• Vestiges of Magic,  Revenant Records,  Short Story,  urban fantasy,  publishing

    Time to Live

    According to Harukka’s computer studies textbook, a data packet within a network lived only for a limited duration. A little counter kept track of how much ‘life’ the packet had left, which decreased each time it was processed.

    When the ‘Time to Live’ or value ran out, the packet died.

    Harukka snuck down the stairs, heart racing. Damn it, an ogre like her shouldn’t be scared. And yet, her life had been dominated by her technophobic grandmother, to the point where she could barely comprehend her college course. Still, little concepts like TTL made sense to her. If she was a data packet, the number would be high, as she’d never done anything dangerous or uncertain with her existence.

    Until tonight.

    A wooden floorboard creaked under her weight. Harukka swore and clamped her mouth shut. Stupid house, getting older and creakier with each passing year.

    “Girl?” Her mother’s voice cut in from the living room like an owl’s screech. “Come and pray with me at the shrine.”

    Harukka straightened her shoulders, heart racing. If she wanted to keep her life’s TTL counter from dropping, she’d stay away from strange networks and spend the evening with her mother.

    But that wasn’t the plan tonight. She was seeing Wenda and nothing would stop her.

    Taking a deep breath, Harukka descended the stairs and entered the yellow door to her left. In the room beyond, her mother sat like a depiction of a saint crouching before a candle-covered shrine in prayer. Besides their increased height and weight  compared to a human, ogres were rugged, with thicker bones and heavy brow ridges that protected their eyes. Harukka’s mother wore her traditional white woolen Perali robes, belted at the front.

    “I’m going out,” Harukka announced.

    Her mother blinked, confused. “You can’t leave,” she snapped. “It’s New Year’s Eve. The worst night of the year. Come sit and pray.”

    Harukka glanced at her jeans and t-shirt, which she usually changed into when she left the house, stuffing her robes into her backpack. She was sick of hiding. “Grandmother is dead. Everyone wears these clothes outside. My girlfriend invited me to a party.” Harukka took a deep breath. “I’m going.”

    She had hoped to get a rise from her mother, but the older woman didn’t pay any attention to her relationship. “It’s too late,” she intoned. “Darkness is abroad, and tonight the most wicked of spirits will ride forth.”

    “I don’t care.” Harukka walked to the front door. “I’m twenty. We’re ogres. We shouldn’t have to fear anything.” She pulled off the locks and chains and breathed in the fresh summer air.

    “Don’t leave me alone in the house!” Mother cried, rising to her feet.

    Harukka pointed to the dusty phone on the wall. “Call Auntie. The priest. Everyone that Grandmother cut us off from. It’s Time to Live.”

    With that, she opened the front door and shut it behind her, running from her mother’s frantic shouts.

    Harukka fled along the road, referring to the directions to Wenda’s house she’d written on a crumpled piece of paper.

    It was summer, Ringstone, the last month of the year, and just after 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. The sun had set an hour ago and she was horribly late.

    The party started at 6 p.m. Harruka had dithered all night. About whether she was going, what to wear, what to bring, and what to say to Wenda. Oh, she had put on a stern, confident face before mother, but that had been an act—a rush of bravado when she’d spent most of her life quivering on the inside, unable to resist her grandmother’s control.

    Now, buoyed by adrenalin, she raced through the streets. She needed to get to a house in the Redcastle district, which meant a good half-hour walk through the suburban sprawl of Stonefell.

    Summer heat drenched the air, and perspiration soaked her clothing. Damn it, she’d arrive at Wenda’s place looking like a sweating horse.

    Lost in her own misery, Harukka barely paid attention as a vehicle zig-zagged off the road near her and crashed into a pole.

    Harukka jumped.

    The car door thumped open and a human man staggered onto the street.

    “Hey, are you hurt?” Harukka wished she carried a cell phone. She should have bought one as soon as Grandmother had passed. “Let me go to a house and ask—”

    The man growled, drool running into his beard.

    “Sorry?” Harukka stepped backwards.

    His eyes glinted under the streetlights, the pupils wide like he was on medication. His lips curled back from his teeth as he snarled.

    The man lunged at her.

    Harukka shoved him away.

    As she did so, a screaming presence pushed against her thoughts. Wild, heedless, wanting to tear into her mind and puppet it about into crazy things like a teenager joyriding a car…

    A dark spirit! The man was possessed!

    She fled along the empty street.

    The old Perali religion was right. Grandmother had been perfectly justified to trap Harukka and her mother in the house for years and years. She should never have tried to see Wenda. Instead, she should have changed into her white homespun robes and sat by the shrine in prayer.

    What was the point of going to college and learning about computers and TTL values when ancient, malevolent spirits threatened the world?

    And while her thoughts wailed and blackened, her instincts kept her moving.

    Growls echoed behind her.

    Shrieking, Harukka sprinted on the sidewalk, ignoring the sounds of screeching cars, snarls, shouts and chaos around her.

    Most of the shops along the street were dark, except where light spilled from an open corner store with a large, welcoming entrance designed to accommodate ogre heights.

    Inside, people yelled and dragged shelves, forming a barricade.

    Harukka ran, shouting. “Let me in! They’re after me.”

    Voices argued, and then a burly, handsome ogre woman in a red checked shirt and baseball cap pushed a shelf aside and opened the door. Perhaps in her late twenties, she had dark hair, and a cardboard name tag pinned to her top pocket that said: ‘Elk.’

    Harukka sprinted inside, panting and wheezing heavily, comforted by the store’s banality. Bright light. Rows of shelves selling packets of chips, dog food, and many cereal boxes in the portions favored by ogres. Glass cabinets of bottled sodas. Her heart raced with pleasure at being here, even if the entire place needed a good mop and scrub.

    A human man, white bearded and sour-faced, skulked away from the door. A human woman, dressed too elegantly for a corner store, leaned against the counter.

    “Stop letting people in!” the old man snapped. “Don’t you understand? It’s a virus! The more of us there are, the more chance we have of getting infected!”

    “Virus?” Harukka asked, still wheezing from her chase.

    “Yeah, Feldspar’s Syndrome. You ignoramus!” he growled. He waved his hands about. “Gas boils up from the underground and makes people go crazy.”

    “We’re nowhere near any gas vents.” The human woman rubbed at a chipped fingernail. “Or the Volcanic National Park.”

    “There’s gas!” The old man pointed at the worn lino floor of the shop. “It blows in…”

    “Has anyone called the police?” Harukka asked.

    The others shook their heads. What had they been doing? “Let’s call them—” she began.

    A thump and smashing sound interrupted her. An ogre in a torn business shirt thumped against the glass doors. Blood masked one side of his face, while his single, visible blue eye gleamed with madness with its cavernous socket. An elven woman beside him, pointed ears sticking out of her wild hair, gave an ear-splitting shriek.

    “Right, let’s hide in the backroom.” Elk stabbed an index finger at the rear of the store like a dagger. “This way. Go! Go!”

    The glass doors cracked and shattered.

    Harukka sprinted to the back door and opened it to reveal a dark concrete room crammed with boxes. Despite the heat outside, the chamber radiated cold. She leaped aside as the human man and woman pushed past her. She snapped on the switch. A dim, yellow bulb clicked on, revealing a labyrinth of dusty cardboard.

    The two humans raced through next, followed by Elk. The big ogre woman attempted to close the door, only to be blocked as a huge, blood-streaked fist reached through the gap.

    Growls and shuffling sounds roared outside as more of the possessed entered the main shop through the broken glass doors.

    Harukka grabbed a nearby box and smashed it over the man’s protruding fingers. Cardboard tore, spilling cans everywhere, and the bloody hand retreated backwards.

    With a grunt, Elk slammed the door shut and held it closed with her body weight.

    Harukka helped the others barricade the doorway with surrounding junk—barrels, crates, tools—a small pile of holding back an army of the possessed.

    “Will that hold it?” the human woman puffed, her elegant dress stained with dust and sweat.

    “It better,” Harukka muttered. Her heart hammered in her chest, and she sank to the ground, panting. She’d never get to her party to see Wenda. And oh! Was Wenda safe? What about the others at the party? She bent her head in despair. She’d left her mother alone, too. Why had she done that? What if the possessed broke into her house?

    She twisted her fingers together until she realized that everything beyond the closed door was quiet.

    “They’ve stopped!” Harukka gasped.

    “For now. Why didn’t you close the front security shutter?” the old man complained, pointing a finger at Elk.

    “Rusted shut.” Elk checked that a heavy wooden crate was firmly in place.

    “You couldn’t get off your ass to oil it?”

    “I’ve owned this store for two days,” she grunted. “Nice to meet you, I’m Elkvar. Elk.”

    “Mr. Brown.” The man folded his arms.

    “‘Mister’ is your first name?” Elk asked.

    “It’s what I’ll give you,” Brown snarled.

    An awkward pause dragged out.

    “Zillian,” the human woman offered.

    “We need to call the police!” Harukka announced. “So they can rescue us and deal with the possessed people.” The authorities would help her go home, where she belonged.

    “They’re infected!” Brown snapped. “This is because of science, not superstition!”

    “Well, I’m not leaving.” Zillian checked her phone. “No service. Anyone else got one?”

    Elk snorted. “Mine’s on the counter.” She pointed beyond the door.

    “I only use landlines,” Brown said. “The radiation from cell phones cooks your brains alive.”

    Harukka didn’t need to be a computer science graduate to know that wasn’t correct. “I don’t have a cell phone. I mean, my mother is against—”

    “Perali, hey?” Elk asked.

    Harukka nodded.

    “But isn’t ‘no phones’ an extreme way to interpret your scriptures?

    Harukka folded her arms. “My crazy grandmother cut us off from everyone in the community and threw out any tech she didn’t approve. We could cook, but no television or so forth. She’s gone now, but my mother doesn’t act like it.”

    “My grandparents were Perali too,” Elk said.

    Harukka nodded, secretly delighted. It was good when someone else understood the old customs she’d grown up with.

     Elk continued: “But when they immigrated here, they—”

    “Sorry for interrupting this little soap opera,” Brown hissed. “But I notice that this isn’t only a storage room. It’s a garage with a roller door.”

    “If we can escape this concrete box, I’ll call for help!” Zillian waved her phone.

    “It won’t budge,” Elk explained. “There’s a motor, but it’s broken. My old man was a shit at maintaining things. I’ve spent my time cleaning the shop front.”

    Brown beelined to the roller door, tugging at it, while the others followed.

    “Mr. Brown,” Zillian began. “If an ogre woman can’t raise the door, a human man can’t…”

    “I didn’t ask for your advice!” Brown snapped, wrenching ineffectually at the garage handle.

    “If we can’t get out, they can’t get in,” Elk said.

    “Hmmph.” Brown folded his arms and stalked to the middle of the box-lined aisle.

    “We can’t stay here forever,” Zillian said. “I’m going on holiday to the Haven Archipelago next week.”

    “We don’t know how long the people will remain crazy for,” Elk said.

    “Usually about twenty-four hours, if you bother to read about Feldspar’s Syndrome.” Brown folded his arms. “Some recover with gaps in their memory, and others might never wake at all.”

    “In Perali folklore, ancient spirits can’t possess the living after midnight,” Harukka offered.

    Brown rolled his eyes at her. “Twenty-four hours,” he repeated. “And yet, what if it goes on for longer? What if we’re the only ones to escape infection? Outside, society could collapse.”

    “Let’s wait until morning,” Elk said.

    “What if we starve?” Zillian gasped, raising her hands to her face.

    “We won’t die of hunger anytime soon,” Harukka reassured the panicking woman. She surveyed the dismal garage. Cinderblock walls, concrete floor, boxes everywhere. “What’s in here?”

    “Haven’t done a complete inventory,” Elk explained.

    Harukka cracked her knuckles. “Perhaps we can find something to help us.”

    “I’ll keep watch,” Elk said.

    “Any tools?” Harukka asked, determined to be useful while Elk was watching over them.

    “There’s a toolbox there.” Elk pointed.

    Harukka sorted through the jumbled equipment. She found some working marker pens and a boxcutter, and started slicing through cardboard packaging, revealing cans of sardines, packets of chips, candy bars, dried noodles and far too many bottles of grapefruit-flavored Sodaza.

    “A lot of these are past the use-by date,” Harukka noted, labeling the outside of each box as she checked the contents.

    “Yeah, they’ll have to be disposed of,” Elk sighed.

    “Rubbish,” Brown interjected. “The government doesn’t want you to know that cans are perfectly good for years after the expiry. I’ve eaten five-year-old tuna that’s fine.”

    “There’s a crate of cheap wine here.” Zillian removed an ogre-sized bottle with two hands.

    Harukka found several taped-open junk boxes and extracted handfuls of laundry line. She threw it on the ground, frustrated to be tidying someone else’s garage. “Damn it! All I wanted to do was go to my party and see Wenda.”

    Zillian hefted her wine. “We’ve got enough for a celebration here. Especially if we’re waiting until morning. Except there’s no bottle opener.”

    “I’ll show you a trick.” Elk rummaged in the toolbox on the floor and removed a screw and screwdriver. “You twist this into the cork like so.”

    Zillian leaned forward.

    Harukka folded her arms, irritated that everyone was wasting time. And yet she couldn’t think of anything else to do.

    “Then—” Elk retrieved a hammer, hooked the back prongs around the screw and tugged, her hair sweating. With a loud pop, she pulled the cork free.

    Zillian shared the bottle with Elk, but Harukka refused alcohol on general principles. Instead, to attempt camaraderie with her fellow survivors, she sipped at the warm can of grapefruit Sodaza.

    “Want some wine, Mr. Brown?” Zillian called.

    “There’s an infectious disease being blown from the gas vents, and you want me to drink from a filthy bottle you’ve shared? No.” Brown leaned against the wall, staring at both doors. “Am I the only one with any common sense here?”

    “What else should we do while we wait until morning?” Zillian said.

    Brown scowled and moved to the rear door, tugging at it in vain.

    “Let’s talk,” Zillian suggested, sipping more wine. “Tell me more about your shop.”

    Elk pulled off her baseball cap and wiped the sweat from her forehead. “Thought I could make a few fast bucks tonight by opening. Bad idea.” She chuckled. “My old man died and left this place to me and a bunch of debts. I’m a truck driver, but I fancied a change. I play shopkeeper and then this happens.”

    Harukka found herself fascinated by the beads of perspiration running down Elk’s long, muscular fingers. She stifled her thoughts and tried to focus on something else. “This place needs a good clean.” Harukka gestured around the garage.

    “Yeah,” Elk said. “I hadn’t spoken to my father in years. Didn’t know he was so sick and that his store got so run down. If he’d bothered to call, I’d have helped. That’s the problem with some old folk, they cut themselves off to keep everything the same. The lawyer called me in and now I’m trying to figure out what to do with it all. Might be better to sell the place.”

    Zillian sipped from the ogre-sized bottle that she struggled to hold with two hands. “This is ironic. My husband ran off with my sister last month, and I grabbed the most expensive wine in his collection. Only, I couldn’t find anything to open it with, so I came here. I wasn’t expecting people to go crazy on New Year’s Eve.”

    “Infected!” Brown called.

    “Want some chips?” Elk asked.

    “No!” Brown snapped. “What part of ‘infection’ don’t you fool women understand?”

    “But you can have an unopened packet.” Elk waved a bag of Crispin’s Crispy Squares.

    Brown made a disgusted growling noise deep in his throat and faced the door. All was quiet behind it.

    Harukka closed her eyes, once again wishing she’d stayed with her mother. Her TTL counter was desperately low. Everything she had done tonight had weakened her.

    Brown coughed and gurgled.

    Harukka leaned forward. “Mr. Brown?”

    The old man turned, facing the group. His jaw worked silently.

    “Mr. Brown, are you all right?” Harukka asked.

    Brown surveyed his hands and feet and sniffed the air. He licked his lips and panted, his tongue sticking beyond his yellow teeth. With a sudden growl, he loped towards her.

    “They’ve got him!” Harukka shrieked.

    “Behind me.” Elk hefted the hammer from the toolbox.

    “Don’t kill him!” Harukka said. “He’s only possessed!”

    The old man charged, fingers outstretched.

    Elk dropped the tool in her hands and stepped into a wrestling crouch. As Brown lunged, she pinned him in a vice-like grip.

    Brown struggled and bit at her arms.

    “The cord!” Harukka raced to the box she’d opened earlier and grabbed the jumble of laundry line. Under the rope was a stack of yellowed manuals.

    With Zillian’s help, they tied Brown tight, binding both hands and feet. The old man continued to struggle and hiss, flopping on the garage floor like a landed fish.

    Blood dripped from Elk’s arms where Brown had bitten her.

    “Is there a first aid kit here?” Harukka asked.

    “Nope,” Elk said. “I hope it’s not infectious.”

    “Alcohol can clean wounds.” Zillian splashed the wine over the cuts

    Elk winced, grunting as Zillian cleaned and bandaged her wounds. “What if I’m next?”

    “What about the rest of us?” Zillian said. “Let’s tie ourselves up.”

    “If the infected get in here, we’ll be helpless.” Elk kicked at Brown as he snarled and flopped on the ground. “And now we’re trapped!”

    Without warning, the crack of breaking glass echoed from the shop area. Fists pounded on the door.

    “They’re back!” Zillian cried.

    “Maybe they only pretended to be gone, so we’d relax,” Elk said. “Now what?”

    Harukka rushed to the rear door, placing her ear against it. No sounds of anything beyond. Perhaps the possessed were only at the front.

    Elk joined her, listening intently for a few heartbeats and nodded. “We’re safe if we can get through there. Damn it.” She tugged at the bottom handle, but the door didn’t move.

    Harukka ran to the box from which she’d taken the cord and sorted through the pile of old books. Manuals for everything from dishwashers to televisions, and there, one for a roller garage door. She flipped through it. “Maybe there’s a trick to opening it. This is a stupid manual though—it’s all text, no graphics.”

    “My truck’s in the rear lot.” Elk straightened. “There’s no parking on the main road.” She craned her head forward. “What does that book say? I can’t read too well.”

    Zillian’s face widened. “Don’t you need literacy to run a shop?”

    Elk scowled. “It’s not that hard.”

    Harukka flipped through the yellowed pages, scanning through the text under the dim lighting. “There’s a manual release switch at the top.” She stepped on her tiptoes, running her fingers around the upper part of the bundled roller door.

    “You’re out late,” Elk noted after a few minutes.

    “Sorry?” Harukka cleared away dust and cobwebs, expecting to feel a sharp spider bite any second.

    “If you were going to a party.”

    “My grandmother was this controlling, paranoid bitch who kept my mother and I prisoner. And she died this year.” Harukka kept poking, her fingers coated with grease. “It’s really hard for me to leave the house. But I was going tonight. To see Wenda. And finally I go outside, and this happens. I should never have left home.” She touched a lever and pulled it. It didn’t move. “This is stuck. I need oil.”

    Elk dug around in the toolbox again and selected a tiny bottle of sewing machine oil. Her calloused fingers briefly brushed against Harukka’s as she oiled the lever. “If you don’t get out, you won’t have adventures.”

    “This isn’t an adventure!” Harukka’s voice cracked, wishing that Elk’s fingers had remained with hers for a heartbeat longer. No. This isn’t the place or the time for this sort of thing. “It’s a nightmare. My mother yelled at me not to leave after dark. I should have stayed home.”

    Elk oiled the switch, and Harukka jiggled it. “It’s moving.”

    “I’m glad I’m here with you ladies,” Zillian said. “Ever since my husband left, it’s been lonely. All the people I thought were my friends took his side. No one’s returning my calls. I was getting stir crazy. That’s why I came here for a bottle opener.” She checked her phone. “I’ll call the police as soon as we’re safe outside.”

    A sharp crack echoed through the garage as the opposite door groaned and shuddered under the weight of fists hammering on the wood.

    “They’re back!” Zillian cried.

    “Nearly got it!” Harukka gasped, pulling the lever.

    “Let me help.” Elk’s firm fingers gripped on top of hers and together, they tugged the switch into position with a click.

    “It’s not open!” Zillian wailed.

    The wooden door splintered. A group of howling, snarling people pushed and shoved at the box barricade.

    “We need to lift it up.” Harukka grabbed the roller door and pulled it upwards with a rusted screech, revealing a cracked, concrete driveway where a gleaming red truck cab waited. “Run!”

    Zillian darted under the gap. Harukka followed, while Elk came last, forcing the shutter closed behind her.

    In the distance, emergency sirens wailed into the late summer night.

    “Get in!” Elk held up her remote and with a beep, the truck’s lights flashed and the doors unlocked. “No one’s going to come for us in that, and if they do, I’ll knock ‘em flat.”

    Harukka sprinted for the passenger side door, flinging it open while Elk opened the driver’s.

    Harukka scrambled into the seat, turned to pull Zillian into the cab with her.

    Zillian bit Harukka’s hand.

    Startled, Harukka pushed the human away, sending her crashing against the nearby wall, into bags of garbage. “Zillian!” she shouted, but the woman only snarled in response. The rich woman’s phone dropped from her fingers, hitting the concrete. Harukka gulped, thinking of grabbing it, when Elk hit the accelerator and reversed the truck into the rear alley. Then she drove forward, connecting to the main highway. “The infected people are dumb, so if we keep moving at speed, they can’t drive after us,” she announced.

    Harukka stared at her bitten hand, now running with blood. One moment Zillian had been there, full of terrified life, and the next, something else had taken her place.

    “There are some wipes in the glove box,” Elk’s voice cut into her thoughts.
    Harukka opened the compartment and found a stack of sealed wet towels sampled from various restaurants and fast-food places. She cleaned her wound, wishing she’d been able to do more for Zillian and Brown. Why did she try praying to the Light to cleanse them? Find some salt and flowers? Unless it was an infection?

    “You did what you could,” Elk continued. “Look after yourself as a priority in situations like this. Don’t worry, when it’s over, we’ll check on them. Make sure they get to the hospital. Brown said some people recover. If they do, I’ll give Zillian more wine, and Brown all the expired tuna he wants.”

    “Let’s see what’s happening.” Harukka turned on the radio. They sped along the highway, listening to conflicting news reports of chaos. Gang violence, gas vents, ghosts—no one had any clear idea.

    Harukka recoiled from the outside horrors, briefly illuminated by the truck’s powerful headlights: smashed vehicles, dead bodies littering the streets, roving groups of infected people, faces masked with blood. She closed her eyes, burying her face in her hands, praying desperately that her mother was safe.

    “It’s okay.” Elk patted her arm. “They can’t get us here.”

    “I wish this would end,” Harukka gripped the dashboard, moving closer to Elk as they alternated between driving and parking to conserve the truck’s charge, listening to confused broadcasts, which gradually reported the madness ending as the night ebbed.

    Finally the sun lipped around the edges of the sky, and as Harukka twisted the dial and listened to the news stations, all she heard were reports of the aftermath rather than stories of more attacks or infections. New Year’s Eve had been chaos: people in comas or waking with no memory, dozens injured or dead, property destroyed and buildings set alight. “I need to check on Mom.”

    “I’ll take you home. I’m sorry you didn’t get to go to your party to meet your girlfriend,” Elk said.

    Harukka closed her eyes, admitting the bitter truth. It all seemed so trivial now. “It’s okay. I barely know her. She wrote the invitation on a whiteboard in class. I only wanted to chat with her for the first time. She probably likes men or something, and I’d upset her by saying the wrong thing. Or I would have sat in the corner all night with a cup of soda. I’m a failure at meeting people. Grandmother didn’t even want me to go to college.” Guilt wracked her. Her own woes were selfish and insignificant compared to the others who’d suffered tonight.

    Silence stretched into the cabin.

    Elk paused, then said, “There’s this great diner at Whiteriver. Does a mean steak and fries. You should try it sometime.”

    “Uh,” Harukka’s heart raced painfully, and she didn’t know what to do or say. “Are you asking me out?”

    “Maybe. We could do a few outings, see where it goes.” Elk turned and winked at her. “No pressure. I like a woman who can hold her cool under fire.”

    “Yeah, sure,” Harukka managed through her tightened throat. So used to being called ‘girl’ by her mother and grandmother, the fact that someone else thought she was grown-up gave her a strange, anticipatory shiver, like she was opening a new door to an unknown land. She was going somewhere unfamiliar, and she liked it.

    “I’ll be sorting through the store tomorrow if you want to stop by,” Elk continued.

    “I’ll visit,” Harukka promised. She rubbed at her wounded arm. Bitten, scraped, but alive. Her TTL counter had dropped massively, but she didn’t care.

    After all, that was the point.

  • Vestiges of Magic,  Revenant Records,  urban fantasy,  publishing

    Feral Night is upon us…

    A short, quick and entirely promotional post—my second novel, Feral Night—is going to launch next week on 28 November 2023. With this book, I set out to make it bigger, better and more intense than the first one! Lukie’s back with another edge-of-your-seat mystery…

    Lukie’s father is trapped in the Underworld and it’s all her fault.

    Return to Kell Shaw’s Vestiges of Magic world in a knife-edge sequel.

    Lukie’s father is trapped in the Underworld and it’s all her fault.

    Twenty years after her murder, Lukie has returned to life and is ready to go home, but her father isn’t willing to believe his beloved daughter is back from the dead. Before she can reconcile with him, a supernatural predator steals her father’s soul. One that she’s led straight to his door, after foolishly ignoring the signs that something was amiss.

    To get her father back, Lukie must uncover the true nature of the ancient horror haunting Thunderhead Ward before a spectral hunt of bestial ghosts is unleashed upon the world.

    And she only has until midnight on New Year’s Eve, when the borders between the dead and living lands seal, or her father will be lost forever…

  • Vestiges of Magic,  Revenant Records,  Short Story,  new release

    Free story—introduction to my ongoing series

    I’ve written a new introductory story to my Revenant Records urban fantasy series. If you’re interested, you can grab it here, free, with a newsletter signup.

    Do you like:

    • Spooky urban fantasy stories?
    • Things that feel like episodes of Doctor Who?
    • Outsider heroes struggling against all odds?

    Then check out Fiery Night!

    Half-human, rejected by society, Patience spends her days doing hard labor in the Industrial Institution for Deviant Children. Escape is impossible and she daydreams of reuniting with her long lost mother. At night, she’s plagued by uncanny visions of a monstrous woman oozing dark tendrils and a mysterious half-elf screaming warnings of danger.

    Patience fears she’s going mad, but when girls and nuns disappear, no-one seems interested in investigating further. She must overcome her own fears and the cages of the Institute to investigate the missing girls and piece together what’s going on.

    When it seems like she might be forced to disappear altogether, Patience must work out what to believe and uncover the true secret of the Institution…

  • publishing

    The robot uprising and the end of the publishing world!

    I can’t remember the exact title, but there’s an episode of Doctor Who where Tom Baker’s Doctor, and Romana are discussing life on Gallifrey, their home planet. The Doctor likes painting, but Romana thinks that’s archaic, as in her mind, computers do art. And while that was science fiction in the 1970s, today we’ve got AI tools that do art, and writing!

    Every author business podcast I’ve listened to recently, and a lot of book-ish social media groups, are furiously discussing the impact of modern AI tools on publishing. There’s a mix of speculation, gossip and fearmongering.

    • Publishers with low-effort, AI-churned out books will swamp the market place! No one will touch self-published books again!
    • Readers won’t love us writers anymore as they can walk up to a computer, enter some prompts, and receive a perfectly tailored story to their tastes and preferences.
    • Canny publishers will use AI to increase their output and draw readers’ attention away from my stuff!

    There are arguments on both sides. A lot of this appears to be FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) – the fear that the AI assisted texts will make certain writers more productive and take the readers away from discovering other writers! I don’t think it quite works like that. Sure, I’d love it if my favorite authors were more productive, but I’ve also stopped reading a series where the latest volume loses that spark and feels ‘churned out’. And even if everyone flocks to mass-produced texts, there will still be people who prefer hand-crafted stories. Maybe it will become like craft beer—there’ll be always an audience for those who want the more interesting beverages on the side.

    What makes a good story? Intriguing characters, pacing, the ability to evoke emotion, perhaps. How do you bottle this and create a reliable, reproducible formula for making engaging stories consistently? People have been to figure this out for years. There’s so many courses out there that tell writers about how to write unputdownable stories, or what the best formulas. I’ve found some stuff useful (structuring and pacing techniques) and others less so.

    There’s also been heartwarming stories of people with disabilities who can now express themselves better using AI technology. People with language issues or Long COVID brain fog can now complete stories with AI assistance. This is how I’d like it to be used. I’ve got some issues myself, which makes it hard for me to engage in social media. I have trouble writing random social media posts about blah life stuff without wanting to sit and think deeply about out it for ages, but if I bothered, I could go to the ChatGPT and have it write my social updates for me!

    I haven’t mucked around with AI yet. Actually, I tell a lie—I use souped-up grammar checker Pro-Writing Aid to clear up my text. I’m a messy first drafter with lots of dropped words, speling errors that are fixed down the pipeline. I use some of its suggestions, but not all. Lately it’s got this AI feature that rephrases sentences. Some of it sounds better, some of it’s bland. Mostly I ignore it. But the tool is there as an option. Anyway, more options are good.

    At this stage, I’m not going to engage AI (apart from PWA’s grammar/reporting checks). I’m still working on my craft, trying to capture that magic of making a great story, or at least, improve of what I’ve done in the past. For example, when I wrote Final Night, it was the best thing I’d written and completed, and now I’m going to improve on that with the next book. When I think I’ve gotten my craft to a certain level, I might check out AI tools more deeply, but for now it’s fingers to keyboard.

  • publishing,  updates


    I’m still figuring out social media. I’ve this blog, a Facebook page, a monthly newsletter, and ad hoc accounts on Mastodon, Dreamwidth, tumblr. New authors are told to get on social media and build a following, but I’ve been focused on getting the next book out! I’m terrible with memes and posting ad hoc thoughts. I update Facebook monthly, have slacked off on Mastodon, but have had a good run with the monthly newsletter. After some initial wibbling around content, I’ve settled on some in-character microfics, and links to an ongoing serial.

    I’ll probably keep the monthly updates and newsletter going for now, maybe try to do some more in-depth engagement around launch time. I want to prioritise my blog over Facebook, so I’ll give a longer update here than what I gave there. The next Lukie book is in copy editing and line editing: a sharp shift from the creative side to the technical. I’m also working in the first draft of book 3. I have a vague outline, but my first drafts are a discovery process.

    The first time I tried doing overlapping book projects, I nearly melted, but now I’m cool with copyediting book A, drafting book B, and doing another chapter of serialised book C. They say writing is like running a marathon—you work at it to build your production stamina. Also, having an office job helps, I guess.

    Alpha readers have the new book (those brave enough to work through the pre-copy edited version), and the feedback is good. A few more story tweaks, editing and then I hand the book back to my editor for proofing at the end of the month. Then beta reading, and hopefully tidying up for this release.

    So book 2 is on track for this year, and more updates on the other projects later.

    I know I should publish to a schedule, but I don’t what that is yet! In my last post, I called the Revenant Records my learn-to-drive series. The idea is to write a solid series, making each book more awesome, and then get some data on how long I take to write a book! It’ll be awhile before I quit the day job, so my current focus is on building a backlist, and reaching new readers and improving my craft. Not very exciting, but that’s the goal. Slow and steady, and all that.

    I mentioned a roleplaying game—I keep writing it, taking it apart, and trying new mechanics. I’m trying to get something together, but for a different urban fantasy setting than the one I set my novels in. Trying to develop a system, and an intricate setting at the same time, was tough, but I’ve been making better progress by switching gears. I did that for my novels, as well—the first novel I worked on (which isn’t out yet) stalled for various reasons, but I had Lukie #1 book ready to go, and that’s become my focus for this first series. I hope to visit the other characters later. The idea for the Vestiges of Magic setting is to have several short-ish series set in the same world with different characters rather than one central series.

    I’m trying to get back into reading again. To manage a current bout of insomnia, I’ve had to stop writing an hour before bedtime (sniff), and start reading. And there’s a reading challenge I’d like to do. Might try something this year. That’s it for this month! I have ideas for cool blog articles, but don’t want to over-promise on social stuff and under-deliver. (Maybe in the old days of LiveJournal you could get by with blogging as your primary social media, but it’s different nowadays—where do you connect with authors you want to follow?

    Or am I over thinking this, and does your store (Kobo, Amazon etc) tell you when something is out that you like?

  • publishing,  writing

    Self-publishing – 2020 to 2022 in review

    Table of Contents

    So it’s important to reflect and ponder, at least for the first few days of the new year!

    In 2022, I became a self-published author, with one book. I started back in 2020, so this is like a two year recap/reflection.

    The Dramatic Origin Story

    It was 2020. I was re-writing the Epic Fantasy Novel (about five years in development) and got frustrated when I’d finished it and the structure was pudding. It was a bunch of novellas bolted together. COVID was everywhere, and I was trapped in my house. So I joined a year long writing, online course. It was in the UK, I’m in Australia, so lots of getting up at 4am to talk to people or waiting for the replays of courses rather than joining in them.

    Anyway, one thing the course guys said was to focus on the bestselling subgenre in your genre. For me, this was urban fantasy rather than epic fantasy. Also, because the genre draws a lot from detective stories, I could do a complete story in one book! And the main character could have another adventure in the next book!

    I also attended WorldCon 2020 in my bedroom. At the urban fantasy panel, a cool idea for a setting struck me—what if it was a world similar to ours with cars and technology but not our Earth? And what if the past was an epic fantasy setting? And in the modern age, what if people thought that their past was folklore? But magic was still there, if you knew where to look.


    In 2020, I wrote the first novel in the setting. And got it finished, thanks to the online writing course. I had a draft, but it wasn’t ready for release. Lots of getting stuck in the middle, and figuring out to make the main relationship ‘work’ between the two characters. It’s not a romance–it’s more of a thriller, but that relationship needed to click or the main character’s motivations wouldn’t make sense.

    So, as a side project, I wrote a novella featuring a side character from the novel, which became ‘Final Night’. I also wrote a short story per month for my mailing list and wrote all of my world building for the setting as a tabletop roleplaying game.


    • The novel took longer to develop than expected! In fact, I took it through two more writing courses (I think I got addicted to courses during COVID) and I still think it needs another draft.
    • Because of the above, I launched the finished novella as an ongoing series, which meant dropping the novel and completing the new series based around Lukie, the undead teen detective from the novella. This was a bit of rework and rescheduling things.
    • My best short stories (current reader magnet) don’t link into the current series I’m working on.
    • I’m still working out what comparison authors to use for marketing the series.

    Notes for next series

    • Finish at least the second book in the series, and have an idea for the overall size of the series.
    • Have the reader magnet that links into the main series ready when the first book is launched.

    Business Approach

    I realised I’d be a ‘slow’ author, and wouldn’t be able to keep up the book-a-month or rapid release schedule that the 20Books250k group focuses on. That’s all based around the KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited platform on Amazon. So I’d release wide instead. I went direct with Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and did the rest via Draft2Digital. I’ve only made about $10 from the release so far from vendors (more from hand selling to people at conventions and my book launch). I’m not too fussed, as my plan is to build a backlist and market that when I’ve got the box set ready.

    Uploading to all sites was relatively painless. However, because I kept tweaking my backmatter, I’d have to login and reload my book multiple times. Next time, my final upload will be final.


    I started a mailing list, and wrote a short story a month to entertain people while I worked through things. I decide to have a character host the newsletter, as it makes it more fun for me to write, so I’m still working out a balance between microfiction/and real-life author updates.

    Final Feedback

    Final Night had a lot of work on it – lots of beta reading, developmental editing by the amazing Angela Slatter, more editing by Nef House Publishing…. And I thought it sparkled and gleamed like a fresh-cut gem!

    I entered Final Night in the StoryGraph beta giveaway program. I got lots of reviews! Amazing! However, they were mixed. A few two stars, lots of threes and a few fours. After brooding for long hours on top of a skyscraper like Batman, I read the critical reviews. I thought people would have issues with the world building (It’s a modern world with an epic fantasy past!) but no one’s actually complained about that. Instead, the main takeaways were that readers thought the pace was too fast, and wanted more character development or digging into the side characters. I’ve made notes for Book 2—and I’m juggling the character development with the thriller pacing.


    Long-term goal – build my author backlist. So write more books, and worry about ads and things later.

    • For 2023 – Finish the next two books in the Revenant Records series.
    • Complete twelve issues of the monthly newsletter.
    • When I finish my current series/short fiction backlog for the newsletter, submit at least three stories to magazines.
    • Write a proper Lukie-focused short as a reader magnet for the current series, and a second short for readers who’ve gone through Book 1.
    • Streamline my automation sequence for the newsletter.
    • Social media – Write a blog post at least once a month, besides the newsletter. Crosspost to Dreamwidth and Tumblr for audience reach. Try to find a social media that I can engage with that is fun and not tedious. (Currently enjoying Mastodon.) Write a blog post reviewing social media later on.
    • Read and review books and log them on Goodreads and/or Storygraph. Do one book review per month.
    • Engage an artist for some character/concept sketches, starting with the Librarian host of my newsletter.
    • Learn to draw so I can do my own character/concept sketches. Try to do one sketch every two days.
  • vestige,  publishing

    Final Night pre-order

    As everyone knows, the best way to manage your anxiety is to launch a book. I usually rely on lists and CBT to keep things in check, but this is madness! If this was a serial killer investigation, there would be corkboards and string connecting pictures to blood coffee, stains and incomprehensible scribbles! Wide publishing! Paperbacks! Do I use an aggregator or go direct to all the different vendors? Do I need affiliate accounts? How much should I do?

    I’ve also changed my email service provider at the same time—it was like moving e-house. Anyway, it’s done now even if I want to hit the block editor in the head with a rusted crowbar.

    Final Night was the book I didn’t intend to write. As my ‘survive COVID project’ I wrote a novel first, and then a short novel featuring one of the side characters. Well, a year later, the novel is still cooking, but Final Night is ready to face the world. And I’ve changed my publishing plans—to write a few more novels in the Revenant Records sequence before continuing with the novel sequence. That’s the good thing about self-publishing—you can change your tactics as you go.

    (You can tell I’ve had too much coffee this week.)

    Pre-Orders are Go!


    So the book! The first thing I’m launching commercially! It’s going live in less than a week! Currently on pre-order most sites and should be available for everyone on September 14th. (I’ll tell you about hardcopies later…)

    What’s it about? A teenager comes back from the dead to investigate her murder. A homage to the 80s, and a twist on the usual slasher film tropes. Set in the unique ‘Vestige World’ urban fantasy setting: a modern world with a magical past.

    Recently risen from the grave, Lukie has until dawn to avenge her death. If only she could remember who murdered her. And only if someone else doesn’t kill her again.

    High school’s out for the class of 1983. Forever.

    The last thing Lukie remembers is the farewell party in her hometown of Breakwater Bay. A final blowout before she leaves for university.

    But when she wakes up as a living corpse, confused, and weirdly hungry, she finds the sleepy coastal village is now full of strange cars and loud tourists. Her family home is a block of flats, and she can’t find her father. Her best friend has aged twenty years in a single night.

    Her memories are in tatters. She knows that someone hurt her. Someone betrayed her. Someone killed her. And that in some dark lonely place, she made a pact with something, and now she’s only got until dawn to find her murderer, or when the sun rises, she’ll be dead again. Forever.

    Also the audiobook, narrated by professional actor and performance poet Kyla Lee Ward, is available from my store now, or will eventually be on your favourite audiobook provider once it trickles through the Findaway Voices ecosystem.

    Let me know if you want an advance copy in exchange for an honest review! Unfortunately, the book isn’t set up on Goodreads yet–there’s a huge queue! Anyone know a friendly librarian?

    I have things set up on Storygraph, although it requires a login.

  • publishing,  market research,  quiz

    Survey about book formats

    I’m gearing up for publishing, which means I’d love to know about what formats you like to read your books in. Take the quiz and let me know.