Wednesday, 12 May 2010

How it starts

This is the first chapter... let me know what you think..

Chapter One:  If that’s what love looks like

Sam and I sat on my bed. The tarot pack lay like a loaded gun on the duvet between us.
‘Okay, if it’s the same cards again, I’m calling in the exorcist,’ said Sam, her eyes wide.
‘You don’t know any exorcists, you bozo.  Anyhow, they won’t be the same. I’ve shuffled them really well.’

Sam was my best friend and we read the tarot obsessively. We’d lay out the cards again and again until they gave us the right answers; until they told us what we wanted to hear. In Sam’s case it was dead simple:  did Ben Lomax love her?  Did he really really love her? Would they be together forever? 
In my case it was a little more complex.  Should I do science or art?  Where the hell was my life going?  Would I ever meet my soul-mate?  Then again, there were the questions I never even admitted to Sam.  Did heaven and hell exist? What happened on the other side of infinity?   Would I ever feel truly safe?  Was I finally going mad?

I laid the cards out once more in the Celtic Cross pattern I’d learned from my mother, way back when I still had a mother.  One by one I turned them over.
‘Oh. My. God.’
Sam grabbed my arm as almost exactly the same cards came out once again.  Okay, so three were different but even so.  I shivered.  My mother always said that the cards weren’t a parlour game or a magic trick; they really could foretell the future. But more than that, she said, they could read your soul.  Did I believe that?  My scientific side, the side that liked facts and proof, rolled its eyes and said no way. My artistic side wasn’t so sure.

‘Well, looks like you’ll be alright,’ said Sam, her voice a little higher than usual.  ‘Look at that.  The Knight of Pentacles and the Knight of Wands.  Spoilt for choice.  Torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool....’  She sang the last sentence.  Sam loved the cheesy old songs, and the lyric made me smile.  I didn’t like this though; what were the odds?  The same seven cards out of a possible 78?  I was doing physics and maths A-level; I knew that was seriously stretching probability.
‘Yeah, great,’ I said.  ‘But what about those?’
I poked the card with the tower struck by lightning.  People tumbled through the air, as flames flickered from the building’s windows.
‘Yeah, well...but...’

Sam tailed off.  We both knew what it meant:  disruption and unforeseen catastrophe.  Just as we knew that The Devil stood for violence, illness and black magic.  And The Moon signified unforeseen perils, deception and secret foes.
Three really horrible cards.  People freaked out about Death but that wasn’t the one they needed to worry about.  It meant change and maybe total change – but not necessarily death. 
‘Hey, The High Priestess is pretty cool.  And you’ve got The Lovers – that’s got to be good, right?’

Sam gave me a nudge in the ribs, and I turned away.  I was so darn pale that even the thought of a blush turned me puce.  I blamed my mother.  I’d inherited her alabaster skin along with the wild red hair, green eyes and willowy frame.  She had said that all the women in our family looked pretty similar, though I’d have to take that on trust  –  she hadn’t left us any photos of them. 
‘You’re too damn fussy, Gen.’
‘I’m not fussy hon,’ I said, wistfully.  ‘It’s just that all the boys we meet are so, well, boys.  I think I want someone more mature, not a numpty schoolboy.’
‘Ben’s not a numpty schoolboy.’
‘I didn’t say he was.’
‘You implied it.  He’s nearly nineteen.  And he’s going to law college – you can’t get much more mature than that.’  She swung her legs off the bed.  ‘I’m outta here. I’ve still got prep to finish.’
‘I didn’t mean Ben.  Honestly.’  I could have hit myself.  Why did I always say the wrong thing?
‘Sam, don’t be cross.  Please.  I didn’t mean anything about Ben.’ 

She gave me a hug.  ‘It’s okay hon.  Just sometimes it feels like you don’t know what you want.  As if there isn’t a boy alive who’s going to be good enough for you.  But we’re cool, we’re always cool.’
I squeezed her tight.  ‘Don’t go, not yet.  Stay and have some supper?  Please?  I expect Maddy’ll be here and I don’t want to feel like a flipping wallflower again.’
She patted my back gently. ‘I can’t, hon.  I’m going out for an Indian with my mum and dad.  I’ll see you tomorrow for the gig, alright?’

She blew me a kiss as she walked out the door.  Sam was lovely, a good mate. But she didn’t get why I had to make life so difficult for myself; why I couldn’t just go out with Nathan Lockwood.  Sure, Nathan was a nice guy.  But nice was a problem for me.  I didn’t want some safe, good-looking, smart enough guy.  I wanted the kind of love that makes your heart bleed; the kind of love that consumes you so totally you feel like every limb is being torn from your body.  For all that Nathan thought he was rebelling by wearing a tongue stud, I knew what the future held for him and it involved a suburban detached house, a BMW, two children, a Labrador and a time-share in Portugal.
I stuck my iPod on and stretched out on my bed.  I’d been in a full-on brat princess phase when I’d demanded the heart-shaped bed with the padded fuchsia headboard.  Now I was channelling a darker vibe.  I stared up at the crucifixes pinned to the headboard – just a few of the religious icons and knick-knacks I picked up all over the place.  I don’t know why I did it.  It wasn’t like I was some goth or emo type. I certainly wasn’t religious. They just called to me; had some meaning I couldn’t quite grasp.  A huge gilt-framed mirror leaned against one wall and a crystal-drop chandelier spun rainbows round the room when the sun shone through my red velvet curtains. 

Posters and pin-ups weren’t my thing.  I wasn’t interested in pop stars or actors.  My walls were lined with my own paintings.  I painted big and I painted bold.  Often they were self-portraits – me lost and bleak, caught up in whirlwinds of colour, trapped by thorns, tumbling through deep green water.  More often they were of him.  The face I kept painting obsessively, over and over.  His eyes looked haunted; they bored into me from the paper.  His cheekbones were high and wide, his nose sharp, his lips firm.  The face rarely smiled but if it did, it became cruel.  I had no control over what I painted – it felt as if the paints were controlling me. 
He snuck into my dreams too.  Sometimes he just stood, staring into the distance, his blond hair whipping round his face, as if he were standing in the face of a storm.  Sometimes he stared straight at me, a deep frown on his forehead, but he looked through me; he couldn’t see me.  So why did I get the feeling he was looking for me?  I could smell him though: amber and wood-smoke.  I could hear the wind and the far-off sound of a wild fiddle. I could hear him breathe.

I woke feeling bereft, as if part of my soul had been snatched.  I cranked up the volume on my iPod.  Soulsavers.  Broken.  It suited my mood.  Dad rolled his eyes at my music.  ‘Morbid weird shit’ he called it.  He could talk.  He was the one who called himself ‘Wraith’ rather than Rick; who sang lullabies to dark gods on stage; who rapped the Bible backwards; who’d made a living out of the macabre.  Let’s be honest, the daft numpty was jealous.
The front door slammed. Talk of the devil.  He could never come into a room quietly, always had to make an entrance.  He was just like an overgrown naughty schoolboy, trying to shock, to create a reaction.  His boots thudded over the polished concrete floors downstairs. 

‘Gen? You up there?’ he yelled in his gravelling too-many-fags and too-much tequila voice.
I pulled myself off the bed.
‘Get your ass down here.’
‘Gareth.’  A soft melodious voice but with a hint of steely disapproval.  The latest girlfriend.  Maddy.  She was a good twenty years younger than him, not that much older than me really, but she seemed kind.  After the cavalcade of brittle groupies I’d seen clip-clop through the loft, with their spray-tans and fake boobs, Maddy felt like a breath of fresh air.  I was pleased for him.  I was.

I slid down the stairs and padded into the open-plan living area.  
From the back Dad looked pretty good – all tall and lean with his faded jeans, biker boots and the old black leather jacket with the labyrinth symbol and ANUBIS RAT curling above it.  But when he turned round he made Iggy Pop look positively baby-faced.  Talk about beauty and the beast. Maddy barely reached his shoulder:  she looked like some war-time waif in a faded floral tea dress and Birkenstocks.

‘Hey, Dad.  Hey, Maddy.  You okay?
‘Hi Blossom. Come here.’  Dad pulled me into a bear hug.  ‘How’s you?’
‘Yeah, I’m good.’
Maddy gave me one of her little waist-high waves. 
‘You guys want some coffee?’
‘Not for me, thanks,’ said Maddy.  ‘I’m picking up some stuff and heading back to my place.  I’ve got to do some work for a breakfast meeting.’ 

She reached up and pecked Dad on the lips.  He snatched at her hand.
‘Aww, babe.  Don’t go.’
She stroked his rubbery face.  ‘I have to.  I’m not a rock star; I’m a PR.  I need to get my presentation sorted and I need my beauty sleep.’
He looked bereft, like a kid that’s had its favourite toy taken away. 
‘Will you call me when you’re done?  Can I take you to lunch?’
I moved into the kitchen area and fussed with the heavy duty coffee maker.  I seriously didn’t want to witness a smooch-fest.
I heard footsteps; a rather long pause and then the heavy front door shutting with a thud.  Dad came back, edged himself onto a stool and slumped his elbows onto the breakfast bar.
‘Yeah, Bloss.  That’d be good.’
I pushed his cup over to him, knocking the tatty old straw fruit basket.  Oranges spilled over the table.
‘Whoah,’ said Dad, trying to catch them before they reached the edges. 
‘We should get a decent bowl, Dad.  That thing seriously isn’t up to the job.’
Dad looked wistful.  ‘Ah, but see, we got it in Egypt, your mum and me.  We were going to some temple – feck knows which one – and a couple of kids were running alongside the jeep with these damn baskets.  I was going to send ‘em packing but your mum bought the lot.  This is the last one standing.’
I glanced at him.  A million thoughts cascaded through my head but I didn’t say a word.  Just sipped my coffee. 
‘She’s not a bad person, Bloss.  Honestly.’
I pulled at the neckline of my sweatshirt.  ‘Yeah, well...’
‘She loved you.  I mean she loves you...’ He tailed off.  He wasn’t an idiot by any means but his synapses didn’t always fire in the right order, they really didn’t.
‘Yeah, right,’ I muttered.  ‘I haven’t seen her for, what?  Five years?  If that’s what love looks like, I’m not sure I want any of it.’

His shoulders slumped.   ‘You should see her; you really should.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.  I’ll talk to her; see if you can’t go and stay for a while over the summer.’
‘Oh no, Dad.  Really.’ I shook my head firmly.  ‘If she wanted to see me...well...she knows where I am.’
He frowned, looking for all the world like a Shar-Pei puppy. 
‘I dunno, Bloss.  It’s not right.  You’re seventeen.  You should be talking to your mother about...well...’
I held up my hands in the universal ‘back off’ gesture.  ‘About what, Dad?  Sex? Drugs? The evils of booze?’  I laughed.  ‘Er, hello. It may have escaped your attention but backstage at your gigs isn’t exactly a toddler’s ball pit.’
‘Aw shit, Gen.  I know.’  He reached out for my hand.  ‘I’m a crap father, I really am.’
I grasped his and squeezed it firmly.  ‘No. Absolutely not.  You’re a great father.  The best.’

I paused and gave him what I hoped looked like a bright smile. 
‘I just wish you’d picked someone else to be my mother.’


Sunday, 9 May 2010


I've been hugely lucky in that quite a few people have read Samael and given me their feedback.  Am really deeply madly thrilled to say they almost all loved it.   However, amongst the suggestions, I also got asked a fair few questions.  Some were really fascinating and so I thought I'd answer them here. 

Is Shadowcombe a real place? 
Not entirely.  I live on Exmoor, a stunningly beautiful (but pretty isolated) place in South-West England and it's fair to say that the landscape of Samael is based on what I see around me.  For a fair few years I lived in a very remote valley and that was certainly the inspiration for the world Gen finds herself in.  The village of Shadowcombe is a bit of a composite of a few Exmoor hamlets and villages.  The inspiration for the 'Mouth' comes from a narrow gorge that is nearer to Taunton - I have taken the writer's prerogative and transposed it.  However, I didn't want to make the setting too precise.  I think you can find Shadowcombes in many places - not just in England or even the UK but around the world. 

Did you base Gen on yourself?
No way!  I would love to be like Gen but I fear we're very different.   Gen has a deep sense of who she is - she's pretty strong.  But she's also kind and warm-hearted. I'm nowhere near as balanced and sussed as she is.  I guess we share a few characteristics though - I love to paint big and wild too (and like Gen tend to paint strange people I have never met).  I also love music (and we share a very similar taste in tracks) and horses.  Gen is a much better rider than I am though... 

Why are Gen's parents rock stars?
Because I thought it would be way cool.  I used to work as a journalist for a newspaper and part of my job was interviewing musicians and going to music biz parties.  Some of the 'stars' were lovely and some were total jerks.  It's quite an unreal world and, if people get success young (as Gen's parents did) it can unrail them.  So in many ways, Gen has parents who have never really grown up properly - even at 16, she is in many ways more mature than they are. 

Gen doesn't like Twilight.  Do you feel the same?
No.  I loved the Twilight series.  In fact, I love the whole 'dark romance' genre that Twilight spawned.  Personally I don't get off on the idea of vampire lovers though - Edward is a bit too marble and cold for my taste - I'm firmly in Camp Jacob, I fear.  But my supernatural creatures of choice have always been angels/demons (such a fine line between the two)...  Samael is my total heart-throb.  Though Zeke is a very close second.  I don't envy Gen having to choose.

How do you write?  Do you have any rituals?
I'm worse than a mage!  Normally I write straight onto my PC but this book demanded to be written longhand.  So I scribble it out in Moleskine notebooks (it has to be Moleskine) and then have to type it all up.  It's a huge pain.  I have a candle burning - scents are hugely important in Samael but the one I use for writing is Relax by Aromatherapy Associates (they've just stopped doing it and so I've stockpiled enough to get me through the writing and editing - I hope).  

There is a lot of music in the book - why is that?
I don't know really.  My last book had a very 'natural' soundtrack - I worked on it in silence and all the sounds in it were organic - birdsong, wind, rain.  Samael is very different.  My muse for the book was Seth Lakeman's music and that wild fiddle runs right the way through.  But really there's an entire soundtrack - mainly rock and indie-folk.  Joan Osborne, Marianne Faithfull, Nick Drake, Roddy Frame, The Killers and so on. 

The rituals seem pretty realistic.  Would they work?
Not entirely.  I have studied shamanism, Wicca and the Western Mystery Tradition ('magic') for absolutely years but I have purposely kept the rituals a little vague.  It's not a great idea to go round trying to summon up demons on your own! 

Are there going to be more books?
I hope so.  Let's just say that things certainly aren't over between Gen and Samael, that's for sure...

Any more questions?  Feel free to ask and I'll do my best to answer....

Saturday, 8 May 2010

It started with a dream

It started with a dream, one I had when I was about sixteen – the same age that Gen is in this story. It was a recurring dream, of a boy so beautiful that he took my breath away. Not pretty boy beautiful; his face was all planes and angles and danger dripped from every pore.

He was a demon, I knew that, and knew that he could snatch my soul in a second. Yet he didn’t. Instead he tugged me close and held me as if I were the most precious thing in the entire world and beyond. He took me flying, swooping over the suburban landscape in which I lived then. We few over parks, through high streets, over playing fields. And then he said, in a voice that caught in his throat:

‘I must show you who I really am.’

We dived into a crowd in the park and he ripped off their faces. Bit them and tore them away. I shut my eyes and yet still felt the blood splatter over my face.

‘Why?’ I asked him. ‘Why?’
‘Because people hide their true natures,’ he said. ‘Because I disclose that which is hidden. I show the truth.’

What is good and what is evil? Angels or demons? Is everything really so black and white?

Samael has been in my head since I was sixteen. Like Gen, I have painted his face time and time again. Now – and I’m not sure why it’s now – he seems to want to have his story told. I hope you enjoy it.

You can read the first few chapters of Samael here..

I'd love to know what you think. This is very much a work in progress right now so any suggestions just might make their way into the book!