Coffee Break Read – Engaged

This was not a pregnant pause. The sense of expectation was something altogether more profound and powerful. For most watching, it was like the moment when a giant firework screams upwards into the midnight sky at New Year, drawing every eye and inspiring the mind to speculate upon what exciting and marvellous spectacle of explosive beauty could follow in the moments to come.
There was a preternatural hush. The unsound of every breath held in anticipation, and for a few scant seconds, time was suspended into tableau. From forth movement, activity and life there was birthed a stillness which transformed the instant to a photograph captured by the camera of every eye present. Something wonderful was about to happen, a culmination and catharsis which was both long expected and yet in the moment surprising.
Standing alone in the middle of this captivated audience I felt only clammy nausea. The cold, sickening churning of dread in my stomach, seemed to drop like lead as if I was in a high-speed lift going down fast. This was akin to standing before the darkened radar screen of an air traffic control room and watching two points of light merge into one, flaring more brilliant, the second before it blinked out forever.
But, as everyone else there present, in that moment I only had eyes for Roxanne.
She looked ethereal in profile, like an antique watercolour. Her hair the living copper shades that Titian craved, her face damask, skin with the softened radiance of fine porcelain or bone china. I could not see her eyes, they were not fixed on me, but I knew they would be as compelling as the sea, the colour of the Mediterranean, neither blue nor green but some special tone that ascended beyond those both and was all her own.
She wore white, a symbol of purity, innocence – and sacrifice. For a moment, when the red fell against it in a liquid splash of violent colour, I felt as if a blade had slid into my own throat and I couldn’t breathe from the pain.
Then she spoke and time returned.
Roxanne was smiling. People sighed, words broke the mirror of silence and there was even clapping as she lifted her hand to show the ring and cup the ruby pendant her fiance had just slipped around her neck,  so she could see it better. In seconds she was surrounded by a thicket of family – mostly female – and friends – exclusively female.
The sea of well-wishers, oblivious to my presence, washed around me like an incoming tide and my isolation deepened. It took me a while to realise that I was still breathing, that the world was still turning and that the painful constriction in my throat and the cold knot in my stomach were invisible to everyone.  I became aware that for someone in that moment the centre of the universe was not Roxanne. Someone was watching me.
I did not need to shift my vision very far. He was close, very close, to where Roxanne was holding her impromptu court. Her fiance. His lips were addressing words to her fawning father whose broad back was towards me, but his chilling blue gaze rested on me.
They held no trace of triumph, no gloating superiority – in fact, no real emotion at all. All they contained was the cold dispassion of menace – a statement not a threat. This was not a battle lost, a campaign defeated. This was the end of the war. I had lost everything and had no hope. Life itself was without meaning. I was nothing now and despair settled into me, it’s vulture’s beak ripping the soul-flesh from my heart. Then, abruptly, the ice blue eyes shifted away from me and, dismissed, I turned, left the room and walked out of my own life.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – Two Hundred and Eighty-Nine

It’s not nice being called a ‘big girl’ every day of your life. Susannah had grown tired of it but the invitation to the masked ball came anyway.

Mother sneered.

“Surely you don’t intend…”

Father looked over his spectacles. “It’s not optional, my dear, the gel must go.”

Mother sighed, but Father’s mistress was rather more helpful.

The feathered mask and basque gave her a confidence she had never before felt.

It was a shame for all the pampered debutantes that the country’s answer to Prince Charming was a sucker for big boobs.

Princess Susannah was still a big girl.

©️jj 2019

Coffee Break Read – Eritch Dragure

Eritch Dragure was a large man in all dimensions. He stood by the corner bar which held real bottles, not a standard dispenser, pouring a small amount from one of the bottles into a delicate and decorative glass. As Avilon came into the room he lifted the glass towards him in a silent toast and then sank the contents in a single swallow and put it down.
“Ah. The simple pleasures, eh? I’d offer you one but it’d be a waste of a fine liqueur. I doubt you have the palate to appreciate it, son,” he said, his tone distinctly patronising. “So Vitos Ketzel, does your mistress know you are here?”
“No,” Avilon replied honestly.
“She not paying you enough? Or is your nose out of joint because you let Jaz Baldrik take your job? He’s quite bright is Jaz, knows how to land on his feet and then wedge them right under the table. That must bite.”
Avilon said nothing.
“Or am I just one of the options you are looking at? Your name has been linked with Durban Chola too. Now that is a very, very dangerous name to be linked with, son. I hope it is nothing permanent for your sake.”
“I have some dealings with him. I don’t work for him.”
Dragure nodded.
“I understand, I’m a man of business too. Which brings me to the simple question of why you are here.” He held up his hand. “No. Don’t tell me yet. I want to show you something. Give me your jacket.”
It seemed a strange request. Avilon shrugged the garment from his shoulders and handed it over. Dragure made a slight gesture towards one of the near-invisible crystal-plex walls which slid open, onto the lake.
“We keep the water here well stocked with fish,” he said and dropped the jacket. There came a frenzy of movement and the water churned. A few moments later there were shreds of fabric floating on the surface. “People have been known to just disappear,” Dragure observed in a pleasant tone of voice, then he closed the wall and turned back to Avilon. “So, you were about to tell me, why are you here?”

From Haruspex: Trust A Few a Fortune’s Fools book by E.M. Swift-Hook 

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – Two Hundred and Eighty-Eight

They had been plodding through the rain for days, horses mired over their fetlocks and people wet to the skin. Pa led the team, while Ma worried as she did her best with wet firewood, damp flour, and fractious children.

Food was getting short when Petey caught a brace of fat rabbits, and Joanne found wild carrots and alliums in the corner of an abandoned field.

Ma spoke urgently to Pa and between them they decided on an early stop to cook the much needed fresh provender.

As they breasted a fold in the landscape, a rainbow split the sky.

©️jj 2019

Author feature: Druid’s Portal: The Second Journey by Cindy Tomamichel

Rowena is in an alternate timeline, where the Roman empire was defeated in the second century AD, by a Celtic nation united by Daman. An archaeologist, Daman controls the future through his knowledge of the past, twisting the world into a never ending war. In this world, you are either a citizen, or a slave. The training Rowena is on will decide her fate…

To her dismay, recruits were ranked by social class ID, and there was a buzz of furtive whispers as she took her place at the front of the line. It had been the same at school. Her family’s ranking had been a source of envy and hatred – she would find no friends here either. Cursing inwardly, she held herself rigid, and wiped expression off her face. The heavy-set man next in line leaned toward her, his shoulder brushing hers.
“Welcome to training, my future bride. I am Sloane.” His hot, mint-scented breath fanned her cheek, and she quivered in revulsion, and slanted a glance at him. Tall, with massive shoulders and bright red hair tangled into short dreadlocks, his face was one of brutal, hard planes. She checked his number, confirming her fears. He was one of her suitors, and the white star beside it indicated he was destined for a leadership position. The Mistress in Charge barked a command, and Sloane snapped to attention. Rowena also focused. She didn’t want any trouble.
“I am the Mistress in Charge,” the woman bellowed.
Silence, while thirty recruits stared back at her.
“You say, Yes Mistress,” she snarled.
“Yes, Mistress,” thirty voices variously yelled or whimpered back.
Shaking her head, the Mistress in Charge paced up the line, peering into the face of each recruit. Rowena stared straight ahead when it was her turn, until the Mistress grunted and walked to the front.
“I’ve never seen a sorrier bunch of recruits. I wouldn’t give a cup of cold piss for the lot of you.”
There was a snigger from somewhere in the ranks.
“Find that funny, do you? See that white post?” She pointed, it was just visible at the end of the camp track. “Last one back fails.”
“Get out of the way,” Sloane yelled, pushing a smaller recruit face first into the mud. Rowena sidestepped out of the crowd as the recruits pushed each other and stepped on the man. She grabbed his shirt, hauling him to his feet, then took off herself.
Rowena kept to the side, overtaking people until she was in the front third. What were her chances of getting through it? Thirty recruits and three months. A regime of running through the mountains, camping in the mud, bare handed fighting, weapons practice, and career learning.
Ahead, Sloane elbowed another into a ditch, and Rowena flinched as the man’s ankle snapped. Twenty-nine.
School had been nothing but a pre-training program. The expensive boarding school her father sent her to prided itself on 100% success in their students gaining citizenship. Running, strength training and various forms of fighting had been a big part of the school program, so much so that Rowena sometimes wondered how many graduates could read.
Tapping the post, she was in the first three. Sloane and a lean, dark-haired recruit who hadn’t broken a sweat. Did she want to win, risk drawing attention to herself?
Sloane was panting now, his heavy muscular frame not built for speed. “Your place is either under me or behind me,” he grunted, pushing past with an effort.
Rowena ground her teeth and pelted down the track, cursing to herself. The dark-haired man kept pace beside her, loping along. They finished together and snapped to attention in front of the Mistress in Charge.
“Well done. Your father will be pleased.”
“Thank you, Mistress,” Rowena shouted.
As the recruits staggered back, guards smashed the last one to the ground and dragged him away. From recruit to slave in a matter on moments.

“Attention.” The Mistress in Charge glared at the lines of recruits, the thick, twisted scar on her neck shining white in the sun. “Let us see if you have learnt your first lesson in what it takes to be a citizen of Albion.”
What is the penalty for failure?”
“Dishonour,” the recruits shouted back.
“What is your choice?”
“Death.”
“What is the proud heritage of Albion?
“Death.”
What did our ancestors deal out to the Romans?”
“Death.”
“What fate awaits the enemies of Albion?”
“Death.” Rowena shouted with the rest, her throat raw.

Druid’s Portal: The Second Journey the long-awaited sequel to the original Druid’s Portal: The First Journey by Cindy Tomamichel is out now.

A Bite of... Cindy Tomamichel
Q1: Which three fictional characters would you most like to invite to dinner?

I love these questions, but they are always so hard to decide! I am going with some nostalgic childhood reading passions today.
I think a lovely and cheerful dinner would include Pollyanna. Her glad game and travel stories would be great to hear. Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House) is a bit of a cheat since she was a real person, but we could discuss homestead recipes. To round off, I think Dickon from The Secret Garden, and he is welcome to bring all his animal friends with him. Maybe Tumnus the fawn could pop in for a cup of tea and a scone?

Q2: Which authors would you credit as having the biggest influence on your writing?

Andy McDermott and Matthew Reilly for pace and action, RE Howard for being able to describe settings with such poetic imagery, and Peter O’Donnell for reminding me to create great villains.
But the ones that really help to improve and encourage are the ones in my local writing group, and also my critique group. I’ll give a shout out to the Scifi Roundtable Facebook critique group of E.M. Swift-Hook, Darren Handshaw and Zora Marie, all great authors and awesome readers of my turgid drafts!

Q3: What is your favourite fast food?

I think a vegetarian burrito is my favourite. Beans, capsicum, avocado all wrapped up in a tasty parcel. All those vegetables must also be healthy right?

Cindy Tomamichel is a multi-genre writer. Escape the everyday with time travel action adventure novels, scifi and fantasy stories or tranquil scenes for relaxation. Find a world where the heroines don’t wait to be rescued, and the heroes earn that title the hard way.

You can find Cindy on Facebook, Twitter and her own website.

 

 

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – Two Hundred and Eighty-Seven

When she was young, the name Poppy suited her as she was a vivid creature who seemed to be blown hither and thither by the wind. In middle age she had no time to think about her given name, being more accustomed to think of herself as ‘wife’ or ‘mother’.

Now she was old there was leisure to consider the irony of heedless young ‘carers’ calling her Poppy.

Then he came. 

He was about eighteen, she judged, fair-skinned and kind.

He said her skin was as delicate as the petals of a poppy. And life made sense again.

©️jj 2019

Best of The Thinking Quill – 5

Dear Reader Who Writes,

At risk of preaching to the converted, I must first take the time to be sure you are all acquainted with me. I am Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV and acclaimed author of the millionth best seller science fiction and fantasy novel, ‘Fatswhistle and Buchtooth’. As such I have been delving deep into my treasure trove of writing wisdom to bring a few of the more luminous gems of my experience to light.

It is true that young people today are not as they were. When I was a fuzzy-faced youth in my early twenties, awaiting the chance to shave for the first time, I would not have dreamed of behaving in the manner of my old-school chum’s son when he came to stay overnight the other week on the way to some foreign destination for a ‘Gap year’. He has just turned eighteen. Called Henry.

He swanned into the house and dropped his rucksack on my feet, gesturing imperiously upwards with one finger, no doubt to indicate that he expected me to take it upstairs for him. Then he caught sight of Mumsie, spreadeagled over the sofa as is her wont. His eyes widened and I heard him say: “Em. Eye. Elle. Eff.” After which bizarre incantation he threw himself upon his knees beside Mumsie and whispered something in her ear which made her laugh. Well, giggle.

I retreated to my writing room and when I emerged in the early hours I found the rucksack was still untouched downstairs. By the time I rose to breakfast, Henry had left for Peru and Mumsie was humming happily and dancing around the front room holding a half-empty bottle of Champagne.

It occurred to me then and there, that I should address myself to that phenomenon of recent literary note: the Young Adult novel.

How To Write A Book: The Write Approach to YA

The first thing to remember is that your heroine – and it almost always is a heroine – must be living a normal, but extra-miserable life. She must be the school social reject or the really plain girl wearing glasses and unfashionable clothes. She is probably poor, but if rich, must have an isolated and unhappy time as a result. In a science-fiction or fantasy setting, she will be an orphan, abused, beaten and downtrodden – probably enslaved. At best she may be allowed an ‘ordinary’ background within whatever world she lives. She can have one good friend. 

But, remember, no matter how bad you make her issues, on no account can she be fat.

Having established this dual point of miserable powerlessness and rejected loner, the author must then bestow upon this heroine a magical power or super ability which is linked to a mysterious family heritage. Or may be brought about by the discovery of an artefact – or both. This will then transform our dowdy underdog cygnet into a burgeoning youthful swan.

At this point, the romantic elements should be established. If her ‘one good friend’ was male, he now becomes a suitor and is joined by one or more other suitors all of which now adore the heroine and all want her to adore them. The degree of self-abasement you can portray for these unfortunate males will boost the popularity of your final work. No matter how much the heroine rejects them, or how rudely, they will return and grovel at her feet each and every time. Or storm off and then turn up to save her in the end.

Do be sure to make her suitors as various as possible. If you are writing fantasy or supernatural fiction, they can be an elf,  fairy, angel, fallen angel, demon, vampire or a were-something. If science-fiction then aliens of whatever variety. Be sure to make the nice ones rich and the not so nice ones poor.

On no account allow any long-term romantic liaison to become established between your heroine and any of these males. To do so will end the game and end the series because, of course, this first book will be just the start of a series.

Take this advice to your collective bosoms my dear students and fame and fortune will stalk your steps.

Until next time.

Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV

You can find more of IVy’s profound thoughts in How To Start Writing A Book courtesy of E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago.

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – Two Hundred and Eighty-Six

Morfa Diggins worked the graveyard. He tended the bones and argued homespun philosophy with the fragile spirits. He was the only living creature to see the bones rise and dance under the Walpurgis moon, and to hear the music of the singing bones as they played to the solstice skies.

There was no moon the night the necromancer came and danced his obscene dance on the oldest of the graves. The bones rose in sullen anger, and when there was an army about the dancer’s feet they rushed him.

Morfa was the only living creature that heard his death lament.

©️jj 2019

 

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