Retelling Old Tales: “Hearts of Stone and Age”

A while ago, I did Rachel Swirsky’s class on retelling old stories. This weekend I did Cat’s class on building characters (elementary, you might think, but still incredibly useful and well worth taking. Thanks to my Patrons who covered the cost as well!). The morning before, I started on a new story, which I’m calling “Hearts of Stone and Age” was very much a re-telling of The Little Mermaid but set in a secondary world I’m developing. Meren, the merfolk of this world (the Wasting World and the same one featured in “Pearls and Memories, Spilled and Scattered”), are wild and dangerous and very inhuman which makes it all the odder for a statue of one to sit in the harbour of a prosperous little port town.

It’s a nesting story and focuses not on the mermaid (who isn’t a princess), but on the sorceress (who in this story was the creature’s lover, not her enemy) and on her mentor who cursed the sorceress with unending youth. It’s still a story of two worlds meeting and things going wrong but

Cat asked us to do two exercises as part of the class, both of which really helped. The first was to write about the protagonist from their own perspective, who they are:

My name is Talin and I am old, I was a sorceress when the world was young and I lived in a small harbour town watching as it grew, offering my services to whomever needed it. I was cursed with immortality and, worse, unending youthfulness. It forced me to move around lest my secret be uncovered as everyone, in their heart of hearts, never wants to know death. I don’t know if my state can be stolen or another infected with it. But I also know that only when I find someone who accepts what I am and offers to take my burden from me without my asking them to do so, knowing what it means to live until the end of days immortal, can I pass from this world. And, until I fell in love, I never wanted to. The problem is my beloved is a creature of the sea; mortals and Meren, they can’t live in each other’s worlds and I don’t know if we go to the same place after we die. Meren turn to sea-foam, humans to bone and ash. So I turned my beloved into a statue, at her request, and continued to wander, seeking out the person who would release me but who would also keep the secret of what I was, only then can I return, free my beloved and we can face death together.

The second was to write about the protagonist for the point of somone who hates them, which is where the evil mentor comes in:

She was beautiful, thought that was more birth and breeding than any glamour or other woven magics. Her pretty heart reflecting in kind eyes and a desire to help, not hinder, those who came to her. She was my pupil once and I thought, perhaps, her goodness was just a front and I could seduce her into darkness. No, she was good to her sweet core and the dark deities, they cannot stomach purity. So I invoked them and blessed her with the long life of my kind but wove a curse. But, when she realised how dark my heart was and who I served, she ran, refuted me, and renounced all connection to our kind and the covenants. She went rogue and wandered and, you know what? She never stopped seeing that beauty in the world, even after civilisations had burned to ash and love, well it only made things worse.

The final one was to write about a possession that the protagonist carries with them and their relationship with it:

In the first days after the statue of the Meren holding her heart appeared in the harbour, everyone was very confused and no one knew where it came from. A week after, I took a piece of sea-smoothed glass found as we watched that last sunrise together to a local mason, asking him to please carve me a replica of the statue’s heart. By the time I returned three decades later, his main business was selling tiny stone and sea-glass statues of her. Mine, however, remained unique, no one wanted her heart, no they wanted the idiolised beauty of a carved sea-maiden. Her heart, in miniature, it has traveled years and miles in a tiny cloth pouch, kept safe deep in my pack. I take it out at night when I can’t be with her, when I’m lying in a tavern bed or camping in the wilderness. It anchors me to her even when I’m a life and a million miles from the ocean. One day I will return, let the heart return to the sea and speak the words which will free her from the stone.

The thing is, though these pieces will never make their way into the story, they did help me figure out the mechanics of the story. Oh and there’s going to be a showdown on the beach between the evil witch and the good sorceress, witnessed by an innocent bard seeking the truth to the legend of the Meren holding her heart in her hands. This is my first new story of the year and a nice take chance to try my hand at retelling one of my favourite stories.

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The Things We Remember: WiP Cover

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I got bored and when I get bored, I design covers. Though this story is technically a proof of concept novella-thing (I have like 9k right now, it’s easily going to cross the mandatory 12,500 SFWA barrier into novella territory) for The Things We Remember, I also have a second novella in mind, The Lies We Tell (which is set in 2028, about nine years later, and deals with the start of the Terran Schism and Second Contact). 

I’m, frankly, loving writing Remember as this allows me to get into the head of Astraea, my blind New York lawyer (no jokes please) and also establish her timeline. Especially as the other stories she narrates, all novellas, are individual cases set in different points in her life and career.

This story, though, it’s about her pregnancy and the stories she tells her unborn son. The lives, the fragments of memory she’s kept locked away, but remain with her due to their importance or, sometimes, their normality. This is interspersed with the modern day as she moves from discovering her pregnancy, celebrating her niece’s bat mitzvah and telling family to and giving birth.

I’ve already written the last scene but the fun bit are the italicised sections, each a different life. Oh and I do like this cover, though it’s sadly inadequate due to Canva’s limited font-manipulating abilities, especially as the one for Lies is the left side of the same image, a much more troubled, stressed looking side to Astraea, which mirrors what happens when the Ashterai reveal themselves to humanity and she volunteers to be in the ‘hey I’ve been pretending to be human but I’m not’ vanguard.

What do you think?

I’m going to be posting this on Patreon so if you want to read it, you can pledge for content, stories and what not here: https://www.patreon.com/ashabardon

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The Atridia Duology: Three Stories in Two Books (With Excerpts)

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Despite the image above this is not a trilogy. It’s a duology. For the sake of my sanity (tenuous as it is), rather than slice The Divided Land into The Fractured Era and The Broken World, I’m writing in its own folder and will splice later. You can however see where it’s split: The Mortal Gods will feature in Fractured while The Singularity will be found in Broken.

I made this image to represent the series. The city represents the Taborin of Juran’s time, a futuristic city that blinds the viewer to darkness hidden behind glass spires and the veneer of science and knowledge. The field, the regrown trenches where wars were once fought that are a memory evoked in Jaada’s novel and, finally, Atridia itself as it struggles to adjust to a new place within the Union, one which involves revisiting its own past in order to heal properly.

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But you want a taste, right? A sample? Well here are three.

Here’s an excerpt from Fractured:

Juran was an eager child, he looked forward to his first days of schooling with a zeal few children could match. On the chosen day, the one set aside for intake, his mother dressed him carefully, aided by Usaki, their progenitor. Then both his parents walked him the twenty minutes or so, though crowded, stone-paved and tree-lined streets, to the school in which he’d been enrolled. 

As they walked away from the house, which was all he’d known bar the local parks and a small cluster of shops, Juran remembered Usaki wiping tears of pride from its eyes as he turned to look back and waved goodbye. He didn’t understand why it was crying, after all he’d only be gone the day. Tonight the four of them would sit around the table as they always did, sharing the food Usaki had made.

Mother Reshi and father Danuk were both so proud, Juran having gained a place at one of the most prestigious schools in all Taborin, which had counted some of the planet’s greatest scientists as alumni and they themselves had attended as children. 

They had fought hard to see him go here, arguing that an excellent start to his education would see him soar later and both were convinced, thanks to the blending of genetics in the melting pot of Usaki’s womb, that he would have his father’s mind and his mother’s logic. 

According to Juran’s test scores, they were right.

Knowing about the entrance examinations required by the school, both Danuk and Reshi had started him early, turning play into learning. She began teaching him his letters and the dying art of cursive handwriting as soon as he could hold a stylus with chubby, childlike fingers. 

Danuk, meanwhile, had gone out into a specialist shop, commissioning a set of child’s playing things. On Juran’s second birthing day, he presenting his son with blocks inscribed with elements and showing him how to take them, using carbon as a heart, and turn them into molecules like water or air.

Juran loved it.

On that first morning, dressed in the school’s uniform, a micro version of adult clothes which would set their minds to a future goal, Juran stood in the front line, waiting for registration. There were two perfect rows of fifteen other children, boy standing next to girl standing next to boy, all identical in their uniforms. Childlike microcosms of adult society, so full of promise and expectation.

Behind them was a third row, this one of neutrally-dressed progenitor children; eight of them and this was the day when Juran learned that not all genders were treated equally. All schools, he later learned, were required to take progenitors though the education given to the third sex was not mandated by the state but, instead, left up to the individual schools. He watched as names were marked off and a female teacher led them away to a classroom on the far side of the campus.

He had never met a progenitor other than Usaki. They looked like Atridians of either gender, though their features were uniform and almost bland. They didn’t look like boys or like girls but instead seemed suspended between and far away. He knew they were essentially walking wombs for the carrying of children thought what that involved was unknown to his child’s mind.

Juran watched they moved, almost as if they’d been taught subservience from birth. There was no raucous chattering, laughter or even words. Yet when he looked into the eyes of the closest progenitor, marked out by a name badge as Kotori, he saw a mind behind them, active and alive, drowning in anxiety and frustration, the cost of compliance.

“Don’t stare, Juran Elaspe.” One of the teachers admonished. “Come now, follow me, children.”

They were given a short tour, guided through landscaped gardens and a large grass-covered space the teacher informed them was for sports, lap-running and other outdoor activities. Juran hated running and the day was a warm one so when they finally stepped inside, away from the twin suns’ light, it took him a moment to adjust.

The building used to educate the youngest children was a single floored building with solar panels on the gently sloping roof, the eaves overhanging so low that, in the winter, beskathi bats would hang upside down, much to the delight of the children. Even in the melancholy that took him in the darker months of cold, Juran loved to watch them, hanging from tiny feet that seemed like their hands but in microcosm.

The carpet was soft under their socked feet, their shoes stored in boxes marked with each child’s name, right above lockers in which to store their bags and a first day’s lunch, lovingly made by parents or progenitors. The UV-protective glass protected their skins from Hadob’s fiery magnificence, from Oanon too, and offered stunning panoramas of the grass covered grounds, of the raised planters and the climbing frames and pits filled with sand.

The walls were covered in posters, one had numbers and the most basic of mathematical formulae, mostly simply addition and multiplication. Another had the letters of the main Atridian alphabets, the local, older, dialect and the common tongue. Juran hadn’t even realised there was a second dialect spoken in the city, his parents had never conversed with him in anything but the main dialect, the one spoken all over the planet as a unifying language.

There was one other sign, given pride of place and laminated to last. The light caught it and Juran had to stand just so in order to read it. There were images and words, both: an image he recognised as meaning ‘male’, another that said ‘female’ and the final one which was the mark for ‘progenitor.

He sounded out the words in his head, the strokes that made up the words and the message: One male, one female, one progenitor = family. Nothing more, nothing less.

He found himself staring at the poster, unsure of precisely what it mean or why it was even there. He seemed to be the only one who had even noticed it and the tutor, Teacher Hevali, gently called for his attention. He promptly forgot the poster existed even as it confined to form part of the white noise of his existence all through his education.

“Good morning, welcome to the Gahverin School of Childhood Excellence. You are all very lucky children and come from families who care deeply about your education and your futures. Past graduates of this school have gone on to become innovators, scientists, scholars and iconoclasts. If you study hard, if you apply yourselves, you too will join them. Now, tell me, what do you want to be?”

They went around the class, boys and girls answering. One girl called Kitraia wanted to become an innovator, charged with working for the good of the people, a boy named Yerin wanted to be an engineer working with vehicles. As they approached him, Juran realised he had no idea and burned crimson as the teacher asked:

“And you, Juran, what would you like to be when you become an adult?”

“I don’t know, teacher.” 

The boy next to him snorted with laughter and Juran suddenly wanted to cry, his shame exposed for all to see but he hadn’t known he’d be asked this question. He vowed to prepare, next time he would not be caught out and, instead, he began to run possible scenarios in his mind so he would never again be shamed.

“Amel, enough!” Hevali snapped. “I suppose you know what you wish to do, eh?”

The boy, Amel, puffed up his chest and nodded solemnly. “I want to work for the Space Administration and command a ship of my own. I want to see the stars beyond the Two, become a pilot.”

Juran frowned. “A spaceship?”

“My mother works for the space fleet.” The boy boasted, though Juran was sure he heard something in the other boy’s voice that suggested he was lonely and missed his female parent.

The name didn’t mean anything to him but Juran was amazed. He had no idea there were ships drifting through space though, logically, it made sense. Especially when, after a morning of introductions, Teacher Hevali explained the layout of the world and Atridia’s place in the system of Hadob and Oanon. 

There were three planets, one of light, one of earth and one of water. Atridia was the first, closest to their two stars and the most advanced in technology and social peace. Next to them—several dozen billion miles away—was lush Arcadia that exported doctors and the important inoculations that Juran would endure over the next few days. Finally, there was the mysterious and somewhat unknown water world, Atlantia, with its strange submarine dwellers with their own cities and civilisation, bipedal but creatures of the ocean who seldom lifted their heads above the water’s surface.

Some of the girls found this idea, of underwater creatures sleek as fish, as something to fixate upon but Juran dismissed their dream-like fascination. The undersea, it might as well be space. There was no air, no gravity and no Atridian could survive long there. The pictures showed unfriendly outcroppings, land made from larva cooled in the sea and a strange sky, tinged enough that it didn’t look like the blue of their own.

And water, so much water.

During the break, while the other children drank viri milk and ate fresh bread filled with sausage or cured meats and herbs, Juran ignored his own food and stuck his head out of the classroom door into the long, echoing corridor. The floor caught the long lights, reflected. It was too soft to be stone but had a quality which made it feel strange. 

He grasped for the right word: Imposing? No. Terrifying? No. Alien. Maybe. Ah, wait, forbidding. That was it.

The atmosphere was completely different to the classroom, more forbidding than he had ever encountered.

“Juran, come and drink your milk!”

Juran sighed and did as the teacher asked, gulping down the grey liquid with a scrunched nose. He hated the taste, the smell, and it turned his stomach even as the liquid lined it. The bread was better, filling, and it would keep him going until lunchtime. The he was half way done with the day and it would be nearly time to go home.

He began to count down the hours, wanting nothing more than to be at home with his books and the sea of knowledge ready to be absorbed via his parents’ librarium of books. He would curl up in Usaki’s arms and it would sing gently, not a lullaby but an ancient song that felt almost like a story being told.

The boy who’d boasted earlier sat next to him. “What’s your name?”

“Juran Elaspe.” Juran replied. “Do you really want to pilot a starship?”

“My mother is on long-term secondment on the Array.” Amel said and Juran knew he meant the telescopes which hovered on the edge of their system, watching out for future calamities and other astronomic phenomena. “I want to be like her, to go to the edge of known space. My father works at the Directorate, planning out future space missions.”

“So does your progenitor look after you?”

“No,” Amel said and frowned. “We’re going to sleep here, when school is done. Didn’t you realise that?”

Juran paled and shook his head. “So we’ll never go home?”

“Oh well, our parents will come and visit but we have beds here, books too. Can you write yet?”

He nodded. “The main dialect. My mother taught me cursive. I know the elements too.”

“What are elements?” the boy asked.

“You use them to make things like water or people.” Juran explained.

“That sounds really cool. I’m Amel,” the boy said and grinned. “Let’s be friends.”

Here’s an excerpt from Broken:

Jaada was having nightmares again.

A tiny part of her mind, the piece she’d trained over many years, held sway and kept her calm as the narrative played itself out to conclusion. This was a dream, she knew it. The familiarity only confirmed it but it didn’t make it any easier to bear. She was in a chair, hands bound to the arm rests, lights shining in her eyes that were so bright, her brain pulsed in her skull. The world was swimming around her, the lights glowing with a halo stark against the gloom of the room.

Despite her lucidity, the fear burned through her. That was why she hated dreaming, there was this part she couldn’t control and it reminder her of her tenure in the Hall of the Mind, when drugs had made her lose control. She never wanted to experience that loss again and it was that which haunted her still, not the imprisonment, not the self-imposed solitary confinement or the cocktail of mind-altering drugs.

It was the loss.

Consciousness cut the dream off before the worst bit began, before the auditors had tried to tell her she was mad, that she didn’t want to get well. Before, she really lost control and the worlds began to grow like crystals, fragile and brilliant. They had been beautiful and imperfect, collapsing within moments of their birth, unable to stand alone or be anything more than echoes. It burned her as they died, a thousand supernovas fading into the dark, never quite strong enough to keep the bubbles of reality from imploding.

The room was cool and nearly silent, a fan gently spinning above her head. Kaoishran summers were short but brutal and she was still trying to get used to the twilight world on which she’d found her sanctuary. Though a world of many suns, Mnemosyne had periods of silence, even if none of the stars ever set at the same time. She found the skies calmed her, the spheres of light floating in gaseous glory, blue-white and eternal.

She felt for the light, letting its muted glow dispel some of the darkness. The pen and notebook were on her night table, where she’d left them. It was often, in those moments before sleep, that her best ideas coalesced. She’s learned the hard way that sleep wiped them from her mind and so scribbled notes to remind herself of their souls, the pure essence of thought.

The timepiece said first dawn was coming, Alcyone would rise soon and the world would start waking up. Jaada knew in her gut she wouldn’t be able to get anymore sleep so she rose, washed her face in the sink and pulled on a summer dress left behind from her time living in Serani. She wore it for comfort, one of the last thing she’d bought before Tobai stumbled into her life and began to slowly strangle her.

Tea would help, it always did.

Jaada enjoyed walking through the sleeping streets. It reminded her, just a little, of the river-centred megacity of Serani. Mythreia had managed to retain its sleepiness even after the Union declared Mnemosyne the new capital of a world-spanning entity. Jaada had a small apartment in the north of the city, about as far from the river as you could go while still within the city’s borders. She found the compactness of her rooms calming, the Hall of the Mind had been large and maze-like and she found comfort, surrounded by her possessions and her words.

The tea shop in the square near the river was just opening when she took her accustomed seat outside, the early morning breeze pleasant as opposed to the heat which would come later as the city sweltered in its own bones. The waiter bid her good morning and she ordered the breakfast blend and a bowl of porridge.

“Excuse me, do you mind if I join you?” 

The Taborin dialect almost made her flinch and Jaada’s eyes followed the sound to see a figure standing across from her, teacup held in one hand. They were obviously a progenitor, despite the choice of dress. and Jaada had to remind herself that wasn’t an uncommon thing, the city attracted many from all the worlds within the Union, including those from her own planet.

“That depends on who you are.”

Gold skin, violet eyes and a Mnemosynian dress and sandals. Whomever this person was, they knew the weather. They was also blind; a staff held in their other hand, white and polished.

“My name is Vira Dansho, I’m head of the commission investigating the Directorate. You’re Jaada Serani, are you not?”

Jaada felt her stomach turned to stone, sinking just as deep and quickly. “I’m done campaigning.”

“This isn’t about the Hall of the Mind.”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“Maybe a little, it was one of many dubious practises we’re trying to uncover. The Directorate is a piece of fruit with many segments inside. We’re trying to look at the entire picture.”

“No offence to you, but how did a progenitor get to be commission head?”

“I was elected to the position five weeks ago. I’ve worked in legal services since the Directorate finally decided we could do more than just bear children, when the Union forced them to realise we had rights just as you do. I helped my siblings get access to the things they need, most weren’t even aware they had a right to ask for.” Vira smiled. “And, given the discrimination my gender’s suffered, I was keen to see the truth revealed.”

“You identify?” Jaada asked, knowing some progenitors preferred one or other gender. Not all, but some, a tiny portion of the official genderless population. More were genderfluid, like water in a cup, flowing to fill space and moving into new roles with the Union’s birth, previously locked to male and female.

They smiled. “Sometimes. Today I simply wanted to wear a dress. It caught my attention, the feel of the material, and lulled me into a purchase a few days ago. I’m told the pattern is quite beautiful.”

“It is.” Jaada conceded. “No one else is up, how did you know I was here?”

“A few questions, you’re predictable in your habits. And people notice you, even though you’ve adopted this planet as your home.”

“If you’re commission head, then you know precisely why.”

“And I can understand your reasons, I empathise with them as well. What the auditors did to you was unforgivable and I have to thank you for helping end their tyranny.” A pause. “I had a relative: Vadis, he identified as male, even had surgery so his body matched his mind. The auditors didn’t believe he was a progenitor and when they did, they couldn’t understand him or his choices. His very presence broke their world-view and they couldn’t deal with it.”

“Then I apologise for any assumptions made. What pronoun do you prefer, Vira?”

Jaada knew, amongst themselves, that the progenitors preferred ‘they’. Until recently, the official pronoun of choice had been ‘it’ which she knew was best understood as derogatory, suggesting progenitors were things and not people. It was polite to ask and not assume, especially as identifying didn’t always mean the progenitors took on the gender-specific pronoun.

“‘They’ is fine. Might I ask your aid in return? You’re free to say no, if you wish, but I’m hoping you’ll agree.”

“I will, at least, listen.” Jaada said, after all it was only polite. Especially when Vira had traveled all this way to seek her out. “My parents and progenitor taught me to be polite.”

“I assumed as much.” Vira smiled. “The commission exists to decide if what the Directorate did was illegal.”

“Surely that’s obvious?”

“That’s the problem, they were thorough in their rewriting of history. We don’t actually know what happened during the Singularly for example and even we progenitors, well we have an oral history, our own myths and legends that don’t actually gives us much about where we truly came from.”

“And I can help how?”

“I was told by an unimpeachable source you’re sensitive to something called the Narrative? To great stories?”

“Did a woman tell you this?”

“She sounded female, yes.”

Jaada noticed her hands shaking, felt the wave of terror rush over her. Her stomach clenched, bile rushed into her throat and she struggled to speak, to get the words out, as the past flooded her myriad senses and tried to drown her where she sat.

Here’s an excerpt from Divided:

The trenches smelled of shit and death.

Life’s blood spilled and turning the mud into something darker than simply dirt and water. Had the warring sides been fans of blood magic, as the old stories said each had once been before pre-history, before science and medicine, art and order, perhaps they might have invoked dark gods fuelled by sorrow. The old legends said they could be summoned in places of true despair, mortals foolishly thinking of them as weapons that could be sicced them on the other side. Each waiting to see who walked from the chaos with their lives.

But war, for the Xoikari and the Tabori, it was simpler than that. More bloody.

They were perennially at war with each other, perhaps once every other generation things would simply break down. Armistices and treaties would burn. Everyone of the cursed age would find themselves drafted, male and female alike, into service on those bloodied fronts. Each day lives would be lost over a few inches, perhaps a metre or a mile, of land. The follow day, trenches still blood-soaked, the war would be reset and more would be sent to literal slaughter.

Eventually, lives and cannon fodder depleted, each side would meet—unable to admit that their depleted numbers were a cursed battle strategy neither side could break—and a temporary peace would fall over Medran, north and south co-existing in an uneasy truce once more.

The true source of the enmity between them? Little things that would have made other peoples, other species, laugh.

The north was known for science, for facts and figures, ordered books and even more precise lives.. The South, well though just as advanced, they preferred focus on art and faith. Yes, in the aftermath, it was the Xoikari who replaced limbs and switched up battle-wounded men and women lucky to have survived the killing fields, but it was the Tabori who decried science was the true path of peace.

Neither city-state, which gradually amassed lands around its own hub over many years and more lifetimes, wanted war, it was simply all they knew, engrained into them as lessons from a parent to a child. Taborin, as the larger city holding the north, wanted dominion and order over all of Medran, each tiny town and province under their order. Xoikari, in the southern lands, simply wanted to be left to pursue their people’s passions. They had no interest in ruling but neither did they wish to be ruled.

So they fought and there was war, until there was peace. Then the trench-grass was left to regrow, the heartland of Medran given a generation to heal.

But the bloodied mud would come again, it always did.

As far as I’m concerned, I plan to get this project done over the summer. As you can see, 50k (most of it from Fractured) exists already but that’s just a start. I do hope, however, the entire duology isn’t 300k long in total, that’s my upper limit though I expect it to be less.

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Chasing Redemption: On Novels and Writing as Therapy

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A while ago, Beth Stone from A Star Filled Sea (who now prefers to be known as Liz) started talking and I started listening because she was channelling a part of me that I really didn’t want to acknowledge. She was the unintentional minor antagonist in the book and, boy, was she regretting the last few years of her life. Now she’s seeking amends on a massive scale and she’s still talking. The first scenes I started writing were interspersing therapy sessions in the aftermath of Charter Day, Liz sitting and talking, sometimes literally reliving events through the rather unconventional abilities of her therapist.

She lost her mother to cancer and went off the rails which would normally be a completely understandable response. Except Liz is also the daughter of the Terran Ambassador (and now Earth’s representative on the Union council) so her indiscretions became very public. She’s embarrassed by her former misdeeds and the people she’s hurt and the damage she’s done, including to her father’s personal and professional reputation.

Chasing Redemption is the first novel I’ve started working on which really feels cathartic. I’ve written a short story which was done specifically to help me deal with past events, to exorcise demons, but this novel, it’s all about trying to heal. I’m simply expanding things, going from short to longer forms of prose. I’ve not done anything bad, I’m not a horrible person (nor is Liz), but I’ve lived through things which have scarred me and writing has always been the thing which kept me sane. Her road to healing is, also, going to be my own.

I’ve been in therapy for a year. Originally it was to deal with my toxic relationship with food. A friend once said I reminded her of one of those old people who lived through the war and now hoards food in case food ever becomes short again. I will fixate on food, little things like making sure there’s always milk in the house or a spare tub of butter and bread that’s in date. I obsess over best before dates … you get the idea. I spent my childhood/early adult life being denied everything and, as a result, there’s so much food I can’t eat because it’s simply too rich (full fat milk and cream are the biggest example; I can’t stomach either). It’s only in the last decade or so I’ve started eating Asian foods or putting chili in things, for example.

Of course the therapy was about one thing but it was intimately connected to my abysmal childhood. I want to be a functional adult and I’ve noticed, in the years since my retirement, that my anxiety has increased simply because I didn’t have the ‘normal’ working life which kept me too occupied to have time to worry or offered me a mask I could wear to pretend to be sort of functioning. My autistic traits got worse as a result and I’ve become tied into the enforced structures which are a hallmark of ASD.

Oh and I have PTSD, which really doesn’t help, especially when I’m around triggering things or people. I have my own methods to deal with much of it, hence my walking around Norwich with earbuds and very loud music. I have Uni, who has become my unofficial emotional support hound, having learned there are times when I need her (and my friend’s dog Bramble) for support. Bramble hugs are the best but even Uni ones are, currently, helping more than they did. I have found, however, that love helps.

My niece’s, though, they’re the best.

I have found, however, that love helps. I met up with Beloved Niece and my SiL a few weeks ago (anything family related is high on the ‘oh gods, where’s my valium?’ level) but Beloved Niece, she loves me unconditionally. She hugs me and the world is perfect; I’m her only aunt and while I’m not the best role model, I’m all she’s got. I love her and she loves me. No ifs, no buts. She could tell me anything, be anyone, and I would still love her. Plus she allows me to be maternal without needing to give birth (and I hate children almost exclusively; she’s the exception. Her brother is growing on me but seeing how good she is with him, it just makes me so proud, so pleased).

Plus I get to sneak her whatever change is in my pocket and she is so good with Uni it’s staggering.

The animals are similarly being a lot more affectionate. D is constantly headbutting me and even Ceri is coming to talk to me and lick my hand. Both of them have been, oddly, waiting for Uni and me to come home (which is something D never used to do). It initially worried me but now it’s just a thing, a chance for him to get some extra fuss and pretend to be a mighty feline.

And my friend’s have also been awesome. I took Mhairi for lunch with a family member and not only did she come, she made the experience bearable and stuck up for me in a situation which would otherwise be unbearable. I’ve got people who love me who aren’t blood relations, people who understand I’m broken but love me anyway. People I’ve met through circumstance or guide dogs, people who get that I have my quirks but all I want to do is be useful, to help others because it’s how I make connections.

I just want to be loved but then doesn’t everyone? Especially if you’ve never had that and I, sadly, haven’t.

So, yeah, writing this book, it’s my real attempt to put myself back together. Going through therapy has made me understand more about myself, my emotions and the norms of the real world. I’ve spent my life thinking things should be a certain way but, it seems, that actually my entire world view has been shaped by false premises. Now I can actually see, through adult eyes and the reassurance of people I trust, I’m attempting to strike out as Asha. Indeed, as I was explaining to a much-loved friend who I’d not spoken to in far, far too long, the entire name change was to help myself heal. Indeed, in Chasing Redemption, Liz changes her name for much of the same reason (her given name is Elizabeth and she decides to stop being Beth and start being Liz to make a break with her previous self whilst still acknowledging who she actually is).

Me? I don’t want to do that, hence my complete change of name. I made a break that is much more permanent.

The first draft, well, it’s terrible. I’m still trying to orientate myself. But, for the first time, I realise that’s okay. First drafts aren’t the published book, there’s a long way to go yet and that’s perfectly okay. Hell, it’s required. I don’t have much yet, maybe 23k in scenes, chapters and rough outlines but it’s a start. Oh and I’m getting a cover done as a way to force me to finish it. I know I will and this will just tip the scale in my favour. I’m quietly touting it as an unofficial sequel to Star but it’s a different genre (coming of age sci fi) and more a character exploration piece.

Do stick with me, this is going to be a slow burning project but I’ll share the cover and a synopsis as soon as I’ve worked them out.

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The Balancing Act: Finding “Solace”

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My self-worth isn’t great right now. I’m trying to write but it’s like getting blood out of a stone. My brain screaming at me that I’m a terrible writer, that the two rejections I had this week were personal and signalled my ultimate failure as an author. I cringe at the thought of sending more stories out and yet there’s a call coming up that I’ve promised myself I’ll submit a story to.

After the name-changing of the other day, I had a temporary high which means, of course, my mood was always going to crash back town. It’s not as bad as it was a couple of weeks ago but it still feels particularly dark at times. I can find fractured moments of happiness in Disney movies and the Game of Thrones rumour-mill, listening to certain pieces of music and eating things which are bad for me. Though I do have a bag of carrots in the fridge that I’m sharing with the hound.

Yesterday I didn’t write a word all day. Instead, I wasted time on the internet, reading and posting until it was time for an appointment on the other side of town. I took the bus because I couldn’t face the walk from either of the two routes I can use, I even arrived early because it was better than lingering in Starbucks for another half an hour.

Of course, I could have slept in, I could have been kinder but I’m a creature of habit. I did, however, walk back into town, past the barky German Shepherd Uni hates. We had lunch, which was cheap and filling (bonus points to the fact I was craving cabbage and new potatoes). We capped off the day with an epic 99 that took me back to my childhood. The seller even made Uni a micro 99 which she definitely appreciated. It was exceptionally warm and poor Un, well she’s getting fluffy again.

As part of my run of jobs on Monday, I booked her a slot to be clipped for the summer. It’s expensive but worth it, she’s already feeling the heat and it’s only just gone from sub-arctic rain to a few, precious, glorious days of summer. She’ll thank me in two weeks. In the meantime, I’m carrying water and her bandana, even retiring my jacket because denim and heat, they don’t play well together.

My big focus for this week is the short story I need to write. It’s a space mermaid story and I’m hurrying to get it done not because the call is coming (it’s at the end of the month) but because I want to have my crit group look the story over first. I have a better idea of the storyline for “Solace” but my desire to write, it’s still not easy. Plus the deadline is making it much harder, inducing a panic that I won’t be done by 1st July.

This annoys me as normally deadlines are my fodder, my fuel. The trick is, of course, to go back to what MRK taught me in the short story class I did. Outline the story, write down what happens and then, when my muse returns in a coffee-fueled flood, do the story. Worse case, as long as it’s done by Wednesday, the group won’t be too put out but I still feel bad. We each understand everyone has problems writing sometimes and this week, it’s my turn.

I want this story to be good, though. I want to love writing it, the desire is there, but my mood flattens it. I want to nip to the garage, buy a pint but I can’t afford to lose either the money in my purse or the addling of my brain. So I’ve put on Game of Thrones and am trying to outline, hoping that will help. At least I now have a much clearer idea of the antagonism in the story and the ending.

That’s something and, right now, I’ll take anything I can get.

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Blurbs: The Fractured Era and The Broken World

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This morning I officially started the next draft of The Fractured Era and actually the 40k I have is a solid basis. I know exactly what happens and when/how. It’s quite reassuring actually.

Oh and here’s the blurb: 

Everyone in the Union knows the name Juran Elaspe.

Everyone knows he was the father of intergalactic space travel, a polymath, an engineer and architect of the first artificial intelligence. They know the ship he created, bearing his name, was there when the waters parted and the races gathered.

No one knows how he died. Not really. Or how he lived.

Born on a planet segregated by sex, Juran is raised to believe that male, female and progenitor make family, no more, no less. He excels in school and makes important friendships which will last his entire lifetime. And one, fatal, mistake: he falls in desperate, hopeless love with the wrong person.

In an attempt to save himself, Juran buries himself in building the first interstellar ship, a vessel capable of going beyond the Sirian system and into deep space, far beyond even their greatest telescopes. In the process he will lose his mind and himself, for love, for his creation, for his species and their future.

And it won’t be enough.

There’s a lot less of The Broken World but I do know the plot. Also I know it includes a cameo from Kella, who appears in The Parting of the Waters. This book takes places maybe ten to fifteen years after the Gathering. I know Amel Denium (also of Parting and TFE) dies and it’s not in a pretty way.

He’s one of the big witnesses for the commission trying to find out exactly what the Directorate got up too. Going from ambassador to a criminal in the span of a few days. He’s also the lynchpin in the Commission’s case, one of several people, living and dead, who become figureheads for the corruption.

His daughter Kella serves, right at the end, to help Jaada come to terms with her abilities and her role in what is, by anyone’s estimation, one of the great stories of the Union, and Atridia’s, history.

Here’s the blurb:

Jaada Serani cannot forget and forgiveness is bitter on her tongue.

A talented author, her past is stained by incarceration in a madhouse where she almost lost control, creating worlds and universes from the ether. For a single moment she tasted transcendence and now it haunts her every time she picks up a pen.

Though freed, she lives in terror of losing control and is trying to live quietly, teaching others how to spin words into stories. In the aftermath of the Union’s birth, when she is asked to return home to Atridia, her first reaction is fear. She has run to the heart of the known universe and yet her species’ past continues to chase her down.

Once world-spanning, the Directorate has collapsed; it’s death-rattle echoing across known space. A century’s worth of crimes have finally laid in the bare light of day and no one is sure of what is truth and what was manufactured to suit the Directorate’s control.

Lies were told, a gender subverted and people erased from history but the Directorate did a good and thorough job. Now the past is muddied, faces obscured and countless made to disappear in the name of the greater good. 

A natural muse, sensitive to the flow of reality, only Jaada can retrace the truth path of the history the Directorate tried to alter. Only she can restore what they tried to expunge.

But doing so might just destroy her.

Sounds good, yes?

Oh and The Divided Land, I’m pretty sure that’s going to be the name of one of the novelettes or novels Jaada writes during the second book, even if it’s going to appear in the first (maybe it’ll span both). Jaada is, first and foremost, an author so framing fact as fiction is going to come more naturally to her, especially as she’s sensitive to the narrative and great stories of reality.

I’m pretty sure the second book will echo the ‘story within a story’ narrative of the first, though I’m not sure what it’s going to be called or even what the story is. I like the idea of the balance though, of current events and a fictionalised, but accurate, past.

I bought a sketch pad this morning so I can draw maps. I like having something to refer to, plus there are a couple of locations I need to work out, like Taborin, the capital city of the Directorate’s continent-spanning empire. I just need to be in the right mood to do it, and finish timelining. Just writing this post has revealed a couple of new things I didn’t know which is just exciting.

Wish me luck.

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Giving Patreon a Second Chance

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I wanted a chance to really interact with my small but growing fanbase. I also wanted a place to put random short stories, pieces of short fiction and detail my novel writing process. I’m about, once my mood lifts, to start The Fractured Era and The Broken World, the Atridia Duology. I’m not normally a fan of paywalls but I also want to try a longer term form of crowdfunding, with videos and all the secrets of how I write.

Even a dollar helps so please do check out my Patreon page now. Pledges go out on the first day of the month but I’m asking for monthly amounts so a single pledge will get you a lot of content, plus having people who want to read my stuff, it keeps me motivated. Right now that can only be a good thing.

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