Monday 21 October 2013

Kalix Is Back - And She's Feeling a Little Anxious

A new book by Martin Millar is always a cause for celebration as far as I'm concerned and when that new book is the latest in the series featuring the most dysfunctional werewolf you're ever likely to meet, then it's champagne all round.

Now before you groan, "Oh no, not another sparkly werewolf novel!", I must enlighten you. Kalix isn't that sort of girl. In fact, she's not that sort of werewolf. She's a laudanum addicted, self harming, lost sort of girl with an eating disorder and a chronic case of low self esteem. Low? Her self esteem just never turned up. No wonder she's anxious! And Kalix being Kalix this means everyone around her is pretty anxious too.

The Anxiety of Kalix the Werewolf picks up the story where its predecessor, Curse of the Werewolf Girl, left off, but if you haven't read that or the first book in the series, Lonely Werewolf Girl, it isn't really a problem as each book stands up in its own right. It just means you've missed out on some great fun and adventures and really should go back to the beginning.

Martin Millar's version of the world is a planet where it is perfectly natural for werewolves to live among humans, accompanied by the odd Elemental - and, believe me, there are some very odd Elementals in this world. Take the Fire Queen, Malveria, for one. She has a fashion fetish that would put Victoria Beckham to shame and constantly berates her "dismal niece", Agrivex, for her shortcomings in not being able to control her flames (among many other misdemeanours). But if you ever want someone on your side in an epic battle, it's Queen Malveria, just as long as she can keep her skyscraper heels on.

In The Anxiety of Kalix The Werewolf, we see the Scottish Werewolf Clan - including Kalix's battling family, the MacRinnalchs - wage all out war against the werewolf hunters of the secretive Avenaris Guild. Kalix may be many things but she is a fearless - even reckless - warrior. Somehow, along the way, she also manages to bag herself a rather nice boyfriend. But needless to say, the course of true love hits a succession of potholes. Meanwhile her Self Improvement List just keeps getting longer.

Martin Millar's querky characters are never the sort you would take home to tea with your Great Aunt Maude. They are all seriously flawed, quite outrageous, and Kalix and her companions are no exception to this. They provide a constant source of consternation to the two humans in the story - flatmates Moonglow and her friend Daniel. But the author's skill in creating his characters, and weaving the plot around them, means you cannot help liking the basically unlikeable. And you can't help believing the incredible. Whatever her faults and shortcomings, however impossible she is, you develop a soft spot for Kalix. You want her to overcome her addictions, defeat her enemies and win out in the end. 
The Anxiety of Kalix the Werewolf is the longest of the three books (at 665 pages) but doesn't suffer the fate of so many books of its size. It never sags. It grips you and keeps you turning the pages. In achieving this, it proves a worthy successor, not only to the first two books in this series, but also to the great body of work the author has produced so far.

With titles such as The Good Fairies of New YorkRuby and The Stone Age Diet and Dreams of Sex and Stage Diving, to name but three, you know you're in for something a bit different when you pick up a Martin Millar. In fact, not just different - unique. In 2000, Millar won the World Fantasy Award and he just keeps going from strength to strength.
 The Guardian newspaper said he had created a new genre, "pulp fantasy noir", while Neil Gaiman said, "Martin Millar writes like Kurt Vonnegut might have written, if he'd been born fifty years later in a different country and hung around with entirely the wrong sort of people."

I couldn't have put it better myself. Go on, treat yourself. You won't regret it.

The Anxiety of Kalix the Werewolf is published by Piatkus and available from good bookshops or by ordering online. Amazon is just one such outlet.

For Martin Millar's website, just click HERE, where you will also find his ongoing online serial, Simulation Bleed

Monday 7 October 2013

The Ghosts of Glamis - with Shehanne Moore
One of my favourite fellow Etopia Press stablemates is Scottish Historical Fiction writer, Shehanne Moore, who shares my love of dark history, creepy castles and scary palaces. She's also partial to wild, untamed countryside, mountains and ... ghosts. 

She is my guest today, so join us as Shehanne explores a castle with major royal connections and enough dramatic history to stimulate even the most jaded palate.
This Castle Has a Pleasant Air
The Old Steeple
You know, with the exception of Berwick-On-Tweed, few Scottish cities fell to the English as often as my hometown, Dundee. General Monk razed it to the ground during the English Civil War, after the townspeople holed up against him for days, demanding his surrender, with typical Dundee chutzpah. You’d really think that given the terrible battle that was fought when man, woman and child, finally retreated to the Old Steeple, where they were massacred, a ghost or two would have the decency to waft itself about for the benefit of the tourists. Especially when any road or building works in the vicinity, still turns up skeletons. That I wouldn’t have to trail all the way up the road to Glamis to find a few spectres. But I suppose it’s worth the trek, since it boasts so many you can more or less take your pick.

Lady Mary Bowes

Glamis is the historic seat of the Bowes-Lyon family, ancestors of the Queen. The Unhappy Countess, Mary Bowes, whose fortune helped restore it, an 18th century heiress upon whom Thackeray based his book, Barry Lyndon, and who was rescued by her servants, in a sensational divorce and kidnap case that shook society, surprisingly isn’t one of them. 
Neither is King Duncan, nor Macbeth, although it is interesting Shakespeare chose that venue for Macbeth-a play of witchcraft and dark forces- to murder Duncan in.
Glamis is obviously very choosy. So, what ghosts can we expect, as we walk through its foreboding doors into its chilly halls?  (Making us sound a bit like ghosts there.)

Well, the beautiful Lady Douglas, the Grey Lady of Glamis haunts the chapel.
Lady Douglas
Lady or not, she was burnt at the stake as a witch in 1537. The charges were fabricated and her young son made to watch. There’s also a young woman with no tongue, who haunts the grounds. Then there’s the little black page boy who allegedly froze to death on the step. Best of all, there’s Earl Beardie.

Earl Beardie got in a bit of a tiff with Lord Glamis over a card game, on the Sabbath, a shocking thing. Then he got thrown down the stairs. This didn’t deter him, from coming back up them again shouting, that if no-one would play with him, he would play with the devil himself. Guess what? That’s what he’s been doing since. In Glamis. 

Oh, yes there are some rooms you do not venture into.

Talking of which one there’s that little business of the extra window on the outside of Glamis. The locked room. The monster of Glamis. The mystery of mysteries.  “—an enigma that involved a hidden room, a secret passage, solemn initiations, scandal, and shadowy figures glimpsed by night on castle battlements, and two generations of high society.”

No. I can’t tell you it. because I don’t know it, whether the ‘monster’ was the rightful heir or not.

What I can say it that when it comes to haunted Scotland, you won’t get better goosebumps than in Glamis Castle.
You can connect with Shehanne here:
Furious Unravelings
Shehanne Moore

I loved Shehanne's latest novel, His Judas Bride. Here's some information to whet your appetite:

To love, honor, and betray…
To get back her son, she will stop at nothing…
For five years Kara McGurkie has preferred to forget she’s a woman. So it’s no problem for her to swear to love and honor, to help destroy a clan, when it means getting back the son she lost. But when dire circumstances force her to seduce her fiancĂ©’s brother on the eve of the wedding, will the dark secrets she holds and her greatest desire be enough to save her from his powerful allure?
To save his people, neither will he…
Callm McDunnagh, the Black Wolf of Lochalpin, ruthlessly guards heart and glen from dangerous intruders. But from the moment he first sees Kara he knows he must possess her, even though surrendering to his passion may prove the most dangerous risk of all.
She has nothing left to fear except love itself…
Now only Kara can decide what passion can save or destroy, and who will finally learn the truth of the words… Till death do us part.
Buy His Judas Bride here:

Barnes and Noble
All Romance Ebooks

Thursday 3 October 2013

Hellens - Heart, History and Hauntings

I spent the first two years of my life in a little village, some 16 miles from Hereford, called Much Marcle. These days Marcle is best known for the incredible success story that is Westons Cider, but back in the twelfth century, the foundations were laid for a house that, over the centuries, has seen more than its fair share of history. Not bad for a manor house in a sleepy little backwater of rural Herefordshire.

Hellens (said to be named after the de Helyon family who were early owners of the property) has changed hands many times over the centuries. Early inhabitants were witnesses to the signing of the Magna Carta. Much later, in the sixteenth century,  owner Richard Walwyn was knighted by Mary Tudor. She dubbed him (for reasons probably best left to her) Knight of the Carpet. Elizabeth I forgave him when she came to the throne. Sadly this didn't stop him from dying bankrupt and, by 1619, Hellens was reported to be in ruins.

Over the next century, Hellens enjoyed mixed fortune and not a little tragedy. During the Civil War, the Walwyns fought on the King's side. The opposing Parliamentarian forces stormed Hellens, where the family priest was acting as caretaker. They found his hiding place, dragged him out and stabbed him repeatedly with their halberds, until the poor man resembled a porcupine. He died in the room where Mary Tudor is supposed to have stayed - Bloody Mary's Chamber. When I was there a few weeks ago, a woman on the same tour reported feeling a distinct cold spot near the fireplace and many unwitting tourists have reported being chased out of there by a figure resembling an old Catholic monk.

Also, at this time, a body was secretly buried under the floorboards, where it remains to this day. The corpse is that of Sir Henry Lingen, killed in battle at Ledbury (three miles way). Does Sir Henry walk the house at dead of night? And where, precisely is his body? No one - as yet - knows.

But the hapless priest certainly isn't the only ghost to wander the rooms of Hellens. Around 1700, someone scratched a message on a window pane in a room now known as 'Hetty's Room'. It reads: 'It is a part of virtue to abstain from what we love if it should prove our bane.' This sorrowful little homily was etched using a diamond ring, but who did it? 

Hetty Walwyn
Hetty Walwyn, daughter of the house, eloped with a local lad called John Piercel, but he abandoned her and, with nowhere else to go, she was forced to return home and throw herself on the mercy of her family. But there was little mercy for Hetty. Her mother marched her up to her bedroom and locked her in. Poor Hetty was to be denied human companionship for the next 30 years, until she died, still incarcerated in that one room. The only way she could communicate was by pulling a cord which rang a solitary bell. Visitors can still do this - and a more mournful, lonely sound you could hardly imagine. Needless to say, there was no way anyone could reply to her. Interestingly, her faithless lover may have repented, for high on the outside of the window, his name - John Piercel - is scratched, along with the date - 1702. Poor Hetty haunts the room to this day. If you visit, maybe you'll hear her weeping...softly...just behind you.

Dr Axel Munthe
Over the next 200 years, ownership of the house changed frequently until Hilda Pennington Mellor, became its new chateleine in 1945. She married the philanthropist and scientist, Axel Munthe who was physician to the Queen of Sweden. Axel Munthe is most famous for writing bestselling book, The Story of San Michele, about his adventures in restoring a house on Capri, which had been built on the foundations of Emperor Tiberias's villa. Professionally, he worked tirelessly through outbreaks of cholera and typhus - not to mention earthquakes - tending to the sick, during the years he worked in Italy. He refused to take any money for his services from the poor and even established a hospice for elderly, destitute people in a castle outside Rome.

Today, the descendants of Hilda and Axel still call Hellens home, and the house plays a major role in village life in a variety of ways. This carries on a long tradition. My mother (who is 92) can remember attending the Coronation Ball there in 1953. Much Marcle, Hellens and cider are so inextricably entwined that it was decided that, at midnight, the fountain in the forecourt would flow, not with water, but with cider. Unfortunately, no one thought to warn the family spaniel whose habit it was to drink from that fountain. Not only that, the celebrations started rather earlier than anticipated. As a result, the poor dog was intoxicated by four that afternoon! This was only the beginning of a chapter of disasters that threatened to scupper the entire event and which are hilariously recounted in Malcolm Munthe's enthralling book, Hellens - The Story of a Herefordshire Manor. Somehow, the guests - my mother included - did get their cider, the health of the new Queen was drunk and everyone talked about the wonderful masque for months to come.
Hellens is full of atmosphere - and all the better for being a little faded, a little worn and not a little frayed around the edges. It hasn't been 'tarted' up for the tourists. It's an honest house - a family home, with a big heart,that has been around for nearly a thousand years. Parts of it bear the scars of battle - relics of the Civil War and a World War II bomb, carelessly discarded following an enemy raid on Birmingham

As you walk its creaking corridors, descend the steep, narrow staircase and marvel at the faded elegance of its rooms, you get a real sense of presence, of a home well loved and well lived in. And, as such, this has to be one of my favourite haunts (in all senses of the word).

Have a look at their website, by clicking HERE
Laden with fruit - an apple tree in Hellens' grounds