The Final Hurdle

I have just eight weeks  to go before I complete my undergraduate degree in English Literature and History. Just the matter of a dissertation on fairies, an essay on children’s literature, two essays on creative writing, a 3000 word short story plus edits and one final dreaded exam to get through and I’ll be free, to do what I want – most of the time.

In preparation I’ve been making a few plans. First and foremost is to complete the first draft of Persephone Reborn. I’ve been going through my plot notes and what has already been written and it currently stands at around 32,000 words. That’s about a third of the way through the story, so another 60-80,000 words and it will be ready for the first round of rewrites and edits. It makes the 15,000 words or so that I have left to write for university seem almost easy in comparison, but I would much rather be working on the novel than planning another essay.

Having had to put my writing career on hold for the best part of the last five years it’s been a struggle to build a readership for my books, but I’m hoping to change that by using this blog as a base from which I can share insights into my writing process and interesting (I hope) posts that relate to what I’m working on. You can probably expect things about the locations, history and myths that feature in the next novel, everything from Greek vampires to Liverpool’s sunken graveyard and I’m going to try and become more active on  instagram, facebook, twitter and pinterest. All things I’ve neglected over the last few years.  I’m not the most natural self-promoter so we’ll see what happens.

For the moment it’s back to that essay…

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

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Blackfeather – Chapter 1

Kate threw the pipe under the scaffolding and hurried down the path to her car. Her hands trembled, her knees were weak. Had anyone seen her, running through the graveyard, flustered and grubby, with a suspicious bundle? She had just stolen something from a church and she didn’t even know what it was.

As she fastened the seatbelt and started the car, she remembered her promise to Reverend Pilling. She swore and raced back to the rear of the church, locked the vestry door and hid the key beneath one of the three plant pots arranged in a triangle near the wall. If anyone had seen her, they hadn’t bothered to investigate what she was up to. Back in the driving seat, she took a deep breath.

Just an hour ago she’d been standing at the lych-gate, looking fondly up at the church where she’d been christened, preparing herself for an afternoon away from the office, researching the family tree of a new client. Scaffolding covered the walls instead of ivy, and mesh screens had been fitted over the stained glass windows to protect them from falling masonry and vandals. By the look of things, repairs to the roof had begun just in time.

She blew away the flurry of snowflakes that danced round her head with a puff of hot breath and pushed a wind-whipped strand of hair back under her woollen hat with a gloved hand, then shouldered her bag, unlatched the gate and made her way up the path to the porch. The iron hinges squeaked as she pushed open the heavy wooden door. It was the perfect accompaniment to the whistle of December wind that played through the bare branches of the trees and it sent goose bumps up Kate’s arms in spite of the layers of warm clothing she’d piled on.

Inside the entrance stood a Christmas tree, its branches as yet untrimmed and at intervals down the nave were leafy green wreaths and swags of ivy, laid out ready for someone to fasten them in place. The decorations brought back happy memories of candlelit Christmas Eve carol services, and being carried back to the car in her father’s arms afterwards, too sleepy to walk.

The rainbow of light from the tall medieval stained glass windows was reflected on the arched stone wall opposite and Jacobean box pews, lined up in rows down the nave, mirrored the dark oak beams in the ceiling. At the entrance to each pew was a small posy of flowers, placed in a conical holder. A couple of sparrows and a plump wood pigeon had found their way in through a hole in the roof and while the pigeon perched on the curve of a wall monument, trying to sleep, his feathers puffed up for warmth, the sparrows chirruped and chased each other from beam to beam.

Kate watched them for a few minutes until an elderly man wearing the ubiquitous grey suit, black shirt and dog collar of an Anglican vicar, emerged through a door in the north wall, half hidden by a second row of arches. When he saw Kate, a wide smile formed on his face. She grinned back as he strode towards her, carrying his cane rather than admit his need for its support by leaning on it, and vigorously shook her hand.

“Goodness me, Kathryn, you have grown up,” he said with a chuckle. “You were just this high the last time I saw you.”

He held up his hand to chest level, then tapped the cane on the stone floor three times, a habit he’d developed soon after acquiring it.

“It’s been ten years,” she said.

“It can’t be!”

Kate nodded.

“Well, tempus fugit, as they say. You must be surprised that I’m still here. Though I think it won’t be long before I’m replaced by a woman. The Bishop is keen to increase the congregation and move with the times. There’s a vicar in the city centre you know who gives sermons dressed as a clown”.

He turned away, then muttered, “Idiot!” under his breath. She heard him, nonetheless and pressed her lips together to stifle a giggle. The Reverend tapped his cane again.

“Well, I expect you want to get on with your research?” he said, adjusting his glasses and turning to look over his shoulder at her with eyebrows raised.

She nodded once more and he led the way down the narrow aisle, between the pews and through the wooden door into the vestry. To their left was Reverend Pilling’s office, but they entered the room opposite, a room filled with shelves of leather bound books, where the church archives were kept.

“I’m afraid I can’t stay, Kathryn. One of my parishioners has suffered a bereavement and I need to get the funeral arrangements underway. I’ll go out the front and lock the main door, but I’d be grateful if you’d lock up round the back and leave the key under the pot when you’ve finished.” He handed her a large, old-fashioned brass key. “I must be off.”

He punctuated his words by tapping the cane a further three times and disappeared back the way they’d come.

Kate sighed with contentment. She loved the solitude of working alone in old buildings and began making herself comfortable, placing her notebook on the table in the centre of the room and laying her outdoor clothes over the back of a wooden chair. She took her time, walking a circuit of the room and running her fingers over the red, leather spines of the books. The dates were stamped on each one in gold lettering and when she found the one she needed, she pulled it from its place and laid it on the lectern on the table. Then she sat down and opened the notebook at a fresh page, wrote the surname of the family she was researching in capitals at the top and opened the register.

Her client had appointed Sharpe’s, Genealogists and Probate Researchers to finish his family tree when he could get no further on his own and had got himself in a muddle with the various records he had so far accumulated. Peter Sharpe had assigned the project to her.

She lost track of time as she worked, poring over the names and dates in the archives until the real world faded away. Anything beyond the book in front of her and the room in which she sat ceased to exist. She was copying the details with meticulous care and double checking the records already provided by the client when she was startled by a loud, reverberating crack and thundering echo from inside the church. She paused, listening for any other sounds before calling out.

“Hello? Is anyone there?”

There was no answer, but it was unlikely that anyone would have heard her from the thick walled room. It couldn’t have been a door banging shut. Reverend Pilling had locked the main door and this had sounded like a large, heavy object falling on stone. Something from the roof, maybe.

It was quiet now, too quiet, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to concentrate properly until she’d investigated the cause of the noise. Kate put down her pencil and left the sanctuary of the archives, passed through the vestry and emerged into the hushed church. The sound of her boots scuffing on the paved floor echoed round the building. There was no one there and nothing out of place that could offer an explanation for what she’d heard, but as she skirted the Norman font and turned toward the chancel, she found the culprit.

A huge piece of masonry, probably loosened by the roofing contractors, had fallen from high up in the east wall. It had crashed to the floor, miraculously missing the choir stalls and altar table, and landed smack in the centre of the chancel. The only damage was a broken flagstone.

Kate edged towards the slab, glancing nervously upwards with each step. A triangular piece of paving stuck up from the floor at an angle and she nudged it with the toe of her boot. It twisted and fell inwards, revealing a cavity below.

People were often buried beneath church floors, in fact there were other grave slabs nearby, but Kate couldn’t see any carvings on this one, not even worn ones. She crouched down and swept the palm of her hand across the stone’s smooth surface, confirming the absence of an inscription.

She felt along the jagged, broken edge of the flagstone with her fingertips then gave an experimental tug. It didn’t budge, so she pushed her hand into the hole, up to her wrist. Something tickled her and she pulled it out again. The tickle continued, travelling up her arm along with the spider, and she jumped to her feet, shrieking and shaking her arm, brushing furiously at it to dislodge the tiny creature. She hated spiders. When she was sure it had been flung far away from her, she took a deep breath. Her heart pounded and she looked back at the hole with trepidation.

Leave it, she thought. Whatever’s in there isn’t worth it.

She walked away, got as far as the font, stopped and blew out her breath in a long, slow sigh. She was far too curious to let it go.

I don’t believe I’m doing this, she thought, pushing the sleeves of her jumper up to her elbows, and steeling herself to try again.

It took several deep breaths and a number of false starts before she plucked up enough courage to thrust her hand all the way into the hole. It was deeper than she’d expected, but about a foot below the surface she felt something cold and solid and flinched away from it. When it didn’t move she touched it again. Beneath a thick layer of dust she could make out a surface covered with small bumps. Her trembling fingertips traced along the edge of the object, found a corner and continued on until she’d returned to her starting point. The object had depth to it too and with her arm as far into the hole as it would go, she felt all over it, building up a mental image, like a blind person touching the face of someone they’d never met before. It felt like a box.

She brushed the dirt off her hand and pushed herself up, sitting back on her heels to survey the floor around her. The piece of mortar she squeezed between thumb and forefinger crumbled to dust. All the other stones were cemented in place, but this one had been packed round the edges with dirt. It had compacted over the centuries, giving the illusion it was fixed in place like all the others, but if this had been a burial, why had it been left loose?

Go on, dig it out.

The thought was in her head so it must have been her own, but it didn’t feel like something she would say.

She looked around, chewing at a fingernail on the hand that hadn’t been in the hole, while she weighed up her options and wondered how long Reverend Pilling would be gone. She dreaded to think what he was going to say when he saw the damage to his church. Was she really going to do this?

With the decision made, she retreated to the archive room and rummaged through her bag for something to help remove the dirt from around the stone. The old nail file she found would have to do. The box was too big to come out through the hole, but if she could loosen the flagstone she might be able to lift it.

What if I get caught? she asked herself.

 We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Her inner monologue was really playing devil’s advocate today.  It didn’t even sound like her any more.

Go on then, it prompted

It took her fifteen minutes to scrape the dirt away. She stood at the unbroken end; bent over with both hands in the hole and pulled it towards her with all her strength. She managed to raise it an inch or two before the weight of the stone pulled it down again.

Unwilling to admit defeat, Kate scanned the church for something to use as a lever and was surprised by how dark it had become. The late afternoon light had faded to dusk, the church had turned gloomy and the silence settled like a heavy, wool blanket. Even the birds had gone.

The air felt electric, like the moments before a storm when you were just waiting for it to break, and the prickling sensation at the base of her neck made her feel as though she was being watched from the shadows. She shook her shoulders, trying to dispel the idea.

There was nothing she could use inside the church, and she knew better than to even think of using the medieval silver candlesticks adorning the altar, so she slipped outside to search beneath the scaffolding among the discarded rubble. The snow had started to stick and was already filling up the gaps between the stacks of roof slates leant against the wall. She turned up a length of steel pipe and after testing its weight decided it would do the job.

With one end in the hole and using the fallen stone as a fulcrum, she pushed down on the pipe. The flagstone raised enough for Kate to thrust in her spare hand and pull out the large casket that had been hidden there. She released the pressure and the flagstone thudded back into its original resting place. She held the box up to what remained of the light and examined it. Something shifted inside and she screwed up her eyes in an effort to peer through the keyhole on the front.

A rustling from the choir stalls made her jump again. With heart in throat she wasted no time in sweeping the dirt into the hole, back filling the crevices and tidying up as best she could before someone came in and discovered her. When she was satisfied the scene looked as undisturbed as she could make it, she rubbed the loose soil from her hands and wiped them down the front of her jeans, leaving dirty, grey streaks.

What now? she thought as she sat on a nearby pew with the box on her knee. She pulled at the lid, but it wouldn’t open.

Take it home.

Oh no, that was a step too far. She was no thief and whatever was inside was probably an old church relic or a saint’s bones, placed there when the church was built. It was one thing to remove it from the crypt so it didn’t suffer further damage but to steal it..? She shook her head. She would leave the box on Reverend Pilling’s desk with a note explaining everything and phone tomorrow to ask him about it.

With the note written and the box placed squarely on the Reverend’s desk, she took one last look at it and stepped away.

Don’t you want to know what’s inside?

She straightened, tossed her hair back over her shoulder, and firmly pulled the door of the office shut.

Satisfied she had done the right thing, she went back to work. She sat down at the desk in the archives room and picked up her pencil.

What if someone comes in and takes it before the vicar gets back?

       Why would anyone do that?  she thought in reply.

It would be much safer in here with you.

That was true, she could watch over it until she had to leave, at least. Reverend Pilling might be back by then and she could give it to him personally.

That’s right, it will only take a minute to get it.

She got up and moved towards the door and suddenly found herself rooted to the spot.

You don’t have to do this, Kate.

“What?” she said aloud.

Where had that come from? Was someone else here with her? She was sure she had heard someone speak.

“Who’s there?” she called. “Reverend Pilling, is that you?”

There was no reply. She turned the brass knob of the door, but it wouldn’t open. It couldn’t be locked. Unless someone was on the other side.

She heard whispering and stiffened as she tried to hear what was being said, but all she caught were snatches of a few words and phrases between what sounded like two people arguing.

shouldn’t be doing this… can’t interfere…

       …she should know… what if she wants to…

There was a pause and the door was released and Kate stumbled back a step.

Take the box before someone who shouldn’t does.

The thought was so forceful and induced such an overwhelming sense of fear for the safety of the box that Kate hastily packed up her work and a few minutes later was back in the vicar’s office.

“I’m sorry,” she said to the air. “I don’t know why, but I need to know what’s inside. I’ll bring it back. Promise.”

 

And that’s how she found herself fleeing the scene of a crime.

In the time it had taken her to free the box, the road had been obliterated by a layer of snow. Kate restarted the engine of her cherry red VW Beetle and with a quick look over her shoulder pulled away from the church. The back end of the car swung out into the road, but she managed to regain control and accelerated out of the village onto a narrow, unlit country lane.

The branches of the trees on either side of the road reached so far over they met in the middle and interlaced like an arch of swords formed by a military honour guard. The tunnel they formed made it so dark Kate could hardly see where she was going. She hunched over the wheel, her eyes squinting through the blizzard of snowflakes that battered against the windscreen, obscuring her view even further.

She had thrown everything into the back except the box, which lay on the front passenger seat. She tried to focus her attention on driving, rubbing her hand over the inside of the windscreen to clear the mist her breath made on the glass, but the box, thrown about by the movement of the car, jerked forward and teetered on the edge of the seat. She pushed it back, looked up and gasped in shock, jamming her foot onto the brakes.

The man had appeared out of nowhere, and as Kate’s car sped towards him, he looked straight at her and smiled.

 

Buy Blackfeather & Immortal

Ignoring Advice from Stephen King

File:Onwriting.jpgOn Writing by Stephen King isn’t really a book of advice for writers, its about one man’s journey to becoming a writer. The advice is there between the anecdotes and the difficulties he’s encountered along the way. If there is one thing he believes is the best way to write a book it’s to get the story out from beginning to end without plotting in advance because you just don’t know where the story is going to take you.

That’s true, I have written scenes where my characters have taken over, said or done something I wasn’t expecting and taken the story in an unexpected direction which meant having to change the plan, often substantially. In the story I’m currently writing Cora’s tutor tells her something I expected to keep secret from her for a few more chapters. I couldn’t believe he’d done that. It changed everything and the twenty thousand word synopsis I’d written suddenly became obsolete.

I had two choices. I could rewrite the scene the way I’d originally planned or I could stick with the new version and see what happened, adapting the plan I thought I would be following as I went along. Since I liked the new version, and I think these spontaneous changes happen for a reason, I decided to stick with it.

Like Mr King, a lot of my ideas begin with a ‘what if’ moment, but I have to transfer that initial flash of light bulb inspiration into an outline and from there I compile a chapter list, breaking the story up into pieces, scene by scene, so I have something to follow. Then I can write the scenes that have already formed in my head. I rarely write the story in order and only work from chapter to chapter if no other scenes present themselves.

I often edit as I go too. A big no no if you’re trying to get the story out from start to finish. But when I step away from the keyboard at the end of a writing session the scene bubbles away in my subconscious, throwing up words, descriptions and dialogue that weren’t there during a first frantic typing. Better to go back and put them in now before they fade from memory as quickly as they emerged.

If I had the luxury of being able to sit and write and write for hours on end, instead of grabbing the odd fifteen minutes or so before having to leave the house or fit it in to the breaks between lectures, would I follow Stephen King’s advice? Probably not.

I like having my map, but even the map gets redrawn when the story starts to write itself and escapes the boundaries into new territory. It’s a guide not a rule book. If I’d written Blackfeather from start to finish when I first had the idea it would have been a stand-alone story with a soppy happy ending and, thankfully, that didn’t happen. Of course, editing might have changed that. In the end it’s not how you get the story down that’s important, only that you do.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

Angels – The Good, The Bad and the Misunderstood.

This post takes another look at some of the themes in the Blackfeather universe in order to clarify how some of the mythic beings and characters fit into the story. These may be different to the generally held beliefs about these beings in the real world.

ANGELS, DEMONS, FALLEN ANGELS AND WATCHERS

lucifer

Lucifer photo credit: felipe gabaldon

ANGELS
As mentioned in the previous angel lore post, angels or more precisely, guardian angels, shadow their human charges from birth. They are invisible, unless they choose to show themselves and reside in an etheric or energy body on a higher plane than our own.

There are many different types of angels, or hierarchies, but they don’t feature in Blackfeather so I won’t go into them here.

THE WATCHERS

There are only one thousand Watchers on earth at any given time. They do not age, but inhabit semi-physical bodies that can be “killed” in one of three ways; self sacrifice for a human life, breaking the neck and an angelic sword, otherwise damage to the body heals within moments. They retain many of their angelic powers (more of this in a later post), but spend most of their time visible and look just like any other human being. The only things that give them away are their taller than average height and their eyes, which have intensely coloured irises and an oddly mesmeric effect on anyone who stares too long into them.
The primary mission of these supernatural beings is to prevent Lucifer and his demons from having too much influence on the earthly realm. As we mentioned in our previous post, there are many instances where humans have reported miraculous escapes from life threatening situations and have walked away without a scratch from certain death. It is The Watchers they have to thank for their good fortune. A Watcher will voluntarily take the place of a human in such a situation and appear to “die”in his place. His angelic soul then returns to heaven and another takes his place thus maintaining the balance between good and evil.
Whilst they roam the earth, Watchers are, to all intents and purposes exempt from normal angelic rules. They can partake in all earthly pleasures, including sex. In fact one Watcher in particular enjoys his time on earth so much that he has avoided returning home for many, many hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Watchers and fallen angels can tune in to the location of all their brethren around the globe, no matter where they are and can communicate with one or all of them, telepathically. They can sense the presence of demons but demons cannot sense them. A distinct advantage in the Watchers’ favour.
They rarely advertise their true nature by displaying their wings, but if they do, you will find they are black.
FALLEN ANGELS
Fallen angels are angels exiled from Heaven for certain misdemeanours or crimes.
They share all the characteristics of The Watchers, but a fallen angel has one purpose while on earth and that is to right the wrong he has done and redeem himself to God’s satisfaction. Only then will he be allowed to return home, to Heaven. A fallen angel (and The Watchers), will do their best to blend in with the era in which they find themselves, and they have even been known to take a job if it will further their cause.
Fallen angels are rare. At the present time there is only one fallen angel on earth and that is our hero, Ashrafel.
Their wings are also black.
DEMONS
A demon is very similar to a fallen angel in so far as he is exiled from Heaven for crimes against God and, they too, inhabit physical bodies. However, demons cannot redeem themselves and return to Heaven. They are classed as “unforgivable” and will never be allowed home. Demons can also be “killed” releasing their demonic souls from their bodies, at which time they return to Hell and rebuild the body they inhabited or choose a new physical human representation to inhabit.
Demons came into being when Lucifer rebelled against God. He and his followers were banished from Heaven, but they also retain angel-like powers. They cause much mischief on earth. It is the domain of The Watchers to prevent this mischief thus preventing Lucifer from gaining a strong foothold here. Demons are extremely vain, are almost always well dressed and supremely arrogant. Their wings are black shot through with red. Some say this is to represent the human blood they have spilled, Lucifer’s are completely red.
A FINAL NOTE
All angelic and demonic souls are indestructible by all except one weapon. An angel’s sword. During the war in Heaven all angels carried such weapons and The Watchers and Ashrafel still have access to their swords in an etheric, less deadly format and only use them in extreme circumstances, but they were confiscated from Lucifer’s army after he was defeated by Michael. Only the legendary Malakh Rozeach – The Angel Killer – persists in its physical form here on earth. It is a most deadly weapon for it not only releases the soul of an angel or demon, it can also destroy that soul.
It is virtually impossible to tell any of these beings apart, so if you pass an incredibly handsome young man in the street, who is taller than the average human and whose eyes are of an unusually bright colour, you may be looking at a Watcher, a demon or a fallen angel, so be on your guard until you are 100% certain of their intentions.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

6 Reasons Why Every Author Should Self Publish

 Image by "Lynn Gardner on Flickr":http://www.flickr.com/photos/grandgrrl/5240360344/ and used with Creative Commons License.

Image by “Lynn Gardner on Flickr :http://www.flickr.com/photos/grandgrrl/5240360344/ and used with Creative Commons License.

When I first began writing seriously I did a lot of reading up on the subject of Indie Publishing versus Traditional Publishing and for a while I was in two minds, weighing up the pros and cons of each, before making a decision on what was best for me. I decided that I really wanted to give self publishing a go, after all what did I have to lose and and I don’t have to close the door on publishing the good ol’ fashioned way; the dream of getting a publishing contract and seeing my books on the shelves of Waterstone’s are still there, but in the meantime my work is “out there”.

Here are a few of my reasons for going down the Indie Publishing route:

1. I don’t want to hand over control of my story to someone else. A publisher might ask you to change the story, the characters or even the title.

2. I don’t want to wait forever for a publishing deal.

3. I want to write for myself and my readers, not for a perceived market or because such and such a topic or genre are “In” right now.

4. If I’m going to do all the work anyway, why should I give a cut of my profits away?

5. It’s FUN. I want to connect with my readers, not spend most of my time submitting to agents and publishers who don’t know or understand me and only see me as a commodity for making more money for themselves. (I appreciate agents are more likely to make the effort to get to know you, but in the end this is a business).

6. It’s environmentally friendly – e-books mean less trees cut down for books which may end up just getting pulped anyway.

I’m sure I could think of a lot more reasons too, but the ones given above cover the main points.

There are downsides, it’s extremely hard work, some people won’t entertain Indie authors because they think the writing is going to be substandard and there’s a lot of competition. I’m responsible for the cover, the blurb, the marketing, everything and though that’s quite liberating it’s also daunting. It’s a great feeling though to see your work up on Amazon alongside your favourite books and if you really need to see it on a shelf you can always take a print copy to Waterstone’s and pose with your book on a shelf behind you 🙂

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter