Category: paranormal

Bloodwood – sneak peek – Chapter 1

Here’s an extract from my new Australian vampire novella, Bloodwood. If you like what you read – Bloodwood is out on 5 October and available for pre-order now.

The First Funeral

Friday

Standing at the mouth of the shallow grave, Shelley pulled herself up to her full five foot two. She cleared the cobwebs from her throat, tucked a strand of her prematurely grey hair behind her ear and raised her arms in the air.

‘Friends and family of Jude, please gather round.’

The throng of people shuffled closer in the crisp morning air. A few latecomers trudged over the ridge past the nearby young eucalyptus and through the long grass. Jude Hillyer certainly knew how to attract a crowd, in life and in death. Ordinarily, there were more trees than mourners at one of Shelley’s funerals. That was, until today.

Shelley pressed her eyes shut, breathing in the scent of the damp gumleaves and freshly churned dirt. Today had to be perfect. This funeral could change everything for her.

The brightly coloured mourners – dressed in polar fleeces and knitted beanies – gathered closer to the grave and a few faces grimaced in horror when they caught a glimpse of Jude.

These days, death was tidily tucked away, inside a box or covered over with chemicals and thick make-up. But not at one of Shelley’s Green Farewells services. The dearly departed Jude lay beside the grave on a woven wicker tray, her body wrapped cocoon-like in a natural linen cotton shroud.

‘Thank you, everyone,’ Shelley said. ‘And welcome to the celebration of the wonderful and eventful life of our friend, sister and aunt, Jude Hillyer.’ Shelley was trying to strike the perfect balance of authority and compassion in her voice. According to Shelley’s mother, the role of a funeral director was all about respect and tradition. Although her mother’s idea of respect ignored the needs of the planet.

‘Jude was a woman who lived life without fear,’ Shelley said, ‘who fought for her beliefs and devoted her every waking moment to the land on which we stand, and to the air, the water, the sky. As a leader, she fought for us, our children and our children’s children.’

Shelley glanced around to gauge the crowd. The mourners, mostly on the other side of sixty, stood with their hands clasped, heads bowed and brows knitted. So far so good. But no matter how she felt, Shelley could never allow a real smile to cross her face. No-one wanted a smiling undertaker. She’d learned this on her very first day helping out in the family funeral parlour, reinforced by a sharp clip around the ear from her mother.

With an appropriately solemn nod, Shelley continued. ‘We are here to honour Jude’s life and her achievements. We have her to thank for saving the Barabung River against the government and big business, and her tireless anti-nuclear weapons campaigning. Single-handedly, she preserved the wilderness for generations to enjoy. She then found a new career later in life producing wonderfully scented candles. Despite her bravery and strength, our friend finally lost her battle with cancer, and today we are here to celebrate her return to the land. We lay her to rest in this beautiful setting, so her body may feed the trees, the soil, the grasses of the land she loved and respected so much.’

Many of the onlookers bobbed their heads and sniffled into clutched hankies. An older lady, in a red woollen coat and pearls, folded her arms tightly and glowered at Shelley. Suspicious looks were nothing new for her. People were always wary of those who chose to work with the dead.

‘Now I welcome Virginia, Jude’s niece, to read a poem she’s written especially for today.’

Despite the wintry morning, Virginia was barelegged, and Shelley noted, as waxed and tanned as a mahogany table.

‘A life filled with action and sacrifice,

Straight talking without artifice,

Our beloved aunt stood up for all,

Saving the planet was her call.’

Somehow, Shelley managed to keep a straight face and ignore the terrible poem, and she took a moment to savour the sight of a well-attended funeral on her property. It was bad form but Shelley had to admit she’d danced a little jig when Virginia called last week to inform her of Jude’s passing. Three months earlier, Jude – the Jude Hillyer – had called Shelley personally, expressing interest in her services and, after a brief stroll through the natural cemetery on Shelley’s property, Jude purchased a prepaid funeral plan with Green Farewells. Shelley would never wish someone an early death, but as soon as she heard Jude’s familiar voice on the phone, she knew this could be the funeral to kickstart her business. Finally.

Shelley patted her pocket, double-checking the wad of business cards, ready for the wake.

‘Let us remember her life and her smile,

Her defiance and strength at her Supreme Court trial.’

With a side-step, Shelley positioned herself by the safety ropes that went underneath the body. At the other end of the grave, Gareth, the burly seventeen-year-old from the farm next door, was already clutching his ropes.

A sunbeam peeked through the grey sky, piercing the gently waving gumleaves and, for a moment, Shelley’s shadow fell across the shroud.

‘Her candle now out, her tongue now still,

We say goodbye on this grassy hill.’

Strong wings flapped overhead and a glossy black crow swooped low over the crowd. The bird perched right on the edge of the wicker tray, claws clutching at the woven edges. Shelley choked on her breath as the bird cocked its head and eyed the ceremony curiously.

As discreetly as she could, Shelley lunged forwards, waving her arms and shooing the black bird away. Heads turned her way with frowns or bemused smiles, but everyone’s attention soon returned to Virginia and her poem.

Everyone, that was, except Liz Forrester – Gareth’s mother – clamped a chubby hand over her mouth. Liz’s eyes met Shelley’s and she pursed her lips tightly and made the sign of the cross as the crow flapped away into the bush.

Heart thumping, Shelley leaned over and checked that the bird hadn’t left a sloppy deposit behind, but the wicker body carrier was clean. Shelley straightened her posture and pretended nothing had happened.

As Virginia finished the last lines of her poem, a tear dripped from her nose and splashed onto the shroud. Shelley took up her position at the ropes and nodded at Gareth. Gareth would never win a Nobel prize but he was strong, cheap and available. This wasn’t Vieri Family Funerals, where her mother led a team of thirty. Green Farewells had a staff of one. Shelley. And some weeks, she seriously considered driving an Uber to help pay her mortgage and buy the odd loaf of bread. But she imagined she wouldn’t get many five-star ratings when she pulled up to pick up passengers in her hearse van.

‘Thank you, Virginia,’ Shelley said. ‘What a beautiful and insightful poem. And now we will return Jude’s body to the ground. To the place where we all began, and where we will all return. As one with nature, the Earth and the power of life and death.’

Shelley gave the safety straps a little slap, the signal to begin lowering the coffin, and Gareth gave a curt nod in reply. She held her breath and her knees wavered as she scrutinised the shroud closely, checking again for any possible sign of life. Death didn’t scare Shelley, but waking up to see the satin-lined interior of a coffin was a regular feature in her nightmares.

‘Let me through!’ someone shouted from the back of the crowd. People murmured and parted as a man in his twenties with thinning brown hair and an ankle-length black cassock pushed through.

Shelley blinked calmly though, inside, her chest tightened.

‘Whoa there, Mickey,’ said Ross Forrester as he stepped in to block the priest’s path.

‘Almighty God!’ Father Michael Bekker yelled.

Mickey dodged Ross and pushed his way to the graveside. Shelley couldn’t help but notice a leaf sticking out of Mickey’s wild tufty hair. ‘You created the Earth and shaped the vault of Heaven. You fixed the stars in their places.’

‘Piss off, priest,’ said a younger man with swinging dreadlocks. ‘Jude wouldn’t want you here.’

‘You should all be ashamed of yourselves.’ Mickey scoured the crowd with fire in his eyes. ‘All of you.’

Shelley rushed around the grave and grabbed Mickey’s arm. ‘Father Mickey. Please, you’re disturbing the service. If you can’t be respectful, you’re not welcome here. Please go.’

‘Service?’ Mickey scoffed. ‘Do you realise what you’re doing? The danger you’re putting us all in?’

Shelley stretched up tall. ‘I have all the necessary credentials and permits.’

‘And it is my Christian duty to stop you and your heathen practices.’

Shelley jammed her hands on her hips. ‘You’re interfering with a sacred moment. Upsetting the deceased’s family and friends. I’m giving you one last chance or I’m calling the police.’

‘Our Lord Jesus Christ broke the fetters of Hell and rose to life, bringing deliverance and resurrection…’

The dreadlocked man and Ross both grabbed Mickey by the shoulders.

‘When you conjure up the Devil himself,’ Mickey bellowed as they led him away from the grave. ‘Don’t say I didn’t warn you.’

‘I’m sorry, everyone,’ Shelley said, her cheeks blazing red. The niece and the rest of the Hillyer family, the only attendees in all funereal black, glowered at her and Shelley wrung her hands.

‘Jude always liked a bit of a ruckus,’ the dreadlocked man said with a chuckle as he returned to the graveside. ‘She probably arranged this herself.’

A few others laughed along with him and Shelley breathed easy. She tucked her grey hair behind her ear and nodded to Gareth. Together they shifted the body over the hole and lowered the ropes, laying Jude Hillyer to rest at the bottom of the grave.

As the dirt hit the shroud, Shelley took a final look over the body.

Satisfied the body was still lifeless, Shelley lifted her chin and tried to forget Father Mickey’s words.

***

If a soul is laid to rest

With a perched black crow as its guest

And then a shadow crosses the pall

And a mourner’s tear does fall

Dry your tears and beware

Cross yourself and prepare

Below the soil, new life brews

It’s the living it pursues

***

Bloodwood – new release alert

Bloodwood, my new Australian-set vampire novella, is coming out in October 2020.

How do you fight a vampire… in Australia?

Nothing interesting ever happens in sleepy, rural Ludwood. Not until undertaker Shelley sets up shop with her eco-friendly burials.

Her latest funeral, farewelling an environmental legend, was meant to help her struggling business – even the gatecrashing priest condemning her heathen ways didn’t damper her spirits. Much.

But when frightening screeches wake Shelley in the middle of the night days later, she finds an empty grave and things start to go wrong. Horribly wrong. Like vicious attacks in Ludwood wrong.

Were the priest’s protests of blasphemy right? Has Shelley unwittingly unleashed the undead and reduced the headcount in Ludwood instead of reducing their carbon footprint?

And where does Shelley even start? There’s no manual for hunting vampires in the bush.

Pre-order on Amazon now.

Paranormal Romance Trends in 2020 and Beyond – Guest Post

Today I’m featuring a guest post from Desiree Villena, filling us in on all the up-coming Paranormal Romance (PNR) trends. I know some of you love your saucy shapeshifter stories…so, over to Desiree…

Trends in Paranormal Romance – Desiree Villena

Vampires, werewolves, raunchy love triangles — is there anything more to paranormal romance than this? If you haven’t kept up with this intriguing genre, you might be justified in thinking there’s not. And to be fair, plenty of new releases continue to perpetuate the same old tropes and ideas. But that’s not to say that there aren’t new trends cropping up in paranormal romance all the time! Today, I’ll be taking you through some of these developments so you’ll know what to expect the next time you browse the shelves.

Image by Mystic Art Design from pixabay

Magical realms

This will surely come as good news to jaded readers of the genre: the lengthy reign of vampires and werewolves is finally being counterbalanced by the worlds of fae, mermaids, and mages. And while these certainly aren’t uncharted territory, there has never been so much enthusiasm for fantasy world-building in PNR as there is now.

Take Bella Forrest’s Harley Merlin series, for instance, which follows a 19-year-old orphan who discovers a community of people who share the same strange psychic abilities as her — among whom she might just find her true love. While the first volume was published in just 2018, its continual success (and the wonders of self-publishing platforms) have led to 20 more books detailing the adventures of Harley Merlin. It goes to show how much traction this sort of universe has!

For good measure, here’s another example of a uniquely mystical world: the Fireblood Dragon series by Ruby Dixon. Set in a post-apocalyptic realm where humans live in enclaves away from beastly dragons, these books follow different female protagonists as they are punished for their deviance by being made “dragon baits.” If you’re wondering where the romance comes in — well, these dragons are shapeshifters looking for lifelong partners (and fiery passion, no pun intended). Now on its eighth installment, it seems this enchanting universe is only becoming more popular, setting the trend in PNR for years to come.

Love in the academies

As PNR is largely targeted at young adults, this trend should come as no surprise. Academies are a very popular setting in fantasy and sci-fi books, from A Wizard of Earthsea to the aptly named Vampire Academy — and since these genres have significant overlaps with paranormal romance, it’s about time boarding schools and spell-binding institutions made their mark on the genre.

We don’t have to go any further than the Harley Merlin series to see this in action. Just from the Amazon book description, which compares Harley Merlin to Harry Potter, readers immediately know that Harley will find herself having many adventures in a magical school. Even though she goes out into the world to hunt monsters and face her dark past, her starting point, her home, and the place where she develops a bond with her significant other is the academy that welcomes her at the beginning of the series.

Some authors go even deeper into this trope, setting almost their entire series in an academy, as Serena Akeroyd did with her Caelum Academy trilogy. Eve, the protagonist, has been raised in an emotionless cult and cut off from outside the world — until she is mysteriously smuggled out of “the compound” and taken to Caelum Academy, a school for those with who aren’t really humans, but paranormal creatures. Here, she’ll not only learn about the world she’d been kept from in the past, but also meet people who truly love her.

Subverting PNR gender norms

In tandem with the rise in academy settings, which provide love interests galore, is the increasing popularity of the “reverse harem” in paranormal romance. This has its roots in recent developments in Japanese animation, and involves a female protagonist encountering many love interests throughout her journey, but being unable to decide on her “one true love.” Sounds dramatic, I know — but isn’t that the whole point of these supernatural love affairs?

Let’s return to Caelum Academy, where our female lead is initially bullied and made fun of at her new school because of her ignorance of the modern world. Soon enough, however, some of the guys who made fun of Eve take a liking to her (in a typical enemies-to-lovers turn of events) and start trying to help her out. As the trilogy progresses, Eve develops strong relationships with these guys, some of which excitingly escalate beyond the friendzone — but she never admits to loving any of them in more than a platonic way, at least not until the final installment.

Rather than making these books purely raunchy, Akeroyd shows readers that relationships are complicated, and finding “the one” isn’t so easy, or even necessarily imperative. It’s also a great way to throw a wrench into the common trope of a dominant male stringing along a female lead. If you’re interested in these types of gender role-subverting stories, consider checking out Meg Xuemei X’s War of the Gods series, and The Dark Side series by Kristy Cunning.

Crossing over to urban fantasy

Sure, it’s thrilling to be pulled into bizarre landscapes with fantastical heroes, but isn’t it even more enthralling to discover the world you thought you knew in a different light? This is the premise of urban fantasy: it takes a familiar setting (our own world) and points out the nooks and crannies in which you can find a whole other, supernatural universe.

This trend has been a long time coming, starting in the mid-2000s with some PNR classics such as the Dublin pub-hopping adventures of Karen Marie Moning’s Darkfever, and the bounty-hunting chases of Jeaniene Frost’s Halfway to the Grave. Since then, plenty of series have taken readers down dark alleyways in cities we thought we knew all too well, suspensefully revealing the underbellies and hidden gateways of concrete jungles… while spicing things up with some (often star-crossed) romance. Though many urban fantasy fans aren’t particularly fond of the growing romance segment of their niche, PNR fans continue to embrace this trend, which should make for a number of fascinating crossovers in the future.

PNR books do tend to be slower to change — authors often stick to the ideas and themes that they’ve seen work well, not wanting to mess with a successful formula. However, that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been shifts in the paranormal romance landscape over recent years, and very interesting ones at that! Hopefully, these trends will kickstart a host of other innovations in this corner of the literary universe, and we’ll be looking at plenty of exciting new titles soon.

About Desiree

Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with the world’s best publishing resources and professionals. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading paranormal romance, writing contemporary fiction, and analyzing tropes and trends.

Madeleine about town – interviews and guest blog posts

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to be featured on three blogs.

Check out the music, the influences and the struggle to fight the right genre in my writing life.

Happy Reading…

#75 – Alison Littlewood – Write Through The Roof

Interview with ‘dark and weird’ writer, Alison Littlewood

‘History, folklore, ghosts and spooky things.’

Episode 75 – Alison Littlewood – Show Notes

  • Plot beginnings and endings and pants it all the rest of the way
  • Word count spreadsheet – 1000 words per day
  • Obsessive about edits
  • Satisfies the canine overlords before she begins a writing session
  • Dark and weird genre – on the edges of horror
  • Themes – loss and death and love – various aspects of being human- twisted fairytales and folklore
  • Perceptions of horror writers
  • ‘Reading a lot. Writing a lot.’
  • The benefits of working with a good editor
  • Writing in the middle of the night – inspired by HP Lovecraft
  • Michelle Paver, Jason Arnop, Paul Tremblay, Joe Hill, Katrina Ward, Andrew Michael Hurley, Nathan Ballingrud, Priya Sharma, Angela Slatter, Graham Joyce
  • Mistletoe – ghost stories at Christmas – MR James, Victorian times – folklore and history of the plant and the season
  • Historical research
  • Cottingley faeries and changelings

‘Plot beginnings and endings and pants it all the rest of the way.’

‘People back away when I say I’m a horror writer.’

Links

#74 – Jon Black – Write Through The Roof

Interview with author and music journalist, Jon Black

“You can’t do a one-to-one transition of role-playing to fiction.”

Episode 74 – Jon Black

  • No preference for medium but a natural geography and cluster in terms of word counts
  • Mix of a plotter and pantser. Influenced by role-playing games
  • Environment is important – quirky 24-hour coffee house and writes throughout the night
  • A music journalist but does not actively listen to music while writing
  • Supernatural, historical fiction with a twist
  • Themes of power of human curiosity, music, exploring the interplay between folklore, mythology and history
  • Cultivating a sensate writing style: all five senses to bring the reader into the scene
  • Benefits of role playing in writing fiction and pitfalls
  • Experimenting with less exposition and background for characters
  • Caleb Carr, Harry Turtledove, Stephen King, Garrison Keilor, Daniel Pinkwater
  • Gabriel’s Trumpet – second wave of spiritualism and Jazz Age
  • Expanding short stories into novel-length
  • Currently editing an anthology about searches for lost books

“I’m not sure whether I have a genuine love for it or whether it’s a Stockholm syndrome thing.”

Links

The Flower and The Serpent – launch!!!

My latest novel The Flower and The Serpent is now available in ebook on Amazon or Kindle Unlimited/Prime.

Madeleine D’Este definitely does creepy well.

reviewer

The book has elements of Stranger Things with fine character development and kids that feel like real kids. 

reviewer

the novel is genuinely frightening at times, but the characters are never overshadowed by the horror.

reviewer

Mysterious disappearances, a battle for the spotlight and terrifying 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 eerie 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 horrifying consequence. 



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

#72 – Violeta M. Bagia – Write Through The Roof

Interview with paranormal author, Violeta M. Bagia

“Whatever you do, you’re only going to get better by repeating it.”

Episode 72 – Violeta M. Bagia – Show Notes

  • Writes every day without fail
  • Early morning writing time is the best
  • Nice pair of shoes are required to write
  • Poetic and “prose-y” style. PTSD, new identity, personal transformation
  • The problems with defining a genre – paranormal or urban fantasy or war fiction
  • Routine is all-important to build a writing habit
  • Learning to plot to meet the publisher’s expectations
  • Whiteboard wall
  • Stephen King, Jennifer L Armentrout
  • Jack of Hart – the book came after “finishing” the series. Quick to write but then expanded to double the size.
  • Taking back the rights of the Hart of Darkness series from the original publisher and republished

Links

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.

#44 – Charles Christian – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode 44 with Charles Christian – award-winning journalist, podcaster & author

“People get carried with their gadgets… and forget about the human element.”

Episode 44 – Charles Christian – Show Notes
  • Novella length is favourite length. Better for ebooks and easier to consume.
  • Writing every day and learned discipline from career as a freelance journalist
  • ‘All written out’ by freelance journalism
  • Green tea, dark chocolate, chips and baked beans
  • Exploring how one event can change the entire direction of life – JB Priestly
  • Stop doing courses and start writing your own stories
  • Stick to the brief, meet the deadline & work count – who, why, what, where, how
  • Asking the question – is this project fun to write?
  • Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, MR James, David Sedaris, Richard Brautigan
  • Genre fiction tips: less about the gadgets, more about the characters

“Get on with it and be business-like about it.”

“If I can’t be bothered reading it, I can’t expect the reader to.”

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#38 – Gail Carriger – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode 38 with Gail Carriger – comedy of manners paranormal romance author

“The strength of the romance genre lies in the Heroine’s Journey.”

Episode 38 – Gail Carriger – Show Notes
  • A militant plotter and a purger
  • 2000 words per day and only re-read words written the day before
  • Novellas in the independent publishing world
  • Chronic tea drinker – import from England
  • Gentle, frivolous, strong female friendships and the help of others
  • The Heroine’s Journey
  • Give yourself permission to suck
  • Beta readers with different coloured pens and revision pass for funny
  • Scrivener
  • Moving back into YA high fantasy
  • Tamora Pierce, Mercedes Lackey
  • Queer characters and power of normalisation
  • Competence: with queer main character.
  • Shared world of characters but stories are stand-alone

“No one but you has to read your first draft.”

“My goal is at least three LOLs per page.”

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#35 – Shona Husk – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode 35 with Shona Husk – speculative fiction romance author

“I like a fast and dirty draft.”

Episode 35 – Shona Husk – Show Notes
  • Writes quickly but as a plotter, edits aren’t generally structural
  • Dark mint chocolate, not coffee
  • Dark angsty and tortured heroes
  • Every other genre plus romance
  • Write novellas to learn characterisation and three act structure
  • Learning – Stealing Hollywood by Alexandra Sokoloff, podcasts, the Story Grid and movies as a reference
  • Katharine Kerr, Marie Brennan, Jim Butcher
  • Different dynamics in heterosexual, gay and lesbian romance
  • Servant of The Forest: YA Cinderella re-telling
  • Hybrid publishing – write first and then look for the right market
  • Ballet classes as research for writing

“All the wonderful world building with a happily-ever-after.”

“I write faster with chocolate.”

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#33 – Kim Newman – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode 33 with Kim Newman – novelist & film critic

“My novels are my purest me.”

Episode 33 – Kim Newman – Show Notes
  • Novels as favourite medium, loose outlines and historical research
  • Takeout coffee and working in the dressing gown
  • As a critic putting people into boxes but as a writer refusing to be put in a box
  • Reading, time and never having had a real job
  • The way writing as a career has changed since 1980s
  • Buying first computer with money from writing for porn magazines with Neil Gaiman
  • Editors used to have more time to deal with and develop new writers
  • Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Patrick Hamilton, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allen Poe, Ramsay Campbell, Peter Straub, David Thomson, Greil Marcus
  • Criticism and deadlines
  • The need for a continuity person during novel writing
  • Big file full of random film quotes

“Some people don’t realise I’m the same person.”

“My critical range is not good or bad but interesting or dull.”

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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

#22 – Kaaron Warren – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode 22 with Kaaron Warren – acclaimed horror, sci-fi & dark fantasy writer

“Trusting yourself. You don’t have to write like other people.”

Episode 22 – Kaaron Warren – Show Notes
  • The power of novellas
  • Snatching the moments to write: making the most of time and place
  • Fuelled by chai: cardamon is good for concentration
  • Inspired by darker elements of humanity, inspired by darker fairytales like Bluebeard as a child
  • Exploring the afterlife, fear of death and ghost photographs
  • Practice, reading others, believe in yourself
  • Experimenting with a diary form; each character with a distinctive voice and their public/private face. Part of a new ‘unnamed’ novel about prisoners in a time-ball tower
  • Important to have non-writers as beta readers
  • Inspired by Lisa Tuttle, Steve Rasnic Tem, William Golding, Alasdair Grey
  • Impact of Transcendental Meditation
  • Madeleine’s Tip: How To Publish Your Book by Jane Friedman

“I don’t think there are any definitive rules in writing.”

“In dark fantasy you can’t hold back.”

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#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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#12 – Oscar de Muriel – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode 12 with Oscar de Muriel – writer of Victorian murder mysteries

It’s not sipping a glass of wine and staring out the window.”

Episode 12 – Oscar de Muriel – Show Notes
  • Fuelled by wine and cheese
  • Jurassic Park (the book) the first inspiration
  • Discipline
  • Spreadsheets
  • Being a chemist is very useful for murder mysteries
  • Isaac Asimov – The Black Widower’s Club and Lucky Starr series
  • Banshees, MacBeth and Bram Stoker
  • Not a whodunnit but a ‘who will do it’ – balancing reader’s expectations while trying something new
  • Madeleine’s tip – Text to Speech functions

“Thanks to Malbec for its contribution to this book”

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Want a little Evangeline Christmas treat? – Sign up

Everyone on my mailing list will be receiving a little Evangeline Christmas treat in their inbox soon, ‘An Awfully Evangeline Christmas’ short story.

Up to her neck in Christmas preparations, Miss Plockton asks Evangeline to run an errand for her. A trip to the bakery for a few special treats for the Professor

The errand sounds simple enough, but of course, Evangeline and Mei find trouble in the most unlikely places.

So if you’d like a little bit of Christmassy silly fun, sign up here.

 

 

#05 – Beverley Lee – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode o5 with Beverley Lee – Writer 0f modern gothic

First drafts, Tea and Exploring the Shadowy Places

“The one thing a story hates is a nit-picky writer”

Episode 05 – Beverley Lee – Show Notes
  • Being a planster
  • Battling to find the right genre
  • Don’t compare your work effort to others
  • Lewis, King, Rice and Schwab
  • Always listen to your story even if you think it’s wrong
  • Madeleine’s tip: the Emotional Thesaurus

“With a global community, there’s always someone around to hold your hand or kick you in the pants.”

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#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!

 

Evangeline and the Mysterious Lights – sneak peek

Would you like a little taster of Evangeline and the Mysterious Lights? A wee amuse-bouche?

Well, here’s an extract from Chapter 1.

If you like what you read, Evangeline and the Mysterious Lights is available for pre-order now and is out 11th October 2017.

Or if you’d like all four novellas in one Collection, The Antics of Evangeline is also available for pre-order.

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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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Recent reads – Vigil by Angela Slatter

Vigil by Angela Slatter is an urban fantasy set in Brisbane, Australia.

Brisbane has a number of nicknames, I generally call it Brisvegas but this book uses Brisneyland. Whatever you call it, Brisbane has a cliched reputation for warm weather, theme parks and palm trees. But Vigil shows Brisbane in a completely different light.

Verity Fassbinder is a woman who strides between two worlds. The world of the Normals, us everyday types and the Weyrd, the paranormal underworld sitting just below the surface of everyday Brisbane. Verity is the product of a Normal mother and Weyrd father, she inherited some powers, extraordinary strength, but the rest of Verity is very Normal.

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Good scary versus bad scary – drawing the line in horror

I’ve got horror all around me at the moment. My current work-in-progress is a gothic horror novel, I’m watching a lot of Twin Peaks, enjoying Devil’s Candy and The Stone Tape, anticipating Raw and working my way through the back catalogue of Shirley Jackson.

My question today is why do I like some dark, spooky, scary stuff but not others.

Firstly, I’m curious. Why do we like to be scared?

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Guest posts round-up

I’ve been guest posting on various blogs to spread the word about Evangeline and the Spiritualist. Take a look at my posts below.

 

Madeleine’s Speculative Fiction review – podcast archive

Like you I love to read.

If you’d like to hear me talk about the books I love, check out my reviews on Art District radio. My show – Madeleine’s Speculative Fiction Review – is all about speculative fiction, where I bang on about science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, dystopia, horror, paranormal etc.

You can listen to the back catalogue of reviews as podcasts.

Happy listening and happy reading.

Evangeline and the Spiritualist – out NOW!

I’m thrilled to announce the launch of Evangeline and the Spiritualist – Episode 3 of The Antics of Evangeline. Available from today at Amazon.

A sarcophagus, séances and seed cake, Evangeline is back with another adventure.

Mrs Picklescott-Smythe’s mummy unwrapping soiree doesn’t quite go to plan, and for once it’s not Evangeline’s fault. 

Evangeline is a seventeen-year-old ex-urchin and aspiring world-famous inventress, recently resettled in Marvellous Melbourne with her long lost father, the Professor.

It’s the infamous spiritualist, Madame Zsoldas, who interrupts the party with a sinister warning and she is not the only who feels something strange.

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