Revolutions 2 / Sole Defender

I loved ‘Revolutions’, the Manchester speculative fiction anthology, so I was chuffed to bits when my story ‘Sole Defender’ was accepted for ‘Revolutions 2’.

All the stories are based in Manchester.

You can get a copy here.

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Nothing / State of You

My short story ‘State Of You’ was published by Hic Dragones in their anthology ‘Nothing’.

I’m proud to be the anthology sister of Daisy Black, Kim Bannerman, Hannah Kate, Nancy Schumann, Valentine George, Ackley Lewis, Amanda Steel, Anthony Cowin, C V Leedham, David Turnbull, Rue Karney, Patrick Lacey, Sarah Peploe, Matthew Jessop, Tim Major, Sally Davies, Melanie Stott, Sara L. Uckelman, and Tony Rabig.

You can get a copy of the anthology directly from Hic Dragones

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PC Caleb

(A sequel to ‘Crushed’)

I need your help, to get me out of this place. It’s all been a big, horrendous mistake. Could you please get up a petition or something? I’d start one myself, but I’m not allowed any sharp objects. They’ve given me web access, and I can see the screen on the wall, but the keyboard is glued down. I’ve not got access to any Caleb Khan or Wandering Thoughts sites, but I’m sending this out to everyone I know, in the hope that someone will post it to where people can help me.

I told you about the therapy, and the letter from Caleb, but when I gave that ‘True Confessions’ interview, the restraining order hadn’t started yet. I’m no longer allowed to be in the same building as him, it seems. I don’t understand why, we were getting along so well! And I know he loves me really, he’s just in denial!

Anyway, you probably heard the story all wrong, I was completely innocent, and any one of you would have done the same thing in my position. I’ll explain what happened.

It was a couple of weeks ago, when the Wandering Thoughts were doing the photo shoot for the special charity acoustic limited edition re-release of the Thought Again album … you know, the one with the bunnies on the cover? I couldn’t actually go in the building, but I was hanging around outside … not breaking any orders, you understand? I wasn’t going to actually SPEAK to Caleb, I just wanted a quiet word with Rob or Seth from the band, to see if he was coping OK without me. I worry about him, you see. It was the same day as the protest demo in London, so things were quite busy.

I was sitting on the outside steps, watching the world go by, when I heard Caleb storming downstairs. He was standing in the lobby, shouting up the stairs

‘If you lot think I’ll have my photograph taken looking like THIS, you can think again. And tell that PR girl to give me my own clothes back. All of them! And next time Rob, I want the sexiest outfit!’

I moved into the shadows and stared, and stared. Caleb was looking divine, commanding, and utterly arresting in a 1970’s police constable outfit. His buttons were very shiny indeed, and his helmet was gorgeous. But he looked quite cross. I could see his band mates Rob and Seth standing on a landing, leaning over the stairs, but couldn’t figure out what they were wearing. Rob had been growing his hair again, and it was beautifully long. He had a lot of facial hair as well.

Caleb stormed outside, muttering something about ‘fresh air’. He didn’t see me in the shadows, and he stepped into the street, breathing deeply and swearing to himself. He was so pre-occupied with his thoughts that he didn’t see the group of protesters running towards him. One of them, a spotty fifteen year old boy, saw him though.

‘PIG’ the boy shouted, taking aim with an empty Newcastle Brown bottle and throwing it at Caleb. My poor darling fell to the floor like a sack of spuds, and I rushed to his side, once again protecting him from the fates that so want to take him away from me. The protesters were going to start kicking him, but one look at me, and they decided to run away instead. Under his helmet, Caleb had a very nasty bruise starting. As he started to regain consciousness, I helped him to his feet, and guided him to a quiet side street. OK, it’s true, that’s where I was parked, but my main intention was to get him out of the busy main road so that he could recover quietly. He looked very ill, yet still utterly gorgeous, his blue eyes clouded with pain and confusion.

‘Do I know you?’ he said, before he looked down at himself. ‘Why am I wearing this uniform?’

I was only trying to help. ‘What’s the last thing you remember?’ I asked. ‘Er, A levels?’ he said, looking more distressed by the minute. ‘Please don’t tell me I’ve joined the Force?’

I was so upset by his confusion that I couldn’t speak. Is it my fault that he took my silence as assent? He gave me a long look. ‘So, you saved me?’ he asked. ‘I owe you my thanks.’ He was still looking very ill, so I led him to my car, and helped him into the front seat. He still looked nervous, and very uncomfortable, and the sight of a group of teenagers crossing the street made him shudder. Let me make this very clear. HE asked ME to lock the doors. He was worried that the protesters would try to get into the car.

He was touching the fabric of his uniform, caressing his thighs, and checking out his reflection in the passenger side mirror. He was driving me wild, and he must have seen the look on my face, because he smiled at me, and asked me what I did for a living. I told him the truth, that I was an actress. He was quite impressed, let me tell you, and started to flirt with me. I SWEAR I was going to tell him that he wasn’t really a PC, but events overtook us, and before I knew what was happening, we were in a sweaty clinch in the back seat. Now that proves it doesn’t it? He’s really very attracted to me, but in total denial about it. There’s not much room for a tall chap in those things, and just as things were getting interesting, my poor darling banged his head AGAIN. Would you believe it?

Two bangs on the head in quick succession must have completely unhinged him, because he took one look at me and started to scream. He was struggling to get his uniform back on at the same time as he tried to force the locked doors open. That’s how he got so bruised, I swear it. I wasn’t restraining him in the slightest. Then he saw his friends, at the top of the street. His frantic signalling through the rear window got their attention, and they started to run towards the car. Rob was hampered a little by his long robes and the halo that had slipped down to almost cover his eyes, but he was the picture of a perfect little Messiah. Seth was wearing a tight leather outfit, with day-glo orange go-faster stripes starting at his thighs and going up his hips. They got to the car very quickly, just as I managed to disentangle myself from my panicking hero, and climb back to the front of the car to unlock the doors. Rob pulled the passenger side door open, and helped Caleb out. My poor darling was shaking terribly. Seth dragged me out, and pushed me against the car, using his body to pin me against it.

‘YOU again!’ he said. ‘What have you done to him?’ He sounded so protective, and I wanted to explain that I felt just as protective and caring about Caleb as he did, but I didn’t get chance to tell him. The real police arrived within a minute, and took me away. They didn’t believe my story, and have actually accused me of lying in wait for Caleb, knocking him on the head, and dragging him to my car to have my wicked way with him! It’s ridiculous, and if Caleb could remember those precious minutes we had together, he’d have me out of this place straight away. But memory loss is a funny thing, and he probably has no memory at all of the time he thought he was a PC, and I was his saviour.

So, all of you out there. I hope you believe me, and I’m sure you’ll agree that if you’d been in my position, you’d have done exactly as I did. So, get your signatures on that petition, and GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE.

Yours hopefully,

Amy Joyce

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Crushed!

Hiya, I’m so glad to be able to tell my story to True Confessions of the Stars. I’m Amy Joyce, usually known as ‘The Fifth Tracy’. I want to take this chance to tell my side of the tale, and let everyone know what a true gentleman and wonderful person Caleb Khan really is.

My big break in TV was a dream come true. Corrie’s ‘Fourth Tracy’ had just resigned from the show. She was getting so many death threats from people who wanted to wipe that smarmy grin off her face that her family had begged her to leave the show. To explain Tracy’s fourth re-incarnation, the scriptwriters arranged to have her brutally attacked by her ex-step-sister-in-law-to-be, Shelley. After several months of plastic surgery, Tracy returned to the show as me, humbled in character, and determined to make a fresh start in life. Tracy’s current relationship had to be written out, and to mark her redemption, the writers decided to bring back her husband, Robert.

The actor who previously played him was unavailable, not a real problem, as nobody remembered what he looked like anyway. In a Keith Duffy moment, the casting team managed to get a bit part for a famous musician. His identity was to be kept secret until filming started, to avoid problems with fans invading the set. The role, sadly, was to be for one show only, as Tracy’s full redemption could only be achieved by putting her through tragedy.

I’d been in the role for several weeks, and the first shows had already been aired. I was really enjoying the job, to tell the truth. I was also looking forward to meeting ‘The New Robert’. On the day of filming, the stunt crews and demolition experts were in place, and my co-star arrived on set. Cruel Fate, Happy Fortune! It was the incomparable Caleb Khan, so tall, so beautiful. I couldn’t speak. Face to face at last with the secret object of my obsession for the last ten years, I was helpless. As I fainted, he moved faster than I could ever have imagined and caught me in his arms, letting out a groan and sinking to the ground with me. At the time, I thought it was mutual passion, but he later explained (in his ‘absolutely’ final letter to me) that it was a long-standing problem with his knees, brought about by too many star jumps on stage.

As I recovered, with the help of Mavis’s smelling salts that had been discovered in an old prop cupboard, I determined to be utterly professional. We played our reunion scene beautifully, my declarations of remorse for my infidelities to my true love came from the heart. Caleb had few lines, but delivered them perfectly, and his remarkable presence distracted the camera from my nerves. I regretted that his part in the series was to be cut so short.

At last, the explosion scene. David Platt’s secret experiments in the pit of the garage had finally got out of hand, and as Caleb walked past, the building blew up, covering him with rubble, and burying him. Years of yearning, passion, and love for my musician took over from my training and experience, and I forgot about the safety measures, the fact that he wasn’t even IN the rubble, and ran towards the scene, tearing at the scenery with desperate hands, screaming ‘Caleb! Caleb! My love! I’ll save you! I’ll save you!’ until I was hoarse.

The technicians managed to drag me away, and the only way to calm me was to chase after Caleb (who had already left the set and was in the pub with some extras), and ask him to come back. Although consoling desperate actresses in the middle of a nervous breakdown wasn’t in his contract, he wonderfully, kindly, agreed to come back to show me that he was safe. As I wept in his strong arms, the measure of his spirit shone through and I could feel him sobbing with me, great racking spasms that rocked his body. I looked up and saw tears on his face, as he bravely struggled to smile. He couldn’t meet my yearning gaze, he sympathised with me so much!!!!

The scene did not need to be re-shot; the directors were impressed by my motivation, although they asked me to re-voice it with ‘Robert’ instead of ‘Caleb’ to avoid confusing the viewers.

The show’s psychologist was able to reassure the production team that I wasn’t mentally unstable in the presence of other gorgeous musicians; I only needed to be restrained when Caleb was around. I kept my job for a while, until the story got out. I understand that the Sixth Tracy is enjoying enormous popularity, although my therapist has advised me to stop watching the Street.

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Strife’s Bane by Evie Manieri – a review by Jeanette Greaves

Cover of Strife’s Bane

OK, so there’s this jaded ex mercenary with a terrifying reputation, her drug addicted sister, her beloved who reluctantly finds himself half-way to godhood, an ancient priestess with nefarious plans for a land that is desperate for peace, and an ex-slave who is now a king, It’s the third book of a trilogy, there’s a nasty plague that seems to turn everyone into blood crazed zombies, flying steeds that aren’t quite dragons, magic swords, a prophecy (there has to be a prophecy), and a magic potion. And teleportation.

This pot has been simmering now for two books, and in Strife’s Bane it bubbles over. It’s an ambitious mix with a lot of characters and a lot of sub plots. The scale of the story is dealt with by changes in perspective that can be confusing – I struggled at times to differentiate between two red headed love interest characters. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed the romp, and lost my heart to the book when the young king restrained his general from punishing insubordination from a subject by reminding him that the rule of law has to protect and punish everyone equally – if punishment can be handed out on a whim, nobody can ever feel safe. These days, that strikes home hard.

Strife’s Bane has a cast of likeable characters, and ties up the Shattered Kingdoms trilogy nicely. It presents a very 21st century take on the fantasy novel and I enjoyed it a lot.

Thank you to Jo Fletcher Books for the review copy.

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The Cove

First published in Flash Flood 2014

If it was real, it would be part of Blackpool, except that there is no cove there. There isn’t a cove with a long, curving harbour wall extending from the northern cliff face. The harbour wall isn’t studded with gaps for fishermen to cast their lines. Set back from the final gap, facing the beach, there isn’t a bench, and nobody sits there day after cold day watching as the tourists throng the prom. Nobody waits for the storm to come, for the crowds to thin, and for the shop, and the flat above it, to come into view.

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Girl v Monsters

First published in Flash Flood 2015

Will you find her?
Will you find her in time?
Will you find her before the monsters get to her?
There are monsters on the bus. There are monsters at the school gates. There are monsters in the school yard.
She is wild, and stubborn, and wears grey. She holds fast against the call for her to paint her face, and pierce her flesh. She is the wild child who looks like a good child.
She is fury, and life, and fierce intelligence, and the monsters want her. They want to dress her in pink and white, and paint her face with pretty.
She can hide, for a while, in a book. She can be a child locked in a room to lie on a bed to consider her sins. She can be a child running free on the riverbank. She can be the captain of a spaceship. She can be the spaceship.
In one day, she has fought dragons and loved dragons. She has watched civilisations rise and fall. And in all this, she has been quiet, and grey, and wild, and stubborn. To say yes to all the wonders, she has to say no to the monsters.
She can battle the monsters in the stories, but the monsters in the school yard are insidious, and call themselves her friends.
Will you find her?
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Everything Lost

First published in Flash Flood 2016

She crawls into the space under the bed. In the real world, it is full of boxed books and cocooned quilts. They exist here too, but are easily bypassed, as she wriggles past them to a place where she finds everything lost. There is the gonk, all green velvet and smug smile, who faded out of existence when she was six. Behind him is a vague shadow, the shelves and tiles of grandma’s pantry, where gonk was last seen.

She strokes the gonk, he feels cool and clean. He whispers encouragement and she moves on. His name, forgotten for years, appears before her. “Mr Sylvester” she breathes, and smiles. Next, the book of comic poetry, gone since she was nine. Fragments of rhymes dance around her, the rhythms have always been a part of her, and she recognises now the whole of each work.

She moves on, hearing a siren in the distance.

And now the doll, Sally-Lou, her best friend in the whole world. Sally-Lou has wise brown eyes, soft brown curls, and a curiously normal figure. One of those wise brown eyes has spun backwards into a head marked with biro; an arm is missing. There are tooth marks on one lower leg. “It’s OK.” Sally-Lou says. “This wasn’t your fault. I was stolen from you.”
There is a distant pain, easily dismissed. The sirens have stopped.

Next, the dog who ran away when she was a teenager. She swallows hard, all laughter gone. There is nothing here to embrace. She wishes for sad eyes, even reproach, but the wet mess of his head allows for no sentiment. She turns away, careful not to smear her clothes. The space is tight, and getting tighter. She can still crawl. Ahead of her is a harsh, white light.

It’s more crowded now. A cardboard box, torn and limp, droops enough to reveal a pile of cheap newsprint. A full run (far too short) of a girls’ story magazine that didn’t dwell on boys, or make-up, but was all about adventure and imagination. For the first time, she feels that her loss is echoed, a wave of anger encloses her, and gives her determination to move on. There is a fight to be won, and still enough will to struggle through.

There is a screen ahead of her, images of the future, the next album from her favourite artist, the books that have not yet been read or written, the mountains that have not yet been climbed. She clambers through a tiny gap and gasps once, looking up at Chris, who cries out with guilt. There is pain, but there is hope. She tries a smile, but it hurts. “It’s OK, this wasn’t your fault. I was stolen from you.”

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Kin – A Helga Finnsdottir Mystery – by Snorri Kristjansson – a review by Jeanette Greaves

Book cover of Kin by Snorri Kristjansson

As I read ‘Kin’, I kept thinking of friends and family who I wanted to share it with, fans of murder mysteries, fans of character driven stories, fans of historical fiction. This book would appeal to all of them.

The title gives away the name of the one person in the large cast who isn’t likely to be murdered or to be the killer. Helga Finnsdaughter is the adopted daughter of Unnthor and Hildigunnur, a happily married couple who have already raised a family of four and are enjoying life as well respected farmers. Unnthor is the unofficial local lord, he has a productive farm and the loyalty of the men in the surrounding area. Hildigunnur has a reputation for wisdom and knowledge, along with a broad mind and a quick tongue. We know little about Helga’s past, other than she was adopted twelve summers ago, when she was too young to remember her own family, and that her father was named Finn. Doubtless we’ll find out more in later volumes. Helga is clearly very much loved by her adoptive parents, and liked by the family retainer Jaki and his son Einar, who she sees as a big brother.

The story is pretty much character driven, and the plot anchors on the legendary Unnthor’s Hoard, the fabled cache of raided treasures from Unnthor’s Viking years. The tale starts with the return of all four of Unnthor and Hildigunnur’s adult children to the farm. It’s been a long time since they left, and Helga hasn’t met any of them before. The three sons and one daughter return with their wives and husband, and four grandchildren. This gives us a pretty large cast, and the book is structured to allow slow introductions to the dozen or so potential victims and killers. With the exception of a couple of the wives, who are thinly sketched, the characters are well defined and engaging, and I particularly liked the relationship between Helga and her adoptive mother. Hildigunnar is an expert in human behaviour, and Helga is her mother’s keen and willing student, a detective in the making.

Although all the action is set within the confines of Riverside Farm, we learn quite a lot about the politics and powers that be in the wider world, and I hope that we’ll find out more about this in later books.

When a body is found, it’s obvious that suspicion must fall upon a clan member; and as the story progresses, Helga realises that a pragmatic and ruthless streak in the family is putting an innocent in danger. She has to work quickly to reveal the guilty party and help her adoptive parents keep their honoured place amongst the local farmers.

With such an interesting group of characters, I found myself returning to the book frequently. It was a fun read, and I’d recommend it.

I am grateful to Jo Fletcher books for the review copy.

‘Kin – A Helga Finnsdottir Mystery’ is available now.

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The Witch at Wayside Cross by Lisa Tuttle – a review by Jeanette Greaves

Wayside WitchThe Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross is the second book in the Jesperson and Lane detective series. You don’t have to have read the first book (The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief) to follow the plot, but as I really enjoyed it, I would recommend that you catch up if you can.

The Witch at Wayside Cross starts less than a day after the previous book finished. Fresh from their success in solving their first case, Jesperson and Lane are plunged into their second by the arrival of a dying man on their doorstep. As he dies, he points his finger at our Miss Lane, and cries ‘Witch’.

Naturally, this stirs their curiosity, and a quick search of the body before the police arrive gives our detectives enough information to approach the next of kin. The deceased proves to be Mr Charles Manning, a resident of London who has recently spent a lot of time in Norfolk. Our heroes are swiftly hired by Manning’s older brother to investigate the cause of Charles’ mysterious death.

So, Jesperson and Lane venture to Norfolk, and in the guise of business partners in a start up publishing business, they infiltrate Charles Manning’s overlapping social circles and investigate the how and why of a healthy young man’s death. Whilst Mr Jesperson concentrates on Manning’s male acquaintances, Miss Lane draws a great deal of information from the ladies of the vicarage, where Manning lodged, and the neighbouring household of Wayside Cross, where three sisters are in mourning for him.

We’re introduced to a colourful cast of characters, a pet raven, Shrieking Pits, a stolen infant and a stolen book, and an attempt to revive the old religion of Britain. One of the interesting themes of the book is the repeated assertion that marriage brings an end to a woman’s career. The story is set in 1893, at at time when the UK labour movement was gaining a strong foothold but women still didn’t have the vote. Miss Lane’s professional need to communicate with her business partner is thwarted by her landlady’s suspicions that the relationship is more than it seems. The maid at the vicarage has to conceal a birth in order to keep her job. Both facts serve to remind us that these are times in which a young woman can be ‘ruined’ by a man. The social history and commentary is woven into a fast paced story that does not disappoint, with a satisfying ending.

 

I am grateful to Jo Fletcher books for the review copy.

The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross is available now.

You can find my review of The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief here.

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