Category: folklore

The Flower and The Serpent – Chapter 1

The Flower and The Serpent will be released on 4th December 2019 and it’s currently available for pre-order.

Galley readers have described The Flower and The Serpent as…

“Creepy and wonderful”

L.A

“Elements of #StrangerThings

Pete

“Darkly seductive tale of revenge, regret & ultimately redemption”

Jon black

To whet your appetite, here is an extract of Chapter 1 of The Flower and The Serpent.

I hope you enjoy.

————————–

Chapter 1

Monday 18th June 1992

VIOLET

Violet’s whole body hummed with leftover audition nerves.

‘I’m a dead cert,’ she said.

She was the first to climb aboard the empty number 458 bus but Holly and Lila were close behind. They followed the muddy footprints past the chubby lady bus driver as the wipers shrieked across the windshield and the rain slapped the windows. Violet wrinkled her nose. The bus reeked of soggy wool.

‘I can’t wait until tomorrow,’ Violet said as she slid into her regular seat halfway up the aisle. ‘When my name is on top of the list.’

‘You’re a shoo-in.’ Lila flopped into the seat in front of her. She turned and draped her skinny arm over the metal bar. ‘He’d be stupid not to cast you.’

The doors wheezed shut and the bus pulled out of the school and onto Beacon Hill Road. The midwinter sun had already disappeared behind Mount Wellington.

‘Angelika was alright, too.’ Holly squashed in next to Lila and sat backwards. ‘And the one with the curls. Rowan?’

Violet snorted and tossed her mousy hair. ‘Out. Out. Damned spot,’ she groaned in a monotone and snatched the last chip from the packet in Holly’s hand.

Holly pressed her lips together.

Lila giggled. ‘Maybe we’ll be cast as the witches. There’s three of them and three of us.’ She bounced in her seat. ‘We could get some props from your aunty, hey, Holly? Real witch supplies?’

Holly crushed the empty chip packet in her fist and turned away. But the late Hobart afternoon was as black as night and Violet could see Holly’s square-jawed scowl reflected in the window. Holly seemed to sulk a lot these days.

‘Witches? No way,’ Violet scoffed. ‘It’s Lady Macbeth or nothing.’

‘Of course, I’m an idiot. You’ll get the part for sure.’ Lila chewed her cuticles and shrugged. ‘I just thought it’d be fun. Us three. Together.’

Violet said nothing and neither did Holly.

‘Sorry.’ Lila playfully nudged Holly’s arm. ‘I didn’t mean it. The witch thing.’

Holly turned back to them with a sigh. ‘It’s not you.’ She squeezed the bridge of her nose. ‘This headache—’

‘What were you girls doing at the school?’ the curly-headed bus driver hollered.

Violet and her friends flinched. A pair of murky green eyes looked back at them through the rear vision mirror.

‘Holiday program,’ Lila called back.

‘All alone in that place during holidays?’ The bus driver raised an eyebrow. ‘They should never have built a school on that land. Or anything for that matter. Should have left it be.’

Violet rolled her eyes. ‘Everyone knows they purified it first, lady.’

‘The surety of youth,’ the bus driver chuckled. ‘I was once like you.’ Her voice was strange and lilting, she spoke with a musical accent Violet couldn’t place. ‘Life is not as it seems.’

Violet rotated a finger next to her temple and Lila stifled a giggle. Holly dipped her head to hide her eyes under her fringe.

‘You three are best friends?’

‘Totally.’ Lila grinned. ‘Ever since Grade Seven.’

Violet stared at her black eight-hole Doc Martens and chewed her lip. She noticed Holly didn’t say anything, either.

‘Women need to band together. Especially you three. You must look out for each other.’

‘What do you mean?’ Lila said. ‘Especially us?’

‘You three have challenges up ahead,’ the driver said.

Lila glanced at Holly and then Violet. ‘What does she mean?’

‘She probably means life stuff.’ Holly twirled a strand of dark brown hair around her finger. ‘Exams. Finishing school. Getting off this stupid island. I can’t wait.’

The bus driver went quiet. The tyres squelched on the wet road as the bus veered around the infamous hairpin bend and damp grey-green eucalyptus slapped on either side.

The three girls slid across the seats around the bend.

A few years ago in the late 1980s, a bus exactly like this one misjudged the turn and six lives were wiped out in a single mistake. Violet’s stomach clenched twice a day, five times a week, every time she passed the stone memorial on the way to school. The black and white photo of the bent wreckage was still vivid in her mind.

‘What challenges?’ asked Lila. She clutched at the metal bar until her knuckles were white.

The bus driver said nothing.

Violet rubbed her duffle coat sleeve against the fogged-up window and peered outside as the bus passed the small strip of local shops. First was The Three Torches, a cafe-bookshop run by Holly’s aunt. Then Terri’s Bakehouse where Violet worked Saturdays selling congealed yellow vanilla slices and the whitest of white bread. Then the dry cleaners and the shaman hairdressers with his multi-coloured Tibetan prayer flags and incense fluttering in the breeze, and finally the milk bar takeaway. Even through the glass, Violet could smell the old chip oil, the spicy Nag Champa and the astringent dry-cleaning fumes.

A figure in a raincoat with the hood pulled up stood at the kerb in the rain. Beside them, a muscular pointy-eared black dog strained at his leash. The person lifted a finger and pointed directly at the bus, directly through the window, directly at Violet. The face was a black shadow, no real face at all but somehow the hidden eyes bored straight into her, the gaze like an apple-corer.

With a gasp, she tore her gaze away from the window, her heart thumping.

‘What?’ said Lila.

‘Nothing,’ Violet muttered but when she turned back, the person was still there on the kerb, and still pointing. She shuddered. ‘Another loony.’

They travelled a few more blocks in silence, then the Beacon Hill Road straightened out after the weatherboard Scout Hall, the place for senior aerobics and Morris dancing. Her heartbeat settled as the man in the raincoat disappeared from view.

‘Three challenges for three friends,’ the bus driver continued. ‘I can see it clearly.’

The girls leaned forward in their seats.

‘What are you? Some kind of fortune teller?’ Lila said. ‘A psychic?’

Violet shoved Holly. ‘You know about all that stuff. Witchy poo.’

Holly poked out her tongue.

‘One of you will shine like a star,’ the bus driver proclaimed.

Violet shimmied in her seat. It was obviously her.

The driver went on. ‘One of you will invite darkness into her breast.’

‘Breast? That’d be you.’ Holly raised a dark eyebrow and prodded Violet in the boob. Violet swiped away her finger with a glare.

‘Darkness?’ Lila grimaced. ‘What do you mean? What does she mean?’

‘One of you will depart forever,’ the driver concluded.

‘Depart forever?’ Lila clawed at the metal bar between the seats. ‘That’s not good. That can’t be good.’

‘Excuse me, Miss.’ Holly raised her hand. ‘I don’t think this is appropriate—’

‘Death? Is she saying one of us is going to die?’ Lila wheezed.

‘What are you saying, lady?’ Violet squinted, projecting her voice up the empty bus. She loved how the power rippled up from her diaphragm when she used her breath in the right way. ‘Are you trying to scare us? Cos it’s not working.’

‘Ignore me if you like, girls,’ the bus driver said. ’It is your choice to listen. But you have been warned.’

‘One of us is going to die?’ Lila said with a crack in her voice. ‘How? When?’

‘There are powers in this world we cannot comprehend. You must beware.’

‘Today? Do we need to be careful today?’

The bus driver shifted her focus back to the road. Her face closed like a shutter.

‘You have to give us more information than that. You can’t just —’

But the woman behind the wheel didn’t respond. She didn’t even look their way. It was as though she’d never said a word.

‘Excuse me,’ Lila said and waved her arm. ‘Tell us more. Please.’

The bus driver kept her eyes on the road.

‘Why won’t she tell us?’ Lila chewed her finger, her eyes glazed.

‘Forget it,’ Violet snorted. ‘She’s just another nutbag.’

Violet wondered why Lila was so fazed, she’d lived around Beacon Hill her whole life and knew all the weird stories off by heart. She should be used to strange people by now.

The bus moaned to a stop. The back doors hissed open and a sharp slap of cold wind blew inside.

‘You have to tell us more.’ Lila scrambled up the aisle towards the driver’s seat, her canvas school bag clutched to her chest. ‘Who? Which one of us?’

‘Last stop.’

‘Please,’ Lila whined.

Holly grabbed her by the elbow. ‘Leave it.’

‘She can’t just tell us someone is going to die and then say nothing else. She said beware. But what of?’ Lila raked her fingers through her home-dyed burgundy hair. ‘Do you think she cursed us?’

‘Come on. Let’s go.’ Violet headed towards the door.

Holly tugged at Lila’s sleeve. ‘Don’t get worked up about it. You know what you’re like. We’ll call the bus company tomorrow. Make a complaint.’

Lila sighed and followed Holly out into the wet air. Misty droplets dribbled down the graffiti-etched bus shelter.

‘Weirdo!’ Violet yelled out as the bus driver closed the concertina doors and the bus rumbled away. Violet pulled up her duffle coat hood as the red tail lights bled onto the wet road.

‘What if she’s right? One of us could die,’ Lila said. Raindrops brimmed on her eyelashes and she didn’t wipe them away.

‘Forget about it,’ Violet said. ‘Right, Holly?’

‘Well, I think we should tell someone,’ Holly said. ‘But maybe you’re right. Don’t think about it, Lila. It’s just some stupid joke. Nothing’s going to happen.’

‘It’s not very funny,’ Lila huffed. ‘And I have this strange —’

‘Well, I’m off. Lines to learn,’ Violet said with a smirk. ‘Lady Macbeth lines. See you tomorrow.’

‘With bells on,’ Lila said but her smile didn’t reach her eyes.

‘To witness the grand unveiling of my name up on the board tomorrow,’ Violet said. ‘Violet Black as Lady Macbeth.’

With a wave, the three friends went their separate ways into the gloom. Violet wrapped her arms around herself as she trudged down Melaleuca Avenue, through the shadows and puddles, past the rows of empty brown brick-and-tile houses with double garages. There wasn’t another soul around.

Violet couldn’t wait until Friday night when she stepped out onto her stage and shone like a star.

Maybe there was some truth to the crazy bus driver’s words.

The Flower and The Serpent – new release alert!

My latest novel The Flower and The Serpent will be released on 4th December 2019.

A supernatural young adult novel set during a school production of Macbeth, The Flower and The Serpent is my most autobiographical book yet.

The Flower and The Serpent is available now for pre-order.

—————-

Mysterious disappearances, a battle for the spotlight and nightmares. It’s just another day at Beacon Hill High School.

Auditions for Macbeth are over, and on the bus ride home, a mysterious driver gives sixteen-year-old Violet and her friends’ three strange predictions:

One of the girls will shine like a star.

One will invite darkness into her breast.

One will depart forever.

Please, how cliché. Besides, Violet clearly knows that she’s the star.
But when she isn’t cast as Lady Macbeth and strange things begin to unfold, and the predictions begin to come true, Violet can’t help to wonder which one will apply to her.

Determined to be the one that will shine like a star, Violet will do whatever it takes to get the leading role – no matter the consequence.

Modern-day Shakespeare meets supernatural mystery with this nail-biting young adult horror by Madeleine D’Este.

#54 – Sandra Ireland – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 54 – Sandra Ireland – writer of tartan gothic

“I like to be scared when I’m writing.”

Episode 54 – Sandra Ireland – Show Notes
  • Morning writing – not as creative in the afternoon
  • Goal of 500 words per day
  • Ritual of two cups of tea and one cup of coffee in favourite mug
  • Dark, creepy with a heavy dose of menace, toxic relationships
  • Landscape as a starting point for writing – sense of place to inform writing
  • Manipulating people’s fears and shadow sides.
  • Not just scaring the reader, not just horror but writing about what personally scares you. Vulnerability and readers not knowing what is imagination and what is true.
  • Currently writing non-fiction about the folklore surrounding the Mill (setting of Bone Deep). The words coming out faster with non-fiction.
  • Fiction as a therapy – creative release.
  • Giving herself the permission to be creative.
  • The tribe with the right vibe – people who understand to bounce ideas off.
    Be careful who you share your writing with.
  • Brontes, Benjamin Myers – The Gallows Pole, Julie Myerson – The Stopped Heart
  • A resurgence of gothic writing – perhaps as a reaction to current events
  • Bone Deep – inspired by work as a tour guide in a water mill. At times the mill felt unwelcoming. Modern story with a strand of an old folktale (Border Ballad).
  • The key struggle for writing students is a lack of confidence. One technique is forcing students to share their work.
  • Upcoming – The Mill (non-fiction) and The Unmaking of Ellie Rook
  • Residencies – productive but sometimes lonesome

“Write about what scares you.”

“It’s a basic human drive to be creative.”

Read More

#48 – Icy Sedgwick – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 48 with Icy Sedgwick – blogger and writer of dark fantasy, gothic horror & westerns

“I couldn’t write po-faced literature if I tried.”

Episode 48 – Icy Sedgwick – Show Notes
  • Flash fiction can be more challenging and more fun than novels
  • Writing something every day but not necessarily fiction
  • Fun, entertaining, whimsical pulpy adventure. Standing up against wrongs, taking on bullies or oppressive regimes
  • Westerns – rabid fan base
  • Improving dialogue
  • The balance between ‘write what you know’ and ‘making stuff up.”
  • Plotting while keeping it fresh
  • Roald Dahl, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Oscar Wilde, JK Rowling
  • The Stolen Ghost inspired by a childhood trip to Glamis Castle. Took 11 years to finish.
  • Being a hoarder and recycling ideas
  • Finishing Book 3 of dark fantasy series

“Coffee as black as possible. As nature intended.”

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The origins of ten common superstitions

I’ve been writing a series for Folklore Thursday on the origins of common superstitions and the series has come to an end. Boo. It’s been a fun and fascinating project to delve into why and where these superstitions came from.

Here are all ten articles for your reading pleasure

Enjoy

#16 – George Mann – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 16 with George Mann – Paranormal mystery & Dr Who comic writer

“You’re chasing ghosts if you’re chasing trends.”

Episode 16 – George Mann – Show Notes
  • Dreaded Chapter 7
  • Inspiration from music – songs associated with every book
  • Theme of Identity
  • Mystery and fantastical, the bizarre and the weird. More Peake than Tolkien.
  • Trying to be Peter F Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter, and failing.
  • Wychwood was a switch into a modern day setting.
  • Getting police procedures right
  • Initial premise for Wychwood – a BBC Sunday night crime drama with dark spooky elements
  • M. John Harrison, Steven Eriksen, Susan Cooper, Peter Robinson
  • Madeleine’s tip – Artist’s Date

“Write something for yourself.”
“It’s part of the writer’s job to read widely.”

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#10 – Dee Dee Chainey – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 10 with Dee Dee Chainey – Folklorist & freelance content marketer

“Bringing magic to the mundane”

Episode 10 – Dee Dee Chainey – Show Notes
  • Do your writing first
  • Instagram pictures of cake
  • Dark folklore; Krampus, hand of glory and the tooth fairy
  • Confidence
  • Don’t keep rewriting the same piece, move on
  • Squeezing a massive topic into an introductory book
  • A non-fiction writer mainly influenced by fiction
  • Aubrey Burl, Carrie Ann Noble, Jackie Morris, Phillip Pullman
  • Madeleine’s tip – 10 story ideas per day

“What do you want to say to the world and to yourself”

Read More

#03 – Angela Slatter – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 03 with Angela Slatter: award winning dark fantasy writer

“I’m a hybrid mess.”

Episode 03 – Angela Slatter – Show Notes.
  • Whiskey and the morning writer
  • Reverse engineering for writers
  • Reading like a fat kid at the dessert table
  • Frankenstein-ing her debut novel ‘Vigil’ together
  • Madeleine’s segment – The Foolscap Method

Links

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#02 – Molly Ringle – Write Through the Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 02 with Molly Ringle: writer of romance with a magical twist

“My writing tends to be on the weird side.” 

Episode 02 – Molly Ringle – Show Notes
  • Molly explains what cheese puffs are
  • Mashing up love, honest emotion, humour and cool plot ideas
  • The power of marinating
  • Beginner’s mind
  • Bringing to life Puget Sound in The Goblins of Bellweather
  • Madeleine’s segment – Tick. Tick. Tick. The Pomodoro Technique:

Links

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Albanian eggs, open umbrellas and mysterious lights

Sometimes all my writing efforts land at once and it’s been one of those weeks.

Not only did the new adventure Evangeline and the Mysterious Lights (and the new collection The Antics of Evangeline) go live, but I had articles published on Roads and Kingdoms, and FolkloreThursday.com.

For Roads and Kingdoms, I wrote about my own private Albanian breakfast and reliving holidays through food.

My Own Private Albanian Breakfast

For FolkloreThursday.com, I continued my series on superstitions with ‘opening an umbrella inside’.

Sky Goddesses, Spring Mechanisms, or Sprites: Why Is it Bad Luck to Open an Umbrella Inside?

And coming later in October, I’m launching my writing craft podcast ‘Write Through the Roof’. The process of learning how to produce a podcast has been surprisingly fun and I’m reminded of how I used to play ‘radio stations’ with my cassette recorder in the 1980s. It’s reinforced the theory that your passions lie in the things you liked to do as a child.

And don’t forget if you like the Evangeline stories, please vote in the Christmas story poll. At the moment, it’s neck and neck between three side kicks!

Happy reading and writing!

 

Poll: who should join Evangeline in a Christmas story?

Which side-kick should join Evangeline in a Christmas adventure?

As a little Christmas present to my mailing list subscribers, I’m writing a new short story adventure for Evangeline with the usual hijink and baked goodies, but I need your help, dear reader. 

Which side-kick should join Evangeline?

Have your say in the poll below.

Who should accompany Evangeline on a Christmas adventure?

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And one more question on format. Would you prefer to read the story yourself or listen to the story (read by me)?

I’ve been personally bingeing on audiobooks and M.R James’ Ghost Stories for Christmas.

What format would you prefer?

View Results

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Evangeline’s Christmas Adventure (short story) will be available before Christmas as a present to my mailing list subscribers. So if you don’t want to miss out, make sure your name is on the list (or sign-up below).

 

Hand-me-down superstitions: magpies, silver coins and calendars

What superstitions did your Gran or Mum hand down to you?

With my writing and research for Folklore Thursday, books I’m reading and ideas for a new story knocking round my head, I’m in a real folklorish and superstition-filled place at the moment.

My mum passed a few superstitions down to me. No shoes on the table, no open umbrellas inside and cutting crosses in brussel sprouts. So now, I’m curious what superstitions and folklore traditions other people inherited and still follow today.

I put a question out to the Folklore Thursday community

Here’s a summary of the responses…

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Superstitions, Steampunk and Speculative Fiction Reviews

I’m back in the swing of this writing thing after a brilliant holiday and so what’s next for me?

Origins of Common Superstitions monthly series
I’m writing a monthly series for the fabulous Folklore Thursday exploring the origins of common superstitions.
So far, I’ve written about;
· Bad Luck comes in Threes: Matches, Murderers or Mathematics
· The Origins of ‘Touch Wood’: Tree Spirits, The True Cross, or Tag?

And there’s another eight more to come….

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Recent reads – Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This week, it’s fairytales with Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, first published by Del Ray in 2015.

Agnieska lives in a village deep in the Wood, where an ageless hermit Wizard called the Dragon lives in a white tower nearby. The Wood is no ordinary forest, twisted and enchanted it takes people, including the Queen who disappeared in the Wood twenty years earlier and over the years, the Wood has gobbled up entire villages.

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Where we’re from, the birds sing a pretty song : rewatching Twin Peaks

While suffering a day of serious procrastination, I binge watched a bunch of Twin Peaks in a row and so messed up my plan for reviewing episode by episode. (Damn you Resistance! You got me that day but I’ve bounced back to get you. See here for more of my battles with Resistance.)

On that Sunday, I let Resistance get the better of me but who doesn’t love a guilty lazy afternoon on the couch? Especially watching something as clever, funny, spooky and weird as Twin Peaks Season 1.

In episodes 2 to 6, the murder investigation gets going with more suspects appearing including the One Armed Man and Jacques Renault. We start to see the real quirky side of Agent Cooper as he explains his unorthodox intuitive methods and we scratch further into the dirty and dark secrets of the small town. Plus lots of coffee and sugar-dusted doughnut porn.

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What exactly is a Bunyip?

For all of you non-Australians still wondering what a Bunyip is, I wrote a piece for FolkloreThursday.com on Bunyips, exploring the folklore and the blurry details of the mysterious Bunyip.

Read The Bunyip: Australia’s Mysterious Man-eating Swamp Beast in full here.

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What inspired The Antics of Evangeline stories?

Now, what inspired the stories in The Antics of Evangeline?

Since I was a child, I’ve loved the weird, the wonderful and the supernatural. I am a big fan of Dr Who, Whedon-worlds, Hammer horror, the X-Files, folktales and all manner of forteana.

The Antics of Evangeline combine a steampunk setting with an exploration of folklore and the paranormal.

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Folklore Thursday – interview with Dee Dee Chainey and Willow Winsham

I’ve always been fascinated by tales of strangeness, especially folktales, superstitions and ancient wisdom from past generations. So I was super excited when I came across #FolkloreThursday on Twitter, a new hashtag for all things folkloric. Now it’s become my weekly dose of weird and wonderful wisdom.

stonehenge-357229_1920

Today, I’m talking with the founders of #FolkloreThursday, Dee Dee Chainey and Willow Winsham to learn more.

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