Saturday, 22 February 2014

Beneath The Shining Mountains - 99c - Linda Acaster

...vibrant, funny, poignant...

I’m soon to launch The Bull At The Gate, the second in the Torc of Moonlight trilogy of mythic occult thrillers, and as part of the pre-launch promotion I’m discounting Beneath The Shining Mountains to 99c/77p to give readers a taste of my writing style.

Due to this being a time-sensitive discount it only applies to Amazon. Those who read via Nook, Kobo, iBooks, etc can use the Coupon Code HL73P at the Smashwords checkout to gain the same price – but only until 03 March. Get it while you can!

In a previous guise for a mainstream publisher, Beneath The Shining Mountains sold 30,000 copies in paper format and has gained good reviews since my rights reverted and it was launched as an ebook. In this excerpt the young heroine Moon Hawk and her new husband, Winter Man, are travelling with the people and hoping to cross a swollen river at daybreak.

    The people had wrapped themselves for sleep long before, but there was still much movement to be heard. Coughing from a sick person, the fretful whimpering of a young child. A grandmother sang to comfort it, and those who listened added their voices softly to hers. Horses snorted and stamped. The dogs barked at nothing and themselves, and at a distant wolf which scented them and recalled them to the wild. Above all, hissing as if a giant serpent, the river surged relentlessly by.
    “Have you vermilion to paint your wrists and ankles?” Moon Hawk whispered. She felt her husband chuckle. “Do not laugh! The water monsters will remember and seek you out.”
     “I’ve crossed wider rivers than this, and I’ve never needed to paint red stripes about my wrists to protect me from water monsters.”
    “Then your Medicine must be very strong. Twice I’ve mourned relatives who were dragged beneath the surface by them.”
    A kiss brushed her lightly on the cheek, repeating along her jaw towards her ear. Winter Man’s voice became more tolerant. “If it will make you happy, you can paint my wrists with the protection in the morning.”
    She felt his hand move behind her back, his slim fingers fanning over her skin, the pressure of his touch intensifying, drawing her towards him. Her heartbeat began to rise, her palms reaching to stroke the warm contours of his chest.
    “If you want,” he murmured, “you can paint me tonight. Any color you’d like.”
    She smiled, seeking his lips with her own. He could laugh at her, she didn’t care, just as long as he was safe, and in her arms.

Despite living in England, Linda Acaster has always been fascinated by the past lives of the native peoples of the American northern plains, and for many years was a re-enactor giving talks to schools and community groups.

Keep abreast of her book launches and offers by following her website or signing up there for her Newsletter. If you enjoyed this post, why not share it via Twitter below? Thanks!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Barbara's War -The Middle Years

Barbara's War - The Middle Years is the second in a three book series about Barbara Sinclair. The first is Barbara's War. The third and final part should be published in September.
Mountnessing, Essex, December 1939 It seemed odd to be sitting in the glow of the little electric lights on a Christmas tree with no presents. Barbara had suggested they take it down now Boxing Day was over, but her grandparents wouldn't hear of it. The tradition was to have the tree up until twelfth night, so until then it would remain, taking up a third of the space in the study. The study door opened and Barbara turned to greet her grandfather. "Are the boys still outside? It's knee deep in snow out there, I don't want them to get cold." His grey hair was liberally sprinkled with snow, but his faded blue eyes were bright and his cheeks glowed. "Remember, Babs, I'm a medical man, your brothers are safe with me." 'Is John with them, Edward?' Grandma smiled at him. He nodded and poured himself a mug of tea. "I must say I've really taken to your young man, Barbara. It's a great shame we can't have a small celebration to mark your engagement." John had persuaded her to make their engagement official last week. Her mouth curved. He was a lovely man; and she was finding she quite enjoyed being kissed by him. He had hinted he would like to take things further, come to her bedroom, but so far she'd managed to put him off. "Why don't we have that bottle of champagne we've been saving, Elspeth? John will be leaving first thing tomorrow morning, God knows when Barbara will see him again." "What a good idea, Edward. I'll go along and speak to Mrs Brown, I'm sure she can make us a special meal to go with it. Perhaps fricassee with the remainder of the capon?" She hurried off to speak to the cook. Grandpa groaned and buried his face in his hands. "I am heartily sick of leftover chicken, I'd be happy with boiled eggs, if we had any." "I promise you it won't taste anything like chicken. By the time everything else is added it will be delicious and it's usually served with rice. That will make a pleasant change, won't it?" "'If you say so, my dear. It's strange, but I could eat leftover Christmas pudding, mince pies and cake until the cows come home – it's just the wretched chicken that seems to go on and on." Laughing at his curmudgeonly attitude, she collected the empty mugs and headed for the door. "We should be counting our blessings, Grandpa. Next year we will probably be having spam fritters for John burst into the kitchen chivying her two small brothers in front of him. "It's arctic out there, sweetheart. I think we're all going to need a hot water bottle up our jumpers in order to thaw out." David, his fair hair plastered to his head by melting snow, grinned happily. "Your mare's had her supper and is being shut up for the night. The chickens didn't get up at all today, they stayed in the barn." Tom shoved his younger brother. "Don't blame them. It's my turn to feed the puppies and yours to empty the dirt tray." Amiably squabbling they ran to the large wicker basket at the far end of the kitchen. They were greeted by Lavender, the large cat who was the puppies' surrogate mother, who purred like a sewing machine. Leaving them happily playing she wandered through to the breakfast room, which doubled as the dining room at night. John followed her. "I hear we're having champagne tonight. What's that in aid of?" He slid his arms around her waist and pulled her gently until she was resting against his chest. The buttons and buckle of his RAF jacket pressed uncomfortably into her back. "Grandma and Grandpa want to have a special meal to celebrate our engagement and to wish you good luck for your trip to Canada." "You don't sound too keen on the idea, Babs. Not having second thoughts are you?" She was glad he couldn't see her face. "Of course not. It's just Canada is so far away, crossing the Atlantic with all the U-boats about, in this horrible weather, is going to be dangerous." He turned her until she was facing him. With his thumbs he brushed away her tears. "I'll be alright, darling. It's a damned nuisance having to train on the other side of the world. I don't want you to be sad; remember what I told you? Go out and enjoy yourself whilst I'm away. Good God, you're not even nineteen yet, I don't expect you to stay in with the old folk just because I'm not here." "I don't suppose I'll get asked out anywhere, but if you're sure you don't mind, I won't say no if it's somewhere I want to go." She stretched out and pulled his head down so she could press her lips against his. They were cold, in fact his face was icy, the bristles standing to attention on his upper lip. She flinched as they rasped across her cheeks. Immediately he raised his head, his eyes dark. "Sorry, I haven't shaved today. I'll go and do it now; Mrs Brown said the boiler's just been stoked and the water's hot." "Don't use it all, the boys will need a bath shortly. If we're going to have a small celebration they'll need to change first; in fact I think we should all dress up tonight." She smiled, her initial reservations about a party gone. "I’ll make the breakfast room look pretty, use the candles and things we had on Christmas Day." Tom appeared, a wriggling puppy in his arms. "We having a party? Good show – can we have balloons and crackers too?' "What's this about a party? Is it someone's birthday?" David peered round the kitchen door with the second puppy perched precariously on his chest, its little pink tongue busy cleaning strawberry jam from his chin. "Grandma and Grandpa think it would be a good idea to have a little family do to celebrate our engagement. I'm going to sort out the table, why don't you two finish playing with the puppies and then come in and help me?" "Righty ho – as long as we don't have chicken again," David said as he elbowed his brother out of the way in order to be first there. By the time the breakfast room was prepared, and the boys' bath had been supervised, there was barely enough time for her to have a quick wash and change. She flicked through the long row of frocks hanging in her enormous closet. Should she select one of the smart dresses her grandma had chosen, or wear something she was more comfortable in? Perhaps the russet velvet with the cream lace collar and elbow length sleeves would be dressy, but not over the top. She snatched the frock from the hanger and dropped it over her petticoat. As this was a special occasion she'd worn her new silk stockings, her Christmas present from John. The others were going down already and she still had to find her shoes, check her lipstick wasn't smudged and her hair tidy. At least now they were using the rear of the house they no longer had to creep about with torches. The blackout made it impossible to have any lights on in the main hall because of the central glass rotunda. "You look splendid, my dear, that colour suits your complexion." "Thank you, Grandpa, this is one I've not worn before. Is John down?" Her grandmother answered. "He has gone with the boys to fill up the litter tray, Barbara, I don't suppose he'll be very long." "I'm not comfortable having any sort of celebration at the moment; John's leaving tomorrow and I don't know when I'll see him again." She swallowed a lump in her throat. "Grandpa, do you think we should be drinking champagne?" "This is going to be a brute of a war. We've got to enjoy ourselves whilst we can." He squeezed her shoulder. "Remember, Barbara, celebrating your engagement tonight is a way of sending your young man away happy. It doesn't mean you'll actually marry him – a lot can happen before that day comes." He was right, both her grandparents understood why she'd accepted John’s proposal when she wasn't in love with him. This didn't make it any easier; she loved John, but not in an exciting way – more as a brother. She was being selfish and immature; his parents wouldn't be seeing their only child before he set sail for Canada and here she was moping about drinking a glass of champagne in his honour. "I'm sorry to be a wet blanket, Grandpa, I'm being silly. From now on I'll take every day as it comes and thank God we're warm and safe here and not freezing in France like our brave soldiers." John arrived with her half-brothers, his face pink from the cold; he really was an attractive young man. She was a lucky girl to have him as her fiancĂ©. "I hope you all washed your hands—" All three waved them in the air and John put his arm around her waist and pulled her close. His hip was hard against hers, his arm firm and protective. She relaxed into his embrace and smiled at him. Her heart almost jumped out of her chest at the scorching look he gave her. David pushed past making rude noises. "Yuck! They've gone all soppy, Grandma, it's putting me off my supper." Grandma directed the boys to the far side of the table. "Over there, young men, and be careful not to tip over the candles. Edward, we shall sit opposite them and, Barbara and John, you sit at either end as you are the guests of honour tonight." A large tureen of leek and potato soup steamed appetisingly in the centre of the table next to the freshly baked rolls. John grinned and held out his bowl. "This is my favourite food. I wonder if Canadians eat soup." "From what I hear, dear boy, they serve steaks the size of dinner plates. No danger of you doing without – with rationing starting soon we'll be the ones on short commons." The champagne was drunk, the meal consumed and by the end of the evening Barbara was beginning to enjoy herself. She was unused to alcohol and normally avoided it, but tonight was a special occasion and she hadn't the heart to refuse. "Shall we go into the study?" Grandma suggested. "I believe there are some chocolates left; I'm sure the boys wouldn't say no to them." "And a small glass of brandy to go with the last of the coffee, my dear, will make a perfect ending to a delightful evening." Grandpa pulled out her chair and she smiled lovingly at him. It hardly seemed possible her grandparents were now happy together, the misery of the past eighteen years finally put behind them. Losing their only son so tragically in a motorbike accident, and not knowing about her existence, had caused a rift which her arrival a few months ago had remedied. The abuse she'd suffered at the hands of her deranged mother was going to take a little longer to forget, but tonight, surrounded by the people she loved best, she truly believed it might be possible to put the past behind her. At ten o'clock she decided her brothers should go to bed. "Come along, boys, it’s past your bedtime. Say good night to everyone." Their storm of protest was ignored and John grabbed David and tossed him over his shoulder squealing and laughing. "Right, I've got this one, can you manage Tom?" "Babs, I would like you to read a bit more of Treasure Island tonight – it's so much better listening to it than reading it myself." By the time she'd read the chapter the children were asleep. Quietly she put the book on the bedside table and stood up, surprised to find John had remained in the room. "I'm not going down again, I'm really tired, can you say good night to Grandpa and Grandma for me please?" "Of course, I shan't be long myself. Don't forget I have to catch the eleven o'clock train tomorrow. I want to spend every last moment with you – we don't know when we'll meet again." He moved closer and she tilted her head expectantly. For some reason the thought of kissing him was sending the blood fizzing around her body. Her hands encircled his neck and she pressed herself against him, loving the feel of his body against her soft curves. His lips were hard on hers, they tasted of brandy and champagne. "Would you like me to bring you a brandy and cup of cocoa when I come up?" "That would be lovely, but put the brandy in the cocoa as I don't really like it on its own. I can't promise I'll still be awake. I'm really tired, so you'd better not be too long." "You go ahead, I'll join you soon." How kind he was, he was the most loving man and she wished she loved him as much as he loved her. She pushed these thoughts to the back of her mind and began to get ready for bed. She hung up her dress and carefully folded her underwear onto a chair. She had only been wearing her camiknickers and petticoat for a few hours so there was no need to put them in the laundry. She had two new novels to read, a Christmas present from Grandpa, both by Georgette Heyer, The Devil’s Cub and Regency Buck. This was an author unknown to her, but a good romance was exactly what she needed right now. She would curl up in bed and start reading one of them and hope she hadn't fallen asleep before John returned with her drink. She was glad she'd bought some flannelette nighties, the ones grandma had bought were pretty, but not warm enough in this freezing weather. Her grandparents walked past twenty minutes later and she wondered why John hadn't arrived with her cocoa. She was about to call out and ask Grandma, but they sounded so engrossed in their conversation she didn't want to interrupt them. Maybe John had forgotten and gone straight to his bedroom – he was sleeping at the far end of the corridor so she should have heard him go past. She yawned, her jaw cracking, and put the book down on the side table. Reaching behind her she switched off the bedside light and wriggled under the blankets. The remains of the fire flickered with a comforting red glow softening the edges of the furniture, making the room look different somehow. She was on the verge of sleep when the door opened softly and John slipped in. "Sorry, darling, I thought it better to wait until the old folk had gone to bed before I came in here. I know we're engaged but I don't think they would approve." She pushed herself up the bed and waited for him to make his way across the shadowy room. "I was just going to sleep, I thought you'd forgotten all about me." He dropped down beside her on the bed, the rich aroma of brandy and chocolate wafted towards her. "Golly, that smells a bit strong." He chuckled and his warm breath tickled her cheek. "Doctor Sinclair put it in, I just made the cocoa and grabbed the last few chocolates from the box. Here you are – which do you want first?" "Both – can you drop the chocolates on my lap and hand me the mug, please?" "Budge up, sweetheart, there's plenty of room for both of us on here." Her drink was sweet and heady, the sweets rich and velvety in her mouth. "These will probably be the last ones we get until the end of the war. How am I going to live without chocolate?" "I promise I'll bring you back as much as I can carry when I return from Canada. It's hard to believe there's a war on when we're snuggled up in here with so many luxuries." He slurped his drink and she nudged him sharply with her elbow. "I don't want any of your bad habits here, thank you. You sound like one of the boys." She relaxed against his shoulder and he put his arm around her. "Do you think you'll pass all the exams on navigation and things? I'd no idea learning to be a pilot was harder than being at school." "That's why so many bods didn't get through the preliminary training. As I'm going into Bomber Command, I'll have a navigator, I won't have to plot my own route. Fighter pilots have to learn it all though." At his mention of fighter pilots an image of Alex Everton flashed through her head. She wondered what he was doing tonight; he hadn't come home for Christmas as he'd volunteered to remain on duty so the married chaps could spend time with their families. She drained her mug and choked, spraying him with a mouthful of liquid. "Bloody hell! What a waste – are you okay? What happened, did it go down the wrong way?" He wiped his face on the corner of a sheet and his teeth gleamed white in the semi-darkness. "No, there was neat brandy at the bottom of the mug." She giggled and bit into the last chocolate. "Are you going to finish yours?" "Not half! You've had more than enough for one night, I think you're a bit tiddly." He was probably right, she did feel rather lightheaded and silly. "It's a good thing you took off your jacket. If you take off your shirt I can rinse the cocoa out and it should be dry by tomorrow morning." She expected him to argue but he pulled off his tie and unbuttoned his shirt immediately. "Right you are. Dammit! It's gone right through so I'd better take my vest off as well." Before she could protest he was stripped to the waist. She scrambled out of bed and was about to pick up his shirt from the floor when she froze. She'd never seen a man half-naked – she couldn't take her eyes away. Something compelled her to move closer and the shirt fell unnoticed to the floor. The firelight silhouetted his broad shoulders in a golden glow making him look like something from a Greek myth. Her breath caught in her throat and she swayed towards him. "Are you sure, darling, because once we start to make love I won't be able to stop." She should say no, this was all wrong, but he was so beautiful, so handsome, so desirable that she wanted him to show her what physical love was like. Fenella J Miller

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Midsummer Maid - a medieval fantasy by Lindsay Townsend

I wrote my Midsummer Maid as a medieval fantasy and romance. The customs of Midsummer Day are
medieval, as is the attitudes of the knights to the different classes. Below is an excerpt from the story, where Clare is chosen as the May Day Queen.


Clare stripped the tiny, prickly thorns from the wild white roses and handed the sprays to the village maids. She smiled at their chattering excitement, aware that many hoped to win a sweetheart today.
They will sing and dance, and some will leap through the flames with their lovers for luck. It will be a good day. She had already milked the cows, and as Lady of the Midsummer Revels, she had a free day today and tomorrow, so all was very well indeed.
"There." She passed the final stem to Mary, her cousin, who snatched it from her hands.
"I would not be you, Clare, stuck in that knobby wooden chair all day, paraded around the fields," Mary said nastily. A few of the other maids smirked, but Clare merely shrugged. She knew Mary and the others had not wanted to be the Lady today, to bear responsibility for the land and its harvest. Now that they had their wish, however, some envied her.
"I shall walk the fields and tend the bonfire, too," she replied cheerfully. "It should be a good burn."
Mary patted the rose stem into her straggly black hair, dislodging several white petals from her garland. "Watch that the wood-devil does not come for you tonight," she went on. "I saw him glowering at you yesterday."
Clare pitied Mary her bitterness even as she wondered at its root. Mary had living parents, a dowry, and a hard-working betrothed, and still she was unsatisfied. Clare had no father, a mother she was forbidden to see, no land, and a bed each night in a cow shed; yet to her, each day was full of promise, a blessing to be savored.
"Haakon spoke to me courteously, as he always does," she said, aware of the many listening ears. "He told me the trick with the rose stems."
"Oh!" gasped several of the village girls, bringing their hands up to their mouths, but none, Clare noted, tore the roses from their hair.
Leaving them to their confusion, Clare nodded to them and sped toward the high field to check on the unlit bonfire. She hoped she might find Haakon there. For devil's-mark or not, he was a big, blond fellow, and she liked him very much. Day-dreaming of being swept up in his strong, sinewy arms, of his falling sick one day and tending him herself in his cottage, of him talking to her all that midsummer day, she glided up the steep, rolling fields without a care in all heaven and earth.
An hour later and she was back in the village at the church door—a door from which a girl with no money, like herself, would never be married—but then she told herself firmly not to be sad. The day was blue and gold, she wore a new white gown, and the whole village had gathered here, watching as Father Peter sprinkled her carrying chair with holy water.
Mary was right. It was knobby, Clare thought, and knew at once if Haakon had made it, the struts would have been as smooth as water. Four men, chosen by lot, stood beside the chair poles, ready to bear her aloft.
"Who shall put the lady into her chair?" Father Peter called, his voice ringing as it did in church.
By custom it was the reeve, a wheezing though game old man, but now Haakon stepped forward, big as the church steeple, dressed in his best green tunic. "I will," he offered.
There was a silence which Clare filled before others did. "That will be most welcome, good sir." She stressed good, to remind Father Peter that Haakon was a godly man, and held out her hands to the woodman. In the bright June sun, he was as handsome as an angel but for the red birthmark staining his chin and right cheek. His green-blue eyes were warm, not cold, and his lips curved into a generous smile.
He may bear a devil mark, but by his actions he is a good man, an honorable man. She had asked after him around the village while she milked the cows and so knew that he had supported his elderly parents and given his sister a fair dowry. But for the accidental mark—which was no more than the stain on a beast's coat—Haakon could have had his pick of the maids.
And he has chosen me.
"My lady." To her surprise and secret delight, he strode to her and knelt at her feet. Now he looked up and a quiver of laughter furred his deep voice. "It will be my pleasure."
Clare bit her lip, aware that at this moment, birthmark or no, every maid in the village envied her. Impulsively, she brushed his broad shoulders with the oxlips she carried. "A lady's blessing," she said aloud and knew she had done right when she heard a sigh from the older matrons. She tucked a bloom behind his right ear, realizing that his color was suddenly more than the devil's mark: he was blushing.
At once she felt her own cheeks begin to burn. Had she been too bold?
"Thank you," he said softly and lifted her straight off her feet into his arms, sweeping her into the carrying chair an instant later. Clare closed her eyes at the giddy speed, feeling like a tumbling swift but also very safe, and then was sorry again once his warm, strong hands had left her.
He bowed and turned to Father Peter. "I shall walk with you, father."
"That is as it should be," the priest began. A loud cry made him break off, and the priest frowned at the vulgar interruption.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

A Medieval Female Exorcist - Dark Maiden

Yolande, the heroine of my medieval historical romance novel, 'Dark Maiden' is an exorcist. Her father, who was born in Ethiopia (a country with very ancient Christian roots) was an exorcist. Her mother was born in York.

As is now being discovered, there were people of African descent living and working in Britain, especially in cities and ports like York. Archaeology discovered a Romano-British grave in York where a woman of black African and mixed race heritage had been buried in a rich tomb with grave goods. Archaeology also uncovered a tomb of a man of north African descent buried at a medieval friary in Suffolk, England, close to the port of Ipswich. According to bone specialists he had a bad back! The thirteenth century statue of Saint Maurice in Magdeburg cathedral in Germany clearly shows him as African.

Half-African, half-English, Yolande is the dark maiden of the title, a spiritual wanderer and warrior, helping those tormented by the restless dead and assisting the restless dead themselves to find final peace. She lives and works in England during the time of the Black Death.

Statue of St. Maurice at Magdeburg
I chose this time period quite carefully. Women during the Middle Ages could not be priests but during the period of the Black Death, when thousands died, including hundreds of priests, the church allowed women to take confessions from dying people. In early 1349 the bishop of Bath and Wells wrote to his priests to encourage all men to confess, before they were taken by the pestilence. He added that if they had no priest they should follow the teaching of the Apostles and confess to each other 'or, if no man is present, even to a woman'.  (From translation in Philip Zeigler, The Black Death, page 125).

Medieval people also believed that in a crisis anyone, priest or lay person, could perform an exorcism because every Christian has the power to command demons and drive them away in the name of Christ.  I took these ideas and developed them, allowing my Yolande to become an exorcist.

In 'Dark Maiden' I have Yolande and Geraint  (a travelling player who becomes her friend, help-mate, lover and finally husband) face several encounters with both restless spirits and also demons. My ideas have always been shaped by the real beliefs of the time. So in 'Dark Maiden' there are evil spirits, restless ghosts called revenants, an incubus and vampires - all paranormal creatures with a medieval slant.

I'll talk about these in other blog articles.

More details of 'Dark Maiden' here.

Can be ordered from Ellora's Cave here.
Can be ordered from Amazon US here and Amazon UK here.
Can be ordered from Barnes and Noble here

Ellora's Cave  (June 13 2013)

Read Chapter One