Coffee Break Read – Scented Air

In the scented air of the pavilion Alexa settled back on her couch, closed her eyes and let her body relax, whilst her mind wandered. The two girls tended her, one combing through the glistening dark red waves of her hair and the other painting her finger and toenails with vermilion. She wanted to look her best this evening.
She could never allow herself to forget that for a woman to be a caravansi was rare – so rare Alexa had never heard of another. It was the only way of life she had ever known and one that she loved passionately. Much too passionately to give up for settled life or for any man. But whilst she recognised it was strange to others, to her it was the most natural of things. She had inherited the caravan, its animals, slaves, wagons and pavilion from her father as his only child and his apprentice.
When she thought of her father, she would always see him as he had been before he fell ill: tall and proud, his face animated as he told her stories of the past; or still and focused as he poured over ledgers, eyes skimming each page as he calculated the amounts faster than most could even count the numbers. His death had been the most painful event of her life – but the caravan gave her comfort. In the dust of travel, the shouts of the Zoukai and the rumble of wagons, she could sometimes imagine he was still there with her and nothing had changed.
But everything had changed after his death at the end of last summer. The merchants, including those who knew her personally and had been clients of long standing with her father, were very uneasy with the idea of entrusting their precious trade goods to one they saw as an untried woman. Merchants, it seemed, were superstitious when it came to such things. It had been a bitter blow to Alexa since she knew she was a tough, good and honest caravansi – and she knew that they knew it too. Undeterred she had spent everything she had on trade goods she could carry and sell for herself. It was not much but would be just enough to pay her way and make a small profit – if she could sell in Alfor.
Then her father’s Captain of Zoukai, had left the caravan.He had been old by Zoukai standards, past his fortieth season, and he had said he wanted to settle down and raise a family before it was too late. That had been just the beginning. All except a handful of the very oldest Zoukai, those who would have been hard pressed to be taken on elsewhere, took it as an excuse to leave too. Like the merchants, the Zoukai had a superstitious distrust of a caravansi who was a woman.
Alexa had spent most of the long winter scouring the city of Ratzal and sending messages to other nearby cities, seeking a Zoukai captain who would ride with her caravan. But as the first signs of thaw began and the bigger caravans took to the roads across Temsevar, she had faced the bleak prospect of being unable to go with them. If she did not make the Alfor Fair, her trade goods would be worth, at best, half their purchase value and she would have no choice but to sell up everything. That dread had sat colder in her heart than the bitterest winter blizzard.
With just two days left before the departure deadline – the latest they could leave Ratzal and still hope to arrive in time for the Alfor Fair – Caer had presented himself at her pavilion and promised her forty men if she would hire him as her Captain. If Alexa had not been so desperate she would have never given him serious consideration. Caer was not just too young, he was much too young. A good Zoukai captain, it was said, should have seen twenty seasons with the caravans under another’s leadership and Caer had clearly seen no more than half that. Besides, he offered her only forty men when she needed nearer twice that number to be truly secure.
But she had been desperate and Caer, young as he was, was the only chance she had of getting the caravan on the road in time to make the Alfor Fair. Even knowing that, when she had seen the Zoukai he brought with him, her heart had sunk. Almost half were so old that it was obviously going to be their final year riding with the brotherhood and most of the rest were very young – scarcely men at all – their heads newly shaven: boys who had never ridden with a caravan before. Less than a handful were experienced Zoukai of full fighting fitness. It was hardly surprising, though, Caer was no more any good Zoukai’s choice of captain than she was any good captain’s choice of caravansi.

From The Fated Sky part one of Fortune’s Fools Transgressor Trilogy by E.M. Swift-Hook

Runner Up of Our 4th Birthday Limerick Comp!

To celebrate our fourth birthday at the beginning of July, the Working Title Blog held a limerick writing competition.

We could not choose between two limericks to be our runner up – both celebrate the blog and we who work to bring it to you daily! So we have two runners up and this is one, by Ian Bristow author of Hunting Darkness (recently featured on the blog) and other books.

Here you will find two women of wit
They’ll make you feel more than just a bit
You’ll laugh and you’ll cry
No need explaining why
That’s just what good authors do when they sit!

Winner of Our 4th Birthday Limerick Comp!

To celebrate our fourth birthday at the beginning of July, the Working Title Blog held a limerick writing competition.

We are thrilled to announce that this is the winning entry by Stephanie Barr author of the YA Science Fantasy series The Bete and many other books about supernatural beings – and cats!

Stephanie has won an Author Feature on the blog and her choice of books from those available from Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook.

Rosemarie was the most patient wife
To a husband that filled days with strife.
When his car smashed their den,
He stained the wash with his pen,
He just shrugged, said, “Well, honey, that’s life.”

Congratulations Stephanie, and a huge thank you to all who entered and to all who have been reading and supporting the Working Title Blog!

Granny Tells It As It Is – Eggy Drinks

Listen to Granny because Granny always knows best!

Somewhere in the deep and distant past (during the time I was too busy raising a hopeful brood of contumacious little buggers to take notice of fashion) somebody sneaked something eggy onto the shelf behind the bar. Having made this dreadful mistake they looked at it for a decade before deciding that mixing it with lemonade and shoving a cocktail cherry in it made it a palatable drink. They then persuaded a whole generation of non-drinking aunties and cousins it was both ladylike and delicious.
It’s not.
It has the texture of snot and the smell of egg.
Don’t …

Sunday Serial: Wrathburnt Sands 13

Because life can be interesting when you are a character in a video game…

Ruffkin got up and started barking. Milla groaned. Another Visitor.
“Go away,” she called “The quest is off until tomorrow it’s…” She tried to remember the word the Visitors used. “It’s gritched.”
Her heart skipped a beat and she was at the door in a moment opening it. Pew stood there dressed in his shimmering red Firecaster robes, ineffable runes swirling around him, looking as if he was being chased by a pack of enraged landsharks. He staggered into the room, ignored the welcoming bound from Ruffkin and dropped into the chair she had just vacated, cupping his hands around her mug of fruit tea, his crest flattened against his head and the colour washed out from his scales. Ruffkin retreated to his bed and looked at them both mournfully.
Milla found another mug and poured herself some more fruit tea, then searched around in her pantry for the emergency supply of flyberry cookies. She scooped a few onto a wooden plate and put them on the table beside the desolate Pew before taking the other chair herself.
That was when she knew whatever it was, it must be really bad. He didn’t even pick up a cookie. His favourites. He just put his mug down, pushed the plate a bit away and stared at the cookies miserably.
“It’s string.”
Milla blinked.
“No. Flyberry. I bought them from One Eye. He’d not put odd things like that in his cookies.”
Pew gave her a very odd look.
“Not string. String. You must remember him?”
Milla did. But sometimes she wished she didn’t. He’d been with herself and Pew on her one and only venture and he’d not been the nicest Visitor she’d ever met. Too much like that elf.
“I thought you said he’d rage quit, whatever that means, and gone away for good?”
“Not for good. Not String. He’s a gamer like me. He’ll always come back.”
Milla reached out a hand and put it over one of his.
“I’m glad you always come back. But String… I thought you weren’t really friends?”
Pew gripped her hand.
“I’ll always come back because you’re here. And no… Maybe not friends. But he and I…well… we played through this game from launch together. We’ve been guildies most of the time and I guess that means something.”
Milla didn’t pretend to understand. This was a Visitor thing, clearly. But she could see Pew needed her, that was very obvious.
“Tell me what’s happened?” she prompted.
“First I knew he was back in the game was when I got a private whisper from his roomie today. Said he’s in some kind of coma or trance. He was in his room playing the game and they were chatting on the ‘chord – then it went quiet.”
“So String has gone missing?”
Pew ate a second cookie before replying. “Yes. But I think it’s worse than that.”
“Worse than going missing?”
Milla wondered if he meant String had vanished in the same way people sometimes vanished after an Expansion. Sometimes they simply weren’t there any more. She shivered at the thought. She hadn’t really liked String much but she wouldn’t wish that on him.
“Yes. Worse. When the roomie checked String was sitting in his chair with a smile on his face but unaware and unresponsive. His machine was still on, game still running. That happened yesterday and he’s been the same way ever since.” Pew picked up one of the cookies and ate it.
Milla filtered out the meaningless words as she always had to when talking with Pew and focused on the key point.
“So he is sick? Don’t you have healers in… wherever he is?”
“We do. But I don’t think they’ll be any help. The thing is String was soloing around Lustrous Lake, trying to build faction with the Lamia so he could get that cool looking water-dragon mount. And String always had a thing about the Lamia, their uber-long blue and green hair, their huge aquamarine eyes, their water breathing ability…”
“Their lack of virtually any clothing?”
Pew’s crest flushed.
“The point is he always said if he had to live anywhere in game it’d be in the Lamia village.”

We will return to Wrathburnt Sands by E.M. Swift-Hook next Sunday.

Return to Wrathburnt Sands was first published in Rise and Rescue Volume 2: Protect and Recover.

The Ballad of Tractor Joe

His tractor is green and he drives it too fast
For he knows the summer is not gonna last
There’s crops to be brung in from fields that are steep
And he’s hardly a moment to shit or to sleep

Come winter, come summer, come autumn or spring
The roads are so narrow and the tractor is king

A tractor of yellow drags machinery wide
No room to pass him he touches the sides
And he’ll never pull in and he’ll never give way
Because he’s on his phone and there’s plenty to say

Come winter, come summer, come autumn or spring
The roads are so narrow and the tractor is king

This little blue tractor is lacking a cab
Because it’s being driven by a twelve-year-old lad
He’s bouncing about and he ain’t thrilled to bits
To be towing a trailer that’s piled high with shit

Come winter, come summer, come autumn or spring
The roads are so narrow and the tractor is king

We’re behind a red tractor and he’s going so slow
Coz his wipers have failed and it’s pissing with snow
But we’re not going to curse him no never, not we
For he’s ploughing a path so we get home for tea

Come winter, come summer, come autumn or spring
The roads are so narrow and the tractor is king

But whatever the day from the spring to December
There’s one tractor driver we always remember
A beast of a man built of anger and bones
Who lived in his tractor was never at home

Come winter, come summer, the children all know
That they’d better be careful of old Tractor Joe

Sometimes when the moon is as fat as a sow
You can still hear his tractor coming over the brow
The engine is racing as downhill it goes
And into the river to drown Tractor Joe

Come winter, come summer, one thing you can betcha
If you lose concentration your tractor will getcha

Come winter, come summer, wherever you go
When it’s moonlight at midnight you’ll hear Tractor Joe

©️jj 2021

Weekend Wind Down – To Be A Dragon

In England it was the depths of winter and the weather was doing its worst. It was cold and grey and wet and muddy and miserable. Which made it all the more amazing that a short dragon ride could bring one to a beach of shining white sand bordered by a sea so clear and blue it was criminal not to swim in it.
After time spent mating rapturously on the deserted beach, Leonore found she had sand stuck to so many places that the siren call of the sea could no longer be ignored. She ran until she could lift her legs no longer then just allowed herself to fall into the sparkling blueness. Unafraid, she struck out for who knew where, only stopping swimming when her arms and legs grew tired. She rolled over in the water and felt R’u’uth come up beneath her. He lifted her onto his back.
“Come” he said almost sternly. “I must speak with you.”
Leonore felt something inside her shrivel. This was the moment she had been fearing. Her dragon had grown bored with her timorousness and lack of self-belief. He was going to tell her he could see her no more. She wanted to cry, but her stiff-necked pride kept her misery hidden. Plenty of time to cry when she was alone in her bed.
They reached the shore, but not at the sandy cove where Leonore had left her clothes. Instead R’u’uth climbed out of the water onto a smooth rocky ledge. He made a step from his foreleg and a somewhat woebegone woman climbed down onto the warm rocks. Her dragon lover was not fooled by her attempt at a careless demeanour.
“Why so sad?”
“Why wouldn’t I be sad? You are going to dump me.”
R’u’uth looked as puzzled as it is possible for a dragon to look.
“Dump. You know. End the relationship. Tell me it’s all over…”
She would have continued her litany of misery had not a long dragon tongue licked the angry tears from her cheeks.
“Come here, silly one.”
Almost against her will, Leonore moved closer and he draped a wing over her.
“Listen. It is not of ending what we have that we must speak. But of having more.”
She looked at him in genuine puzzlement.
“How can we have more?”
He blew his spicy breath over her, which both soothed and excited.
“Would you have more if we could? Would you live with me and be my love?”
“Of course I would. But how might that be? I’m not a dragon.”
“You might be.”
She stamped her foot. “Look at me. I’m not a bloody dragon.”
R’u’uth removed his wing from about her shoulders and laughed.
“And I am not a bloody human, but watch.” 
Leonore turned to face him and for a moment nothing happened, then it was as if there was a flaw in the light and a handsome naked man stood in front of her. For a moment she couldn’t believe her eyes, then almost of its own volition her tongue came out to moisten her lips.
It was strange to hear her dragon’s voice coming from the lips of a human. He spoke teasingly. “Stop looking at me like that, or I will have to have you right here on this hard rock.”
Leonore knew she would be even less able to resist R’u’uth in human form, so she dropped her eyes.
“So you can be a human, but that doesn’t mean I can be a dragon.”
“It might. You might. Are you willing to find out?” For once he didn’t sound teasing, or sensual, or amused.
She gathered together her tiny courage, rooting it out from all the hiding places it found behind fear, uncertainty, self-doubt and sadness. Then she straightened her spine.
“Yes I’m willing. But what if I cannot be a dragon?”
“Then I won’t be one….”
Before she could find the words to respond to that he flowed back into his dragon form and extended his foreleg.
The next while went by in a sort of a daze, and by the time Leonore had collected her thoughts she found herself standing at R’u’th’s side on a hilltop where the grass was springy and scented and dotted with ancient megaliths. 
She wore a hooded robe of something soft and comforting and felt more at peace than she had ever felt in her life. Something impelled her to walk forward a few paces and place the palms of her hands against the surface of the tallest of the stones. She somehow knew it would be warm to the touch, and she couldn’t even bring herself to feel any fear when she felt a presence exploring her mind and heart. When the presence left her she turned back to R’u’uth to find him no longer alone. There were two more dragons with him. One was a hulking black-skinned male, the other a svelte female with the deepest darkest eyes she had ever seen in her life. She curtseyed fluidly, a skill she hadn’t even known she possessed until that moment.
The male dragon spoke. “You would be a dragon, little human?” 
“I don’t know what I would be, sir dragon. I only know I would be with R’u’uth.”
The black roared and flames split the sky, but Leonore felt no fear.
The female snapped her teeth together.
“Behave A’a’shanto,” she snarled. “The stones have accepted her. She has answered you correctly. And she didn’t even react to your showing off. Do your duty as master dragon and stop behaving like a hatchling.”
The male smiled at the female who must, Leonore thought, be his mate to speak thusly to him. He then turned his attention to Leonore.
“There will be pain,” he said almost apologetically.
“There will be more pain in spending my life without R’u’uth.”
“Extend your left arm.”
She did as she was bid, and draconic teeth snapped. For a second the pain was so excruciating she thought she might fall but then R’u’uth braced her from behind. The master dragon ripped his own foreleg with his razor-sharp teeth and as their mixed blood fell onto the sacred ground Leonore felt the change within her.
Her arm stopped bleeding and she leaned into her mate before making the change of form for the first time in her life. She simply let herself flow into her draconic body before beating her wings for the sheer joy of being a dragon.
“Look,” the master dragon’s mate said in a voice of wonder. “R’u’uth’s mate is a golden queen.”
L’e’onore heard no more as the need to fly overwhelmed her and she took to the skies over Dragonheart flying wingtip to wingtip with the other half of her soul.

©️Jane Jago

In Memory

This poem is in memory
Of the one I used to be
The brave, the bold the self-assured
The person I called ‘me’

That person who just went away
One day some time ago
And I became a person who
I really do not know.

I used to ride the storm itself
And laugh at shallow fears
I couldn’t understand those who
A movie moved to tears

I used to have a strength within
That felt as strong as steel
And whatever life did bring
I knew that I could deal

But then that person went away
I’m still not quite sure why
It was as if inside myself
I learned to fear and cry

As if once learned they both did grow
And never did abate
Then all my strength was swept away
And now this is my fate.

E.M. Swift-Hook

The Best of The Thinking Quill – V

Buenos Dias!

It is indeed I, Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV, writer, agony aunt and astrologer to the famously credulous.  The renowned author of the speculative fiction classic ‘Fatswhistle and Buchtooth’.

One had been racking one’s cranium for a topic for this week’s tutorial (yes, even I sometimes find inspiration needs to pursued vigorously), when a question from Claire prompted one to consider the vital importance of symbols and symbolism to those who would create literature.

Even that bastion of unthinking vulgarity, that outpost of alien mindset, that epitome of hard-handed hard-headedness, that creature one calls Mater has in the recesses of her underused and underdeveloped brain a vestigial understanding of the importance of symbols. Only last week, she was watching some interminably boring panel programme sur le téléviseur, upon which the current Archbishop of somewhere was being castigated about yet another cover-up of ecclesiastical child abuse. Mater looked across the room at me and smiled a twisted smile.

“Moons,” she said a thought sadly. “Moons. If that churchman was to have worn his episcopal regalia, instead of sitting there like a mouse in a poorly fitting lounge suit, I reckon most of them oiks would’ve been a lot more respectful. It’s the symbols of office doncha know.” Then she refilled her gin and Guinness and no more was said.

But that brief moment of lucidity is proof, if proof were needed that the power of symbols reaches deep into the psyche – even of those as sunk into alcoholism and depravity as one’s unlovely parent.

However. En avant.

How to Start Writing a Book – The Write Symbols

When one seeks to create literary magic one needs many tools at one’s disposal. Not the least of which is the noble quest. A device by which your hero may be dispatched wherever your imagination chooses in search of some artefact or some creature without which the story can progress no further. But what does that have to do with symbols, do I hear you cry? Yes, of course, I do as your tiny crania cannot hope to make the leaps of understanding that come to one’s mind as easily and gently as a bluebottle lands on a plate of rotting meat.

Of course, the noble quest is to do with symbolism. It is one of the most symbolic of all the storylines.

First. The quest itself is a metaphor (or symbol) for the struggles that beset all humans from cradle to grave.

Second. Your hero’s solid helpmeet – uplifted from the lower orders to become his right hand – is symbolic of the common clay’s need for a god to worship and of the need gods have for worshippers.

Third. Whatever or whoever is searched for, the vicissitudes of the search are the symbolic harbingers of events in human life which must be overcome with stoicism and bravery. Tempting though hysteria and Tia Maria may be.

And finally. That which is sought is the most powerful symbol of all. It symbolises human love and human endeavour. It shows us the beauty that may be found in the depths of the human soul as we try ever harder and climb ever higher in our quest for perfect beauty.

Some common symbols explained
The dragon. Strength, coldness, avarice, and sex.
The virgin. Unattainability, truth, and the desire for sex.  
Water to cross. The struggle to be loved, and the desire for sex.
A cup or grail. The thirst for knowledge, and the desire for sex.
A dove. Hope and sex.
A raven. Despair and sex.
A knife. Cutting the thread that binds a child to its mother, or sex.

One could continue almost infinitely, but I am sure you are following by now.

So, my bambinos, choose your symbols with care and write them with delicacy.

Until next. Do not have nightmares and ecrit bon.

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.

EM-Drabbles – One Hundred & Thirty-Two

Citizen surveillance was the best way forward.

After all, who could object to an elderly lady sitting, knitting, a cup of tea beside her and a cat on her knee, keeping an eye on the neighbourhood?

No one liked being watched by security services or a remote and uncaring AI.

It was the perfect solution, politically.

The same nosy neighbours who once peeped through net curtains with disproving, judgemental stares now did so through the anonymity of the internet, knowing if they reported poor behaviour the police would come.

It put a whole new meaning into the phrase ‘neighbourhood watch’.

E.M. Swift-Hook

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