Sparkle or Skaði

My mind is already churning around the themes for the 2020 WEP/IWSG Challenges. There are 3 options:

  1. Standalone Stories inspired by the individual themes. Six separate spontaneous seasonal stories.
  2. Sparkle Anwyl case. Six episodes of a new Snowdon Shadows case for my Welsh detective and her partner-lover, Kama. The threads for this are scribbles with substance.
  3. Skaði, Goddess, giantess, huntress and snow-stealth specialist. More Norse mythology with a twist – and a few more kennings. Not sure why Skaði is at a cafe with my favourite artist or his sunflowers.
Skadi by Michael Jorvik
Eve Myles as Sparkle Anwyl

I could try doing a poll but comments seem better – if I get any. Tell me what you would like to read, please.

#WEP/IWSG June 2019 Challenge – Caged Bird

Originally, I had planned to write a Sparkle Anwyl case for the 2019 WEP + IWSG Challenge starting in April and ending in December. I wrote the first episode in April, but then posted the next episode of Kindled Casket, last month. There is a ‘caged bird’ in the episode but not as planned – that follows in the next episode. That case will unfold over the next few months.

Hence, the attached standalone short – Fettered Air. A departure from my Welsh police procedural, so your responses will interest me.

Fettered Air

I slide ski-swift across the winter’s blanket under the Blood Wolf’s Moon. Beside me the chicken-legged hut creak-crashes through the forest.

We’re alone in the taiga.

No sign of Baba Yaga. She’s vanished as have the denizens. No howling wolves. Nor snow leopard scents. No eagle-owl hoots. Nor honking swans. No ice-crawlers corpse feeding.

For nothing breathes in the wailing wind.

Yet, Nature writhes in pain, dragon’s bile dripping on her from mortal fangs.

I am Skaði. Goddess, giantess, huntress and snow-stealth specialist. Size is not the issue. Speed is.

The house is noisier, but we make a team. This hut can track her mistress better than even I, its feet scratching up clues, windows watching for signs.

Our mission came from Svetovid, seer and guardian god – and we had no choice.

“Find Baba Yaga before this world rebels.”

Why me, a giantess from Jötunheimr? Because neither Odin nor Thor will ask me ever since the marital strife with my spouse, Njörðr.

“Nobody else volunteered,” added Svetovid. “Besides those deities I posted on separate operations.”

He’s as secretive as my Vanir and Aesir brethren. Not just Loki plays with intelligence. Our trickster-thief and clown has too many imitators.

“Others are missing?” I asked, expecting evasion.

“Find Baba Yaga. That’s all.”

So, a need-to-know answer means Skaði is disposable. Nothing has changed.

Am I that terrible?

I had my reasons for smashing my husband’s sand sculptures. The whale-way was a prison with seabirds flaunting freedom.

But he called my majestic mountain retreat a dreary cell. “I’m trapped here. I can’t ski or snowboard like you.” He ranted and ripped down my hunting trophies.

“Skadi Hunting in the Mountains” (1901) by H. L. M – Foster, Mary H. 1901. Asgard Stories: Tales from Norse Mythology. Silver, Burdett and Company

Marriage dissolved.

Thus, I get the menial tasks. Unless Odin sends his ravens or wolves with heart-baits.

Not this occasion. A telepathic eagle with four heads.  

“Find Baba Yaga.” Svetovid’s orders resound in my brain.

The wilderness wrestles promethium chains. That is enough reason to pursue the quarry.

So we scour Siberia.

The creak-crashing hut spins above the earth-coat. We have the crone’s spoor. 

Calls and cries clamour on the snow-breath.

Ahead a green clearing by a lake glows bright. Invisible to vicious human eyes, but I see the torches, tents and throng bridging the veils.

Baba has parked her mortar by a host of other vehicles, one that is familiar – my stepdaughter’s pantherine-drawn chariot.

With groans and creaks, the chicken-legs spin the hut to a halt by the pestle-guarded mortar. Shutters slam shut. A fence of human bones topped with skulls encircles them.

My gaze shoots arrows at the polytheistic conclave nobody invited me to.

Goddesses gathered from the Nine Realms. They have abandoned their posts to feast. Brews flow, dice roll and deities chatter. Everyone distracted as Midgard clamours for release.

Baba knocks back vodka, cackling to another crone – Hecate, clutching a goatskin of wine. Their dice are corpse-stones, and Hel’s are soul-vessels. 

Are they oblivious to the desolation? Among the feasting, denizen envoys are airing their anxiety.  

My pounding heart settles. Mind muses past irritable white-out.

Not all the deities are wizen and wild in their attire and behaviour. Some goddesses appear serious.

Freyja, stepdaughter and party animal rises – statuesque and sober, despite her goblet of mead.

Her eyes seize mine as she silences the symposium.

“Sisters, the snow-dancer is here. The world cries, and we have battle-sweat to spill. But when shall we three score meet again?”

“When the chaos is banished, when the spear-din is won,” Hel replies.

I add my voice, realising their design. “Ere midnight. After the sleep of the blade claims those flouting our laws.” Faces flash in my head. I smile. “Nature’s justice must wield the icicle of blood against false leaders poisoning life.”

My sisters nod. Creatures yowl.

Freyja smiles and summons her champions. “I come, Durga and Adrastea. We have fangs to extract.”
Her pantherines roar in response.

We will shatter the fetters on Nature. No more will humans build cages entrapping our laughter and song.

Yes, this is my #WEP/IWSG post for June so part of the 2019 WEP/IWSG ChallengeThis a standalone short, although Skaði appears in my novel Eagle Passage, which I wrote the first draft of for NaNoWriMo 2016.

Word Count 660: FCA

Comments are welcome as usual and the following applies:

To marry Heathcliff?

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For today’s Thursday Creation Review, I’m changing tacks again and sailing further into uncharted seas – variety and all that mirror stuff.

Anyway, one of my favourite authors – and one of my editors and writer-friends – is Sue Barnard. Ever since her first novel, The Ghostly Father, I’ve been an avid follower, reading all four of her novels released to date – all four or five star reads. Sue’s latest novel, Heathcliff: The Unanswered Questions Finally Answered? , is released on Monday, July 30th, so I will present the novel for your delectation.

First, an extended version of my original review of Sue’s last novel, Never on Saturday.

NeverOnSaturday

Never on Saturday

by

Sue Barnard (Goodreads Author)

Two stories, two heartbreaks: one past, one present…

Leaving her native France and arriving in North Wales as a postgraduate student of History and Folklore, Mel is cautiously optimistic that she can escape from her troubled past and begin a new and happier life.

She settles into her student accommodation and begins work on her thesis, concentrating particularly on one fascinating manuscript: a compelling and tragic tale of a cursed medieval princess.

Then she meets Ray – charming, down-to-earth and devastatingly handsome. Within days, Mel’s entire world has transformed from lonely and frustrated to loving and fulfilled. Despite her failure with previous relationships, she allows herself to hope that this time, at last, she can make it work.

But Mel’s dreams of happiness are under constant threat. She is hiding a dark and terrible secret, which Ray – or indeed anybody else – must never ever discover…

Review 4.4 stars

I enjoyed this novel which once again showed Sue Barnard’s ability to write in different ‘genres’ – or perhaps that should be time-styles as this engrossing novella has a historical timeline and a present day one.

The two threads to this tales weave together – but saying ‘why’ would be a spoiler. I enjoyed the way they came together and sussed what was going on, or rather ‘who’, early on – even if I took a confusing operatic detour in my head.

Mel is an interesting character as is Ray but in a different way. I enjoyed the familiar North Wales setting and the brief language references. The folklore and historical elements never felt overdone and they were informative as they were thrown in as neat asides.

Never on Saturday is a fast and easy read with a neat ending, a well-crafted mix of styles and their respective settings. Plus, there are informative author notes at the end. Overall, I would recommend this novella.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

 

How the Story Came About:

Sue Barnard: “A few years ago I was on holiday in western France and came across a legend associated with the area I was visiting.  Previously I’d been vaguely aware of the existence of this legend, but until then I’d known next to nothing about it.

A couple of weeks after I returned home, I was mowing the lawn when suddenly a line of dialogue popped into my head.  Goodness only knows where it came from, but it proved to be the starting point for what would eventually become Never on Saturday.

The line was “My name isn’t [X], it’s [Y].”  Unfortunately, I can’t be more specific here, because that would give away too much.  But suffice it to say that [Y] is the name of the character featured in the old French legend.”

Buy link: mybook.to/never-on-saturday

Other Reviews:

“An intriguing combination of myth and modern! I don’t like to give the story away to spoil it for future readers, but Sue has taken a myth and woven it into a magical love story. This story is easy to read and follow, even though it slips backwards and forwards in time. An act of revenge, a curse, a mythical creature, magic, and a rather attractive man goes into the mix to make a very entertaining story.”

“A must-read for fans of paranormal romance. A simple, modern-day love story is interwoven with an ancient French fairy-tale. I’m a sucker for folklore so I loved the old legend which I hadn’t come across before but even if you have you won’t know how this version will end.”

“A well-crafted, beautifully written little novella, which I devoured in one sitting. Like every book written by this author, a quality read which ticks all the boxes.”

 

Heathcliff

Heathcliff: The Unanswered Questions Finally Answered?

by

Sue Barnard (Goodreads Author)

“It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now…”

Cathy’s immortal words from Wuthering Heights change Heathcliff’s life. At just seventeen years of age, heartbroken and penniless, he runs away to face an unknown future.

Three years later, he returns – much improved in manners, appearance and prosperity.

But what happened during those years? How could he have made his fortune, from nothing? Who might his parents have been? And what fate turned him into literature’s most famous anti-hero?

For almost two centuries, these questions have remained unanswered. Until now…

How the Story Came About

Sue Barnard: “It all began with a chance remark from a former schoolfriend: “Sue, I love the way you’ve based your book on what we did at school. What are you going to do next?”

“We were chatting just after the release of my third novel, The Unkindest Cut of All, which features a performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. This was the play we’d studied for English Literature O-Level (as it then was, back in the dark ages before GCSEs). The novel set for the same exam was Emily Brontë’s classic Wuthering Heights.

“Well,” I chuckled, “there’s always Heathcliff…”

“At the time, it was just a passing joke between two friends who recalled crying on each other’s shoulders as we’d struggled to make sense of the vagaries of the plot, tried (and mostly failed) to decipher Joseph’s incomprehensible dialect, and attempted to understand the book’s complicated inter-personal relationships. The latter was not made any easier by the characters’ confusing similarity of names. Emily Brontë had clearly never read the rule-book about this. Three of the characters have names beginning with the same initial, one of them has a first name which is the same as the surname of another, and two others have the same name entirely!

“But somehow, the idea just wouldn’t go away. I then recalled how our teacher (the wonderful Mrs Hall) explained how “…by having the story narrated by Nelly Dean, Emily Brontë avoids having to tell us exactly what happened to Heathcliff during those missing three years…”

“So – what might have happened to him? Could I try to get into his mind, and write a story which attempts to answer that question?”

Buy Link: http://mybook.to/heathcliff

Reviews

“I had always wondered what happened to Heathcliff during those three years he was absent from the action of ‘Wuthering Heights’. What would change him from a passionate, unruly youth into a polished gentleman? And who were his parents?”

“Sue Barnard answers these questions (and more) in a way that makes total sense, as well as making a really exciting story in its own right. Painting vivid pictures of the culture of the time, Barnard shows us Heathcliff as he changes – and why. I loved the fact that her plot and his development made sense psychologically as well as culturally while fitting in seamlessly with the text of WH. I love WH so much that I would have worried about any additions, had not Barnard proved herself to be a safe pair of hands in her earlier books. Being a Cathy myself, I’ve always wanted more of Heathcliff – and I couldn’t have got him in a better form!”

“A great read! It is fascinating to discover the author’s take on one of literature’s great mysteries. Be sure to read the author’s note too.”

The Last Wish – a review

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Yesterday, I posted about my favourite A to Z post which was about the game, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. Today, I’m doing a review of the short stories that brought that world of Geralt of Rivia into being. Sadly, although I read a great deal of fantasy, I had failed to encounter the creations of Andrzej Sapkowski – until now.

His first short story, “The Witcher” (“Wiedźmin”), also translated as “The Hexer” or “Spellmaker”, was published in Polish science fiction and fantasy magazine Fantastyka. By 2017, The Witcher series encompassed two collections of short stories (1992-1993) and five novels (1994-1999).

This is my review of the first collection of short stories.

LastWish

The Last Wish (Saga o Wiedźminie #1)

by

Andrzej Sapkowski,

Danusia Stok (Translator)

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin.

And a cold-blooded killer.

His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world.

But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good. . . and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

The international hit that inspired the video game: The Witcher.

Review 5 stars

Although I read fantasy, I first encountered Geralt of Rivia in the video game, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt and as I explored this gaming world, I was inspired to discover Andrzej Sapkowski’s books – starting with this first collection of short stories.

The last story in the book deservedly took third place in a magazine competition and sowed the first seed that created a universe. I enjoyed these original stories, discovering Geralt’s origins in pre-game events. (And these stories are echoed in-game.}

The collection is assembled to reflect the chronology of Geralt’s life, although we have yet to learn many things – and I look forward to reading more books. Sapkowski creates a brilliant and exemplary framing structure for these stories that gives them more impact – and adds to the unfolding plotlines that I know develop. (This is a writing technique that I need to learn.)

Some amazing and complex characters are introduced, including the sorceress, Yennefer, whose life is woven into a complicated relationship with Geralt that opens great possibilities. And then there is Dandelion, the bard whose tales and exploits are something else amusingly different. These are origin stories perhaps before the Witcher-universe had fully-formed, but the characters are relatable.

The tales are rooted in heroic deeds – even if Dandelion has a habit of re-telling them differently. The author demonstrates that he has been inspired by folklore. However, while the echoed fairy stories have a germ of truth, this is a grimmer tradition than Grimm, in a cutthroat environment. There are the Slavic monsters that a reader might expect but other mythologies play their part, adding to a rich tapestry.

The world rings with the realism of bloody steel and fangs, the smells of soiled streets and tempting food. The era doesn’t feel static, even across so few stories. The times are changing and so are the people. Evolving? Maybe not – but sowing many seeds. This is a medieval world of superstition and persecution – and torn apart by discrimination that resonates today. Witch-burnings are inevitable, and nothing is black-and-white. Not all monsters are obvious or what they seem.

Is my interpretation coloured by exploring the game-world? Perhaps, but these are the roots of the legend that is Geralt of Rivia. I look forward to discovering how the writing evolved, and how the world of The Witcher builds in later stories and novels. This was definitely the place to start on my quest to enjoy how Sapkowski grew from a very good writer into a master craftsman.

 

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

#AtoZChallenge #roadtrip 2018

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This year, #AtoZChallenge Bloggers are being asked to pick ONE post from our #AtoZChallenge 2018 offerings and link it up to share.

The Road Trip – #roadtrip – is where bloggers continue to visit each other from May thru March. So, for me, that will be a chance to visit more of the #AtoZChallenge posts that I missed, especially of those visitors who managed the full A-to-Z. I even found some amazing new sites to follow, notably: Song A Day, a great music blog that is expanding my musical tastes (and inspired my 2019 #AtoZChallenge theme).

Plus, this informative folklore website, The Multicolored Diary, by Hungarian storyteller Zalka Csenge Virág, which delves into areas that fascinate me.

Folklore and mythology, as well as storytelling, are tied to many of my #AtoZChallenge posts, even if video games were the starting point.

When I was looking ahead to this road trip, in my #AtoZChallenge: Reflection, I hinted at what might be my favourite post and why, asking, “Will the writing-related research or the gaming-experience lift the award? H is for Hellblade or L is for Lord of the Rings? Or maybe something unexpected.”

Were you taken in by that red-herring?

Did you guess that my favourite post was W is for Witcher?

the-witcher-3-wild-hunt-new-build-screenshot-2

Or why? Well, that had less to do with the average number of comments, and more to do with ongoing research into the world that has emerged from The Witcher series of fantasy novels by distinguished Polish fantasy author Andrzej Sapkowski.

There proved to be so much to explore, from a Slavic mythology and folklore tradition that I barely knew to a game that I had only just started – The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. That game is my current escape, not least for the Gwent card-game within that fantasy world, but also for its excellent storytelling. As my Thursday Creation Review tomorrow will show, Sapkowski’s first collection of short stories, The Last Wish pulled me into the world of Geralt of Rivia and laid the world-building foundations, sowing seeds that resonate within the games.

Did you rate any of my posts as a favourite?

Are you sharing a favourite of your own on this #AtoZChallenge Road Trip?

Have you found any stand-out posts that we need to read?

If you are on the Road Trip then please be sure to include this phrase in your comments:
“Stopping by from the #AtoZChallenge Road Trip!”

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#AtoZChallenge: Reflection

A-to-Z Reflection [2018]

2018 was my fifth Blogging From A to Z Challenge and the aim of my theme was “to find the origins of online games, some relatively modern and some with ancient roots. Gaming might well be a modern take on an art that is almost timeless – storytelling” …

This was a perfect excuse for a writer to delve a little deeper, in some cases finding the myths and legends that had inspired a new generation of storytellers. I wasn’t surprised at how many had ‘ancient roots’, nor was I surprised that there were universal themes arising.

However, I was intrigued how many cultures were represented as I expected most games had Celtic, Norse, Japanese or Chinese roots. Okay, I half-expected Korean mythology to work in somewhere as South Korea has a large games industry. The surprise was (a) the cross-fertilization between cultures – see Z is for Zelda; (b) the use of less prominent mythologies – see W is for Witcher.

I was pleased that most of the posts inspired comments, even a little debate. However, I was amazed that J is for Jumanji,  K is for King Arthur and T is for Tomb Raider received none – especially when R is for Resident Evil received six comments, excluding my replies. (I replied to every comment.) Was that because Resident Evil is the most successful game-to-movie adaptation? Or was it because King Arthur has been overdone in everything from legend to Hollywood blockbuster?

Maybe I spent too much time trying to get the posts out. I admit that I didn’t visit many A-to-Z bloggers beyond the ones that I follow regularly – I have a lot of catching-up to – in the Road Trip. (The Road Trip is where bloggers continue to visit each other from May thru March.)

However, as well as my posts linking with my Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin accounts, I did manage to add my post-address to the Daily Lists as well to my comments on other sites. Towards the end of the Challenge, I was writing the following day’s post with a few hours to spare – and I consistently forgot the #AtoZchallenge hashtag, except on my Theme post.

My frantic approach was partly because I hadn’t even remembered to sign-up until mid-March. That began some in-depth research which included some ‘product testing’. I need to give myself time in future if I am going to reduce the pressure and visit more sites.

Looking ahead to the Road Trip is coming on May 23, I’m trying to decide which was my favourite post and why. Will the writing-related research or the gaming-experience lift the award?

H is for Hellblade or L is for Lord of the Rings? Or maybe something unexpected.

What would you choose?

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