#WEP/IWSG August Challenge – Red Wheelbarrow

Once again, this is a standalone tale – or is it. There’s a subtle link to my ‘Jewel Box‘ story – if you spot it – and some characters may appear again. Plus, the setting is probably Wales or the Borders.

WARNING – there is blood, but be brave…like Mina. Remember, the dragon is red, and so is the beetroot of shame – and some wheelbarrows.

Enjoy.

Blood Bridal

The shooting had been tough.

Yet, Mina was relieved. Her life was changing, although not as planned after her parents died.

Still, she had a few weeks off before Oriole Productions needed her and Dafydd back for dubbing. By then she’d no longer be Mina Westenra, but Mina Glyndwr.

Biting her lips didn’t bury her pre-nuptial nerves as the limousine pulled up outside the grey-stone church.

“You can still call it off, although the family might kill you after all they’ve arranged.”

A shiver washed over her at Victor Frankel’s words. Her director was standing-in for her deceased father. If only her mum hadn’t died of grief or her dad had survived the blood disease.

She swallowed and attempted bravery.

“No more killing – fictional or real. I’m marrying Dafydd. I just wish one parent was here.”

“I can never replace either in there.” Vic pointed at her heart. “They are watching and proud. Dafydd isn’t just a fine actor – perfect for a classic remake. He’s genuine – like the Glyndwrs.”

Their bloodline was as ancient as the yew tree guarding the grounds. Descended, as Dafydd claimed, from the famous Owain Glyndwr, the last true Prince of Wales.

Y Ddraig Aur (The Gold Dragon), c. 1400 – c. 1416, the royal standard of Owain Glyndŵr, Prince of Wales, famously raised over Caernarfon during the Battle of Tuthill in 1401 against the English. It is evident in Glyndŵr’s privy seals that his gold dragon had two legs. –
Copyright ©Rhŷn Williams

They climbed out of the limo, then walked up the path through the graveyard. She drew strength from the man who had guided her career.

Ahead some late comers dashed out of the rain towards the sanctuary. An elderly man greeted them. He was about seventy from the grey hair, white beard and old-style tweed suit and waistcoat.

Standing outside, he braved the foul weather. So much for a summer wedding with blue sky.   

The man smiled at Mina and reached into the basket on his arm.

“A first gift on your bridal day. Our custom, since Dafydd brings us new blood.” He handed her a circlet of lilies, entwined with roses and sprigs of rosemary. “Gwna dda dros ddrwg, uffern ni’th ddwg – or as the English say, Repay evil with good, and hell will not claim you.”

Did he mean to sound so archaic, thought Mina – like the Count in their movie. Her skin prickled and icy fingers crawled across her.

Had anyone noticed?

Vic was chatting with the old man as he took the petals the creepy man removed from a blood-red wheelbarrow.

“You’ll be a needing these. Better than confetti for the ground. Food for the soil so play on, as my friend Will said.”

A poet gardener not a legendary creature. She relaxed and let Vic guide her into the packed church for this best day of her life. Marrying the man, she loved. Witnessed by friends she valued. The family welcoming her.

Petals strewn underfoot, crushed releasing their scent, suppressing all else.

Her glances as she was walked down the aisle showed the old man hadn’t joined them.

Why not?

Only a gardener.

Except vampires couldn’t step inside a holy place – according to the script.

The vicar banished the misleading thought. The blissful moments grew as the wedding service lifted her and her heart. She made her vows committing her future. Dafydd’s lips sealed the union.

Here before her, hands cupping her face, was the dream guy who was worth putting her BAFTA dreams aside for.

Their identical Welsh gold rings were their eternal bond. Her blood warmed her as they walked out of the church arm in arm – united forever. Into the sunshine which bathed the churchyard, banishing the last vestiges of a dead writer’s imaginings and a scriptwriter’s fantasies.

Petals showered them. Joy and warmth. Heart bursting. Congratulations flowed as their photographer posed them.

On the edge of the graveyard, the abandoned wheelbarrow. And the thought – vampires don’t like churches or sunlight.

She laughed – cracked and shaking.

“The photos are a formality and a memento.” Her husband sounded reassuring but then asked, “Or did something else unnerve you?”

She needed an excuse. “I wondered where the gardener was.”

“Gardener?”

“The elderly guy who gave me the circlet as we arrived. He wasn’t in the church, so I presumed—”

Dafydd laughed. “You mean Great Uncle Owain. He’s never been inside that church. Old but not the gardener. But he likes plants, and creatures though, bats especially. Creatures of the night and their ilk.”

He laughed again. Her head and heart churned but wedding customs propelled her through cheering people to the limo.

Dafydd kissed her in the back seat.

“Great Uncle Owain will be at the reception – it’s in the garden of his old ancestral home. Well, the house he’s lived in since before the Great War. He’s a true war vet – valiant as a lion, Will said.”

Over one hundred years old. Yet she’d guessed seventy. Age was deceptive.

Great Uncle Owain’s house felt forgotten. Ancient. Nature had overrun it, with ivy and Virginia creeper vying for the prime masonry.

However, the garden was more ordered.

“You asked if Great Uncle was the gardener. Well, this is his creation – over many decades.”

“How many decades? He must be older than he looks.”

“He keeps young. The family trait – passed down the generations. A secret like my love bites – hidden from view.”

Warmth spread across her face at the memory. She laughed, right hand caressing her neck where the marks had been.

Her excuses for the pinpricks where he had drawn blood.

Like the Count.

She suppressed the shivers as they walked into the crowded marquee.

Tables – their white linen surfaces decorated.

Gifts on the wedding table at one side.

Flowers in green and red wheelbarrows.

Laughter. Music. Chatter.

Great Uncle Owain leaning in for a kiss. Breath on her neck. Lips hovering.

She stiffened.

He kissed both her cheeks.

His voice – rich and smooth. Relaxing. Hypnotic.

He raised a glass of crimson liquid.

 “Welcome to the Glyndwr Dynasty. Don’t let the rumours of my addiction to blood disturb you, my dear Mina. It’s kept me alive for generations. We all get used to its taste. You will too. Try some.”

Word Count 1000: FCA

Comments are welcome as usual and the following applies:

#IWSG – Sneaky Surprises

Created  and hosted by the Ninja Captain himself, Alex J. Cavanaugh, theInsecure Writer’s Support Groupmonthly blog post is here again – and so am I, insecure or maybe just guilty.

Guilty as my writing in July continued to be minimal: a few book reviews and the first draft for my August #WEP/IWSG CHALLENGE – due a fortnight (two weeks) today. Meanwhile, Sparkle Anwyl has taken a holiday in my head. And I’m still wading through a backlog of emails that fills up like sand.  Or is it my gaming distractions or my health?   

Rabbit holes – like researching hashtags that describe me: #IWSG #WEP/IWSG #crimefiction #ubisoftgames #assassinscreed #gamer #bookworm #goodreads #MS. Those were for #PWPoePrompts.

My biggest concern is my entry for the 2019 Annual IWSG Anthology Contest. I’ve done most of the research, but some key bits are missing. I’ve outlined my story but I’ve yet to finish the first draft. Finally, I fear I need more than beta readers that know MG. The deadline looms – September 4th. Panic is setting in.

Beta readers. I keep losing them. I even need some to help get ‘Azure Spark’ ready for pro-editing. Are my own critiques frightening writers/readers away?

The brutal truth. Can anyone help me, please?

Anyway, on to the IWSG monthly question.

August 7 question – Has your writing ever taken you by surprise? For example, a positive and belated response to a submission you’d forgotten about or an ending you never saw coming?

I can’t claim any ‘industry’ surprises. But that’s not surprising given my lack of productivity. A few expected rejections, a few years ago. One hoped for acceptance – my debut novel, Spiral of Hooves. But unsurprising low sales and mixed reviews.

However, there was one surprise while writing Spiral of Hooves – the identity of the antagonist. S/he changed as I edited the early drafts and focused the story – as did her/his motive.

In one of my current WIPs, part of the Snowdon Shadows series, one of my favourite characters became an unexpected victim – but with a twist. Where did that come from?

There must be a devious person at work in my mind. Who is it? Why did I create a link back to my unrelated debut? A character in the WIP series appeared after playing a minor role in Spiral of Hooves. Who was more surprised? Me or Sparkle?

*

The awesome co-hosts for the August 7 posting of the IWSG are Renee Scattergood, Sadira Stone, Jacqui Murray, Tamara Narayan, and LG Keltner!

(I so admire these guys as I know they have commitments too. Ticker-tape applause.)

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

The Wolf Wilder – a review

Once again, I’m catching up with my book reviews – by not reading but writing. And I’m still ahead in my 2019 Goodreads Challenge– 22 books read from my target of 35 with a few part-finished books in the read-line. Whether I can stay ahead depends on my ability to write. After this, I’ll only be three book reviews behind – if I ignore the backlog from 2018 and earlier.

Anyway, on to the Thursday Creation Review for today – a novel that was a change for me. It’s been a while since I read a Middle Grade book, but research for the IWSG Anthology competition led me here.

And I’m ecstatic.

The Wolf Wilder

by Katherine Rundell

Feodora and her mother live in the snowbound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora’s mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.

When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back. And, of course, wolves.

Review 5 stars

This was magical. A story that resonated with me – wolves, Russia, revolution, adventure, and the wolves. Plus, prose that was masterful.

12-year-old Feo Petrovna and her mother, Marina, live in the snowbound Russian woods with a pack of wolves nearby. A pack of wolves that were once aristocrats’ tamed pets. But wolf wilder Marina, with Feo’s help, has helped the creatures discover how to be wolves. They all bear the scars – human and wolf –  but these make them stronger and more prepared to face what is coming.

“Wolves, like children, are not meant to lead calm lives.” 

Katherine Rundell, The Wolf Wilder

This is 1917 and revolution is coming. It arrives in their lives, and Marina is arrested by the local commanding officer Rakov. Dislikeable from the moment he appears and exerts his twisted authority, he becomes Feo’s foe as she attempts to save her mother – and the wolves.

In her attempt, she is aided by the pack, who are complex and formidable characters – and tragic. Each has distinctive appearances and traits. Katherine Rundell excels not only in portraying multi-dimensional people in clear language but also creatures that are mysterious and faithful – faithful to the pack and those like Feo they trust.

Feo’s escape with the wolves gains an unexpected ally – Ilya, a 13-year-old soldier boy. A reason to be wary, but Feo can sense his true nature – a skill she must have learnt as a wolf wilder-in-training. But are the wolves so trusting?

“Wolves are the witches of the animal world.” 

Katherine Rundell, The Wolf Wilder

Will the children and wolves survive to save Marina before Rakov can execute her in the face of the revolution aimed at him?

I couldn’t stop reading the beautiful words of this unfolding story. I knew the history, but that was just a setting like the woods and weather, so lives were still at risk. The escape only set up more – more encounters, more conflict, more character, and a climax which ties everything together.

The opening and the ending are beautiful bookends – crafted to perfection. This is a true ‘once upon a time’ about ‘a dark and stormy girl’.

Wolf wilders may be a fiction, yet they are rooted in fact and in places might exist. Feo’s family feel real so that’s what matters.

Another enjoyable read – suitably illustrated by Gelrev Ongbico – and highly recommended for anyone who likes entertaining historical fiction with strong MG protagonists.

“Stories can start revolutions.” 

Katherine Rundell, The Wolf Wilder

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film – a review

Life has thrown up more diversions – okay, my weak will did. I still intend posting a Thursday Creation Review every week – as originally planned. Well at least until my five outstanding reviews are written – three crime, one historical and one historical-fantasy. I’m hesitating over adding my review of the TV series Good Omens until I’ve read the book.

Anyway, today – a day late – it’s a non-fiction writing guide up for review:

Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film

by Lucy V. Hay

We’re living in a time of unprecedented diversity in produced media content, with more LGBT characters. more characters of color, more disabled characters, and more characters from various religions or classes. These characters also appear in genre pieces, accessible to the mainstream, instead of being hidden away in so-called “worthier” pieces, as in the past. This book discusses issues of race, disability, sexuality and transgender people with specific reference to characterization in movies, TV, and novel writing. Using such examples as the film Mad Max: Fury Road and the novel Gone Girl, the book explores how character role function really works. It discusses such questions as the difference between stereotype and archetype, why “trope” does not mean what Twitter and Tumblr think it means, how the burden of casting affects both box office and audience perception, and why diversity is not about agendas, buzzwords or being “politically correct.” It also goes into what authenticity truly means, and why research is so important; why variety is key in ensuring true diversity in characterization; and what agents, publishers, producers, filmmakers and commissioners are looking for—and why.

 Review 5 stars

This timely and excellent book was everything I’ve needed especially since attempting to write a novel about a queer Welsh detective and her Tamil partner. (There are days when I feel totally out of my experience zone.)

This is essential reading for any serious writer – especially one aware of the value in addressing the ‘diverse issue’. It was full of invaluable advice and information for me – a WASP, albeit one with Latin blood and in a wheelchair.

Lucy Hay has researched the hot issue of ‘diversity’ for many years. She has become a prolific advocate of diverse characters in all areas of fiction as a writer, script editor and blogger who helps writers via her www.bang2write.com consultancy, which I follow. This book builds on her knowledge and suggests how writers can embrace the thorny topic – “as long as they do it justice” with “due diligence”

That ‘due diligence’ means recognising where the debate is going, the mistakes and progress, how to ensure diverse characters function effectively – and not as stereotypes – plus, the potential and the pitfalls. Hay provides a wealth of observations, suggestions and links with which writers can develop their own craft. Many assets are provided to inform those that are serious about ensuring they tread wisely.

These range from a definition of ‘diversity’, and the myths surrounding it, to examples from modern movies and novels to explain aspects of how to handle ‘diversity’ – and how not to. All Hay’s thoughts provide food for further discussion and research.

I’m still learning and researching the best approach to diversifying my plots. This book has great insights that will help me as a writer as I progress into this complex area. Many of my characters are not ‘diverse’ like my leads, but there are techniques that Hay provides which will help them stand out as unique as well.

This book is timely and important so a guide that will be a stalwart on my desk as I now have both Kindle and paperback versions.

Utility – five stars

Content – five stars

Topicality – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Readability – five stars

Structure – five stars

Editing – five stars

Marred – a review

I’m still behind with my book reviews as my reading continues to be faster than my writing.

Lies, all lies: I keep getting distracted and wasting time with trivial pursuits. I’ve switched off my Kindle and shelved my next physical reads.

So, I’ve forced myself back to proper keyboard work. Maybe the reviews will get written now – and the Audible reads get caught up.

However, I’m ahead in my 2019 Goodreads Challenge– 22 books read from my target of 35. So, I might make that target.

As for the other challenge, this will be my tenth Cloak and Dagger review of 2019; with three more to review. I should end up reading the 5-15 books that earn ‘Amateur sleuth’ title. The next grade matches my Welsh policewoman: 16-25 books – Detective. I have three more mystery/suspense/thriller/crime novels on my desk and more on my Kindle and Audible.

But I have ‘shelved’ books in other genres like historical, fantasy/SF, and alternative history. My other three outstanding reviews are one historical and one historical-fantasy – plus, a non-fiction writing guide.

So, back to the review:

Marred

(Grafton County #1)

By Sue Coletta

When a serial killer breaks into the home of bestselling author, Sage Quintano, she barely escapes with her life. Her husband, Niko, a homicide detective, insists they move to rural New Hampshire, where he accepts a position as Grafton County Sheriff. 

Sage buries secrets from that night—secrets she swears to take to her deathbed.

Three years of anguish and painful memories pass, and a grisly murder case lands on Niko’s desk. A strange caller torments Sage—she can’t outrun the past.

When Sage’s twin sister suddenly goes missing, Sage searches Niko’s case files and discovers similarities to the Boston killer. A sadistic psychopath is preying on innocent
women, marring their bodies in unspeakable ways. And now, he has her sister.

Cryptic clues. Hidden messages. Is the killer hinting at his identity? Or is he trying to lure Sage into a deadly trap to end his reign of terror with a matching set of corpses?

Review 4.4 stars

I was looking forward to reading this novel as I follow the author’s blog on crime. This was my genre and it’s a well-written and crafted novel. But I’m not sure I can take more graphic details though – even with the promise of corvids in the rest of the Grafton County series.

However, there was so much excellent elements that stood out and swept me along – most of the time.

The characters were memorable and complex. At the novel’s heart, bestselling author, Sage Quintano, who is living with the painful memories and secrets from three years earlier when a serial killer broke into her home. A past that drives her to resolve things for herself and to keep things from her husband.

Not easy when her husband, Niko is a homicide detective and Grafton County Sheriff. So, when a strange caller threatens her, she doesn’t tell Niko everything – enough to disturb me as the caller made rules about who to tell. I asked, ‘Will he ignore them too?’

Anyway, with a sadistic psychopath preying on innocent women, Niko has his own concerns – as do his team. The investigation with its clever introduction of forensics explores the evidence and the other officers.

The dynamic between the deputies is realistic, especially as promotion is at stake. I was rooting for Frankie, despite her ability to rub people up the wrong way. She was my kind of detective and I wanted more of her.

But we get more bodies marred in horrific ways instead. And more graphic detail which to me felt excessive. But that’s me and most readers will lap it up. It’s realistic and Sue Coletta’s knowledge of forensics and pathology is outstanding – and why I follow her blog.

It makes for a rollercoaster read, but I get scared on some rides and even in bloody movies. The other extreme from cringe cute cozies.

Back to Niko with all his problems – a sadistic psychopath, competing deputies, and Sage…

Despite his troubles, my reaction was, ‘Why are men so difficult?’ – we struggle to multi-task unlike women. I understood his frustration but wished he could do some lateral thinking.

Unlike Sage who joins the dots between the caller and the psychopath. And now, he has her twin sister, Chloe. Sage gets a clue to Chloe’s location and, as all mystery writers do, follows down the rabbit hole. But why? Distracted Sheriff husband? Her own secrets? The killer’s rules perhaps?

But I hesitated from reading on – like that moment in the horror movie when the teenager wanders off. Who was braver Sage or me? I eventually had to keep reading.

And the plot twists kept coming – in ways I never saw coming. The tension builds. The resolution and revelation of the psychopath are unexpected – and ingenious.

There is so much to look forward to in the ongoing Grafton County series with superb characters to savour. So, I would recommend this novel from an author that researches crime meticulously – even if I felt too swamped to tackle more gore for now.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars

#IWSG – Trait Train

Created  and hosted by the Ninja Captain himself, Alex J. Cavanaugh, theInsecure Writer’s Support Groupmonthly blog post is here again – and so am I, insecure or maybe just ashamed.

Ashamed as my writing in June has been minimal: a few book reviews and my piece for the #JUNE #WEP/IWSG CHALLENGE – since the last IWSG monthly post. My excuse is that I’m still wading through a backlog of emails that fills up like sand.  Or is it my forays into Greece that distract?

Anyway, on to the question.

July 3 question: What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?

At first glance: none directly. My characters are somewhat different from me in terms of profession and in some cases gender. Those factors make their central distinguishing traits distinct from mine, although my protagonists tend to be tenacious – a trait in me that is stubborn if something needs to be done. Dogged.

Rose Gold Pendant –http://celticandwelshjewellery.co.uk/product/rose-gold-pendant-26/

I’m not my current MC, Sparkle Anwyl – even if Wales is where my heart is – but I admire the traits that make her a good detective. Her mind games like her mnemonics are a method I use to overcome the memory problems associated with multiple sclerosis. Mnemonics preceded Sparkle, but is it a trait?

No more than sneaking in horses where I can. That’s just a result of my last career move – equestrian journalist. Yes, I had to be dogged and focused for that. And Sparkle must stop her mind from pursuing rabbit holes. Focus.

I have snuck in a journalist or two. But careers are not traits, even if I use mine. I made Carly Tanner, the heroine of my equestrian mystery ‘Spiral of Hooves’ a staunch organic farming advocate. Organic food is a personal passion and drove an earlier career.

But maybe there is a trait there – a fervent commitment to a cause, whether green issues, horses, or justice. Fervour.

Even Norman, the protagonist of ‘Wyrm Bait’ – an unpublished gaming mystery – had a strange type of ‘dogged and focused fervour’ in the way he pursues the game objectives, the mystery girl from his game, and the antagonists. I suspect I wrote more of me into Norm than I would admit.

Now where did I bury that old wyrm-chewed manuscript?   

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The awesome co-hosts for the July 3 posting of the IWSG are Erika Beebe, Natalie Aguirre, Jennifer Lane, MJ Fifield, Lisa Buie-Collard, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor!

(I so admire these guys as I know they have commitments too. Ticker-tape applause, please.)

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.