Tea with Cecily

The following excerpt from my Young Adult horror novel in progress, The Many Beautiful Deaths of Miss Floretta Deliverance Hughes, is accompanied by the artwork of illustrator Elizabeth Snider.

Recently deceased Mia Walsh makes her way to The Church of All Hallowed Souls in an attempt to confront her father (the vicar) over his accusations against her (sort of) ex-boyfriend.  She is accompanied by long-time ghostly resident and would-be post-mortem mentor, the Victorian poltergeist Floretta Deliverance Hughes.  Whilst hiding from her mother behind a gravestone, Mia comes face to face with a nightmare named Cecily.

CecilywebLater, Mia would not remember if she had screamed or not.  Perhaps she had been too terrified even to rely on what had rapidly become her post-mortem, knee-jerk reaction to most things.  The face of the girl in the churchyard with the sing-song voice definitely made her want to scream.  Once the girl might have been pretty with her long golden curls, creamy skin, ripe, peachy mouth.  But something terrible must have happened to that lovely girl.  Some tragedy had drained her former beauty.  And her eyes.

Where are her eyes?

They looked as if they had been gouged out with a pair of forceful thumbs or plucked out with hot pincers or—  Mia didn’t’ care to consider any more horrific alternatives.  No evidence of past trauma there now—no marks or scars or weeping blood at all.  But no eyes.

Wait.  Mia looked more closely.  There were eyes down there somewhere.  Very deeply set and very small.  Like tiny jet beads on a black dress.  Maybe the horrible thing that happened to this nightmare girl had been too much for her eyes to cope with and they shrank, retreated as far back into her skull as they could.   All around the pin-prick, bead-black eyes were rough charcoal smudges of flesh, indigo, purple and black, which swept between the curves of her blonde eyebrows and the apple blush of her cheeks.  Twin bruises swirling toward two, twinkling dark stars in a vortex of horror.


Mahala’s School Project

One of my biggest fans has used her favourite characters from A Circle of Lost Sisters in a project for English class.  I particularly like Holly’s award.  I have paired up her project work here with quotations from the novel.  My first bit of fan work!


Ingrid award‘Ingrid!  What did you do?’ 

‘Nothing, it was just a silly—’.  Ingrid looked at her hand.  She gasped and swore. 

When it first happened, when she had been certain hospital was imminent, there had been nothing to see.  Now, cradled in Leighton’s palm, Rowan Syng’s nail marks had changed.  They screamed out from her clammy skin: crimson, violent and swollen, the original scrapes swallowed by rising tides of shining pink like drowned salmon.

 ‘Oh!’ Ingrid mumbled, horrified at the angry welts.  As she and Leighton looked on, a trickle of yellow pus oozed from the middle graze.  She was going to be sick.  She was going to pass out and vomit all over the lovely Leighton Jacobs.  


Holly awardHolly sat up and shoved Rowan so hard she fell against the neighbouring stone with a satisfying thud.  ‘Sod off nosy cow!’  Holly walked away to the far side of the circle.  But Rowan recovered quickly, hopped back on her feet and grabbed Holly’s upper arm as she passed.  Damned hard arsed werewolf!

‘Don’t tell me you wouldn’t love revenge,’ Rowan hissed. 

‘Freya gave you a chance to get back at me.’  Holly wrenched her arm from Rowan’s grasp and tried again to move away. 

 ‘I don’t want to get back at you,’ Rowan pursued.  ‘Look what I did to Ingrid.  I don’t have the right to hold it against you.  I hold it against him.’

 ‘That what you’re looking for, Goth Girl?  You want to hit out at someone so bad you’re off to hunt down a werewolf bogey man—you’re so bloody mental!’


Rowan award

Mother.’  Rowan inhaled.  Faded Eeyore curtains, chosen when Rowan was a little girl, quivered around the open window as the weregirls anticipated the arrival of another relic from Rowan’s childhood. 

‘Mother?’  The sharp stench of death wafted in with the winter air.  No face appeared.  No objects shaped themselves into an image.  No voice broke the heavy silence. 

‘Mother!’ Rowan struggled against the terrified embraces of her pack sisters.  One bony arm wriggled free.  Rowan pushed it into Freya’s ribs weakening the werewolf body knot. 

 Rowan scrambled to the window.  Her trembling fingers clutched the frame and she howled, heartfelt and wolfish.  From outside her bedroom something answered.  


Finn awardDarkness had fallen properly now on the unlit country road.  Finn grunted with the effort of resisting.  Becky screamed in triumph.  The sun set and the full moon rose. 

From just below the surface of Heather Lane, a male wolf howled so fiercely it shook the ground.  Freya and Holly collapsed as waves of moonlight ripped through them, pulled at them with tidal force, turned them inside out.  Changed them into monsters. 

The grey and ginger flecked wolf that was Finn leapt over what was left of the hedge to stand beside the russet-furred Holly and the gold-coated Freya.  The trio roared a challenge at the gaping hole in the earth.  Behind them, from the distant River Munn, three more wolves howled a response.  


Demon DogsSix luminescent eyes flashed in the darkness.  Three creatures emerged from the bank of fog.  They were not wolves.  They were wolfhounds.  Taller even than Freya’s wolf form and very lean with long, finely muscled legs.  Layers of pure white fur covered their bodies in ruffled waves, except for their ears which were red.  Deeply red.  So red even the wolves could see it… 

Red!  Through her fear and panic Tyra could not help a vibration of pleasure in her chest.  She had not seen red in so long.  Her subtle whine in the silence suddenly made her the focus of attention.   Three sharp snouts turned to her, three muzzles pulled back from sharply pointed teeth and three moon-white bodies crouched to spring.  


Fantastic work, Mahala!  So glad you love my weregirls too.  Keep howling on.

Fashion resources for Historical Writers

250_l_AC004844I have often boasted of just how blessed I am in my circle of creative friends and family.  When I put out a plaintive plea for assistance with adding detail to my Victorian characters in Floretta Deliverance Hughes, my brilliant costume student cousin Lizzie picked up my  thrown gauntlet with gusto.

78_l_AC09475The Kyoto Costume Institute’s online archive is quickly becoming an addiction for me now.  Almost two hundred years worth of images and historical details available at a click.  It’s the accompanying information that make this such an essential resource for historical writers.  Quick and easy way to get a basic education in fashion, though exclusively focused on women’s styles.

For a slightly more balanced approach, and a site which offers an even broader education into historical fashion, there is the Victoria and Albert museum website.


circ.96-1963_cabinet_1000pxIn addition to information and inspiration for character clothing, there are articles on furnishing styles to aid in descriptions of the rooms your characters sit in whilst wearing their fabulous frocks.  Bigger picture articles such as the one on Gothic Revival explore architecture as well.

These images here have given me some much needed inspiration.

“A Still Glass of Calm”

sam view“Most people found Ollie odd, but Tyra found him soothing. His emotional climate was a still glass of calm that revealed nothing of the water beneath it: perhaps torrential rapids, perhaps sparkling shallows, perhaps just depth after depth of unmoving pond. The surface visual made it impossible to tell. Tyra basked comfortably in his reserved aura where she could tune down her emotional radar. Dear Ollie.”

Many of the characters in A Circle of Lost Sisters are inspired either by people I knew as a teenager or by young people I have taught over the past decade.  Some, like Holly, are an amalgamation of several different girls.  Rowan is about 30% my high school girlfriend, 40% my former student and only 20% my own imagination (the remaining 10% of her is made up of narrativia…a biological substance which occurs naturally when an invented character starts to think for herself).  Of all these different factual/fictional hybrids, the one who has been least diluted is Oliver Ford.

samOllie is based entirely on a past Drama student of mine called Sam.  One lesson was enough for me to appreciate Sam’s talent.  All he had to do was tune a guitar  behind the dialogue of two other actors.  Trust me, no one listened to a word of that dialogue because we were all in pieces over his physical comedy and straight-faced delivery.  Other teachers struggled to see Sam’s potential.  Though brilliant in maths and science, he was often accused of laziness or labelled an under-achiever.  I found this baffling because he worked so hard in Drama, always rehearsing and researching.  We soon discovered Sam wasn’t lazy, he was  (and still is) heartachingly, engagingly, endearingly aspergic.

So brilliant at dead pan comedy because he so seldom cracks a facial expression of any kind.  Bewildered by emotional confrontations  but able to recreate from memory scaled diagrams of complicated set designs seen once in live performances.  Sam changed my understanding of what autism means–when he wasn’t making me laugh my ribs sore.  In return, I stole his voice, mannerisms, ticks, tells and  appearance to construct a character whose still eye perfectly balances Tyra’s emotional hurricane.

Happy Autism Awareness Month, Sam/Ollie.

Extract from A Circle of Lost Sisters featuring Tyra Baley and Oliver Ford.


Tyra, as usual, was lost in thought as she wandered home.  I saw Trey Lee die today.  Why did a ghost kill Trey Lee?  Why would Miss Hirst allow it if she could prevent it?           

‘Tyra?’  The deep male voice made her jump.  Just beyond the school gate stood Ollie Ford, a bit closer than normal personal space generally allowed but Ollie was not very good at judging socially-acceptable distance.

‘Hey, Olls.  I thought everyone went home.’  The rest of the school had been empty of student life when Tyra left.  Only the swarming insects of investigation remained.

‘I waited for you.’

Ollie’s grey eyes stared at a point somewhere over her head as he flicked dark blonde fringe away from his face several times.  Ollie wasn’t very good at eye contact either.  He didn’t like large groups of people unless he knew them well, like The Circle Freaks, but he struggled with one-on-one situations too…unless he was following a clear script like the “argument” with Rhiannon.  Tyra waited patiently in case a further explanation for his presence was forthcoming though she did not actually expect it to be and, as usual, Tyra sensed nothing solid of his mood to help her decipher his actions.

‘Why did you wait?’ she asked.

‘Rhini said you were there.’  He focused vaguely on Tyra’s left shoulder.  ‘You found Trey’s body.’  He flicked his hair a few more times.  This was Ollie’s nervous behaviour: excessive fringe flicking.

‘That’s right.’

‘She said how horrible that must have been for you and how upset you must be because of it,’ he changed focus to her right shoulder and blinked several times at it.  This was more nervous Ollie behaviour.  Flicking and blinking?  What’s got Ollie so rattled?

‘Aye, it was pretty upsetting.’

‘Did you have to talk to a lot of people about it?’  Blink.  Flick.  Blink.

‘I did.’

‘Was that horrible too?’  He blinked rapidly at her forehead but kept a steady head this time, allowing his ashy blonde fringe to fall around his ashy grey eyes.

‘Yeah it was.’  There was a long pause with much fluttering and flipping.

‘I can walk you home if you want.’

He finally met her eyes then.  She could see her own surprised and rather baffled browns reflected in his calm greys.  There was a great deal more rapid blinking.

‘Thank you, Ollie.  That’s very thoughtful.’  Well, well, well…maybe my friends are not totally self-involved…at least…not all of them.

Oliver Ford walked Tyra Baley home.  He talked non-stop about the weather and Trey Lee and the chemical processes behind forensic investigation procedures and, once she got used to all the blinking it was the most relaxing part of her week.  Tyra had absolutely no idea how to feel about that.

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.

Lost Sister: Rowan Syng

Last seen fighting Holly Lukas on the school quad.


Full Name: Rowan Antonia Syng

Age: 14

Height & Weight: “Rowan Syng was tiny—even shorter than Ingrid and about a stone skinnier.  Despite her size, Rowan presented an intimidating image.”  

Hair Colour:  “Ninja black cropped hair spiked around a smooth chalky complexion.  The effect was rather like a mixed up chess piece: moulded black loops surrounding a white rook body, topping a black turret head.”

Eye Colour:  “Those eyes constantly changed colour depending on what surrounded them: blue to grey to violet.  At the moment, they looked muddy and muddled.  Like the colour you get when you over mix paint pigments.  They were not eyes to be looked at for long.”

Last Seen Wearing:  “…biker boots; arms tightly sheathed in a black jumper crossed primly over her bare midriff.”

Rowan’s grandparents would appreciate any information leading to the recovery of this Lost Sister.  Evidence that she has neglected her medication may make her behaviour erratic, so approach with caution.  For further details of Rowan’s recent activity, contact Jonathan Sigman.

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

Lost Sister: Tyra Baley

Last seen at a camp site in the mountains of North Wales

tyra3Full Name: Tyra Renee Baley

Age: 16

Height & Weight: “…short and plump, her face was very round and full”

Eye Colour:  “Tyra’s appearance gave little enlightenment to her origins.  Her skin was a deep caramel but there were people with her colour of skin from all around Asia and northern parts of Africa.  Narrow cheekbones reaching high toward her brown eyes were large and almond-shaped.  Her eye lids had very little fold to them, though it was not as pronounced as Japanese or Chinese eyes.  Not un-like them either.”

Hair Colour:  “Her thick, dark brown hair hung straight and heavy, split in thick plaits which bobbed against round shoulders when she laughed.  It was similar to the hair of some Indian and Pakistani girls she knew.  But Tyra was not Pakistani or Indian or Chinese or Japanese or Outer-Mongolia or anything it seemed”

Last Seen Wearing:  … a patchwork quilt.”

Tyra’s mothers are desperate for information leading to the return of this Lost Sister.  Their adopted daughter is a sweet-natured girl, unlikely to wander off or run away.  Tyra may have been taken by someone or attacked by an animal.  Please direct all leads in this search to the residents of Baley Farm.

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