August BOTM: Shades of Milk and Honey

For Ausomhgust, the HF Book Club is reading and discussing Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. If you are a fan of Jane Austen you will love this lyrical novel with a magical twist. Anyone is welcome to come and join the discussion🙂

In Regency England, Jane Ellsworth of Dorchester is a woman ahead of her time.

Not only is she highly skilled in the manipulation of glamour – plucking strands from the Ether to create genteel magical illusions – she’s also ambitious for her art, and dreams of being recognised as a glamourist of note in her own right, as men are permitted to.

First and foremost, however, a lady of quality must marry well, and alas Jane’s ambitions do not extend to her romantic prospects. Compared to her beautiful sister Melody, Jane feels invisible to suitors, and is resigned to a life of spinsterhood.

But when her beloved family comes under threat, Jane uses her magical skills to put things right, which attracts the attention of professional glamourist Mr Vincent . . . and unwittingly wanders in to a love story of her own.

Amazon ~ Goodreads

 

 

 

Historical fantasy bookclub

Hi everyone, I’m going to be quiet for some time on the writing front. However, if you enjoy reading historical fantasy books, I am part of a Facebook bookclub that we are trying to grow. This is a READER group, not a group for author spam. I know I’m sick of joining promising looking book groups that deteriorate into desperate authors spamming BUY MY BOOK links😦

Each month the group will have a different book to read and discuss. The tentative schedule for the next few months is:

August – SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY
September – THE WATCH MAKER’S DAUGHTER
October – A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS
November – WINTERWOOD

Please feel free to join if you want to be part of the discussion about the above-mentioned books. We are also planning other monthly events like discussion about different eras and book recommendations 🙂
Historical Fantasy bookclub

Henry is out and an update

HenryHenry, the Gaoler is up for pre-order and releases on June 14. You can find his story on:

AMAZON ~ iTunes ~ B&N

This is companion story to Ella, and in terms of the time line is a prequel. I hope readers enjoy peering into Henry’s head and seeing what is going on in there🙂

I am half way through Alice, The Player (the direct sequel to Ella) and I hope to have that out by the end of the year. Then there will be one more book that wraps up this series, called Rory, The Sleeper (based on Sleeping Beauty).

Because so MANY of you asked…I have 2 more Artifact Hunters novels to write. First up will be Loki’s side trip to an alternate New Zealand where he runs afoul of the Maori and he might just end up as a preserved head! Then I will write an ending for Cara and Nate that will take place straight after Moseh’s Staff. I know a few people want more Artifact Hunters stories, but sometimes you have to retire a series and move on. I have other characters and worlds that I want to explore. In 2017 we will give Cara a proper send off, then I am going to dive into something new and a whole lot darker…😉

 

Update and a sneak peek at Alice

I’m pushing on with 2016 and have made some plans and I figure if I write them down here you can all hold me accountable! lol

Henry, the Gaoler. While this is labelled book 2, it is actually a prequel to Ella and narrates events from Henry returning from the Great War and finishes roughly where Ella starts. Expected release June 2016.

Alice, the Player. This is the direct sequel to Ella. My plans are to have this out September 2016.

Paniha’s Taniwha. LOKI! LOKI! LOKI! Much discussed and the one book I’m terrified to tackle (because I’m far too shy and sheltered), but I did promise. The lovable rogue is going to get his come-uppence this year. I’m planning this as a Xmas 2016 release so you can enjoy him over the holiday break😉

This week I cracked open a blank word document and picked up where we left Ella, in the arms of the duke…

Alice, the Player. Chapter 1:

PromoSeth de Mage is a dreamy kisser, but you don’t have to take my word for it. There was an article in the newspaper that ranked the top ten kissers in England. Seth was ranked number three. He was cheated of the top spot by the Prince of Wales and really, I think the fact Edward is the future king coloured the women’s impression. Number two on the list was Rudolph Valentino, who shouldn’t count since he is American.

While I adored being in the arms of the number three-ranked kisser in England, my mind wandered. Through no fault of Seth’s least anyone think his lips failed to hold my attention. No, the fault was entirely mine. I had a rather large problem pressing on my mind. A bigger problem than his marriage proposal of just a few minutes ago.

Worry nagged at me and flowed through my limbs, fighting with the desire building with his kiss. The two emotions fought a dirty battle in my mind and pulled me even further from where I wanted to be. I had to blurt out my confession or I would explode.

I pushed Seth away and the words tumbled free. “I infected Elizabeth with the queen’s blood and then let her walk away.”

I expected horror or revulsion from him at my thoughtless actions. Because of me, there was a new queen vermin loose in Somerset and she would want to re-establish the destroyed hive. Instead, he just stood there and stared at me. Admittedly I did just throw quite the grenade in his direction but I thought he would toss it right back. I chewed my lip, which still tasted of him and clasped my hands together.

Seth’s arms dropped from around me. Then he let out a sigh and ran one hand through his short hair. “Oh, Ella.”

We needed to move past muttering my name to potential solutions. I created one Hell of a problem and I needed Seth’s help to fix it.

***

You can find both Henry and Alice on Goodreads. Now I need to get back to writing🙂

Trying to find my mojo…

2016 has got off to a shuddering start… I’ve been in hospital for my first IV infusion which hopefully will quash my RA and let me get back to writing. It’s hard to type when your hands don’t co-operate:/

I have another infusion in two weeks and once that is behind me, I’m looking forward to finding my mojo and tackling my massive MUST WRITE list. I know my readers have been ever so patient with me. Either that or you’re all wandered off and reading many of the other fantastic authors out there. In which case please drop me your book recs in the comments🙂

As preparation for her world turning into a series, ELLA has undergone a makeover. HENRY now has a cover which I simply adore. I love the poppies, which is a reference to his service in WWI. Now I just need to write his story!

Serenity House.jpg

 

Short story – The Ticking Taniwha

I wrote this a couple of years ago for a steampunk magazine and can’t remember if I ever shared it. It’s a quick read, hope you enjoy🙂

THE TICKING TANIWHA

steampunk_dragon_by_kerembeyitA new world beckoned, and my family answered the call. In 1862 we left behind the mud, poverty, and back breaking labour of life in England. We traded everything for mud, poverty, and back breaking labour in New Zealand. Father secured forty acres in a little settlement called Oratia. He said it would be a better life, that there would be many opportunities in the new world, for Lawrence and me.

“Some opportunity,” I muttered eight years later, carrying the bucket from the nearby stream, over the rough pasture and tree stumps, up to our little cabin—careful not to spill too much, otherwise I would have to return for another bucket load.

“At least the mud has dried up.” I tipped the bucket into the barrel at the corner of the roof. A dry summer meant more trips back and forth to fill it.

I peered into the cool depths of the water container. Life in England seemed like a dream lurking at the bottom of a well and veiled in thick coal smoke. I was only five years old when we left, Lawrence four years old, and the baby not yet one. Our family of five boarded the Hanover in May 1862 and our reduced family of four arrived in Auckland sixteen weeks later.

Although young at the time, three things about our trip from England are carved into my memory. I remember the instant I first saw a watch mechanism, and my fascination for all things mechanical burst into life in my brain. Secondly the stench below decks—so thick at times it could ram its fingers down your throat, making you gag. The third memory was the overwhelming desire to toss my little brother over the side.

Every single day started the same way. Lawrence scrambled down from the hammock he shared with Da. He would stare at me, and utter those words.

“Are we there yet?”

Every day.

“Are we there yet?”

Sometimes twice a day. For one hundred and twelve days.

We lost the baby after eight weeks aboard, and the captain ordered her tiny body thrown into the swirling ocean’s embrace. I thought Momma would jump after her, Da had to hold her so tight. Watching her cry, doubled over in grief, was the only thing that stopped me from pushing Lawrence into the deep. I figured losing one child was enough. But it was a close call, the boredom of endless weeks confined to a rolling ship, almost too much for a child with an active mind to endure.

I dropped the wooden bucket on the veranda and dipped my hand into the pocket of my apron. My fingers closed around the watch, safely nestled in the fabric. The casing may be battered and dented, but it was my most prized possession and I carried it everywhere. Amongst our fellow passengers on the long journey was a jeweller. He occupied his time fixing watches, music boxes, and trinkets for the others on board.

He drew me in like a magician, casting his magic and drawing life from inanimate metal. Day after day, I sat at his feet, mesmerised by the intricate workings of the tiny mechanical devices. Unlike other adults, he didn’t shoo me away; he answered my endless questions and let me help. At the end of the voyage, he slipped the old watch into my small hand.

Da scowled, tinkering and clockwork no fit occupation for a girl. I was supposed to be content milking the cow, lugging water, toiling in the fields, and maybe aspiring to being a school teacher. Experience taught me to hide what cogs and springs I found. I stashed them in a box amongst the roots of a sawn off kauri. When time allowed, I pulled out the box, and tried to assemble something from the scavenged parts. In my mind I saw a tiny mechanical horse, which would raise and lower his head and paw a front foot. So far I had a skeletal outline, but I needed parts for the mechanism to make it work.

“Lettie?” Mother called from inside.

“Yes, Momma?” I dropped the watch back into the folds of my apron.

“Have you finished your schoolwork? The teacher will be here at the end of the week.”

I heaved a deep sigh and walked through the open door into the dim interior of our two roomed home. Momma pounded dough on the table, making bread to accompany dinner. She looked up and gave me a tired smile. The schoolbooks sat to one side of the table, waiting for my attention. I scoped the pile into my arms. “I’ll go sit outside.”

Finding my favourite spot of soft clover and moss, I flung myself down, opened the book and held the pencil, poised, in my hand. I screwed up my face at the algebra problems. Time passed. Tui sang as they drank nectar from the flax flowers. A heavy whump whump signalled the fat kereru flying overhead.

The page swam in front of my vision. I finished algebra and moved on to the next set of tasks. What a waste of time, conjugating Latin verbs. We should be learning Te Reo so we can talk to our neighbours. How can we trade with the Maori when we don’t make the effort to learn their language? I haven’t heard one yet at the local store asking in perfect Latin to purchase coffee or a saw blade.

A sod of earth landed on the open page. A brown splatter covered up my chicken scratches. I frowned and looked up, scanning the dense forest edging the small pasture. “Kereama!”

A fern rustled. I picked up a rock and hurled it at the swaying greenery.

“Ow,” the bush cried out.

I picked up a twig and scraped the mud off my book, as a shadow fell over the page and blotted out my sun.

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“You ruined my school work, and the teacher is here at the end of the week.” Shutting the book, I shoved it away from me. I would have to re-write the lesson, or take a caning across my palm for the lack of care.

A boy close to my age, tall and scraggly, beamed from behind black hair. “I know where there’s a taniwha.”

“You do not.” Rising made our height difference more obvious. It wasn’t fair, he had shot up last summer, and now the top of my head barely reached the middle of his chest.

“I do too. Want to come see, or are you too scared?” He held out his hand in challenge and invitation. The two of us became firm friends the first day we met, the little English child unafraid of the savage boy, mischief our common language.

“You’re not a warrior yet, Kereama, let’s see who is scared,” I shot back, grabbed his hand and pulled him into the calm haven of the forest. As we walked, fantail kept us company. They dived and chirped. One brushed my outstretched hand as it flitted to sit on a ponga, head tilted as we passed. Another caught my eye, ducking and weaving higher than the others, a flash of gold amongst their muted grey blue and soft yellow.

I squinted to see it better, sunlight reflecting off its feathers in an unusual way. “Hey, look at that fantail.” I pointed to the little creature dancing on the nodding boughs of a manukau.

He raised his head to follow my outstretched hand. “It’s just a piwakawaka.” He pushed through the scrub.

“This one’s different,” I whispered, my gaze tracking its progress and I failed to see the ponga frond that bounced off Kereama, and swiped across my face. We followed the Otamai stream upriver until the surrounding bush gave way to a large, deep pool. A waterfall, twenty feet high, tumbled over rocks to dash into the water below. It swirled and frothed before flowing down river where it would eventually run past my home.

“It’s beautiful.”

Kereama put a finger to his lips. “Shush. The taniwha lives here. You don’t want to wake him up.”

I laughed, and picked up a stone. “Does not,” I replied and tossed the rock into the water. The black depths swallowed the object, and my gaze couldn’t track its progress below the surface. A hiss bounced off the rocks and echoed through the trees.

My head shot up. “What’s that?”

“I told you not to wake the taniwha.” Kereama backed up, hands raised as he edged away from the pool.

The waterfall drew my gaze; it seemed to be the source of the noise. The sheet of cascading water hitched at one point. Two dark brown nostrils appeared through the curtain and a slow curl of steam blended with the mist, rising up to meet the clouds above the tree tops. My heart pounded in my chest.

Kereama’s eyes widened—moments before he turned tail and fled. My feet stayed riveted to the earth and I watched as the nostrils turned into a long snout the length of my arm, gleaming fangs hanging from the top jaw. My brain saw enough and booted my body into action.

“Wait for me!” I cried, and crashed through the undergrowth, running back to the safety of our cabin.

***

All night I tossed and turned in my little cot, clutching the thin blanket around my shoulders, muttering in my sleep. There’s no such thing as a taniwha, whatever Kereama might believe. But I saw its snout emerging from the waterfall, rivulets of water running off the gleaming hide.

Morning broke and I slipped from bed and padded over the hard timber floor, escaping outside to allow my thoughts to soar in the open space. The pocket watch danced over my fingers as I replayed events over and over in my mind, the thin blast of steam from nostrils, the way the light hit the burnished nose. The fantail guard who flashed in the sun unlike any of its companions. Details nagged at me until I made my decision.

I had to go back.

After breakfast, I stole the bread crusts and stuffed them into my pockets as I headed outside. At the edge of the dense bush, I lifted the corners of my skirt and looped the fabric through the hitches hanging off my belt, raising the hem to knee height and out of the way of my feet. Time lost meaning in the green and leafy surrounds. With slow steps, I waited for the fantail to return and dance around my head. The chirping came first as they called to one another amongst the canopy. Hopping and diving they edged closer to me.

fantail“Come on, little ones.” Breaking up the bread in my fingers, I littered the ground with enticing crumbs, waiting for their curiosity to drive them nearer. “Where’s your special friend, the one who is kissed by the sunlight?”

The birds darted back and forth before diving down to scoop up crumbs. They called out, attracting their comrades to the unexpected feast. I waited, leaning against a rough trunk, my fingers tracing bark fissures, until I spotted him.

He flitted back and forth, showing no interest in the bread as though he guarded the others from above. With each circuit, he edged closer. My eyes drank him in, soaking up the details of his feathers, discerning why he looked different to the others. Intricate koru adorned his silver tail fan. Tiny mechanical joints allowed his steel toes to flex and grasp branches. His wings stretched out to reveal beaten brass feathers.

“You’re clockwork,” I breathed in wonder.

He gave a chirp and fluttered higher in the trees.

“Well that answers one question, now to solve the other.” I left the friendly birds to their breakfast and kept walking through the forest. I followed the path worn in the earthy detritus and made by a multitude of animal feet as they trekked to the water source.

At the edge of the pool I stopped and drank in the beauty of the gushing water and over hanging silver fern. Then, I picked up a rock and tossed it into the swirling eddies and waited. The hiss came first, scraping fingers of fear down my spine.

The nostrils emerged from behind the waterfall. I told my feet to stay put even though my heart tried to burst free and run on its own. Nostrils turned into a snout. Above the snout, two enormous black eyes the size of dinner plates spun and rotated. I forced myself to concentrate on the details. The colour and texture of its skin, the way the light hit the hide, the slight stutter when it moved to the left.

The creature’s heart beat echoed around the small glade like the sound of two stones striking each other. A steady tick tick as the head swayed back and forth. I shook my own. No, it doesn’t sound right. The beat lost the rhythm, slowed, and then sped up before halting. The giant head slumped to one side with the last tick.

Clockwork? Like the fantail? My brain yelled yes, but my feet didn’t want to budge and be taniwha toast. Seconds passed, my hand dove into my apron, and my fingers curled around the pocket watch. The steady rhythm of the mechanism reassured me, convinced me I was right.

I crept closer, one eye kept a vigil in case the creature moved, as I edged around the side of the pool, wondering how to get closer without being drenched by the waterfall. Creeping closer to the sheet of water, I found stones laying like a giant mosaic, stopping the ground from becoming mud from the constant splash back. The small path disappeared behind the waterfall. Following the stones, I found a two foot gap, allowing me to pass close to the rock and remain dry. Holding my breath, I approached the slumbering giant from the side.

From tip of its nose to the end of its tail, the taniwha’s body stretched for nearly twenty feet, back into the cave. The head and long neck thrust through the watery sheet, rivulets running down its back and pooling around the large clawed feet.

A large work bench ran down one side of the cavern, every available surface covered in components and half assembled contraptions. The walls were adorned with instruments and tools, ready to be plucked down when needed.

I drew my gaze from the workshop and took another step. I reached out a hand, touching the dull hide, screwing my eyes up in case it let out a roar. Contact, no reaction. I let my breath escape and opened my eyes.

Cold. Hard. Metal.

Scuffling feet came from down the tunnel and my head swung at the intruder. An old man with long white hair and beard, dressed in oil and grease stained pants and shirt. He stopped on seeing me, blinked his eyes, and then waved his arms above his head. “Oh no, a terrifying taniwha! Run girl, run.”

I blew a snort of laughter. “It’s mechanical and it’s seized up.”

He waggled his fingers. “No, he’s not. He’s just sleeping. Run while you can.”

I rapped my fist on the metal hide. “It’s not asleep. It’s over wound.”

His arms dropped to his side. “Oh, bother. Are you sure?”

I nodded, while trying to find the access panel. “I heard it, quite distinctive before it froze.”

“Blast, not again.” He stalked to the other side, stuck his fingers between the scales and pulled down the entire side of the creature. “I’m Magnus by the way.”

He moved over, giving me room to half climb inside the creature. My fingers caressed the springs, clogs and pendulum.

“Lettie,” I threw over my shoulder. “Something’s not right. Pass me a screwdriver.”

I stuck my hand out and cold metal was pressed into my palm. My eyes were drawn to the part that didn’t look right. The beat was off, discordant with the rest of the mechanism. I tinkered; my fingers brushing over the cogs, feeling the weight of the metal, seeking the imbalance.

“Ah.” A small adjustment, I gave the pendulum a swing and the device sprang into smooth action. I pulled my body out of the hatch, a broad smile on my face.

“Why have you got a taniwha anyway?” I asked, waiting for the beast to stir.

He smiled. “Te Wao Nui a Tiriwa shelters many creatures, with my taniwha standing guard, to scare away the curious.”

The taniwha lifted its head and continued the low rumbling hiss. Magnus raised two bushy eyebrows. “You have a gift, little one. I could use your sort of help around here.”

I raised my shoulders in a shrug, watching the creature draw its head in and settle down to sleep. “Mechanics and clockwork aren’t a suitable occupation for a girl.”

“Who told you that?”

“My Da.” My toe stubbed a stone, sending it scuttling along the ground.

“What if we don’t tell your Da?”

My head shot up, hope bursting into my chest, sending warm sun into the dark corners. “I can keep a secret.”

“So can I.” He gave a wink. “Come again, when you have finished your chores. I have an idea for clockwork kiwi, and you can help.”

I couldn’t speak, words wouldn’t form in my throat, joy filled every part of me. All I could do was nod, my eyes shining, and then I scampered past the taniwha, and ran all the way home.

A year of introspection…

Gally Feb 2015This has been a really tough year for me on a number of different fronts. I received some serious health news last Christmas that resulted in a lot of navel gazing, hospital visits, tests and nail biting. I decided to throw myself into my riding as a distraction and we managed to make it to our first dressage competition! Then in early February my mare fractured a bone in her foot (we call it the pedal bone but some countries call it the coffin bone) and she has been a paddock ornament all year. To top off the trifecta for the year – I was on the receiving end of some unpleasantness over ELLA. My mare and I are both on the road to recovery now and with spring arriving Downunder, the world is looking a little brighter. Ironically, that is going to make my writing darker!😉

The result of all this upheaval (as I hid in my oubliette) was lots of time to think. I thought about what I want to do, where I’m going and what I would change going forward. All that thinking will affect my future novels, as there’s going to be a change of direction. As much as I love the Artifact Hunters there probably won’t be any more full length novels in that world. Now I’m not saying *never* because that’s a long time. I do need to write at least 2 novellas to round out the series and don’t worry – Loki nags me incessantly about his moment in the spotlight! lol

lizziePlus there is Ella’s world to dive back into. Every time I say 2 books she coughs and says 3. We’re still discussing that. Once that is wrapped up, I am striking off in a darker direction. I’m not entirely sure where we will end up yet. Vague ideas are percolating in the back of my head. Reflecting on a change in direction is affecting my TV viewing though. I am catching up on shows like Ripper Street, Penny Dreadful, Dracula and the Lizzie Borden Chronicles.

Are there any other dark, gothic type TV shows I should be looking out for?🙂