People’s Friend Serial Publication

Image: Niallskinner Pixabay

Snow falls over the Cornish village of Torre, blowing along the narrow alleyways, drifting against the door of the Free Traders Inn. The village lock-up shimmers with icicles, the sign above Grubb’s pawnbrokers’ sways but doesn’t creak – George Grubb gives nothing away for free.

Wind howls across nearby Merrin Moor. There are tales of a beast sniffing through the gorse so best to keep inside by the fire.

Up on the clifftop, Torre Point lighthouse winks over a churning grey sea, keeping its secrets close. The village is awash with stories of that lighthouse, of strange men coming and going, of boats out in a storm …

Of murder.

I’m delighted to announce I have another three-part serial about to be published in The People’s Friend Magazine.

A 19th century tale, expect sinister lighthouse keepers, a pipe smoking landlady, tangled secrets, blood, murder, smugglers … and a bear.

The first part is due out this Saturday, the 2nd of November, though copies are often available a few days previous to the publication date.

Serial Publication: People’s Friend

Just a little reminder that the final part of my People’s Friend serial, The secret of Kingsbarrow Folly is out on the 29th of this month, concluding the story of Steph and the family secret she’s determined to unravel with the help of archaeologist Jamie.

After all the ups and downs, can the pair find a happy ending?

Serial publication: Second part

tower, folly, Derbyshire
Image: Pixabay

Just a little reminder that the second part of my People’s Friend serial, The secret of Kingsbarrow Folly is out on the 22nd of this week, continuing the story of Steph and the family secret she’s determined to unravel with the help of archaeologist Jamie.

This week it’s time for the summer fete. Bunting, homemade jam and home truths.

Serial publication: The People’s Friend

Susan’s life is falling apart.

Her village museum – what remains of her family’s estate – is on the verge of bankruptcy, the folly her late father so loved derelict and crumbling. Susan’s son is about to leave home for university and the relationship with her mother, Barbara, is under strain as stories from the past resurface.

Yes, all is not well in the village of Kingsbarrow.

Until Susan meets a tall, sandy haired archaeologist with an interesting proposal …

I’ve been very fortunate in having another of my stories accepted by The People’s Friend magazine. This one is set in the rolling hills of Derbyshire, involves family secrets, painful home truths and a tumble down folly that our heroine finds hard to part with.

The first part of the three part story is due out on the 15th June and the story is called “The Secret Of Kingsbarrow Folly”. The other two parts are out on the 22nd and 29th of this month.

And coincidentally, whilst searching Pixabay for an image to illustrate this post, I found the above – a picture of Solomon’s Temple, my home town of Buxton’s own folly in the Derbyshire hills. Whilst not as picturesquely derelict as my invented Kingsbarrow Folly, I couldn’t resist including Solly’s.

If you love a folly as much as I do, Dinton Folly in Buckinghamshire was the inspiration for Kingsbarrow. It has since been renovated – see here for the transformation.

Terrifying photograph and author interview : The People’s Friend

 

This is week sees the final instalment of my serial The Mermaid of Mortling Hall in The People’s Friend magazine and what a lovely experience it’s been, from the writing and drafting of the story under Alan Spink’s steady tutelage, to kind comments of support from family, colleagues and blogging friends.

As a finale, Alan emailed me and asked if I’d like to give an author interview on the magazine’s blog, so if you’d like to learn a little more about the story, about my writing habits – and see a terrifying extreme close-up of my toothy mug – then pop along here.

Many thanks go especially to all bloggers who left encouraging comments and to all those who bought the magazine – your support has been amazing.

 

On Sale Now : The Mermaid of Mortling Hall

Just a reminder, dear ones, that the first part of my serial, The Mermaid of Mortling Hall, is on sale now in The People’s Friend magazine.

If you’re unsure if you have the right issue, look on the cover where you will see my name!

And readers in Australia and New Zealand needn’t miss out, for The Friend is available where you are too.

Do pop along here and share your thoughts on the story and if you’d like to read about its genesis and how it rose from the dead, go here.

 

 

 

How a drowned story came back from the dead

Back in 2015, The People’s Friend magazine launched a serial writing competition to find new authors.

Now, the ‘Friend’ is a bit of a legend as far as I’m concerned. It’s been published by DC Thompson (the same company that publishes the equally legendary Beano) for years, it’s been in existence since 1869 and is one of the few weekly magazines in the UK that still publishes fiction. It’s certainly one of the few (perhaps the only) that has a generous ‘open door’ policy for debut writers, where many magazines are closed to those who haven’t previously worked for them.

So filled with excitement at the prospect of breaking into the tricky WoMag (Women’s Magazine) market, I crafted my three part serial.

Set in the Regency period, it had a brave heroine, a sinister boathouse, a hint of romance and a long buried family secret. I wrote, I polished and slid the first instalment into the post.

I waited. Didn’t hear anything. Waited some more. Still didn’t hear anything. As the day  drew close for the magazine to announce the winners, doubts began to bubble to the surface. Perhaps the writing wasn’t good enough. Perhaps the themes were too dark. Could I do this writing thing at all?

Still, despite my misgivings, come the big day, I checked online, because maybe, just maybe …

I read the list of winners. My name was not there. I read the list of honourable mentions … nothing. It was with a heart of lead that I accepted the fact that all of my hard work, my proofing and editing and extra proofing were to no avail. The ‘Friend’ did not like my story. I licked my wounds and – as we writers must do – tucked the disappointment away and moved onto the next project.

Almost two years later, the story was still languishing on my laptop, unfinished, neglected. I’d looked at the file a few times, thinking I should delete it, clear some space for an idea with potential – after all, where else was I going to sell the story?

Then …

One day last July, I opened an email. At the top was the dictinctive red and white masthead of The People’s Friend. Dazed, I read the note. It was from Alan Spink, a member of their Fiction Team. Alan wrote that although my story didn’t win the competition, they felt it had potential to work for the magazine and would I like to write it up?

Well, what do you think I said?

Within a few weeks, I had the first draft complete and after more rewriting with Alan’s wonderful guidance, the serial was ready to submit to the editor. Now, the wheels of fiction turn slowly, but last November I had the news –

The editor loved the story and it had been accepted for publication.

The first part of The Mermaid of Mortling Hall will appear on 3rd February this year and the story runs for three weeks.

Now, I’m not sure what lesson we can all learn from a story that seemed to be dead in the water, for which I had lost all hope, that will have taken almost two and a half years from its conception to publication.

I’m not trying to fill you with false hope that a story or novel that seemed a no-go will suddenly be plucked from the slushpile and published. In my experience, when most stories are rejected by a publication they stay rejected.

But success can come when you least expect it and through surprising avenues and maybe, finally, it’s just the right time for the Mermaid to swim.

One thing’s for sure. As writers we should never give up, we should keep honing our craft, keep learning, keep improving, keep seeking feedback, keep sticking our backsides to the chair and our fingers to the keyboard.

And if we do that, well, we might just win out.

 

 

 

The Devil of Moravia : Aunt Gloria finishes her tale

Clock face and dialImage : Pixabay


For over a year and for nearly forty instalments, the story of the Devil of Moravia has slowly unfolded on this blog. Now the time has come for the very last part.

Special thanks to all those who have followed the terrible tale of Edmund William Spencer – thank you for sticking with him and with me. Very special thanks go to Joy from Tales from Eneana and to Amanda of Mandibelle 16 for their kindness and encouragement. And for being – as far as I’m aware and forgive me if I’m wrong – the only people other than myself who have read every instalment. Thank you so much, ladies.

So here is the final part. And we end where we began, with a very special Auntie and her very tall tales. See below to experience the Devil’s world.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four, twenty five, twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eighttwenty ninethirty, thirty one, thirty two, thirty threethirty four , thirty five and thirty six.


 

‘Edmund died?’ My tongue felt gummed and gluey, as if I hadn’t drunk for days.

Aunt Gloria plucked another cigarette from the crumpled packet, twisting it into the holder, leaning towards me with an expectant air. I fumbled with the matches, taking two attempts before the tobacco began to glow and crackle.

Through a fug of smoke I saw Gloria shrug. ‘We all die, darling.’

‘I know that. I’m not a child. It’s just … Not in stories. At the end of stories evil loses and good triumphs.’

She stretched her legs out before her, wriggling her painted toenails. ‘The Devil was slain and Edmund did the slaying.’

Exasperated, I said, ‘But you hanged the hero. No one hangs the hero.’

‘Not much of a hero. Killing those two young girls.’ Taking a long drag she stared at me through squinted eyes. ‘Besides. In real life every story has the same ending.’

‘But I thought … Edmund and Frances …’

Her lip curled into a bitter smile. ‘True love conquers all?’ She pulled the cigarette from the holder, stubbing it into the full ashtray, her fingers coming away grey at the tips. She opened her mouth to say more, but the spark suddenly left her eyes. Pulling her knees to her chest she stared at the swirls in the hearth rug, both of us lapsing to silence until the back door slammed open and shut.

‘Fi! Where are you, Fi?’

It was my brother Fred, back from fishing, his face glowing from the fresh air.

‘Dad and I caught the biggest carp. Well, almost caught him. The blighter wriggled free before I could grab the net.’

The door went again. ‘Who has left muddy waders on my kitchen floor? Frederick Edmund Spencer, come here this instant!’

I looked up then, at Gloria, her chipped nail polish, her grey roots and smoke stained teeth. It was as if the story had changed me a little, as if my childhood was falling away and for the first time I saw what Gloria was – a rather lonely woman spending the summer where she wasn’t truly welcome or comfortable because she had nowhere else to go.

I avoided spending anymore time alone with her that holiday. Edmund’s story had been too dark – it seemed to stain the air between Gloria and I. And soon the summer was over and I was back at school and Edmund’s story – Gloria’s story – receded to the back of my mind, swamped by Geography lessons and hockey cups and English Grammar and Home Economics.

I thought of Edmund from time to time over the years, wondering how Gloria could know his story if his confession had really been burned, dismissing the Devil as a ridiculous fiction borne out of a lonely Aunt’s need to be liked. But still I searched The Clock every time I visited Gran’s, slipping my fingers between the cogs, scouring the panels with a torch. Perhaps that’s why Gran left it to me, why it stands now, a silent watcher over my own family.

Gloria died on the day my first marriage was annulled. I found her timing ironic – the eternal spinster aunt dying on the day I regained my own independence. She left a will, though the list of possessions made pitiable reading. Her flat was rented, the furniture rented too – even her furs were fake. She left an antique fishing rod to Fred which he sold to a friend at his club within days. He hadn’t fished since that summer I was twelve.

To me she left a large manilla envelope. Inside there were several sheets of a heavy paper covered with lines of sloping handwriting so dense the whole was more ink than paper. My fingers trembled as I flicked to the last page and read the inscription.

… Finished on the eve of his execution, the 5th day of May, 1799 …

The pages whispered as I straightened them, as if Edmund himself was trying to speak again.

Finally, I read the dedication on the envelope written in Gloria’s own thin hand.

For Fiona Frances Spencer. So you always remember your family’s brave past. 

And below, Old Noah’s words.

Know who you are. Embrace it, no matter how dark, no matter how squalid. Only then will you triumph.

The Devil of Moravia : Death is terrible, tho’ borne on angel’s wings!*

 

Edmund’s story is nearly at an end. He has lost much, but perhaps there is yet something he can hold on to.

To read the other instalments in his tale, see below.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four, twenty five, twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eighttwenty ninethirty, thirty one, thirty two, thirty threethirty four , thirty five.

*William Blake, Kind Edward the Third.


 

‘What happened?’ I whispered.

‘I fear you are not strong enough to hear. And yet it cannot be long until the watchmen find us out. If you are to know, you must know soon.’

I felt for her hand and squeezed it. ‘Tell me, dear friend.’

And so she did.

She told me how the three of us had fed on Slatina, how that devil had shrunk beneath us, until he was little more than a husk, eyes wide and swollen in his cadaverous skull. How as we feasted she shivered under the bed, afraid to look, afraid in our blood lust she might be our next meal.

And how, when we were done and Slatina was naught but parched skin and powdery bone, she emerged from her hiding place to gaze upon the four of us.

‘I believed you dead, Sir, for there seemed little left of you to hold the spark of life. But as I stepped past, hardly knowing what was yourself, what your lady or poor Samuel, I heard a groaning. And then I saw the ash stir, rising in puffs from the floor and I knew – it was breath was doing it. You were yet alive.’

Somehow that kind soul gathered me up and helped me from that place, from the chamber where the Devil’s ashes mixed with those of my love and of my friend. Through the house were the remains of the Red Men – those soldiers of Slatina – whether true men or demons I shall never know, though all now fallen, unable to survive without the will of their master urging them on.

Peg flung about me a cloak, to shield my degenerated appearance from curious eyes and somehow we came, stumbling through the dark and twisted streets of London to a low room overlooking the docks.

The candlelight flickered on her troubled face and for a moment I felt the full weight of all that had gone before, of the passing of Frances, of all the death that had come since that stormy night when I first met the Devil of Moravia.

But something tugged at dear Peg. I tried to speak, but failed, so I squeezed her hand, urging her to finish the tale.

As if reading my thoughts, she nodded. ‘There is more and for my part in it I am humbly sorry. I only thought to help you, Sir, you must believe me.’

And so she told me of spying the locket about my neck, of fearing that if I were caught with the images of the Earth Angels upon my person, some soul might recognise them and I would dance at the gallows. And so she took the jewel, knowing she must hide it, knowing she had little time before some tradesman would call or the smell of burning alerted some passerby to the terrible sight within the house.

And as she looked about, her mind whirring, her senses alert to every noise, her eye alighted upon my old clock. With nimble fingers, she opened the case, stopped the movement and hung the chain within.

Her teeth worried her lip, gnawing at the flesh. ‘But the constables searched the house too well, too long. Word has reached the docks that the locket was found and Miss Frances’ locket also and Samuel’s too and they mean to lay all those dead souls at your door, Sir.’

That poor, sweet girl began to cry then, weeping so hard, her tears feel upon my broken skin, stinging like salt in a fresh wound.

I wished to speak, to say how grateful I was, how she had nothing to chastise herself for. That through her kind actions and her courage, she had helped save the world from the scourge of Slatina, had saved my friends from blackening their souls further, and myself – oh, yes, she had saved me too. For without her I might never have found the strength to battle the Devil without and the devil within.

But then there was a terrible shouting from outside, gulls squawking, a dozen pairs of stamping boots.

And all I could whisper was, ‘Go!’

With one last squeeze of my hand she vanished, the purest, kindest creature I have ever known. And I closed my eyes and waited for the end.

***

But as you see the end has not yet come.

I was discovered – what burned and broken flesh remained that might bear the name Edmund Spencer – and brought to Borough Compter gaol. Here I remain, the sole felon amid a sea of debtors. A bitter irony, for it seems I was always destined for goal, whether for debts or for bloodier crimes.

They have given my body time to heal and in that time I have written my account of these events so the facts may be told. I hear there are murder ballads sung about me, about the Black Hearted Lord, the Murderer of Angels and so even if none shall read it, I wished to commit my own version of the tale to paper. I have kept hidden a tinderbox and mean to burn this record once I am done.

There was a trial. I was accused of many killings. Of the Red Men, of Samuel, of the victims in the lockets, of an ‘unnamed man of slight proportion’ … of Frances. This false burden I carry willingly rather than have the world know the truth. The awful truth about my love.

I am visited often. Through the day the doctor comes to see I am well enough to hang – for what spectacle is there in a villain too sick to know his last day is upon him. And others come, those willing to bribe the goalers, who wish to be able to say they were yea close to a murderer of such stature. Most often they merely stare. Some spit curses. Some spit. But I write on.

But my cherished visitors come at night. Sometimes I turn from the page to find Peg Fair seated on my mattress and she will smile and tell me more of the Fair Folk, of her mother, of life in the rolling hills and sweet flowered dales of England. Samuel comes too – the old Samuel – a sparkle in his devilish eye – to share tales of a wench he has bedded, of a night of cards or a drunken tavern brawl.

And she comes.

Not the monster of lusts and yearning. But the girl I first met years ago, she I wish I had never let go. The girl with roses in her cheeks, with the kindest heart and a smile of summer and spring. Daisies twined through her glowing hair.

The darkness pales and my time is almost done. May God forgive me for all the evil I have brought to the world and when the time comes, I hope with all my wicked soul it is my love who comes to take my hand and lead me home.

 

Edmund William Spencer.

Finished on the eve of his execution, the 5th day of May, 1799.

 

 

 

The Devil of Moravia : To burn eternal

The end is coming, but who will be cursed and who saved? Can Edmund survive this last trial intact or will he lose his soul? Read on. And to catch up with the story so far, see the instalments below.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four, twenty five, twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eighttwenty ninethirty, thirty one, thirty two, thirty threethirty four and thirty five.


 

‘There is always a choice,’ I said, walking towards the shutters, towards the drawn curtain, ‘For those prepared to sacrifice all.’

I looked at Frances for the last time, at the hollow woman she now was, a wax likeness of her old, sweet self. ‘Farewell, love.’

I reached for the catch, lifted it free and flung wide the shutter.

Daggers of sunlight stabbed the room, piercing every corner, leaving no inch untouched. It cut into my back, my head, my arms, a burning blade scorcing the skin from my body, slice after slice down to the bone.

The world had turned to red through my sun scorched eyes, Slatina a man of flame, an effigy of fire and I knew this to be his true form. Frances staggered under the glare, Samuel slumped, leaning against the wall for support, the clean, pure light of the sun too good and honest for us to bear.

And the Devil looked to me, inside me, through me, the strongest of us. But still he shuddered in the sunlight, every muscle quivering with the agony of that honest light. If I was to act it had to be now.

‘You think to defeat me with the sun?’ he bellowed. He was shaking now, the whole of his will turned to standing against the blaze. ‘I have stood for millennia. I have watched empires rise and fall, followed in the wake of conquering armies, seen nation lay waste to nation and that slain nation rise again to fight their victors. The world is a speck beneath me and I am its master. I am of the Creation and shall remain when the Earth is burned in fire and crumbled to ash and I shall eat the crumbs of its existence.’ He clenched his fists, flung back his head, screaming, ‘I am eternal!’

With all the righteous anger within me, I pulled myself up straight, punching against the pain of the heat, of my disintegration. And it was as if the sun was peeling away my every falsehood, my pretence, my shows of lying courage, ripping me clean. And with every dishonest action and thought gone, hope went also and love and charity and shame and selfishness until there was only the core of me, the hard nugget of what I had become. There was nothing now but my own true self. And I faced that full on, recognising me for what I was, accepting it, welcoming its new creation.

I was monstrous. I was a devil.

Without another thought, I leapt, felt his neck beneath my hands, dug my nails into the sinews of his shoulders, tearing, ripping at him, watching his flesh fall away. He lashed out, tore at my back, flaying me as I stood. His neck arched and I glimpsed fangs – longer than  a wolf’s, sharper than pins, curved as a new moon –  and he pulled back his head, ready to strike.

But my own body changed in response, my jaw widening, my own teeth changing, growing, pricking my lips and I was ready. I pushed with my legs with all my might, flinging my whole weight at him. He staggered, toppled, fell and me with him.

And as we fell I called, ‘Samuel! Frances!’ hoping that they would hear me, hoping that their instincts would overwhelm their pain and fear, that the monsters in them would take hold.

With the force of our falling I thrust my chin towards Slatina, felt my fangs hit his neck. At first there was resistance, an unyielding solidity. Then we hit the floor and I felt him puncture beneath the force of me.

I fed.

It was like dying. Centuries of pain, of horror, of death flowing from him into me. And I felt what he had felt, saw what he had seen – the fires of the Beginning, the rise of worlds, of people’s and his part in their destruction. I felt his pleasure at each life he had taken, how each soul was snatched by his hand and dwelt within him still, the chorus of voices screaming in an agony at all they had lost, deafening, their hopelessness so great I had to force myself not to pull away.

He bucked and struggled like a rabbit trapped in a snare, his throes threatening to shake me off. But then I felt others beside me. Samuel and Frances, scrabbling at their former master, finding space to feed. And for a while the three of us were side by side, united in Slatina’s destruction.

How much time passed, I do not know. But for a moment the four of us were one. One monster, four minds, weaving together, our histories shared, our lives overlapping.

As I sank into them I felt our horror, our destructive nature. But something more. I felt our solitude. The knowledge that even as we joined we were alone and always would be, never to know the comforts of home and hearth and family more.

The pain of it overwhelmed me and I succumbed …

***

‘Wake, sir. You must wake.’

I opened my eyes to see Peg Fair’s kindly face looking down upon me. My whole body creaked in agony, my skin a hard carapace, stiff and solid. I felt I heard my eyelids crack with each blink.

‘Peg?’ I tried to say the word, but my throat was so scorched it would not come.

Soft hands lifted my head, poured water on my lips, the liquid at once a sweet relief and almost more pain than I could bear.

After who knows how long, I found the strength to look about me. I was lying on a bed in a small, dark room, a tattered sheet pinned across the window. I could smell the Thames, a gull called, long harsh, solitary.

‘What happened?’ I whispered.

‘I fear you are not strong enough to hear. And yet it cannot be long until the watchmen find us out. If you are to know, you must know soon.’

I felt for her hand and squeezed it. ‘Tell me, dear friend.’

And so she did.