Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Of Mogwai and a Weeping Woman

My novella Dark Avenging Angel is, as its title suggests, concerned with revenge. In this case, revenge of the most demonic kind. We’ve all heard the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for…” Jane learns the truth of this in graphic ways.

Avenging angels and demons abound in the traditions and folklore of people all over the world. Today, I’m going to focus on just two of these, starting with the mogwai.

If you thought those cuddly, furry creatures who mustn’t see sunlight, get wet or be fed after midnight were just figments of Hollywood’s fevered imagination, then think again. Forget little Gizmo, think more of the evil Stripe and you are starting to hark back to the old Chinese legend of the mogwai.
Over the centuries, the term mogwai has come to refer to a breed of dead spirit which returns in order to wreak vengeance on any who have harmed it in life. Such vengeance can be of the most deadly and destructive kind and anyone who falls victim to a mogwai attack needs to think long and hard about who they might have hurt in the past. Getting rid of such a vengeful spirit is no simple affair, but burning (usually fake) banknotes seems to help. This gives the dead spirit money to fund their afterlife and entices them to move on and leave the world of the living behind.

In older Chinese tradition, mogwai were a breed of faerie folk with superpowers which they used to cause harm to humans. They were said to reproduce sexually during mating seasons which would be triggered by rainstorms. You can see where the film-makers got their ideas!

A sad story of revenge comes from a legend – retold in different versions – originating in Mexico.

Maria was a beautiful woman who drowned her children in a Mexican river as an act of revenge against her faithless husband who had left her for a younger woman. Her triumph – if any – was short-lived because, once she realized the horror of what she had done, she could not live with herself, so she drowned in a river in Mexico City.

At the gates of heaven she was challenged. Where were her children? She was told she could not move onto the afterlife until she found them, so now she is bound to the earth, endlessly searching for her missing infants. Her constant weeping gave her the name ‘La Llorona’. Her story is often cited as a salutary tale that parents will recount to their children to dissuade them from wandering off alone at night because, in her quest, La Llorona will sometimes kidnap any youngsters she finds alone. She begs forgiveness from her own children, but they never grant it. She then drowns those she has stolen in order that they might take the place of her own offspring, but that never happens. Her children are never restored to her and La Llorona is forced to continue her quest.

She appears late in the evening or night, emerging from lakes and rivers in Mexico. Some believe that anyone who hears her wails is marked for death. Her pitiful cries of, ‘Ay, mis hijos! (‘Oh, my children!’) are terrible to hear. It seems La Llorona is destined to walk this earth, trapped in a limbo between the living and the dead, for all eternity.

Don’t hurt Jane. You may live to regret it.

Bullied by her abusive father, Jane always felt different. Then the lonely child found a friend in a mysterious dark lady who offers her protection—a lady she calls her “angel”. But that protection carries a terrible price, one to be paid with the souls of those Jane chooses to suffer a hideous and eternal fate.

When Jane refuses to name another victim, the angel reveals her most terrifying side. Payment must be made in full—one way or the other.
 





Tuesday, 23 May 2017

It's A Man's World - with Shehanne Moore


You wait ages for one Shehanne Moore book and then two come along at once! Hot on the heels of her irrepressible timeslip novel The Writer and the Rake, comes her long-awaited Regency - Splendor - sequel to the fabulous Loving Lady Lazuli. Shehanne has the knack of creating unforgettable heroines set against an authentic historical backdrop. Here she talks about ome extraordinary women on the late 18th/early 19th century.

  In terms of being a wife in ruination only? You can see my latest hero, Kendall Winterborne, Earl of Stillmore, is following in well-trodden footsteps when it comes to my heroes.  As for Splendor the heroine? Well, being up to her neck in it, goes with the turf.

I recently did a guest blog on the pretty awful lot of Georgian Women.  This book is set in a slightly later time, Regency more than Georgian, where the hunt for a husband was a serious business, families spent a fortune on their daughters,  ‘coming out’ and unattached ladies had but one goal, NOT to signal what that goal was. But what happened when they achieved that goal?

Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of Mary Shelley—and a woman who defied convention-- had published her  Rights of Women in 1792. It highlighted the ‘means and arts by which women had been forcibly subjugated, flattered into imbecility and invariably held in bondage’. But contraception, childbirth etc, did not greatly improve.  For women, chastity before marriage, was often as much a matter of necessity.  

 Also women were still their husband’s property.  Stillmore may be divorced, he certainly got all his wife’s money beforehand. In fact marrying her saved the family fortunes after his father ran off with a kitchen maid who bankrupted them.

So, given all this, you can understand Splendor being glad when Stillmore informs her that while this ’thing’  he’s asking her in such polite and patient terms, involves marriage, it will be one in name only, since he utterly despises and actively fears the institution. In fact he regards anyone foolish enough to take that trip down the aisle, as he once did, as an imbecile. 

 You can also see, given the only slightly improved lot of women in the early 19th century, why quite a few of them wanted to be a man. And that is something Splendor is masquerading as at the start of the book.  Not because she especially wants to be a man but because the prize money in a certain chess completion is much greater in the men’s part of the tournament, than the ladies. Nine and a half thousand guineas greater to be precise. Money she needs—badly.

   In that respect she’s not the first woman to decide that going about this as a man was the way to ensure her future as a woman. Katherine Ferrers—The Wicked Lady anyone—was said to have taken to the highways as a man in her husband’s absence,  to sort out the little blip in her finances, get them on a more even keel. 

 Too bad that she was apparently shot, exhorting a victim to stand and deliver, which they did, killing her in the process.  Looking on the bright side, at least her financial worries were at an end.  Something Splendor certainly considers when she gets challenged to a duel by Stillmore. Just one of the little drawbacks of entering a man’s world. 

 Very well, Katherine’s case has never actually been proved but the idea of women dressing as men is not stupid.  Shakespeare chooses to make his main character in Twelfth Night, Viola, a cross-dresser. She wasn’t laughed off the stage either. all right she was no doubt being played by a man dressing as a woman, masquerading as a man. 

 Shakespeare also has each of the three women in the Merchant of Venice, dress as men at certain points of the play, for perfectly valid reasons. Again, the idea wasn’t derided.

Why does Viola cross-dress?  Because, ship-wrecked and needing to find her brother, she is also faced with the harsh economic reality of finding work and the only opening? Yep, you guessed it. It’s for a man.

There are several instances of women cross dressing for that reason.

Christian Cavanagh, an Irish-born mother, left her children with her mother and a nurse to pursue her husband who had disappeared, into the army. Christian the subject of a book by Daniel Defoe, fought in several battles before it was discovered it was Mrs. Davies not Mr. 
 


Pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read never masqueraded as men but they certainly lived as them. 

 Lady Caroline Lamb, as mad, bad and dangerous to know as her lover,  the poet Byron, being rich, didn’t need to dress as a man to make her way in that world, unlike her poorer ‘sisters.’ But when she fancied a quickie with Byron, she did find that sneaking into his chambers was a lot easier, if she was dressed as a boy.   

 I reckon that women, were doing what resourceful women, have done from time immemorial, and that’s survive. Whatever the era.  And freed from having to be a woman certainly seemed to make them quite as dangerous to know in some instances too.   

Catherine Cavendish, thank you so much, lady and writer extraordinary for asking me to your wonderful blog today.

And now? That duel.
Extract from Splendor:

He was an unashamedly driving, look-at-me male. Unless he knew her body was shaped differently? Did it mean he wasn’t going to shoot her? She could stay in the tournament? Win the ten thousand pounds? If he knew she was a woman, he was surely going to say…

“For God’s bloody sake, you’re damn well meant to move,” Stillmore snarled. “Stop bloody arsing, will you?”

In all of her intimate brush with the Starkadder Sisterhood, she had never been told to stop doing such a thing, especially not by a man whose buttocks seemed glued to hers. She felt him turn his head. 

“Don’t damn well add miscounting to cheating.”

“Miscounting? Me? When you—”

“Fram, start the count again. As for you, try to do what he says this time if it’s not beyond you.”

Despite the fact the pistol felt like ice in her hand, she gritted her teeth. “Do you somehow think it’s my fault I’m not? Look, Your Grace—”

“One.”

Whether it was her fault or not, the shock she got at hearing the word yet again and the difficulty of forcing her feet to move, meant she took a giant step forward, almost sliding on her said arse on the wet grass. These damned boots of Gabe’s were too large and thin as milk dribble on the soles. But so long as Kendall Winterborne didn’t think this was another trick on her part to delay the action, it would be all right.

“Two.”

Another step. She could barely keep hold of herself as she took it. But, count her blessings, her senses weren’t being accosted by the feel of him. The man…good God…who might kill her.

“Three.”

A drag of air into her tortured lungs. All she had to do was get off one round. How hard was that? Her finger tightened on the trigger. What if she killed the earl? Was he so black-hearted he deserved to die?

And all because he’d undermined her when she’d meant to say, I’m a woman. You can’t shoot me. Or had she undermined herself, precisely because she was a woman?

“Four.”

For God’s sake, was it five paces or six? Seven even? She could not remember for the mist snaking into her nostrils. And she needed to remember. As surely as her name was Dora Malachi whom everyone called Aurora Splendora, she needed to remember. She would be shot in the back otherwise. Then…then she’d be dead.

“Five… Six…”

But there was no sharp retort, no searing agony, no impact of a bullet tearing cloth and flesh, so obviously, obviously, when it came to how many paces, it wasn’t, five, or six. It couldn’t be. It must be…

“Seven.”

 The word wasn’t even out when she seized a breath and swung on her heel, managing just to keep her balance in the dew. Her fingers squeezed the trigger. She should have aimed, but it wasn’t as if she could see, so it made no difference. The crack ricocheted through her head, reverberating around every cavity in her eardrums. Crows rose like a screeching blanket from the ground. It was nothing to the noise Kendall Winterborne, the Earl of Stillmore, made as he hopped on one foot.

“Jesus bloody Christ. Jesus suffering bloody Christ.”

Nothing to the way he limped about, blackening the air with curses as she stood trying to look knowledgeable either. The buzz in her ears swelled. Starkadder and his silver watch fob chain she never got to polish, she hadn’t hit him, had she? How on earth she had managed to get that shot off, she had no idea. How it had blasted him in the foot either. But she had blasted him. Oh God, oh God, oh God. She had fired. He hadn’t. It meant one thing.

Even the somewhat large, staggered first pace she’d taken had not substantially increased the distance between them. For that she’d have had to bolt. So now…now he didn’t just stop hopping, he stopped dead center in the space opposite, the space he’d occupied just before she’d shot off her pistol, the smoking pistol that slithered from her palm, making a funny thudding noise as it struck the soft grass.

He raised his arm. Raised one eyebrow too. Her gaze widened in an involuntary spasm, so she saw the drizzle-sprayed mist, and his eyes primed on her like flintlocks above the shining barrel of the gun. The one now leveled at her breast, so carefully aimed, he could not miss.

A shudder shook her as his eyes narrowed, his brow furrowed. His finger fastened slowly on the trigger.

Then he drew it slowly, deliberately toward his chest.

 
The only thing he hates more than losing at chess is marriage…

 For Splendor, former servant to the London’s premiere jewel thieves, pretending to be someone else is all in a day’s work. So when she learns of a chess tournament—a men’s chess tournament—with a ten thousand pound prize, pretending to be a man is the obvious move. The money will be enough to set her fiancĂ© up in his own business so they can finally marry, and more importantly, it’ll pay off her bills and keep her out of debtor’s prison. But she doesn’t plan on her opponent, the rakish Kendall Winterborne, Earl Stillmore, being a sore loser—and a drunken one, at that. But before she can collect her prize, she finds herself facing the most merciless man in London across a pair of dueling pistols at dawn. Chess may be Splendor’s game, but she’s never fired a pistol. And dressed as a man with ill-fitting shoes on the slippery grass and borrowed glasses that make it hard to see, she’s certain she’s finally tipped her own king.

 Bitter divorcee Kendall Winterborne, Earl Stillmore, is the ton’s most ruthless heartbreaker. And he’s got three pet peeves: kitchen maids, marriage…and losing. So when he realizes the “man” opposite him has entered the chess tournament under false pretenses, he’s in the perfect position to extort the little chit. But that’s before the exasperating woman begins to slip beneath his skin, and soon all he can think about is slipping beneath her skirts. But the confounded woman is engaged to someone else, and worse—she’s nothing but a former kitchen maid, just like the one that lured his father into the marriage that ruined the family name. And his ex-wife taught him more than he cared to know about why marriage was the worst kind of checkmate of all…




Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The Mysterious Tale of the Norton Poltergeist



My novel The Devil’s Serenade mostly takes place in an imposing Gothic style mansion built by Victorian industrialist Nathaniel Hargest. When Maddie Chambers inherits it from her Aunt Charlotte, she soon discovers she has acquired far more than mere bricks and mortar. From the strange appearance of tree roots growing in the cellar to the manifestations, noises and a nostalgic wartime song played again and again, Maddie’s fears grow and intensify. What is going on here – and who, or what, is seemingly hell-bent on driving her insane?

Of course, my novel is just that – fiction. But, in real life, there have been numerous reports of houses cursed, or possessed by demons. Sometimes these emanate from the ground on which the house was built. Other times, the builder of the house has somehow managed to impart his – or her – evil into the fabric of the place so that it becomes irrevocably woven into the walls.

Sometimes the activity seems to start spontaneously, only to stop just as abruptly. In these cases, poltergeists are often blamed – quite often linked to the presence in the house of a girl entering puberty. One such case has been reported by Daniel Simms, a Paranormal Investigator from Staffordshire, England.

He writes of a twelve year old girl called Tegan – a child of strict Catholic parents who had been taught that lying was a sin. She and her two sisters attended their local church at least twice a week and were devout in their beliefs.

Back in 1999, Tegan kept a diary, which she still retains to this day. In it she reported the strange events that took place then.

It all began one Saturday morning as the sisters were eating their breakfast at the kitchen table. Tegan reached across the table for the salt cellar. Before she could pick it up, it moved. By itself. The sisters watched it, mouths wide open in disbelief. Tegan reached for it again. This time it jerked away from her.

The girls were shocked and scared. They told their father but he remonstrated with them, accusing them of lying to him. They weren’t able to convince him and tried to put the whole incident behind them.

But just two nights later – Monday, May 10th – Tegan recounted in her diary a night she would never forget.

A thunderstorm brought lightning and hail and, when it had passed over, the air felt “strangely static” in their home. By now it was their bedtime and the girls made their usual preparations and settled down to sleep in the room they shared.

But sleep would not come that night. Within minutes a scratching noise circulated around the floor. The sisters sat up in their beds. The noise grew louder and moved closer to the girls’ beds. By now, Tegan was crying silently, too scared to make a noise. She hugged her legs close to her body, trying to make herself as small as possible and to keep away from the invisible intruder.

The noise moved directly towards her, stopping at the foot of her bed. Then silence.

She waited. Still nothing. Tegan moved to get out of bed sideways in order to escape to the relative safety of one of her sisters’ beds. As she did so, her bed started to shake violently, throwing her around as if she were a rag doll. She screamed and the bed stopped shaking.

The terrified sisters told their father what had happened and this time, seeing how scared they were, he believed them and called in the services of the local priest. He performed an exorcism and, since then, there have been no further instances of poltergeist activity.

But to this day, Tegan maintains her story is true and that she still feels the fear when talking of what she went through. Where this particular phenomenon emanated from, who can say? But, In Daniel Simms’ opinion, there is no doubt that Tegan believes she was subjected to some kind of supernatural force that no one has yet has managed to satisfactorily explain.


 Maddie had forgotten that cursed summer. Now she’s about to remember…

When Maddie Chambers inherits her Aunt Charlotte’s gothic mansion, old memories stir of the long-forgotten summer she turned sixteen. She has barely moved in before a series of bizarre events drives her to question her sanity.

The strains of her aunt’s favorite song echo through the house, the roots of a faraway willow creep through the cellar, a child who cannot exist skips from room to room, and Maddie discovers Charlotte kept many deadly secrets.

Gradually, the barriers in her mind fall away, and Maddie begins to recall that summer when she looked into the face of evil. Now, the long dead builder of the house has unfinished business and an ancient demon is hungry. Soon it is not only Maddie’s life that is in danger, but her soul itself, as the ghosts of her past shed their cover of darkness.