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.

#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.

Show -don’t Tell

I spent last week back in England as a witness in a dispute over a right of way to the property I used to live in some thirty years ago. Given a choice between having a tooth pulled out and appearing as a witness I think, in future, I would opt for the visit to the dentist.

I had recently read “The Emotion Thesaurus” by Angela Ackerman and Becca Pulgisi in an attempt to cure myself of the habit of infecting my writing with bland adjectives – of telling “he was angry”, rather than showing. So this experience provided me with an opportunity to observe and watch for cues – what poker players call “tells”, as to how each witness was feeling, all set within the context of the courtroom.

The following are some of the notes I made on these lines during the proceedings. But first a brief description of the courtroom to give you some context.

Square room, bland cream and grey décor; wooden chairs set out with an aisle between them – protagonists to the left, antagonists to the right. As we trooped into the courtroom, the court usher bent forward and quietly asked each of us “Appellant or Objector? Take your seat on the right/left.” I couldn’t help but think of the scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” – “Crucifixion, one cross each, on the right.”

One thing that could not be ignored in the room was the dais with the long bench behind which the judge sat in solitary splendour. Raised up above where we minions were seated it said, unequivocally to us – control, power, authority, I’m in charge.

Okay so on to the witnesses. I’ve given just three examples from my notes. They all relate to witnesses for the protagonists whom the counsel for the antagonists was cross-examining.

Witness One

Male, early fifties, the only male witness wearing a suit and tie. Took the oath in a steady, clear voice. Chose to stand rather than sit to give evidence; very upright, shoulders back. Listening to counsel’s questions he cocked his head slightly to one side, then straightened up again. Long, long pauses between question and his response.

My thoughts: calm, unruffled by situation. Did the “head cock” mean he was listening carefully? Perhaps he is slightly deaf? Did long pauses before responding mean he was choosing his words carefully; an unwillingness to answer; concocting a porky?

Witness Two

Female; early sixties; very chic. Strode to the witness stand; shoes squeaked on lino floor. Hands trembled a little as she held the paper on which the oath was printed; her voice quavered over a few words. Gave evidence standing up. Voice steadied as she gave her testimony. When challenged hard by counsel a faint pink flush spread up her neck, voice trembled again. Played with a necklace she was wearing as she spoke.

My thoughts: nervous to start with but steadied herself. However, perhaps she was shivering and a bit cold? The necklace twisting – sign of nerves or fidgety and a tad impatient? The flush and wobbly voice – was she flustered; getting angry; embarrassed?

Witness Three

Female; late forties; smart/casual. Took a couple of visible deep breaths before reading oath. Gave evidence seated. Only witness to check, when asked, that the written statement previously provided was hers and that all the pages were present when given to her. When dealing with challenges by counsel her voice dropped a tone and a Yorkshire brogue became more apparent. Sounded abrupt, a little brusque but very definite about her evidence. Made good eye contact with judge rather than counsel when giving answers. Gestured with hands quite a bit.

My Thoughts: No-nonsense person. Meticulous? Confident? Hostile towards counsel? Used the time to look through her written statement as a means of steadying herself?

So, as a writer what did I learn from all this?

It reinforced something I’ve always known – that one swallow doesn’t make a summer. That is, to show emotions through body language we need to have a cluster of cues rather than just one and context is everything.
It is possible to be sneaky and use a character’s body language to mask or mislead. I learned afterwards for example that Witness Two was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease which caused her hands/voice to tremble.
The observation and interpretation of body language as an indicator of emotions is highly subjective.Would readers have the same interpretation?
I would hate to be called for jury service!

So tell me, what would you have made of the three examples above?

The Future is Out There Somewhere

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I’m feeling a bit like a dried-up sandwich – all curled up at the edges – after a tumultuous few days. There is so much out there, good, bad and downright ugly, that I have no intention of adding to it all except to post this poem by W B Yeats – The Second Coming which an infinitely more accomplished author than I, Kate Mosse, posted on Twitter today. For me, it sums up our ever-shifting situation.

THE SECOND COMING

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

There are and will continue to be, winners and losers from events this week (including English football) – no-one ever promised that life would be fair but the potential lies within all of us to make it as humane, decent and caring as we are able. Winners take note; Losers take heart.