Archive for April, 2012

New Banner!

Posted: April 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

Since Facebook decided to insist on this new Timeline format, there has been a blank part of the Facebook author page which needed to be filled. The page looked a little naked otherwise, so I thought I’d get something done about it. In stepped Nicolene, and – well, you can see the results for yourself! Here is the full picture, as the blog page banner doesn’t quite fit it all. But it seemed like a good time to sort out a minor facelift for my page as well. Check it out!

So, a quick word on the banner itself. If you’ve seen the book cover, you’ll probably already recognise ‘Rose’, as Misery’s Tear mostly focuses upon her. If not, she’s the one on the left in this banner, and can also be seen on an earlier post:

Now, on the right is Kara, a highly inquisitive academic who works with Rose to help uncover the mysteries of her past, and (more importantly to Kara) her extraordinary new powers.

In the centre, a wonderful overview of London, as you can probably see by the famous 30 St Mary Axe in the background. Most people know it as The Gherkin Building – and if you’ve ever seen anything filmed in London with a sweeping view from the sky in the last few years, from Spooks to The Apprentice, it’s almost definitely been in shot.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. I’ll be back on over the course of the next week to point you at something else really cool!

Banner credits below:

Stock credits:

Rose Model: http://kechake-stock.deviantart.com/

Kara Model: http://petitechik.deviantart.com/

Backgrounds:
http://ashensorrow.deviantart.com/

http://pixellyperfectstock.deviantart.com/

Designer: Nicolene Lorette Design

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The Turnip Princess Challenge

Posted: April 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

I was asked to complete a challenge by a friend a few weeks back. That challenge came from an article written in The Guardian newspaper following the rediscovery of a long-lost fairy tale called The Turnip Princess. You can read the original here – and you probably should before continuing:

Are you back? Good! Thank you. Did you have fun trying to work out what was going on and where? I did too. But I had more fun with the challenge itself. The challenge was to look at that story and then rewrite it in your own style. Now I confess, I got a little carried away with this, and actually ended up rewriting it with a bit of a contemporary spin. I’m hoping I haven’t killed the story, but you can see my crack at it below this post.  And if you want to see the rewrite of the original that started all this, you can have a look at the link I’m leaving for that too. But those of you writers out there, it’d be cool to see what you come up with before you read that one. Go on – give it a go. You know you want to…

The rewrite I read is here when you’re ready…

…and my version follows below. I’ll be interested to hear how people get on with it.

The Turnip Princess 2012 by R.A. Smith

In a time not far from your own, and a world you know well, there lived a young man named Prince. It was his real name, given to him by parents who brought him up to live and to act as they believed a prince should. From relatively humble beginnings in Camden Town, he left school with excellent grades, furthered his education, and eventually left university with a very good Business degree. He drank a toast with his parents on graduation day; one to them for believing in him and supporting him, the other to wish all the kids and teachers at school who told him he’d fail the best in their own futures. The strange thing was, he actually meant it.

Taking a well-earned year out to go and see the world, he returned to a decent job in account management for a good company, and as ever, proved himself a success in the two years he had been there. It would not be long before he was due a promotion, and the only thing in his way was a choice of paths to take on his ascent. He was going to be the best thing to happen to his company in some time. And yet somehow, there was something missing from his life. Simply put, none of this was satisfying.

One evening, when on his way back from visiting a client in Sheffield, his car broke down, just past Sherwood Forest. Unable to fix it on the motorway, his only choice was to have the recovery truck drop him not too far away for him to find somewhere to stay the night. After several hours of wandering, phone calls and frustrating rejections, he eventually stumbled upon a small bed and breakfast called The Cave, which looked more like a pub from the outside. Too tired to do anything else, he thrust his credit card at them and booked a room, collapsing on the bed, out cold for the night.

*

Refreshed from his night’s sleep, he enjoyed the hearty breakfast and the huge pot of tea that was waiting for him. He took a look around at the place, which had somewhat gothic overtones, and thought with a little TLC, it could have been a really unique venue. As things stood, the place was almost derelict, with cobwebs everywhere, a claustrophobic sense of gloom and, in context, an unsurprising lack of customers. In fact, he was the only one in sight.  Despite this, the place had a certain charm about it, and he decided to call the office and book himself a much-needed day off to rest. Prince soon found his rest efforts disrupted by a rambunctious row between the mountainous hooded man clearing his table and the woman who had checked him in last night. He had not noticed it at the time, but like The Cave itself, the woman had a certain something about her which caught his eye. Perhaps it had been that comforting smile she flashed him even in the middle of this squabble. Whatever it was, Prince found himself smiling right back at her without even realising he was doing so. “Bear!” she shrieked at the massive man beside him, “Just get the table cleared. We’ll finish this later…”

Prince still could not see his face, but his voice shook the room. “You’re NOT my boss, Turnip!” He cleared the table in one quick sweep and stomped towards the kitchen.

“Don’t call me that!” she replied, even as the door had already slammed behind Bear. “And you can stop laughing as well!”

He hadn’t even realised he was until she caught him in the act. But after a brief pause, he refused her request. “I’m sorry!” he said through guffaws. “Turnip? Seriously??”

Eventually, her rage subsided, and she broke into laughter of her own, just as infectious as her smile had been. She left the reception desk and made her way to his table. ‘Turnip’ looked as if she had just been pulled out of the ground, to Prince’s mind, with her dark hair, greasy and lank, all over the place, chapped lips and broken skin. She looked old somehow, world-weary – but he could not really tell. But the worst thing was the hideous smell of cigarette smoke and booze that wafted the minute she got close. Yet none of this could disguise a certain allure she had about her, especially in her deliciously dark brown eyes. She wore a dress that looked like a two generation old hand-me-down, but she wore it very well. “You breathe a word about this,” she told him with a grin and a prod, “and you’ll never leave here, okay? I’ve got an garden out back with room for you right by the veg…”

Turnips, perhaps?” Prince asked, unable to help himself.

“No!” She broke into a chuckle, taking a seat opposite him. “Who eats turnips these days anyway? Idiot.”

“You can’t talk to me like that!” he said with a wry smile. “I’m your guest.”

“Already have…” she said. Her laugh surfaced again, and for a time, he forgot about everything repulsing him. “My name’s Cristina. He calls me Turnip because that’s what they used to call me in school. Tina Turnip. Like the singer. But they got it wrong. Kids, eh?”

“Tell me about it.” Prince said, wincing. “I had grief at school being called Prince. Even the teachers were at it.”

And with that, the two talked for some time, about many things. He enjoyed her conversation a lot, and didn’t want to tear himself away. He decided to extend his leave to the end of the week and stay here.

Though a day’s sightseeing and relaxation were good for him, he found himself somewhat disturbed when he saw Cristina being carried in to the house by Bear, drunken and surly. Suddenly, he was not so keen to extend his stay, but his car was still under repair too. His disappointment became a far worse thing when on the following night she banged on his door, as drunk as she’d been that first night. He didn’t like what she had to say that night.

The next morning, Cristina had left The Cave and Bear, whose face remained obscured by that hood, sat with him this time. There remained no sign of any other guests, so the two were alone. Bear brought Prince a huge breakfast, and somehow an even bigger one for himself. The both of them enjoyed their meal. But curiosity had got the better of Prince. “I’m sorry,” he said to Bear as he finished his last mouthful of toast, “but I have to ask. Why is it that I could not find a room anywhere, and yet here I seem to be the only person around who doesn’t work here?”

Bear gave an almighty sigh and muttered from under the hood. “Place is cursed…” he replied. “Not to scare you away or anything, but you’re the only customer we’ve had in a while…”

“I like it here,” Prince said to him, patting his recently-expanded belly in deference to the breakfast he had just faced, “though I can’t help but think if you did one or two little things, a lot more people would like it here too.”

“We can’t afford it.” Bear said dismissively.

“I was just talking about a little bit of cleaning and perhaps the odd lick of paint…”

“I SAID – WE CAN’T AFFORD IT!” Bear’s roar was worthy of his name.

“Okay, okay!” Prince said, backing away in his seat. “It was just a suggestion.”

“I’m sorry,” more of a mumble this time from Bear, “you could call it a sore point. Both for me and for Turnip.” He poured two fresh cups of tea. “Listen – she likes you, man. This week? The first time I’ve seen her smile in a long time. And if she’s happy, I’m happy too. So I’m going to help you out.”

“Listen,” Prince said, now a little confused, “I don’t want you to help me out. I just want to go and get back to my life. My car should be ready now, and I’ve taken enough time off as it is.”

“Is that what you really want though?” Bear asked, before watching Prince squirm for a few seconds. Just as Prince was about to answer, he cut him off. “’Course it isn’t. Your life sounds boring, man. You’re bored. Do something about it.”

“I like boring,” Prince protested unconvincingly, “I like routine, stability, that kind of thing.”

Bear broke into bellowing laughter. “That kind of thing? Bull! You don’t even know what you’re saying, do you? You’re a Prince! Do something brave and noble! Live up to your name!”

“No, I am Prince.” He shook his head in confusion. “It’s my name. That’s all.”

“And if you believed that, you wouldn’t have made it this far.”

Prince shook his head vigorously and stood up, making his way from the table to the reception desk. “Screw this. Do you wanna’ grab me my bill so I can settle up and get out of here?”

“No, mate.” Bear moved forward in his seat. Even though he was now sitting some way away, Bear still cut an imposing enough presence in the room that Prince flinched back when he moved. “I want you to do something about the curse.”

Prince snorted a laugh. “Oh, right – you want me to sort your marketing out and help you get a few more guests? Yeah, I can do that – just give-”

No, Prince.” There was no humour on Bear’s face. “I want you to do something about the curse.” He looked over at a wall with a lone photograph on it, gesturing for Prince to do the same. Prince did not argue. “Get rid of that for me. For us.”

Confused but intrigued, Prince gingerly made his way from the desk to the photograph. Examining it, he saw a woman, perhaps in her 50s, who looked a little like Cristina, but older again. She looked sickly though, and her eyes were filled with sadness. Prince somehow got the sense that it may have been one of that woman’s last photographs. “It looks important,” he said, turning to Bear.

“Take it down and get rid of it!” Bear said, sounding agitated. “Call it a favour if you like.”

“Why haven’t you done it?” Prince asked, looking again at the photograph. “Afraid of what Cristina will say or do?”

“You don’t understand curses at all, do you?” Bear answered, head in hands.

“Don’t understand why you keep going on about ‘em…” Prince muttered. His hand was on the surprisingly rigid piece of string that connected the photo frame to the nail suspending it. He attempted to simply unravel it and lift, but could not move it at all.

“You’re gonna’ have to pull out the nail, mate.” Bear shifted in his seat so anxiously that just for a moment Prince was starting to believe there was more to this than just moving a picture. Eventually, he wrapped a finger and a thumb around the nail, and following a brief struggle, managed to loosen, and eventually remove, the nail in the wall. It was so rusted that Prince was amazed it remained in one piece, let alone able to hold anything up. Yet there it was, and the photograph was now in his hands.

No sooner had he done this then a crack grew from the fresh hole in the wall that caused Prince to step back. It was so wide each way that he felt sure the wall was about to come down. There was a rumble and the ground shook, almost throwing him off his feet. “What the-?”

“You’ve done it, mate.” Bear stood up, ignoring the tremors around him. “We’re free.”

“Free from what?” As Prince asked though, the place felt brighter, cleaner somehow. It wasn’t, but he couldn’t place that feeling. Bear removed his hood for the first time too. Underneath the hood was a handsome man, head shaved low but a well-trimmed beard spiking at the chin. He had dark eyes that resembled Cristina’s enough to place them as related, and a tongue piercing in the shape of a gold crown. Bear moved at him with surprising speed, and caught him the kind of embrace one might expect of a Bear. “You know,” he said to the trapped Prince, “you don’t listen much, do you?” He released his hold and smiled. “It’s all on the house. I’ve just got one more thing to ask you though. You find somewhere far from here and you bury that thing, somewhere neither of us will find it, or think to look for it, okay? That’s all I ask.”

Prince deliberated for a moment and then eventually nodded.

*

A week passed, and Prince still hadn’t returned to work. He had visited several places across the country to find a good place to bury the photograph, as he now had an obligation to do. He couldn’t bring himself to simply burn it. He’d driven to the south coast, and stood on Brighton Pier with it wrapped in cloth, ready to drop it, but it still did not feel right. He stood at Beachy Head, holding it over there, but this was not the place for it either. In the end, he settled for the allotment just beyond his own garden, from his own house. It was far enough away from The Cave. He found a good place for it, at the edge of the allotment and right by a rose bush, close to a set of crops. He started digging, continuing until he had a suitably sized hole.

Once he was done, he crouched to one knee and unfolded the cloth once more, just to check everything was in order. The rusty nail had not yet fallen apart, and the frame on the glass remained. And the woman on the photograph still stared back at him with those same sad eyes. He met her gaze and for a moment, somehow shared her pain, whatever had been the cause.

From behind him, he could hear a low growl, loud as thunder and fierce with it. He turned to meet it and found himself faced with what appeared to be a savage, shadowy, two-headed dog standing almost as tall as a man on his four legs, with monstrous muscle and two rows of the sharpest teeth Prince had ever seen.

Prince thought to run, as facing this terrifying thing would surely be foolish, but one look at it was enough to know he would get nowhere before it caught him. Instead, he looked it straight in the eye and placed the great fear he had in him to the back of his mind, shifting his stance as if he was about to wrestle a man. He stared it down, and it stared back at him with evil yellow eyes, jaws slavering as it prepared itself to pounce at any time. Prince did not give himself a prayer, but he resolved that if he was to die here, he would take something from it for his troubles. I am a Prince, he reminded himself, before dropping the picture into the hole, and stepping forward. It gave a murderous roar and leapt for his throat.

The battle between the two would have been told in legend, if only any had witnessed it. Back and forth across the allotment it raged; the mighty but relatively slow beast well-matched against the more graceful and cunning Prince. Eventually though, Prince tired and the monstrous dog seized its opportunity. It charged at him, and sent him crashing through the greenhouse, shattering as he landed on his back. Though badly cut and bleeding, he knew that he had one chance to finish this, or be destroyed by the beast. Cutting himself further doing so, he picked up a shard of glass, and as the monster dog landed on him, plunged the shard into its heart with all of his remaining strength.

The last thing he saw was the massive creature falling upon him and crushing him. It was not without a satisfied smile on his face.

*

When Prince woke, he found himself somewhere other than at the allotment, and with a beard. He must have been out for some time, but he wasn’t at a hospital as might have been expected. Instead, he was in his own bed. He had no idea how he got there. Yet he was alive, and his first thought turned back to the picture and whether it was still buried. As soon as he got out of bed, then shaved, he set off back to where he had attempted to bury the photograph.

It wasn’t there.

He called his boss to say he wasn’t coming in tomorrow, or ever again. Then he checked everywhere he had attempted to dispose of it previously; Brighton Pier, Beachy Head and several other places – and yet somehow he knew it wasn’t there either. Eventually, he gave in, and exhausted, stopped at a farmhouse on his way home for a meal and a good night’s sleep.

Prince awoke early in the evening, drawing the curtains to take a look outside. The moment he did this, he caught sight of something that made him laugh so hard, he could not stop. “A crop of turnips!” he said to himself, shaking his head at the sight. “Typical!” He went out into it with the permission of the farmer and found a rose bush, almost exactly like the one in the allotment he had left behind some days ago. Nah, he thought to himself as he wandered over to inspect it, that’d just be silly.

But then again, I have had a fistfight with a two-headed dog in the last week…

One of the roses, beautifully red but hanging loose from a broken stem, caught his eye, and despite jabbing himself on the thorns, he pulled it clear and replanted it from the break point right next to a nearby turnip – the biggest he could see by some way. He didn’t believe it would save the rose, but it made him feel better all the same. He decided to stay another night and rest fully before abandoning his quest altogether. “Why did I do this?” he asked himself even as he went back to bed.

*

The next morning, he drew the curtains again and looked down at that exact spot he’d stopped at the day before. The rose had grown as surely and as perfectly as if he had cultivated it lovingly every day. Stunned by this turn of events, he went straight outside and to the rose – where he witnessed another thing; the turnip itself was halfway out of the ground. More interestingly again though was that the turnip was translucent, and looked to have a small object inside it that Prince couldn’t quite discern. He pulled out the turnip and it rattled, feeling hollowed and certainly crispier than a turnip should. Intrigued, he cracked it open with fairly minimal effort, and inside found of all things a photo frame! The frame was identical in appearance to the one he was looking for, but the photograph was not the same. Somehow, this was disappointing to him.

His disappointment was brief however, because when he looked again, he saw the face of someone he could only describe as the woman of his dreams. In a white, flowery summer dress, she had dark hair and eyes, cherry red lips and the smile of an angel, looking both curvaceous and vivacious. Oh, but she was perfectly formed – at least for Prince! Something looked familiar about her though – as if he’d seen her before…

And there it was. A rusted nail which looked every bit identical to the one he plucked from the wall of The Cave just over a week ago clung to the piece of string at the top. He shrugged, and grabbed the turnip – photograph, nail and all, and carried it back inside, paying for his room and heading to the one place he hadn’t thought to look; The Cave.

*

The front door of The Cave was open but there were no signs of activity. He rang the bell three times; there was still nobody in the reception area. The place looked as dark and uninviting as ever, but he went in anyway and shrugged before placing the photograph in his hands right where the old one had stood, bashing the nail hard into the exact same hole that had been left on his last visit. No sooner had he turned around after his last strike had both Bear and Cristina appeared behind him. It was as if they had been stood there all along.

“What are you doing?” Bear asked him, looking horrified. “Which part of this curse do you not understand?”

“It’s just a photo…” Prince replied, turning around and pointing at it. Any further protests he was about to make were cut silent as he looked closer and saw the same woman he had seen originally, saddened and sickly, staring back at him. “I…but…that…”

“And now you understand…” Bear said, looking at the ground. “Once again we are doomed – save only any mercy you care to show.”

“Just tell me one thing,” Prince said, confused as much as anything else, “what happened to the beautiful woman in the picture I was carrying?”

Cristina shrugged and moved towards him. He took a step out of her way, for the look on her face was one of hostility. “This,” she said, tapping at the photograph, “was my mother. And she was beautiful. Why have you come in here insulting us like this?”

“But I wasn’t – I swear to you; this was someone different before I put it up! She was younger; it wasn’t even the same woman!”

“Then why did you put it up?” she asked him angrily. Prince recoiled from her when he caught the aroma of a rubbish tip, but he thought long and hard about his answer, as did not truly know himself.

“I…” he started with a stammer, “There was something about the woman I saw on the photograph. She looked like…like there was some resemblance or something. But it wasn’t her.” He stared back at the picture before Cristina tapped him on the shoulder sharply.

“Perhaps it was me you saw?” she said to him.

“It really wasn’t.”

“Look again,” she said, drawing him around.

He did as he was told, now just keen to leave this whole situation well alone. But he looked into her eyes this time, deeply. There was that same allure that he caught when they first sat and talked; the same warmth, that feeling he got around her. The only thing that came close was the smile when he looked at the picture he had found in the turnip.

He spoke his thoughts out loud. “I found a picture. In a turnip. Excuse me lady,” he turned to Bear, “and gentleman; I am finally going mad and my mind is about to play another trick on me. I really should be going before we start talking about curses again.”

Bear, quiet all this time, finally growled. “Just pull out the damn nail!”

So startled was Prince, he turned to the photo and pulled the nail out again. Far looser this time, it all dropped into his hands and he thrust the photograph, nail and string, into Cristina’s hands before making for the exit.

“Thank you,” said a voice much smoother than he had heard of her up to now and was stopped in his tracks as he watched her hand close around the nail. It seemed to dissolve into rust in her hands, and she wiped it from her hands on to the floor. In a matter of seconds the room brightened – definitely this time, and the cobwebs he had seen around him all just disappeared with the light. The pungent smell he had experienced up to now had gone, replaced by something resembling that of a field of roses. There was a different look to her, though that same unmistakable presence remained. Only she now looked every bit like the raven-haired princess he had seen on that other photograph. And whether his mind was playing tricks on him or not, she advanced towards him and kissed him with amazingly soft lips for what felt like forever, and yet not long enough.

When he opened his eyes again, he could see Bear grinning with perfect teeth behind them, with two thumbs raised. His arms were nothing but muscle as he finally removed the huge coat he always wore, and he cut a an impressive figure; princely himself. “Now do you believe me?” Bear asked, still grinning.

*

The curse on Cristina and Bear lifted, Cristina was finally able to leave The Cave for longer than a day. She left for good actually, as she felt Bear perfectly capable of running the place, their mother’s legacy to them both, by himself. She explained to Prince that she actually always wanted to run a place by the sea, somewhere warm, and with that, he told her that he would like nothing better. The two opened a hotel called Nutbush in the south of France, with the grand opening taking place on the same day as their wedding, a year to the day after they first met. Prince’s father – named King, of course, shed tears of joy on the day, on the shoulders of the mighty Bear.

Bear himself reinvented The Cave, as Prince had mentioned, and went on to run the most successful bed and breakfast in the East Midlands. It was fair to say they all lived happily ever after.

 

 

Lucky Seven Meme

Posted: April 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

A bonus post here: I have been tagged by Colin F. Barnes as you can see here, to participate in this actually quite fun post. Here’s the rules:

*Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP

*Go to line 7

*Copy down the next 7 lines (sentences or paragraphs) and post them exactly as they’re written. No cheating.

*Tag 7 authors

*Let them know

Now this is the only WIP I can really qualify for this. It’s a very different project nobody’s going to be seeing this one for a while I expect, but this is part of the start of a big project I one day wish to unleash on to the world…

“You mean to stick our wings wherever there’s a window?” Eila asked with a small smile.

“Exactly that,” he nodded, looking at the others. “It would be wrong to panic out of turn, but when the entire Security Service is taken out of action so rapidly…” he exhaled loudly with closed eyes, “so easily – we cannot go around assuming everything is in hand. I may have to look at a little fieldwork myself at this rate.”

“So I’m to head over to SCSSHQ then?” Eila asked, already standing up.

“Yes,” he replied without pause. “Not a word to anyone for now apart from me about where you’re going for now. And I know this is a new one for you, but take a caller unit and patch back here if you see anything that can’t wait.” He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a wide silver bracelet with a touch pad tuner on it, handing it over to her. She nodded and put it on immediately, making for the door but looking back on the way out. “This is bad, isn’t it?” she said to him, eyes sliding to the plume of smoke behind the door, some clicks away from here.

“This is bad, yes.” Chief Atraxin replied, looking at the smoke himself, and then reaching for his service clothing that had been hung up behind him for so many years now. “Remember what I said, let me know what’s happening down there as soon as you know.”

“I will, Father.” She never called him ‘Father’, always ‘Dad’ or ‘Chief’, depending upon whether they were in or out of work. On a day such as this, they may have been neither, but circumstances were less than clear. With that, she left his office and reattached her own pack, the Strassictus Twin. It was a light, dual-powered pack with two half-size grav engines for strong velocity regulation and decent manoeuvrability, and its curved convenient form suited her perfectly. She ran the length of the Flight Deck before taking off and was seen off by her father, who went to The Logistician and prepared to book a grav pack himself for the first time in several years.

Something was very wrong in Aerodomain.

I have chosen:

Ninfa Hayes

Erica Hayes

Joy Phillips

Caitlin McColl

Courtney Conant

Wendy’s Bookcase

Jon F.Merz

I shall be looking out!

Cover Stories

Posted: April 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

I may have been a teeny bit excited when this time last week, the first version of my cover turned up. To describe how I was feeling when this first arrived is tricky, but I did spend five minutes grinning widely and staring at it before doing anything further.

But just like what will be found inside that cover, the first version was by no means meant the final version. A little consultation from the Inner Circle™ later and back went a few suggestions for tweaks. Over a few versions, we settled on a background colour, the presence of Grenshall Manor, after which the story series are named, appropriate attire for our cover stars, and the big thing for the eventual version – a rather ornate dagger.

And here it is:

…and the full cover, complete with blurb you may be familiar with from my previous post:

Hope you like it as much as I do!