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  1.  

    I'm honoured to have had a short story, 'Ooh, Air Margrit', included in a charity anthology called You're Not Alone. The theme of the anthology is relationships and is the brain-child of Ian D Moore, a member of a Facebook Indie book review group of which I'm a member.The idea was inspired by the loss of Ian's dear friend, Pamela Winton, who died of cancer earlier this year. He wanted to do something to acknowledge the wonderful support she was given by volunteer MacMillan cancer nurses and appealed to group members for short stories to compile into an anthology; the response was immediate - all of us have been touched by cancer, or will be at some time in our lives.

    This work contains a variety of stories from a very talented worldwide group of Indie authors and I'm sure you'll enjoy them as well as helping to support a very worthy cause.More information about the anthology, which it's hoped will be published very soon, can be seen at www.facebook.com/yourenotalone2015

    The title of the anthology is YOU’RE NOT ALONE and the purchase links are http://smarturl.it/YoureNotAloneAnth and http://bookshow.me/B00Y5RCOOE It is now available for pre-order: release date July 11th 2015.
    My own offering, ‘Ooh, Air Margrit’,is a story that is embarrassingly true.
    All royalties from sales of the anthology will go to the Pamela Winton fund to support Macmillan nurses.

    cover front04 youre not alone

  2. 1where hope dares front cover small

    Proverbs and Destiny – The Birth of a Novel 9 – Transition

    A person’s body is precious to him but nothing to someone else. – Oromo proverb

     

    This week we're into transition. I’ve completed the first draft and sent it to my friend and fellow author, Sarah Stuart, for ‘shredding’. Next stage, after I’ve got over the shock of her comments, and accepted that she’s probably right, will be editing. There are things I want to add, descriptions that could be better, and subjects to reconsider, brought about by standing back and thinking about it for a week.

    I’ve also been thinking about a title. It was originally called Destiny, way back in 2005, and I kept that as a working title, but there are a lot of novels with that name, already and it doesn’t say much about the contents. I briefly thought of it as The Gift of Prophecy: apt, as many of the topics I wrote about in 2005 have already come to pass, but a search for that brings up religious work, which this isn’t, or not in the accepted sense.

    The problem of what to call it made me think hard: what is the novel actually about? What’s at its core? It’s about man’s indomitable character, about living in adversity, about courage and fear, about stupidity, short-sightedness, selfishness, intolerance, and greed. It’s about gentleness, forgiveness, and the power of love to change people’s hearts. But most of all, I think it’s about the unquenchable hope that drags us from our beds each morning, despite the individual crosses we each bear.

    A phrase came into my head, inspired by something I once heard. If it can be imagined, it can be achieved. To that I added the logical outcome of that premise. Mankind will go where hope dares.

    So, welcome to WHERE HOPE DARES.

     

    Another short excerpt:

    Death suppurated from the pile of stiffening bodies, their blood-stained clothing flapping gently in the breeze: limbs tangled at awkward angles, sightless eyes stared skywards at the circling vultures. A fly landed on Raphel’s nose and walked across his eyelids, pausing to drink at the pool of salt liquid in the corner of his eye. More flies buzzed noisily, incessantly, occasionally landing on the blood that had crusted on his leg. The body next to him had no head, but he could tell by the bone knife in the still-clenched hand, that Guddaa Mana had lost its oldest and most revered Abbaa Bokku, their village elder.

    His limbs were stiff with pain and his ribs stabbed but, apart from that one brief look in the early hours by the light of the burning houses, he hadn’t moved. He listened, as he had listened all night, to the sounds of the Northmen, their rough but melodic speech distinct from their own softer tones. Their voices were fewer now, and quieter, as if they were moving away.

    He waited, going over in his mind, again, what had happened and how he’d failed. They’d had scant minutes to get the women and children to safety after Abe had run into the village, breathless and clutching his chest. He’d helped Abe raise the alarm, running from house to house, but some had refused to leave their homes and had lost him precious time. In the end, he left them and they’d perished in the flames or by the sword. Then, he’d grabbed Jalene from her cot and headed for the caves but, when a brute of a man had hauled Temara from her home, he’d thrust his daughter into Moti’s arms and bade him run as fast as he could. Moti had tucked her under one arm, grabbed his grandson’s hand and run.

    He’d thought, in his arrogance, being the younger, fitter man, he could save Moti’s daughter but the enemy soldier had been too strong and too well-armed. He was weak, a mere story-teller not a fighter, and his slight form and simple work-knife had been no match for his opponent’s strength and fighting prowess, or his battle-axe, sword or spear.

    He prayed he’d bought Moti time to reach the cavern. He prayed Kiya was still safely far from home. His leg throbbed, and breathing hurt. He’d taken a blow to his chest, and the Northman’s spear in his thigh: had been pinned to the ground, unable to move, while Temara was savagely butchered. What he couldn’t understand was why the larger soldier had slit the smaller one’s stomach. Unable to be of any further use, he’d played dead, letting his limbs go limp when the spear was jerked out of his leg, and he was thrown over the shoulder of a Northman and hurled onto the pile of bodies.

    It had been silent, now, but for the buzzing of the flies and the mournful squawk of the vultures, long enough for the sun to move the shadow of a dead limb across his nose. Cautiously, he opened one eye and then the other. He turned his face and stared into blue, Northman eyes, sightless and staring. He raised his head. The village appeared deserted. Agony speared through his leg and chest as he tried to move.

    He crawled across the bodies, dragging his wounded leg, dizzy from loss of blood, his throat parched. Once in the cover of a stand of juniper bushes and low oaks, he rested, weak and breathless. The movement had opened his wound, but it was a flesh wound, and not as deep as he had feared: he tore a strip of cloth from his shirt and bound his thigh. He’d lost a lot of blood already, and couldn’t afford more. He slumped against a rock and waited, breathing raggedly: he had to be sure no-one had seen him before he attempted to reach the cavern.

     

  3. camel shadows for blog 8 by m bartosch fdphotos

    Sahara - Courtesy of M Bartosch at free Digital Photos

    The Birth of a Novel – Proverbs and Destiny 8

     

    8 If God were not forgiving, heaven would be empty – Berber proverb

     

    Characters in novels must have ‘arcs’: as in life, we change - moulded by events, and those people who influence us. Characters that don’t respond to the plot and the other characters, become static and cardboard. The character traits with which you imbue them at the beginning determines how they respond, and how they are likely to change and develop. They must also have aims, fears and hopes just as real people do.

    My writing is a little ahead of my blog, and I have just introduced a character called Erin. She is named, with her permission, for the very helpful lady at the Independent Author Network who sorts all my publicity requests. Thank you, Erin. I hope you like your character.

    Anyway, Erin, the fictional one, is a healer. This gives caring for the plight of others as an innate character-trait. She is just bereaved, so she’s also emotional and vulnerable. Born into a culture that glorifies war, she is sickened by the killing. This makes her ripe for sedition. She has proved her courage in the line of duty, so she is brave. She will make a stalwart addition to the fight for Kiya and Raphel’s freedom. Thus she begins her part in the story, around chapter eight, so we've jumped quite a chunk. I shall go back to chapter two, later.

     

    The moon still hung low in the western sky as the sun rose on a scene of devastation. Erin wiped a bloodied hand across her brow. Charred hulks of fishing vessels smouldered on the wet sand in the harbour. Even the sea seemed to have abandoned them. Smoke rose from blackened dwellings and the stench of charred flesh lingered as people wandered the streets in the early light with their few possessions in their arms. Some had only the clothes they stood in.

    Bodies lay on streets sticky with blood. Not all were the enemy; there were people here she recognised. A warrior raised his sword in a sign of respect and then helped load his comrades’ bodies onto carts. The invaders’ bodies would be burnt on a huge pyre, their ashes cast into the sea as offerings to Okeanos and Wrohe.

    The slain warriors would be taken to the temple and laid out in their armour with their weapons arrayed beside them: accorded honour as befitted their courage. Their bodies would be taken to a chamber on the hill and buried with comrades who’d fallen in other battles over the years. The chamber was large, the fallen many.

    She searched the faces of the warriors around her. ‘Jakob…’ He’d have gone down to his boat. He was a fisherman first, a warrior second: the people had to eat.

    She left the body of the youth she had been tending: someone’s son. She closed his eyes gently and moved on. There were so many afraid and in pain, so few she could help. They had wounds and burns beyond her skill. A young girl had cuts and burns. The burns were small and would heal; the cut on her head was deep. This she could treat, this child would live.

    A hand touched her shoulder. ‘Jakob?’ She turned and looked into the face of a stranger.

    ‘You are Erin?’ The man was tall and fair, his clothing dark with blood.

    She nodded as she stitched the girl’s wound.

    ‘I’m Daniel. I fought beside Jakob. He saved my life.’

    ‘He’s safe?’

    ‘He asked me to give you this.’ Jakob pressed a brooch in the shape of a seabird into her palm. ‘It was to be a gift for your birthday… I’m sorry.’

    ‘He’s dead?’ More a statement than a question, yes, of course he was dead, so many were dead. She turned back to the girl to dress the wound. There would be time enough for tears.

    Next day, Velik himself cast the ashes into the sea. He gave thanks to Wrohe for the signs that warned of the invasion, alerting him to danger and saving many from being slaughtered as they slept. He asked Okeanos for calm seas while they repaired the boats upon which they depended for their livelihood, and assured the people that the priests of the order of Okeanos would to make daily offerings to their god.

    The enemy wounded had been killed without compassion, their bodies added to a pyre large enough to burn for three days. It had taken a whole day to carry the fallen warriors to the chamber to join their ancestors. Velik had praised their courage in battle and acknowledged their sacrifice. Their comrades had raised their swords in salute, and she had wept for her man as women have wept since the dawn of time.

    She walked down the hill alone, not wanting the company of the other women. She stopped and looked out to sea. The sun shone, the tide still ebbed and flowed, the gulls still shrieked in argument around the jagged top of The Tower of Wrohe. Nothing had changed. Nothing showed that the light had gone out of her heart.

    Everything had changed, everything. She had no home to go to now, just an empty house, an empty life, an empty future.

    She didn’t believe, as the men did, in Wrohe, God of War. War, death… She was sick of it, sick of the stench of blood, sick of the stench of burnt flesh, sick of seeing the fear in the eyes of children, the tears in the eyes of women. Sick of holding the hands of young men while they died, beseeching her for help she couldn’t give, watching the light go out of their eyes. Her tears were salt on her lips. She wanted Jakob, but she’d never taste the sea on his lips again.

  4.  The Birth of a Novel – Proverbs and Destiny book blog 7 – Labour pains

    No nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both. – Abraham Flexner

    I’ve been thinking about Alaric, the warlike character I envisage as a Viking type, and getting his background and character straight in my head. He’s an important character, and to understand the way he will evolve throughout the story, I need to understand his background. This is how I see him. He is born into a culture that glorifies war. For this culture to be understood, I need also to make a whole backstory about why this is so. What makes a nation this way? Fear, is the usual reason. Greed, after all, is only fear of not having enough. In the case of the Northmen, as will become clear in the story, they had to defend what they had from all comers, or perish. Once this culture of war is established, it becomes ingrained and doesn’t lessen the fear, and isn’t attack the best form of defence? I think we could apply this to wars throughout the ages.

    But the cost of war is not just in financial terms: as Abraham Flexner observed, it comes at the cost of civilisation. I often think of the waste of war, in lives lost, lives ruined, and the loss of achievements that might have happened had mankind devoted themselves to mutual benefit, not mutual detriment.

    In Alaric’s case, the high priestdom rules, like many religious causes that cause more wars than they prevent. Young boys are taken from their parents to be trained. Family ceases to be what most of us think of as family. The warrior status becomes all that these boys have, their duty to the high priest alone. They are brainwashed, radicalised, just as the Hitler Youth were, and young Muslims are today. Nothing really changes, does it?

    This has left Alaric with no concept of family life, love or friendship – only duty and a place in which to perform it, and when he is chosen for an important task, and taken out the natural order of his society, it is bound to go to his head. His ego is inflated, he becomes self-important, and that will prove to be very dangerous for him and the high priest, though perhaps not quite how they might expect: it leaves him open to other, quite alien emotions.

    Excerpt 7

    Next morning, Kiya woke to the sound of shouting. She leapt from her bed, grabbing her travelling clothes and doubled as the pain in her hand, and the agony inside tore through her. The memory of the day before crushed her. She felt for her knife but couldn’t grip it with her right hand. It felt unwieldy in her left, but she moved carefully to the door, aware of the pull of dried blood caking her thighs. A sliver of light shone through the narrow gap between the part-open door and the frame, bringing with it the taste of smoldering ash.

    She put an eye to the gap. Only now, seeing the Northmen en-masse, did she realize how many and how huge they really were, how little chance any of the men had had to fight them off. The bodies of the dead had been thrown in heaps, the Northmen’s dumped with the same lack of respect they had for their enemies. The dead didn’t look so many as she’d feared, this morning: maybe some had been only injured and had escaped in the night. She fingered her cäle. ‘Please, Great Goddess Atete, goddess of fate, who has the power of life, let Raphel and Jalene be alive. Let Genet and Mother be safe.’

    Alaric detached himself from the body of men and strode towards the door. She shrank back against the wall.

    The door flung open and, as Alaric stooped to enter, she raised her knife and lunged at him. He caught her wrist with a swift, effortless movement and twisted the knife from her grip. ‘You think me so stupid?’ He gestured his impatience. ‘Quickly, girl. Get dressed. Come.’

    She shrugged clumsily into clean clothes, tears of frustration brimming. She turned her back on him and fetched a box. In it were sturdy, finely-wrought pins, brought years ago by Abe from across the mountains, which she would use to fasten her cloak.

    ‘Hurry, girl.’

    ‘My name is Kiya.’

    ‘Yes, I remember. Kiya the Herbalist. Come, I need you.’ He looked at the pin in her hand. ‘If you attempt my life again, or attempt escape, I shall pick out both your eyes with that pin.’

    She raised her chin. ‘When I attempt your life again, Alaric, I shall have no need to fear my own pins.’

     ‘You have courage, herbalist. Now come, before I’m tempted to prick you again with my pin.’ He laughed at his own joke but he fetched a piece of twine from a hook on the wall and bound her wrists.

    She smiled inwardly, though her broken fingers throbbed and her wrist burned. This big man feared her. He was a coward.

    Alaric led her across the ruins of the village. ‘The men are searching for hiding places. We’re skilled trackers, taught from youth. We’ll find these women you’ve hidden.’

    She spat at him. ‘Only a coward seeks to dominate the weak.’

    He looked at her for a long moment. ‘The strong dominate the weak. It’s the way of the world… why we survive. Don’t we kill the weakling calf and rear the strong?’

    ‘In our culture we help the weak. There are other virtues than breadth of back.’

    He tilted his head to one side and considered her words. ‘This may be true in your world. It’s not our way. Come.’ He yanked at her tether and forced her onwards, past the burning ruins, past the heap of dead. She craned her neck, searching the tangled limbs and lifeless faces. Her heart lurched. Raphel? She was certain it was Raphel.

    Enemy soldiers scanned the ground and moved off towards the hillside. She stumbled after them, blind with tears, averting her face from the rock that marked the trail to the caverns. She could do nothing for Raphel, but she must stay strong for Jalene. Please, Goddess, Jalene was there safe. Please, Goddess, they had left no tracks in their haste.

    ‘Over here.’ A man gestured and pointed upwards where a thin cleft in the rock, the entrance to the caverns, painted a line of narrow shadow on the mountainside.

    They climbed and reached the cleft. Alaric pulled her closer, watching her expression intently. ‘Is this the hideout?’

    She shrugged, brushing aside tears with the backs of her hands. ‘It’s a place we played as children. It’s a small cave, that’s all. I think wildcats use it. Or maybe cheetahs. The children are forbidden to play here, now.’ She moved closer and sniffed. ‘Definitely cheetah. Unpredictable animals, but go in and check if you want.’

    ‘My shoulders won’t fit through. ‘Anson… you’re thin as a streak of piss. Check if this is a cheetah lair.’

    ‘Check it yourself, Alaric. Or send the girl in.’

    Her heart leapt at the chance of safety, but Alaric wouldn’t give up on his Gift and the orders he’d been charged to fulfil. He’d search until he found her again, or found the fissure through which they’d lowered the milk cow. She raised an eyebrow. ‘And if the cheetah eats me, you’ll be no wiser. There could be a back entrance and you’d never know I escaped. You Northmen aren’t very bright, are you, Alaric?’

    ‘Silence, girl.’ He yanked her to her knees and gestured to the men. ‘Keep searching.’

    She scrambled to her feet and followed him, her eyes scanning the rocky ground to hide her relief. The sun was sinking over the western peaks before they gave up the search. Her relief was more than the safety of Jalene, and those she loved: as the only dark-eyed woman he’d captured, she seemed to have value to Alaric, alive.

  5. painting - kes_by_ruth_coulson

    This is amusing, said the dog when asked to guard a container of cheese - Oromo proverb.

    This is Kes, my bitza. I'm sure she is smiling, and thinking of cheese.

    It’s four-thirty am GMT. Sleep? What’s sleep? My mind is bursting with thoughts that strain at my heavily-pregnant imagination. My novel is getting swollen ankles, and feeling bloated, as if the ending will never come. All  manner of perceived problems lie ahead before I can deliver my story to a waiting midwife.

    I spent most of yesterday producing a book trailer for The Silence of the Stones. It’s my first attempt at anything of this nature, so I’m quite pleased with the result, though I expect it could be better. Anyway, for what it’s worth, you can see it at www.youtu.be/a_ENzGBApk0 Maybe you’ll let me know what you think, and how I could improve it. I did rather like the ‘spooky’ music, though.

    I imagined re-writing Destiny would be a faster process than starting a new story from scratch, but it isn’t proving so, at least not in these early stages. Kiya and Raphel are very different from my original characters and, having researched the religion and culture of the Berber and Oromo peoples, even though the story is fictional and not set in the present time or the present geographical homelands of the Oromo, the history of these separate peoples must be researched, and merged and blended believably.

    Take religion, for example: the Berber are mainly Muslim and the Oromo have been influenced by Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Greek orthodoxy and other religions preached by various ‘invading’ cultures, not that that has stopped a re-emergence of their beliefs in their own god Waqqa, who lives in the sky. The Berber lay their dead to face Mecca. In Oromo culture, grass is spread on the graves so, when Raphel is faced with laying out the dead at Saanqaa Riqicha, he adopts both practices, he being an amalgam of those cultures.

    It’s this attention to detail that takes time, two lines of writing can take hours of research, but ultimately creates a believable fictional culture and scenario with rounded, believable characters.

    Alaric’s culture will prove even more difficult, in some respects, as it is a wholly fictional culture, imagined from a throwing together of a wide range of different races from the Northern hemisphere. I suppose I was partly influenced by the accepted image of the Vikings as a warlike people: fair, tall, broad, strong, argumentative but loyal to their leader. Certainly, I imagine Alaric as being of Scandinavian descent, and I mean no disrespect to Scandinavians here, but he had to come from somewhere. He is a man with no conscience and little imagination.

    Velik, the Northmen’s leader, oddly, I see as tall, slim and dark, apart from his people and yet wielding a power over them. Only now, do I realise he’s a kind of Hitler figure, and every generation has one. Someone who is no greater than any other man, but is a ‘come the moment, come the man’ figure: someone who inspires his people, ultimately not necessarily in a good way, and is supported by them, but a Genghis Khan figure rather than a Martin Luther King one. We should never forget that it is the people who allow these monsters to run riot, but that taking the first stand against a figure who is powerful in the people’s imagination takes more courage than the average person contains. Velik trusting Alaric with Kiya was like trusting a dog to guard cheese but that is his mistake, and Alaric’s, not mine.

    If you can imagine the peoples of the north moving south looking for new territory, and the peoples of the south moving north… the immovable and the irresistible... the ensuing conflict over land becomes easier to understand. Anyway, here beginneth Chapter Two and, again, apologies for the delay.

     

    This is amusing, said the dog, when asked to guard a container of cheese. – Oromo proverb.

     

    Chapter Two

     

    The stench of burning filled Kiya’s lungs. Her arm clutched in Alaric’s huge hand, she stumbled after him across the flat space in the centre of the village. Bodies littered the ground and the number of dead Northmen attested to the fight the men of the village had put up. Every male body was Raphel. Every dead woman was Genet or their mother. Every tiny body was Jalene. Too many, she recognized as much-loved friends. Wind-dried tears stiffened her cheeks: she was numb with grief.

    Some of the stone-roofed houses built higher into the hillside, still stood undamaged, but Alaric dragged her towards one of the only thatched houses left standing. It was the home she’d built with Raphel from stone and sun-dried mud… they’d cut branches for the roof timbers and gathered reeds from the lake lower down the valley. Her heart hammered in her chest as she entered the low room. Jalene’s cot was empty. Raphel was not here.

    She swung to face him. ‘Where are my husband and child?’

    ‘Dead.’ He flung her onto the bed and ripped open the fastenings of her traveling clothes. He hesitated, as if considering her fate, and she clutched her clothing around her, watching his face. If she could reach the gutting knife, she’d slit him from throat to belly like a fish. As her muscles tensed to move, he threw her back again. ‘Velik gave no orders other than to bring you with us, safe and well. If you are The Gift… or if you are not…’ He appeared to come to a decision. ‘You may die on the way, being so small and weakly, and it would be a shame to waste the spoils of war. I am The Chosen. You are mine by right. I shall enjoy breaking you.’

    She had no chance of escape, no hope of reasoning with him: no hope. Why give him the pleasure of a conquest? ‘If you leave me alive, I promise I will kill you. You’ll be forever watching your back.’

    He took her in her and Raphel’s bed, the bed where they had loved and where Jalene had been born. His manhood ripped her small body, his weight crushed her, and the stench of his rancid skin made her retch, but she uttered no sound and made no movement. He’d wanted a conquest to brag about, to massage his male ego: although he shook her and hit her, all she gave him was the passion and fight of a limp, dead fish. He stared at her, as if he didn’t understand her, and then got up and went outside.

    She rolled onto her side and carefully, holding onto chairs, made it across the room to the rack where the knives hung. She took down the gutting knife with her good hand and returned to her bed. Hiding the knife beneath the bedclothes, she curled into a ball, held her stomach with her hands and let her tears fall. Everyone she loved was gone. ‘Atete, take me. Waqqa take me. Make me spirit. Give me back to those I love.’ She lay awake for a long time, waiting for Alaric to return and take her again, or kill her, but he didn’t come. Finally, the pain subsided and she fell into an exhausted sleep where Jalene was roasted on a spit and eaten, while Alaric laughed.


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