A-Z of fictional characters: N is for Norah

Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly has a similar vibe to Blood Heritage (A-Z of fictional characters: M is for Mahlia); with ancient demons and a trio of oriental demon-hunting dogs, as well as the ambience the writing provides.

But Norah is a different character to Mahlia. She’s someone who has hit rock bottom, stared all that bleakness in the face and been given a second chance by an unlikely fairy-godmother in the shape of her sister-in-law, a glamorous Hollywood actress of the silver screen era who just happens to have been targeted by an ancient oriental demon.

Norah is a quiet, unassuming character with hidden depths and her calm practicality in the face of danger is one of the things I admire about her. Hambly draws great characters (probably why she tends to feature in so many of my recommendations). They’re far from perfect, make human (rather than irritating) mistakes, and are memorable.

It’s also a fascinating tour through the Hollywood of the silent movie era; of life on the film sets and behind the scenes after the clapperboard has snapped down. From the mansions of Beverley Hills to the tenements of Chinatown, Barbara Hambly takes you on a journey that stays in your mind for a long time afterwards.

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#IWSG April: Stop looking that gift horse in the mouth

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, which means it’s time to share our hopes, dreams and fears with the Insecure Writers Support Group, the brainchild of Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh, and this month’s hosts are; J.H. Moncrieff,Natalie Aguirre,Patsy Collins, and Chemist Ken!

Do stop by and say hello to them!

So, what have I been up to this month?

Every now and then, SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) have competitions called Slushpile Challenges.

This weekend, the opening lines from my novel were in the top five selected by the judging agent. Yay!

Yet there’s still a voice in the back of my head that keeps whispering, ‘What if there were only five entries?’

When I mentioned this to my husband he gave me the verbal equivalent of a slap upside the head. ‘Don’t be stupid,’ he said. ‘Look at the feedback; ‘Striking voice and strong opening.’ Don’t start second guessing and poking holes in things. Learn to take praise.’

Why is it so much easier to doubt yourself? Anyway, I’m going to poke that doubting voice in its metaphorical tonsils and ignore it.

‘Striking voice’? I’ll take that, thanks 🙂

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#IWSG March: The importance of names!

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, which means it’s time to share our hopes, dreams and fears with the Insecure Writers Support Group, the brainchild of Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh, and this month’s hosts are; Fundy Blue, Beverly Stowe McClure, Erika Beebe, and Lisa Buie-Collard!

Do stop by and say hello to them!

This month I’m going to talk about names.

How do you name your characters? Do you spend hours flicking through baby name books, or do you, like me, pluck one from the ether, examine it from all (or at least a few) angles and decide, ‘yes, we’ll use that one.’

Recently I discovered that I might need to rename a character. I was (and still am) very attached to the name. Being fantasy, it’s not a real name but a word I came up with and liked the sound of. It originally belonged to a different character, but I liked it so much I swapped and gave it to my male lead. He’s had it for at least two years and it fits him.

But last week I came across this word (that I thought I’d made up) in a book. ‘Oh my god, it’s a real word!’ I exclaimed. ‘I’d better check what it means.’



The word? Ambergris.

The meaning? Whale vomit.

Can it get much worse? ‘Oh hey, this is my hero. He’s called… whale vomit…’

“Ambergris, or ‘grey amber’ is a waxy substance that originates as a secretion in the intestines of the sperm whale, and is used in perfume manufacture.”

‘Grey amber’ sounds ok, and apparently it’s meant to be pretty valuable. I’m not quite as down in the dumps as I was a couple of days ago about it (look, people can get attached to names, ok?), because I discussed it with my writing group and they’ve mostly convinced me that I can still go with it. He – my character – comes from a merchant family, so I guess I could work it into backstory… maybe his brothers and sisters could have similarly odd names… or the result of some unfortunate family tradition..?

Anyhow, I shall continue to mull this over, and perhaps in future I’ll google the random words I come up with, just to be on the safe side.

Do you have any naming incidents to share (and make me feel better 😉 ) or experience with whale vomit..?



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#IWSG Feb 2019: From slush pile to reject pile

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, which means it’s time to share our hopes, dreams and fears with the Insecure Writers Support Group, the brainchild of Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh, and this month’s hosts are;Raimey Gallant, Natalie Aguirre, CV Grehan, and Michelle Wallace!

Do stop by and say hello to them!

Each month the IWSG provides a suggested question to answer, but I don’t feel like answering that one this month. Instead I thought I’d write about my first official rejection email from an agent, which I received a couple of weeks ago. It was a fast turn-around too, under 2 weeks, so I obviously wasn’t what they’re looking for.

I still have other submissions that have been ‘out there’ for much longer. Mind you, that could mean anything – that it’s still on the pile, that they’ve looked at it but are undecided, or that they’ve read it but haven’t bothered to send a rejection.

Some agencies say to give them a nudge if you haven’t heard from them within a certain period of time.

Some say that ‘you should hear from us within x weeks’.

So if you pass the time limit on that second one, does it mean ‘no’? or that they’re running behind?

Do I chase them?

Leave it for a bit?

Assume it’s a ‘no’ and send out some more subs?

I’ve got too much else going on at the moment to worry about it. I’ll leave be and let my subconscious sort it out. In a week or two I’ll have worked out my next step.

And that first rejection? I’m ok about it. We all ought to have rejection notches on our pencils, it’s part of the process…

Just as long as they aren’t all rejections…

Before I go, I just wanted to remind you all that the Exeter Writers Short Story Competition closes for entries at the end of this month – this year we’ve boosted the first prize to a whacking £700!! So, come on guys – I’d love to see a name I recognise from here as the winner!

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Jan 2019: Storytime Bloghop!

It’s a chilly morning here in Devon, so it’s a good time to grab a biscuit and a cuppa, and snuggle down to read the stories in the latest blog hop.

My story features a couple of characters you may have met before in Never Kid a Kidder, Tish (whose name has never actually cropped up yet), and Jake, a regency ghost of slightly dubious character who haunts her apartment.

Lost and Found.

Ghosts hang around because they have unfinished business. Or so the stories say. I’d never tested the theory, but then they’d never bothered me personally before.
By the time I discovered Jake in my apartment, I was tied into a three year lease agreement so I was stuck with him.
‘Do you know why you’re still here?’ I asked one Saturday afternoon. I’d cleared the kitchen table and we’d put his poltergeist skills to use in a game of table tennis. He was too good at it, so I asked more to distract him than for any other reason.
‘Because I’m winning?’
‘I mean here.’ I pointed to the floor. ‘This building. Why haven’t you moved on or whatever it is you’re supposed to do when you die.’
He winced, ‘Must you put it so bluntly? It’s incredibly bad manners.’
I looked around the empty room, ‘I don’t think anyone here will mind.’
‘Just play.’ He hit the ping pong ball back at me, but it shot over my shoulder and out the open window.
Muffled swearing from outside prompted me to peer out cautiously. ‘Oh no! I can’t believe you hit Mr Norrell, he hates me!’ I watched my upstairs neighbour slide the ball into his pocket, and turned back to Jake. ‘That’s my only ball. You’ll have to get it back.’
‘Me? I can’t go out there.’
‘Nobody will see you. Besides, it’s your fault.’
He stuck his nose in the air and twitched the folds of his cravat, ‘A gentleman doesn’t assign blame.’
‘I’m not a gentleman,’ I pointed out. I wasn’t convinced that he was either. ‘Off you go.’
‘You misunderstand me,’ he said. ‘I can’t go out there because I’m confined to this building; the er… premises of my demise,’ he added helpfully.
I threw my bat down in frustration as my ill-tempered neighbour continued his self-important stroll out the front gate.

That evening I was tucking into my Saturday night treat of chow mein from Mr Fibonachi’s, (I was as sure that wasn’t his real name as I was that he wasn’t of Chinese origin, but he made the best chow mein I’d ever tasted), when Jake appeared, setting a collection of objects on the table.
‘Where did they come from?’ He’d brought back the ping pong ball, but for some reason included my favourite tee-shirt, an old pair of shoes and a chicken ornament.
‘As requested,’ he bowed with a flourish of the tatty lace at his wrists. ‘I retrieved your belongings from the gentleman upstairs.’
‘But he only had my ping pong ball.’
‘I thought that too. However, when I traced it to his apartment—’
‘You traced it? I thought you couldn’t leave my place?’
This building, I said. And yes, I am able to trace the aura of something belonging to you. May I continue?’
Despite the many questions teeming through my brain, I nodded for him to carry on.
‘I traced it to a box which was marked with your apartment number. Inside were all of these.’
‘That’s creepy.’ I shivered.
‘If it makes you feel any better, you aren’t being singled out. There are boxes for all the apartments.’
‘I can’t decide if that’s creepier or not.’ I picked up the chicken ornament. ‘Where the hell did he get this? And my tee-shirt! I guess I should be grateful it’s not my underwear.’
‘Why would he have your underwear?’ Jake looked puzzled.
‘Are you telling me nobody got thrills watching people in their undies in regency England, or whenever you’re from?’
‘Oh, I see.’ He shook his head. ‘Undergarments were considerably less attractive in my day. Getting someone out of it was the challenge. Yours, however—’
‘No!’ I slammed my hands over my ears. ‘I thought we’d agreed on some boundaries!’
Now, yes. But…’ he shrugged and assumed a pious expression. ‘Sometimes you forget, and I don’t like to embarrass you.’
‘Ugh!’ I threw the chicken ornament at him, which was completely pointless as if he hadn’t caught it, it would have gone right through him anyway.
‘At least you’ve got your things back, now,’ he said.
That made me stop and think. ‘I have,’ I agreed. ‘But what about everybody else? No. This has to stop.’ I charged out of my apartment and up the stairs to Mr Norrell’s, propelled by righteous indignation and deaf to Jake’s pleas to be reasonable.

Mr Norrell answered my frenzied hammering at his door with a polite, ‘How may I help you?’
‘How dare you!’ I charged past him into his entrance hall and brandished my belongings under his nose. ‘How dare you steal my things!’
‘Where did you get those?’ he demanded.
‘Never mind where I got ‘em. Where did you get them?’
He looked at me as if I were an idiot. ‘They’re lost property, of course.’
‘No, they’re not. They’re mine.’
‘But they were lost,’ he insisted.
‘Why didn’t you give them back?’ I could feel my moral high ground starting to crumble underfoot.
‘That’s not how it works,’ he told me. ‘Caretakers don’t have time to run around after everyone, you know. So I put them in a box ready for when someone comes to collect them.’
‘But you’re not the caretaker.’ I was confused.
‘No,’ He replied sadly. ‘I retired. But I guess old habits die hard.’
He showed me his hallway cupboard, which was stacked with boxes labelled by apartment number.
‘Nobody knows to ask you if they’ve lost something,’ I pointed out.
Understanding dawned on his face. ‘I guess old habits do die hard.’ He shook his head. ‘Now I’m retired, I suppose I have time to return them. Here, I’ll start with you.’ He reached into his pocket, frowning when it turned out empty, then he spotted the ping pong ball in my hand. ‘Oh, I guess I did that already.’

‘Jake,’ I said when we were back downstairs. ‘He hadn’t put the ball with the other things, had he?’
Jake fiddled with his sleeve. ‘I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.’ Then he winked, ‘Sometimes people just need a little nudge, don’t you think?’


I hope you enjoyed the story. Don’t forget to check out the other stories too…

Bia Trevi’s Worldly Eats, by Barbara Lund
Hunting Bob, Vanessa Wells
Don’t Drink The Water, by Juneta Key
Duty, Elizabeth McCleary
The Footnote, Karen Lynn
The Monster Under The Bed, by Nic Steven
Field Trip to the UFO Museum, by Bill Bush

Scary Monsters and Other Friends, by Lisa Stapp
Morning Has Broken, by Katharina Gerlach
Good Honest Work, by Chris Wight
Bad For Business, by Gina Fabio
The Last Friday, by Raven O’Fiernan

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A to Z of Fictional Characters: M is for Mahlia

I know – it’s been ages since I wrote one of these posts and I aim to finish the alphabet this year. In fact, I was all set for this post to be about Menolly (heroine of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong). The post has been written and ready to go for ages… But the other day I suddenly remembered Mahlia.

Everyone knows Menolly, I thought. But how many people know about Mahlia, heroine of Sherri S Tepper’s Blood Heritage? Continue reading

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YAY! I’m in an anthology!!

This is my last post of 2018, and I wanted to share some news.

I have a flash story in an anthology presented by one of my favourite writers; Holly Lisle.

Holly not only writes awesome books, but it was through desperate browsing to see if she had anything new coming out that I discovered, several years back, that she also teaches. Since then, I’ve taken loads of her courses, and been an active forum member of her website, Holly’s Writing Classes, for ages.

The website has been undergoing an upgrade for some time, and we’ve been planning an online party for when it finally goes live. One of the party activities became this anthology. As alumni of her FREE course, How to write Flash Fiction that doesn’t Suck, members were invited to submit one story, using what they’d learned. These stories were then critiqued by Holly, and the resulting, honed, stories compiled into this volume, which is FREE in e-book form on Amazon, Kobo and er most other platforms. (The lovely print version is only available on Amazon, and isn’t free). Continue reading

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