Sunday, 21 June 2015

A Midsummer Night's Dream

 Haleakala, the volcano on the island of Maui, Hawaii. 
I got up at four this morning, walked to the top of the hill in the field next to my house, and stood, watching the sun rise. I do that every year; it's always as magical as the previous one – and I've seen the sun rise in some surprising places in the past, including Haleakala. 

But a few years ago, a particularly hot summer, we spend Midsummer Night on Glastonbury Tor. This was unforgettable too, and I recreate some of my experiences (and add to them, of course), in the opening pages of my third Shaman Mystery Novel. 

Beneath the Tor, out in December from Midnight Ink Books, is the third book recounting the adventures and life of a young British shamananic therapist called Sabbie Dare. She walks in the spirit world to help her clients, people on the edge, seeking help from a shaman because all other avenues of help have closed off, and this often sends her into terrifying places and to dangerous people.

In Beneath the Tor, Sabbie is in Glastonbury, the amazingly spiritual town in Somerset, UK, to help run a shamanic workshop. This allowed me to introduce a new bunch of amazing characters to the stories.

Ten of us – a group keen to explore shamanism – had climbed the west side of Glastonbury Tor as the sun slipped from the sky in a shock of red. I’d been taking the lead up the steep grassy slope and was finally in sight of the hill’s crest, where the ground spread and flattened as if it had been sliced off, like the top of a boiled egg. I could already hear the people, the drums. My own pulse quickened. The party had begun.
Alys had grinned as she’d surged past me, heading hotfoot for the summit. She’d balanced on the edge above and exploded into jumping jacks – from sheer joy, it seemed to me – her long legs gold in the last sun.
Wolfsbane had leaned on his staff, an ornately carved piece of ashwood, and pointed with his unlit cigarette. He was a chain smoker when he got the chance, but didn’t have the breath to light up on the climb. “That girl is going to make a terrific shaman. I can’t wait to start working with her.”

It's a balmy night on Glastonbury Tor, but it doesn't end well for Alys:

I rolled onto my stomach to watch the handful of dancers who were still going strong. Alys was among them, turboed up like a child who’d had too much ice cream, hollering and whooping. I could hear her from the far side of the summit.
I saw her dance.
I saw her drop.
She fell to the ground with a silent thud.
She fell awkwardly, one leg trapped under the other, her head thrown back.
I stared for long seconds, waiting for her to rise and start again.
Alys didn’t get up. She didn’t move at all.
I stood and ran, but one person reached her before me. Ricky dropped onto one knee and touched her gently on the cheek. “Alys? Alys!” 
There was no response.
“What is it?” I barked. “What’s wrong?”
“Exhaustion, I’d guess.”
Shell was scampering towards us. I screamed at her. “Get Brice! Quick!”
My phone was in my back pocket, switched off to save batteries. I fumbled with it, cursing the slow turn-on. I’d got a signal. I bloody-well should get a signal on the top of this rock.
Word began to spread, people realized something was happening. The drums trailed off. The other dancers closed around us. 
“Give her air, please!” I cried into the silence.
Ricky looked up. “She won’t need air.”
“I saw her spirit go.”

Sabbie Dare and her friends are in shock and when her shamanic guru, Wolfsbane, confesses that Alys
Midsummer Day on Glastonbury Tor
may have unwittingly taken drugs during his ritual, Sabbie is  horrified.

Then, Brice, Alys’ grieving husband, approaches Sabbie for help. He has received sinister, anonymous emails about his dead wife. As Sabbie tries to unravel the meaning of these disturbing messages she is also trying to help a vulnerable and young new client, Laura, who is having terrifying panic attacks. Sabbie turns to the spirit world for guidance but only receives conflicting and enigmatic answers. As Sabbie heads closer to the truth about Alys’ shocking death, a deranged killer is also heading towards a showdown with a final victim, and both are closer to Sabbie than she knows.
There are Midsummer Night Party blogs all over the place today; go to to find out more.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

How Many Notebooks does it take to...

Shoot me down in flames if you don’t agree with me, but I’d say that a writer who does not have at least one notebook, is not a writer.
To me, it’s the most essential tool. So essential that it’s the very first thing we look at in Writing SkillsKeeping a Writer’s Notebook. Just as a sketchpad makes you think like an artist, using a notebook transforms your approach to writing.
So, new writers are asked to keep a notebook, but seasoned writers don’t just keep one; even though my fingers are now hardwired to use a keyboard and my writing (and spelling) has deteriorated to chimpanzee level, I am never, never without my many notebooks. Right now, I’m using notebooks for…
Want to find out what I'm using my notebooks for? Read the entire post at

Monday, 8 June 2015

Writers & Other Animals: Hens and Chicks (and the Mystery Writer)…continued...

Ceredwin and her brood
Last summer, I blogged on about how Ceredwin, one of my hens, had a little brood of chicks. Heavens, she was proud! She grew feathers on her feet to help keep them warm, called them each time she found food. But there came a point where they didn’t look cute and fluffy any more; they weren’t smaller than Ceredwin anymore, either. She turned her back on them – she’d taught hem well and now she expected them to fend for themselves.

A year later those four chicks are part of our flock. Rhiannon bears a golden shoulder cape and Pwyll has grown into a distinguished cockerel. Littlewings (so called because she was the runt of the brood –when it was mini mealworm time she’d run up and down the edge of the nesting box, trying to scale the great height of 2 inches, to join the feast, and we’d cheer her on as if we’d put money on a hurdling competition), and, finally, there’s Redneck.

Redneck is a Transylvanian Naked-neck cockerel. I swear there’s a bit of turkey somewhere in this breed, because, although much smaller than Pwyll, he’s an odd contorted shape and sometimes he sort-of…gobbles. His neck is bright red, exposed through a ruff of white feathers. He so ugly, only his mother could love him, but his mother doesn’t love any of her brood anymore, so there’s no hope.
Red Neck

We love him, of course, because he affords us so much fun. Despite his diminutive size and challenging appearance, he’s made of stern stuff. “Never give up, Never surrender,” is his motto. Never give up chasing the hens, that is.

You see, Pwyll took over the entire flock with a confidence that comes from knowing you are a hen’s answer to Joshua Jackson – I’m sure he must have looked in a mirror at sometime – it’s clear he knows how handsome he is. His approach to Redneck’s advances is; “if you want these dames, you have to fight for them.”

I came out into the yard to find them scrapping; running at each other, crowing and flapping, flinging themselves into the air, crashing at each other a yard up from the ground, beaks and spurs ripping and tearing. There was blood on the ground and on the breasts of my two cocks. 

And it was all Redneck’s.

He sulked to the end of the garden to lick his wounds. Actually, hens (all birds, I think) have tongues, but I doubt he did much licking. I tried several times to catch him to patch him up, but he wasn’t having any of it.

“Don’t worry,” said my poultry-expert friend, Jane. “Cocks are hardy beasts. He’ll survive.”

Redneck wears the scar showing prominently on his comb with pride. His life is lived on the edge, away from Pwyll. But Pwyll has four hens to husband; he can’t be everywhere at once, and, as soon as he takes his eye off a wife, Redneck is there, looking for a bit of lurve. If the hen that’s getting the amorous attention makes a fuss (anything from “I told you. I’ve got headache,” to “Rape! RAPE!”) Pwyll will half run, half fly across our plot to the scene of the trouble, while Redneck makes off in an opposite direction. But he never gives up. He’s always on the lookout for nooky behind Pwyll’s back.

Keeping hens is a clear case of character envy – Sabbie Dare, heroine of my Shaman Mystery Series, had hens long before me.

Sabbie is a 29 year-old shaman with a therapy business in a sleepy town in England. She helps her shamanic clients by walking between worlds...bringing messages for them back from the spirit world. She lives a self-sufficient life, growing vegetables and keeping a small flock of hens.

Book one in the series, In the Moors opens with the death of half her flock after a visit from a fox.

At the henhouse door I dropped my empty basket and cried out in raw distress. Slaughter lay at my feet. Saffron, the biggest of my hens, was gone, and Pettitgrain, my favourite, lay in the run, dead from a clean bite to the neck.

The henhouse smelt of gore. Sickness swelled in my stomach, an expansion of loathing for the fox, no doubt now slumbering, replete. My brave cockerel, Cocky Bastard, who must have defended his harem to the last, lay on his side twitching steadily. I picked him up. His body was bloodied and broken. His eyes stared deep into mine. Quickly I broke his neck. The three remaining birds huddled in a corner making low, tense cluckings, as if they were discussing their traumatic night in hushed whispers. 

Sabbie believes in omens and portents, so when a cocky detective called Reynard Buckley walks into her life that same day, it’s bound to mean trouble for Sabbie. 

In book two, Unraveled Visions, Sabbie invites Mirela, a young Buglarian Roma, to stay at her house, and in this excerpt they are searching for the girl’s missing sister:

In the chicken coop were five eggs, two as big as a child’s fist. Ginger and Melissa didn’t lay all that often now, but when they did, their eggs were as full as bombs. I thought Mirela deserved an eggie breakfast.
Mirela was a charming combination of femme-fatal, innocent child and hoary old gypsy. She ate both double-yolkers, giggling when I called the bread slices “soldiers”.
“Do you have anything of your sister’s I could use? To help me find her otherworld?”
Mirela reached for her shoulder bag and brought out a zipped, plastic makeup case, stained with lipstick smears. From this she pulled a piece of shiny card. At first I thought it was a large postage stamp, but when she handed it to me I could see that it was a reproduction of an icon – the Virgin Mary in summer blue with a golden halo. I turned it over. On the back was a scribble of biro in Cyrillic script.
 I squeezed Mirela’s arm. “Your sister has to be somewhere. To be honest, some real world searching wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
“Where I look?” She paused. “Where you look?”
Yep, there it was, that sinking feeling as my stomach hit my knees. I’d offered her a bed. I’d offered to work shamanically to find her sister. And now it looked like I was offering some practical help…
“Exactly when did Kizzy leave?” I asked. “Can you remember?”
“Yes, Easy. November six. She just start pack case right then and puff! She’s gone. Like that.” Mirela clapped her hands, once, loudly.
Suddenly, I wanted to find Kizzy badly. I was longing to give her a good slapping down.

Having had such fun with raising chicks myself, I was keen to let Sabbie Dare have a go, too. But Unraveled Visions is set in the deep winter, and no self-respecting hen is even laying eggs then let alone sitting on a clutch. But book three, Beneath the Tor, opens on Midsummer Eve on Glastonbury Tor, where beautiful Alys Hollingberry dies suddenly after dancing away the night. Beneath the Tor continues the dark, atmospheric edge of the previous two books in the series. Sabbie witnesses the tragedy, and gets caught up in its dark aftermath. And in the middle of all this, Florence goes missing.

Florence was my secret favourite. She was a curious hen, bright eyed and comical. I’d had her and her siblings for over a year; a farmer had given me one of her recently-hatched clutches of Sussex hens and they’d been productive and so beautiful to look at. 
“Florence,” I called, even though she had no idea that was her name, “Flo, where are you? Chuck-chuck?”

Beneath the Tor is not due for release until December this year, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait to find out why Alys died on the Tor and what happened to Flo!

Writers & Other Animals: Hens and Chicks (and the Mystery Writer)…continued...:
by Nina Milton