When your characters really come alive

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Elena Koycheva @lenneek on Unsplash

Connor turns from the window where he has been gazing out onto the empty street. “You’re the author, Ms Hall; we’re entirely in your hands.” He fiddles with the change in his trouser pockets. “But well, we were wondering, when exactly is our book coming out?”

I stare back at him, not comprehending the situation. My gaze travels around the room. Next to me, dressed in a blue silk caftan, legs curled up underneath her on the couch, is Cynthia. She is busy examining her beautifully manicured nails. Opposite sits Lucy, long blonde hair glowing.

“It’s just that it’s been so long,” Lucy says, a little breathlessly. “I mean…” her voice trails off and Pierre, her boyfriend, who is perched on the arm of her chair, squeezes her shoulder gently.

Lucy turns to Gina who is sitting in the matching armchair next to her. I notice she is fiddling with a shiny new ring on her third finger. The light catches the bright solitaire diamond sending patterns flashing across the worn Persian rug where Asmar, Cynthia’s cat, is lounging. He dabs at the flickering light with a casual golden paw. The blaring of a televised football match filters down from the flat upstairs where Gary, Gina’s boyfriend fiancé now? must be watching.

Gina sits forward and leans towards me. “It’s not that we’re ungrateful. We’ve loved our story. It was so exciting!” She pauses for a moment. “Well, mostly.” She frowns momentarily. “It all turned out all right in the end though,” she adds, grinning. “It’s just that, I’m sorry to have to say this, but we feel like we’re in limbo.”

I look around the room at these people whom I know so well; these people with whom I’ve spent so many hours.

Connor clears his throat. “Time waits for no man… or woman.” He takes his hands out of his pockets and puffs out his chest. “I have had a second slim volume of my poetry accepted for publication since you finished our manuscript.”

I gave you an agent, I think to myself. I fiddle with the pen I’m holding and glance down to see my notebook open on my lap.

Connor darts forward and grabs it. “Oh no, Ms Hall. No more changes. It’s done. Finished. You told everyone so.”

I hold my hands up. “I know. And it is. Finished I mean.” I sigh, my hands dropping into my lap. “I’m just waiting for the artwork for the cover.”

Connor nods gravely.

At that moment there is a knock at the door.

“It’s open,” calls Cynthia.

Tony Wong, whose flat is across the hall and who is landlord to Cynthia, Gina and Lucy, smiles and enters. He pads over the rug and holds out a bowl stacked high with pale brown crackers. “Would you like a fortune cookie, Ms Hall?”

I take one and pull out the little paper message, but it’s like one of those plot-halting moments. I can’t read a single word.


A true-life story of an author and her characters 😉

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Where Writers Get Stuck: Marketing

This article gave me a little prod of encouragement when it comes to marketing. I’m clearly not putting enough energy into my efforts and I need to re-double this for my forthcoming novel ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

A Writer's Path

by Allison Maruska

Now it’s time for the super secret post you’ve all been waiting for. Remember this Twitter poll?

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A Nick in Time – Chapter 10

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Bryony was running through the woods, running for her life. She scrambled over tree stumps and climbed over logs and then she was falling…falling…

A noise somewhere. Early morning sunlight pierced her closed eyelids. Bryony’s head ached, her hands were raw and her legs scratched and bruised. She heard Bethany murmur in her sleep. She must have crawled into bed beside me, Bryony thought. She smelled the familiar morning porridge smell, then sensed someone moving about nearby, but what was Hodge doing making porridge in their bedroom?

Bryony opened her eyes. For a moment she couldn’t work out where she was. Then she remembered. The woods, the burned buildings, the men on horseback, and running from them…

Good morning, lovely,” Issell bent over the couch and gently touched her forehead. Bryony looked up at the woman’s smiling face.

“Come now, sit up.” Issell took Bryony’s hands and turned them over. “We’ll put some salve on those scratches. How are your legs?” Bryony looked down. There was a nasty bruise on one knee and an angry graze on her ankle, but nothing particularly serious. “Can you wake your sister? I’ll take a proper look at her now.”

Bethany blinked and sat up. She looked about her wide-eyed. “You’ve slept such a long time,” said Bryony, putting her arm round her.

Bethany rubbed her eyes. “I feel all funny.” She looked around again. “Where are we Brynee?”

“Don’t you remember?” Bryony stroked her hair, which was still matted with bits of twigs.

Bethany shook her head. Bryony looked up at Issell who raised her eyebrows.

“You’re both staying here with me for a little while. Come on, let’s get you up. It’s time you broke your fast,” Issell said briskly. She sat them down at the table and brought two bowls of porridge. “After you’ve eaten, we’ll find you something clean to wear.”

*

“Why have we to wear these long skirts?” asked Bethany after Issell had helped them to get washed at a large cream-coloured bowl in the far corner of the room. There was a large wooden screen around it. This, apparently, was the nearest thing Issell had to a bathroom.

“It’s what we wear here,” said Issell holding out her own skirt. With her needle, she’d swiftly managed to alter two of her own skirts to fit them. Bryony’s hardly needed any alteration as Issell was small and slender and not much different in size.

“Where’s Hodge?” asked Bethany.

“She’s at home, of course,” replied Bryony. If Bethany had somehow lost her memory of what had happened yesterday, perhaps she could pretend that this was some sort of game, at least for a while. Maybe even until they found their way back? But how? She pushed that thought away. Toby had said that Issell would know what to do. After all, Bethany had gone, or rather come here and returned.

“What are we doing here though?” Bethany was becoming agitated.

“It’s a sort of game…to see how people live in a different place to ours.” Bryony wasn’t sure whether she would be able to get Bethany to believe this. She looked at Issell for help.

“Yes, that is so. We’re going to learn about each other.” Issell didn’t like to tell lies, but this was true enough.

“It’s a sort of experiment,” continued Bryony, looking sideways at Issell.

“Like one of Mr Eyre’s?” Bethany sounded pleased. “Is he here too?”

*

Over on the other side of the village, Mr Eyre was indeed here, and not for the first time. He’d found his way through the woods twice before. The first time he’d visited only briefly, but he’d seen enough to realise that he had somehow stepped back into the past which, he had felt at the time, was all rather jolly. On the second occasion he’d spent rather longer, a day and a night, and he’d made an important discovery: virtually no time had passed while he’d been away, back in his own time. He’d also realised that several years must have gone by between his first and second visits to this other… dimension?

But now in this ‘other time’ things had changed. The village had altered and sinister forces were evident. Worse still, this time he was deeply concerned that he’d not crossed over alone. It was entirely possible that the girls were here too. The risk of that happening hadn’t occurred to him when they’d chased after Astra into the woods since it had been broad daylight. Both times he’d crossed over it had been at night time. He’d had a vague suspicion from something Bethany had said when she’d shown her little wooden bird to him, that she might have also gone back, but he’d dismissed the thought. Now he was kicking himself for not having asked her about it. He’d avoided questioning her in case he was wrong and she and Bryony thought him mad. He shook his head.

Now his priority was to find the girls. Of course it might be that they were still safely at home, back in 1911. However, if that wasn’t the case, he’d better find them, and fast. The problem was that he was currently imprisoned in one of the outbuildings on Lord Childecott’s estate.

*

Back at Issell’s cottage the girls were learning about the work of an apothecary. Issell was pleasantly surprised at their skills and knowledge. Bethany, despite her tender age, could draw a very passable likeness of a plant specimen and Bryony had a keen eye for identification and description. Much of this learning was the work of someone called Mr Eyre who was their tutor. A tutor for girls? Who’s ever heard the like? Issell had thought. Not that she disapproved. Far from it.

Bryony was carefully turning the pages of Issell’s book of healing recipes (or ‘receipts’ as Issell called them). Issell had taken the book from its hiding place when Bryony had shown an interest, explaining that she was a writer. Issell did not doubt her, especially when Bryony showed her the notebook she carried around with her, which she’d quickly retrieved from her ruined pinafore when Issell had taken it away to wash and mend earlier that day.

“How did you come to learn all of this?” asked Bryony, smoothing her hand across one of the beautifully written and illustrated pages.

“My mother taught me from when I was very young. She came from a long line of healers and plants-women.  Then, when I was just a little older than you, Bryony, I was sent to be an apprentice to the herbalist here.” Issell shivered, although it was warm where they were working. She had stoked up the fire and set the apparatus on it which would extract a concentrate from the lavender heads she’d added to the pewter cup below the flask. She shook herself and seemed to recover, turning to them with a big smile on her face.

“You will be my apprentices,” she declared. “If anyone asks, that is who you shall say you are. You’re my cousins from beyond the Valley.” Issell nodded emphatically. It was a perfectly plausible explanation, and the girls had certainly come from beyond the Valley. As she had just explained to Bryony, that was how she had come to live here. Why shouldn’t other members of her family do the same? After all, she was the only herbalist in the village now.

“What happened to Toby?” asked Bryony. “He said something…” she tailed off not wanting to utter any kind of reminder about the previous day’s events in Bethany’s hearing.

Issell shook her head. “Foolish boy.” She stared at the fire for a few moments. “It was nothing really, but he upset Lord Childecott, and that is a stupid and dangerous thing to do.”

“I heard that, Issy,” Toby bounded into the room and stopped. “Aha, it’s the three witches.”

“Don’t say such things, Toby,” said Issell sharply. “You know…well, you know what.”

“Sorry, Issy, I wasn’t thinking right.”

She walked over to him and put her arm on his shoulder. “It’s not thinking that got you into trouble, and more trouble’s the last thing we need,” she said quietly in his ear.

“So,” she said turning away from him. “What did your morning bring?”

“Well, I kept my head down and went about me business like the best of them. Did me bowing and scraping, although it pained me sorely,” he held up a string bag. “And I got what you wanted.” He laid the bag on the table and took a step towards her. “I also got a nice bit a gossip.”

“Well?”

“Lord Childecott’s men have arrested someone else in the woods. ‘E’s not from round here either…goes by the name of Eyre.”

©2019 Chris Hall


From my latest work-in-progressHow do you think my story is progressing?
I really value your feedback.

Cepha’s Revenge

Cepha's revenge

Cepha observed the two galleons turn broadside. As greed and hatred erupted into sea-churning canon fire, she flung a tentacle into the pool beside her, summoning the sisterhood.

They came, they writhed, and the sea boiled. They pulled timbers apart with zealous suckers. Masts crashed onto splintering decks. Water gushed in.

For the humans must pay: creatures, so new to old Mother Earth, now plundered her riches and fought over them.

Cepha stirred the pool again.

Coins and trinkets emptied from chests were gathered up by eager tentacles, while sailors sank into the murky depths.

Calm returned.


Written in response to The Aether Prompt: March 13th, 2019

The Inspiring Muse Award – Mar 2019

I’d just like to thank Jenn (J.I.Rogers) for bestowing her award upon me. What a wonderful gesture from a fellow author!
Now then, happy readers and writers, you will take a little peek at her work, won’t you? https://jirogers-author.com/

#JIRogers #IndieAuthor #Inspiration #Muse #Award #Blog #Poet #Share #Motivation #Writing #Art #AwesomeAuthor @ ChrissyH_07

The Brief History of ‘The Inspiring Muse Award’

I’ve been ‘Shamelessly Promoting Someone Else’ for as many years as I’ve been online and I decided to take it one-step further. Despite the internet’s reputation for trolls, I’ve found that I interact with a brilliant collection of people on a daily basis. Each offers a gift whether it’s art, knowledge, a story, or just a well-timed joke. I wanted a way to thank them for inspiring me that was more permanent than a typed ‘thank you’.

This is a personal award that I bestow on people who I feel are excellent examples of different aspects of the creative community, or of humanity in general. Anyone I interact with is eligible to receive it, and it is awarded once each month.

The Inspiring Muse Award - lg size

March’s winner is Chris Hall for her…

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A Candlelit Evening

Candlelit evening by Chris Hall lunasinline photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Wrapped in her fluffy pink robe she glides into the beautiful bathroom. Hot water gushes from swan-shaped tabs into a large claw-footed tub. The light is subdued. Rose-scented candles glow seductively, reflected in the slightly-smoked full length mirror with its glittering frame of hand-picked pink quartz tiles. She pauses and turns around. What has she forgotten?

Moments later she reappears carrying a large crystal glass containing her favourite mouth-filling red wine.

The white-tiled floor is glossy, and slippery with an unnoticed sheen of steam. She strides forward and suddenly…

She’s on the floor, prone on those pricey ice-white tiles. She hesitates for just a moment and then rises to her feet. She stands facing the mirror, but something’s wrong. Where’s her reflection? She focuses on the one missing tile on the far corner of the frame, still not mended, but when she looks back, her face is still absent.

Her gaze travels down the misting mirror. What’s that on the floor behind her? She turns and sees a pink robed figure. Spilled red blood mingles with spilled red wine. She raises her hand to her mouth to suppress a scream, but there is no hand, no mouth.

There is nothing.



Written in response to The Haunted Wordsmith’s
Main March Madness13 ‘A Ghost’
and with a nod to a scene from Michael Connelly’s ‘Dark Sacred Night’.

A Nick in Time – Chapter Nine

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They had been walking for what seemed like hours but at last the village was in sight. Toby put his hand out to indicate they stop. “Not far now, we just need to be careful not to be seen by anyone.”

It was dusk and there was little noise coming from the collection of buildings below them. They stood on the valley side, hidden in a coppice of beech trees. From this vantage point they could watch what activity there was, but it seemed that already most of the village folk had retired within their dwellings, as there was no-one in the lanes and passages between the buildings.

Toby pointed to a long, low dwelling on the edge of the village which had a fenced garden at the front and a wide wooden table by the front door. A dark-haired woman in a long brown dress was gathering flowers in a reed basket. She made her selection and then hurried inside. “That’s Issell, my sister,” he whispered. He looked about, scanning their route. “Quickly now; we’ll go around the back.”

The girls hurried down the grassy slope keeping close to Toby. At his signal, they ducked behind the hedge at the back of the first house, just as one of Issell’s neighbours opened her back door and slung a bowl of dirty water across the yard. The door thumped shut and they moved on bending double below the cover of the hedge. Toby helped them over the low wall into Issell’s back yard, indicating to them to keep down and out of sight of the neighbouring yards.

He tapped softly on the back door: rat-tat-tat, rat-tata-tat. They heard the latch being lifted and Issell poked her head out. Her face lit up on seeing Toby. She extended her arm and pulled him inside, about to close the door. Toby pushed it open further and, glancing quickly left and right, beckoned to the girls to come in. As soon as they were through the door, Issell closed it and brought down the latch, inserting a wooden peg to secure it further. Without a word she hurried about, closing all the curtains, before lighting a lamp and setting it on the table.

The girls stood watching. Bryony sensed the woman’s unease at their presence, but she turned and smiled at them, welcoming them to sit down, while she busied herself fetching a kettle from the hearth and pouring steaming hot water onto a handful of dried leaves which she’d added to a large earthenware teapot. It was not until she’d poured the resulting fragrant liquid into four earthenware beakers that she spoke.

“Thank the heavens you’ve returned, brother,” she smiled at Toby and patted his hand, then glanced at each of the girls. “These friends of yours are welcome, but we’ll all need to be very careful. Lord Childecott himself stopped me at the market today and threatened me again. Says he close to proving me a witch,” she snorted. “Ha, if I was a witch doesn’t he think I’d magic him away.”

“You must be careful too, sister; don’t go provoking ’im.”

She waved her hand dismissively. “Why don’t you introduce me to these poor ragged young ladies?” Bryony glanced down at herself, seeing her ruined pinafore and ripped sleeves; she looked across the table at Bethany, her pretty face was grubby and tear-stained, her golden hair was tangled with twigs and her clothes were muddy and torn.

Toby grinned. “I found ’em up by William and Ellen’s house. Terrible thing they done there those men of Childecott’s, burned their house down, and William’s workshop too. But I didn’t see ’em around. Who knows where they are now.” He shuddered. Issell murmured something which could have been either a prayer or a curse. “But these two had got lost in the woods,” Toby continued. “Sorry,” he looked at Bryony. “I forgot your names.”

Bryony smiled weakly and took her sister’s hand; tears had begun to run silently down Bethany’s cheeks. “I’m Bryony and this is my sister, Bethany.” She took a sip of her tea, frowning slightly at the unfamiliar taste.

“So how did you come to be lost up there?”

Bethany sobbed. “I want to go home.”

“Poor chicken. Look at her, she’s quite worn out.” Issell rose from the table and crouched next to Bethany. “Come, lovely, come and lie down.” She helped Bethany to her feet and guided her to a wide couch set against the wall to the left of the hearth. She mixed some honey into her tea and helped her drink it. Bethany lay down and Issell covered her with a shawl.

“She’ll sleep now,” Issell said to Bryony. “You look as if you could sleep yourself soon.”

Bryony nodded. “It’s just… I don’t know where we are, or what’s happening.” She looked around at the cosy cottage: the fire in the hearth with the pot hung above it, the rough-hewn furniture and the clothes that Issell and Toby wore. “It’s all so strange. It’s as if I’ve stepped into the pages of a history book.”

“You know books? You can read?” Issell’s eyes lit up. “Oh, but you must watch what you say. Folks around here are mighty suspicious of any book-learning. And of course Lord High and Mighty up on yonder hill, he’s the worst. I have to keep my plants and potions book hidden.”

“Is there any supper going, Issy?” Toby was rubbing his stomach.

“Might’ve known that’d be your concern,” Issell chuckling as she went over to a carved wooden cabinet and took out a large bowl which was covered with a cloth. “There’s some broth here; I’ll set it to warm.”

She came back over to Bryony. “Come and sit by me near the fire. It’s turned a little chilly now the sun’s left us.” They sat on matching rocking chairs in front of the hearth. The gentle movement of the chair soothed Bryony a little. Issell studied Bryony carefully. “Your clothing is…unusual. Such a short skirt, especially for a girl of your age, and such a fine fabric. How old are you; fourteen maybe?”

“I’m twelve… almost thirteen actually.”

“You’re tall for twelve. I thought you must be Toby’s age.”

Bryony frowned. She had never before been regarded as particularly tall.

“We’ll need to find you something else to wear to go out; your sister too. You’ll both attract too much attention dressed as if you’re wearing nothing but your shifts, even if we do clean and mend them.”

Bryony nodded. She’d wake up in a moment, she thought. This couldn’t be real.

But the broth tasted real enough when Issell served it in neat wooden bowls with matching wooden spoons. She roused Bethany, who managed a couple of spoonfuls before her eyelids began to flutter, and pushing away the spoon, she curled up under the shawl again. Perhaps it was her way of coping with whatever was happening to them both, thought Bryony. She finished her broth and stood up to take her bowl over to the sink as she would normally do. She looked the length of the cabinet, but there was no sink and no taps. Even old Mrs Baker, who lived in a really old-fashioned house next door to Tom’s cottage, had a tap in the kitchen. She set the bowl down and returned to her chair.

Issell smiled and patted her arm before returning to finish her task of stripping the flower heads from the stems she’d picked earlier. Bryony recognised lavender and chamomile, but the others were unfamiliar. “I’m making a herb pillow,” Issell explained holing up her sewing. “Oh but you look so tired, lovely. Why don’t you curl up by your sister, there’s plenty of room. I’ll fetch another shawl for you. We can talk in the morning.” Bryony obeyed gratefully and let herself be settled down next to her sleeping sister. Despite her worries, she soon fell asleep.

Toby joined Issell by the hearth. “I don’t know what to make of them,” he said. “Maybe they’re changelings or some such.”

Issell looked up from her sewing. “Nay, I don’t think they’re of a magical race. They’re flesh and blood just like you and me.” She tied off her sewing and smoothed out the little pillow case on her knee. “But look at their clothes, and the way the older one speaks. I can’t imagine where they’ve come from.”

Toby stared into the fire. “You remember I told you what Martha said? A few summers ago, about how she met a man who never aged.”

Issell raised her eyebrows. “Martha was always one for wild stories.”

“But if he was from the future, maybe so are they.”

Issell shook her head. “Surely that’s impossible?” She glanced across at the sleeping girls. “One thing I’m sure of though, we must keep them safe from Lord Childecott, while we see if there isn’t a way to get them home, wherever that might be. Else he’ll have them burned or drowned as witches.”

©2019 Chris Hall

/next chapter


From my latest work-in-progressHow do you think my story is progressing? I’d love to hear your thoughts!