Monday 30 March 2015

Horrorful Harlot

This lady.

Strangely we were linked through a mutual friend years ago, yet never knew it until I was looking for a French translator and she stepped forward. Proving, once again, that it is a very small world.

I like her blog. Lot of fanfic, some confessions and a few short stories. She's just set it up, so worth following along. You can also find her on Twitter: 

Sunday 29 March 2015

Speak Easy

I love reading. I do a lot of it. But every now and then I find a wall of text off-putting. 

I've recently switched to using Word's Speak function for Wiki, news articles, blogs and e-mails. 

Here's how to enable it (plus tips on other read-out-loud programs).

Speak seems to have a finite reading time (couple of minutes, or around 700 words), perhaps Narrator is a better option, I'll have to try it out.

For me, though, it's perfect. 

It doesn't take the place of an actor for audiobooks, as the voice is heavily synthesised and gets a lot wrong, both in terms of pronunciation and inflection, but it's a helpful tool nonetheless. 

I'm a notorious multitasker. Often, I see an article I'd like to read, but, considering its length, think of other things I should probably get done. Speak has been especially useful with the heavy weight of research and fact-checking I've had to do for my current novel. I can follow all the Wiki links I want, and set them reading whilst I reply to emails and brows social media. It's not much different to having the radio playing, and I only need half an ear on it to pick up the important points. If I hear something of interest, I can pop back and check the text any time.

The other thing I find it really useful for is clearing my in-box. That sinking feeling you get when faced with twenty e-mails you're supposed to respond to... Speak is like having a PA. If I've opened the blank document in US English, I get an American PA, in UK English, I get a British PA. 

It's also useful when things get heated, such as customer complaint back-and-forths. You dread having to give up your attention to them, so having things read takes the ugh factor out of it. Plus, the voice on the screen always sounds a lot calmer than the voice in my head, thus my responses tend to be calmer too. 

The hotkeys you might want are: highlight the text from the web you want read, ctrl+c for copy, ctrl+v for paste (into the word doc), ctrl+a for select all, then hit play.

Saturday 28 March 2015

Clean Reader

'Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance.' - Laurie Halse Anderson
'I'm not going to censor myself to comfort your ignorance' - Jon Stewart

If you're an author and you've never heard of Clean Reader:

Time to get up to speed.

Two articles I highly recommend:

(I love this lady, also look at her Cunts)

By the end of those you're likely to have a very clear (or clean) idea of what's going on here. The argument that 'overlaying' text is not 'altering' text is total bollox and, as RG points out, absolutely contravenes the moral rights of the author.

It's basically an e-reading app for the brain-dead that looks through a book, picks any expletives, and overlays them with a block of colour and, sometimes, an alternative descriptive.

What I don't understand is why they'd set up a bookstore (which is the only material you can load onto Clean Reader) with books full of material that needs censoring? Why not just set up a bookstore with books void of sweary words?

Juvenile, dim-witted and repugnant. As Wendig points out - you don't like the way I write? I don't want you reading my feckin' (that's vernacular, not censored) books. Hands off. Go put them down your pants or something.

As also noticed, the bookstore seems to be an outlet for various translations of the Bible. I wonder if they've seen fit to censor The Word of God (tm)? Perhaps he'd like to assert his moral rights as an author?

I really can't say anything more constructively or more succinctly than RG and Wendig have, so I won't prattle on. But it's worth keeping an eye on this sort of shit, lest it become more prevalent.

There was a moment's fun on Twitter with #cleanreadermisses Inventive ways around censorship through erotic euphemism. RG postulating whether it might be possible to write an erotica anthology, or the smuttiest story ever, without getting a single word censored by Clean Reader. Undoubtedly, if her article's example of Ulysses was anything to go by.

The only thing I'd add, after musing through several articles on censorship recently, is to caution against the oft repeated phrase: 'censorship is becoming a greater threat,' or that 'censorship is on the increase'. Mayhap. But was there ever a glory day?

I mean, didn't Ibsen have to send Nora home to her husband? Didn't the Lord Chamberlain's Office have to scour through script after script? Didn't D. H. Lawrence have to self-publish? Didn't people lose their heads for satire? Was there ever such a golden age of freedom of expression, free from political, military or religious censorship?

Not saying it's right. Just saying.

Long way still to go.

I've posted it recently, but I'll post it again...

Friday 27 March 2015

Without Words

Me (far left), Ann & Kim
Without Words

Ahem. I've just been featured on Reading University's Alumni Profiles.

In honour of which, here's a couple of embarrassing photos.

That's me performing street theatre on Reading High Street circa 2001/2. It was part of a Deaf Theatre undergrad course so we used a mixture of sign language and physical theatre techniques - hence Without Words.

Me 'n' Graeme
Any excuse for top hat and tails.

Third from back left.
On stage at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

Fourth back left as the Mad Hatter
Uni Theme Night

Gosh, blast from the past. I briefly moved into a house in Colchester after graduating with Tom, the dude next to me in the shades. On the front row, far left is Ann and far right is Kim from Without Words.

That's quite enough cringeworthy rememberising.

In now news, there's also an interview with me via Laine Cunningham who reviewed Rosy Hours the other day. Talking a little about the book, and about how I got my publisher.

Thursday 26 March 2015

Kindle Cover Disasters

From fabulous art to true surrealism. Check out Kindle Cover Disasters. I especially like the comment beneath Old Ladies Who Love Porn:

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Monday 23 March 2015

Writer's Resource Review

A ravishingly written book that burns ferociously long after the last page has been turned. This book blew. Me. Away. I haven’t laid hands on something this beautiful, this sensuously dark and attractive, since Patrick Susskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. - read full review

That's how esteemed author Laine Cunningham began her review of Rosy Hours on Writer's Resource today!

It is such an incredible thing when your book finds its mark. It feels as though you're holding someone's hand through the page, tickling their palm, saying 'follow me.'

To be compared to such a phenomenal novel as Perfume is one heck of a compliment. 

It hasn't escaped my notice that all of my blog and literature reviews have been by women so far (give or take the garden gnomes, gender questionable). I've had compliments from male readers, and the odd Amazon review, but it is interesting. 

And, oh! What women. I think there might just be a breed of dark, sensual devourers of Gothic bloodlust out there. The twisted readers of a red world. 

It's also ridiculously gratifying that the biggest supporters of this book have themselves been authors. That's not to say that great reviews are not welcome from all walks - especially avid readers. Just that there's an extra little kick you get down in the pit of your stomach when professional admiration is involved. When you know that you've impressed someone who isn't easily impressed. Someone who knows the ins and outs of what you do, has seen all the back stage trapdoors, and is still willing to applaud the trick itself. 

I shall be adding a copy of Cunningham's He Drinks Poison to my TBR pile. My turn to be impressed.

Sunday 22 March 2015

Bé Chuille

“I am Bé Chuille,” I declared to the wind. “Witch of Lámhfada. I won the wars for the Tuatha. I vanquished the she devil of Athens and all of her sons. Though I am mortal, my magic holds strong, and I refuse to be forgotten.”

Well, pootling towards the 85k mark at the moment. Having a little play about with  mythical creatures, including one of the great bantuathaid (female witches) of Irish legend. Given up wholeheartedly on time lines. The original is supposed to be a telling of the Tuatha Dé Danann, yet it begins (if its own narrative is to be believed) almost a thousand years after they gave way to the Milesians.

There comes a time when you gotta say sod it, what's more important, chronology or character?

And there are plenty of characters to choose from.

I'm trying to stay calm. This is a legend I loved so much that I once wrote a feature-length script as a retelling. I've always felt it would make a good adaptation, especially with the advances in CGI we have today. Though this genre seems a bit hit and miss, if the recent revival of Tristan + Isolde is anything to go by.

I started tinkering back in August, trying to decide how best to flesh out my swan song into a novel. Between December and now, the past three months, I've added the bulk of 60,000 words. Largely because I had a couple of projects in mind early on and it took a while to settle on this one. 

Time also feels like it's gone quickly because I was so caught up in the launch of Rosy Hours. It feels almost as though this one has fallen off the back of it, whereas, in truth, it's taken about the usual amount of time it takes me to write a novel. 

Holding back excitement and trepidation at the moment. Excitement that it's almost finished. Though I reckon it may be a long one. Possibly even as high as 120k at this rate. Which is funny, as the original translation of the legend is just under 6.5k. 

Like any author, I live for the first edit. It's like that game you play where you draw a head, fold it over, pass it to the next player who draws the body, folds it over, passes it on. You only get to unfold it and see the entire picture at the very end.

I used to be an avid edit-as-you-goer, but with this I've stopped myself. I really have little idea what lies between pages ten and two hundred. That's the trepidation - I have no idea whether it's actually any good.

As with Rosy Hours, I've stuck as faithfully as I could to the original, give or take a dash of poetic license, but I've also run with it in other ways. I've woven in a host of other characters, I've been brazen about sexuality, I've dug so deep into the spurious realms of godly familial feuds that I've sewn together an entire alternative history for some. 

I hope I've been cunning in my attention to detail. I may just have tied myself in (Celtic) knots. 

Until I get to the end, I won't know for sure. 

It's not overtly plot-driven, and I worry that the characters might not be strong enough to drive it forward. Though I have learned from previous feedback that my idea of 'not strong' is often considered 'overkill' by some readers and 'spot on' by others. Sometimes you just need a subtle brushstroke to paint the picture. 

*Puts down spray can and glitter glue.*

No point worrying too much now. There will be plenty of time for that. I'm just really happy about the word count, and I know that in a couple of weeks - fingers crossed (or not, as I need them for typing) - I should have a brand new baby MS to play with.

Saturday 21 March 2015


Me 'n' Mrs Kingswell

Sharing the love with the delectable Ms. Hall, as she was, back in the day. My lovely friend Cassie of Wreck This Journal antics found this in her archives and decided to share. We must be about twenty-one there. Down in the dungeons at Fez club in Reading, our Monday rock night ritual. Young, sassy, and covered in glittery eyeshadow. \m/

Thursday 19 March 2015

Piss on That

There's actually a book called
Pissing in the Snow by Vance Randolph

I'm sorry. Every now and then when you're doing research for a book, you have a complete and total WTF!? moment. I thought it was fairly entertaining that women in Iranian harems darkened their lips with coffee if they weren't lucky enough to sport a natural moustache. But this... I can honestly say, this tops the lot.

I'm really knackered at the moment, been a bit unwell. I was going cross-eyed with the amount of research I'm having to wade through. So I decided to let Word's Speak function take over for a bit. It's not the best, especially at Gaelic pronunciation, but it lets me learn with my eyes closed for a while.

Hmm, big Celtic warrior... uh-huh, pisses off evil goddess, sounding good so far... poisoned by dog meat, noted... 

Then this happened:

In another related story, Aided Derbforgaill ("The Death of Derbforgaill"), the Scandinavian princess Derbforgaill, whom Cú Chulainn rescues from being sacrificed to the Fomorians in some versions of Tochmarc Emire, comes to Ireland with her handmaid, in the form of a pair of swans, to seek Cú Chulainn, with whom she has fallen in love...  
One day in deep winter, the men of Ulster make pillars of snow, and the women compete to see who can urinate the deepest into the pillar and prove herself the most desirable to men.  
Derbforgaill's urine reaches the ground, and the other women, out of jealousy, attack and mutilate her. 

I pretty much spat coffee all over the screen.

Sounds like something Ygritte out of Game of Thrones might suggest: let's have a pissing contest to prove our womanliness. Bet I can piss deeper than you, Jon Snow.

Perhaps that's where the idiom pissing contest actually comes from?

Wednesday 18 March 2015


I'm so feeling the love today.

Unexpected rockin' review from my writer's crush of the month, RG.

Find the full review on Goodreads, and Remittance Girl on her website and Twitter.

As I said before, it's an incredibly lovely feeling to impress someone who impresses you.

Started a wee Twitter flurry that's left me breathless.

Honestly, I'm blown away.

I'm at a juncture at the moment. Trying to decide whether to return to the UK to focus more on friends and writing. Hammering away at the next novel, which is about Iron Age Ireland. It's making me nostalgic for standing stones and sweeping glens. I miss being able to go out for a walk and actually walk, rather than being chased for money or reminded I'm muzungu. My heart is calling me home. 

I haven't completely made up my mind yet, but it's looking likely. It's taken me a year away but I'm starting to come to the conclusion that I need to focus on what I really enjoy, and what I appear to be good at (or getting good at). 

I know you shouldn't only listen to the praise, but, y'know what, once in a while it doesn't hurt. Right now, I'm extremely happy to hear it, especially from such talented people.

Sunday 15 March 2015

The Novel Is Dead

Inspiring Book & Paper Sculptures

Entertaining article listing all the times the novel has been pronounced dead since 1902. That's thirty times, in case you're wondering.

I can go one better than that. Here's a guy who predicted the end of books (wrong), losing out to television (right) even before television had been invented! Octave Uzanne, back in 1894.

Can we all just agree that novels are about as likely to die as reality TV shows? And I'd mourn the latter far less. 

Friday 13 March 2015

HMRC Grammar Gripe

When I'm not getting grumpy-arsed over customer services via Twitter, I'm helping to hold the hands of newly formed charities as they run the gauntlet of gratuitous paperwork involved in registering and tax exemption.

Oddly, I quite enjoy it. Brings a sense of order to my otherwise chaotic and unruly mind.

The other day, however, something happened to shatter that peace.

One of my clients received a letter from HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) with the most appalling slip of grammar I'd seen since the whole Matalan debarkle. And this is a public office. Her Maj ain't likely to be impressed by such butchery of her English.

The letter was in response to the submission of a Cha1 form, which basically just provides confirmation that, yes, a charity is tax-exempt. However, they replied requesting more information:

How utterly snidey does that sound!?

Hah, Sir! You may well call it a "charity," but we call  it trash! Not worthy to wipe an orphan's snivelling nose with your, frankly, Primark-quality sleeve.

Or, perhaps it's even more sinister than that? Perhaps both my client and HMRC know that it's not really a charity, but this is a euphemism for something far more covert? Perhaps 'charity' is code word amongst the spooks for undercover operatives, like 'cleaners'...

I'm going to submit it to this beautiful blog for further inspection.

Either way, one thing's for sure - the possessive is screwed.

Either of these would be correct, and far, far less patronising: examples of the charity's activities examples of your charitable activities 

What sickens me is the thought that if HMRC actually went and collected tax from Amazon, Starbucks and Google, they could probably afford to hire a proofreader.

Thursday 12 March 2015

Fairwell Terry Pratchett

Can't think what to say that isn't a cliché: such terribly sad news, we've lost a literary hero, he made the world a brighter place, he brought laughter to so many, he allowed us to laugh at ourselves, he was a brilliant, bright, beautiful human being who stood up for the dignity of others even as his own strength was failing.

All of the above.

I'm rather teary at the moment. 

We knew it was coming, but it's still sad, nevertheless.

Terry Pratchett was the first time I really decided to test my luck with authority (which I've been fighting ever since). I remember the teacher and the classroom, so I must have been about nine or ten. I used to visit my dad every second weekend in London, and one of our greatest pleasures was book shopping. Think it was still Dillons back then.

I was into Fighting Fantasy at the time, and I guess I must have been shambling about the Fantasy section when I saw the cover. It was a Discworld novel. I'm fairly sure it was The Light Fantastic, as it had a picture of a woman with huge boobs on the front. 

That's why I bought it. I wanted to take it to reading time at my primary school and 1) prove just how good I was at reading 2) from a book with a big-boobed woman on the front. I was also secretly hoping for some swear words, because you can swear if it's literature, right? That's allowed. 

I could read it, when I wasn't sneaking sidewards glances at my teacher to catch her expression, but I didn't fully understand it at that age.

All the same, I came to love the cover art of Discworld, and when I was eventually old enough, I devoured most of them. My favourite being Equal Rites. It again appealed to my sense of challenging the established status quo, that a girl could do anything a boy could, and often better.

Close behind that were the stories with Death. HOW COULD YOU NOT LOVE HIM? (he whispered). Mort, Soul Music... every time you saw those capital letters, you knew you were in for a special treat. 

I was so privileged to get to hear him speak at Cheltenham Literature Festival back in 2012. One of those people you're really glad to have shared the same lifetime as. Defined an age, at the same time ageless.

Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.
- Terry Pratchett in quotes

I shall be raising a wee dram to him before beddy byes, as he rides off on Binky to that great writer's room in the sky.

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Damascene's House Update

Thank you again to everyone who donated to rebuilding Damascene's house. Construction is well underway. A (slightly blurry) photo above of the reconstruction process. Below, Damascene with his wife and son - a huge 'murakoze cyane' (thank you very much).

[UPDATE: Damascene's house is almost rebuilt. I went to take a look and meet his family.]

Monday 9 March 2015


Just finished reading a short erotica story by Remittance Girl (@remittancegirl) of Red Phone Box fascination.

Such a very short story, so very much to say about it. 

Let's start with sex. I've never read much erotica before. Literary snobbishness? Ah, perhaps. There's a plethora of it self-published and free online, and most stuff that's self-published and free online makes for dubious reading at best.

This wasn't free, I did actually buy it. I bought it because I'd read a short snippet (non erotica) by the writer and found myself hooked. RG has an ability to take short-term characters (in RPB a woman smoking a cigarette in a café) and make them wholly rememberable. Vivid, even without saying a word. That's a talent. Many writers write much longer books and their characters start to fade soon after the last page. 

I'm not sure what it is. Don't think you can teach that. It's something some writers just have. 

I was recently doing a round of interviews for my day job, picking through people's CVs. About twenty CVs, and one leapt out at me. The applicant was describing a short trip he'd taken to Morocco. It read less like a CV and more like a beautifully written piece of literary fiction. I mentioned it to my colleague and he replied "I know!" If someone hasn't already told this guy he's an author, they really ought to. I hope to get that chance myself if I meet him later this year.

It's the X-factor of writing. Sometimes people just have something, a way of writing, that sings to you. This is what I found with RG's short story in RPB, which spurred me on to explore further, following her into a genre I wouldn't say I could talk about with confidence.

Back to sex. Gaijin is a rape fantasy (won't go into the morals of that, check the manifesto). Firstly, I was highly impressed by the inventiveness and diversity of sex acts. 

You might be sitting there thinking 'have you never watched PornoTube?' But, let me tell you, as someone who has written steamy scenes in most of her books - it isn't easy. Or, rather, it ain't easy not bein' cheesy. Each year there's an award dished out for the worst sex scenes in a book (the Bad Sex Award). That's just for one scene in a book. Imagine - with erotica - having to write continuously satisfying scenes, one after the other... That's an art, it truly is.

The other interesting tie-in was that RG was reading Rosy Hours at the same time, unbeknown to me. There's a nice feeling about impressing someone you're impressed by:

I notice we both have an eye for the erotic in the ugly.

Made me blush more than her prose. 

Non-sex related, this book took me by surprise. One moment people are boning, the next there's a deeply poignant observation on the nature of existence, or a darkly humorous line that raises a chuckle in the midst of something so wrong yet enthralling. I wasn't expecting to find an intellectual connection, yet, in retrospect, I'm not so sure why not. After all, sex is the most primal of all driving forces as human beings. Sex, birth and death, aren't they the things we all share a personal link with? It makes sense that in exploring those things we'd uncover some fairly cutting truths about ourselves.

On a random note, the picture was so cleverly painted that at times my mind's eye couldn't decide between real-life characters and manga.

One of the shortest stories I've read in a while (I'm mostly reading Game of Thrones at the moment, for comparison), but one that's got me thinking more than most. After all, it's not size that counts. 

Loved every minute of it.

Sunday 8 March 2015

Red Phone Box

I've just finished reading Red Phone Box. It's a 'story round' by my publisher Ghostwoods. It took three years to complete, and involved twenty-eight different authors. 

Shatter a mirror, and rearrange the pieces. What shapes will you find in the splintered glass? Sinister forces roam London's streets, skulking through the neon-lit rain. 

Everything centres around red phone boxes, a recurrent theme throughout. They link alternate realities. If you hear the phone ringing, you'd be wise not to answer.

What drew me to this book was pure curiosity. It includes stories by my editor, Salomé Jones, Ghostwoods' head honcho Tim Dedopulos, Rosy Hours' cover designer Gábor Csigás and fellow Ghostwoods author Kate Harrad. I know the first three professionally, so it was a real pleasure to get to know them creatively. There's something tingly about reading the work of someone you know.

Another bonus was discovering the work of Remittance Girl (@remittancegirl). I think she only wrote one story for it, but, for me, it really stood out. Every now and then you discover a writer whose style just sings for you. Apparently she's an erotica writer. I'm definitely checking her out. 

More than anything else, I want to tell you these stories. I want to rub these words against you, smear you with the pollen of possibility, infect you with nostalgia for places you’ve never been, experiences you’ve never had or have forgotten. That is what books have done for me since I was old enough to read. They made me a carrier of a strange sickness and now I have to pass it on. (keep reading)

I also appreciate her promotion of smaller booksellers ahead of the big boys on her sales page. 

Saturday 7 March 2015

Three Books on Writing

I've recently started mentoring aspiring novelists. I've noticed that most of them make the same mistakes I've made over the years. There appears to be a common starting point for all writers, consisting mostly of passive voice, rampant adjectives and repetition. The stuff that keeps a writer from becoming a really good writer.

Being largely self-taught, I felt it was probably time to take some professional advice. I put aside R. R. Martin for a moment and picked up a range of (blessedly short) writing manuals. The first non-fiction I've read in a while.

So, without further ado, and in chronological order of publication, here's the three must-reads for all aspiring authors. Between them, they provide a shortcut through all the stuff you wish you hadn't done. 

The Elements of Style by Strunk Jr. and White

I mention this one first because it is extraordinarily short, and because On Writing refers back to it, so it's worth getting out of the way. 

Considering how short it is, you come away wondering how you learned so much. Most of us know when writing isn't very good, but we're usually hard pressed to say why. This just seems to hit the nail on the head, using examples of bad writing in one column, and showing how to fix it in the next. If you're like me, and start to nod off at technical sentence construction, you can still understand what is meant.

Couple of outdated paragraphs. I think it was first published in 1920, and I'd disagree with the idea 'if in doubt, refer to he,' but, on the whole, a crash course in common error.

On Writing by Stephen King

You'll hear this mentioned over and over in writing forums. There's good reason for that. It's excellent.

Whether you like Stephen King's style, either as a horror writer or as a short story teller, you can't avoid the fact that he's highly experienced. 

The first half of the book tells you quite a bit about King, what brought him to writing, how life experience fuelled writing, and where some of his ideas came from.

The second bit echos a lot of Elements of Style, but in a more 'you're a writer, I'm a writer, let's get on with it' fashion. If anything, it makes you feel slightly less mad about being a writer. You come away with a refreshed sense of yes, this is a profession, let's be professional about it.

100 Ways to Write Badly Well by Joel Stickley

I met Joel once, many years ago. He's an extremely talented comedic writer. 

If the other two books still leave you scratching your head over what 'cull all adjectives' and 'write in active voice' mean, this book will alleviate all doubt. It's extremely funny and highly informative.

It gives very short examples of really bad writing. By emphasising common errors, and taking them to exaggerated levels, it's easy to understand why certain styles of writing are better than others. Because it made me laugh, I also found that I tended to remember the lessons better, and experienced flashbacks to chapters when I started to err. 

Friday 6 March 2015

Wreck This Journal

Received a belated birthday gift from my mate Cassie. Included was this fabulous book titled Wreck This Journal. It's sort of a creative journal where you do everything you're not supposed to do to a book.

Once you get over the innate sense of wrongness, it's incredibly therapeutic.

Thursday 5 March 2015

Word Cull

I'm struggling at the moment. My current novel is now at 70,000 words. That makes it a novel in itself, but I reckon it's still got about the same to go. Guessing it'll wade in around 120k at this rate. Fairly amusing when you consider the translation of the legend I'm following is just under 6.5k. 

I'm desperate to get it finished. I'm an editing junkie and I'm really excited at the prospect of having another full-length manuscript to work on. I've enjoyed my experience with Ghostwoods so much, it's renewed my confidence. I'm ready to do it all over again. 

Still, things aren't going smoothly. They were. I was at 10,000 words back in October. That's five months to write a novel-length manuscript, which is about right for me. I don't tend to write every day. There was a period of insane productivity in January where I was writing around 4-5k a sitting. 

Then - blah.

There's basically two halves to this novel. Let's say the first half is all about the Age of Man, or at least humans and demi-gods feature quite highly. Then comes Act Two. This is the realm of myth and magic. It has to be. In the original story, not much happens here. The characters spend most of their time sitting on a rock in the middle of the sea, waiting for Godot. So, I need to do something to make it a bit more interesting. Thankfully, that's easy when you weave in other characters from Irish legend - and there's plenty to choose from.

I thought I'd broken through, but today I started out by deleting 1,000 words. Everything I'd written in my last sitting - gone. I've never done that before. It needed to be done. I'd set off in completely the wrong direction, having cogitated for weeks about how to start. Part of me is glad I had the sense to see this blunder, the other part of me is utterly horrified I've just lost 1,000 words. In order for my story to survive, I've had to uproot and, basically, murder another sapling of an idea. It's like topiary in a way, snipping off errant branches that the overall impression may grow strong.

Still, it feels counter-intuitive. I'm sure writers have something like the Hippocratic Oath. Y'know - heal everyone without discrimination. Write every story to the best of your ability. Trashing 1,000 words feels a bit like euthanasia. It wasn't a totally shit story, it could have survived on life support... 

Let me put it this way: it feels like the novel you didn't finish reading.

Yeah. That guilty.

I'm sure I'll get over it. It was definitely the right decision. Onwards and alongwards. 

Now that the cull is done, I'm confident I can keep going, and that most of what I chopped will come into play later down the line. I hope never to have to repeat that exercise again. 

Here's a bit of what I've been working on. Rough and unedited as ever.

Faces drifted like familiar apparitions, stepping out of the darkness and retreating. They offered honey-oats which stuck in our slender throats, and wine which turned the water red as it seeped between the crimped edges of our beaks. 

One night, Caílte mac Rónáin offered my brother a horn of wild raspberry wine. As he drank, it dripped onto his chest. When Caílte lowered the horn, it looked for all the world as though A---’s heart were bleeding, right there for all the world to see.

His heart may have bled, but my eyes bled softer still as Caílte fell to his knees in the mud, his face hidden by his hand.

It was one of the few times anybody wept. Every druid in the land was called upon to attend us, to stretch out our wings, to ruffle our feathers, and to proclaim that they had no idea how to cure us. Yet every day the scent of hog roast and tart apple sauce filled the air. The fluttering fingers of flute players skipped between cheerful notes whilst the drums beat out jigs instead of dirges. Women, both common and noble, dressed in their best dyes, held tight to their partners’ hands and swirled within the cèilidh until they lost their footing and fell down laughing.

It was absurd in its way. A blithe display of good cheer, that we might be distracted. In truth, it was done because it was all that could be done. In those days we still held out hope that in all of Ireland, perhaps all of the known world, there would be one person with the power to return us to our true forms.

My father sat like a black rock in the midst of this madness. Hunched over, wrapped in his thick cloak, chin resting upon the back of his knuckles, he would stare out at us as we swam. I felt safe, knowing his eyes were upon us. A hundred swords and more hid in the hills, sworn to protect us. No man was permitted to approach the loch without first announcing himself to my father. Those that did left via the summerlands. A fine pile of fox furs had accumulated, and each of the Fiana wore bear-claw necklaces that rattled as they walked. 

Every night little clay lamps would light up the shore. Three or four beside each tent, so that we were never alone in the dark. It cheered those who slept there, and allayed my father’s fears that we might drift out into the water and lose our way home. 

After a year and a day thrice over, my father sent for Bé Chuille. Sick of the sound of sages and wise men who knew nothing, he was ready to resort to sorcery. Elatha removed her silver and threw it at his feet in protest. She left the camp that night and refused to return. Some of her sept followed, though most remained. 

Bé Chuille was fearsome. The mention of her name was enough to cause even the Fiana to tremble, for she was no natural woman. When she arrived, she came mounted on a black stallion, its flanks blood-red with hand prints. Her tresses were braided with bright-blue Jay feathers, her eyes as black as her hair, as black as her horse. 

“Witch of Lámhfada,” he said, standing to greet her.

She towered a foot taller than he, bone-white skin stretched taught across sharp features. Her nose and her chin were pinched, yet almost pretty in their exactness. I felt as though she and I were formed of a natural symmetry. Bold sculptures amidst the flesh of men. My form was crafted that I might fly, and swim and sing. What, I wondered, had her form been crafted to?

“L--, Lover of Saltwater.” She bent her knee a fraction.

Was she mocking my father? He had loved the ocean once. Yet the only saltwater he had known these past years were his tears.

“Are these they?” she asked, turning her bottomless eyes towards us. 

“These are my children, yes.”

She walked to the water’s edge and stared at us for a moment.

Pulling her dark brown robes above her head, she stepped naked into Loch Dairbhreach. Her figure was slender, her ribs defined beneath the droop of her bosom. About her neck hung a hundred talisman: tooth, claw and paw, beaded with wood and metal, strung from leather. They tinkled as she came forward, her toes sinking in the mud.

She did not slip, nor falter.

My brothers and I circled her as she swam out into the lake. There was a thick scent to the air, as though the heat of her body formed a perfume so sweet we were drawn to it. 

“Dear swans,” she said, in a language that was not our own. “Do you know who I am?”

“You’re a witch,” C--- said, his seven years now ten since our transformation, yet his experience of the world no different.

She laughed at this and ducked beneath the water.

Some way off a fish leapt, leaving ever-expanding circles on the surface of the lake. For a moment, I thought she had transformed herself, until the dark seaweed of her hair caught between my feet and she appeared before me.

“The last of the great bantuathaig, for my sisters are long dead.”

“You fought for us,” A--- said. “Sorcha used to tell your story. You fought for us with your sisters, Dianann and Bé Téite.”

“Aye,” she replied. “We turned blades of grass into blades of bronze, and made swift horses of the fallen leaves. We helped win this land for the Danann.”

“So why do they fear you so?”

On that, she remained silent, the sound of water dripping from her graceful fingers as she arched one arm above the other, floating backwards with her eyes to the sky.

“Tell me, children,” she asked. “What think you of the form of swans?”

“I miss home,” C--- said. “It’s cold out here, and there are things in the night that wish to eat us.”

“We can’t play at swords, or hunt,” F------ agreed. 

“You would hunt the things that hunt you?” Bé Chuille asked.

“It makes our father sad,” I offered. “He does not see his children when he looks upon us.”

“We are not really swans,” A--- said. “I mean, we look like swans, and we swim like swans, but we are not free to fly like swans. Perhaps it would be different if we could see the world. But we cannot. We are chained here with invisible rope, nothing to do but swim round and round in circles. That is no life.”

“I would agree,” she nodded. “It is no life at all when you do not have your freedom. Whatever form you acquire.”

We continued to float for a while. We felt comforted by her presence. So many had come to the water’s edge to feed us and to ask us to sing, yet none except Caílte ever entered the water beside us. 

“They say you can see the future,” I said.

“That I can.”

“Please, tell us what you see.”

“I see the fall of the Danann,” she replied. “It has already begun. I see an army of olive-skinned invaders, accents thick as ash. I see the thrones of Uisneach and Navan crushed, the throne of Tara hauled across the waves, lost to its people. And, beyond that, I see ships to the East. Supple tree trunks that hurl rocks into walls. Villages aflame, children screaming. I see a shadow rising in place of the sun.”

“What of us?” I asked, quietly. “What of our story?”

“Your story is but one verse in a song sung to the end of time.”

“It may only be a one verse,” I replied. “But I would know the words.”