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.


“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.

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.

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.