Betrayer Egg Moon and the Vernal Equinox

In honour of the Vernal Equinox, here is an extract from Book Two of The Fells’ Pack Series: Every Son Under the Moon.

TimelessSkyZoanna Marjorie’s blog proved popular among the Pagans.  Nearly three hundred people gathered as the sun went down on the Vernal Equinox at the Circle of the Lost Sister.  They ranged in age from infant to elderly.  Their dress varied from hill walking gear to get-ups appropriate for a music festival to the anachronistic garb of a live role play event.

The circle itself was almost unrecognisable.  Flowers and colourful fabrics decorated the stones.  At the foot of the Lost Sister, the Pagans arranged an altar of fruits and more flowers.  Jugs, bowls, flasks and random mugs of water had been placed all around the circle’s circumference.  Hundreds of votive candles in a variety of glass jars illuminated the tops of each standing stone.  The centre piece of the ritual site was an enormous see-saw which stretched across the space between the Lost Sister and the other stones.  The pagans took turns on it, laughing uproariously as they tried to pile as many people on each end of the see-saw whilst keeping the two sides balanced.

The sun set directly behind the Lost Sister Stone and the Full Moon illuminated its face as it rose before it.

Zoanna Marjorie was a large woman dressed traditionally for the occasion in green robes.  A circlet of flowers and ivy rested on her long hair streaked black and white with dye and age.  She sat cross-legged in the middle of the see-saw and faced the Lost Sister.  At the moment of moonrise, Zoanna Marjorie and every other Pagan at the Sister Circle raised their arms, palms open, to the night sky.  The first beams of moonlight bounced off the pure white shells of the eggs resting in ninety-nine pairs of up-turned hands.

‘We hold the world between our fingers,’ Zoanna Marjorie intoned in an impressive contralto.  ‘She is delicate.  She is life-giving.  She must be cared for.  On this night, when the balance of Mother Earth is at its peak, we devote ourselves in word, deed and thought to tread her tender surface as if we walked on egg shells.’

Someone attempted—badly—to stifle a giggle.  Nearby heads whipped in the direction of the offensive noise.  From behind the Lost Sister stone came a far more significant sound.  The sound of an egg smashing against a rock.

Swift hands retreated behind the voluminous folds of a dark cloak as sloppy yolk and bits of shell oozed down the side of the standing stone.  From the gathered Pagans there were mixed responses.  A few grumbled irritably at the oaf who accidentally dropped a ritual egg.  The ones closest to the defiled stone knew better.  They did not know who had done it but they knew it had been done deliberately.

Rowan knew it too.  The moment the egg made contact she unleashed a painful shriek of a wolf howl.  The Pack surrounded the edges of the fell top and closed in on the stone circle under the protection of Holly’s shield.  Five sets of paws dug into the ground, crouched to spring, poised for something to happen…because something surely was about to happen.  But what?  The egg assassin called out in voice that vibrated with power even as it trembled with fear.

‘The shell is broken.’  Two hands reached out again from inside the cloak.  Between them draped a limp mass of beautifully plumed feathers.  Red hands squeezed the bird, then smeared the Lost Sister with the blood and feathers which mingled with the shell and yolk.  Rowan roared as the cloaked voice spoke again.  ‘Let the son come through.’

Like insignificant pebbles tumbling down an eroding cliff side, the words echoed around the moor, shook the foundations of the ancient ground and started something like a land slide on Kirk Moor.  The earth quaked under the feet of the pagans and the paws of the werewolves as the land that had been stable a moment ago began tilting toward—or folding into—the epicentre of the Lost Sister stone.  Zoanna Marjorie screamed.

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Snuggles with Wolves

Where does an idea begin?  I am always telling my drama students nobody waltzes into a studio, says “let’s make a play” then magically creates something entertaining and meaningful.  You have start from somewhere: a photograph, a poem, a memory, a story, a song…anything can be a stimulus for art.  For JK Rowling it was a cross-country train journey.  For JRR Tolkien it began with a sentence.  For me, it began with my daughter.

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This is  Freya.

She is eight-years-old and her favourite colour is purple.

She is also utterly mad about wolves.

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I am not entirely certain where this obsession comes from but it is all-consuming.

She had her “worst day ever” at school yesterday because, during an interesting classroom activity, one of her classmates refused to surrender the “Wolf Card.”  I’m a bit hazy on the details of this traumatic event, but it led to several minutes of sobbing on the sofa which required ice cream medication.

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Freya is Team Jacob all the way.

I will never forget seeing her  blush for the first time when watching New Moon.

Then I realised she wasn’t sighing over Jacob’s abs, she was only interested in his fur.  I still don’t know whether to feel relieved or worried.

So when my husband suggested I quit whinging and write a book and I wailed back: “what would I write about?”, Freya answered.  I could write a book about a girl named Freya who is a werewolf.  From that simple idea, other creative choices followed.  If my lead character is named Freya, I should look to Norse mythology for further story inspiration.  A werewolf named Freya should have a pack and she should be it’s Alpha.

And maybe there could be a boy with abs…and fur.

The Role of Kirk Moor Played by Ilkley

Early in the process of writing A Circle of Lost Sisters I faced what should have been a difficult choice: where to set the book.  I knew my novel would not exist  in an imagined land.  I suspect my skills at world building are questionable and I wanted to stand on sure ground for my first novel.  But the real question was which side of the Atlantic.

I grew up in the American Midwest but I have lived in Yorkshire for fourteen years, teaching students for eleven of those fourteen.  I am not a native of Yorkshire but when I close my eyes I do not hear American voices, particularly not young American voices.  I should have set my book in the cornfields of Iowa but in my honest heart I knew I could not pull it off.  The only way for me to craft American dialogue would be to mimic from television and that felt false.  I listen to real Yorkshire kids every day; I’m surrounded by them.  My difficult choice was not really a choice at all.

And so The Fells was born.

My werewolves needed a big moorland landscape in which to roam.  Rather than choose an existing area of Yorkshire I decided to invent one, that way nobody could contradict me about geographical details and I could freely construct a single setting which was an amalgamation of many beautiful places I have visited in this vast county.  In the end, I did not give my werewolves one moor to frolic on, I gave them four fells, two rivers, a coastline and a forest.

In the first chapter, an unnamed boy and girl hike to a stone circle at the crest of Kirk Moor, the largest of my imaginary hills.  My inspiration came from Ilkley Moor.  Ingrid finds herself at the same stone circle in her sixth chapter.

moorland newimprovedwebAs Ingrid ran the landscape sloped more and more steeply up-wards whilst also becoming more barren.  Only the odd sheep broke up the endless expanse of what Ingrid knew would be green if her eyes could see it.   

She was up on The Moors. 

She had run five miles uphill in ten minutes!  The shock of this realisation cut through her wild panic and she slowed down.  Forceful gusts of fell wind made her fake (for now) blonde locks flap irritatingly around her falsely (for now) bronzed face.

rocky stuff improvedwebIngrid had to get her bearings.  She was up on The Moors—but where? 

The Fells included vast expanses of moorland broken up by small villages, stone walls and sheep. 

A vague structure materialised in the distance and Ingrid knew where she was: The Stone Circle at the summit of Kirk Moor.

circle 2 colour arty blog sizeThe Circle of the Lost Sister consisted of seven standing stones.  Six stones stood in a wide but even formation which followed the roughly circular perimeter of the fell top.  They varied in height as time and the forces of nature impacted each slightly differently.  The largest was slightly over six feet high and the shortest was just shy of four foot. 

Set far apart from the others outside the formation was a seventh standing stone: “The Lost Sister”.  The final stone was larger than the others: over seven feet high and wider than an ancient oak.  No doubt Historians, Archaeologists and Pagan Nutters had all sorts of theories as to why and how “The Lost Sister” became Lost.  But Ingrid was not interested in contemplating the mysteries and meanings of the Stone Circle.  At this moment it only meant death and blood and horror at her hands.  She collapsed at the base of the Lost Sister.

shadow moorweb‘Ingrid?’ 

Freya placed a steadying hand on her shoulder.  Ingrid gripped the older girl’s wrist, pressing her hand more firmly against her own skin to gain the most comfort from Freya’s touch.  Ingrid’s breathing became more even, her limbs stilled and her head cleared. 

‘I’m sorry,’ Ingrid whispered. 

‘I know,’ Freya replied.

Waxing Shepherd Moons

rain moor 2He was not impressed by their plan for catching a sheep.

The boy slapped a dog lead nervously against his leg.  It cracked through the constant rhythm of rain on the moor—the third day running of ceaseless rainfall.  The girl’s eyes clung to a wavering torch beam, the only source of light.  The moon hid beneath a cloud-padded sky, unlikely to find its way out tonight.  No matter.  The man knew it was there.  No need to see it.

The girl lost her footing and stumbled hard into the sodden ground.  She rubbed at her knee then frowned as blood stained her soaked jeans and glove.  The man shivered.  The boy urged her on toward a pale shape in the distance.

The targeted sheep did not react when the girl shone her torch on its flank.  The boy gripped it by the scruff of its neck, digging frozen dripping fingers into its heavy coat.  The sheep lurched awkwardly dragging the boy several feet through the mud before he pinned the beast.  The girl scoffed.  The boy struggled to stretch the dog’s lead about the sheep’s thick neck.  He twitched.

‘Told you it wouldn’t fit,’ she mocked through chattering teeth.

The boy settled for wrapping the length of the lead around the sheep’s belly then looping the collar through the handle.  Even so he had to keep a controlling grip on the back of the creature’s neck.  The sheep felt warm beneath the boy’s fingers.  He buried both hands in its fleece before half dragging the sheep along the path indicated by the girl’s torch beam bouncing across the turf.

The stone circle was difficult to make out in the driving rain and darkness.  The boy, the girl and the sheep headed for the largest of the standing stones.  The girl pulled a phone from her back pocket.  It washed her face in pale blue light as she checked the time.  Boy and girl snuggled against the biggest stone, which offered some protection from the fell wind and rain.  They wedged the sheep between them, and waited.

‘He’ll be here soon,’ the boy insisted with stubborn confidence.

The man stretched and entered the stone circle.  He was naked to the waist, tall and lean muscled with a heavy crown of grizzled hair which dripped around his face like melting wax.  Boy and girl leapt to their feet pulling the reluctant sheep with them.

They weren’t sure how to address the man.  They didn’t really know his name.  The boy felt like bowing or possibly kneeling respectfully.  Boy and girl remained frozen with fear and cold.

Don’t hesitate.  One thrust and it’s done.

‘Don’t hesitate,’ she repeated.  The girl looked down at the sheep struggling under the boy’s grip.  It did not want to be there.

‘I can’t,’ the girl stuttered.

‘We have to,’ the boy hissed.

‘You do it.’

‘He said it had to be you.’

‘Don’t want it to be me.’

‘This were your idea.’  There was silence then she whispered.

‘I changed me mind.’

Isn’t this is what you wanted?

‘Yes, of course.’

Then see it through.  

‘See it through,’ she echoed.   The man knelt in the mud before her.

I swear to you this won’t hurt a bit.

Rain pelted against his bare, grey chest.  The girl lifted a trembling hand and spread her fingers wide over where she knew the man’s heart would be.  As easily as digging through thick mud to find a buried stone, she pressed her palm through his flesh.  Her searching fingers wrapped around a thumping knot of muscle and tissue.  She pulled.

His pulsing heart heated her trembling fingers surrounding her in a veil of steam.  Hot blood mingled with the rain staining the dark moorland.  The boy straddled the panicking sheep and wrenched open its jaw while the girl stuffed the man’s heart into the mouth of the protesting beast.  The boy clamped his hands together over the wet muzzle to keep the sheep from spitting it out.  The man caressed the sheep’s throat with forceful stokes.

That wasn’t so bad now was it?

Waxing Shepherd Moons is the Prologue to A Circle of Lost Sisters

Lost Sister: Freya Thornton

Last seen on a Duke of Edinburgh Hiking Expedition on Kirk Moor.

freya3Full Name: Freya Claire Thornton

Age: 17

Height & Weight: “Freya Thornton was Head Girl of the Sixth Form: tall and athletic.  She carried herself with an aura of pure arrogance and discipline.”

Hair Colour:  “The sides of her straight, honey blonde hair, cut in a severe chin-length bob, concealed her face and any expression it might wear.”

Eye Colour:  “Holly met Freya’s steady blue-eyed gaze for a long, silent moment.  Then Freya tilted her head ever so slightly and raised her chin in a superior movement.  At the same time, Holly’s head jerked back and a shiver ran down her spine.  Freya held Holly’s stare intensely.  There could be no escape from those unforgiving blue eyes.”

Last Seen Wearing:  “Shorts had been a stupid idea.  She should have worn long trousers but the day had been so hot.  She had not expected to encounter anything like him.   Wolves are rare in Britain and he was a particularly rare wolf.”

Freya’s parents have made inquiries to the proper authorities but received no information regarding their daughter.  Freya’s teachers are concerned about her continuing absence as she has many coursework deadlines and up-coming exams for which she is targeted to receive top marks.

Disclaimer: Freya Thornton is a fictional character from A Circle of Lost Sisters.  Illustration by Elizabeth Snider.

Carriger’s Genre Festival of Girls

Etiquette & EspionageWhen I set out to write a Young Adult fantasy novel, one of my initial creative intentions was to explore the relationships between young women.  The novels I love include complex and admirable girls, but they always seem to be operating in an isolated oestrogen bubble.  Hermione Grainger, Dorothy Gale, Katniss Everdene, Lyra Belacqua, Princess Eilonwy: great female characters surrounded at all times by boys and men.

We see some of Lucy Pevensie interacting with sister Susan, though their relationship comes across as frosty at best.  Terry Pratchett gives Tiffany Aching a posse of girlfriends and older female mentors in his brilliant series.  This is a rare exception.  Few Young Adult genre novels present readers with a group of girls.

Enter Gail Carriger’s brand new series: The Finishing School.  Its first instalment, Etiquette and Espionage, is a little dream of a book.  Vampires, Werewolves, Mechanicals, Evil Geniuses, trainee Femme Fatales are all invited to this Steampunk Tea Party.  And there are loads of girls!  Sweet girls, clever girls, butch girls, bitchy girls, shy girls, girly girls—all trying to navigate the same treacherous waters of adolescence without capsizing or spoiling their rather marvellous frocks.

The story begins with the experimental antics of Sophronia, a wild and far too clever child whose sister described her as “unfit for public consumption.”  Her own mother thinks she is a “terrible bother”.  At first Sophronia fears Mumsie intends to send her off to the Vampires for a “proper education”.  But Sophronia doesn’t want to go to the Vampires.  “They’ll suck my blood and make me wear nothing but the latest fashions!”  Instead our little heroine is shipped off (literally) to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.  Of course there is far more to this finishing school than tutorials in Parasol Management and Eyelash Fluttering.

The concept for this series gives Carriger ample opportunity to introduce a variety of girls as well as indulge her love of Victorian fashion.  Fans of her Parasol Protectorate books will take pleasure in meeting younger versions of some of her more eccentric characters.  I actually think I enjoyed this new series even more than her previous one, possibly because I am drawn to characters who are not quite certain how they fit into the world around them.  Sophronia and her cronies struggle in different ways to belong, to get along and to learn what “finishing” truly means.

Gail Carriger is the high tea of genre writers.  Just when you think her Flywaymen finger sandwiches are the nicest thing ever she brings out Sootie scones and Picklemen jam pots then makes you want to hold your pinky high in time for the Debut Ball sponge cake finale.  Keep the orange pekoe going whilst you revel in this festival of genre girls.