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.

 

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Reading the Vampire

Blood Clot under microscope. Image from https://imgur.com/gallery/v9Yik

I’ve just written a short essay on Dracula. It’s a scene study and had to include a comparison between a passage from a book and a scene from a film. It didn’t have to be an adaptation of the book, but whichever book and film I chose they had to have some relevance to each other.

It’s only a couple of years since I read Dracula for the first time, I did a blog post on it here, and knew that Coppola’s film version was a little bit different, including a love story that didn’t appear anywhere in the book.

That was my starting point. I was going to write on the changes in characterisation of the vampire between Stoker’s evil monster, meant to repulse the reader, and Coppola’s anti-hero who invokes sympathy in the viewer. Instead, I ended up writing a comparison of the blood transfusion scenes and how they related to fears and anxieties present at the Nineteenth Century fin de siècle that emerged again during the late twentieth century. That’s the thing about close reading – once you start, a simple analysis can lead you down all kinds of roads until you end up with something entirely different from what you initially thought the text/film was about.

As a result, it became an essay about contagion, sexual danger, syphilis and AIDS. The connection, of course, is the vampire as a symbol of disease and plague transmitted through blood.

In class, we’ve looked at how the vampire has changed over time from aristocratic monster, ravaging the countryside whilst feeding on the blood of peasants (Stoker’s vampire was based on Vlad Dracul whilst Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesbian vampire, Carmilla, has leanings towards Countess Bathory) to sparkly, teenage, lovesick puppy. We also watched Jim Jarmusch’s strangely mesmerising Only Lovers Left Alive. The ‘good stuff’ (blood that can only be obtained through dealers that work in hospitals) appears to be a narcotic substance in an unspecified dystopian future where human blood is contaminated with an undisclosed disease and the vampires refer to humans as zombies.

This means, of course, that I can see very well where my own little vampire romance novel sits on the timeline and there’s definitely no hint of a glisten, a twinkle or even a shimmer. Nathan Blackwood has a job, a social conscience and a coffin full of secrets. Whilst I’ve taken a more traditional view of the vampire, the aversion to sunlight, the need for blood etc, I have introduced some contemporary elements. Incidentally, both Carmilla and Dracula could tolerate daylight, but their powers were diminished, so perhaps we shouldn’t consider this a traditional a trait after all.

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

Gothic Beginnings

I was a solitary child, playing alone in the shadowed confines of the garden, gathering sycamore seeds and autumn leaves and chattering to Henrietta, the girl who wasn’t there. As an adult, I discovered there had been a real girl called Henrietta who had lived and worked as a domestic servant in the vicarage that had once existed on the spot where our house was built.

One night there came the sound of slow, heavy footsteps climbing the stairs. It was just mum and me in the house and we’d both gone to bed.  ‘Is that you, Helen?’ she called out. I replied that it wasn’t. We’d both heard it, but neither one of us went to investigate. In my mind, it was simply the echo of the old vicar retiring to bed himself.

I’d always believed that the house we lived in had been a part of the vicarage, but I recently found a picture of it and was disappointed to find that it was a much grander building that had been demolished and replaced by our little row of houses.

The vicarage

I lived in a world of perpetual imagination. Mad scientists worked in the portacabins on the car park at the bottom of our street. I knew this because the desks were strewn with glass beakers, Bunsen burners and test tubes. Their white lab coats hovered like ghosts in the semi-dark after everyone had  gone home for the night.

But the most influential and Gothic element of my childhood was the Victorian mansion that stood opposite my own home and in whose grounds and rooms I spent as much time as I was allowed. It was my Green Knowe. I spent many a day dreaming up stories about the phantom children that occupied its rooms and often expected to see a leafy St Christopher striding past the high stone wall with Tolly on his shoulders. I never saw him, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t, one day.

St Christopher with Tolly on his shoulders from The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston

If you climbed the grand staircase that greeted you as you entered the house and went on up to the attic you’d find a variety of dusty and cobwebbed vintage organs left over from days gone by. In the bowels of the house you’d be confronted by the giant bat that blotted out the light from the only window. The bat was a crumpled sheet of newspaper, but that’s what it looked like to me.

During World War I the house had been used for the rehabilitation of sick and wounded soldiers, one of whom had made a small teddy bear whilst he waited for his wounds to heal and had left it behind when he left. I often took it down from the shelf and wondered what has happened to the soldier who’d made it or if he’d been drawn back to the house as one of its ghosts.

It was here that I met the other Helen, the owner’s grand-daughter who, not only had the same name as me, but was the same age and when I think about it probably looked a lot like me too. A case of Gothic doubling! On one of her visits I was allowed to stay the night. We were put to bed in the master bedroom in a bed that was much larger than the double bed my parents had. I was too excited to sleep and spent the night scaring ‘my twin’ with tales of ghosts and ghouls and convincing her that the heavy blue drapes that covered the windows were moving in some supernatural breeze from the otherworld.

When the house was put up for sale and the company over the road (the one with the mad scientists) purchased it and demolished it to make another car park I was distraught. Where would my ghosts roam now?  When they cleared the garden and chopped down the trees the kestrel that made it’s plaintiff cry from the chimney each night was never heard again, the raven, that I’d nicknamed ‘Soot’ after Dickon’s pet in The Secret Garden also flew away. And here was the real horror – that someone could carelessly discard the many beautiful objects, furniture and personal possessions representing decades of memories of a person’s life without a second thought. The vintage organs, the highly polished mahogany dining table and anything else the owner didn’t have room for in her new flat in a sheltered housing complex was to be left behind and skipped. I don’t know what happened to the teddy bear.

As the house came down, brick by brick, I wept. It still angers and upsets me, but the house lives on in my memory. I can still open the wrought iron gate, walk up the driveway to the porch, push open the door and stand in the hallway with its black and white tiled floor, turn left into the dining room and run my fingers along the polished table, play a few notes on the piano, pick up the teddy bear from the dresser where the patterned soup tureens line the shelves and then walk out through the white French doors down the three steps onto the cool grass of the lawn. Those French windows make an appearance in Blackfeather in Kate’s lounge.

Or I can turn right into the living room and lie on the yellow chaise longue in front of an immense stone fireplace. Even the biggest Christmas tree I had ever seen couldn’t make this room feel small and cramped and it was always a real tree that shed its needles on the thick patterned carpet. Or I can walk along the corridor by the stairs, past the door to the cellar and turn into the kitchen with its beautiful cream painted cupboards, long wooden counters and Belfast sink beneath the window. The airy space is filled with sunlight and the greenhouse attached to the kitchen overflows with ripe tomatoes and fat juicy courgettes.

One day this house will become the setting for a time slip romance story I’m going to write in which a young woman inherits an old house and meets the ghost of a World War I soldier.

Nothing could replace Springwood House, but during my teenage years, my friends and I often visited a nearby stately home where the Fairfax family had lived during the English Civil Wars. A house this old always has more than its fair share of ghosts. The haunted room where the Jacobean cradle used to rock to the touch of an invisible hand was our favourite, followed by the mark on the floor of the great hall which legend has it was the indelible blood stain of a murder victim.

I didn’t know, back then, that there was such a thing as The Gothic. It’s only through studying it as part of my degree that I can look back and see the gothic elements of my childhood and the influence they’ve had on my own writing and reading habits and my insatiable desire to know what’s behind every closed door or investigate where a spiral staircase leads. And what a glorious childhood it was, free from adult responsibility, the ability to read whatever I chose and dream for hours on end. It may have been solitary, but I was never lonely.

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

 

 

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

 

Summer’s End

Summer’s End -sounds like it should be the title of a tragic romance novel, but no, it’s that time of year where I start to panic that time is running out and begin frantically looking up the price of academic text books. In a few short weeks I’ll be back at uni getting to grips with Victorian literature and the Vikings  and of course that means less time for writing.

Not that I’ve done much writing in the last few weeks. I admit I have been sidetracked by other things – namely a one hundred year old postcard of my house, the personal columns in newspapers of the 1900s, and getting reacquainted with my arty side.  It’s been a long time since I did any painting so I am having to relearn a lot of things I haven’t done since school.

Persephone Reborn (still not sure this is the best title) has been left to bubble away at the back of my mind, primarily because I’m having to restructure some of the scenes. I had a very clear plan of where I was going and what happened from chapter to chapter, but then one of the characters said something that changed all that and well… who am I to argue with a character?

I’ve promised myself, that whatever the workload,  I am going to be super organised and ultra disciplined, keep to a timetable planned with military precision, get up early so there are more hours in the day, but I’m also realistic and often at the mercy of fibromyalgia which wears me out and makes me want to curl up in a ball and sleep a lot. Luckily, I don’t lack for determination, so everything does get done – eventually.

In the meantime, I have just under three weeks of summer break left, writing this post is a good start to getting on with it all and in future ones I’ll explain about the postcard and the personal columns…

found on Pinterest (missing an apostrophe in it’s – tut tut).

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

 

This Is How I Disappear

power-of-words-by-antonio-litterio-creative-commons-attribution-share-alike-3-0.jpg

In my ‘office’ there is a set of three drawers containing various bits and bobs, in the bottom drawer of which you will find folders of loose sheets of paper and handwritten  notebooks with story ideas, chapters from novels, some typed up later, some not. Then there are the electronic files of first drafts, revisions, notes on characters and snippets of dialogue, scene descriptions etc.  The trouble is I have these files stored on two laptops and an external hard drive with copies  of copies and folders within folders all with the same name and I’m never sure which is the latest version or even if there is a latest version – frankly it has got rather out of hand.

I decided I was going to have a sort out and deleted as many redundant copies as possible along with old drafts of Blackfeather and Immortal and some of my short stories because I figured they were no longer needed now the books have been completed and published.

Then this Thursday I attended a lecture by Dr James Bainbridge entitled Texts and Variants in which he talked about the differences in similar texts produced by A.S.J. Tessimond over several years of his life. Tessimond was an accomplished poet, copy-writer, womaniser and mystery. Throughout his life he used over forty alternate identities, fell in love with prostitutes and models at the drop of a hat, even travelling to Rome after tracking one model down from a photograph he discovered in a shop in London having decided ‘She was the one’.  When he died he left a friend in charge of his manuscripts, but there was one problem – there were no manuscripts.

It was Dr Bainbridge who discovered Tessimonds lost archive of letters, photographs and writings in an attic in Lancaster. He has been writing and researching the man ever since.

In his lecture, Dr Bainbridge showed us several versions of the same passage written by Tessimond over three years. Each one had slight variations, going through the process of editing and revision as any writer does with their work, but in one the final passage had something missing. Tessimond had been reminiscing about a time when people travelled on open topped trams. In the first version of his tale he wondered what they did when it rained, speculating that they either put up umbrellas or retreated to the lower deck, but in the final version he missed this crucial information merely stating that people travelled on open topped trams and that wearing hats would provide some protection. The reader, without access to the first draft, is left wondering protection from what?

Tessimond underwent electro-compulsive therapy during his life to treat severe depression. You can see from the deterioration of his handwriting how this ‘therapy’ effected him. He once said: ‘I’ve been writing for weeks now and I can’t understand a word I’ve written.’ It also made him forget large parts of his life, wiping both short and long term memory so that in redrafting parts of his writing he could no longer remember what the initial point of his story was. Hence the non-sensical final draft of the passage about his early life. I felt incredibly sorry for Tessimond and wrote on my notes ‘he is starting to disappear’. At the time I thought, there’s the kernel of an interesting story in there, but if I got any further with the idea I have forgotten it!

I’ve contemplated throwing out the piles of papers and books in the bottom drawer, but haven’t quite been able to bring myself to do it. I think now I’ll hold on to them. If anyone ever finds those scribblings  or what’s left of my files on some computer hard drive or other I imagine they’re going to be incredibly annoyed at my deleting the stuff I have. I feel a bit regretful myself too now. They are, after all, an archive of my progress from first starts to final edit. In future I shall make sure to keep a copy of everything – but only one – OK maybe two, just in case.

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

X Marks The Spot

Whilst writing Blackfeather I used several real life locations as settings within the book including the place where I live – Liverpool. This is where Kate lived in her past life as Evelyn Markham.

If you’ve read the book you’ll know this is a tragic tale which ends in a double suicide in the year 1873. This was the Victorian period and part of Liverpool was undergoing a wonderful transformation.

A beautiful park was being built a short distance from the city centre and  brand new villas for the well to do families of the era were springing up around the edges of the park.

The park began life in 1867 when the Liverpool Corporation bought the land from the Earl of Sefton. They decided to hold a competition to see who could come up with the best design and it was a French architect, Edouard Andre and a local architect, Lewis Hornblower, who won with their French style design.

They included a cricket ground, sheep and deer parks and a boating lake in their plan and the park was opened, in all its Victorian splendour, in 1872.

The Fairy Glen in Sefton Park, Liverpool Image from http://www.externalworksindex.co.uk/

When Ash first meets Evelyn, in the Fairy Glen under the Iron Bridge in 1873, this had only just been added and it was a popular meeting place for the Victorians who promenaded in the park at that time. Some of the houses were still under construction and wouldn’t be finished until 1890, but others, like Evelyn and Sebastian’s house were already being snapped up to be lived in.
Their house is the very last one on the row after the cricket ground. and just below the semi-circle next to that row is where the iron bridge and fairy glen are situated. This is where Ash would stand to watch over Evelyn, close to her, but shielded from view by the trees that surround the grounds of the house.

The Iron Bridge

Today, many of the houses have been turned into flats or hotels, but you can still get a feel for the Victorian period as you walk around the area and the Palm House, which was added to the park in 1896 has been renovated and restored in recent years. I think Evelyn would have loved to spend time here looking at the exotic plants from all over the world, but of course she never saw it in her lifetime.

sefton palm house

Sefton Palm House

Below is a map of the park, the little red x marks the spot where Ash and Evelyn met and the arrow points to the house.

1867 design of Sefton Park with marks

 

In a future post I’ll show you what Sebastian and Evelyn looked like and some modern day photos of their house.

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