The Dreyfuss Trilogy

Changeling * Lucifer's Stepdaughter * Moonchild

Contact Morgan

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Sample Sunday May 27th

As promised, the second half for the story from last week.  Don't go looking for the first half - it's gone.  Hey, I can't go giving away entire stories, you know.

Or rather, I won't.  :-)


Sleet Dreams

Sorry, Gone!  Needed to be faster than that.  You only get a week.

If you want to read this entire story in one, you'll find Sleet Dreams in Fragments.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Sarah Barnard - Daughter of Lilith

I'm Sarah Barnard, I write fiction – mainly fantasy: mostly what's becoming known as urban fantasy where part of the story takes place in the "normal" world and there are elements of magic and fantasy thrown into the mix. I also dabble in science fiction where I play with Sage and her car that can take her to Ganymede (one of Jupiter's moons, in case you didn't know).
All my main characters tend to be strong, independent women.
I also publish other writer's work through Osier Publishing. There are currently three of us at Osier but one of us is taking a break and we're about to become four, and, I hope, soon to be five – all excellent female writers. Yes, one of them is Morgan Gallagher, and we're proud to have her on board.

My writing site:
Osier Publishing:

I'm a writer, with a vagina of my own, not in a jar – I was born with it. It's birthed me two lovely children, and brought me pleasure, and I love it. My anatomy does NOT dictate my talents, does NOT make me less, or soft, or weak. I can write soft, strong, horror, tension, power and magic, light and dark. I write good books because I have a brain and an imagination too. Those are not solely a male domain.
I recall an interview I once read with Sci-fi/Fantasy writer Julian May (I can't remember where, it may even be urban myth but I remember it, it stayed with me). I'd read the entire Metapsychic Rebellion/Saga of the Exiles before I realised she's female. She'd felt forced to hide her gender in order to get published – mainly due to the genre of her writing. It's a sad state of affairs that in some ways this is still the case and that women are being told they can't possibly write horror, fantasy, sci-fi, purely because of anatomy.
Patriarchy is alive and well and thriving in the world of writing and publishing. Shame. I think a good, old fashioned, patriarchy-dragon slaying quest is needed.

Morgan says she's interested in the ideas behind the women in my own Portal Series.
Are they all Daughters of Lilith? Are they Daughters of Eve? How very Narnia.... Did I intend them to be such?
Why do we care so much about these labels anyway? Why do we sit and analyse characters in fiction and attribute mythology to them? We all do it though, don't we?

My own characters came from deep inside my head, with little or no planning to start with – so, no, I didn't intend for the three women to reflect the triple aspect of womanhood so clearly and neither did I intend to represent Daughters of Lilith or Eve. But, somehow they still do. I can see it, my readers can see it. What's fascinating, to me anyway, is the way people react to the three of them. Sam is the Maiden, young, undefined, holding the potential for so much. Kate is the Mother, nurturing and creating the next generation. Lily is the Crone, but not in that old hag sense, in the mature, experienced, powerful woman sense.
Have you read any of the Portal series? Who's your favourite? I bet it's Lily....
It's always Lily. And Lily was a total accident, she created herself. She was thrown onto the page when Kate needed a friend to watch the children. She walked into The Portal Between, did the Jedi mind trick, and took over.
She was, very loosely, modelled on the Lilith legend – born from, and bound to, a living earth; powerful, independent, in control. But passes for normal. I did once have the notion that she was Ametsam's mother (The Portal Between) – making her "The Mother of Demons" But I didn't use that in the end. I toyed with the idea that she is either The Lilith, and immortal, or directly descended from the original Lilith. She's not the first, the latter is debatable. Is she a Daughter of Lilith? Yes, absolutely. She rules, she carves her own path and she does things her way and refuses to answer to anyone. She thrives on her own independence.
Sam doesn't fit into either camp. Sam is a mess, she's damaged so much by the mess of her life that she is still finding out who she is and what she wants when she finally cracks and..... ah, spoilers. Go and read Child of the Portal for that part.
Kate, on the other hand, I could argue either way. She makes her life as she wants it. She exercises her choices and does things her own way. But her choice is to nurture a family, be a homemaker. Does that make her a Daughter of Eve? You might say yes, but I'd argue against that. She has enormous strength and determination. She's choosing the lifestyle that makes her appear to be more passive, but it's HER CHOICE.
And that's where my politics come in.

I'm all about choice, ultimate choice. In this, Ms Gallagher, we are in total agreement. It's an individual's right to choose that's important. But it bumps up against my other set of beliefs, which run along a Pagan path. "Cause no harm." Or, "If it harm none, then do as you will." There has to be that caveat or there is imposition of choice on others and that removes their own choice.
Back to the characters. Lily makes some damned hard choices. She chooses to abandon her child, at least twice, probably more. She knows the harm this does and she does it anyway. Why? The first time was in crisis, the only choice she really had (The Heir) Read it and then tell me she had a true, free choice. What she did took courage, but the choice she made was limited, constrained by the man in her life. She let him dictate what she could, and could not, do. But in later books she's the strong one, the one who holds the answers, the power. She moves from Lilith in name to Lilith in nature, before she becomes very human at the end of Child of the Portal and she chooses to let her power slip away so she can rest.
Being a Daughter of Lilith can be draining, exhausting.  

Next Week's Daughter of Lilith will Be Lori Lopez 

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Sample Sunday May 20th

Poverty is a hard ride.  Cold, is a harder one.  Old age, the hardest.  Put all three together and you have the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people trying to survive, trying to get to Spring.

Old people die in the winter months, even when they have heat and light and food.

Sometimes the horror isn't in the big things.  It's in the little things.  In the tiny little parts of small lives, that can keep you alive.  Sometimes, horror is losing your library card.

This is the first have of this story.  As I'm very fond of it, I'll give you the second half, next Sunday.

SNIP - content removed - second half of the story, here.

If you want to finish this story, you'll find Sleet Dreams in Fragments.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Julie Ann Dawson - Daughter of Lilith

Our very first post on Daughters of Lilith, is by Julie Ann Dawson, of Bards & Sages.  Julie had written the below, in the same time frame that I'd written the first post on this subject. 

If you'd like to buy and read A Game of Blood before reading the post, you can find it here:

In future, I'll try and give a few days notice of the subject matter of the next post, so that reading up can be done, if that is your thing.  

Morgan (everything past this point written by Julie)

 Bio: Julie Ann Dawson’s love for the horror genre began at the age of thirteen, when she found a copy of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot in the Bridgeton High School library. She earned her B.A. degree in English, Liberal Arts from Rowan University in 1993. Her short stories, poems, and articles have appeared in a variety of both traditional and digital publications, including Gareth Blackmore’s Unusual Tales, Black Bough, The New Jersey Review of Literature, Lucidity, Happiness, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and others. Her other works include the dark fantasy The Doom Guardian and the horror short story collection September and Other Stories. When not writing her own stories, she operates micro press Bards and Sages Publishing.

Apparently, I’m a misogynist.

I got an email recently from a woman who took offense to the fact that there are no “strong female characters” in A Game of Blood. She was rather incensed by it, going so far as to claim she “couldn’t believe a woman wrote this!” This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this accusation. There’s even a review on that points this out. I didn’t set out to write a feminist manifesto when I wrote the story. I wasn’t setting out to tear down any archetypes. I set out to write a paranormal thriller.

As I begin work on the sequel, I look back over the cast of characters and ask myself if I did “slight” my own gender. I honestly think one would be hard pressed to call Jasmyne Sherman, Rodney’s wife, a weak female. She may not pull a gun or get into fist fights, but she’s a successful professional woman who freely shares her opinions. Assistant DA Madeline Carter isn’t meek either; working behind her boss’s back to push her own agenda. Even Ms. Rosalind, the elderly part time receptionist at the police station, commands respect from the officers. Sure, Darius takes advantage of a few teenage girls, but truth be told Darius takes advantage of just about everyone in one way or the other. Women aren’t the only victims in his bizarre schemes. If anything, I would say the presentation of women throughout the book is balanced and realistic for the setting and storyline.

Perhaps that is the problem. These are realistic women and not fantasy role models.

I doubt people would level these sort of accusations at a male author. Anyone familiar with the genre would in fact find far fewer realistic portrayals of women in most thrillers. But I think female readers may place an undue expectation on female writers to create these artificially strong female characters even at the expense of the story. I’m supposed to be offering role models in lieu of believable characters, I guess.

I’m often annoyed by what is presented as a “strong” female character, to be honest. The typical strong female character in modern fiction has become a composite caricature: she’s strong and sexy, tough as nails and softhearted, can kick the ass of a man twice her size but still falls madly in love with the hero. The word “sassy” is often bantered about as a compliment, implying that for a female character to really be a “strong” female, it isn’t enough for her to be able to do her job competently. She has to be fashionable and funny while doing it.

I look at the so-called strong female character in movies and cringe a bit. Selene in the Underworld franchise. Black Widow in the Avengers. Would they be celebrated as strong female characters if they didn’t look sexy in their catsuits while kicking ass? Would the characters even EXIST if they weren’t sexy and sassy?

Mitch, the hero in the book, isn’t fashionable. He usually shows up at the police station looking like he just rolled out of bed. Could a female detective as protagonist be considered “strong” and still looks completely disheveled and unkempt? Mitch is often socially awkward, has a gutter vocabulary, and is more inclined to resolve problems with his gun than words. Would a female detective be able to go through the book acting like Mitch does? Or would she need to be “sassy” in order to be acceptable to readers?

I go back and think about the character of Ms. Rosalind. She would not look good in a catsuit. She certainly is not going to do a spinning kick in a pair of heels. But her actions, though not sexy or sassy, are essential to the climax of the book. She’s a powerful woman who doesn’t flaunt her power or even let on that she has it. She doesn’t need to. Like the crone of myth, she possesses a quiet power that commands respect before you even know what she is capable of. 

So my female characters aren’t glamorous and powerful. They aren’t strong and sassy. Instead, they are wives juggling careers and family obligations, young women working toward getting into college, and old women working part-time jobs to supplement their social security. They are single moms looking for romance and distraught mothers who have lost their children under the most horrific of circumstances. They are teen girls struggling with identity issues and middle-aged women struggling to climb the corporate ladder. The hero moves through a world of real women, not caricatures. The hero and villain may be men engaged in a deadly game, but the women are not just sitting around waiting to be saved. They are moving on with their lives, making decisions independent and mostly unaware of what the main characters are doing. 

Ironically, one of the villains for the sequel is a female, a witch who plans to introduce a new era of Enlightenment. She is neither a seductress nor a hag, as is typical of female villains. In fact, she’s rather plain appearance-wise. She could walk by you and you wouldn’t look twice at her. Her methods aren’t sassy or flashy, but calculating. Her goals horrific yet oddly logical. It will be curious to see how readers respond to her, and if I get more emails telling my I hate my own gender.

Post script:
My reason for offering this to Daughters of Lilith was to point out that sometimes we women are our own worst enemies in terms of forcing definitions on women. For example, I have been involved in discussions where the men in the group understand my point perfectly, while the women will make comments diminishing my contributions as “mean” or “cruel” because of my “tone.” My demonstration of strength didn’t fit with how they believed women should demonstrate strength. It isn’t enough to demonstrate my knowledge on a topic. I have to do it in a way that is also sweet and kind: requirements not placed on males making the same points and in some cases using almost the same words. So it is my hope that my contribution will encourage women to think not just in terms of how to liberate their own “inner Lilith,” but to be wary about how they may be actually reinforcing the gender roles Lilith sought to cast off.

Book Blurb

What would you do if a 300 year old vampire decided that you would make the perfect Van Helsing for his own twisted game?A series of bizzare kidnappings leads detective Mitch Grogan to the home of the wealthy and eccentric Darius Hawthorne. What he discovers there unleashes a chain of events that not only threatens his life, but also his sanity. Grogan finds himself caught up in a deadly game with a three hundred year old vampire looking for a worthy adversary. But how can a burnt-out cop with a crumbling marriage compete against a centuries' old immortal with unlimited resources and supernatural powers?

More than boredom drives the cunning Hawthorne, however. His attempts to push Grogan to the breaking point are more than cruel entertainment. They also serve as a test to see whether or not the mortal is ready to help him hunt an even more deadly foe:  one that  would see the whole world burn to remove the vampiric corruption from it.

Next Posting will be by Sarah Barnard on her Portal women.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Daughters of Lilith

Lilith copyright  Shane Coppage
Lilith, for those who don't know, is a mythical figure from... well, just about everywhere.  The legends start with her in the Garden of Eden, where she was Adam's first wife.  She was made from the earth, like him, and although she was his partner - she bore him children - she refused to submit to his authority.  She argued that they were made from the same source, the same earth, and therefore they were equals.

Angry, Adam rejected her, and asked for another mate.  God then fashioned Eve from Adam's side ('rib' is a contentious translation) and bade Eve to be Adam's help mate, not his equal.

Lilith went off, in a high temper.  Or was banished: depends which text you read, and how you read it.  Her children were named illegitimate, fae, vampires, or demons; those of the shadows.  Lilith is often depicted as a temptress, a sly person, a poisonous woman.  As opposed to the woman who said 'No' to being told to what to do by her rightful master, the man.

Lilith, despised, slandered, seen as evil... represents in many of the myths and legends all the things women are not supposed to be.  Unlike Eve, whose problem was her very femaleness, her weakness, Lilith is a pain in the butt for being strong.  Eve gets sucked in by the serpent, to eat the apple.  And further, she could persuade Adam to it it also.  In some depictions, the serpent that tempted Eve is actually Lilith, removing all sin from male responsibility in the first place.  The serpent that tempts the weak woman, is in fact, the stronger woman.  Sin, falling from the grace of God, is woman's fault, no matter how you view either Lilith, or Eve.  So women must carry the burden on that original sin (the pain of child birth is often quoted as Eve's punishment for her weakness.)

The Serpent Lilith Tempts Eve (Sistine Chapel)
Eve is weak.  Like Pandora, it's giving into temptation that causes misery and pain to escape the box.  Lilith, however, is active: strong, powerful, treacherous.  Lilith is a protagonist.  She makes things happen.  Lilith's will, her agency, was the problem to start with.

So we have a wonderful dichotomy.  If you are a strong and rebellious women, you're a baddy.  If you are a true helpmate to the male, your 'lack' makes you weak and susceptible to persuasion to badness.  It's no accident that the eating of the apple allowed the children of god in the garden of Eden to notice they were naked (and thus make them cover up their 'shame').  Knowledge, is sinful.  Innocence, is ignorance and obedience.

I've been thinking a lot, lately, about being a woman, and a writer of horror.  Of how people still say things like "Gosh, how can you write horror, you're a woman?"  As if the dark, the darkness, the shadows, are only a male affair.  Despite the best attempts of our famous writers with vaginas, who have written horror in the past.  Despite the supposed march forward of equality.  There are still those who think that writers with vaginas should only write romance, erotica, children's novels, cook books and knitting patterns.  Apart from how annoying that must be if you are a writer with a vagina who writes romances, cookery books and knitting patterns (Hi Kathleen!), there is also the rather one sided view of such things.  It's not as is writers with a penis don't write such things.  Romance, erotica, cook books and knitting books are all written by men.   No one tells Gordon Ramsey he's less of a man, for writing cook books.

But women are still questioned about being writers of horror.  As if writers with vaginas should somehow conform to the Eve image: the helpmate, the other side, pulled from man, and only work on the touchy feely, 'female' side of life.  I don't conform to the Eve image.  I'm more of a Lilith person.  I write about shadows and darkness.  Both as a writer, a human being, and as a creator of female characters, I'm a Daughter of Lilith.

I have no problem with Eve, and her daughters.  I know women who do believe their role is to complete the male partnership in their life, and create a whole unit of family from which to move on, raise children, grow a world, under a Godly life style.  I have no truck with that.  Just like I have no truck with women who wear the veil to show their belief in God.  I just have truck with people - men or women - who insist that women are the helpmate, who require submission, and who think they can legislate woman's bodies and sexuality as being public property.  I am perfectly happy for women to choose to be helpmates, and to fulfill their roles as Daughters of Eve.

As long as I get to say 'No'.

As long as I get to say "That's not me."

As long as I get to be a Daughter of Lilith, and we get rid of all the nonsense about being a writer of women who say no, as being somehow not female.

Lots of women in fiction will pretend to be Daughters of Lilith.  They'll even think they are a Daughter of Lilith!  They spend a lot of time in the narrative saying 'no' 'no' 'no' 'no' but at the end of the tale, she falls into the arms of her lover, her protector, knowing she's safe forever.  If she fights through the narrative with her perky breasts and flawless skin, only to find her self in loving arms at the end, safe in the knowledge that her turmoil is over and she has finally found peace and safety... she's a Daughter of Eve.

If she's wondering how long the idyll will last, before life breaks back in and she has to get up and do something, she's a Daughter of Lilith.  

And she doesn't need to be in horror.  She can be in the romance, in the child's book, in the chick lit book.  I'd argue that Hermione is a Daughter of Lilith, as is J.K Rowling.  Although being a horror writer, I'm really interested in seeing other writers or horror, discuss their female characters in this Lilith paradigm I'm setting out here.

Characters can also be a little bit of both, of course.  Both Lilith and Eve.  Real people are that complex, so characters can be too.  But are the writers Daughters of Lilith?  Is Anne Rice?  (I'd say yes, based on Gabrielle, Lestat's mother, who simply goes feral.)  Is Bella?  I have no idea, as I've not read the books, but from the memes I've seen, she is perceived by some as a Daughter of Eve, happily giving up her all to her hero.  Is she?

It's a tricky business, being a powerful woman in a narrative.  Particularly in terms of being sexual, as opposed to sexy.  The Lilith myth has become a short hand for the Dark Women who is very naughty and sleeps around a lot.  Dangerous sex, but sex for the taking.  The dark power is part of her sexuality.  A sexual predator who just happens to be available.  The Woman Who Said No, reduced to the woman with the poison pellet in her pocket, and who shrieks "Yes, yes, yes, do it one more time!"  but refuses to wash the dishes.

We all have to wash the dishes.   No, really.

I'm not interested in powerful women in the narrative who are heroines.  I'm interested in powerful women in the narrative who are heroes.  And who negotiate the challenges of how to be the active person, and the woman, on her own terms.  Who maintains her sense of self and identity, despite her sexuality and her physical attributes.  She may enjoy them, she may not.  But they are hers.  

I'm interested in how writers with vaginas cope with the idea that horror and crime are 'men's genres'.  And how they cope with being writers of 'women's genres'.  It's about the writing, really.

I'd also like to see how Daughters of Lilith cope with being female - having that vagina.  How motherhood can be negotiated.  How sexual feeling and need is part of their own identity, and not the major defining element of who she is in the world.  How to negotiate an 'other half' and still be herself.

And, of course, how this can be negotiated regardless of gender.  Daughters of Lilith have to negotiate how they accommodate a partner, an 'other', a lover, a life... regardless of the gender of the partner.  

How to be sexual, and not a sex toy.  How to have power, and not be a hag.  How to be sexual, have power, and agency, and not be a barbie doll with black hair and a snake tattoo or a broken down old biddy with a twitch.

So, this is an open invite, for all writers with vaginas to sumbit guest posts to this blog, on Daughters of Lilith in written fiction.

I look forward to your early reply.


Daughters of Lilith

Female writers who write about dark female characters, strong powers, shadows, pain, women and their working through a world of struggle.  Women who strive to overcome.  Women who survive.  Women who find their sense of self, and maintain it, against the odds.

It's a stab in the dark definition, open to suggestions and corrections.

Edit:  A Daughter of Lilith is not a help mate to another person.  She retains her own agency, and requires that as an equal share, in any partnership.  Caroline Ingles in Little House on the Praire, is a Daughter of Eve.  She fully accepts and understands, and is happy with, being Charles's help mate  This does not mean she is weak, or unhappy.  Laura Ingles Wilder, argues and rescues her husband from bad decisions.  She's a Daughter of Lilith.  It does not mean she is not caring, and a good mother, or a good wife.  Just that she has a different paradigm.

A Daughter of Lilith can be any woman, in any type of fiction.  That's the point!


1)  You must be a writer with a vagina.  Unless you are Joss Whedon.  If you are Joss Whedon, you can submit whatever the hell you want to. 

Crass comments about how you have a vagina in a jar on your desk, or you own your wife's, does that count, automatically negates you.

2)  Submissions under 1000 words.  Must be edited and properly spell checked.  If you leave a mistake in it, a mistake goes out.  Simples!

3)  Up to four images.

4)  You must start with a small preface about who you are, what you write, and give links to your sites.  You may mention up to three works of your own.

5)  You may write about...
             yourself as a writer
                other women as writers
                    your own characters
                        other writer's characters

You may simply pose a question, with your own thoughts, and open it up for debate.  For instance "Is Jane Eyre a Daughter of Lilith?"  

(I'd argue yes, but I can see the argument for her being a Daughter of Eve.)

Daughters of Lilith posts will go out once a week.  
First Come, First Served.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Sample Sunday May 13th

Something a little different this week.  In part, this piece is in response to current parenting trends that deem a child is an unruly influence on the lives of adults, to be controlled, restricted, trained.  Most parents have done some of the things that Alma deems to be ‘perfect parenting’, I doubt any have done them all.  I hope not, at least.  In the current welter of conflicting advice on ‘how to... raise a child’ mothers in particular are stuck in an unending grind of feeling they don’t know what to do, and trying out the latest ‘advice’ to show them a pathway.  Most, however, soon find their own instincts and realise what is, or isn’t, working for them.  I took the ‘cry it out’ advice seriously and put my baby to sleep in a room of its own to ‘teach’ it to sleep.  And promptly took the baby out fifteen minutes later and never did such a thing again.  So, as I said, this story is, in part, about what’s going on the media around us, to tell us how to raise a child.
          But only in part.   The other part is the exaggerated world view of the horror writer.  And, like all writers, I lie.   I take factual happenings and twist them, meld them, blend them, and add a narrative arc: the skeleton of a storyline that has a beginning, middle, and end.  I take one small aspect and magnify it, making it larger than it could be, should be, in real life.  I also order the events to suit my pen.  Life itself is rarely so neat, so well contained, so finite.  Therefore, in some ways this story is unsatisfying, as although it ties up the loose ends and take us to a finite moment of resolution, the situation does not end.  The characters live on in their own story, finishing their lives without us.   I think the horror of the years that follow the final words, are more troubling to the mind than what is here.  I think about Alma often, and hope that her daughter makes a better escape than the one she thinks she has achieved.  I’d say ‘enjoy’, but that’s the wrong word.  Enjoy your journey then, in this story, if not the events...

Alma Mater

            ‘What is that stench, how can she make such a foul odour?’ 
            Although quiet, and polite, Alma’s husband could hear the repulsion in her tone: could hear her muscles clenching and her body turning to piano wire as she spoke.
            ‘Don’t speak like that in front of Catherine, she can hear you.’  Acutely aware of his wife’s moods, his own words were muted and light, with an attempt at humour.  He smiled down at three week old Catherine, and rubbed her belly with a light tickle.
            ‘Oh don’t do that, she doesn’t want a poo-ey hand touching her.  Haven’t you finished?’
            James had indeed finished changing the nappy.  Poor Catherine had seemed a little constipated, and had squealed and cried and turned bright red as she howled.  He’d come home from work to be greeted by the shrieks from the pram in the outer porch whilst Alma had been finishing making dinner in the kitchen.
            Alma liked dinner to be on the table in front of him as he walked in the door at 6.15.  The screeching from Catherine had been matched by the icy silence from Alma, as he entered at 5.55.  Prior to his daughter’s birth, he’d have hung around at the train station until he could walk in the door at the correct moment.  Now, his desire to hold his daughter in his arms, lift her up and cuddle her, and have that bit more time with her before she was sentenced to the bedroom at 7.15, over rode other considerations.
            Alma was furious on two counts.  One, he’d come home ‘early’ and two, dinner wasn’t nearly ready.  Catherine, it transpired, had been an absolute nightmare all day.  Crying, refusing to sleep, refusing to swallow all her bottle, and deliberately vomiting up her milk on her nice clean clothes.
            ‘Honestly James, she is just like you.  She never listens and does exactly what she wants.’  Alma had stirred the bolognaise sauce she was working on with such speed it slopped out onto the cooker.
            ‘Now look what she’s made me do!’  Alma took the saucepan off the ring and washed down the cooker top before putting it back on and continuing the frantic swirling.
            James had smiled a smile of consolation and comfort, picked up Catherine and taken her upstairs.  Twenty minutes later, with her tummy rubbed and her legs bicycled up and down, she’d finally managed to get rid of the thing that was hurting her, and had stopped crying.  James had cleaned her up and was just about to put the new nappy on, when Alma had arrived to comment on the smell, and to state that dinner was on the table.  James thanked his wife and carried Catherine back down the stairs.  He placed her in the little Moses basket his mother had given them, and watched her look around as he ate his spaghetti.
            ‘I wish you wouldn’t keep looking at her like that, she’ll get spoiled.  She has to learn she’s not the centre of the Universe.’
            James smiled and carried on eating, carried on gazing at his beloved Catherine.


            The shrieks were ear piercing.  James felt his nerve begin to break.  He’d been pacing the living room for over an hour, despite Alma’s promises that it wouldn’t go on for more than ten minutes.  So far he’d kept to his side of the bargain: not to interfere, not to intrude on her authority as the mother.  But the feeling of his skin searing off his body, and fear knotting up his stomach, was becoming impossible to ignore.  Every one of Catherine’s screams and wails was killing him.  He could feel his heart jumping in response.  He gave in to his instincts and went upstairs.
            Alma was sitting outside the nursery, reading her Women’s Weekly.  She’d put her chair in front of the door, barring the way.  She looked up at him as he emerged onto the landing.  Her eyes rolled and the magazine was put down with a huff.
            ‘Oh for goodness sake, James!  She’s perfectly all right!’ 
            ‘She doesn’t sound all right.’  He’d had to raise his voice to be heard above the cries.
            ‘She is warm, well fed, safe and comfortable.  I double filled her bottle to get her through the night and her nappy is dry.  There is nothing wrong with her.’
            ‘She’s lonely!’  His voice raised until it was almost matching Alma’s extortions.
            ‘She’s in a TEMPER.  You don’t propose to raise a spoilt brat, do you?’
            ‘She’s six months old, how can she be spoiled?’
            ‘Easily, with you around.  Always picking her up, cuddling her, telling her what a good girl she is.  Always rushing to her for the slightest whimper.  You’ve caused this!’
            James stared at his wife.  The schism that existed in their world had never seemed so great, so profound.
            ‘How can you bear to hear her in pain like this?’
            ‘She is not in pain.  She’s in a temper, and heaven knows, if we don’t control it now, we’ll have worse to come.’  Alma seemed not to hear the pain in James’s voice.  ‘She has to learn to sleep, and this is how she’ll do it.  Not by being mollycoddled by you.’
            Alma picked the magazine back up and purposely stared at the pages.  James had been dismissed.  Short of physically pushing her out of the chair to get to the nursery, there was nothing he could do.  He stormed back down the stairs, pulled his coat off the hook, and left.
            ‘Another night at the pub whilst I do the hard work.’ Alma spoke out loud, as if addressing the baby through the door.
            ‘Now see what you have done...’

            James opened the door at 6.13.  ‘I’m home!’
            Alma smiled her greeting, and her thanks, as she placed the dinner out on the table.
            ‘Smells good!’ said James, as he hung up his coat.  ‘I’ll just wash my hands.’  He ducked into the down stairs toilet that Alma had had installed under the stairs.  She was immensely pleased with this civilised addition to the house.  James would have preferred... well, quite a lot of things, actually, but it was keeping Alma happy.
            Alma was settling Catherine into the high chair, as he seated himself.  Beef Cobbler was one of his favourites: once again, Alma was showing her thanks for him giving in on the extension.
            ‘Well, how have my girls been today?’
            Frost formed in the air as Alma launched into her tirade of how trying her day had been.  James tried to tune it out, and concentrate on Catherine, who was playing with a rattle he’d bought for her, but it was difficult.
            ‘...And then she spit up all over her new bib.  I’d starched it too, when I ironed it, and she got bits in the little embroidery roses.  I’ll never get them looking that good again...’
            ‘Tut,’ said James, quietly.  He winked at Catherine.  Alma didn’t pause for breath.
            ‘... so I tried the new banana one, and she spat that out too.  I mean, what child doesn’t like mashed banana?  It took me an hour to get that jar into her.  I was exhausted by the time for her nap, and then she threw up all over her clean bedding, so I had to re-feed her and do the bed linen...’
            James spooned down his dinner, trying to juggle his attention between the women in his life.  Alma would erupt if she felt she wasn’t getting enough, or that Catherine was getting too much.  All he wanted was to beam and smile at Catherine, and talk to her in little whispers and tickle her until she started to hiccup with laughter.  He nodded and smiled at Alma enough times to keep her mollified whilst giving Catherine his secret smile and pulling faces that Alma couldn’t see.  Catherine giggled.  Alma droned on...
            ‘Claire was round, and she said little Emily never spits out her food, and every scrap is taken from the jar...and heaven knows Emily doesn’t manage to stink out the room every time she breathes...’
            Catherine dropped the rattle on the floor as she squealed in laughter. 
            ‘That’s it, that’s the third time today.’ As James had leaned down to pick up the rattle, Alma swooped up Catherine.  A sharp slap and a sharper cry rent the air, and James’s heart.
            ‘Never, never, never, do that again.’  On each ‘never’, Alma slapped the back of Catherine’s hand hard.  Catherine’s howls became screams, as Alma whisked her up the stairs.  ‘When will you learn?’
            James looked at his beef congealing into the gravy, as he heard the uproar upstairs as Catherine was stripped of her clothes, pushed and pulled into a sleep suit, and the door firmly closed on her cries.  By the time Alma came back downstairs he was in the pub.
            ‘There, who is a pretty girl, then?’  James finished buttoning Catherine’s coat and stood up to look at her.  How could she be so grown up?  She looked tiny and vulnerable in her school uniform, which like all first school uniforms was too big for her.  Catherine looked up at her Daddy with adoring eyes and smiled.
            ‘Will I do then, Daddy?’
            James laughed, and was just about to speak, when Alma came rushing into the hall.
            ‘Oh, for goodness sake, aren’t you ready yet?  We’ll be late.  Catherine, what is that bird’s nest on top of your head?  You don’t think it’s a hairstyle, do you?’  She shot James the look, the one that made it clear that Daddy was an idiot and how could he call that pigtails?  James ignored her and leaned down to try and adjust the approved school ribbons.
            ‘Oh don’t make it worse!’  Alma slapped James’s hand out of the way, pulling the ribbons off.  Cathy squealed.
            ‘Oh be quiet, I didn’t hurt you.’  She unpicked the pigtails and pulled a brush through, starting again, in double quick time.  As she twisted the first layer in deeply, pulling the hair tightly into the scalp, Cathy squealed again.  Alma slapped her bare legs with the palm of her hand.
            ‘Don’t argue back.  I’ve told you, you have to suffer for beauty, you better get used to it now.  I’m not having everyone looking down on us as your hair falls out half-way through the day.  I’ve told you, you have to finish the day as neat as you start it.  Is that clear?’
            Cathy nodded, her eyes brimming with tears.  James turned away, breathing deeply.
            ‘There, that’s much better.  Make sure the ribbons don’t come out, won’t you, sweetheart?’  Alma dropped down to Cathy’s height.
            ‘You know Mummy loves you, don’t you, darling?  I just want the best for you.’  James turned back to his look at his girls.  Tears were brimming in Alma’s eyes and her voice was choked.  James patted her on the shoulder.
            ‘She’ll do her best, won’t you, Cathy?’
            ‘There’s no ‘Cathy’ in this house, is there, Catherine...?’  Alma’s tone had returned to its usual cadence of disapproval and frustration.
            ‘No, Mummy, only a Catherine.’  Cathy sing songed back to her.
            ‘And don’t you forget that at school today.  If the girls call you Cathy, you tell them politely and nicely, that your name is CATH-ER-INE.  Is that clear?’
            ‘Yes, Mummy.’
            ‘Good girl, well then, let’s get going, we can’t be late!’

            Alma had already instructed James that he was not to get out of the car at the school gates.
            ‘None of the other fathers even turn up.  Of course, I’d need my own car to be able drop her off myself.’
            ‘We can’t afford another car and the school fees.  The uniform alone cost enough to buy you a little banger.’
            ‘A banger!  You’d let your wife drive a second hand car?  Well, that shouldn’t surprise me...’
            James had taken in a deep breath and counted to twenty.  Once, he’d only needed to count to ten.  He had wondered what would happen if he ever needed to get to thirty...

            She looked so small, and fragile, as Alma led her across the school yard to the lines of children waiting patiently.  The Nuns looked so tall in their habits, so severe.  He hated that Alma had won this battle; every instinct in him wanted him to get out the car, gather his little treasure up in his arms and take her away as quickly as he could.  With a final instruction of some sort Alma let go her hand and backed off to hover with the ring of mothers looking on anxiously.  Alma wasn’t anxious.  She beamed with pride and happiness at the sight of her Catherine in the long line of silent little girls, who looked as if they had been made from a biscuit cutter; with their identical hats, blazers, satchels and pigtails.  The Nun on the top step of the school doorway rang a large hand-bell she carried.  The lines started to move into the school, older girls first. 
            James watched as his perfect child, his little girl, his lover of cuddles and tickles, stood the longest and marched in last: the baby class.
            He gunned the car up to life.  The revving disturbed the silence that had fallen on the playground as the mothers had nodded and smiled to each other.  Alma’s eyebrows rose up and she shot him another icy gaze.  He ignored it, and when she finally got into the car, he wrecked the gears as he tried to drive off quickly.  The car shuddered and stalled.  He jabbed the pedal down and pulled the key round hard.
            ‘Careful.  You don’t want to flood the engine.’
            He remained silent as he slowly started to count to fifty.

If you want to finish this story, you'll find Alma Mater in Fragments.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Sample Sunday May 6th

This is the opening section of The Fool, an occult thriller novella in the Fragments collection.

Maryam Michael woke as she always did, in the dark.  She left her curtains open so that when she woke, the night was in the room with her.  Sometimes this meant she awoke in perfect darkness with a cloudy sky robbing all the night of light.  At other times she woke in brilliant moonlight, so bright she could see her reflection in her dressing table mirror.  This morning the shallow dark of a star-studded sky greeted her, and she rose and stared out her window, beginning her day with starlight and chanting.  Here, in the quiet of her country retreat, there was no artificial light on the horizon, nothing to interfere with the sky and her communion with it.

After so many years enclosed, she had come to love the expanse of an unfettered sky.  When she had left her cell behind, with all its quiet memories and soul devoted comforts, she had immediately relished the freedom of the sky.  For years her sky had been small, distant, dissected into squares.  A thing that she could glimpse now and then but which was out there, outwith the walls of her inner life.  Now she embraced it as an equal, although she shied from that as an analogy; how could any single, insignificant human soul be equal to the sky?

Like everything in her new life, her routine, her habit, was a mixture of old and new.  Carefully preserving the aspects that she’d found useful, adding to them new rituals and experiences that enriched who she now was.  Therefore when she finished her chanting and had rung the temple bell that hung at her window three times, she bowed to the sky and went through to her toilette.  A warm shower, the body washed and the hair cleaned through, she returned to her boudoir to dress.  Rather than the ritual of prayer that once accompanied the taking off of her night attire and its immediate replacement with her day attire, she relished the freedom to sit naked at her mirror and dance cosmetics across her skin.  The lightest of touches of moisturisers and foundation, a faint blush to the cheeks, a perfect contour of shade across her storm grey eyes, the lick of dark mascara defining her long lashes and a minute sheen of soft colour across her lip.

Her hair, as short as it ever had been, fell into perfect layers, a testament to scissors as sharp as the talent of the hairdresser that had yielded them.  It required but one comb through to settle smoothly, revealing her cheekbones in a way striking to any women of her age.  A cloistered youth had left her with excellent skin and when she had taken off her coif her shock of silver hair had been a surprise.  Then it had been unusual for a woman to go gray so completely by the time she had entered her 40s.  Now she was unusual only in that she choose not to colour it to mimic youth.  Her youth still came from inside.  She found that her age gave her a gravitas that she had sorely needed early in her life and valued tremendously now it had arrived.  It was not something she was prepared to deny or to hide.

She dressed in delicate satin and lace underwear, bespoke to her slender body, and finished with house pyjamas and a long house coat in linen.  Today would be spent in paperwork and she would appreciate the soft warmth and flow of the casual lines.  She had always enjoyed the feel of cloth as she moved and relished that she could now indulge her tastes in any fabric and colour.

Although she rarely chose colour: her pyjamas were black and her housecoat grey.  Monochrome was still a feature of her attire.  She slipped soft leather slippers on and went downstairs to the kitchen.  The aroma from the coffee maker drew her in and she poured herself a bowl.  The timer was set so that she invariably arrived just as the last few precious drops trickled into the jug.  She breathed in the warmth, holding the bowl in both hands and tip-toed over the flagstone floor, slipping into her study without waking up the Irish wolfhound that slept across the back door.  Edith, her housekeeper, would wake the behemoth when she pushed open the door in a couple of hours.  Once, Cullain would have woken the second she rose and would have been at the kitchen door whining and scratching when she came down.  Now, even the gurgling of the machine barely caused an eyelid to flutter.  He was getting old and knew he would be ignored until she’d eaten.  So he stayed asleep and she got more work done: it suited them both.

She had two reports to file for the Vatican and two articles to translate from Aramaic, both for an American university.  The Aramaic texts were proving to be difficult and she put her just awake mind to them first.  After an hour, when her forehead had begun to pound, she fetched more coffee and switched to sorting out the references.  She hated referencing her work and always had to make herself do it as she went, in order to prevent two weeks of agony at the end.  Referencing was always a time for her to consider her faults and sins; she often felt doing them was some sort of penance.

By the time Edith arrived two hours after that, bringing fresh croissants and bread, Maryam was grey with fatigue.  It was good fatigue, but her head hurt and her eyes stung.  Edith tutted at her as she called her through for a warming bowl of sweet oatmeal.  Maryam ignored the tutting, eating her portion whilst scratching the back of Cullain’s hairy ears.  Edith was not backward in coming forward with her ideas about how hard work, tiny amounts of food and very little sleep would ruin a person’s health.  Maryam, who’d found that slightly less sleep than you needed, combined with slightly less food than you needed and a good solid day’s work kept you agile and fit, ignored her.  Edith fed Cullain his breakfast as Maryam finished hers by dunking a croissant in another bowl of hot coffee: sweet indulgence was good for the body and the soul.
She changed into her outside clothes and donned her thick boots and took Cullain out for his morning tramp through the woods and hills.  It was brisk and none too warm, clouds scudded by and wind pulled at them both, but it was refreshing.  Cullain came alive on his walks and there was great pleasure in watching him enjoy the scents and intrigues of other wildlife and the undergrowth.  Her legs were aching when she returned two hours later and the aroma of the quail Edith was preparing for luncheon was delectable.  A shower, and then an hour or so of more translation before eating... and then she could spend the afternoon reading for leisure.  As she started up the stairs the phone rang.  Edith popped her head around the kitchen door as she answered and tutted.  The switch to Italian and her tone were unmistakable.  Edith returned to the kitchen, clanging pots and pans.  Madame was going on her travels again, and this lunch and the dinner she was half way through preparing would now be fed to the beast.  How on earth was she going to get her layabout son to walk Madame’s wolf dog at this time of year?

When Maryam finished the conversation, she phoned the local taxi company and requested they pick her up in thirty minutes, to drive her to Marseille.  Edith did some more banging as she packed a decent lunch for Madame.

Thirty minutes was tight, but she could make one of the afternoon’s TGVs to Lille if she hurried.  Maryam downloaded the files the Cardinal promised had been sent through, and packed up her electronics and their all important leads: laptop, phone, chargers and electricity converters for the various European voltages.  She showered the sweat off, dressed, and packed her clothing and personal items in under ten minutes.  Her work kit was always full and ready to go; Edith took the three cases outside whilst she hugged Cullain goodbye.  Cullain whimpered and look sorrowful but was asleep before she left the kitchen.  She picked up her heavy wool coat with its scarves and gloves in the pockets as she left.  The driver was eager, intent on carving a few minutes off the hour drive; the local drivers loved to compete on such runs.  Edith looked grim as Maryam waved goodbye to her and Maryam felt that grimness inside: she detested being called to work on a murder.