nodded happily. Wendy could see it in their faces. The strange comfort of having their fears confirmed. They were right; they were attentive, careful parents. Thank God they caught it in time, whatever this was. Madeline smiled back at them, happy to give them this degree of reassurance. “And is that alright with you, George?” she asked him.

George looked up at Madeline and Wendy saw something in her colleague’s face that she had not seen before. Benevolence, yes. That had been expected. But standing there, she saw quite how beautiful Madeline was. And the look on the young boy’s face showed that she wasn’t the only one who had noticed it. He was staring at Madeline in a way that bordered on worship.

Once the family were out of the door, Wendy turned to Madeline.

“Did it all go alright, then?” she asked. Madeline nodded.

“Yes, it was all fine. Let’s get that blood sorted, shall we?”

Wendy followed Madeline back into her office. She shut the door behind her. It wasn’t necessary but she had been told time and time again how important it was that what they did here remained secret. Madeline sat in her chair and leaned under the desk. When she straightened back up she held a small vial in her hand.

“Day one,” she said, “Sample one. George Murphy. AB negative.” Wendy wrote the information down as neatly as she possibly could. “Parents have been informed that they are to bring him back for a further check up on the 14th. On that date they will be informed that further blood tests are required.” Wendy ticked boxes and wrote in dates. “My guess is that they will be amenable to further blood taking. They are very concerned.” She looked up. “Alright. That’s it. We take it home at the end of the day and send the information off to head office.”

In the car on the way home at the end of the day, Wendy decided to ask Madeline what she thought of her job. Madeline nodded as if she'd been waiting for this.

“I had questions the first time I saw it done too. It does seem cruel, at least from the outside. But what we do here is a big part of what keeps us going. Keeps us where we are in the order of things. Obviously the most important thing that you need to know is that we’ve been told to do it. And if you back out of it, or try to tell anyone what we’re doing, well, you know what happens.”

Wendy did know, and if she was being honest with herself, she would have to admit that the possibility of not doing what she was told hadn’t crossed her mind. Not seriously, anyway. This was who they were. As Madeline steered the car into the driveway she smiled at Wendy.

“Look, here’s what I’ve learned. This thing that we’re doing. We’re being given a chance to practice our craft. We’re doing it in small ways, but it’s the small tricks that keep us from being caught out, keep us from being questioned. You saw the way that family looked at me this morning. You don’t think that was just because of my natural charm, do you? A little spell and they think that you’ve been sent from on high to deliver them from whatever nasty bacteria and virus they’re convinced they’re being persecuted by. So stick it out. Flex your muscles a bit. See what you can do.”

So, on the 14th, when the Murphy family returned with their son, Wendy tried something. Nothing big, nothing flashy. She just shook their hands when they came in the front door. If you had asked Mr and Mrs Murphy if there was anything unusual about that handshake, they wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything. But they would have told you that they felt very reassured by Miss Wendy Bright. They trusted her. She was good.

And every successive time that they came in, Wendy could see the relief and reassurance on their faces. They felt that they were in a safe place. And Madeline continued to take blood from their son. And so it went on for three weeks, until the day when the quota had been reached.

“Time to finish,” she said. The next time that the Murphy family brought George in, Madeline gave them a bottle of nondescript white tablets, and told them that they had finally uncovered what had been plaguing their son. They only came back once after that, when the parents came in to give the two of them a box of chocolates and some flowers. That was that.

Wendy felt settled with Madeline. It may not have been particularly exciting, but that was what she wanted. And there was a spark to her housemate, a twinkle in her eye that showed that she did enjoy what she was doing. Wendy was as certain as she could reasonably be that the two of them were getting on naturally, without any tricks from Madeline.

One night she sat in the kitchen as Madeline stood over the hob. She was cooking a pasta sauce in a pan, she’d made it from scratch. Wendy was leaning back in her chair, the front two legs ever so slightly off the ground. She rubbed her temples. A sudden headache, not too bad.

“Ow,” said Madeline. She turned to look at Wendy. “Sorry, think I might be getting a migraine or something.”

Wendy was worried. “Erm, this is weird, but...”

A flash of blinding pain stabbed its way through her eyes and to the back of her skull. Her legs pushed down hard on the floor, propelling her chair backwards and over. She didn’t notice the pain from landing on her back on the ground, her head felt like it was about to explode.

Madeline screamed, and her flailing arm tipped over the frying pan before landing on the hob. She had reflexes enough to move her hand away but not before burning most of the skin off it. She collapsed on the floor, now in too much pain to make any noise at all.

Then, just as suddenly as it had started, it was over. They lay still on the kitchen floor for a while, both sobbing. Wendy saw blood on her hands and panicked, thinking she’d hit her head badly. She was relieved when she realised that it was only a nosebleed. Madeline lifted up her left hand and mewed in pain. Wendy rushed to the freezer and yanked a bag of frozen peas free. She clasped it to her friend’s hand.

It was about half an hour before either of them spoke.

“What was that?” asked Wendy.

“That was the witches in the Paris coven screaming,” said Madeline. “That was them dying. They’re gone. This is very, very bad.”


Hello, hope you enjoyed that. There's a bit of exposition dumping which I'm always a bit worried about, and I was also worried about bringing up the Fisher sisters, who I wrote about in The Novel That Nobody Wanted. This new one isn't about them, but you need to know who they are. Hence the heavy-handed "Let me tell you a story" bit.

Next week may be some writing about writing as there's quite a bit of work to be done on the Fourth Prologue, but we shall see. Things have been quite stressful with the writing at the moment as it seems to be difficult to find any sort of time, but I'm trying to make it work. I've had words of encouragement from friends and mentors lately, normally combined with words of more realistic "It's difficult and insanely stressful". I won't quote them directly, but it is swings and roundabouts. If you feel like you're losing it, you know you care enough, but there's so much fun to be had, so why would you stop?

Oh, I recommend that you see Take Shelter. It's a great film, and here's the trailer:

And I've been a bit obsessed by this song lately, so here you go:

So, next week is either The Killer and a bit of The Witch, or a bit of writing on writing. Hope you enjoyed this, and hope to see you back next week.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Second Prologue: Wendy (Part One)

Hello there. So, as you probably remember, this week we have the second in a series of character prologues for the project that I'm working on. There will be around six or seven of these and I'm interested to see people's reactions to my characters. Last week's was The Monster, which you may want to read if you haven't already before this week's. This week's is actually part one of two, as there's a lot to establish with Wendy. Anyway, here we go. Hope you like it:


Wendy hugged herself tightly as the car made its way along the dark country roads through the dark. She was trying to prepare herself as best she could. She knew that it made no sense to be nervous; she had been well prepared for this. This was what the last few months had all been building towards. And how many other girls had taken this journey before her, over all the years? In an attempt to calm her nerves she tried to anticipate the questions that might be asked of her. She had no concerns about any questions relating to the work. She knew what she had to do, although she was still a little nervous about actually dealing with people face to face. But most of all she was afraid of being asked anything personal. Personal meant tricky. It might make it difficult to get off on the right foot. She would be living with this woman for the foreseeable future after all. It was very important that they get on well. Very important indeed.

It had just gone ten o’clock when Wendy arrived at her destination. The man who had been driving the car hadn’t said a single word to her for the whole trip. They pulled to a stop alongside a small cottage that had one light on downstairs. Wendy saw the thick beige curtain twitch before the front door opened a moment later. She stepped out of the car, straightened her coat, and went to the woman at the front door with her hand outstretched.

“Miss Hill? I'm Wendy. I’m sorry that we got here so late, I’m...not really sure what happened.” She forced herself to sound more confident than she was. She wanted to project strength of character, trustworthiness, and wisdom beyond her years. As it was, she was happy that she just manage to get the words out in the right order. The woman looked her up and down. Wendy would have guessed that she was in her late forties. She wore a white woollen cardigan and blue jeans. Wendy noticed that her black hair had streaks of grey and white as her face creased into a smile. She stretched out her arms and wrapped Wendy in a warm hug. For a moment Wendy was stunned. This wasn’t typical behaviour from a superior. She could say with all certainty that this had never, ever happened to her before, at least not since she'd started school. But she composed herself quickly. It would be rude not to reciprocate. She put her arms around the woman’s back. She remained awkwardly pressed up against her for a few seconds before she was released. Her host took a step back. The smile hadn’t dropped. Wendy reassured herself that she seemed to have passed the test.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Wendy. Please, call me Madeline. Let’s get you inside, shall we?” She looked past Wendy to nod at the driver, who was pulling a large suitcase out of the car boot. “Is that all of your luggage?” she asked her. Wendy told her that she didn’t have a lot of things. Madeline ushered Wendy inside. She took the suitcase from the man, who muttered a word that was very probably goodbye before leaving, closing the front door behind him. Madeline led Wendy up the narrow staircase to an open door on the left hand side on the landing.

“This is your room,” she said. Wendy looked around. It was small, to be sure, but it could definitely be classed as cosy. Wendy had stayed in a lot of bedrooms in her time, but she would never have classed any of them as cosy. The bedspread was covered in illustrations of pink and purple flowers that Wendy recognised but didn’t know the names of. A sturdy bookcase stood by the wall opposite the bed, nearly fully stocked. “There’s a charity shop in the village,” said Madeline by way of an explanation. A healthy-looking spider plant sat on the windowsill, while the radiator gurgled into life as the boiler kicked in. Wendy turned to her new housemate and smiled.

“It’s lovely,” she told her.

After Wendy had unpacked, she sat with Madeline in the kitchen downstairs as they waited for the kettle to boil. There was silence. Wendy had many questions, but didn’t want to appear forward by asking any of them. Wendy wrapped her hands around the warm white mug of orange tea that Madeline had set in front of her, but before she could worry too much about breaking the pause Madeine smiled and leant forward.

“So I expect you’ve been told what it is you will be doing here,” said Madeline.

“Yes. Well, that is, I know the general idea. Of what my job will be,” answered Wendy. She had, in fact, been told in some detail, but she was reluctant to seem too confident. She didn’t want to sell herself too short, but she certainly didn’t want to appear cocky. So she had decided to say as little as possible.

“Well, we’ll go over the basics now, and the rest we can talk about tomorrow. I get up at seven. I suggest that we take turns making breakfast. I’ll do it tomorrow as I imagine you’re very tired.” Wendy opened her mouth to agree with this, she was sure that it would be fine, but Madeline had not stopped talking. “We should aim to be in at the clinic by half past eight. This will give us plenty of time to set up and get you acquainted with the place before anyone arrives. Now, I’m sure that I don’t need to remind you that we are a functioning doctor’s office. I am a fully trained physician so don't you worry about a thing. There will be days when our sole responsibility is to treat patients. Well, I say our, it will be my responsibility. I'm guessing that you've been trained in the admin? Filling out the paperwork?”

Wendy thought back over the last few months. It had been painfully dull, but the importance of what she had been doing had been drilled into her by her teachers. It was vital that nothing appeared strange or unusual. And boring was nothing if not normal.

“Yes, they taught me about it. I finished the training just before I came here.”

“Good, so it’s all fresh in your mind then.” Wendy had a brief moment of panic where she wondered if this was in fact the case. Madeline must have seen the panic on her face as she reached across the table and put her hand over Wendy’s.

“Don’t worry, dear. It’ll all make sense in a day or two. And, if you like, I’ll let you observe after a little while. Now, I’ve told everyone that you’re my niece, doing work experience. The people here are very friendly, and some of the friendlier ones are very excited to meet you. Generally speaking, I think it’s for the best if we maintain a distance from the locals, but conversation in the clinic is absolutely fine. Also, I think going to the bigger social events on the calendar is fine, so long as we’re careful.”

Wendy nodded. This made sense. Madeline cocked her head to one side.

“I’ve sort of come to the end of my little speech, do you have anything that you’d like to ask me, Wendy?”

Wendy thought about it. She couldn’t think of anything. She was very conscious of Madeline watching her. She realised that she couldn’t really say anything. Madeline pushed her chair back and stood up.

“There’s something that neither of us have mentioned. Follow me,” she said, “It might just be easier if I show you.” Wendy got up without a word and followed Madeline to the staircase. Madeline opened the door under the staircase and pulled a lightswitch. Wendy saw a set of linoleum covered steps that went down into a basement . She followed her down the stairs and pulled her jumper tighter around her. It was distinctly cooler down here.

A single long fluorescent bulb lit the basement. The grey linoleum stretched out along the room that was the size of the ground floor of the house itself. Madeline put one hand on Wendy’s shoulder and used the other to point to the end of the room.

“Now, Wendy, tell me what you think is in there."

Wendy moved closer to the end of the room. Standing against the wall was a large fridge. Wendy didn't know if that was what making the humming noise. Maybe it was the flourescent light. Or maybe the fridge was working overtime. She took a moment and answered Madeline’s question.

“Blood,” she said.

“Quite right,” answered Madeline. “It’s a little ominous, I agree, but frankly it’s the best way of storing it. The basement's so cold that there's nothing else I'd want to keep down here. You know, a friend of mine told me that they tried keeping it in tupperware back in the late '40s.”

She paused for a moment and turned to look at Wendy. “Are you alright?”

Wendy nodded. She’d been told what this apprenticeship would involve. She’d been told that, in order to do her work properly, she would have to set aside some moral issues and some reservations that would perhaps be expected from a normal person. It wasn't as if she considered herself normal but this was something else. She wondered if Madeline kept anything else in the fridge.

“It’s fine,” she said. “I’m fine.”

Madeline smiled. “Good, good,” she said. “Let’s get back upstairs. The tea will be getting cold.”

They sat together in the kitchen for a little while, making polite conversation about her training. Madeline seemed to know a couple of the tutors and told a couple of stories. Finally she stretched and yawned.

“Well, it’s late; I think that we should probably get to bed. If you need to know where anything is, just let me know.”

As Madeline got up out of her seat, she paused for a moment. “Unless, you want to stay up...” They way that she had phrased the question made it very clear to Wendy that it was time to go to bed.

“No, that’s fine. It’s been a long day, and it is late. Busy day tomorrow!” said Wendy, with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. Madeline smiled. Wendy knew that she had answered correctly. Wendy followed Madeline up the stairs, then paused as she turned to look at her.

“I’m so glad you’re here.”

Wendy smiled and nodded. She didn't know what else to do.

After Madeline had finished in the small, brightly lit bathroom, Wendy dug through her suitcase until she found her toothbrush and the almost empty tube of toothpaste she had brought with her. As she stared into the almost blindingly clean mirror of the bathroom cabinet above the sink, she admitted to herself that she was incredibly nervous. This wasn’t normal. This wasn’t what normal people did. But there was nothing normal about her. There didn’t seem to be anything normal about Madeline either, but at least she hadn’t asked any awkward questions. Not yet, anyway.

It’s a question that witches ask each other. Not always right after they meet, although some are less restrained than others.

“When did you first know that you were a witch?”

Wendy had found that the typical answer would be “As long as I can remember,” accompanied by a slightly wistful smile and a coy cocking of the head that implies that they've always known.

But Wendy was different. That is, if the others weren’t lying. Wendy knew the exact moment she knew that there was something wrong with her. She was eight years old. She was standing in the kitchen watching her parents make dinner. Wendy had had a bad day at school. She didn’t want to go back the next day. She was listening to her parents making sympathetic noises but making it very clear that staying at home all day tomorrow was not an option. Wendy tried to make her parents understand but they weren’t listening. She remembered hearing the sizzle of fish starting to burn in the pan and her father swearing, moving quickly past her mother. They started discussing the fish. How it could be fixed. They weren’t listening to her at all. She felt something well up inside her, anger didn’t describe it, it was something more primal. It was so loud. As she felt it build she had clenched her eyes shut and put her hands over her ears. She opened her mouth, hoping that whatever it was would just escape. And she remembered shouting for it to stop.

Wendy heard a series of thumps. Then a clatter. Then nothing. She opened her eyes. Her parents lay on the floor, crumpled at odd angles, her mother partly on top of her father. Both were face down. The frying pan was still in her father’s hand, the fish about a foot away from it. Wendy didn’t move. She was afraid to. She was afraid that her parents would wake up and realise what she’d done. They would be so angry. But they didn’t move. They just lay on the floor. Finally Wendy opened her mouth.


There was no movement. One of her mother’s eyes had gone red. Her mouth was open, her lips pulled back, exposing her teeth.


Her father’s face was pressed onto the linoleum floor, his glasses pushed to a crooked angle. His knuckles had gone white around the pan.

Wendy didn’t move. She stayed rooted to the spot. After about fifteen minutes the doorbell rang. She stayed where she was. There was a brief rattling and she heard the familiar creak of the front door. In the back of her mind, the part that was still working in a way approaching normality, a little voice told her that it must be the police. The police were here, to punish her for what she’d done. She’d murdered her parents, they would lock her away forever.

So she was a little surprised when a figure in a dark blue dress came into view. Another followed, wearing a long black coat.

“Goodness me.”

“I told you.”

“You said there’d been a surge; you didn’t say it had killed two adults.”

“I told you it felt strong. How old do you think she is?”

“Ask her.”

The one in the long black coat squatted down in front of Wendy, trying to make eye contact with her. She had freckles, long blonde hair that was in need of a brush, and her blue eyes were ringed by dark eye liner. She smiled at Wendy.

“You alright, sweetheart?”

“Jesus, did you just ask her if she’s alright?”

The blonde turned her head, and the smile dropped.

“What the hell was I supposed to ask her? Look at her!”

“Ask her how old she is.”

She turned back to Wendy and stretched out her hand before thinking better of it.

“How old are you, love?”

Wendy wanted to answer. But nothing was working. No part of her was doing what she told it to.

“Can you hear me?”

The blonde stood up and walked over to Wendy’s parents.

“She’s not there at the moment. I think we’re just going to have to get her in the car and see what they want to do with her.”

“We’re going to have to shift these, too. At least they’re skinny.”

There was a slight pause where Wendy assumed that the blonde was supposed to laugh. She was glad that she didn’t.

“Get her in the car. I’ll make a start on Mum and Dad.”

This time the blonde did put a hand on Wendy’s shoulder, and she tried the smile again.

“Listen, sweetheart. My name’s Lisa. That’s Alice, over there. Now, you need to come with us. It doesn’t look like you’re up to moving, so I’m going to pick you up, OK? Don’t worry about all this, we’ll take care of it. We'll take care of them. Come on, love."

Wendy knew the exact moment when she had realised what she was, and realised that nothing would ever be the same again.


So, there's Wendy (Part One). Hope you liked it. Part Two will reveal a bit more about what the plot of this actually is, and the week after we'll move on to another character. What Wendy does is something that happens to the lead character of The Novel That Nobody Wanted, and I really liked the idea of approaching it from the other side. But more of that next week. Putting these character prologues up has really got me excited about this again. I'm looking forward to spending a lot more time with these characters.

Otherwise, the project I'm working on with Ben Sheppard (of Treppenwitz fame) continues to continue. Excitingly, a horrible first draft was finished last night, which now means I get to go back and fix things. I used to hate going back over first drafts, it's such a horrible feeling to see just how bad a writer you can be, but now it's something I actually look forward to. I like the fixing. Anyway, I hope it's going to be good. It could be. Apart from myself and Ben, we've got Paris' second favourite adopted Sheffield-ian Martin Parsons and Dr. Iain McGibbon (Phernalia_I) committed to helping us. There will be more people in the future, there will have to be, but I'm getting excited about it now, even though it's a very long way off still. So much drafting to do. I can just see all this terrible writing that needs fixing....

But I can reveal the title!



How about some music? I kind of feel like I should offer you something for getting through my ramblings, so let's do that. I've been listening to a lot of Tegan and Sara and Amanda Palmer recently. Both have really grown on me since I first heard them. First, here's Amanda Palmer with Astronaut:

She gets a lot more big, baroque, cheeky, provocative, and fun than this, but this is the one that's been in my head lately.

And here's Tegan and Sara:

I don't have anything clever to say about them. They're just good. Honest, catchy, and good

OK, that's it for this week. Next week we'll have Wendy (Part Two)! Hope to see you then.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

First prologue - The Monster

Hello there. Now, I believe we discussed last week, or possibly the week before, the idea of excerpts from some of my longer writing. I was going to do some writing about writing this week, but I got a bit attached to the idea of showing you lot what I'm working on currently. Well, one of the things. The other project has taken first priority at the moment, which actually works nicely as it gives me some time to think about this.

So what is this? This is part of my novel. There'll be further explanation after the fiction, but for now all you need to know is that this is where I think it's going to start. Please enjoy.


She's awake. It takes her a while for her eyes to adjust to the light. The light's not the only thing that's new. She's lying down. Her hands and feet are free. No ropes, no chains, no nothing. This has not been the case for some time. She rubs the bruised skin on her wrists, enjoying the feeling of blood circulating freely. She gets up carefully, finding her balance. She can stand firmly on the ground without dangling from the ceiling. This is bliss. But there's more. She looks up and sees that the door at the top of the steps has been left open. She has been down here for too long to assume that this is any kind of mistake. She knows him too well now. They've been through so much together.

She moves slowly towards the bottom of the steps, stifling a coo as the pleasurable sensation of mud slipping through her toes shocks her. She makes her way up the steps and into the room above. She has to shut her eyes. It’s bright up here. There are windows. She has not been in a windowed room since she arrived here. She stops short and listens carefully. After two minutes of standing perfectly still she is satisfied that she is alone in the house. She walks into the kitchen and puts her head under the sink. She fills her mouth with icy water from the tap. She is not as thirsty as she thought, though she manages to gulp down a few mouthfuls.

Her eye is caught by a piece of paper on the otherwise bare kitchen table. She gingerly picks it up. There is a message on it.


She goes over the piece of paper again to confirm the details. When she is confident that there are no hidden messages or clues that she could be reprimanded for missing when she returns, she returns the paper to the table and walks to the front door. On the right hand side of the door is a chair. There is a pile of clothes on the chair, with a note sat on top of them.


Abruptly, she remembers that she is naked.

As she steps out of the front door she enjoys the crunch of snow under her boots. They are too big for her, the boots, but she supposes that it doesn’t matter too much. The large woollen jumper makes the dried blood and mud that coats her skin itch, but scratching it creates great pleasure. She sees her hair hang down in front of her face and knows that the colour has changed. It was once black, but she made that happen. Now it's brown, the same shade that all colours in that basement eventually became. Looking around now, everything seems white. Without thinking about where she is going, she walks into the woods. She does once wonder whether she is going in the right direction. She knows that she is.

She can smell the people before she hears them. There is the familiar smell of car exhaust. Of burning coal and fuel. She can smell meat cooking. It is a matter of moments before she places the meat as cow. Then she hears the noise of cars. Of chattering people. She moves slower through the woods before crouching. She can see that she has come to a road. The road is wet, but clear of snow. It would be easier to walk along it, her feet are unused to the boots, but she does not want to be seen. She retreats into the trees, making sure that she does not lose sight of the road. She walks parallel to it, keeping one eye on the sky. She sees that the sun is getting low on the horizon, and she knows that it will be night soon. Part of her is anxious to fulfil the commands that have been given to her. Part of her wants to keep enjoying this freedom. The cold, fresh air is intoxicating. She feels like whirling around in the snow, or climbing a tree. She can’t remember ever hearing birdsong quite so clearly. She briefly remembers a garden, but only briefly.

She reaches the town almost without realising it. Or the outskirts. Perhaps she's not even there yet, but she can see a large house not too far ahead. She hears the squeaking of tires and drops right down to her knees. Through the undergrowth in front of her she can see a silver car pulling into the driveway. She creeps closer.

A man gets out of the car, before going to the back. He opens the back of the car and takes out some plastic bags full of shopping. She can't smell the food but she knows that it's there. A woman gets out of the other side. She opens the door behind her and stands back, allowing a small boy to hop out.

She inhales sharply. There it is. This boy cannot be more than five years old. He takes his mother’s outstretched hand and together they walk to the front door. The mother turns and says something to the father, and they both laugh. The father throws the keys to the mother, and they jangle in her hand as she catches them. They enter the house, and she moves closer.

She waits there, crouched in the snow. She knows that she cannot simply walk in and take the child. She has to wait. She waits while the sun finally drops down and the dark arrives. She moves around the outside of the house, careful to stay out of the warm light of their home. She watches as the mother and father prepare dinner. She watches as they summon the boy to eat with them. She watches as the boy shovels his food into his mouth before moving into a different room on the ground floor. She watches as the parents take the boy upstairs. She makes a note of the room which is lit up when the three of them enter, and is darkened when they leave.

She waits for all the lights to go off. And then she stands up.

When she reaches the house she slips off her boots. She doesn’t think about how to climb up to the second floor window. She just does it. She reaches the boy’s window. She briefly considers smashing the glass, but then she looks at the child lying asleep in the bed. She realises that there is an easier way.

She knocks on the glass. Very gently at first, then a little louder. The boy’s eyes flutter then open. He gasps and sits up in bed. She tries a smile. It’s difficult. She is out of practice. But she manages it. After a moment the boy smiles back.

“What happened to you?” he asks.

She considers the question. She had forgotten the blood. And the rest. After a certain point she’d just stopped thinking about it. She could tell him the truth but she doesn’t want to scare him. “I was in an accident,” she tells him. “I need to come in.” Her voice is slightly gargled from lack of use.

The boy is young, but he’s not stupid.

“I’ll get my parents,” he says. She puts a hand to the glass.

“If you help me,” she says, “I’ll reward you. But...just you. It has to be just you. Your parents don’t need to know about this. Wouldn’t you like to see what happens in the woods at night? It’s magical, wondrous.”

Her words seem to be working. She almost believes it herself. He’s out of bed, and approaching the window. She mustn’t scare him now. She’s so close. She can hear his heartbeat. She mustn't drool.

He opens the window. She climbs in slowly.

“I knew there were magic people in the woods,” he says, his eyes shining. It could be hope, though she wonders if it might be greed.

“There are,” she answers. “There are lots of them. And they told me to get you and bring you along.”

“They asked for me?” he asks.

“Well, I imagine any child would do. They weren’t specific,” she says. He’s close enough. His gaze falters, and he opens his mouth wide.

She doesn’t waste time. She grabs the duvet off the child’s bed and wraps it tightly around his head and arms. He starts to scream. The noise is muffled but it won’t be long before the parents hear it. He’s starting to struggle. It’s time to go.

She steps onto the window ledge. No time to climb down. She jumps. To her surprise her legs bend perfectly with the impact. She wasn’t sure if she would be able to do that. She carefully slips on her boots and starts to run, the child held against her.

It doesn’t take too long to get back to the house. She considers covering her tracks but the weather is on her side. Snow has started to fall heavily. Her new clothes are soaked to the bone, and the bundle is getting heavier. It’s not too heavy, however, which she supposes is a bit strange. She makes the journey quickly, almost without thinking. Back at the house, the front door is open. There are no lights on inside. She takes her shoes off by the front door. It feels like the right thing to do.

In the kitchen she puts the child down in the corner by the sink. It pushes the duvet off its face and sits staring at her. It’s been crying but now it just looks scared. Something tells her that she should feel sorry for it. But she doesn’t. She puts her finger to her lips and the child stops sniffing. The quiet tells her that nobody is in the house. But there is another note on the table. She turns on the light to read it properly.


There's a humming in the kitchen and she's not sure if it's just in her head. The boy in the blanket mews quietly and her belly gurgles.


Right, so. Hope you enjoyed that.

She is the first of the characters in this book. The characters are, in no particular order, The Witch, The Wolf, The Vampire, The Monster, The Killer, and The Fool. The Fool may be changed to The Parent, but I'm letting myself go over the top at the moment. They do, of course, have names, but I'll save those until I introduce them properly.

For those of you who've heard me discuss, or possibly even read, The Novel That Nobody Wanted, you'll know who She is. This novel is a of spin-off from that one. The idea is that you can read this and understand everything that's going on. Whereas the prior novel was a personal journey through a horror/fantasy world, this novel opens that world up and pursues a bigger plot-line through several different characters. Basically, I like the world and the rules and the things I created so I want to approach it from a different angle. Whether it will work or not is unknown. I will talk about Her and what She is at some point, but this will have to do for now.

At present, these excerpts are all subject to change so opinions are welcome. I'd also like to know if you'd like to keep reading. The next one will be The Witch, and will actually start introducing the plot. I hope you look forward to reading it.