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Not All Are Equal – Gilded Cage by Vic James

It seems like forever ago now when I stumbled across the name Vic James, or as Wattpadders know her ‘JayVictor’.

Having just joined Wattpad, Vic happened upon my freshly Featured short story The Fan, a commentary on the sometimes obsessive and unhealthy side of fandoms, and her name flashed up on my notifications feed.

By that point, I’d become slightly disillusioned with the concept of being a Featured writer on Wattpad, having lost the dizzy afterglow some weeks before, when readers descended upon the story in their thousands. My notifications had blown up and I was lost in a chaos of inane comments that left me feeling despondent and despairing that someone would actually provide some constructive feedback on the story itself, rather than tell me which fandom they belonged to, berate me for the character’s foul language (‘it’s limited vocabulary, don’t you know?’) or to tell me that ‘you spelt grey wrong. It’s G-R-A-Y. Spell things correctly, author!’

Then one day, Vic appeared, and I was surprised (and touched) to discover that not only was The Fan the first story she had chosen to read on Wattpad, but that she had zero interest in telling me which fandom she belonged to and actually had something meaningful to contribute. A spark of something constructive that revived my love for the story and gave me the gusto to dive back into the comments board and interact with my readers. After that, I saw Vic’s name crop up quite a bit on my newsfeed as she navigated her way through the site and I even added her story – back then known as Slavedays – to my extensive To-Read list.

Now, I’m going to be honest here.

Slavedays wasn’t top of my list in terms of priority reads.

I didn’t do dystopian. Dystopian had suddenly become one of those trendy genres and I usually like to avoid trendy fiction as much as I possibly can. Remember when Fifty Shades came out and then everyone was writing about millionaire (or even billionaire) CEO’s with a penchant for whips and red rooms? Or when Twilight became huge and everyone was writing about vampire-werewolf love triangles and imprinting wolves and completely forgot that vampires weren’t always sparkly? Hunger Games…. Divergent …. none of it really caught my attention and so, I tended to avoid anything dystopian. To me, dystopian fiction was like your Great Aunt Gertrude, the one you avoided at family gatherings because she liked to spit on a hankie and wipe your face clean while overpowering you with the stench of lavender and moth-balls.

Yeah, dystopian was my least-favourite Aunt.

But still… I liked Vic immensely, having met her at the very first London Wattpad convention (she asked me to attend) and I found myself wanting to read it, just as I often do when I like the author – call it a sense of author-loyalty, if you like. Plus, the book had picked up a lot of attention, winning a Watty Award in 2014 and I knew that I needed to get past my snobby dislike of trend and just read the blooming thing.

Alas (for me) by then, Vic and Slavedays had been signed up by PanMacmillan and the book was removed from Wattpad (the old cover and prologue is still there) and by the time I wanted to read it, I had to wait just like everyone else. Damn it.

But hey, isn’t it just GREAT when you can honestly say that something really was worth the wait??

With the newly-named Gilded Cage downloaded on my Kindle before Christmas (the paperback is out in the UK on 26th January), I finally managed to secure some read-time and settled down at the weekend to dive in, having only managed to find time to read a couple of chapters when it was first released on ebook.

Shockingly, I don’t read nearly as much as I used to, what with work, commuting, motherhood and writing now filling up my schedule but you can rest assured if I put the writing to one side to read – and by read, I mean CONSUME – then you KNOW it’s a bloody good book.

The story focuses on the fate of the Hadley’s, an average family torn apart when they are committed to doing their slavedays – 10 years of compulsory servitude to the Equals, the ruling aristocracy of the land, who rule because they are gifted with Skill, a magical power passed from generation to generation and which sets them apart from the commoners. In a cruel twist of fate, the Hadley’s (almost seventeen year old) son Luke is separated from his family and forced to undertake his slavedays at Milmoor, the grim, brutal industrial slave town, while his mum, dad and two sisters get to serve the infamous Jardines, one of the most powerful families of all the Equals.

At Milmoor, Luke learns quickly, trying to avoid the baton of the security guy Kessler who has taken an instant dislike to him, while also trying to make sure he isn’t crushed by the colossal machinery in the workhouse everyday. Back at Kyneston, the Jardine family estate, the rest of the Hadley’s have seemingly a better lot in life and are put to work serving the strange and powerful Equals.

We soon discover that life isn’t all that it seems in either Milmoor or Kyneston, and both Luke and his family, discover that adapting to their new lives brings more surprises and twists than they could ever have imagined.

The contrast between the grey, dirty almost Dickensian world of Milmoor and the sumptuous luxury of Kyneston couldn’t be more pronounced and I adored dipping back and forth between POV’s, creeping with Luke along the grimy back alleys of the slavetown and then wandering the halls of the Jardine’s stately home with Abi Hadley and her Equal masters. As usual, I am always envious of anyone who writes third person really well, as I really don’t, and Vic definitely nails her characters, giving us just enough tempting insight into each mind to leave us desperately wanting more. The narrative was compelling and I was torn throughout as the story led me through countless possibilities as to who I could trust and who I couldn’t and just when I thought I had it all worked out, I was right back to square one again.

Individual POV’s and plot lines are interwoven within the backdrop of political agenda, secrets and lies and civil unrest, all boiling within this huge cauldron of simmering tension that keeps you turning the page. Added into the mix is the mystery and wonder of the Equals Skill, awe-inspiring and, at times, quite terrifying to behold, in particular I thought, the power of the sinister Silyen Jardine (a particular favourite of mine) and the as yet unknown twisted intent of Lord Crovan (I can’t wait to find out more about him!).

It wasn’t until I reached the jaw-dropping end (and yes, its F-ing jaw-dropping) that I had to sit back and remind myself:

I DON’T DO DYSTOPIAN!!!!

Yet apparently now, I do. Who’d have thought it?

I’m not even going to lie. Gilded Cage rocked my world at the weekend and the truth is, I wasn’t expecting it to, despite the fact there’s been such an industry buzz about this book brewing for months now. Bloggers are talking about it. Industry experts are talking about it. Readers are loving it. I loved it.

If you want a book that’ll have you reeling for days, this is it.

If you’re like me and dystopian fiction is your Great-Aunt Gertrude, or Millicent, or Antonia, read this book. Seriously. Just read it.

If you’re already a big YA Fantasy fan and you’re looking for your next favourite read …well, you catch my drift already, I’m sure.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, this anti-dystopian reader is off to rage at Vic James on every social media account she has, to demand more words. OR ELSE.

FIVE BIG MAGICALLY SKILLED STARS!!!

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#WriterWednesday – On Meeting James Herbert

Happy #WriterWednesday everyone!

As you may have realised there was no #MusicMonday post this week, I was too busy getting myself all worked up into a nervous ball of excitement over finally getting to meet with  one of my all-time heroes, James Herbert!

James held an event at Foyles Charing Cross in honour of the publication of his new novel, Ash which I may have previously mentioned just a few times on this blog 😉

I had never been to one of these author meet n greets before, having decided at the last-minute not to attend the Anne Rice event at the same Foyles store last year (yeah, I know, what was I thinking?) so I was not quite sure what to expect. How many people would there be? Would I get to speak to him? If I did, what on earth do you say to your favourite literary rock star?

To be honest, until I received the reminder email from Foyles on Monday, I couldn’t quite get my head around the fact I was actually going to meet James. I read and re-read the confirmation email more times than I care to admit, quite certain I had missed the small print at the bottom:

By the way, if your name is Lindsey Clarke, you have probably received this email by mistake as you’re NEVER going to get the chance to meet James Herbert. Foolish woman. Muah-ha-ha. Yours laughing hysterically, The Foyles Team.  

Thankfully, it was not a cruel hoax and I did actually have a place reserved for the event, and so yesterday, tanked up on Nando’s (other chicken restaurants are available) and diet coke (but of course), I skipped like a child along Charing Cross Road with my friend Kazbah by my side. Arriving to find a room packed out with up to two hundred people, we fitted ourselves snuggly into the back row of The Gallery in Foyles and waited for the great man to appear.

Okay, I have to admit at this point that I had been worried whether or not he would be the man I expected him to be. I’ll be honest, whilst I am a HUGE fan of his books, I don’t know a great amount about the man himself. I knew he grew up in the East End of London, I knew he also loved to paint, draw and play the guitar, I knew he had a wife and three daughters, but apart from that, I knew very little about him before last night’s event.  I guess it’s a bit like meeting a stand-up comedian in some ways; you expect them to be just as funny in real life as they are on the stage, but more often than not, in real life, they are actually dour miseries because cracking jokes is just what they do for a living. So what would James be like? Would he be friendly? Would I like him? Would I be inspired?

Well, in answer to that, I say a big resounding YES to all three!

With an opening interview to help get the event started, horror writer David Moody talked a bit about why he was such a ‘fanboy’ of James, to which James responded “I thought you said rentboy”. The rest of the evening was punctuated with much of the same of James’ warm and witty sense of humour and laced with anecdotes such as when he met John Hurt (James was convinced John would not know who he was and was treated with a kiss on the cheek in response)  and receiving his OBE from Prince Charles (“I only call head waiters sir“). Of course, he talked about his new novel Ash, and was greeted with almost two hundred sssshhhhhhs when he almost gave away some of the plot to those in the audience who hadn’t yet finished it.

Overall I was bowled over by how warm, genuine, interesting and inspiring James really is. And also, how very humble he still is, after years at the top of his game.

As an aspiring writer, it was encouraging and also somewhat comforting to hear that after selling a staggering fifty-six million books during his career, James still gets the jitters every time he publishes a new novel. He said “Do you feel scared? Always. I say a prayer when I start to write a book and I say a prayer when I’ve finished.”

There were so many things that James said that made me walk out of Foyles feeling more of a fan than I had when I first walked into the room and this was definitely one that struck a chord with me, as I’m sure it will with many other writers out there.

In fact, he’s so likeable that I couldn’t help but feel slightly angered when he spoke about an article in The Indpendent in which a critic was rather disparaging about James’ appearance (he has curvature of the spine) and how he was ‘stuck in the seventies’ mostly because of his use of the words ‘cop-shop’ (James: “I could have said pig-shop”) and ‘gig’. Note to the man from The Independent: most of my friends and I are huge gig-goers. And yes, we do ALL still say ‘gig’ now. Is that a 1970’s thing? I think not.

I also wanted to punch the air in smug satisfaction when he was quite adamant that he doesn’t ever plot. “I don’t plot, it just happens,” he said, almost indignantly to the question, as if someone’s dog had just cocked its leg right in front of him, “I always have a rough idea of where it’s going to end.”

The much-anticipated three-part mini-series of The Secret of Crickley Hall was also discussed, with James admitting that whilst he loved the first episode that he saw, he did have some ‘script issues’ and he also expressed concerns about whether the horror would be diluted as “the BBC don’t like to scare people”. I’m not a lover of television or film adaptations of novels so I am desperately hoping the BBC do stay true to the story and don’t sugarcoat the scary parts.

I was keen to know what James thought about the new generation of e-books and e-readers, particularly as Ash was recently selling for just 20p (scandalously cheap!) on the Kindle. Apparently despite being sold as a loss leader, James still makes the same royalties from a Kindle sale as he does a hardback sale and although he is a lover of the written page, he still thinks the Kindle is a good thing. Maybe it will open up a whole new generation of reader to his books, after all despite owning a 1985 paperback copy of Domain, I snapped up the Kindle version for just 95p and I will probably start to add to my James Herbert e-book library by snapping up all his other books too. It’s wonderful to think that others may do the same, particularly those who might never have walked into a bookshop and found James’ work amidst the many copies of True Blood and Twilight.

After an hour of question and answer time, James took his place at the signing table, with a bottle of Jack Daniels at his side, and patiently and graciously began to sign treasured copies of Ash and his other novels for a queue of two hundred eager fans.

Now I would love to spin a yarn about my conversation with James when it came to my turn to step up, with my copy of Ash and my old 1985 much-loved and much-worn paperback copy of Domain (acquired from my dad’s bookshelf when I was eleven years old and never returned). But it’s fair to say that I was slightly speechless and could only stare doe eyed, grin like a true simpleton and mumble my thanks before scuttling away, with my signed books clutched tightly in my clammy palms…..just like a true fangirl!

All in all; as a writer, it was incredibly inspiring and as a fan, it was completely entertaining, exciting and enlightening.

There’s really not much else I can say, other than, thank you to Foyles and thank you to James Herbert; Grand Master of Horror.

It truly was the best gig I’ve been to in years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Lily-Rose By Any Other Name

It had always helped to have a pretty name.

“You were so beautiful, I named you after two flowers, not one,” her mother had said. The irony of her name was not lost on Lily-Rose. It suggested delicate, fragile and feminine and she was more than happy to let people make a judgement about her based solely on her name.

Of course, secondary to her name was her appearance. Carefully curled blonde hair, cheeks so rosy that she rarely needed blusher, the brightest blue eyes and eyelashes that went on forever; it was no wonder that Lily-Rose’s mother had practically dressed her like a doll when she was growing up. She had always worn dresses; her mother declaring she would rather cut off her own arm than let Lily-Rose wear trousers or worse “those horrible boy jeans”. Her childhood had been filled with pretty dresses with full skirts, patent shoes and ribbons in her hair.

Now she was twenty-eight and she still sometimes put ribbons in her hair, or one of those skinny satin alice bands, however these days the natural curls of her childhood were more like waves and Lily-Rose spent painstaking hours curling her hair to perfection. When most women were whipping out the irons and opting for the fashionable poker straight look, Lily-Rose knew most men secretly liked the curls. And they seemed to like the ribbons and bows even more and she knew why that was.

Rest assured, men loved the way Lily-Rose looked. She oozed femininity from head to toe and she knew it. In summer, she loved to wear ditsy floral shift dresses or fifties-style frocks in a variety of pastel colours. In winter, she wore cute twin sets, A-line skirts and heels. Always heels. Sometimes she accessorized with pearls or a little diamante here and there but nothing showy or flash; just enough to add a little sparkle and all this was finished off with a slick of candy pink lip-gloss.

There was no doubt about it, her pretty-in-pink appearance worked like a dream and she just loved to keep up the pretence. It was so easy. It had always been easy. No one ever thought she could be anything but the doll her mother had brought her up to be. Her boss, Windsor Evans definitely thought she was doll; a pretty addition to his office and damn sight more interesting to squeeze than one of them stupid stress balls. And try to squeeze her he did, more or less every day by the photocopier or whenever she brought him his coffee. Of course, he tried to hide the fact he was giving her a squeeze, but as his hand gripped her waist and lingered a little too long on the fleshy part just above her buttocks, Lily-Rose knew it wouldn’t be long before he was trying to show her a little more than the weekly figures whenever he asked her to stay after hours. That was going to be awkward as it would prompt her to take action and she liked her job, despite Mr Evans’ wandering paws. In fact, this was the longest time she had ever stayed in a job and indeed the longest time she had ever lived in one place since she was a child.

Robert had a lot to do with that. She hated to admit it, but she knew he was the reason she had stuck around longer than usual. With his perfectly combed hair, startling green eyes and neat, white teeth, Lily-Rose had been automatically drawn to his picture on Casablanca.com, the latest online dating site that she had began to frequent. In fact, everything about him had seemed so damned perfect that she had been immediately suspicious. Men like Robert were rarely what they appeared to be. There was usually a wife, children and a boring semi-detached family home out in the suburbs. Or the face behind the picture was often that of an over-weight, sweaty, balding troll who couldn’t believe his luck that the face behind her picture was actually the same face as in the picture. But strangely, Robert seemed to be everything his profile had told her. He wasn’t married or even had a girlfriend – she had done the necessary checks, of course – and he really was an international business executive for a high street bank. And his reason for joining an online dating site? Well, he’d spent years building his career so had only previously found time for casual dating and now, when he’d finally been stationed at head office and had more of a stable base, he’d discovered he was terrible at the dating game and so a friend had suggested joining an online site.

“To be honest,” he’d told her on their second date “I’d always thought online dating sites were for weirdo’s and perverts. You have no idea how glad I was when I met you for the first time and realised you were normal. Well, better than normal.”

Lily-Rose had blushed on cue and looked away feigning embarrassment but inside she was smiling and thinking how easy it always was.

One date had quickly turned to two and now ten dates down the line, she was still seeing him and actually looking forward to seeing that perfect smile with the perfectly neat teeth. The Lily-Rose behind the flushing cheeks and twin-set was starting to get nervous. The Lily-Rose behind the lip gloss was looking for reasons to put an end to it all, but frustratingly, Robert seemed to offer her no ammunition. He was an absolute gentleman on every date, turning up on time, always looking immaculate and giving Lily-Rose his one hundred percent attention. He was the opening-doors-and-pulling-out-chairs-type but not in a sickeningly annoying way. This was definitely not the way it was meant to be.

All the others had provided more than enough reason. Secret wives or girlfriends, children they forgot to mention, wandering hands, footsie under the table, forgetting their wallet. There was always a reason. Except for the first time, however. There hadn’t really been a reason back then; Lily-Rose knew that, although she had tried to tell herself there had been and often found herself chanting these reasons to her reflection in the mirror in the morning, as she curled her hair. He had a nasty habit of collecting ear wax and sticking his finger in his ear to retrieve it, before examining it and wiping it on his clothes. Sometimes one of his socks would fall down round his ankle and he never pulled it up; he would let the fabric gather there, revealing a rather pasty leg. Sometimes spittle collected at the corner of his mouth and even worse, sometimes he sprayed when he talked.

His name had been Peter and he had lived next door. Their parents had been friends and so Peter and Lily-Rose were friends even though he was ten and Lily-Rose was only eight. Strange that a ten-year old boy would choose to hang around with an eight year old girl but Peter had doe eyes for her and she knew it. She had always pretended it was the other way around, following him wherever he went and he never once told her to go away. She knew he never would. Lily-Rose had known that had she let matters take their natural course, the teenage Peter’s doe eyes would turn to invitations to the cinema, feeding her popcorn and fake yawning so he could stretch an arm across her dainty shoulders in an effort to cop a feel in the darkness of the theatre. She wasn’t massively opposed to that happening, in fact, if anything she felt quite indifferent towards him. She neither liked nor disliked him. He was just Peter. And Peter was just a means to an end.

 

*************

The tree stood before them, stretching out tall and imposing at the far side of the field. Its tough-barked battle-ready trunk spawned many thick branches which twisted together, spreading outwards and upwards. Standing at the bottom of the tree, with his back resting against the trunk, one sock gathered around his ankle, Peter looked up into the knot of branches and then back to Lily-Rose who stood in front of him, in pink satin and white tulle.

“I can climb almost all the way to the top,” Peter said, grinning.

“It’s too high, Peter,” Lily-Rose answered, twirling a curl around her forefinger and swaying back and forth so her skirts spun out around her legs.

“You’re just scared of heights, silly,” the boy replied, reaching out and pulling her hair playfully, watching as the curl sprang up and bounced back into place. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s just an old tree and it’s real easy to climb.”

“I’m not scared,” pouted Lily-Rose, “not really, anyway.”

“Why don’t we climb up together, I can help you,” Peter asked “you’ll love the view near the top, you can see in old Mr Jameson’s garden. Sometimes he falls asleep on the patio in just his pants and he has his mouth open really wide.”

They giggled at the image of Mr Jameson stretched out, old skin sagging round his bare stomach and white Y-fronts on show, although secretly Lily-Rose felt nauseous at the thought of the old man sitting there with barely nothing on.

Feigning reluctance and fear, for Lily-Rose could very easily climb this tree after much secret practice; she followed Peter upwards, sometimes stopping because she didn’t want to move to the next branch and asking for Peter’s help. In return, Peter offered lots of encouraging words and soothing sympathy whenever she pretended she was too frightened to climb any further in the maze of branches. Finally, they reached as far as they could go, and sat side by side looking out across the field through small breaks in the foliage. Peter huffed and puffed after the climb, failing to notice that Lily-Rose was hardly out of breath at all.

It was definitely a beautiful view from the top of the tree. Blue summer skies stretched out above them, a light breeze flickered at the long grass below them and they could hear birds whistling and singing through the tree tops.

“Told you that you would love the view from up here, Lily-Rose,” Peter said, spittle spraying out as he said the ‘Rose’ part.

Lily-Rose could hear the bird song now and she could have sworn they were singing Whistle While You Work. She smiled and quickly pushed at the boy sitting next to her, watching as his face turned from one of contentment to one of alarm as he fell backwards, his legs tumbling after him as he plummeted through the branches. The sound of snapping wood intermingled with the sound of snapping bones and the thud of his body hitting obstacles on the way down. Finally Peter landed on the ground with a dull thwack.

Climbing down as fast as she could, being careful not to slip and fall herself, Lily-Rose found Peter lying in the clearing at the base of the tree, looking as twisted and knotted as the branches above. A wide graze streaked across his cheekbone and one of his legs was missing a patch of skin just below the knee. He was not moving, except for a small twitch of the fingers on his right hand and the blinking of his eyes, which now stared at Lily-Rose in horror and fear. Seating herself on a fallen log just at the side of the clearing, Lily-Rose sat with knees together, just as her mother had taught her a lady should, with her full skirts gathered around her legs. She arranged the fabric so that it fanned out around her neatly and thrust a thumb into her mouth which she sucked on thoughtfully whilst twirling a curl around her forefinger. Peter blinked even more, his eyelids fluttering as furiously as butterfly wings, and his stare turned to pleading, then back to fear and eventually to nothing at all. Lily-Rose thought his glazed eyes looked a little bit like her doll Amber’s, only Amber’s eyelashes were curled and far prettier than Peter’s.

Without a word, she got up and walked to the edge of the wooded area where it met the vast expanse of the open field and promptly burst into tears. As she ran across the field howling and wailing into the summer air, she vaguely wondered if she should have drunk more water before she came out that day so that the tears would keep flowing, just as they did when she made Amber drink enough water so that she could squeeze her head and watch the tears burst out of the doll’s tear duct holes and drip down her face.

It hadn’t been difficult to fool everyone. Upon seeing a very distressed little doll-like girl with her full skirts and ribbon-decorated curls, of course everyone knew that this was a climbing game that had gone very wrong. A tragic, terrible, awful accident and how incredibly traumatic for Lily-Rose to see her best friend Peter die in such a horrific way.

*************

Now, years later, sometimes Lily-Rose would awake at night and see little Peter lying next to her in bed, his body twisted under the bed sheets and his pleading, terrified eyes staring at her and she would whisper to him “You sprayed when you talked. You had spittle at the corners of your mouth. You let your sock fall down.”

There was always a reason. The others never visited her at night. Lily-Rose was thankful for that. For a start, they’d never all fit in her bed. The house was crowded enough with just Peter in it and he had a nasty habit of popping up when she least expected it; sometimes in her wardrobe, sometimes curled up in the bath, and sometimes on the other end of the sofa as she settled down to watch television. He used to just sit there and stare at the screen, as if they were normal couple settling down to watch their evening soaps. These days, however, she knew he was looking at her instead. She knew that if she wrenched her eyes away from the television, she would turn and see him just laying there, his pleading eyes fixed on her and fingers twitching against the sofa cushions.

She couldn’t ignore him the night he appeared in her bath. Soft candlelight flickered off of the cream walls and rose scented bath oils sweetened the steam-filled room. Lily-Rose had settled into the warm water with her curls piled high on top of her head and was enjoying the ambience when suddenly the surface of the water rippled at the tap end and Peter’s head popped up. His now wet hair stuck to his forehead and droplets trickled down the graze that marked his cheekbone. Lily-Rose could see his limbs still twisted up under the water and his fingers tapped against the side of the bath, the dull tinny sound echoing around the small room.

“What?” hissed Lily-Rose “what do you want? Go away. I don’t want you here.”

Tap-tap-tap.

Peter blinked at her, stopped; then he blinked again.

“I can’t take back what I did. You’re dead. Accept it,” she whispered.

Peter blinked once and Lily-Rose was sure he was agreeing with her.

Tap-tap-tap-tap.

His eyes turned pleading again, big blue pools of beseeching sorrow.

“Look, if you’re here to warn me off or tell me to stop, don’t bother. I haven’t done it for ages. I’ve….” she stopped, faltering and wondering why on earth she felt the need to explain to a dead boy about Robert.

Peter glared at her, his eyes unblinking and black. The water rippled again and she was sure he had moved slightly closer to her. She drew her knees up under her chin and pressed her back up as far as it would go. Was the water cold already? Her teeth began to chatter and she clenched her jaw in an effort to stop shivering.

“I’ve met someone. Things will be different now. I promise,” she said, hearing her voice shake and hating the sound.

The water bubbled now and Lily-Rose distinctly felt a foot touch her ankle. He was in the middle of the bath now and she could smell damp earth and leaves mixed with her rose scented oil. He was so close now, so horribly close and for the first time in her life she wanted to scream but couldn’t.

“I promise,” she whimpered, closing her eyes in the desperate hope that she would be alone when she opened them.

Tap-tap-tap-tap.

Opening her eyes, Lily-Rose found Peter’s eyes just inches away from her own and when she looked into them – really looked into them – she realised exactly what the dead boy wanted.

Suddenly she understood everything so perfectly.

 

**************

The restaurant was one of the finest Italians in town. So good in fact that it was a famous haunt for many celebrities and their pictures hung on the walls; grinning faces with arms draped around the owner and his talented head chef. The waiters schmoozed and charmed the customers, with particular emphasis on those of the female variety, encouraging flattered laughter, big smiles and even bigger tips. It hadn’t surprised Lily-Rose in the least when Robert had said he was taking her to this restaurant. He knew all the best places and wasn’t fazed by the size of the bill.

“You can’t put a price on good food, excellent service and outstanding company,” Robert had said, without even a hint of cheesiness. Everything Robert said was smooth, cool and completely in earnest. It was flattery at its best and Lily-Rose had to admit it always worked. Even in the early days of their courtship, when she was highly suspicious of him and still determined to find a reason, the way Robert spoke and what he said always seemed to strike a chord.

Tonight was no exception. From complimenting Lily-Rose on her new dress to asking about her day at work, drinking in every detail and commenting on her perfume, Robert was still proving to be the total gentleman he had been all along. When he smiled at her with his perfect even white teeth, Lily-Rose couldn’t help but smile back and her black heart flipped a little in response. Her stomach fluttered nervously and the flush on her cheeks was instant.

“What did you think of your Gamberoni Diavola?” Robert asked; his voice deep and warm, as the waiter removed their dinner plates.

“I thought it was just delicious,” breathed Lily-Rose “I love seafood; the prawns were just melt in the mouth.” She dabbed delicately at mouth with the napkin, feeling guilty at the small smudge of pink gloss left on the crisp white fabric.

“In that case, next time you should really try the Spaghetti alle Vongole. The clams are out of this world,” Robert said, eyes lighting up.

“Oh I don’t eat spaghetti and definitely not in public,” Lily-Rose said, brow wrinkling in distaste “far too messy.”

Robert laughed softly but nodded in agreement. “Nothing worse than getting spaghetti down your clothes. Best to avoid the dangerous foods. I went out with a girl once who sucked the spaghetti up into her mouth like she was five years old again. Horrible.”

“How awful,” frowned Lily-Rose.

“You have no idea!” grinned Robert and then they both laughed together, eyes meeting briefly before Lily-Rose felt her heart thudding a little louder in her chest again and she looked away quickly and almost gasped at what she saw over Robert’s shoulder.

Lying twisted up on the floor between two tables was Peter, blinking madly and fingers twitching-twitching-twitching.

“Are you okay?” Robert said, reaching over and touching fingertips lightly against hers.

“Yes, yes I’m fine,” urged Lily-Rose, smiling weakly and trying not to look back over his shoulder again. Waiters were stepping over Peter as if he wasn’t even there.

“Are you sure? You look a little pale all of a sudden. I hope it wasn’t the seafood.” He looked at her in a flood of concern and his eyes drifted to her forehead where Lily-Rose could feel the first beads of sweat breaking through her skin.

Standing up from her chair suddenly, Lily-Rose gathered her handbag into her arms and excused herself, knowing that she was also going to have to step over the dead boy and praying that his fingers wouldn’t tap-tap-tap against her legs.

“Excuse me for a moment please,” she whispered and left Robert staring after her, worry etched on his face.

In the ladies room, cold water blanched away the perspiration on her forehead and Lily-Rose tried frantically to re-apply her make-up, cursing her trembling hands. Finally after three attempts, it was done and she assessed herself in the mirror, making note of her peaches and cream skin, long curled eyelashes and perfect eyeliner. With a sweep of pink gloss, she pressed her lips together to allow full coverage and sprayed a quick spritz of perfume.

Fixing herself with a steely stare, she stood up straight and lifted her chin. “You sprayed when you talked. You had spittle at the corners of your mouth. You let your sock fall down.”

Seating herself back at the table, Lily-Rose apologised for her previous lapse and made an excuse about too much wine, although of course she had barely drank two glasses, which was always her limit anyway.

“Please, don’t apologise. I would never have forgiven myself if it had been the seafood. Imagine, bringing you to a restaurant and sending you home with food poisoning!” he smiled “would you like dessert or coffee?”

She declined politely, noting the small touches of spittle that had gathered at the corner of his mouth as he smiled. “Why don’t we go back to yours for coffee instead? Coffee should always be taken in a much more…..intimate setting, don’t you think?” She smiled and looked at him shyly through long, mascara-sleek lashes, noting the excitable flush that crept into his cheeks.

“I couldn’t agree more, Lily-Rose,” he said and quickly motioned for the waiter to bring the bill.

It had always helped to have such a pretty name.

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Daring the dark

I’m always inspired by my favourite author Stephen King. I know for some his fiction is not to their taste, whether that be because of his subject choice or because of his writing style but I am hooked on his words and adore the way he writes. I recently finished reading Stephen King’s short story collection Full Dark, No Stars and it has definitely encouraged my growing love for the short story. I have never particularly been a big fan of the short, always preferring to sink my teeth into a full-length novel, however recently I have started to appreciate short story fiction a little more and have even tried turning my hand to a few of my own.

If you turn to the Afterword in Full Dark, No Stars, King makes an observation that really hits home to me as a writer, and in particular to me as a horror/paranormal fiction writer.

“If you’re going into a very dark place……then you should take a bright light, and shine it on everything. If you don’t want to see, why in God’s name would you dare the dark at all?”

Daring the dark is what every horror writer worth his salt should do. Now, my mum would always say to me that the likes of King and one of my other favourite writers, James Herbert were “sick in the head” for writing about the things they do. But if you get beyond the blood, gore, ghostly goings-on and stuff of nightmares and take a good look at the characters’ themselves, you will find real people and yes, they might be the deepest, darkest creations you will ever meet on the page, but rest assured somewhere in the world there are such people and they don’t all hide in drains dressed up as Pennywise the Clown or come tapping at your window at night, fangs glistening in the moonlight and begging you to invite them into your home so they can open your veins.

King says “For writers who knowingly lie, for those who substitute unbelievable human behaviour for the way people really act, I have nothing but contempt……Bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do – to face the fact, let us say, that murderers sometimes help old ladies cross the street.”

And with that thought deeply entrenched in my mind, I give you, dear reader, Lily-Rose…..

 

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Atticus For The Undead by John Abramowitz: A Review

I have to admit I was a little dubious when I received a tweet from someone asking me to review their book.

“Who is this person?’ I thought, having never even spoken to him before and at that point, was not even following him (in a twitter sense, not in a stalking sense).

But on checking out John Abramowitz’s bio, I quickly saw he was a writer like me and I thought “maybe I should give this some credence, after all, maybe one day I will also asking for reviews and needing people’s support in the same way?”

But I was still dubious none-the-less, and even more so when John sent me the book to read.

Oh dear. Legal Fiction Series? My heart dropped a little. I had already told John that I don’t have much spare time to read and review and already had concerns that I wouldn’t get round to completing the task this century, but to find out it was legal fiction? Now I was worried I wouldn’t want to complete the task this century.

But thankfully the word paranormal popped up so I rolled up my imaginary sleeves and bedded myself down with my Kindle and prepared myself to struggle my way through.

Now I wouldn’t like to say that I am usually happy when someone proves me wrong, but in this case, I can honestly say that I am!

The opening chapter is always a decider for me. If you can’t catch me during the first few pages, then you’re likely to find me wandering the abyss of boredom very quickly and that usually means your book will do nothing but languish in dust-covered Hell on my bookcase, or worse…be deleted from my Kindle, nevermore to grace its hallowed library.

John caught me from the opener:

Sam Pollard took no notice of the crumpled up newspaper report of his death even as he stepped on it.

One line, which might not captivate some but the paranormal writer in me sat up straight away and was thinking “Is he dead? Is he a ghost? How can he be walking around if he is supposed to be dead?”

Soon we find out that since The Unveiling, some years before, the world is a very different place to the one we knew. Zombies, vampires, mages and other arcanes live amongst humans but it’s a world filled with mistrust, prejudice and hate and Hunter Gamble, defence attorney for arcane rights, has his work cut out for him. Police with their hands-tied, politicians intent on inflaming people’s prejudices for their own cause and the brutish methods of the Salvation Alliance are all in a day’s work for Hunter, his assistant Kirsten and newly-turned-witch Sabrina (and yes she is a teenage witch).

They take on the cases no one else wants. They fight for those who can’t help being what they are. And soon they are thrust into the spotlight of a very high profile murder case involving zombie Sam Pollard.

I found the concept really interesting, captivating, fresh and the book was an easy, enjoyable, page-turner from start to finish. I was rooting for Hunter (and Sam) every step of the way as he battled petty power games, rage-filled prejudice and a world of frustration in his efforts to win a case that looks doomed from the start.

If you want to read a paranormal story that is refreshingly…well…..human…..then this could just be the one for you.

Four out of five, John…..and it would have gotten a five if it wasn’t for the fact I would have preferred a slightly different ending, but that’s the idealist in me.

Well done and thank you for letting me read Atticus For The Undead.

Please feel free to follow John on Twitter @onthebird and check out his blog www.onthebird.blogspot.com

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Dear Reader

Hello again bloggers, writers, friends and weirdo’s.

As usual it’s been a while since my last post, but I guess the old adage is that ‘if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all’. I’ll never be a constant blogger, that I can say for absolute certain because 1) time restrictions mean I’m limited in how much I can blog and 2) I’ll never blog for blogging’s sake.

If anything, recently I have felt subdued into silence (which my husband would probably say is a good thing) but that’s not unusual when writer’s block hits or when life in general seems slightly more exhausting than usual, and during those times it’s usually better to focus on other things until I regain my voice.

But there’s no doubt that on this occasion, the whole editing thing is the dastardly perpetrator. As you know, from my last post, I decided to edit Dark Sanctuary again having realised I had made some hideous grammatical errors and now I am thrown back into the book I wrote over a year ago and seeing it with very different eyes.

Dark Sanctuary has been read by various different people and I have received lots of varying feedback, all pretty positive and all criticism has been constructive – at least none so bad that it’s made me want to slam the laptop on my own head. But one comment has stuck in my head and I’ll know he’ll hate me for saying this as I’m sure he thinks I’m highly offended by it (which is completely not true) however my older brother said he struggled with the first one hundred pages. He said he wanted for the story to just ‘get going’ and although he got many of the references I made to people and places from our childhood, the first few chapters did challenge his will to stick at it.

Now, admittedly no one else has made that comment (sorry again bro) but as a writer, I do feel it’s my obligation to consider why he felt like that. The first few chapters have to grip the reader, otherwise you risk them putting the book down and wandering off to wash their hair/cut their toenails/scrub the kitchen floor/all of the above and that’s the last thing you want to happen. You don’t want them to put the book down. You want them to not want to put the book down.

So what was it about those first chapters that caused the problem and could I, as the author, spot where I was causing the reader to lose interest?

Well, I can only offer my opinion at this stage as I have yet to discuss with my brother, but whilst I think many things that I write about in those first few chapters have to happen – incidents and relationships that are crucial to character development and to plot – I can see that there is an element to my writing that almost hits a younger reader at that point. The writing seems to change and it’s difficult for me to explain how it does that, but the part of the chapter that sticks out like a sore thumb for me is the one that leads up to Sarah’s unfortunate meeting with Bourne, the horse-killing vamp with the bad dress sense and the even worse buzz-cut.

Sarah’s run-in with Bourne is crucial to the plot as of course he is the one that kick starts her life of running away from the nightmares that have come to haunt her and I think in some way, I fail in the build up to that. The chase is a terrifying one and the fear that she feels as a result of that is incredibly important as from then onwards we see a more wary, frightened Sarah who has started to realise that she is never going to lead a normal life. It’s not just about what it does to her life, but also what it does to her mind, which culminates in her mental deterioration when she is holed up in her little grey cottage hideaway.

There is something almost child-like in the way I write that chapter, which some may say is unavoidable as I am talking about an incident that happens to her as a child but I know in my heart I need to go back and re-write it. It might be a chapter about a point in her childhood, but there is something too simplistic and certain paragraphs seem disjointed and irrelevant.

On re-reading through the whole manuscript, I can now see quite clearly where the book really gets going; where it really begins to grip the reader and make them beg for more.

Whilst I despise editing with a passion, I have to say that I am glad my school-girl grammatical failures prompted me to dive back and re-look at it with fresh eyes. And for that too, I have to thank my brother, because whilst he was concerned he had offended me in his honest opinion, I am nothing without the honest feedback people give me and can never hope to improve my writing without it.

So writers, I guess the moral of the story is….listen to your readers, because sometimes their voice is the one that hear.

 

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Business as usual……Excerpt from Lost Creatures!

We stood outside the imposing looking gates, looking up at the equally imposing building that stood beyond them. I eyed the sign suspiciously.

Aubern Mews Residential Care Home.

‘Michael, are you quite sure this is the correct address’ I asked, raising an eyebrow at him.

‘Yes’ he replied ‘233 Paignton Avenue. This is it’

‘But this is a home for the elderly. They might be pretty old, but I’m betting that none of the residents are that old. We are not going to find one of the Elders here’

He sighed.

‘Well this is the address that Marcus gave me’

‘But why would there be a vampire living in a residential care home?’

‘There’s only one way to find out I suppose’

And with that he grabbed me by the waist and hoisted us up over the wall and into the grounds of the care home.

Aubern Mews was set in about two acres of land and bordered on the sides by sparse woodland.

Michael had set us down just on the other side of the wall and had this area been more brightly lit, we would have been in full view of anyone looking from the house. Luckily we were protected by shadow but I couldn’t help but look round furtively, expecting a spotlight to sweep round the grounds and hit us at any minute.

We skirted the grounds, heading directly for the trees on our left hand side where the freezing fog clung to the ground like an icy shroud. I could barely see my feet moving through the mist and I felt the moisture in the grass drenching the bottoms of my jeans.

We passed by the courtyard in front of the building where staff cars were parked, like sentinels in the dark ready to announce our presence to the security team inside.

I heard a scuffling noise behind me and I turned sharply expecting to have someone shine a torch into my eyes but all I saw were shadows shifting in the darkness and the fog weaving tendrils around my feet.

I felt cold breath on the back of my neck and Michael laid a hand on my shoulder sending a buzz through my spine that made me shiver involuntarily.

‘Come on’ he whispered, grabbing my hand.

I must admit, I certainly felt slightly less jittery clutching onto his hand although the closeness between us still felt a little weird.

We snaked a trail alongside the building, still sticking to the cover of the trees for protection. Small windows with curtains tightly drawn told us that most of the occupants were sound asleep and I briefly wondered what it must be like to sleep through the night-time hours; so long it had been since I had followed any normal sleeping pattern.

At the back of the house I could see a large garden illuminated by moonlight; wooden benches dotted here and there providing places for the home’s occupants to come and sit during the warmer months and take in the view.

As we drew closer suddenly a flash of light sent us scuttling back further into the trees as a sensor light blinked on and  alerted the house to our presence by beaming screaming white light out into the garden. Crouched low in the damp cold grass, I could feel my heart beating hard and Michael squeezed my hand in response.

We waited but no one came. Not one curtain twitched. I ran my eyes over the house, looking for signs that someone had seen the light flicker on and was now making their way out into the garden to see who might be out here but everything seemed just as it was before.

Michael pulled me to my feet but we remained cloaked by the cover of the trees.

‘I can move quicker on my own. Why don’t you wait here and I will find a way in?’

Before he could go, we heard the click of a door opening and a small, slow-moving shadow stepped out into the garden. No sooner had the person appeared from the house, than I felt the most excruciating pain hit my chest and I staggered back, unable to keep myself upright, so great was the agony. Clutching at my chest, I stumbled to the floor, feeling my heart hammering as if it were ready to burst out of my ribcage with some tremendous force.

‘Sarah!’ Michael hissed and grabbed hold of my, pulling me half onto his lap ‘what is it? What’s wrong?’

I could only shake my head, unable to get any words out as the pain crept out from my chest, down my arms, forcing my hands to twist violently into claws and then down into my legs until I felt I had no control over my own body. I began to writhe in an agony that even rivalled the pain I had felt when Dominique had attacked me. It was as if a thousand volts of electricity were coursing through my veins and I had images of my blood burning and boiling inside me.

I felt my eyesight moving in and out of focus as the pain reached my head and by that point I couldn’t help but cry out but through the pain, I saw the shadow turn its head in our direction and I knew at once I had alerted them to our trespass and we had been spotted.

The shadow moved, still slowly, shuffling almost painfully towards us but my vision suddenly blackened and my body twisted into uncontrollable spasms and I could hear Michael, anxiously saying my name and clutching onto me in hopeless desperation.

Then the shadow spoke, low but audible, with a crisp, clear English accent.

‘Bring her inside, boy and do it without hesitation, we must act quickly’

 

Copyright (c) Lindsey Clarke 2011

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