Blogtober Day Thirteen: Review – Under My Hat Anthology

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Day One: Spooky TBR    /   Day Two: October Releases    /   Day Three: Bookish Autumn Bucket List    /   Day Four: Perfect Cosy Reading Nook    /   Day Five: Top 5 Disney Villains    /   Day Six: Strong Woman Horror Trope    /   Day Seven: Reading Snacks    /   Day Eight: 5 Autumn Reads    /   Day Nine: Vampires and Werewolves    /   Day Ten: Spooky TBR Update    /   Day Eleven: Witches    /   Day Twelve: Books I Should Have Read

Challenge List – Anniek’s Library 

Under My Hat is an anthology, featuring some of the best known voices in fantasy fiction. The stories are all based off the idea of witches, some with the traditional ideas we know but with a slight twist, others with more varied, unrecognisable characters, and each one a delight to read.

There are elements of fantasy and horror in here, but most lean away from horror, focusing on other aspects of witchcraft. The first (Stray Magic) is a really sweet, endearing story about a dog separated from her master. There’s a story about a young woman who has recently joined a wiccan coven, and is searching for her belief. A tale about a cursed girl takes an interesting twist when her dead grandmother is bought back to life to protect her. And a young man in a forest comes across a woman who seems to be half cat, half human.

The anthology is well written, really well put together, and none of the stories blur into the other. Each has its own voice, and its own unique charm, carrying you from one tale to the next and making the book as a whole quite difficult to put down.

Overall, this is a really strong, interesting collection of stories, one that’s perfect for spooky season, and one that takes what could be seen as a stock character, and adds layers upon layers to it, without making the witches completely unrecognisable.

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Dangerous Women – Edited by George R.R Martin & Gardner Dozois [Books]

dangerous womenI always find it exciting, to open up a new anthology. To discover what stories wait inside, whether it’s a genre-specific anthology covering different themes, or a themed anthology covering different genres. Dangerous Women falls into the latter camp, with stories here ranging from fantasy to sci-fi to horror to historical.

And they’re good, though with the authors involved, you’d kind of expect that. Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice & Fire fans will enjoy Martin’s novella, a glimpse into the history of Westeros – one which, honestly, feels like it adds to Dany’s story in the TV series. Maybe they should have gone into this one a bit more, before the last few episodes.

ANYWAY!

The stories are all vastly different from one another, ensuring any fan of genre fiction will find something they enjoy in its pages. From a post-apocalyptic society where women are either mothers or nurses, to a strange forest where shades haunt the trees and kill anyone who doesn’t follow the rules, to a Russian pilot determined to kill. These women are strong and formidable, and make for compelling characters.

There was only one story in here I wasn’t really fussed on, a shame because I’ve read other stories by the same author and enjoyed them. The noir tale had a female character who, rather than feeling like her own fully fleshed, individual woman, felt more like she’d been ripped straight from the ‘femme fatale cliche’ cookie cutter. It was a tale that in an anthology titled ‘Dangerous Woman’, felt a bit jarring.

Other than that, the stories in here are really good, and it’s a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Would definitely recommend this one, especially to fans of SFF & horror.

PROMPT #1: The Egg, Part 2 (Fantasy)

Part One

Vetta lay before the fire, stretched out with her great head on her huge paws, looking every bit the house cat, if she weren’t ten times larger. Shadows flickered across her black and orange stripes, as Kas held up the egg.

Eggs liked heat. So they kept this one as close to it as possible.

The house was small, barely big enough for two people, let alone a man and tiger, but for now it would do. They never stayed long in one place anyway. Too many other places, too many jobs. A lord here needing someone to track down a wayward child, a lady there needing someone to put fear into those who tried to take her land. Rogue vampires who couldn’t seem to remember the agreements, and feral werewolves without a pack.

Dragons.

Nasty creatures with more smarts than Kas liked. But he’d seen plenty of dragon eggs, nests of them at Lyrana’s sanctuary, and this wasn’t one of them. It was too bumpy. Dragon eggs were smooth, and glistened. This…didn’t.

Kas sighed, lowered the egg to the ground and nestled it against Vette. With the fire and Vette’s fur, the egg would be safe enough. He ambled to the back of the small house, to the bed against the back wall, and fell into it. His eyes closed, and he fell asleep quicker than he was used to.

* * *

“Kas! Kas, wake up, you stupid oaf!”

He woke, emerging from a dream in which a child dragon roared and spat fire at him, crying all the while. “You killed my mama!” And, indeed, he had, before taking the boy to the sanctuary and leaving him with Lyrana, despite the boy’s claim he would come back and kill Kas one day. Perhaps when the boy did come, Kas would be ready for death.

Vette tugged on his sleeve. “Kas! You awake?”

“I’m awake. Was going on?” He reaching for the drawers, and his sword on top, fingers clasping around the hilt.

“It’s hatching!” The tiger grinned, turned and bounded back through the door, Kas scrambling out of bed, forgetting the sword, and following.

Vette had gathered a few sticks, placing them around the egg to stop it rolling too far. It sat, nestled before the fireplace, trembling. Kas knelt before it, reached out, and placed his finger against the shell. He drew it back quickly; the shell was not just warm, but hot, hotter than it should have been, considering the distance between fire and egg.

Dragon-egg hot.

Perhaps, really, that was all it was. A misshapen dragon egg, about to reveal the small lizard-like creature curled up inside. They should have taken it to the sanctuary, at least there it would have been properly cared for, and they could have contained the first fire bursts to come from the creature.

Vette padded forward, and Kas grabbed the scruff of her neck, pulling her back.

“Don’t,” he said. “We have no clue what’s inside.”

“It’s a child,” Vette replied, “whatever it is. It’s going to need-”

“It could be a dangerous child, Vette! A dragon, maybe.”

“That’s no dragon egg, you can tell, it’s-”

She fell silent, as a crack appeared in the top of the egg. It shook again, this time so hard it knocked in the makeshift nest. Sticks scattered across the floor and the egg went down, smashing against wood.

“No!” Vette cried, eyes widening. She had never been the maternal sort, but protective? Always. And her tiger form, the form the witch had trapped her in, brought that out even more. She skidded forward, then stopped, looking first at the egg, then at Kas.

He knelt, looking at the crack running along the shell, and gently poked it, before putting his hand over one half, and lifting it up.

“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay. I think…” He removed the half-shell, and stared at the stunned, dazed figure lying against the other side. The size of his hand, a humanoid body, arms spread and wings stretching out from a tiny back. They fluttered, and the figure sighed, opened her eyes, and grinned.

“Mummy!”

Kas staggered back, as the small creature threw herself into the air, tumbled, and came straight at him. Vette watched, gaze following the darting, dancing thing as it came after Kas. He knocked into one of the chairs, almost fell, but managed to keep himself upright, as the small, flying girl hit his chest and stuck there, arms stretched out.

“Hello, Mummy!”

Kas sighed, closing his eyes as he exhaled. He’d seen them, before; tricky, nasty, mischievous little beasts, never had a single pleasant experience with one of them. But they’d found the egg, they’d taken care of it, and he’d been the first thing she’d seen when hatching.

She snuggled against him for a moment, before climbing onto his shoulder and settling there, small wings fluttering, a contended smile on her face as Vette bit her lip, suppressing the urge to laugh.

“Well,” Vette said, “go on, Kas. Name your daughter.”

Kas rolled his eyes. Fairies. Of all possible things that could have been waiting in the egg, it had to be a damn fairy.

“Kas,” Vette urged.

On his shoulder, a small voice squeaked, “Kas! Mummy!”

Vette burst out laughing, and Kas sat on the nearest chair, the fairy giggling, like a child who didn’t understand what they were laughing at, but who found the whole thing hilarious, all the same.

END

PROMPT #1: The Egg (Fantasy)

Prompt taken from website Self Publishing School. More details on why I’m doing writing prompts can be found on this post.

Write about a character who finds an odd-looking egg in the forest. When they take it home, they never could have predicted what was inside it.

Characters: Kas (human) and Vette (witch turned tiger). Hunters for hire.

Vette pounded in the air and landed, paws either side of the misshaped object nestled in tree roots. Kas stood back, watching her as she batted it, leapt away, then crept forward, body low to the ground.

He rolled his eyes, approached, and before she could do anything else, scooped up what he took to be a stone.

“Hey!” Vette said, a touch of a growl beneath her words. “I was going to get that!”

“You were playing with it,” he drawled, turning the stone over in his hands. It was not, actually, a stone. Just a little too light, for starters. Similar colour though – grey, with darker patches across. But it felt warm, and when he tapped the side, it almost sounded hollow.

Vette cocked her head. “Egg?”

“Seems like,” he grunted. “Too small for dragon though. Ain’t anything round here lays eggs like that.” He lifted it until it was eye level, studying it as he frowned. “Don’t seem right.”

To Kas’ eye, it looked too misshapen for an egg. The ones he was used to were smooth, but this had ridges and bumps. Still, he couldn’t see how it would be anything else.

“We taking it?” Vette stepped forward, eyes fixed on the object, and Kas sighed.

“Don’t look like it got no one else.” He looked around, staring at the spot where Vette had found it. “Don’t look like a nest here, either.”

“No. It doesn’t.” She pushed up onto her back legs, staring up into the tree. “Can’t see one up there, either.”

Kas sighed, turning the object over, before shrugging. “Well. We’ll take it back then go see Myri. He might know what it is.”

* * *

Myri cupped the egg in his hands, frowning as he judged the weight, tilted it, then placed it slowly on the counter. His shop was small, but full, a variety of objects stacked high on shelves, squeezed onto every surface. A small collection of books nestled in one corner. A range of weapons hung on the walls. And everywhere else were objects Kas did not recognise, and could not name even if he tried. Long, hollowed out sticks, thin circles of metal, trinkets and jewellery and other assorted goods.

Myri sighed and scratched the back of his neck, flakes of skin drifting off. “I actually have no idea. I think you’re right, and it does seem to be an egg of some kind, but I’ve never seen the likes. You been keeping it warm?”

Kas nodded, glanced down at Vette. “She kept it against her all night.”

“Good idea.” He crossed his arms, leaned back and glanced down at Vette. “How goes the quest?”

“Err,” Vette shrugged her big cat shoulders, rolled her eyes to look at Kas. “It’s…on hold.”

“She doesn’t know if she wants to turn back,” Kas grumbled, and Myri laughed.

“Can’t fault her for that. Imagine having that kind of power.”

“She has more as a mage.”

“Okay, Kas.” Vette rolled her eyes. “I still haven’t made up my mind, that’s all.”

“Well, when you do, let me know.” Myri leaned over the counter, staring down at her. “I’ve been making…enquiries. Getting in touch with some contacts. We might be able to help you with the next steps.”

Kas slid closer to the counter, squaring his shoulders as he stared at the shorter man. “Tell us what you know, Myri.”

“Nothing yet, my dear friend. I’ve just been…scoping, that’s all.” He tapped the egg. “Take that home. If it hatches, come back and let me know. I’d love to find out what’s in it.”

Before Kas could say anything else, Vette leapt up, putting her great, big paws on the counter and nudging the egg with her nose, before opening her mouth and gently setting her jaw around it. Kas turned and strode of the shop, the tiger following close behind.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

If you’d like to read more of my short stories (unfortunately none feature Kas & Vette, yet…) please check out links and details here.

 

Writing Prompts

I have a stack of books and booklets with writing prompts in. I love them – always have. It’s great to mull on an idea, have a scene sparked off by just a line or image. A good writing prompt can lead to a great story. In a way, it’s always why I sometimes like themed competitions or submissions. Writing to a prompt or theme really gives me a chance to exercise my writing muscles.

Problem is, sometimes the story ends up being a little…long. Which in some cases is fine. But I used to be able to write shorter short stories quite a lot, and I need to try that more, need to try to pin it down.

So, here’s the plan. Now and then, I am going to pick out a prompt, and post it here as a small extract. They might contain characters from current WIPs, or even ‘lore’ relating to those worlds. We’ll see. And if a prompt intrigues you, too, please feel free to use it and let me know how you got on. Once I’ve got a few posted, I’ll  add a page to list them all. And please remember, these will be unedited, rough pieces, but I always welcome constructive criticism! Every post will be prefaced by PROMPT #. Let’s see how this goes. Like my own mini-writing challenge!

Publication Updates

So seeing as this blog is supposed to be as much about my writing as it is about other’s, I thought I’d just drop a quick note to confirm my latest publication updates. Details of my short stories can always be found on the About & Publications page, but I know maybe not everyone visits that when they come to the site.

So, since the start of the year, I’ve had three short stories published. Two in anthologies, and one as a digital standalone in Alban Lake’s Infinite Realms bookstore.

January saw the publication of the final Seven Deadly Sins YA anthology, LUST.  The fact this anthology has come to an end makes me feel sad – the WRATH volume was my first ever in print story, Dying of the Light, and I feel really proud of the story itself. Ashworth Manor was in the AVARICE volume, and actually got me the number one spot in the competition run on Scrib to find stories for the anthology. And, finally, in LUST, there’s Nina and the Raging Hormone Buffet. The fact I found a place among a group of talented writers is always a reason to smile, even if there won’t be any more of the series. You can check out LUST on Amazon US here, and the UK site here. The profits for SDS do go to First Book, so please check out any of the seven volumes!

Also realised in January was CURSE OF THE GODS, from Fantasia Divinity. My short story The Most Valuable Possession appeared in their previous anthology, OUT OF YOUR SHADOW, and will be my first paid story. Worshipped, appearing in this anthology, will be my first contributor’s copy. Worshipped shows Aphrodite, trying to navigate a modern world, and the perils that come with it. The Fantasia Divinity site (linked above) is worth checking if you want to get a copy, as they often have discounts.

And lastly, through Alban Lake’s wonderful Infinite Realms bookstore, there’s Night of the Loving Dead, published in February. I had so much fun writing this story, and hopefully that comes through in the fiction. It’s flash, coming in at little under 1000 words, and follows a zombie as he tries to navigate his new living deadness. It’s also a zombie love story. Another great publisher definitely worth checking out, and there’s plenty in the bookstore to keep you entertained.

Star Wars: Tales of the Bounty Hunters [Books]

c_tales_bhuntersI like Star Wars, and have done since seeing the original films as a teenager. I was excited when the new films were announced, loved TFA, TLJ, and Rogue One, sort of enjoyed Solo (I guess), but it was only in the last couple of years I watched the prequel films. (Which kind of left a bad taste in my mouth)

But until now, I had never actually read a Star Wars book.

My BF has an extensive library, including quite a lot of the Star Wars novels. He did want me to read one originally linked to the prequel films, but I shot him down, pointing out if I didn’t like the first one I read, I likely wouldn’t pick up the others, because life’s too short to waste on books I don’t enjoy.

Anyway, I ended up reading Tales of the Bounty Hunters, and it was actually a good place to start. Even if some of it is now invalidated by both the prequels and sequels, but even though it’s no longer ‘canon’ to Star Wars, it was still enjoyable.

The collection of short stories, edited by Kevin J. Anderson, was released in 1996. Before the prequels, before the Disney films, before…well, before I’d ever seen Star Wars. (It was a simpler time) Each story focuses on a different bounty hunter, but all contain one key scene – the moment when Darth Vader sends the hunters out to find Han Solo.

Bounty-Hunters

Therefore I Am: The Tale of IG-88

This was a good story to start the collection. It’s not the best, but it’s compelling enough, watching the assassin droid advance and ‘evolve’.

Payback: The Story of Dengar

I really liked this one, and it had me completely rooting for Dengar, wanting to see him succeed in some way, though not in the way he wanted to.

The Prize Pelt: The Tale of Bossk

First things first, Bossk is not a likeable character. So it’s good that this story gives us two completely new characters – a human and a wookie, who offer to help Bossk hunt down Solo and, more importantly, Chewie, as Bossk desperately wants his pelt. Works nicely, and I think I’d have rather seen a film with these two characters than Solo.

Of Possible Futures: The Tale of Zuckuss and 4-LOM

I found this to be kind of sweet. Zuckuss is gravely ill, and 4-LOM is constantly trying to learn new skills – the latest being that of ‘intuition’, which he hopes to learn from Zuckuss. But the bond between them, I think, also teaches 4-LOM a bit of empathy, as they try to gain enough credits to pay for Zuckuss’ treatment. This and The Prize Pelt are my two favourite stories out of this collection.

The Last One Standing: The Tale of Bobba Fett

Maybe because there’s so much ‘weight’ to the character of Bobba Fett, but this, to me, was the weakest story. Not because it contradicts anything that came after (I am more than happy for that to happen) but because it just felt at odds with what little we knew of Fett in the original films, and parts of it felt a bit…mundane. I think I would have preferred to see Fett continuing from the end of Payback, but instead we get a short story that spans decades, jumping forward to relevant points. This version of Fett is obsessed with ‘justice’, but that justice seems awfully dependent on the Empire’s view of black and white, rather than any internal moral compass. It felt a little weak.

bounty-hunter

Overall, I really would recommend this book, if you like Star Wars. If you’re a fan of the prequels OR don’t want to get into the now non-canon extended universe, however…maybe give it a miss? All I can say is, I really enjoyed it, despite knowing nothing about these characters except their brief on-screen appearances in the original films.

Why I Love Short Story Anthologies

And no, I’m not just saying this because I happen to be in a few. I’ve enjoyed anthologies and collections since I was a teenager, picking up any book I could get my hands on. At the time, I read a few horror ones, and fell completely in love with short stories.

In terms of writing, short stories and novels come with their own difficulties. A novel has time to meander a little, to slowly build up the world and its characters. Yes, there should be a connection from the moment you start reading, but I think most readers are happy for a little leeway on this. A novel can flash back and forth between past and present, allowing deep glimpses into characters and why they might be the way they are. The main trick with a novel is to keep the reader completely invested for 50K+ words.

It’s easier to keep a reader interested in a short story, but there’s obviously a lot less room to play around. Character and plot have to grab the reader from the first word, and what could be a flashback scene in a novel, to explain an important turning point in the MC’s childhood, must become a single sentence in a short story.

Good writing amazes me, no matter the length, but something about a fantastic short story just feels different from reading a brilliant novel. To me, a novel is like a TV show; more time, more depth, more subplots. Characters A & B can study moral philosophy & ethics, while Characters C & D can fall in love without even realising they’re doing it.

the good placde
I might be a little bit in love with this show

A short story feels more like a film. Less time to really delve into the characters, pace needs to remain high, and the focus should be on one MC, maybe two or three at a stretch, if done well. And that’s not even going into POV.

Good writing is good writing but it does feel like all too often the short story gets overlooked. Yet it is everywhere. Online fiction magazines, in-print mags, short story competitions and anthologies. Personally, I like in-print magazines and anthologies (not to mention author collections). I love reading short stories, and one of my favourite things about anthologies/magazines is discovering new-to-me writers.

I remember picking up horror anthologies as a teenager – Mammoth Books springs to mind, but there were a number of others buried among my brother’s Horrible Histories, Goosebumps, and Point Horror books. I devoured them. In my early twenties, I read collections by Stephen King, and later, after finishing the Song of Ice & Fire series, I picked up Dreamsongs by GRRM. After that, I started Wild Card.

The last few days, I’ve been reading issue 60 of Black Static, containing stories from Carole Johnson, Tim Lees, Ray Culley and Stephen Hargadon. My favourite story, by far, is Johnson’s Skyshine (or Death by Scotland). It does everything a good short story (or, in this case, novella) should do. Captures you from the moment you start reading, keeps a tight hold, and doesn’t let you go. And Skyshine feels very much, in a good way, a story for the #MeToo era, as a young woman struggles with how, exactly, she is supposed to deal with men who make lewd comments as she walks past. (This issue is actually from Sep – Oct 2017, meaning the story predates the movement)

As soon as I finished reading it, I looked up Johnson on Amazon, and added to my Wish List more of the anthologies she has been featured in.

It’s something I find myself doing often with short stories.

I’ve been doing it while listening to old episodes of Starship Sofa, or Tales to Terrify. Especially if I can find an anthology with the story that’s been read on the podcast.

Novels are like new worlds, but short stories are the gateways to those worlds. Anthologies (and podcasts, of course) are a great way to discover new authors, or even reading where some favourites started. They’re samples, in a sense, and when they work, they work so brilliantly well, it’s hard to not want to instantly read more by the same author.

Do you have any favourite anthologies, or any authors you discovered through anthologies? Let me know! I am, after all, always looking for me to read.

Feel The Anger

Wrath Front Cover with text.jpgFear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

We all know Yoda’s famous quote, even if you’ve never seen Star Wars. Anger is a dangerous, tricky beast, uncontrollable once unleashed, and if allowed to roam for too long, devastating for any involved.

Each of the seven deadly sins would make an interesting topic to explore in writing, which is why the Seven Deadly Sins YA anthology is such a great idea. So far, they have 5 volumes out, covering Pride, Sloth, Envy, Gluttony and now, Wrath. And, lucky me, I’m one of the writers in the volume dedicated to Wrath.

I’m very, very honoured to be included in the anthology with my story Dying of the Light, alongside some very talented writers. This marks my first in-print publication, and I’ve already ordered my copy so I can hold it in my hands and squeal at seeing my name on the front cover.

Proceeds from the anthology go to First Book, which makes me even more happy to be a part of this.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading a few of these stories already, and cannot wait to settle down with my copy and read them all.

Dying of the Light

Eliza and Chloe were born into a culture that relished powers. As twins, one was destined to be stronger, and with that strength came the possibility of uncontrolled rage. When others sought to steal the strong twins’ power, they chose the wrong girl. After Chloe’s funeral, Eliza makes her way to the place where her sister died, determined to find those responsible and enact her revenge.

UK Kindle

UK Paperback

US Kindle

US Paperback

Checking In

I’ve kind of been beating myself up over not keeping the blog more updated, but the truth is I’ve struggled recently with thinking of what I could write here that would be interesting. Then I realized, hang on, it’s my blog, I can put what I want really, and more importantly, I don’t have to do anything too lengthy.

So now and then I’ll put up shorter posts just saying what I’ve been up to and what I’m working on at the moment. Sound good? Glad we’re in agreement.

Didn’t do any writing yesterday, as I went out to watch the rugby. This is a national pastime in Wales – the Six Nations are on so it’s kind of a rule you have to go to the pub and get drunk watching a match, for at least one of the games. Importantly, yesterday was basically the decider for the whole thing. England vs Wales, an age old rivalry, so it was important on a number of levels. Wales lost. We won’t mention this again.

In terms of writing, I struggle to stick to one project at a time. A lot of my focus recently has been on short stories, though I usually dip in and out of the numerous novels I have on the go, too.

At the moment, I’m trying to get a few chapters done of my vampire novel. This is a novel I’ve worked on – on and off – since I was fourteen. I actually finished it, sent it off and had a rejection letter on it when I was fifteen. Back when I knew a lot less about writing. Obviously in the last ten years it’s gone through a lot of rewrites, especially as in that time Twilight appeared and I did not want anything linking my vampires to them. Even at fifteen, I wanted them to be darker. They’re monsters, even if the main group in the novel aren’t the bad guys. So yeah, working a little on that, which is always fun as I get to play around with a cast with massively different histories, backstories and, obviously, personalities, all through the eyes of a teenage girl who gets roped in with them while trying to look for her missing brother.

Two short stories on the go right now; one about an estate agent showing a couple around a possibly haunted house (not horror though), which I got the idea from after using Writer’s Forum plot generator square. Really useful to spark off an idea. And I’m working on the second draft of a story called ‘Indistinguishable’, about a young couple who find strange technology in a cave near their village.

Outside of writing, I’ve been working and trying to get some running in, though health issues have meant I had to stop that for a few days. I’m doing a 5K run in May, raising money for Macmillan doing it. It’s not just a straight run though; this is an inflatable obstacle course. Which should be….I hesitate to use the word fun.

And I started playing Disney Infinity on Friday. Fantastic game, I’ve got all the Star Wars sets for it now so I was playing as Boba Fett, Luke and Leia. A lot of fun. So that’s about it for now. Hope you’ve all had a great weekend and have a fun week, and I’ll try to get another post up soon.