Tuesday, 21 December 2010
‘The Angel Stone’ was written (well, the opening anyway) in the galleries of Colchester Castle on a slow day when there were just two visitors who had already been harassed by me enough and didn’t want to talk about history any more. The tasks at hand had been done, the glass polished, and to keep my sanity, I’d carried a small notebook and started writing by one of the Roman displays.
It was meant to get my brain going on the demon story, which it did do, but not the one that was published – that was something meant for an entire different publisher who didn’t like it as much. My original demon story, ‘Demon Inherited’, now published as a flash fiction with Pill Hill Press (see Daily Bites of Flash Fiction at the side of the page), was inspired by the idea that everybody has demons, but what if someone could actually see them on other people.
Spinning off that idea, what if angels weren’t just heavenly beings, but something inherited in the same way that we inherit our parents’ demons…. So in ‘The Angel Stone’, the manifestation of inherited angels comes in the form of a stone that is passed down from family member to family member until the right candidate is found. I suppose it’s a bit Witchblade, but more of a good-inspired power rather than dark.
Anyhoo, I’m very pleased to have been chosen for the anthology and even more pleased that I can put the angel anthology next to the demon anthology on my bookshelf (even if that demon story has very little to do with my angel story).
My next plan of attack on the writing front will probably change a bit. I do want to formally submit my historical fiction novel for teens to some of the larger houses, despite knowing that they are very unlikely to even read subs, let alone take on one. But the stubborn determination in me is taking over – and yes, the delusions too. It must be a writer thing. To bring things back to reality, I’ll be hitting all the agents with my scribbles too. I had a few bites with two previous children’s stories, but no takers; maybe this time will be different?
Aside from the novel, I think I’ll be focusing more on paid writing work. That means no more anthologies based on royalties (you just have to split them with so many people that it comes to pennies by the end of the month). Pill Hill usually pay for subs, so even though they generally publish various genres of adult, it’s nice to have a bit of payment (the last story paid a whopping £3, but it was still instant gratification).
Okay, enough ranting…
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
I really enjoyed doing NaNo at first. It got things moving along, new characters developed, the storyline took a major (and improved) turn, and some latent characters decided they needed major threads. It looked as if it was all coming together. Until I realised that 50k words would be in no way representing this tale. Fair enough as the genre for trad fantasy usually is a bit meatier anyhow. But knowing that I couldn’t get a whole book out in the month made NaNo feel pointless.
Five days until the finish, despite being a little ahead of my schedule for 50k words, I stopped writing. I hate the work. I despise all the characters. And if I even see one sentence more from that book, I think I’ll throw myself out the window onto the new Georgian-style spire on top of my new conservatory (thank you builders for finishing on time after all that!!!).
The thing about creative writing for me has always been how it envelops all my senses as I write. I truly enjoy every moment of the creation and about half way through NaNo, I began to loathe it. It was too forced, too quick. I didn’t have time to really get to know each character and take them through the weeks with me. I think, in short, that NaNo is not really for me. I’ll use it still to keep certain targets as it’s good to have that sort of motivation, but as for a complete 50k novel in a month… nope. It just takes out all the joy.
Having said that, I will finish the last 20-30k of my novel in next year’s NaNo and then use some of the extra time to begin redrafting. I may hate it now, but there was a time when I was head-over-heels in love with the thing and I’m hoping to rekindle the romance.
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
So, at the moment, Sarah has escaped with the unicorn from her life at The Oak (the den of all evil according to the local monks and they wouldn’t be far wrong). Meanwhile, one of the monks has escaped the abbey and is now travelling along with Sarah, the unicorn, and a knight’s horse (it was borrowed, I tell you, borrowed!). The knight is travelling with a serving boy who is really a girl and now the knight has fallen in love with Sarah’s dark (in every sense of the word) sister who has found some magic of her own and is travelling to the summer faire to join with royal minstrels. Whew! Now that everyone is out and about, it’s time to bring them all together.
I’m not telling you what happens next, only that I’ve got good plans for them all (well, some comeuppance plans for others) and that all the loose ends will be tied up in some form of knot (hopefully a tidy one and not a frayed mess).
As for PiBoIdMo, well, I wrote out about 13 picture book ideas and realised that it was cutting too much into my NaNo time (and my sanity), so I think I’ll just go with the ideas I have down and use them throughout the year as needed.
The builders are still about (drilling madly ATM) and look to be yet more subcontracted builders, but they are good (and very early…started at 8am, my poor neighbours). I’m so happy I’m escaping for half the day. I think I might go postal with all this drilling. The cat is certainly not impressed.
Thursday, 18 November 2010
The whole novel at this point is looking like absolute rubbish. It doesn’t help that whenever I put up a new chapter, instead of working out the next, I go onto the baby website that has absolutely no new information to give me. Sidetracked. That’s what I am. This is probably the last time I’ll have time to set aside to just write and all I can focus on is what things are going to be like with my new addition. Ach! NaNo was supposed to help distract me from all of that.
Okay, but batten down and really get to it. I can finish on time, I just need a bit of focus – and not get sidetracked by what the baby room will look like once the new conservatory is built, or what new Victorian dress I fancy making (ooh, that green 1860’s dress on the back of the museum catalogue has a nice bustle to it and I can wear it next summer….).
No more distractions. Really… On to chapter 13!
Thursday, 11 November 2010
It was like magic. The wood that she needed was not only waiting for her on the forest floor, but called to her as if its only purpose in life was to serve her needs. Siouan knew it was the unicorn hairs influencing both her and the wood – somehow everything was linked and the silver strands helped her recognize what was there. Now, in her room with the wood, she held the small carpenter’s knife she’d taken from the stables and poised it over the ash.
As she carved, she hummed a tune she’d never heard before, lowering her tone with the deeper cuts, and heightening it with the shallow ones. It was a dance of woods and a song of wood sprites. Trance-like, she whittled away, curving the wood as necessary as it bend and twisted to her will. She’d seen others use boiling water to bend and soften wood. They were fools. As the magic came to her, she began to understand it more fully. So too, did she understand her influence over the magic. They were melded together, for better or ill.
The wood was almost finished now, and she pulled the stands of unicorn hair out of her leather pocket and began to tie them in place. They snapped into position and hummed pleasantly as she finished and stood back to look at her creation. She’d never felt such pride or joy from anything before and for a fleeting moment, she wondered if this is what new mothers felt when they first held their babies.
‘But we will make beautiful music together,’ she hummed to the instrument. It answered her with a ripple effect on the strings.
She’d never known or expected her life to take such a beautiful turn. Heart light, she felt like celebrating. Yes, she thought, let The Oak hear my music for the first time and judge how my influence will work. She opened her wardrobe and looked at all her beautiful dresses. She must be correctly dressed in order to secure the right mood. The deep maroon dress with cream undershift caught her attention. With the polished ash and unicorn hair harp, it would look striking – especially with her dark hair fully down around her face and just enough face paint to make her appear more youthful.
She donned her costume and descended the stairs, trying with difficulty to not smile smugly.
‘Woa,’ said Robert from the shadows. ‘You look beautiful.’ He had a yearning in his voice that belied how little he cared that they were related.
The women were sitting to dinner in the kitchens and Siouan floated by. ‘Good evening ladies,’ she said sweetly. They looked up at her in suspicion, but as their eyes met with hers, their suspicion turned to admiration. She giggled and did a twirl. ‘Like it? I thought it would suit for my first performance.’
They looked confused, but nodded as puppets. Siouan could feel her influence over them and she’d not even started playing yet. ‘Come, put down your food and come listen to me play by the fire.’
She knew there were some patrons in tonight other than the wretched Barty and she almost danced out of the kitchen, the others following closely behind.
Uncle knocked his chair back as he stood up in anger. The women were only allowed to enter the drinking area to take orders and only a few at a time, but as he too saw Siouan, he sat back down again, muttering unintelligibly under his breath.
Siouan gracefully took a seat on one of the sheepskins by the fire and waited for her audience to sit around her. She saw, out of the corner of her eye, an older woman move curiously towards the procession. Siouan could tell she was not influenced by her magic.
Gently, she began to run her fingers over the instrument, humming lowly as she went. Concentrating on her mood and what she willed, the harp echoes chords of melancholy and lost love. She knew not what song poured from her lips, but she could sense the crowd’s desire to hear more and she played to them.
It seemed like seconds later that she finished, but the fire had died to low embers and the candles were mere stubs as she placed her harp in her lap.
As if the audience had just woken from a trance, the looked up and around before applauding loudly.
‘An I thought she made a good whore,’ muttered Matthew. ‘Just wait until she makes royal court.’
The older woman rushed to her side as Siouan gracefully stood. ‘You are truly magnificent,’ she said formally. ‘I am stopping here just on my way to the summer faire. You must play for the musician’s guild when they are there. I am sure they could use your talents.’
Siouan almost caught her breath. Things were moving faster than she’d hoped. The musician’s guild was the only group of players approved by the crown to enter the palace and play for royalty. They were filthy rich and very, very talented. Even with her new magic, she’d not expected to make it that far.’
‘Travel with me if you need a consort,’ she said quickly. Her sharp eyes took in Siouan’s and she chuckled. ‘Although it’s obvious to me you need no one. I leave on the morrow should you wish to come.’ She turned and left Siouan staring blankly behind her.
Monday, 8 November 2010
Methinks they are at the pub waiting for it to rain so they can bunk off work.
Okay, enough with my ranting and back to NaNo. I can do my 2k word target today, but instead of being before lunch, it's likely to be after. I suppose now is the time to work on my PiBoIdMo portfolio. I'm up to 7 picture book ideas, about three of them I love and the others I look at skeptically. I've also got this story that's been floating in my brain for the past few years and I'm loving the idea of writing it out in a journal, longhand by candlelight in the conservatory. No, wait... can't do that now can I?
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
So, we're two days into NaNo and I've been very good so far at keeping to my word length. 2,160 words yesturday and today I've got 180 more to go before I reach my target of 2k. As I've just finished a big scene, I'm resting up for a few minutes before I plough into the next one.
Last year I used NaNo to just help me format and edit Blood Tide - the rough had already been hashed, so in that sense, this is my first REAL NaNo year.
It's nice to have something to focus all my time on as I'd just received a rejection (sniff) with a 'can we hold on just in case one of the REAL writers backs out?' Well, of course they can, but I do feel like a leftover Christmas sprout.
Ah well, back to the last of my word count for today...
Thursday, 28 October 2010
Then there are those pesky work days. B****R! That’s something different. How on earth do I fit 2k words into a day where I’m miles away from the computer? I suppose it will be good down time for my subconscious to help work out plot, but once out of my writing stride, I find it difficult to get back into again.
There is no way around it…late nights for me. (wrinkles forehead and tries to envision getting home at 6:30, skipping dinner and writing until midnight)
When I was working full time in London once upon an era ago, I used to wake up at 5am to write, get on the 7ish train and sleep until I got to the station. Then I’d use my lunch break to hide in a quiet spot and write there. I reached a high word count, but couldn’t keep up the early mornings for more than three months. As this is only a one month stint of insanity, I think I might be able to do it J
Ah, and here is a small clip from my latest short story that I’m not supposed to be working on (rough draft of course):
The Taking of Alexander
I grew up on these islands – running barefoot from shore to shore with each new tide. Mother used to wake with the sun to see what new ships would pass on the horizon. I didn’t know it then, but she was really waiting for my father. Each morn to the darkest setting of the sun, she’d look wistfully out to sea.
It wasn’t until my sixteenth year that I knew I wanted something more. Just as my mother had left her hut and wandered to the shore, I knew that there would be a ship. And there was. I didn’t really want to leave her – the other islanders didn’t visit her anymore. But I had to go. I guess it was my father’s blood that called me to him.
‘Alexander, don’t go,’ she said to me as we watched the ship come in. We both knew this ship wouldn’t pass. The islanders had a knack about knowing these things and even though I was half islander, I still couldn’t see in the way my mother could. ‘I’ll never see you again.’
I kept silent. It hurt me to see her lose another family member, but the longing to go was stronger than the need for air after a long dive.
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Overall, I thought there were some great contributions and it was good teen reading. My all time favourite was a story called 'The Wild Ones' and in my head I keep repeating 'the three silver rules' stated in the story.
All in all a good read!
There are three other anthologies (not counting Mertales) I've been lucky enough to be featured in. I didn't get author copies of these, but they are on my Christmas list, so I will (hopefully) have a chance to read the other stories soon.
I only meant to write two short stories this year and focus the rest of my time on my WIP, but I kept seeing call for submissions and being the easily distracted author that I am, I dropped the WIP and worked on the short stories. I suppose it's nice to have more books with my name in them... instant gratification! I've sent two more stories to Bridge House recently, but I know that competition is fierce and my chances are slim. Then there is that other anthology for Pill Hill... no, wait. WIP. Must work on WIP...
I really need to stop getting so distracted.
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
Then I started reading other blogs. Of writers. With publishing success! They had lists of where they got published (hoorah) and to be honest, their work wasn't 'blow me down awesome'. I thought if they could do it, so could I. And then I pirated their publishers - sent things to publishers that they had had some luck with. It worked! I had two acceptances from Pill Hill Press, one from Rebel Books, another one from Bridge House Publishing (one of the ones rejected from Rebel was the one that Bridge House took). I'm still sending things out and I feel much more confident about it.
On having read up on other authors on these publishing websites, I found a new list of publishers than I can send to. I feel a little lazy - letting others do all the research for me - but hey, I'm supposed to be all piratey and now I'm stowing away...
So for other literary pirates, here is a list of links that have helped me find homes for my fiction:
http://www.penandpalette.co.uk/ this is a great forum where people can post their successes and publishers.
http://www.pillhillpress.com/ A US publisher who ALWAYS has something to send to. They pay too...
http://rebelbookspublishing.co.uk/default.aspx A UK teen fiction publisher
http://bridgehousepublishing.co.uk/newsubmissions.aspx A UK publisher with mixed genres.
Have a look at the author pages and see where they also have had some luck. It's good fun and a load less expensive than buying the Writer's Yearbook each year.
Monday, 11 October 2010
This year I’m going to use NaNoWriMo to finish drafting Downtrodden. I started that book when I was waiting for Faeries to come back from Cornerstones (fabulous literary consultants in London who should be knighted). It was just going to be a small writing exercise and turned into a traditional fantasy novel about a girl who wants to escape the fate of prostitute at her family’s inn. I had outlined it and written three and a half very rough chapters (my YA crit group is suffering through that part of it now). I’m very eager to get it out on paper (or screen) after having it sit in my bottom drawer for the past two years.
No pirates for me for at least a month! And then I can put Downtrodden back in it’s safety drawer (we really don’t want these characters getting out of hand) and go back to polishing Blood Tide. So if anybody sees me swaggering with an eye patch and stuffed parrot on my shoulder during the month of November has the right to eat whatever chocolate I’ve packed for my lunch. It’s all monks, knights, unicorns, and escaped wenches. No elves though. Or orks. Or dragons. It might be trad fantasy, but it’s not that sort.
Friday, 8 October 2010
It’s like an addiction that you can’t put down. You love it and you love to hate it. No matter how good your writing may become, you as a writer, are convinced that everything you pen is rubbish. And yet you can’t stop. A new book comes along in your head. New characters call out to you and nag you in your sleep (maybe some professionals would call this schizophrenia?) What’s worst (and sometimes best) is when one of your sub-characters decides he or she wants the starring role and changes your complete outline without your permission and there is no way around it. You must change it (the science teacher in The Faerie Conspiracies was never meant to have such an important role later on in the book, curse him!).
Every so often I say to myself that I will quit this writing game. I’ll sit in front of the TV and veg out like normal people. I’ll get into X-Factor or Come Dancing, or whatever other nonsense the television mogols have mucked our way. I’ll be able to have a normal conversation about real life instead of what my imaginary book characters are doing. Sigh.
Someday. Maybe. Probably never.
Must go. Amber is rousing the captain again and there is talk of mutiny…
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
On the ship that Amber is on when she is being deported from her plantation to a new land, some readers were getting muddled. They kept imagining the slave ships that were used to transport masses of human cargo to the Caribbean. This sort of slave ship is touched on by some of the plantation’s older residents and new recruits (Luke, also known as E had just come off such a ship) but Amber’s elders have done their best to repress those memories and the newbies haven’t yet learned enough English to share.
Amber’s ship is just a small merchant trading vessel – not fit out to hold slaves. Also, the captain hates the slave trade and is hoping to allow a better life for those he is transporting, despite only freeing Amber. This is not the sort of thing that is taught in modern lessons on history, but did sometimes happen according to my sources. A major point I’d tried to make with this book is that there are things in here that history lessons skim over or skip completely. This is not your typical slave or slave’s journey. It’s very important that people get this into their heads when they start to read.
In history, there were many slave ships that revolted. The only successful one was the Amistat, who’s slaves took power and did turn to piracy. They didn’t last long, however, and there isn’t much written about it (probably the ship’s owners would have preferred to forget about it and just noted down the monetary losses).
Really, this book is less about slaves and pirates and (even though they have a huge role to play in the book) and more about Amber finding her place in the world. She must decide if she wants a life of relative freedom in a surrounding of moral ambiguity or a life as a slave which is no life at all. It’s an impossible choice for her because she values life much more than her colleagues and if she were to remain a slave, she could do some good work as a healer on the plantation like her mother.
Anyway, those are my notes on the book.
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
Amber knew she was dreaming; the colours were too bright and it had that surreal quality that only comes with the subconscious. Yet despite knowing it was a dream, she couldn’t wake or even control her actions. It was as if she was vividly being forced to act out some strange play.
In the dream she was standing at the bow of a great ship looking out to sea. The sky and sea were so blue that the dividing line between them was nearly impossible to see. And there was not a breath of wind, although she knew without looking that the sails were full and pushing them forward at intense speed.
‘Take care of her,’ her mother’s voice echoed behind her.
She turned to look, but instead of seeing her mother, her eyes met the biggest, most imposing black man she’d ever seen.
‘Take the sword,’ he said, though his lips didn’t move.
She looked down. In his grip was a sharp-looking cutlass covered in blood. He didn’t smile or move any muscle in his face, but he held the sword out for her to take.
And then the scene changed. All around her there was jungle; green, lush, and humid. She could hear the sound of a waterfall and instinctively she knew to follow the sound.
‘The others must be here,’ said a man next to her – materialising out of nowhere.
At first she didn’t think she knew him, but he looked so familiar she just stared.
‘They are close, Amber. Be prepared to use your sword.’ He pulled a pistol out of his big red sash and suddenly Amber knew who he was.
He turned to her then and smiled gently – the way he smiled whenever she asked a childish question.
‘You must be prepared to fight to the death.’
Amber bolted upright, breathing heavily. Her sweat-soaked nightdress twisted uncomfortably around her legs and she pulled at them to get the air flowing around her body again. Her heart was still pounding heavily and the memory of the dream lingered in her mind. ‘Just a dream,’ she whispered to herself.
She bit her lip. The other girls were still sleeping and she had no right to wake them before the workday.
She shivered in the sticky heat. The dream had felt so real. But she’d never been to sea, or anyplace else other than the plantation. This was her home and she was born here. So how did the ship and jungle feel so vivid? She felt irritated.
Her arms were still shaking from the dream when she forced herself back to sleep.
The hot noonday sun beat down against Amber’s shoulders as she worked with the rest of the slaves in the unforgiving fields of sugarcane. The air was hot and sweet, with an almost burnt paper smell to it. The canes felt brittle and dry – easy to harvest, but also easy to cut into her skin.
Amber sighed heavily and put her basket down on the hard scorched earth. Her hands had been cut twice that morning, and she cursed herself for being so sloppy. She looked up at the sky. Still no signs of rain. The leaves were already tinged with brown as they harvested early to beat the drought. Putting her dirty calloused hands behind her lower back, she stretched, curling her shoulders backwards and letting her lower vertebrae crack.
Below them, the aquamarine blue of the ocean glittered enticingly. It looked deceptively peaceful – like it felt in her dream. A seagull winged over her, crying loudly as it flew. It circled twice and flew back towards the outcrop of rocks by the shore. She couldn’t hear the pounding surf – they were too close to the protected harbour. All she could hear was a few of the slaves humming – Abel and Joshua by the sound of it, and of course the crack of the cane as it was cut and slapped into baskets.
She was grateful to have been assigned the outlaying fields – closer to the ocean and therefore much cooler. The oppressively humid, mosquito-laden inland fields were usually worked by the younger, more robust crowd. She may be young, but being a woman classed her as ‘dainty’, even if she was a slave.
She laughed at the thought of a dainty slave. Cutting, lifting, carrying, walking with loads, digging…it all added up to make a person pretty robust. She flexed her hand and winced. Robust didn’t make it hurt any less though when the cane cut your flesh.
Something dark caught here eye and she looked out to sea. She could just make out a tiny speck of sails on the horizon. Her neck prickled as she was once again reminded of her dream. She knew it was just another slave ship brining more strong backs to the islands, but it made her hands shake nonetheless.
There have been more ships coming to the islands over the last few years, dropping off new shipments of slaves. She’d never been to any other island herself, but she’d heard visiting sailors talk about them. So far as she understood they were pretty much all the same – the islands around here anyway. She heard Jamaica was exciting. Port Royal came up in conversations regularly, though she couldn’t understand what was so appealing about it. She’d no desire to leave home.
Stretching again, she frowned. There was no way of telling which of the islands the ship would stop at – possibly all. Newcomers often meant trouble; and disease; and rats. There were more rats than humans that came ashore and the new slaves were little more than walking corpses for the first few months. As healer, her mother would have to work overtime, late into the night, working with the ill and diseased. Those iron shackles left the most horrid scars. It always made her glad she never had to do the crossing. Her mother told her very little of the experience. She’d said it was very sad, that some slaves didn’t survive the journey and that others just kept on going but had “died inside”.
The lunch bell rang out clear and Abe’s voice from the fields yelled, ‘lunchtime!’ Amber, along with everyone else, dropped her basket and cutting tools, eager to get into the shade and to get some water.
She didn’t follow the rest to lunch. Instead, she passed the rows of tables shaded by pepper trees and went to her mother’s hut.
‘Hi, Mama,’ she leaned over and gave her mother a kiss on the cheek. ‘You been workin hard?’ She looked over to the corner of the hut where her mother had hung up fresh herbs for drying.
‘Yes, bootiful girl!’ Her mother squeezed her shoulder affectionately before sighing and sitting down by the stew pot. She poured out two helpings of broth and handed one to Amber. It was boiling in the hut, but it was still better than being in the sun. The hard packed earth floor retained its coolness from the nights. There were no chairs to sit in, which worked just fine for Amber. She didn’t trust those wobbly chair legs anyway.
Amber took a spoon from the table and reached for a hunk of bread. ‘Did ya see da ship?’
Her mama nodded slowly, getting up from her seat by the broth and walked to the hole in the wall that served as a window. ‘I saw da ship before I saw da ship.’
Amber repressed a shiver. Her mother saw things often before they happened, and never with any positive ending. ‘Did ya throw da bones?’ she asked finally.
Her mother nodded slowly and turned back to Amber. ‘Dere will be some big, big changes, but what? I know not, my darling. A big man is coming, ‘e will be changin some things, but what?’ She shrugged and forced a smile. ‘I prepare da herbs for da fever anyway. Just in case.’
‘Then da ship is for us,’ Amber acknowledged slowly. Her appetite was waning, but she slowly ate her broth anyway – there would be little chance for food if there were fevered newcomers to tend to. The ship would likely be docked by sundown and then Amber would be busy helping her mother administer the homemade drugs.
She put her spoon down and moved quickly to the door as she heard the familiar squeaking of the young master’s shoes. William was the master’s only son and although he was taught manners and civility by his nanny, he’d recently decided that the best way to become a man was to treat the slaves with arrogant dissent. Amber cringed. Although still childish in mind, the young master was forcing his advances for some reason on her.
She quickly ducked behind the door before he could catch her. His creaking shoes became louder and the door was pushed open just enough to let the pompous brat inside. Amber could hear his breathing and almost see his sweaty brow furrowed in disgust.
‘Ah, Young Masta, what do bring ya to my door? Is da washin no good?’
Amber heard the young master reply haughtily. ‘No, slave, the washing is fine. Where is your girl?’
‘Ah,’ said her mother, ‘is she no with da others?’
‘No, you lying pig, where is she?’ His voice sounded angry and impatient and Amber stiffened in the corner, hoping desperately that he wouldn’t come into the shack.
‘O Masta, she done and gone, would ya like me ta give her a message?’ Her mother’s voice sounded firm, brave. Amber smiled. Nobody could manhandle her mama. Amber heard the youth mutter a curse and walk away.
‘He’s gone dauta. Ya can come out now.’
Amber let out the breath she was holding and returned to her seat on the floor, picking up her soup bowl. ‘What did he want?’
Her mother frowned. ‘E wanted you, my bootiful dauta. I’ll be watchin that one.’ She leaned closer to Amber.
Amber snorted. ‘He’s just a child,’ she said lightly. ‘He likes ta think he can get us in trouble, but da masta knows it’s just a childish game.’
Her mother frowned and shook her head. ‘Do na underestimate dat one,’ she said evenly. ‘E be no good. Promise me ya’ll na give em a chance to see ya punished.’
‘I promise, mama, I promise.’ The work bell sounded and she heard Abe’s deep voice call out for the workers to return to the fields.
Amber frowned and pushed her broth away. ‘Thank ya, Mama.’ She got up and kissed her on the cheek. ‘That was delicious.’
Her mother chuckled. ‘You did’na eat half!’
Smiling, Amber pivoted her calloused foot on the earth floor to go, but her mother put a hand on her arm.
‘Stay, my dauta.’
Panic welled in Amber’s chest and the thought of the whip landing on her bare back made her mouth go dry. ‘But Abe will know I’ve skipped work. I’ll be punished!’ Abe was the foreman assigned to Amber’s field. He was a lovely man, but diligent – anyone skipping work would be reported and therefore whipped.
Her mother chuckled again, hiding her crooked white teeth behind a clutched fist. ‘Da man canna touch ya! Besides,’ she swayed closer and whispered into her ear. ‘I have told ‘em of da ship. E knows I need ya.’ She leaned back on her hips and sighed. ‘With da medicines.’
Amber nodded and tried to fathom her mother’s intentions. She usually helped with medicines after work in the fields had stopped for the day. Something about this felt different.
‘Now, get me da big bowl. Over dere, girl.’ Her mother pointed to the small wooden table by the door. It was covered with a dark cloth that looked like wool. Amber lifted the cloth carefully, as if something dangerous might crawl out and bite her, but as she peered under the table, there was only a stack of bowls. She lifted out the smaller ones, dragged out the largest from the base, and put the stack back into place. Picking up the large dark wood bowl with both hands, she walked it to the table and set it in the middle. It smelled of wet wood and bitter herbs and she wiped her hands on her cotton apron in case any of the residue was unsafe.
Her mother was nodding approvingly at her.
‘What next?’ she asked. She felt a guilty pang at not being in the fields with the rest of the slaves and avoided her mother’s eyes.
‘Now ya watch, dauta.’
Amber backed away slowly to the back of the hut and crouched by the hearth and watched. She didn’t know what to expect. She felt the cold clamminess of unknown things creep up her skin and dig deep into her palms. It made her want to scratch her hands.
Her mother placed some pre-cut herbs into the bowl alongside some other things which looked suspiciously like entrails and smelled foul. The bowl seemed to steam or react as some low vapour spread from the inside and Amber’s mother began a low chanting that seemed to echo from the walls and not at all from her lips. Then, as the chanting sped and deepened into a near guttural growl, her mother’s eyes seemed to roll and glaze until she looked like the undead.
Amber felt a chill slither down her spine. The vapour from the bowl spread unnaturally and swirled around her feet. It felt like something invisible was crawling up her legs and spreading over her skin. She tried to jump up and scream, but she couldn’t lift her limbs and no sound came from her lips.
Her heart began pounding hard, and the memory of her dream came back – splitting her head into vivid flashes. She was back in the jungle, running from the hoard of men carrying torches. Their voices shouted at her angrily as she jumped over fallen branches and twisted vines.
Then, just as suddenly, she was back in her mother’s hut. The chanting had stopped but instead of silence and the odd crackle of the fire, Amber felt a deep, rhythmic drumming. Her blood seared though her flesh like a thousand splinters of dried cane and as she looked down at her own hands - they seemed to be steaming like the contents of the wooden bowl.
Again, she tried to open her mouth to cry out, but it felt like a dirty apron had been shoved inside, drying out her tongue and keeping her jaw from moving. As the loud drumming increased, she realised with horror that it was her own heartbeat.
‘Ere now, dauta,’ said her mother’ voice while gentle but calloused hands lifted her from the floor. ‘Drink some of that.’
A cup of steaming tea was put into her palm and she inhaled the fumes. The pungent aroma brought her senses back and she tried to smile.
‘Not now, dauta, ya’ve ad a bit of da magic though ya. By da time ya finish ya tea, ya’ll be ready for da fields again.’
‘Well, well, now. There you are.’ William flashed his angry blue eyes at her while his lips curled in a mocking smile. ‘I missed you at the slave’s dinner table. And then you weren’t in the fields with the others – where you should have been.’
Amber felt her mouth turn to dust. She shifted her cane basket and continued to work. ‘Good afternoon, Young Master,’ she said civilly. She felt her stomach knot as he strode closer.
‘Perhaps your mother is right. Perhaps you are too fine to be working the fields. Maybe you could work at the manor.’ He paused and stepped back in his shiny black shoes as if to appraise her. ‘You know, you could clean up pretty well.’ He put a hand out to touch her hair and she repressed a shiver. ‘A long soak in the bath and a good scrub might get rid of those fleas. Why, if I scrub you long enough, I bet you’d go white!’
Amber didn’t look at him. Instead, she kept her eyes on the cane and continued working.
‘Now, now, don’t play games. I know what you want you little tease,’ he said, lowering his voice and lifting the back of her skirt.
‘Get off!’ Amber yelled, dropping her basket of cane. She felt her face flush and she gripped the knife in her hand defensively, ready to use it if need be.
William smiled lewdly. ‘I could have you whipped for that,’ he said lightly. ‘And then take you when you’re down.’
Amber felt a surge of panic. She knew him well enough that it was no idle threat and she knew also that if she cut him, it would be the end of her. Her eyes wandered the fields to see how far she could run.
‘Suppertime!’ shouted Abe from across the fields. Amber’s racing heart began to steady. It would be moments before the entire plantation’s work force passed by on their way to the evening meal.
William’s greedy expression soured and he turned on his polished boot heal and left as quickly as he’d come.
Someone came up behind her and she jumped as the sound of raw feet crushing dried cane.
‘Ey now Amber, don’t be jumpin!’
Amber relaxed and forced a smile return to her face. ‘Evening, Peep.’ She felt like she’d run the entire field twice, but having Peep near was a blessing as the young master wouldn’t dare try his advances with an audience.
Peep smiled back at her, flashing his white teeth. He was one of the slaves from the first ship she had ever seen as a child, and only a few years younger than her. Although he was baptised with the name Samuel, his small frame and friendly nature earned him the nickname Peep, as he would ‘peep’ around corners and over baskets to speak to people.
‘Come on now, let’s get some food! Did ya see the ship earlier? I bet it ports soon!’
Amber had to nod as Peep kept talking quickly while they walked. As he nattered on about the possible newcomers, she felt the apprehensive wave of tension over her evening’s task.
So the point of this is to focus on my works in progress, books I've been published in, and general inky things. I've had some good luck this year with getting short stories in print with various anthologies so a big part of this is to help me remember where my works are. I've also been sidetracked from my own writing as I've been devoting most of my free time to Wyvern Publications. For the last 12 months it's all been about other writers and helping them achieve their publishing goals. While, I've also been writing in bits here and there, most of my literary ink splats had been penned out the previous year when I was in-between posts (having left the cold and wet outdoors at Suffolk County Council Archaeology Service and been swepts magically back into casual service at Colchester Castle).
So, now that my weekends are my own again and I get a few more writing hours a day, I'm going to devote at least some hours a day to my own projects and not get distracted by editing other things (I must keep telling myself this or I will forget).