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  1. blog photo 3 a busy person

    If you want a job doing, ask a busy person.

    Firstly, this is me, being a busy person - well someone has to do it. Secondly, apologies for the delay. Where did the last seventeen days go? Don’t ever let anyone tell you that self-publishing is an easy option! Far from it, and very time consuming, especially promotion-wise.

    I opted for self-publishing after a number of very near misses with the traditional publishing route, but the crunch came when I realised that the stress of actually going out and meeting people, like agents and publishers, and actually having to talk to people would be more than I could cope with. I’ve lived in a remote part of Wales for so long I’ve lost all confidence in my social skills. But I refuse to let the stories of the characters I’ve created go unheard and gather electronic dust in the confused jumble that is my laptop. It’s been a very steep learning-curve.

    What have I been doing since I wrote blog 3? Firstly, I’ve been tweeting until people must be sick of me, trying to raise awareness of my first two titles, Touching the Wire and The Silence of the Stones. I’m immensely grateful to everyone who has retweeted my tweets and have boosted my ‘following’.

    Touching the Wire has a new cover prior to its launch date of November 1st, chosen by fb Readers and Writers Unite group, and that has been publicised on Google+, fb and Twitter. The Silence of the Stones has had a free promotion which has led to a number of new readers, some of whom have already pre-ordered Touching the Wire. If I tell you that 11,500 views of my tweets led to 2 people who followed links to my purchase page, you’ll see what hard work it is… and I don’t know if they downloaded the free copy.

    Also, Sarah Stuart and I have decided to produce paperback versions of our novels and that is proving to be yet another steep learning-curve. I hope to have the paperback version of Touching the Wire available for launch date. Sarah’s Dangerous Liaisons and my The Silence of the Stones should follow very soon.

    Anyway, while awaiting the proofs of Touching the Wire, I’ve squeezed in excerpt 4 of Destiny, and apologise for the long gap.

    Excerpt 4

    ‘If I’d seen the signs sooner… realized what the two burned houses meant. If I’d come faster…’

    Moti sighed. ‘You’re an old man, Abe. Your legs not your heart betrayed you. You’re feeling bad that you didn’t stay in the village to fight? I, too, but that would have put my sons in danger, looking out for me. A man has to know when to leave the fight to others.’ Moti fell silent.

    ‘I wish none of them had stayed to fight. There may be honour in such a death, but your village needs your young men.’

    ‘Some may yet make it here, Abe.’ Moti looked at him anxiously. ‘The crack in the mountain is surely too narrow for men of that girth?’

    Moti had voiced the concern of all. ‘If, come daylight, these men from the north find the entrance… I almost got stuck getting in, Moti. Even your own people have to squeeze through. We are safe as long as we do nothing to alert them to our presence.’

    ‘Our people know to tread only on stones and leave no tracks, but in the haste…’

    ‘If they do get through we can pick them off one by one, Moti. The passage is narrow.’

    ‘Or they can pick us off one by one. We have few weapons.’

    The children grew restless, tired now beyond sleep they sat on grass mats, wrapped in kidskins, or on the laps of the women. One small boy looked up wide-eyed. ‘Dur durii, Moti.’

    ‘A story, Eba?’

    Eba was Temara’s son. Temara was Moti’s daughter. He couldn’t see her among the women who nursed the children, some of whom were not their own. Jalene was here: he had a soft spot for her as he’d been staying with Raphel and Kiya the night she’d been born. Kiya hadn’t made it to the caverns. She’d failed to return with the herbs Genet needed and Jalene wasn’t with her grandmother. Genet had collapsed in the wood, in labour, during her rush to safety: an older woman, it must have been Genet and Kiya’s mother, had stayed with her. He should have stayed, too but what could he have done: a useless old man unable even to carry a pregnant woman, or defend her. Each time he looked around he realised more faces were missing.

    Moti cleared his throat.’ Raphel tells our stories better, but I shall do my best. You must be still and silent for I shall speak quietly.’ His dark eyes took on a faraway look: his hands moved as if to illustrate the story. ‘When the world was young, and the Horn of Africa was a land of peace and plenty, Waqqa, the god in the sky who made the world, sent rain to grow the sacred coffee bean, and the grass that feeds the animals. He sent fertility to the earth. The land of Boorana was blessed and the Oromo rocked the cradle of humanity.’

    Rapt faces watched every gesture. Abe had heard the legend many times but, like the children, never tired of it.

    ‘And the children of humanity spread, far beyond Boorana to every land, and the people settled and grew apart from one another. The hand that rocked the cradle no longer knew her children. And the children no longer knew their mother. But man prospered and Waqqa blessed them. But man who has much, wants more, and he forgot Waqqa who blessed nagaa Boorana, the peace of Boorana, and he forgot the sacred places of the Oromo and the ceremonies, and the language of the Oromo.’

    Moti’s face grew sombre.  He held up his hands, fingers spread. ‘Many tens of generations pass, father to son, and Waqqa is known by many names. By some he is called Allah, by some Buddha, and by some Brahman. To some he is Jehova, or Adonai, or HaShem.

    ‘The Abyssinian king, Menelik, forced the Oromo to become his subjects, and later still our borders straddled the two great countries of Ethiopia and Kenya, but the leaders of these countries sought to suppress our culture and our religion, our language and even our names. But…’ Moti wagged a cautionary finger. ‘It is said that to rise early will not help escape God.

    ‘Our persecutors waged war upon us, and Waqqa stopped sending them rain, and the lands around our homeland burned to dust under the hot sun, and their cattle died and man went hungry. And Waqqa sent them pestilence, and floods from the sea to drown their fertile plains, and then he sent famine.’

    1. Painting Caerfai Bay Pembrokeshire
    2. October 9th 2014

    A man dies, but his word lives forever.

    Picture are like words, but done with a brush instead of a pen. They too can live forever.

    i was fortunate in not suffering morning sickness, but there's a stage in every novel that feels like that. You've conceived, you know what the ending has to be, but how to get through the months in between? Lightning never strikes twice? Yesterday our house was struck by lightning… twice! I was working on my laptop at the time and felt the shock through the keyboard. There was no thunder in warning, no time to unplug, just a crack and a bang and everything went dead. They say lightning never strikes twice, they’re right, for in our case this makes it five times in all. The only damage this time was to my desktop computer, my router and my wireless extender, all fried to a crisp, and a short period with no electricity and iffy water as the pump in the water board’s pump-house was also knocked out. The result, today, is no internet and no e-mail, though I still have fifty retweets of my promotion of The Silence of the Stones to thank folk for and lord know how many I shall have to answer when I log on next. However, I have been painting seascapes, which is something I’ve not had time to do for a while. See above. Although I’ve enjoyed getting back to painting, it feels odd to be out of contact with the world. Hopefully, tomorrow, my new router will arrive and get me back on-line and I can post this next excerpt of Destiny.

    I find it’s made me more aware of Kiya and Raphel’s isolation in their non-computer world and how quickly life can change. It’s reminded me that it wasn’t so long ago when, if you wanted to speak to someone, you walked to their home, hoped they were in, or someone knew where they were, and talked to them face to face, or failing that wrote them a letter, posted it and waited for a reply to drop through your letterbox. Communities were more isolated then, and the members of it closer as a result, and people didn’t travel so far from home. Communities were made up of people who were related through birth or marriage and all relied on one another in times of need. Kiya and Raphel’s community is strengthened by being further isolated by the difficult terrain from all but a few small similar communities, and united by the stories passed down by word of mouth, giving all a deep sense of belonging, a common ancestry and a common knowledge-base.

    Their friend, Abe, therefore, being one of a very few journeymen-traders from across the mountains, is a stranger to many of Kiya and Raphel’s customs, and a figure of some mystery to them. He is welcomed by the villagers, not just because he brings goods they can trade for, but because he is a window into a wider and unknown world. A world of which Kiya and Raphel are blissfully ignorant, not having internet access. In fact, they are blissfully ignorant of all the things in their world that may threaten them from afar. In a world of terrorism, global warming, over-stretched resources, pests and Ebola, maybe they are luckier than we are who know what may be waiting around the corner? Maybe, had they had i-phones, they’d have been more prepared for what was to come and could have averted it, but then I wouldn’t be telling their story.

    Faced with Alaric, the Northman, a man totally different from anyone Kiya has seen before, a warlike brute of a man of such stature that he dwarfs her people, and given her background, Kiya’s actions are altruistic and heroic.

    Excerpt 3:

    Every fibre of Kiya’s body yelled run: every instinct yelled scream. She threw down her bag, raised her knife and faced the man, her scream dying in her throat. Her body swayed as she tried to anticipate his next move. With speed that belied his size, he leapt on her, grabbed her wrist, twisted the knife from her fingers and bore her to the ground. She kicked at his legs, scratched his face with her free hand, and sank her teeth into his shoulder. 

    ‘Stop it, you wildcat.’ He gripped both her arms and then crushed her to his chest. ‘If I wanted you dead, you’d be dead.’

    She could hardly breathe. ‘Let… me… go.’

    ‘I’ll let you go if you stop trying to gouge my eyes out.’

    She let her limbs go limp and he relaxed his grip. Twisting out of his arms she lunged for her knife, but he kicked aside her hand. Her blade rattled against stone as it bounced over and over down the mountainside.

    She held her hand, wincing, sure he’d broken some fingers and looked up at him. He had pale blue eyes that showed no hint of compassion: his light yellow hair was long, lank and drawn back in a loose knot. He stood head and shoulders above her and was as broad as two men, and muscular. His clothes were made of soft leather, supple as if chewed soft for many months: a labour of love for his woman. His boots were worn and scuffed, suggesting he had travelled far, and at his side and back hung an armoury of weapons. She steeled herself to look back into his eyes. ‘What do you want from me?’

    ‘My name is Alaric, The Chosen.’ He gestured back in the direction of the smoke and flames. ‘They’re all dead.’

    She kept her face impassive and raised her chin. ‘And I am Kiya, The Herbalist.’ She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing he’d destroyed everything, and everyone she cared about. He leaned closer, making her gag: he stank of smoke, blood, guts and burning.

    ‘Where are the girls and women?’

    ‘You’ve killed them all.’

    ‘Grey-beards, milk-chins and withered wombs are a burden, and no use to me.’ He smiled, showing yellow teeth. ‘And they couldn’t run fast enough. I came for the older girls and young women. Dark-eyed girls and women. Take me to them and I’ll spare your pretty hide.’

    She shuddered. ‘Never.’

    ‘So there are girls and women?’

    ‘We were a small village. We had no warning. I doubt any escaped.’

    ‘Men will search when it’s light.’ He gripped her arm. ‘If you are the only one left, that makes my task easier. It’s you who are The Gift. You will come with me.’

    ***

    A tallow lamp burned with a yellow flame, picking out the frightened faces of women, children and old men. On the walls were strange symbols written by a long-forgotten people in a long-forgotten language: black greasy smoke drifted upwards to a ceiling that lay in deep shadow.

    Abe glanced around: mothers had carried their children here, helped by the older men who were fit enough to make it to the caverns but too frail to fight. So many familiar faces were missing.

    It was cold, for they daren’t light a fire even though the caverns were deep. Used for generations as a place of safety, the straight-hewn passages, tumbled now, had many narrow branches and rooms hidden far from the outside world. A milk cow, which had been lowered on ropes through a fissure high in the rock above, stamped her feet and chewed at hay at the edge of the circle of light. A nanny goat bleated softly. At least, forewarned, the children had milk and the cave was provisioned for many days.

    Anxious faces surrounded him in the flickering light, the children too afraid to sleep. Their desperate scramble to safety would stay with them forever and, if they survived the night, pass into story. He shook his head; they were so few.

    Moti, an Abbaa Bokku, an elder of Guddaa Mana, sat beside him and put a wrinkled brown hand on his wrinkled pale one. ‘But for you, Abe, none of us would have survived. You came back to warn us, and for that I thank you.’

    ‘You know you’re like family to me. I was on my way down to M’gouna. I’m long overdue there and I have trade with them. I’d not gone far, and was hurrying… dragging along my over-burdened donkey, not paying proper attention.’ He was making excuses, but he needed to explain. ‘I have a long road over the mountains before winter, if I’m to get home this year. If I’d seen the signs sooner… realized what the two burned houses meant. If I’d come faster…’

  2. ILLICIT PASSION

    Prologue

    Lisette Marsh sank onto one of the few sofas left scattered in a ballroom at The Westin overlooking Times Square. The premiere of the Broadway musical Night Magic had ended with a twenty-minute standing ovation, and she’d been on her feet for over eight hours prior to the all-night party. Three of them had been spent on a gruelling, unscheduled rehearsal caused by a malfunction in the mechanics of a swing that needed her, not a stand-in, to test it. She’d overheard the set manager swearing at technicians, and praying her understudy wouldn’t have to take over at short notice.

    Bart, one of her two bodyguards, winked and moved between her and the chattering groups. She smiled back and closed her eyes. It was March the eleventh already: less than two days to her twenty-first birthday and Grant, and his wife, were laying on a party at Gramercy Park Hotel. Grant was Night Magic’s leading man and still the centre of attention, which took the pressure off her for a while. He was generous like that; he never failed to acknowledge her, his leading lady, in the second musical running.

    ‘Lisette, long time no see, darling.’

    Her eyes shot open and she found herself staring into black ones she’d never expected to see again. Kevin Tyrone, the man so like her famous father, Michael Marsh, in looks, but his complete opposite in every way that mattered. ‘What are you doing here? How did you get in?’

    ‘My sister plays a minor role… Lisette, I came to apologise.’

    ‘Oh.’ Not the most brilliant of answers, but he’d astounded her. An apology over two years ago would have changed her life. He could have been an international star in the musical, Love without Chains, which had launched her career, and they might well have been married.

    He took her left hand in his and examined her bare ring finger. ‘I embarrassed you, and I guess that was unforgivable.’

    Bart tactfully kept his back to her, though it would only take a call would bring him instantly.

    Kevin persisted. ‘I understand how your father felt about me. I’d feel the same if anyone upset a daughter of mine.’

    Embarrassing her was the least of it. Kevin Tyrone had mauled and bitten her under cover of rehearsing a scene where she was naked, half-hidden in a shadow. The lighting had been so low the director had noticed nothing.

    He gripped her whole hand.

    ‘Don’t you think Clement Fynn was harsh? He didn’t just sack me, he made sure I never worked in Britain again. It’s different in America, Lisette. His work is known, but he’s one of many… and he’s dead.’

    Clement had been more than the director of Chains. He’d been the multimillionaire producer who wrote all his own librettos… and a friend. More than a friend. He’d been like an uncle to her. Was that why he’d done his best to scupper Kevin’s showbiz career forever? ‘Maybe Clement was tough on you but he loved me, and I loved him.’

    ‘I didn’t realise that…’ He dropped her hand and shrugged. ‘I was hoping now you’re an established star in the States you’d put in a word for me. You must have contacts.’

    She did, and Grant had more. A word to him and Kevin would be on his way. ‘You’d be starting at the bottom, and this time you’d have to work.’

    ‘You could do better than that, darling. My sister Kia says Grant Lincoln’s understudy has health problems. The man who replaces him will take the lead when you and Grant go with the show to Los Angeles.’

    Kevin Tyrone was capable of taking the lead, and equally likely to rely on her name and not bother giving his best. ‘I’ll mention you to a few people, and that’s all. You could make your own way if you tried. Kia is.’

    His eyelids dropped over a hint of menace. ‘I never thought of Fynn as the father of your baby… and he wasn’t, was he?’

    Her heart pounded and cold sweat chilled her body. Harriet, the chubby toddler with Michael’s black curls and her emerald eyes, had been born in secret and safely hidden as one of her mother’s twins for almost two years, until now. She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. Kevin was guessing: he could prove nothing. ‘If you want my help, apologise. If you don’t my guards will escort you out, related to a bit-player or not.’

    He moved closer. ‘Gossip about the true relationship with your father was all over the press, until you conveniently disappeared for long enough to give birth to a brat. You’ll do as you’re told, darling.’

    A brat… he could calculate dates but he had no way of knowing if her child was Harriet or Kit… and what difference did that make? She couldn’t risk danger to either of them, or to Lizzie who cared for Harriet like her own even though she knew Michael had been unfaithful to her with her eldest daughter. She wouldn’t put Michael in jeopardy either. She’d turned down two proposals from men she’d dated; they weren’t him.

    ‘You will obey me… you will do everything I say…’

    The voice went on, almost unheard. Incest was a crime in the eyes of the law and the church. Tyrone could ruin the lives of everyone she loved, or to whom she owed silence. The doctor who’d delivered Harriet and supplied false papers, Gran, her brother… and the shock would kill Grandfather. He’d assumed Kevin was Harriet’s father, and with his weak heart…

    ‘Kevin, Grant’s understudy strained his leg. He’s having physio… he could act now if he had to. The most I can do is ask around, and what can I say? You took a minor part in one of Clement Fynn’s less successful musicals…’

    ‘You will do it, darling. In the meantime, I have to live.’ He produced a card from his pocket with the logo of one of New York’s top dress designers, and printed below it was Tamsin. An unknown trying to make her name?  ‘From now on you will commission every gown for occasions like this… every costume for the concerts that promote your albums… from her.’

    She shook her head. ‘I won’t have time for concerts for years. I’m contracted on Broadway for six months and then I’m going to Los Angeles with Night Magic. That could be another year, and I may be offered…’

    ‘Then you will buy gowns for the future, but you will buy them.’ He sneered, and memories of the real Kevin Tyrone flooded back. How he’d pretended to love her because she had influence with Clement… ‘I’m her new scout. It’s my job to persuade stars like you to buy from her, and I get fifty percent commission on every sale.’

    Blackmail, and absolutely no way of proving she’d paid him a penny. Luckily he was still a fool: he’d found a way of extorting money, but so little compared to her earnings and the income from Fynn Productions, the business that she inherited from Clement and Michael ran for her. She could pay it and forget Kevin Tyrone.

     

    Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

    Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare

     

    Chapter One

     

    Harriet shielded her eyes from the sun glinting off the waters of Kinloch. Their mother, Lizzie, leaning back against Greta’s weight, was swinging her sister in a circle, feet off the ground and shrieking. When she’d been ten and Greta a toddler, she’d been able to swing her like that. Now, her sister was so tall she couldn’t make her fly and they ended in a heap.

    A touch on her shoulder made her jump. She turned to find James grinning down at her, offering his hands.

    ‘Want a go, Harriet?’

    Her brother was tall. ‘Yes, please. I’m too heavy for Lizzie. Michael swings me sometimes.’

    A shadow crossed James’ face, or a cloud hid the sun for a few seconds. ‘You’re lucky. He was never around when I was a kid.’

    She held on tight as the world spun and her thoughts with it. Michael Marsh, superstarsuperstarsuperstar… It was a lot to live up to and she couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing her father.

    Breathless, she leaned against James. Michael was around now, mostly. He hadn’t come with them to Kinloch but he’d be staying with them at Lisette’s country house.

    ‘What’s up, Harriet?’

    ‘We’re spending the rest of the summer at Lisette’s.’

    ‘So?’

    ‘I don’t feel in the right place. I never know what to say…’

    ‘Lis is okay.’ He passed her his binoculars. ‘Quick… there… below where the red squirrels are playing. See it?’

    She fiddled with the focus. ‘What am I looking for?’

    ‘A wildcat. Guests come year after year hoping to see one.’ He chuckled. ‘I wonder how many repeat visits Gran books, thanks to wildcats. The rest of the animals are so tame these days we can pretty much guarantee sightings.’

    ‘When will you need a secretary? Gran’s ancient.’

    ‘You applying for the job?’

    Was she, sort of? ‘I can’t do anything else… can’t sing… can’t dance… I don’t even look right.’

    James tousled her short curls. ‘You got black hair, like Michael.’

    ‘I’m short and fat.’

    ‘You are not fat!’

    She was starving and it was two hours to lunchtime. ‘I would be fat if I ate as much as I’d like to… and look at them. Lizzie and Greta, and Lisette, are tall and they’ve all got Gran’s long red curls, only hers are going a bit grey. The longest my hair ever got was to my shoulders and it looked so awful I chopped it off.’

    James laughed. ‘I heard about that, and Lizzie taking you to have the job done properly.’

    Lizzie arrived beside them. ‘James, if you’re going out will you take Greta, please? I want to talk to Harriet.’

    That made a change. It was usually Greta, Greta, Greta, unless it was Gran talking. She used Greta’s real name, Mairead, Gaelic for Margaret. ‘What about?’

    ‘You’re fourteen, so I think the time’s come.’

    She followed her mother to the suite she shared with Michael, when he could get away from London. Lizzie couldn’t be thinking of a biology lecture. School had beaten her to it.

    Lizzie waved her hand to the sofa in the living area and called as she disappeared into the dressing room. ‘Sit down, Harriet. I’ve got something for you.’

    She’d been fourteen since the first of May, and her parents’ gift of a ruby pendant was so valuable it was kept in the safe at Mere House. Why would Lizzie give her anything else valuable now? Safes here were located in dressing rooms, and she could hear the taps Lizzie was making opening it. Perhaps it was an identical pendant with a spinel instead of a ruby, which she’d be allowed to wear more often.

    Her mother returned carrying a tissue-wrapped parcel about the size of a thick paperback, far too big for a jewellers’ box. ‘I’d like you to have this now, Harriet, while you have the rest of the summer free to study it.’

    Study… as if school hadn’t given her enough to do… She unwrapped the tissue and gasped. The book in her hands was no paperback. Covered in soft leather, it had a Tudor rose on the front and the rubies were pigeon-blood red, and the diamonds real, like the white ones in a necklace Michael had given Lizzie when Greta was born.

    She peeped inside, where one of dozens of scraps of modern paper was trapped between pages that she thought were made of vellum. Writing, cramped by the printed text, was unreadable, but the paper carried what must be a copy, in Lizzie’s handwriting.

    This sixteenth day of October the Year of Our Lord 1541, Methven Castle. I tire yet I must write for my beloved’s daughter comes hence. I pray I live to give unto her this book and charge her to give it also unto a daughter conceived in love. I direct and beseech my heirs to find love where they may. Love is a gift of God, not of kings.

    Lizzie closed a gentle hand over her arm. ‘It’s yours now, Harriet, but I ask for your promise to obey Queen Margaret.’

    She worked saliva into her mouth. ‘Henry the Sixth’s queen, Margaret of Anjou?’

    ‘No, this was James the Fourth of Scotland’s queen. Henry the Seventh’s eldest daughter. Gran gave this book to me when I was eighteen, and I’ve deciphered a lot of it, and cracked codes she used to hide her secrets. It’s up to you to carry on with the next generation, if you give me your solemn promise to find love.’

    ‘Me, not Lisette?’

    Lizzie stared at the mountains towering over the woods beyond the loch as if she was wondering how to answer. ‘The queen says nothing about the daughter being the first-born.’

    ‘What about Greta?’

    ‘Greta?’

    Her churning stomach carried a warning from Kit: never let her see you’re jealous. ‘She’s more like you, and Gran.’

    ‘Harriet, that doesn’t mean I love her more, or less. All five of you are equal. Margaret…’ Lizzie smiled. ‘I asked the queen if she minded me calling her Margaret years ago. I had the oddest feeling she didn’t mind. I talk to her sometimes, and sort of feel what she wants me to do.’

    ‘That’s spooky.’

    ‘Not at all. I know her instructions and her answers really come from what I’ve read in her Book of Hours, but they do pop into my head at the right time. Harriet, this book shows a direct line of descent from the queen, through females, to… to me, and I have three daughters, all conceived in love. I didn’t have to choose which of you should be next to have it. Margaret told me… choose Harriet. You’re very special to her: don’t ever forget that.’

    She sniffed, hard. She was the strong twin: the one who never cried. ‘I won’t, and I promise to find love.’

    ‘And to pass on the book to a daughter of your own one day?’

    ‘Suppose I don’t have one?’

    Lizzie gave her a hug. ‘I expect you will, but if you don’t there’ll be plenty of time for a son to grow up and have children.’

    ‘And that would be okay?’

    ‘It’s only happened twice in five centuries, but yes.’

    ‘I couldn’t give it to Greta?’

    ‘She was conceived in love. You all were, but it isn’t what Margaret wants.’ Lizzie opened the page where the last piece of paper marked the place. ‘This is where the translations end, where Jeanne, Margaret’s own granddaughter, gave the book to the girl you were named for, Harriet.’

    She gazed helplessly at words surrounded by St Luke’s gospel. ‘I can’t read anything.’

    ‘You will, when you break the code. Your great-grandmother worked out the line of descent and the first few entries. I… I wrote out the rest…’ Lizzie bit a nail. ‘Actually I gave up writing them when I got to Jeanne… hers are computer printouts. Harriet, none of the codes were as difficult as Margaret’s, but she risked her life to give birth to Lisette. If King James had found out she’d taken a lover…’

    ‘Married to a reigning monarch? That’s treason. What would have happened to her?’

    In Scotland, back then? I think she’d have been burnt at the stake. You’re the one who gets top marks in history. Ask your teacher next term, but be careful. This is so secret only the women who own it, or have owned it, like Gran, know it exists.

    She rewrapped the book and crept to the suite she shared with Kit. She was supposed to sleep in the dressing room, and now she did have something precious to hide in the safe. There were instructions for setting the code: they’d played safe-breakers when they were younger, by guessing the code set by the other. This must be a combination of numbers Kit would never guess, which ruled out their birthday… anybody’s birthday…

    She had one more peep before she placed the book inside. Written on the flyleaf were words she could read, slowly and allowing for s looking like f.

    This thirtieth day of November 1489, Richmond Palace. I bestow this gift on my first begotten daughter Margaret on this her Christening Day. Tis my will and pleasure that she doth live humbly and reverently in obedience to God, to Henry VII by the Grace of God king of England, and to her lady mother, Elizabeth the queen.

     

  3. blog photo 2 destiny

    Image courtesy of Papija2008 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    October 4th 2014

     

    War does not determine who is right, only who is remaining – Scandinavian proverb.

     

    This is the point when I believe I may have an idea good enough to turn into a novel. Writing fiction gives me a free hand when it comes to imagining settings, characters, epoc and events but, to make them believable, a whole world, based on that world’s social, moral and historical mores has to be created and adhered to. This is as true for ‘traditional’ fiction genres as it is for historical, fantasy and science fiction.

    My first consideration, when developing the idea that became Destiny, was the basic premise. Without giving away the plot, it might be interesting to go through the thought processes. I considered what effects would be felt by a people who are displaced, how they would integrate with other people, how their culture would change and adapt, how their religious beliefs might be ‘corrupted’, how much of their history would be passed down by word of mouth, and how that might suffer the ‘Chinese whisper’ effect.

    Take the Old Testament – are the stories recounted there racial memories of a global catastrophe? Floods, pestilence, famine… aren’t we suffering these things now? How many present-day problems be remembered, forgotten, or embroidered, in years to come?

    Take today’s emigration, due to war, famine and economic pressures – hasn’t this all happened before? In pre-history, people lived a more nomadic life and had the opportunity to follow the food and the climate, or escape warring factions. Today, we don’t have that luxury: borders, over-population, lack of sustainable resources makes ice-age man’s lot seem positively luxurious by comparison.

    My second consideration was the setting. I’ve already discussed my choice of location as being roughly in the High Atlas Mountains for reasons that will become clear in the novel. It isn’t an accurate portrayal of the region; I’ve taken aspects and altered them to suit my purpose, easier because the story isn’t set in the present. My need was to present disparate cultures, with totally different religions, political systems and cultures, separated by physical terrain, and throw them together in adversity. What happens? Who will remain?

    Characters. They begin as people I don’t know, but the more they dance across my pages, their actions determined by me yanking their strings, the more they become alive and I find they are yanking my strings. I fall in love with them, care about them and by the time I type The End, I have a deep need to have their story told to a wider world.

    Kiya presents as a wife and mother, devoted to her small family. She’s of Oromo/Berber descent, from a race that was displaced from East Africa, and makes their living as herdsmen in the high mountains. Her special skill is a knowledge of herbs, taught to her by her mother. Her inner strength is already becoming apparent in the early chapters. She is going to need it, big time!

    Raphel, I find a difficult character to portray. He’s a gentle man, a man of peace, a story-teller, not strong, and he feels his perceived lack of strength and courage acutely. This said, story-telling is important in his culture because they have no need of written language, or only that passed from Abbaa Sa’a to Abbaa Sa’a (in my story) for the purpose of keeping records of trade.  Stories tell that, once, the Oromo had qubee, letters, but that the cattle ate all written materials: this was a prophesy come true, an order from Waqqa who lives in the sky, and who wrote not on parchment but on suet. Since then the Oromo have read the mooraa, suet, of dead animals to foretell the future, and their history is passed down orally.

    While the Oromo had one of the earliest systems of democracy, Alaric is of Northern stock and comes from a dictatorship that glorifies war. Generations of warmongering has driven all other races and cultures from their fertile, enclosed territory between the mountain ranges. This has left something of a vacuum in their culture and another problem that will become evident as the story unfolds. Given his war-lie upbringing, he is not entirely devoid of compassion: he just thinks he is.

    A short excerpt:

    A slight wind lifted Kiya's finely-braided hair from the nape of her neck, bringing with it the smell of wood smoke. She breathed in the familiar, comforting smell; ahead of her lay Guddaa Mana, the straggle of dwellings she called home. She raised her head, scenting also the damp earth at her feet: Waqqa had sent rain.

    Raphel would walk out to meet her if she delayed, and Jalene was little to be abroad so late. Lengthening her stride, she smiled. Her baby daughter had the darkest eyes and curly hair so like Raphel’s: Jalene’s name meant we loved. She longed to hold her, longed to lie with Raphel after a night away, but her own needs must wait: she brought fresh herbs, from the valley to the west, for her sister, Genet, also blessed by the goddess but overdue with her firstborn.

    The track turned east again. The smell of smoke was stronger now: odd that she could smell it strongly so far from home.  Someone in the woods? She trod with greater care, aware of every rustle as the light failed, jumping at every shadowy wing-beat of birds flying in to roost. Smoke wreathed above the trees ahead. There was something other than wood smoke, the sound of crackling. ‘No, please, no.’

    She stopped, breathless and heart pounding, at the edge of the trees. Her stomach churned at the horror before her: her head spun and she clutched at a branch stop herself falling. Across the cow pasture, flames silhouetted dark figures. A lighted torch arced onto thatch and the air whumped as it caught light. Smoke billowed, flames roared as they caught, and a donkey brayed in terror: almost every house was alight. A woman, it had to be Temara, stumbled from her home screaming and was dragged to the ground by a figure that dwarfed her. Another villager, running to Temara’s aid, was struck down and lay still. No-one else ran to help. Why did no-one help them?

    The wind blew a brief hole in the smoke: dark shapes littered the ground.

    ‘Sweet Goddess…’ The acrid stench of burned flesh made her gag. She touched her cäle, her string of coloured beads, instinctively. ‘Atete, protect us.’ Dodging from cow to cow to hide her approach, and driving them before her, she ran across the pasture.

    Temara screamed again, her legs kicking as a large man held her down. Another man, huge beyond her imagining, hauled at her attacker. ‘Get off her. This one’s mine. I am The Chosen.’

    The scream cut short and the struggle stilled. The Chosen held his smaller comrade by the throat. ‘Velik’s orders were to bring back prisoners, not kill them all, you stupid bastard.’ A blade shone redly and flashed upwards into the man’s belly. His body hit the dirt.

    She shrank behind a stone wall, shaking uncontrollably. They couldn’t all be dead. Some must have made it to the cave. Please, Goddess, they weren’t all dead. Tears wet her cheeks; bile rose into her throat. Raphel, Jalene, Genet, Mother.

    She sank to her knees and vomited. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, she forced her legs to move. She could do nothing here. Keeping low, she followed the wall and hedge-lines that skirted the village to the south, climbed to higher ground and searched for the rock formation that marked the beginning of the track to the entrance to the caverns. The familiar rock morphed out of the darkness and she took a step towards it. A small stone plinked onto the rock beside her and skittered on down the hillside. She froze, and then slowly turned and looked up.  A giant of a man stood before her.

  4. african hands for blog post

    Image courtesy of Africa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    October 1st 2014

    When planning a rewrite of my novel, Destiny, I looked for a hero and heroine from an ethnic people, a people whose traditions and beliefs showed us how we should be living: for the land, not at the expense of the land as this is important to my story. I've always admired the Maori and Aborigini peoples' outlook on life. Similarly, the Native American tribes have a wisdom far beyond that of 'civilised' modern man. But these peoples were on the wrong continents for my story, so I turned to Africa, where I discovered the Oromo people. Thus far, I've only dipped into their culture, but their wisdom and care for the enviroment is obvious in their proverbs. This gave me the idea to find proverbs that were apt for my story, and which would help drive my story, and there are many.

    The following proverb illustrates the bedrock of my story and a short excerpt of the first draft follows.

    If there is peace between man, and animals, and the land, Waqqa who lives in the sky will send rain and great abundance. If there is no peace between man, and animals, and the land, there will be no fertility and the Oromo will cease to exist. – Oromo proverb.

     Chapter One

     

    Kiya froze, listening: it had barely been a noise. An elusive sound; a twig breaking underfoot, the quiet brushing of an animal against the undergrowth. She melted into the thicket of bushes, her nut-brown skin and earth-dyed travelling clothes blending with her surroundings. Crouched down to wait, knife at the ready, she balanced on the balls of her feet and slowed her breathing.

    Her heart thudded loud in her ears. Abe had seen strangers to the north, when he’d travelled the road from the high pass ten days back. Giants of men, he’d said: fair-haired and blue-eyed. He’d had dealings with their kind in the past and knew them to be merciless, war-mongering, deadly fighters. What did they want so far from their own land? Abe had stayed the night, traded his wares, joined their celebration, taken part in their storytelling, and travelled on, but his warning had made the village elders provision the secret caverns in case of need.

    She waited, still as a breezeless day, until her muscles cramped. The air brought the scents of rotting leaves underfoot, of wild boar, of dust, now wind-dry off the exposed and broken mountain slopes. The whisper of sound came again and a deer crossed the path in front of her. She breathed more freely: just a deer.

    Crossing the steep-sided narrow ravine, she picked her way over the bones of the ancient bridge and thanked Waqqa for the gift of water, as she did each time she crossed the tumbling river. The track wound upwards through the wooded cleft in the barren hills, and she strode easily, her bag swinging at her side. She paused at the top of the rise, where the trees thinned and allowed a view across the lands of legend to the south where, it was told, lay Boorana, the homeland of the Oromo peoples.

    Beyond the mountains in the west, towards the sea her people had never seen, the sun sank in a lowering sky, edging the clouds with fire and painting the first snow of the waning year orange on the summits. Snow meant spring-melt, and spring-melt meant water for crops and good grazing for cattle. The tallest peaks were white even in summer, and Abe said there were rivers of ice in the higher passes.

    Her eyes were drawn south again, across a sparse country of low hills, dotted with stunted oaks and juniper: stories said desert lay out there beyond the feet of the mountains, vast and uncrossable. No-one ventured that way, now, and from that direction none had come for many generations.


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