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Dissecting Dragons – the first Guest Episode

I’ve talked about Dissecting Dragons, the speculative fiction podcast that M.E.Vaughan and I produce a bit before. However on Friday the first episode featuring a guest author was released and I feel it’s worth looking at the process in a bit more detail – not least of which because that episode has probably been our most successful one to date.

We’ve had lots of positive feedback about the podcast – people seem to genuinely be enjoying it, which is brilliant. As writers we all know how hard it is to judge your own work, so to have listeners comment or get in touch to say they like it is very encouraging. I will, in future, explain exactly how we are producing a podcast for those who fancy trying their hand at producing their own. (It’s always helpful to look at someone else’s process.)

So, first guest. James Nichol is a children’s author whose first book, The Apprentice Witch, is being published by the ChickenHouse. (To give you some context, he has been working with Barry Cunningham, the editor who discovered J.K.Rowling.) The book sounds utterly enchanting – I’m certainly looking forward to reading it myself when it is released in July 2016.

Dissecting Dragons - Writing, Reading, Loving and sometime Hating, Speculative Fiction.
Dissecting Dragons – Writing, Reading, Loving and sometime Hating, Speculative Fiction.

What made James a great guest was that he took an interest and engaged with the entire topic. And I think what allowed him to do that was that Madeleine and I had set things up so that we fell into a natural rhythm of conversation about that week’s topic. Between the three of us we produced some really interesting content. There was no sense of having to perform, either for James or for either of us. My theory is that it’s that relaxed atmosphere during which three authors discuss books and writing that makes it engaging for listeners.

Of course it definitely helps that James was interesting, engaging and humble about his achievements. Coupled with a sense of humour that has to be a winning combination for authors. I’ve mentioned before how hard many of us find it to talk about our work. Certainly publishers and editors both have said that they often feel that authors need to feel they’ve ‘been given permission’ to talk about their books. Could it be that a cosy chat via podcast is a way of breaking down this self imposed barrier? I have no firm conclusion on that but it’s definitely exciting times.

I highly recommend you listen to James story (not just because I want you to download the podcast) because it is as close to a ‘fairytale’ dream-come-true story of an author finding his publisher and his niche.

Dissecting Dragons – Episode 4 – Witches, Brooms and Spells with James Nichol

Dissecting Dragons Facebook page

Throw back Thursday: Wearing the Editor’s Hat

(Originally posted on my old blog 29th July 2014)
So what have I been working on recently? Well it’s a bit of a step away from my forthcoming book and its sequels, but I’m really proud of the result. Here is a bit about this anthology of reflected tales, which will be available from amazon, kobo, barnes & noble, apple, nook, smashwords etc and from createspace as a paperback from 7th August 2014.

‘How can I read the futures if I cannot see your skin?’

Six mysterious swans glide on a holographic pond in a totalitarian capital city.  A terrified girl awaits her part in a ritual that could change the future… and the past. A dancer in ancient Jerusalem mourns her maimed sister and prepares for the performance of her life.  A sword of legend sends its wielder back through the fiercest battles in history. A freshly qualified vampire hunter experiences the practical side of his vocation. Fourteen intriguing, dramatic, humorous and unsettling tales,  inspired by existing stories and reflecting the breadth of storytelling from Greek myth to Hammer Horror, via fairy tales and Arthurian legend.

It’s good stuff…and yeah, maybe I am a little biased, but that doesn’t stop it being 260 pages of quality writing 😉

Wearing the Editor’s Hat

This was a completely new experience for me and to say that it was a little scary would be an understatement. Exhilerating, exciting, fascinating – but definitely a little scary.

My friend and co-editor, Matthew Willis, (author of the fab age of sail historical fantasy,Daedalus and the Deep) came up with the idea, when he noticed how many of our writing group RASSSA) had written stories that were re-tellings of old tales and myths. No sooner had the words ‘we should pull together an anthology’ tripped off his keyboard and onto the group wall and I was all over that like white on rice.

Incidently there is a similarity in how I embrace a project and how I make friends. If you have ever read AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh – think Tigger…

Luckily Matt was happy or at least resigned to having me on board as co-editor and it’s been quite a learning curve!

Firstly we set a date – approx three months away – when we would want submissions for the anthology in by. We then allowed ourselves two weeks to sift through and decide what to include. Luckily we had fellow author, Shell Bromley, to help or we might just have become hypnotised by the flow of words!

In some ways I think the selection process was the hardest part. I had had short stories published in the past and, while I’d never said anything aloud, had wondered why it took such a long time to get a yay or a nay. The reason is quality. If you have a large proportion of stories that are badly written, unimaginative, poorly spelled, grammatically incorrect or just plain lazy, it’s easy to cut those out. Our problem was that none of the stories were poor. The standard was universally high. In the end the three of us had an online meeting courtesy of google+ chatrooms and picked out the 14 stories that made it into the anthology.

The authors who’d made it in were notified and so were the authors who didn’t. We all agreed on this last as a courtesy – it’s very annoying when you never hear anything back about a submission. We went further and offered feedback and suggestions on where the rejected stories might find a home. In all honesty, if this had been open to more than just The Randoms, we might not have been able to do this. It does allow you to see things through an editor’s eyes – when you get a bog standard form rejection, it really isn’t personal: they’re just really busy. On the other hand a line or two of feedback means you genuinely wowed someone – so be pleased, it’s a partial success.

From there it was a fiddly, complicated process of copyditing the stories and returning the proofs for approval to each author. (Legally no one can make changes to your work without your permission). Formatting the returned proofs into a book – this took a while as it had to be done individually for four different formats (I think I now have the hang of it and can do it a lot quicker though ), proof-reading – by two proof-readers (and thank you so much for all those reverse apostrophes by the way…yes you know who you are lol) and finally getting it all uploaded on various platforms ready for distribution.

Yes, you can find companies that will do all of this for you from £800+ or individuals who will do specific parts for significantly less but we decided from the beginning that we wanted full creative control and moreover, we wanted to out lay as little as possible. This worked fine for us since between us all we had the necessary skills in the group. It did pique my sympathy for go-it-alone authors who can’t afford professional level copyediting, proof-reading, cover design etc – it has to be really tough on your own.

The cover was mostly designed by Matt. He’ll generously say it was a joint effort but really he did the donkey work and I looked at fonts and paint samples. A good cover is deceptive – it looks simple but actually a huge amount of work has gone into it – google ‘the golden mean’ if you don’t believe me.

Anyway we pulled it together and I still get a little choked up looking at it all – the way everyone’s stories enhance the whole, rather than one strong story pulling away or detracting from the others. There’s no jumble here: the standard is universally high. So I’m honoured to be a part of this and really proud of The Random Writers. They rock, one and all.

As a final sidebar, we didn’t just leave our stories there. If you check out the Random Writers website, you’ll find weekly blog posts on being part of the group, individual’s writing processes  and a piece of FREE flash fiction to complement the worlds the stories from the anthology encompasses. Take a peek – just to whet your appetite.

And in short, that’s what it’s like being an editor: a tough business.

Throwback Thursday: First Choose your Victim

(First Published on my old blog 4th July 2013)


As an avid reader of …well pretty much anything, I often find myself thinking certain, repeated thoughts about a variety of Main Characters. ‘Why did you make that obviously foolish decision?’; ‘what are you doing that for?’; ‘You realize that you’ve brought all of this on yourself by doing x, y and z?’ ; ‘For god’s sake, any god, don’t open the f****** box/ door/ diary etc!’

Sometimes an MC will do something so obviously stupid or poorly considered that you find yourself almost shouting at the book in frustration. Clearly the writer has then done their job.

The reason we read on is not so that we can hear about what a nice life the MC has or about how everything goes his way or how she always gets the result she wants. We read on because in an act of literary voyeurism, we want to see the MC suffer. Perhaps not consciously, but there it is. Conflict equals interest. If the author has really done their job, then we, the readers, will suffer and fail and triumph with the MC.

What does this mean in term of our own writing? Basically when you choose your main characters, you are choosing your victims. Bad things are going to happen to them. Horrible things that you,  the writer, are going to describe and evoke for the reader in loving detail. The fact that you like a character, whether it’s one you’ve created and got to know over time or one who walked fully formed into your brain one day when you were doing the washing, is no excuse for not piling on the pain.

This is something I have found hard with my own MCs. The most telling example comes from an as yet unfinished novella, which started life as a short story and then like topsey it just growed. I’ve had feedback on this character throughout writing the piece. From a few different people in fact. What really struck me at the time was that people liked the MC. Almost everyone who read this piece said how much they identified with her.

Really?! I thought. That’s just the weirdest thing. I didn’t make her to be liked. I made her as a vehicle for this story. This was when I still believed that a writer had absolute control over her characters. It was a rude awakening but a useful one. When you write, bits and pieces of your world view, and your hopes and fears bleed into your writing without you even being aware of it. It’s usually very subtle. I made this MC initially out of the bits of me (and others) that annoyed me. The times I didn’t speak up when I should have. The constant need to apologise. In point of fact I think the resulting MC isn’t much like me at all. What didn’t occur to me was that everyone has these sort of anxieties and insecurities. Without even meaning to I had made an MC people could identify with. By extension she became likeable.

The penny dropped for me, when I realised I didn’t want to write the next scene. Things were already pretty bad for her and they were about to get a whole lot worse. Somehow she had made me like her too. This was the key perhaps. Tiny things, character traits and tics that others can relate to. So how does this relate to the subject above? I had a quandary. I no longer wanted to torture her. I didn’t want her as my victim.

Experienced writers (if any come and read my lowly blog) will be nodding their heads about now. At some point Reader you says “no, don’t put them through any more. Do something nice…” Writer you says, “Ok I’ve broken her leg, ruined her career, her partner’s left her, the police are on the way and that’s if the Russian hitman doesn’t get there first. Hmm how can I make this worse for my MC. I need more pain.” Invariably, it’s writer you who has to take the lead on this one.

I’ve written a full novel and half finished two others since starting that novella. I’ve written dozens of short stories too. That first MC is still just where I left her, waiting for things to get worse. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever go back and finish it now. It and she, stand as an abject lesson in how an MC can take you by surprise; as can the urge to go soft on them because you’ve discovered that you’ve fallen for them a bit too. I’ve had no trouble torturing any of my other characters by the way. In the novel I’m currently editing  I’ve really put my MC through the wringer.

But somehow I can’t bring myself to go back and do that to my first proper MC. At least not yet. So the moral of the story, if there is one, is like your characters by all means. In fact you probably should like them. Just don’t let that ever stay your hand when it comes to writing their stories.

Throw back Thursday: Announcing the First Novel

(Originally posted on my old blog 29th July 2014 – how time flies. I can now look back on this with nostalgia and affection rather than terror 😉  )


Since the good folks at illusio and baqer have given the signal, I can now talk about my debut novel, I Belong to the Earth, which is due in early 2015.
Here is the announcement. 
What to say about my book? Having spoken to a lot of other writers now, I can safely say that when you’re starting out, talking about your writing is very difficult. There is a first 15mins, half an hour when all you seem to be doing is making ‘gluh’ type sounds as you attempt to unglue your tongue from your soft palate. At the same time this is absolutely your favorite subject. This is your passion. You care about this in a way that is unique. All wrapped up – it’s like having visited the country on the other side of the wardrobe only to be forbidden to talk about it. Magic is real…but don’t upset the world’s equilibrium by telling anyone.
It’s maddening to say the least.
That aside there are a few things I can tell you. I did manage to stumble through a few questions when asked them by a non-writer friend.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
Three places. Firstly, although my earliest memories go back to when I was eight months old (reliably), I cannot remember a time when I couldn’t read. I know I learned but I could read before I went to primary school, to an extent, before I went to nursery school. The thought came to me one day ‘what if I couldn’t read?’ closely followed by ‘what if my ability to read, my ability to articulate, was taken away from me?’ This forms one of the early plot points of the book.
Secondly, while I haven’t re-written Wuthering Heights, I am heartily sick of it being described as a love story – especially in YA fiction. It’s so much cleverer and more multi-layered than that. I’m also a bit fed up of love triangles as a trope in YA fiction. What if there was real jeopardy involved? What if the MC is not trying to chose between two boys, what if she is choosing between her boyfriend and her sister? What if she is the lowest point of the triangle? I wanted to take both ideas and turn them on their head, or in the case of Wuthering Heights, put it right way up again.
Thirdly and finally, the dynamic between sisters. It’s a complicated relationship, especially growing up. Take three utterly diverse personalities that spark and clash, each one trying to take up the mantle of ‘lady of the house’ without being fully aware of the fact, and force them to live in close proximity. Worse still, they all love each other but so much has happened to the three sisters in the story, that they’ve lost sight of that. Add a few other pressures in and… BANG. No one can get under your skin like a sibling. You can have a dirty, no-holds barred fight with them in a way you couldn’t with anyone else, even a spouse. And the closer you are to each other, the more you really hate each other at times too. Looking at that, I can’t imagine why I wanted to explore that relationship but I did.
Why write an urban fantasy or a ghost story?
Why not? Seriously though, 98% of what I write comes out with a speculative twist, even when I don’t intend it too. In a practical sense, a  tale ‘of ghosts and goblins’ reinforced the inability of Emlynn, the main character, to talk about the problems or seek help. It forced her to dig deep and try to communicate with people when all she had been doing after the ‘accident’ was hiding; closing herself off from the world.
Besides, everyone needs a good scare 😉
Did the story turn out exactly as you expected?
Er no… I knew roughly how it would end. I always do when I start writing. But I had no idea how I would get there. In this case, since it’s a paranormal mystery as well, I had no idea who dunnit until I wrote through it – which I did in 14 hrs straight for the last quarter of the book – I just had to know how it all tied up. It was a bit of an eye opener! Not going to say more here 😉
There were other questions but I think that’s probably enough for now. Maybe you’ll get to meet Emlynn in another blog.
Just pray you don’t meet Haze…


Evolution Point: An Author interview with Vanessa Wester

(Originally posted on my old blog 25th August 2014)
This week I am pleased to welcome indie writer, multi-tasker and fellow red-head, Vanessa Wester as my guest. Vanessa and I met through the charity anthologies which she has produced in aid of such causes as NSPCC and Food Bank. Vanessa graciously allowed me to be a part of ‘A Test of Time’ and ‘Reading is Magic’, which both now carry my stories alongside those of other, talented writers. (For more information on these please see the ‘Buy’ page and ‘Other Works’.) Although I was fairly late to the party and there were several anthologies before I came along… But for now, I give you Vanessa, talking about her unusual and exciting take on vampires in the Evolution trilogy.
Tell us about yourself in seven words.
Author, teacher, blogger, mother, wife and friend.
Who is your favourite character in literature and why?
Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. I think her strength of character, resolve, relationship with her father, disregard for frivolity, English reserve, and love for books make her my ultimate heroine.
Who is your favourite character that you’ve written, and why?
Caitlin Chance, my main character from The Evolution Trilogy. She is partly based on me (so it made it fun to include characteristics I know well), but she makes decisions in her life I have never been brave enough to do.
Why vampires? A lot has been said, and written, about them recently. You managed to come up with a unique twist but were you wary of treading over tired ground?
Of course! When I started HYBRID, I shared some of my work on The Word Cloud and asked the same question. Ultimately, vampires will always be interesting (my curiousity of them has been there since a child; it had nothing to do with Twilight) so people will want to read about them.
In hindsight, I wish I had done something else since the market is now completely saturated… yet, because of what I wanted to write about it worked. I could have just copied Spiderman though… but, that would also have been done! Marvel ideas have been replicated a lot more than vampires.
What are you currently working on?
A historical novel based on the life of my great, great grandparents… Victorian times are fascinating!
Do you have an author who has most influenced you as a writer? Who and why do you admire them?
Agatha Christie – the ultimate master of suspense! I have always been in awe of the books she managed to write and was obsessed with her writing at one point. Love the whodunit!
What is your desert island book?
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
What are your plans for writing in the future?
To keep going, finish a lot of the ideas I have started, and to try and believe in myself more.
You’ve worked on several anthologies, are you likely to do any more?
I doubt it. I might do some more for schools if the opportunity arises. But, they are too time consuming and I need to focus on my own work.
Tell us one really random fact about yourself?
I am scared of heights, especially when there are no barriers… I have been known to have panic attacks!
Thank you for having me.
Vanessa Wester Blog
The Evolution Trilogy BLOG
TWITTER @vanessa_wester @VJBeanland
And thank you for joining us, Vanessa 🙂

Radio Z – A chat with Alicia Love

(Originally posted on my old blog 15th June 2015)

radio z

So very early this morning I did something terrifying; I spoke about my writing and my new book, I Belong to the Earth, on live broadcast. I’m a confident public speaker and not much fazes me …except talking about myself and my writing.
But I did it (with a little unexpected help in the form of the fabulous M.E. Vaughan) and I’m quite proud of the result. So if you’re interested in the writing process or my book or me (for some reason) or all three then tune in for a free listen I read an extract of I Belong to the Earth too so you can enjoy a sample at the same time 🙂


Tales of York Volume 3: Festival of Writing 2015

(This originally appeared on my old blog 06/09/2015)


photo 3Over the weekend, I attended my third Festival of Writing at York. I can’t see myself ever getting tired of this yearly event. For one thing, writing is quite a solitary career even when you have a fabulous online support network of fellow writers and keen readers. Ultimately it’s still you, plodding (occasionally racing) along, putting one word after another and hoping very much that you’ll arrive roughly where you set out for. Actually during the novel writing process there are usually several points where you’re hoping to arrive (or finish) at all! So a chance to attend a three day event where you are among your own kind and don’t feel like an alien visiting a strange world where the natives regard you with varying degrees of disbelief is naturally quite a buzz!

Of course FoW York is more than just a writerly buzz. The workshops are excellent – let’s face it, as writers we never stop learning our craft. There is always more you can do, more you an try. photo 4There’s the chance to chat to industry professionals so you get an idea of what is and is not selling. And everywhere there are writers to talk to. And not in a ‘distinct whiff of desperation’ way but genuine, friendly people who want to talk shop and trade tips. Plus York is just a great place to visit!

This year I came away with a sense of just how much further I had to go with regard to writing. Bit like climbing what you think is a massive mountain, breaking through the low cloud at the top … and then seeing the full scale of the mountain range yet to be scaled before you. I will admit to a moments dismay. However looking at it from another perspective, I’ve still got all those mountains to climb. And I loved climbing the last one. However many or few the remaining days of my life might be, I’ve still got a lot to keep me occupied. Challenge accepted.

It might all sound like work-work-work but we all had time for a good knees up at the gala dinner on Saturday night. This year there was dancing. There should be dancing every year in my opinion.

A table full of Randoms. What is the correct term for group of Randoms? A gaggle? A gathering? A weirdness? (Left to Right - Karen Ginnane, Gail Jack, Me, Shell Bromley, Liz Crossland, James Bischeno and fellow Cloudie, Jeannette.)
A table full of Randoms. What is the correct term for group of Randoms? A gaggle? A gathering? A weirdness? (Left to Right – Karen Ginnane, Gail Jack, Me, Shell Bromley, Liz Crossland, James Bischeno and fellow Cloudie, Jeannette.)

Plus I was given books. This is always a good thing 😀

photo 1

Plus I had a mini signing session of my own and much to my surprise sold out of copies of ‘I Belong to the Earth’ in 20 mins! I may still have a very long way to go but I seem to have managed to get somewhere. So overall a lot to celebrate and feel grateful for.
On a final note, the thing FOW does best for me, is to re-inject that sense of fun and wonder. A sense of possibility. I don’t think I get that anywhere else, so I’ll definitely be going back next year!

What IF…? When the characters from the Unveiled series are put in some tricky situations.

(This was originally posted on my old blog May 2015…and it’s even funnier now that Book Two – I am the Silence – is finished and with my editor at illusio&baqer!)
Who is doing WHAT with whom?!
Who is doing WHAT with whom?!
From now on, I vow to have a little more fun with all this writing business. Mix things up a bit. To that end I have taken part in this quiz, which was put together by M. E. Vaughan, to see what would happen if my characters ended up in situations that they are not likely to encounter in the books. The results are eye opening…
Just a wee warning before you read on – while I have striven to keep any spoilers out, if you are an adept of the laws of narrativium you may catch a glimpse of things to come. So if you’d rather not know, come back after book two 😉
And for those of you who have read I Belong to the Earth, this includes one new character who turns up in book two – Lucas. You’re going to be seeing a lot of him. Read on at your own risk and enjoy!
Multiple OC (original character) Questionnaire using characters from the Unveiled Series.
Character 1 – Emlynn
Character 2 – Ciaran
Character 3 – Amy
Character 4 – Lucas
Character 5 – Mrs Cranford (Aunt Mary)
Character 6 – Grace


If Character 1 and Character 2 were to fight, who would win?


Er…fisticuffs? Well probably Ciaran. Battle of words or wits, Emlynn.

Character 3 and Character 4 decide to leave the country together – where do they go?

Ok that is just sooo surreal… Florence. Lucas has some er history there and Amy is pretty much up for anything if there is adventure and museums involved.

Character 5 and Character 6 enter a drinking game – who wins?


I really want to say Mrs Cranford…and I think despite Grace being 63 years younger, Mrs Cranford would have had more practice so yeah. Grace would lose.

Character 1 and Character 5 are lost – whose fault is it?

Hahaha. Probably Emlynn’s for opening a gap in reality by accident. But very likely also Mrs Cranford’s for having a private agenda that she conveniently forgot to disclose 😉

Character 3 and Character 2 fall in-love. How did this happen?


I assume the world ended and no one saw it coming! Since Ciaran is kinda involved with Amy’s older sister and Amy is only 13… Still in a few years they might have made a good enough couple. Particularly if thrown together and forced to depend on each other during a zombie apocalypse or something, with everyone else they know dead. Man that’s bleak.

Character 6 and Character 2 are locked in a room together, what will inevitably happen between them?

After what happened in I Belong to the Earth? Embarrassed silence. Accusations. Arguments. Possibly Grace swinging a punch at Ciaran – not that he really deserves it but he thinks he does.

Between character 1 and Character 3, who has the worse temper?


Oh easily Emlynn – artistic temperament? Frustration at not being as physically articulate as her internal narrative is? Anyway Amy is just really cheerful 90% of the time.

In a life and death situation, would Character 5 ever betray Character 2?


Yes, Mrs Cranford would betray her godson, Ciaran, but only if it meant saving a greater number of people by doing so.

Who, between Character 4 and Character 6 would be more likely to be arrested for indecent exposure?


Probably Lucas, for reasons I cannot disclose…

Character 4 and Character 1 get into a bar brawl? How did it happen, and what do they do?

They were in the same bar. That’s it. That’s all they need. The rest of it is just emotional space debris pulled into the orbit of their mutual loathing. The fact that they would then need to team up to save each others’ behinds wouldn’t help. Ultimately, they would both manage to get out, with a few judicious punches and pints of beer thrown, while the fight was at its peak, before anyone remembered who had started it in the first place. They are both quite strategically minded like that and neither of them actually enjoys fighting or is all that good at it.
Character 5 and Character 3 are part of a squadron of Spies, one of them is a traitor – how would the other find out?

Amy would find out that it was Mrs Cranford (acting with the best of intentions as usual) because she is super-bright and just can’t leave a puzzle unsolved. Eventually, Mrs Cranford would forget one crucial detail in her enthusiasm. That’s what she normally does to give herself away.

Character 4 and Character 6 are on TV, how did they get there and what are they doing?


Lucas is being interviewed about the Milton Abbey music festival when Grace storms over to have a go at him for how he’s been treating her sister. She doesn’t see the camera until she’s already socked him one. Hilarity ensues.

Character 2 is believed to be dead, how does Character 6 react?


Grace is upset but mostly because she has no idea how she is going to break it to her sister, Emlynn. Ciaran doesn’t mean as much to her as an individual. She’d be more worried about Em emotionally checking out again.

Character 3 goes crazy and tries to kill Character 1, how do they go about it? And do they succeed?

This very nearly happened in book 1! But enough possessed people had tried to kill Emlynn by that point… Anyway, it would have to be a similar situation with Amy not aware of her actions at all, just completely taken over or brain washed or something. And Amy herself would probably succeed because she’s clever. Gradual poison would be the most likely method. Or an accident resulting in a fatal fall of some kind. No one would ever suspect sweet little Amy… If it had happened in I Belong to the Earth then ‘Amy’ would have attacked Emlynn when they were on the moor in the rain – plenty of places to fall – and she would have had supernatural strength thanks to the circumstances.

Character 5 is suddenly landed with a baby and appeals to Character 4 for help, how does Character 4 react?

I am now crying with laughter. Neither of them is overly equipped for a baby although I imagine Mrs Cranford would do better than Lucas. Yeah asking Lucas for help…not all that useful. Although there is a very amusing nappy-changing scene now writing itself in my head…

Character 1 goes to a haunted house and demands Character 6 comes with them. What happens?

Well of course Emlynn goes to a haunted house, it’s what she does. Taking Grace along with her would be very unusual though. Grace hates ‘that weird shit’ and doesn’t think much of her sister’s bizarre ability. There would be bickering. They’d find they couldn’t leave the house and then a confrontation with the malevolent spirit – because why would you bother with any other kind. Grace might pull it together long enough to distract it while Emlynn opens the gates of death and shoves it through. Grace would probably have something very snarky to say at that point.

Character 2 has been in a terrible accident, and it’s up to Character 4 to keep them alive. What was the accident, and how does this work out?

It would be more reasonable for Lucas to cause an accident for Ciaran, then change his mind at the last minute and have to save him. I can see Lucas pushing Ciaran into the sea in North Wales at high tide…during a storm…at night… If it worked out how Lucas wanted, Ciaran wouldn’t come back but Lucas isn’t all bad so Ciaran with amnesia would probably suit him. There really isn’t a universe where those two are going to play well together.

Character 3 suffers a blow to head and loses all of their memory. Character 6 finds them – what happens?

Grace would take care of her little sister, and find someone to wreak vengeance upon for Amy hitting her head in the first place.

Character 5 has been acting strangely, disappearing on midnight expeditions, avoiding conversation and appeared distracted. Character 1 goes to investigate. What do they find?


Emlynn finds that Mrs Cranford didn’t tell the entire truth about certin events coming up in book two. That’s all you’re getting. Sorry… 😉

Character 3 has been kidnapped by slave-traders, and only Character 4 and Character 2 can rescue them. How do they go about it?

Oh my holy gods, yeah that might be one of the very few situations that would make them work together. Lucas has the cunning and Ciaran has the physical courage – it would be a bad day to be a slave trader. In fairness Amy should not be underestimated in that situation.

Character 5, Character 1 and Character 6 all share a common hatred – what is it?


I can’t say just in case anyone who hasn’t read book one should happen to read this. The second common hatred would be being made helpless, by circumstance or injury, though.

Between Character 3, Character 6 and Character 2 who is more likely to lose their mind and go on a killing spree.


Amy. She hasn’t found her own darkness yet. She can’t really be that cheerful…

Character 5 has been brain-washed into thinking they’re Character 1! How does Character 1 react?

When Emlynn has picked herself up off the floor and stopped laughing, I imagine she’d be quite distressed to find that Mrs Cranford believes herself to be a 17 yr old girl in love with her own godson!

Aliens attack and Character 2 reveals themselves to be an android scout sent to help destroy the Universe. Can character 4 convince Character 2 to do otherwise?


No. Not a chance. Lucas would only make the situation worse.

Character 5 And Character 3 have sex, how does Character 1 react upon finding them?


I really don’t think I should answer this one… 🙁

Character 4 and Character 6 decide to elope, how do Character 2 and Character 3 feel about this?

Grace eloping with Lucas? I’m pretty sure Amy and Ciaran would just be utterly baffled.

Character 6 is caught stealing and put in jail, does Character 2 leave them there, or break them out?

Ciaran would break Grace out. Out of loyalty to Emlynn if nothing else. Besides there’s the whole guilt thing from book one.

Character 1, Character 3 and Character 5 form TEAM A, Character 2, Character 4 and Character 6 form TEAM B. They enter a series of Mini competitions.There is an eating competition, which team members do TEAM A and TEAM B nominate? Who wins?

Amy for Team A and Ciaran for team B. Ciaran would win – Amy is tiny.

TEAM A are given a foul when one of the team members tries to put laxatives in the other teams tea. Who was responsible?

Mrs Cranford. She has a practical alls fair in love and war outlook.
A TEAM B member and TEAM A member start consorting, who are they?

Can’t answer this without future spoilers.

A TEAM A member throws a fight, so a TEAM B member can win, who would do that and why?

And again, Can’t answer this without future spoilers.

TEAM B are in the lead, but TEAM A gain several points in what kind of competition?


Psychic detective skills 😉

TEAM B and TEAM A are tied, and go onto the questionnaire round. Between A) Sports, B)Current events and Politics, C) Literature and D) General Knowledge, which topic to each Team choose?

There would be a lot of squabbling in Team B about this but they’d pick general knowledge. Team A would choose literature.

TEAM A and TEAM B swap a member, who and why?

Team A wouldn’t be willing to make the swap. Team B would be trying to swap Lucas.

Between TEAM A and TEAM B who would win the last challenge of an obstacle course relay race?

Team B. Better overall athletic ability.

How does the winning Team celebrate?


There’s a pub nearby, right?

Do both teams remain friends, or is it time for Round 2?!

Friends but largely because Team B won…


Strange Alchemy: An Author Interview with M.E. Vaughen

(Originally posted on my old website 5th May 2015)
_MG_4580_edited-1Today I am very pleased to introduce M.E. Vaughan, my special guest author, keeper of myths and epic fantasy writer extraordinaire. Madeleine is the author of the fabulous ‘The Sons of Thestian”, book one of the Hamatia Cycle, and has already clocked up more written wordage than most of us dream of in a life time. She has kindly allowed us to pick her brains on the subject. Form an orderly queue!
Describe yourself in seven words:
Ambitious, Creative, Stubborn, Introverted, Bizarre, Curious & Acerbic.
Who is your favourite ANTAGONIST in literature and why?
This has got to be a hard one…I have to say, I’ve always had a partiality to ‘Trickster’ characters. I was a fan of Loki from the original Nordic myths because his design was always to bring everyone down a peg, and he was very clever in how he did it. Subsequently, I kind of like Iago from Othello (though he was despicable), and I root for Tyrion in Game of Thrones (though there is debate on whether he is an Antagonist or not). I’m a huge sucker for an Antihero though, and I think in the end, my favourite type of Antagonist is the one who fails at it.
In comparison, who is your favourite character that you’ve written and why?
Another difficult one! I obviously love and care for all of my characters, but it must be said that some are easier to write than others. Whilst I can appreciate them all for their different qualities, I particularly enjoy working from Rufus’s and Zachary’s points of view. Rufus, as my main character, obviously holds a very special place in my heart, so then does Zachary who is, to all intents a purposes, a parallel of Rufus. As I answered above with the Antagonist question, I like characters who struggle at being the Antagonist, and that’s what Zachary does. He ambitiously paints himself as a ‘villain’ whilst being desperately loyal to his friends, and caring very much about those around him…And that definitely attracts me to him; the internal struggle and the complexity of his mentality.
I know you’re an accomplished author of epic fantasy. Are there other genres you write in/ would like to write in? What draws you to epic fantasy particularly?
Oh, I have always loved Fantasy and as a big myth nerd, the ‘epic’ side of that just comes naturally. My attraction to Fantasy comes from a sense of wonder I had about the world when I was young. I loved the idea of magic, I felt like it was in and all around me and it captured my imagination and never let go. I enjoy Urban Fantasy as well, and like writing Magical Realism too, and Historical Fiction. These all tend to go hand in hand, but I have also been known to dabble in Crime and, as a side-job, I actually write personalised Murder-Mystery games for parties.
 Authors often get asked ‘where do you get your ideas?’ when really we should get asked ‘how do you make the ideas give you five minutes peace?’ – so the question is how do you go about translating your ideas from your imagination to the page/ screen?
I have an odd practise called ‘Dragoning’ which I do for all of the major scenes. Basically, when I have an idea about a scene (normally a fight sequence, or something dramatic) I plug myself into my ipod and walk (or aggressively dance/fight) my way through it to map it all out. One day in particular however, as I tried to figure out the logistics of a single man bringing down a humongous dragon, I caught sight of myself in the mirror. My arms were up around my head, flapping and I had my mouth wide open in a silent roar, and I realised for the first time that it wasn’t only the hero I was impersonating…I was also being the dragon. Hence forth, the act has been known to my family and friends as ‘Dragoning’, and it is an integral part of the writing process. I Dragon at least once a day, and owe the fruition and conception of many of my ideas to it.
 Which aspect of the writing process do you find most painful/ difficult?
Editing. It’s one of the most important parts of the process, but it can be horrifically boring and sometimes very stressful. You could have worked on section for hours, and sometimes the editing process basically demands for you to cut it all, and that can very painful. Re-writing entire chapters, inserting new scenes, clipping out large chunks of dialogue and then having to fiddle with the remains so that it all fits…Sometimes editing can feel like you’re performing surgery, and you’ll only know if it’s all worked out at the end.
Which aspect is the easiest or most fun?
I would say dialogue. I absolutely adore writing dialogue, and anyone who has read my work knows how speech heavy it is. For me, dialogue is the way you really come to know a character. What they say, how they say it, and sometimes what they don’t say; these are how we as a populous communicate who we are, and it’s got to be the same for characters.
Subsequently, I really enjoy channelling their voices, not least because sometimes what comes out surprises me too, and I learn something new about my characters.
I notice you share my love for Celtic mythology (actually it approaches nerdom for me.) What drew you to myths and legends? Do you think they have helped shape your work? What relevance do you think the archetypal figures of myth hold for us today?
Mythology is wonderful, and it has played an integral part in my life, both as a story-teller and as a person. I shared a love of Roman and Greek myths with my mother, and also an absolute adoration of the Arthurian legends. Something about these mystical men and women who existed out of time, in a realm of infinite possibility, really spoke to me. I loved their stories, their nobility, and occasionally their serious moral ambiguity. As I got older, I expanded and learnt more of Nordic myths as well. Being raised in the Middle and Far East put me at the forefront of some spectacular Arabic, Indian and Japanese folklore as well which I just gobbled up like a hungry myth caterpillar.
My interest in Celtic Mythology was the last to develop I suppose, despite its round-about connection with the Arthurian Legends. I’ve been reading into Celtic Lore for just under a decade now, and am about to start a PhD on Celtic Mythology and Paganism in Literature. I love faeries; their chaotic and beautiful nature, and I feel very firmly that these stories still hold a strong place in our society now.
Characters like King Arthur have always been figures of national pride. During times of war and oppression, King Arthur would pop back up with a new make-over and was used to sort of sanctify a cause. Many people believe that the myth of Arthur actually started off with Fionn Mac Cumhail (Pronounced: Fin Mac-Cool), an Irish warrior.  Nowadays, these characters are returning in various ways; as superheroes or new versions on TV. Things like BBC Merlin have changed King Arthur to show him as an arrogant young man with a good heart in need of guidance (something which is supposed to speak to our generation.) We have many modern day versions of Robin Hood (eg. Green Arrow), which take down corrupt corporations to protect the people of a city.
I think these characters, rather than be taken for what they are, are changed in accordance to what we need. But their history, their name, carries a gravity that instils a sense of trust. We know these people, they’re heroes, we can believe in them, and I think that is why, in their various forms, they remain so influential today.
Which writer(s) do you admire most and what influence do you think they have had on your writing?
I admire many writers, and a lot of them have influenced and had a positive effect on me. Of course, JK Rowling is on that list, as the woman who got me into reading in the first place, but as I writer I actually owe a lot to Caroline Lawrence. She wrote the ‘Roman Mystery’ books, of which I was a huge fan, and she was the one who really inspired me to be an author in the first place.
With regards to my writing style, this has been shaped by many writers (both of books, TV, etc.) over a long period of time. I have certainly taken flavour from George R. R. Martin, though that was actually quite a late addition as I’d already finished and was editing the first and second book of The Harmatia Cycle. Others who have shaped my writing style include Trudi Canavan, Phillipa Gregory, and Jim Butcher.
Tell us one random fact about yourself;
I am a 1st Dan (Black Belt) in Washinkai Karate and a three time National Champion.
What makes you really laugh?
I love to laugh, so it’s fairly easy to make me giggle. I especially enjoy witty or sarcastic humour, so Blackadder is right up my street. Sudden, and out of the place absurdity will often set me off as well, and my best-friend Alex and I can make a ten minute joke out of a silly mispronunciation that will have me wetting myself. I think the key to humour is to have a lot of flavours and contrast, which is why some of the darkest stories can be the funniest.
What annoys you most?

Unnecessary rudeness and prejudice. I have no patience for close-minded people, and to those who can’t offer common curtesy to others.

You appear to enjoy to flipping gender roles and traditional hero ‘types’, which is apparent in your novel ‘The Sons of Thestian’. Having read the book it seems that there is a deeper reason for doing this than mere novelty. So why? And what does that (hopefully) communicate to your intended audience?
This is an interesting question, and it makes me think of something else I got asked once; about whether I write Male or Female characters better. I used to prefer writing men, because I was somewhat of a tom-boy. As I grew up however I realised that just because I enjoyed combative sports and climbing trees, didn’t make me any less of a girl, and that being a girl didn’t make a character any less exciting.
There’s this idea that roles in fiction have to be segregated by gender, and when I set out to write The Sons of Thestian (hereby ‘SoT’), I wanted to erase that. A person’s gender isn’t a characteristic, and it makes me angry that we have adopted archetypes based on sex, sexuality and physicality that we then pass off as three dimensional characters. As such, In SoT, Jionathan got the role of the feisty, flighty but courageous royal, Fae was the secretive, silent warrior, and the hero, Rufus, was a scrawny, bookish nerd suffering from depression. Each of them have their own personal strengths and weaknesses, and all of them possess both a traditionally ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ side, like any balanced person.
I don’t want a child of mine to grow up believing that they can’t be the hero of their own story because they’re not a boy, or straight, or strong. These are merely qualities; they are not a whole person, and that’s what I set out to show in SoT.
 You find out that you have to go into exile in Avalon and you only have time to grab one book. What is the book?
Oh gracious! Exiled in Avalon! I would probably grab the closest book on Celtic Mythology I could find and make sure my knowledge of the terrain and customs was all up to scratch, before I offend someone and get eaten!
What are you working on right now? Any future projects not set in Harmatia?
I am working on a new series, yes. It’s actually linked (in part) to the Harmatia Cycle, but it’s very different set up. Titled ‘The Kestrel Saga’, it’s an urban fantasy set in modern London, and it follows the catastrophic life of Kestrel McBurney, a cursed English student who providence is relentlessly trying to murder. This follows the Arthurian Legends a little more closely that SoT, and is narrated in the first-person by Kestrel.
 If you could be any mythical creature, which would it be and why? 
In the context of The Harmatia Cycle I’d love to be a Magi or a Cat Sidhe. For reference, Magi are the equivalent of Mages/Wizards in Harmatia, and Cat Sidhe are a type of mercenary faerey that can transform into a giant winged cat. If I had to be a ‘creature’, I definitely wouldn’t mind being able to turn into a dragon, but I probably wouldn’t want to be one as a full-time occupation…There seems to be a common theme with slaying them.
What’s your one piece of advice for hopeful writers?
I have known quite a few people who have started writing a book, and my best advice to them is, first and foremost, finish it. I know it sounds obvious, but very often people get caught up on re-writes or new ideas, and never actually manage to go anywhere with their work, even if it’s incredible. Having a finished first draft far out-weighs having a semi-finished, partially polished story. You’ve also got to know when a story is worth your time, and when it’s time to junk it and use the good parts for something new. Writing isn’t easy, but it should always be engaging. If you’re continuously unenthused by what you’re doing, then it’s not the right story.
You have an intricate religious set up in The Sons of Thestrian. How big a part does that play in the books would you say? Was it something that just flowed or did you spend a long time developing it?
Religion in the Harmatia Cycle plays a varyingly important role to the plot. On the one side, the gods are prevalent in the story, both the ‘True Gods’ (Athea/Notameer/Aramathea/etc.) and the Sidhe Gods (Niamh/Morrigan/Danu/etc.). On the other side their presence is both physical and metaphorical, and in some ways it’s the characters belief in them which makes them real, rather than any actual encounter.
Religion is always a tricky subject. I was raised by a Catholic mother, and an atheist father in a Muslin country, and went to a school close to the pagan haven of Glastonbury. For some people, their religion is a defining part of them, for others it merely informs some of their decisions, and that’s what I wanted the gods to be like in the Harmatia Cycle. Their importance changes according to the characters point of view.
As a lot of mythology and religion are tied, I spent a lot of time working out the religion for the Harmatia Cycle, both how it would tie in with the Celtic aspect, and also how I could be original with it. This was planned out very early in the process and played an integral part in working some of the finer details of the plot.
 Would you choose to be born under Notameer or Athea? (Please explain for the nice readers who they are 😉 )
Quick crash-course on Notameer and Athea. Basically the mother of the Gods (Aramathea) gave birth to eight children, and the ninth child was supposed to rule them all. However, the ninth child turned out to be twins (well, actually, it was one child, but Aramathea cut it in half. As you do. It’s complicated.), and these became Athea, born of Fire, and Notameer, born of Water.
Notameer was decided to rule during the day, and became the sun. He is the God of Life, Justice and Truth. Athea rules during the night, and is the Goddess of Death, Emotion and War.
Depending what time you’re born in Harmatia, you’re said to have an affiliation with one of the gods, (You can find out which God YOU’D be born under here:, these eight gods are in-turn affiliated with Notameer or Athea.
Despite her bad connotations, I would align myself with Athea, rather than Notameer. People fear her needlessly, because of the ‘Death/War’ aspect, but she also represents love, and dreams, passion, artistry and imagination. Notameer is the Sensible and Rational mind whereas Athea is the Emotional and Creative part of humanity. A healthy balance of the two allows society to both function and progress.
 Tell us a sneaky bit about the Harmatia Cycle that we don’t yet know? Anything coming up that we should watch out for?
Ooh, sneaky bit about the next book? Well, it’s titled The Blood of the Delphi and I can tell you now that Zachary is going to play a much bigger and more integral part as a man character. People can also look forward to being a little stunned by certain pairings, and whilst most of the shocking revelations got covered at the end of SoT, I still have a few surprises for you all up my sleeve…
The Sons of Thestian, Front Cover

The Sons of Thestian is out now on, and the other usual outlets. Grab yourself a copy and switch off the phone – you’re in for a treat.
To find out more about the Harmatia Cycle, check out the book website for world information, illustrations, games and more. –
You can also find M.E. Vaughan on –


Within the Doorless Tower

Autumn Web 2
Fairy Tales. Funny name really – very few of them feature any characters that are fairies, though a wide range of other supernatural and natural characters parade through. But I’m digressing before I’ve even started. I want to talk about freedom. Specifically freedom in fairy tales, myths and legends. Before I get stuck in on that, let’s clear up a few ‘literary myths’.
Fairy tales were not originally written for children. We homonids are wired to receive, process and pass on information most effectively when it is given in story form. Originally this may have been a way of passing on hunter-gatherer experiences and wisdom – text books are a fairly recent invention after all. In a way the information may have changed but the delivery method has not. And importantly, for a story to have most impact when passed from one person to another, it needs to have an immediacy; if it’s not something that happened to the teller, then it’s ideal for it to have happened to someone the teller knows…this is a quick way to align sympathy with the character and for the listener to form an allegiance with the main character.  The expansion of this into heroic tales is not the distancer you might think; when a character – like Herakles – is mentioned, it is so much a part of the collective story telling consciousness, the zeitgeist, that it may as well be a story about somone you know. Once you’ve acheived an alignment of sympathies, then the reader/ listener is willing to suspend disbelief and tales of fantastical beasts and fearsome deeds become probable.
It’s always seemed a great peculiarity to me that there is a propagated mind-set which hands down the received wisdom that fantasy is something you grow out of. At a certain age, childish things like wishes, bad fairies, dragons and heroes must be put aside or you become a quirky, even maladjusted, adult. Ergo fairy tales are for kids. The problem with that is the fact that in the original forms, very few fairy tales are considered fit material for children! Enter the Victorians who in a perfect frenzy of solicitousness, tidied away all the dark, nasty bits in the original tales. It became a self-perpetuating  cycle – cleaned up stories became more suitable for children, they were fantasy so fantasy was the province of infants but let’s just check what the little tikes are reading and maybe make them ‘nicer’.
Even as a child I found the clean version of fairy tales lacking; less than satisfying. There was no jeopardy because no matter what you knew there would be a happy ending. It led to an age of ‘not-believing’ for me which luckily I got over. When I read some of the original versions of the stories, especially Celtic, Greek, Norse and African myths, everything fell into place. As Diana Wynne Jones once said ‘only the feeble minded despise fairy tales – each contain a kernel of utter truth’. Lots of common themes strike me over and over again in fairy tales but perhaps the one I come back to most is the idea of imprisonment/ slavery vs Freedom/emancipation.
This seems to take several forms;
Physical – the MC is physically impaired, like the girl with silver hands. Or physically imprisoned, like Rapunzel (Petresonella). Or held in a position of abuse or servitude – Cinderella or The King who wanted to Marry his Daughter.
Magical – the MC is placed under a curse – Sleeping Beauty, or called upon to free someone under a curse – Beauty and the Beast or Six Wild Swans. The MC might be transformed into another creature and denied a human voice at all – Odette in Swan Lake, for example. Or perhaps the curse might make them unappealing in another way – Sir Gawaine and the Loathly Lady.
Class – the MC is held in place through poverty or low birth. Or by having elder siblings who take all of the youngest child’s share of power of position – the chinese version of Cinderella has a heroine with 499 elder sisters! But essentially the MC has to step outside themselves and their pre-conceived belief in their inferiority and become all they can be. In other words, seek their fortune. The Goose Girl, Clever Janet, the golden bird, Jack and the Beanstalk (which actually I hate as an example because any way you slice it, burglary, house-breaking and murder do not a hero make in my book!)
Mental – these are the most subtle forms of imprisonment in stories. If the MC is aware of themselves as trapped, often you have a more mysterious character who endures their imprisonment until they can free themselves. Often this freedom comes at terrible price. Danae defying her father and being locked in a chest and sent out beyond the ninth wave as an exile. Deirdre throwing herself from the chariot rather than submit to a cruel husband. Bloudewedd  being turned into an owl after conspiring against her husband. These tales on the surface seem to trade one form of imprisonment for another or to suggest that only death is the release. A closer reading shows the character making a clear, hard choice, and choice in this case is the epitomy of freedom.
This is not an exhaustive list but it does point at a common theme: The MC is enslaved and needs to earn/ conquer/ choose their freedom.
Doubtless some fairy tales and myths are ways of recalling historical events, but changed and distorted (rather like nursery rhymes – I doubt most parents teaching their toddlers ‘Humpty Dumpty’ realise that they are singing about a cannon used during the war with Cromwell or that ‘Baa-Baa Black Sheep’ is actually about the unfairness of the wool selling laws of the 11th century). But there seem to be deeper truths or rather levels of truths that you can access depending on how deeply you read.
Let’s take Beauty and The Beast as an example. Every major character in this story is a prisoner. Beauty is held prisoner by the beast but also by her obedience/ duty/ love for her father. Her father is bound by his word (and somewhat spurious other motivations). The Beast is imprisoned by his form – so hideous he is an outcast, a self-imposed exile, doubly imprisoned by his own loneliness and his inability to interact with other humans. You could look at this as a cautionary tale told to young girls pre marriage (especially if it wasn’t her choice) – he may look like a beast now but it’s a good match and he’ll turn out to be a prince. That seems a bit facile to me.
Another interpretation is that Beauty is actually imprisoned by her pre-conceptions (a mental imprisonment) and must learn to see past external appearances. Love and acceptance comes in many forms. Most versions of the story depict Beauty as a dutiful child who chooses to go into voluntary imprisonment to improve her father’s flagging fortunes. (That may well have been an historical fact in many cases) But this casts her in the role of someone who must free another – ie the Beast and to some extent, her family (from poverty). In fact the further down you go with this story, the more layers there are. It contains almost all the previously mentioned forms of imprisonment and equally the corresponding forms of freedom; physical, emotional, mental and choice. Perhaps this is why it is one of the most popular fairy tales – it hits on all levels.
A Question;
Which begs the question of ‘why?’  Why is freedom such a potent theme? I don’t have a definite answer – mostly because myths, legends and fairy tales are by nature and necessity, very subjective. They are designed to speak to an individual in a different way depending on what is important to them at the time. Personally, I think freedom is such a common theme because no matter what situation we are in, at some point we will feel trapped. As the essence of true fantasy, fairy tales allow you to examine your prison in a ‘make-believe’ setting. By vanquishing the monster, freeing the hero, releasing the heroine or transforming the beast, we free the part of ourselves that is truly trapped and our real life prisons become endurable if not conquerable. Of course, that’s just my opinion.
If you found this of interest you might enjoy ‘A Lamentation of Swans’, my story in A Seeming Glass: a Collection of Reflected Tales 😉