Fantasy Novel – The Weave – Now Released

My debut fantasy novel – The Weave – is now available from Amazon.

It’s been eighteen months in the writing/editing and I’ve checked and re-checked it so many times that I almost know it off by heart.

The hardest part for me is actually the marketing of the book.  I’m not very comfortable with this aspect and it’s a steep learning curve as well.

For all of that it is most satisfying to have completed the book and the next one will be on its way soon – a historical fantasy.

Extract from #Fantasy Novel #The Weave – Finding the Nonesuch Club

In this extract from fantasy novel The Weave, author Richard Pease has come to a writers’ retreat in France to try and break through writer’s block. He finds the retreat – the Nonesuch Club – for the first time.

At night the maze of narrow streets and dark alleyways seemed forbidding. Tall houses on either side of the streets leaned drunkenly against each other, many with a first-floor storey overhanging the street below, looming, somehow threatening.

He shambled around the deserted streets with no particular direction in mind and found himself approaching the church via the Rue de Penitents Blancs. ‘I’m white and I’m very penitent,’ he shouted wildly, ‘so what are you picking on me for?’

In reply a jagged shot of lightning ripped across the sky followed by the rolling crash of thunder. It began to rain – at first huge spattering drops and then a skin-soaking, flesh-numbing torrent. Another shot of lightning, the street lights flickered, died plunging Richard into blackness. Not a shard of light to be seen – no glimmer through the closed shutters or lead-latticed fanlights, just blackness. ‘Oh yes, oh yes, very funny,’ he cried…

He swivelled this way and that like a pointer dog casting for a scent. In the end he turned blindly to his right and slowly crept along the cobbled street. He muttered to himself. ‘If that was the Penitents’ Rue then I’m near the church and…’ but he was too befuddled. He gave up trying to work it out. Instead, holding his hands out in front of him he shuffled forward. At one point he was convinced he heard footsteps behind him and a flicker of fear grew. He tripped and stumbled on the cobblestones.

Under the shelter of an overhanging roof he stopped and peered into the darkness behind him. He saw nothing. The rain poured off the roof spattering the pavement and splashing up the hems of his jeans. He looked behind him again and, in the flash of another lightning shot, thought he could make out a dark figure. Nervously, he began to shuffle forward again. He took just a few steps when he felt a touch on his shoulder. Whipping round, a trailing tendril of wisteria hanging loose from a house wall brushed his face.

Thoroughly unnerved he panicked and turned down a side alley. He had no idea where he was. Again he felt a touch on his shoulder and he broke into a blind run, stumbling and splashing through the stone gutter that ran down the centre of the alleyway.

Then he saw it… just a glimmer of greenish-blue light ahead. Gasping, he half-ran towards it. He stood in front of huge wooden gates.

Above the gates an old-fashioned  oil lantern glowed dimly. On one of the gates a large bronze knocker in the form of a grotesque spider glimmered in the light. He hesitated then reached out for the knocker.

That’s it for now. My debut fantasy novel The Weave now available from Amazon.

 

#The Weave and #Poisonous Herbs

In The Weave, the witch Ombrine uses a number of herbs and plants to create her potions, curses and magical deaths. Here is a scene from the book where, in 1605, she is teaching Oskar some of her herbal lore. She was particularly fond of using Wolfbane and Belladonna.

“Over the next few days she taught him how to make …

The Dream Maker, made from a blend of Wolfbane, belladonna and the tiniest pinch of Datura, which acted on body and mind to fire off images and illusions drawn from the darkest, deepest emotions within a man’s soul.

‘You have to be very careful with Datura,’ she warned him, ‘since it is several times more poisonous than the other two… unless of course you want your victim to die a terrible death.’ She paused, giving him a gleeful smile.

‘You remember that captain in Hamburg? I slipped him a little too much after we parted him from his cargo of silk. A mistake on my part, I admit, but I am not one to have regrets. He was a coarse, base creature. No loss to anyone. I confess, I laughed when he hauled himself to the top of his ship’s mast thinking is was a ladder to God and then threw himself off, believing he could fly with the angels. Yes, this is one to be careful with.’

Then there was the Standstill, made primarily from monkshood and used to excite the blood and brain. Paralysis of the body swiftly followed but consciousness remained…”

 

Wolfbane (aka Monkshood) with its striking blue cowl-like flowers is highly toxic and has been used in times past for both hunting and warfare.  In ancient & Chinese medicine, Wolfbane was used to slow the pulse and act as a sedative. And should you have a sudden need to detect a werewolf it is said that if you hold the flower under the chin of the alleged werewolf and a yellow shadow appears you know you need to get that silver bullet ready. Alternatively it used to be the fashion that you wrapped up the seed of Wolfbane in a lizard’s skin and wore it around the neck, as protection.

Wolfbane flower

Belladonna has many names including Witch’s berry, Banewort, Black Cherry, Deadly Nightshade, Death’s herb, Devil’s Cherries, and Fair Lady. You can guess what a poisonous herb it is just by reading these names, While Belladonna is beautiful plant it is also quite deadly. It induces among other things hallucinations, psychic dreams, delirium and a seriously painful death.

Its common name- Belladonna – comes from an ancient cosmetic practice. Apparently women used drops made from the plant to dilate the pupils – an effect considered to be sultry and sexy.

Bella Donna or Deadly Nightshade

Datura, also known as Devil’s Trumpets is a beautiful plant rather than a herb. It is highly toxic, hallucinogenic and deliciously scented. Due to the combination of chemical substances it contains, Datura can induce, among other things, delirium which usually incorporates the inability to tell reality from fantasy, muscle stiffness and temporary paralysis and memory loss.

Datura Flower

 

So what does Oskar do with his new-found knowledge and skills? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

#The Weave and #PoisonousSpiders

Spiders – love ‘em or loathe ‘em?

Personally I didn’t mind them at all until I had to do some research for my forthcoming novel The Weave.  I had no idea of the number of different varieties nor of the nasty habits some of them possess. However it was all good stuff to help me create the Amarellos – my own genus of tiny scuttling spiders that have a part to play in the book.

For a bit of fun I’ve put together a list of the ten most dangerous spiders in the world (working up from 10 to 1) that gave me the inspiration for my fictional ones.  Arachnophobes look away now!

At 10 we have the Hobo spider – a member of the Funnel-Web spider family but definitely not to be confused with the Australian Funnel-Web (see later). Opinion is divided as to its degree of nastiness but it is not thought to attack unless guarding themselves or their egg sacs. Seems reasonable.

The Hobo Spider

 

At 9 we have the Camel spider – which is not actually a true spider more a look-alike. They live in very dry climates; can grow to 12-15 cm (5-6 ins). Legend has it that they use their distinctly nasty choppers to clip hair from humans to line their underground nests.

The Camel spider

Number 8 is the Yellow Sac spider whose tummy colour ranges from beige to yellow. Their venom is supposedly necrotic – that is it causes damage to and kills off flesh.

Yellow Sac spider

One snippet I found mentions that some of them like the smell of petrol encouraging them to weave their webs in the canister vent of cars – notably Mazdas. This is not A Good Thing and Mazda issued a voluntary recall.

The Tiger spider

 

At No. 7 is the Tiger spider – a species of Tarantula. Their legs can grow up to 10 ins in the females. They come out at night and rather than use a cobweb they ambush their prey, roll it in silk and start to munch.

 

The Mouse spider

 

 

At 6 is the Mouse spider – so-called because once upon a time they were thought to dig burrows similar to mice. Despite the meek and mild name they are said to be as dangerous as the Aussie Funnel-Web.

 

Six-eyed sand spider

Number 5 is the Six-eyed Sand spider loaded with a nasty sac of necrotic venom which can cause life threatening wounds, particularly if the venom spreads.

 

 

 

Number 4 is the Redback spider – a member of the widow spider family. The female is more dangerous than the male who often, after serving her needs, gets guzzled. The lady of the species has a red stripe on the upper body and a red or orange streak underneath. Its two fangs bite into the victim then she wraps them up in silk and sucks out the liquefied insides. Lovely.

Redback spider

 

Chilean Recluse spider

Number 3 is the Chilean Recluse spider; brown with markings that form the shape of a violin – hence its other names – Fiddleback or Violin spider. They hunt at night, leaving their webs and have a penchant for a dry, quiet neighbourhood like woodpiles and sheds. Ominously it is frequently found in houses.

 

Number 2 is the Sydney Funnel-Web spider, native to Australia, around Sydney. A nibble from this lovely can cause serious injury or death in humans if not treated. It comes in several colours – blue-black, brown or plum.

Sydney funnel-web spider

And number 1 in the line-up is the Brazilian Wandering spider. Aggressive and venomous, striped, hairy and long-legged (4-5 ins) it has striking red jaws which it displays when miffed. True to its name it wanders on the jungle floors but it searches for a quiet des. res. during the day time wherein to hide. Sometimes it is called the banana spider as it is occasionally found in banana shipments.

Brazilian Wandering spider

 

So there they are, venomous, villainous but generally only when disturbed. But take heart they are not spread all over the world. It seems to me that South America and Australia have drawn the short straw when it comes to poisonous spiders.

Coming Soon – #The Weave – Cover Reveal

“When struggling author Richard Pease joins a writers’ retreat and finds himself tangled in a centuries-old web of intrigue and deception he has more to deal with than writers block…like escaping with his life.”

*****

I thought that you might like to see the cover for my book The Weave.  Hope you like it. Should be out in November.

So what do you think? If you saw the cover  in a bookshop or on-line would it intrigue you or would you give it the go-by?

Getting in touch with the Thirteenth Century

I have been taking a sabbatical from social media as I was finding it extremely difficult to promote my books and continue with the research and writing of the next one. In the end I took time out to try to create a more sensible regime for book promotion. This has freed up a bit of time for research and allowed my mind to wander around the thirteenth century (the era of my next book).

One question I was trying to answer was how would some of my characters react, feel and think about some of the natural phenomena that occur on this beautiful planet? Phenomena that we now understand and can explain. How would things such as meteors and comets, whirlpools, fossils, disappearing springs and ‘petrifying’ cascades be reasoned and explained? There are few eyewitness accounts but a wealth of folklore to pick through that give us some insight into the average medieval man’s mind.

Taking examples from my own environment here in France – how would my characters react to the disappearing spring at Fontestorbes? Regularly, throughout the day the water appears gushing out of a cave in the mountain-side and then it vanishes leaving the cave dry-ish – all done in the space of half an hour. Did they really believe in fairies? Did they think that it was some sort of magical launderette and the local fées took all the water to do their washing and woe betide any human that got in the way?

Now you see it – the stream making its appearance

Now you don’t!

Then again what would people have made of Les Cascades de la Turasse tumbling down thirty metres of steep wooded hillside at Roquefort les Cascades? We know that minerals in the water created the petrified objects lying in the stream and the basins of tufa. Would they wonder who created this tufière and how? Did my thirteenth century peasants fear that they would be turned into stone and so whispered a little prayer as they passed by? Or is that some later folklorique aimed at the passing tourist trade?

The Cascade – all the green is moss in various stages of ‘petrification’

Part of an old tree getting petrified

However, above all, we have the pronouncements of churchmen and monks who interpreted these phenomena for their less-educated flocks – albeit within limited parameters: God or Devil; Good or Evil.

For example there are springs of Belesta and Celles. In both instances events took place that were quickly attributed to the Virgin Mary and the church took control.

At Belesta a poor shepherd tormented by ulcers on his legs came to drink at the spring known as the Amourel. There he was allegedly visited by the Virgin Mary who instructed him to wash his legs in the spring and he would be healed. Overcoming a natural (for the time) reluctance to bathing he did as she bid him and the next day…not an ulcer to be seen. The news got around and local folk made a simple shrine by the spring. Then the churchmen took over and built a chapel on top of the spring itself. Pilgrims from far and wide travelling there to be healed, now had to descend into the crypt to drink the water leaving their offerings of gold and silver .

Just my luck – on the day I visited the spring had run dry.

The spring at Celles was the scene of another Virginal visit. Appearing as a white dove before taking up a corporeal form she had a wee bit of a chat with local boy Jean Courdil. She warned Jean that the inhabitants of Celles had to change their ways and asked him to spread the news. (There was at the time much discord and dissension about religious matters throughout France and allegedly four of the local women had beaten up the curé). There was, the Virgin said, a greater likelihood of all the villagers going to The Other Place rather than Heaven unless they all repented. A procession of repentance was duly held and calm and order returned to the village. It was then that the spring where Jean met the Virgin was transformed into a source of healing and relief of suffering. As at Belesta, the pilgrims flocked there to a little chapel that was erected alongside the stream.

Chapel at Celles

Turning away from watery subjects to stony ones. When I lived on the Holderness coast in East Yorkshire I regularly came across fossils on the beach. My medieval characters held a host of superstitions and beliefs about fossils; what they were; where they came from. In particular they endowed many of them with magical or curative properties.

The Ammonites were known as Snakestones (it is not by chance that this is the title of my next book) and were thought to be headless serpents that had turned to stone. William Camden in his work Britannia describes them as:

“Stony serpents wreathed up in circles but eternally without heads.”

Ammonites aka Snakestones

Attributed with several useful properties Ammonites were believed to provide an antidote to snake bites, cure blindness, barrenness and impotence to say nothing of warding off lightning and evil spirits.

Echinoids (sea urchins) some of the most common fossils, were considered to be fairy loaves because of their bun-like shape. In Medieval homes one was often placed by the hearth to ensure there was always bread in the house. If there was a week when the house was bread-less, it was thought that witches had been at work and blocked the fairy loaf’s protective powers,

Echinoid (Fossilised Sea Urchin)

Gryphaea (bi-valves) were believed to be toenail clippings from Old Nick himself and acquired the title of the Devil’s Toenail because of the curved shape and growth bands. For some strange reason they were often worn as a cure for rheumatism and arthritis.

Gryphaea

Sadly, although I have several of these in my little fossil collection they ain’t done nuffink for me!

La Guerre des Demoiselles – The War of the Maidens

This is one war that you are unlikely to find in the history books. It took place in the Ariege Department of France in the 19th century but was at its height in 1829-32.

Map of the Ariege

In 1827 the government brought out a new forestry code to be applied by 1829. This code prohibited what local people regarded as their long-established traditional rights in respect of how they accessed and used the forests around them. They used wood for building, collected firewood, hunted, fished and gathered food and used parts of the forest for pasturage for their small herds and flocks.

The implementation of this code was a disaster for them and anyone caught breaking the new laws was subject to a heavy fine and/or imprisonment.

To make matters worse growing industrialisation also created a need for charcoal and deforestation started to take place on a grand scale. The charcoal burners, the forge masters and the forest wardens (known as ‘the salamanders’ because of their yellow and black uniforms) became the most hated classes of men among the mountain people.

Les Demoiselles (the Maidens) made their first appearance in Saint-Lary in May 1829. Twenty forest guards found six trespassing shepherds and their flocks and tried to seize them. They were quickly surrounded by around a hundred Demoiselles who hurled insults, threats and stones until the forest guards were forced to beat a hasty retreat. Other bands of Demoiselles formed and from this point a type of guerrilla war broke out, confined at first to the Couserans and western parts of the Ariege but eventually spreading throughout the Department.

The name Demoiselles derived from the disguises the groups of men adopted – blackened or masked faces, a sheepskin or veil over their heads, long white shirts worn over their trousers like a dress. They commanded huge local support and communications between groups were sent either by horn toots or by smoke signals.

The king and his government marched in thirteen companies of infantry and eight brigades of gendarmes to quell the uprising but to little effect. The Demoiselles knew the terrain and the soldiers did not. Of those Demoiselles who were arrested most were quickly released as there were no witnesses to speak against them. The ineffectiveness of these measures prompted the government to increase fines substantially and make them payable on the spot and for good measure there was also a huge increase in taxes.

Nothing daunted the Demoiselles continued their resistance and from 1830 they marched and protested – these protests turning increasingly more violent. They targeted in particular the forge masters who took wood in great quantities to feed their forges.

Finally a Commission was established to find a solution. In 1831 a ministerial decree restored the grazing rights to the people and a second decree followed cancelling the code of foresters which started the war in the first place. As an additional act of benevolence, the government gave a general amnesty to all imprisoned and called a halt to any further judicial proceedings.

Over the next thirty years the rebellion appeared to die away but every now and again the Demoiselles would rise again to harass charcoal burners and forge masters. However the arrival of the railway and the discovery of iron ore in the area reduced the need for charcoal, put the brakes on deforestation and the Demoiselles disappeared quietly back into the forests

Writing, Waiting & Wondering

This blog will be reporting me for neglect before too long but I assure you I’ve not flown off on my broomstick to pastures new and green.

However, I do feel like I’m in limbo land at the moment. After the build up to launching The Siren and Other Strange Tales; – all the editing, formatting, checking and double checking – once it was over I felt rather flat and a bit lost.

Then the reality of marketing and promoting set in. There were sites where I needed to upload/update the book’s details; social media to manage, guest blogs to write. I understand that I need a fan base, a platform from which to launch my wares but I struggle to find creative, diverse and subtle ways of saying ‘just buy the bloody book will ya?’

Somehow through it all this Blog got put to one side.

Following on from The Siren’s launch I drafted a plan for loosing my first novel ‘The Weave’ into the world. I had approached a few agents, more in hope than expectation, all of whom said thanks but no thanks. Then I had one more try and the synopsis and first three chapters duly landed on the agent’s desk. I forgot about it until I got an email asking to see the whole mss. I sat looking at the email, my mouth so far agape I began to drool on the keyboard. Now this might not seem like much but for me who has never had a foot over the threshold of trad. publishing, it seemed like a huge step forward.

But then the spanner hit the works. Do I go ahead with my own publishing plan anyway? Do I commission the cover? Do I send review copies out? What if (wild imagining here) the agent wants to represent me, everything will change, won’t it? And at that point, just as my ancient PC does when I give it too much to consider and organise, I froze; hung up; went into stasis and will not unfreeze I suspect until I have a reply from the agent.

In an effort to break loose I began book number 2 set in the 13th century. I got about a quarter way through the first draft and then lost the plot…literally. I am back to my old nemesis – I know what the beginning and the ending are going to be like but what happens in between…??? I may have mentioned it in earlier posts I have a disc full of novel sandwiches without their filling. I am determined that this one will not join them and have decided to take a break from it for a wee while. Instead I am researching and pitching some magazine articles just for a change of scene.

So there’s a quick update for those of you wondering whether I’m away travelling on my time machine. I would say watch this space but I won’t because it may only be a blank screen.

Oh and did I mention that I’ve quit smoking, the cartilage in my right knee has gone awol so I need a new knee and I’ve acquired a gorgeous seven-month old Alsatian/Husky dog called Petra?

Writing – How Hard Can It Be?

I am pleased and honoured to have been asked to contribute to the lovely Helen Hollick’s Tuesday Talk on her blog.

If there’s anything you want to know about pirates, Helen is the lady to ask. She is the author of King Arthur: The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, The Sea Witch Voyages Series and more recently Amberley Press have published her non-fiction book The Truth and the Tales – Pirates.

All her books can be found at www.helenhollick.net

She is also incredibly brave and generous in letting a complete unknown loose on her blog.

Follow the link to read what yours truly had to say about the rumblings of her embryonic writing career.

https://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.fr/2017/06/writing-fictionwell-how-hard-can-it-be.html

The Stories Behind the Stories

The Siren and Other Strange Tales – my first foray into writing fiction is a collection of short stories with a supernatural element. The stories were inspired as I suppose all stories are, by a mixture of experiences, events, reading, people I have met and places I have lived or visited, all helped along with a dollop of imagination and occasional dark humour. I thought you might like to know a little about the stories behind the stories. The photos are just teasers related to the content of the stories.

That Cat is a story sparked off by a newspaper clipping about a stray cat that visited a care home to sit with the dying.

The character of Mandy is a figment of my imagination. Thankfully, the staff of the care home where my mother spent the last years of her life provided a loving, respectful environment. However, from time to time scandals do emerge. Further elements came from a story my mother told me. When I was a baby she put me in my pram in the garden. As she was hanging out the washing our next door neighbour’s big black cat crept up onto the pram and snuggled down, almost on my face. She was scared of cats and had to get the neighbour to come an remove it!

Toussaint – set in France where I live.

The bones of the story come from two sources – an Australian report of a car accident where the driver of a passing car is said to have picked up, telepathically, the cries for help from the driver of a car that had skidded off the road. The second element was my meeting at a gallery exhibition with the wife of the featured artist. After several glasses of Chablis, she had a lot to tell me about life with an artist.

Sukie – This is a story based on some of my experiences when, at fifteen, I went on an exchange holiday to France. On my own for the first time, without the security of family around me, I found it a daunting experience but, with hindsight, a formative one. However, my early life bore no resemblance to that of Sukie’s except that I did love my Granny Grapes and the eyebrow raising trick did irritate my mother.

Ste. Maxime is near St. Tropez on the Cote D’Azur and, when I was there, it teemed with the overspill of the young and beautiful who couldn’t quite swallow the cost of being seen in that celebrated town. There was a Sean Connery look-alike but alas he had no eyes for a gauche teenager teeming with a heady mix of hormones and unrequited lust.

The Boy with a Harmonica is loosely based on an incident that happened in a village near me during WWII.

This part of France was known as the Free zone and governed by the Vichy government on behalf of the occupying Germans. The Maquis were very active in this Zone and in my area there are numerous tales of derring-do and heroism.

The character of the Boy has elements of a child I knew, labelled “autistic” by the medical profession. He had a remarkable ear for music and could pick out and create the most beautiful melodies on the piano. Clearly a piano was of no use to me in this story but an old guy playing the harmonica outside a cafe in Toulouse gave me the instrument that up until then had eluded me.

The Last Word


My parents together with my Aunt and Uncle held regular Sunday Canasta nights. Their play, just as in the story, would be punctuated with cries of “Why did you play that card?” or “Freda, you’ve frozen the pack again.” I used to like to watch and listen to the interplay between these four.

When my mother moved into a care home I visited her regularly and nearly always found a group of residents playing whist. One of them, Alice was a passionate but rather ineffectual player. As I passed by the lounge where they sat I would often hear her girlish giggle as she cried “I’ll beat you all yet, if it’s the last thing I do.” She was a lovely lady and I wrote this story for her.

The Siren was inspired by the landscape of the Holderness Coast in East Yorkshire – a 32 mile stretch from Flamborough Head to Spurn Point, it is a fragile, sometimes desolate landscape subject to regular cliff falls through erosion. With the cliff falls come stretches of gloopy mud and fossils.


A snippet in the local newspaper about a young girl becoming stuck in one of these mud patches as the tide came in and the efforts to rescue her sparked off the idea of the story and my imagination supplied the rest.

So there you have it – the weird convolutions of a writer’s mind.