My review of Love Unlimited

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Love Unlimited is an intriguing anthology of short fiction with an uplifting concept at its heart. Although love is the theme, the love featured in these stories isn’t purely romantic. Where it is romantic, it’s rarely the traditional boy-meets-girl love story. There are stories about the love a parent feels for a child, ambiguous love, the rediscovery of love following loss and the way loneliness and a sense of compassion can bring about a different kind of love, amongst many others.

While not all of the stories were to my taste, and there were places where I felt the writing could have been stronger, I found the general message of the collection to be commendable. Featuring stories by eleven different authors, the anthology includes a range of writing styles. What I enjoyed most about this collection was its sheer diversity. The characters featured in the stories span cultures, generations, abilities and sexual orientations. It’s rare to see so many diverse characters in one place and this alone makes the collection worth reading.

A few of the stories which I particularly enjoyed, include:

Summer Healing by Kelly Cain: When budding law school student Hayleigh Malone returns home for the summer holidays in order to visit her ill grandfather in hospital, she’s surprised to find herself falling in love with his nurse, whose political opinions are very different from her own. Cain’s story shows how irrational love can be at times, while also showing how it can be used to bridge people of different opinions and backgrounds.

I liked that the author showed how current political movements in the States affect real people and their relationships. Hayleigh’s interest in, and involvement with, the Black Lives Matter protests was pleasing to see, as movements such as these aren’t included often enough in contemporary fiction.

In Her Space by Geralyn Corcillo: When a sixty-four year old librarian discovers a young man living under her house, she isn’t quite sure what to do. She’s always worked hard to remain unnoticed and has lived alone for most of her life. When she discovers that the man has been going through her trash and eating the fruit from the trees in her yard, she decides to help. Through opening herself up to his presence, she begins to learn to accept her own.

The story skilfully navigates the gulf between our perceptions of ourselves and the truth. Love, empathy and kindness are shown to be powerful tools to connect with others and promote healing.

The Shining Girl by Anne Hamilton: Pale-skinned and blue-eyed Caroline has survived a devastating cyclone in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. On her flight home to London, England, she ponders her options going forward. The experience has made her view her life—and the man she loves—in a new light. But, having lost so much already, will she be able to recover that which is most important to her?

The Shining Girl won first prize in the New Asian Writing (NAW) Short Story Competition 2016, and it’s easy to see why. With beautifully written prose and deftly handled subject matter, the story explores the magic inherent in our lives and relationships. I also enjoyed her vivid descriptions of India.

You can purchase Love Unlimited  from: https://books2read.com/loveunlimited

On Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36096719-love-unlimited

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The Battle of the Birds: Guest Post and Cover Reveal by Virginia King

Today I’m welcoming Virginia King to talk about how she chose the title and cover for her latest book. So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Virginia.

Many authors say that in the process of creating a book, the writing is the easy part. It’s choosing titles and covers where the real work begins.

Title Torture

I was writing a collection of stories re-imagined from the folktales that inspired the modern prequel to my mystery series, Laying Ghosts.

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A strange message. A deserted beach house. A shocking incident from the past …

When a text message from a long lost friend lures Selkie Moon to Crystal Cottage, the chilling events from a house-party four years earlier wrap her in ghostly fingers and turn her life upside-down.

The folktales form a standalone collection but also a companion to Laying Ghosts. I was going through the usual torture of choosing a title when my mystery author friend Ellen Seltz offered to help. She asked for details of the stories in the collection. One involves the 250-year-old murder ballad ‘Pretty Polly’. Ellen found a phrase in the following stanza from the original ballad:

He pierced her body till the blood it did flow,

Then into the grave her body did throw.

He covered her body, then home he did run,

Leaving none but birds her death to mourn.

Ellen suggested None but Birds for the title of the collection and I was thrilled. It had the right amount of mystery and suspense, while hinting at the dark themes in the stories. But because the collection is a companion to Laying Ghosts, I settled on a variation that gives both titles a similar word pattern: Leaving Birds.

Yay, I had my title. Hurdle one vaulted – with panache. Next came the cover. That should be easy given I had my subject on a plate: birds. Then followed the battle of the birds!

Photos or Illustrations?

Covers guide readers to the genre of the book. All the books in my Selkie Moon Series contain mystical clues inspired by folklore, but the mysteries are modern so the covers are a compilation of photographic elements to reflect this. Leaving Birds is not strictly part of the series and it’s a mix of traditional and modern stories, more closely linked to folklore. Should I use an illustrative style of cover so that the reader would recognise the ‘folktale’ genre?

Conducting a Cover Poll

To get other opinions, I polled the subscribers to my Myth Mystery & Mayhem newsletter. Showing them the following two stock images, I asked: Do you prefer a photographic or illustrative cover for Leaving Birds, a folktale companion for Laying Ghosts? These images are samples of two different styles of cover, not the final cover. The theme of the collection is the loneliness of death, and the cover will be black and white.

Bird Cover Concepts

How Readers Voted

The almost 100 votes were 65/35 in favour of the photographic image. Then I worried that the pop of red had skewed the vote. If I’d removed it from the illustrative cover, the samples would have been more equal. But the red had an unexpected role to play.

Photographic voters liked:

  • Herons, because they’re regal and mystical
  • The drama of the spooky mood
  • The sense of eeriness and mystery
  • Imagining a great black bird surveying a graveyard
  • The single bird and lack of colour being barren and solitary like death
  • Crows, because they’re linked to death

Illustrative voters liked:

  • Hummingbirds!
  • The pop of red against the stark background
  • The colourful bird suggesting a ray of hope in the loneliness
  • The bird’s wings suggesting a soul soaring away
  • The handwriting feeling personal, dated and creepy
  • The celebration of a life departed instead of the gloominess of death

Taking Care with Stock Images

The two concepts are both stock images which could be used as they are. But Joel Friedlander from The Book Designer says that a good cover is not just a stock image with titles added. It is the compilation of images and graphic effects that create a design. Also, if you use a stock image as it is, you’re likely to see it on other covers.

Playing with Cover Concepts

Taking into account the mood of the folktale collection and the feedback from readers, I briefed my cover designer. We tried a different photo of a lonely bird – a seagull on a chimney – as well as the original heron image. And we blended some handwriting into the background like the illustrative sample.

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As much as I loved the lonely seagull in the stock photo, when I saw it as a cover it just didn’t evoke the powerful mood created by the hunched heron. The handwriting also didn’t fit as well with the gull. The battle of the birds was over. We had a winner. And although I was committed to a black and white cover as a companion to Laying Ghosts, I asked my designer to try out some red on the handwriting – for that pop of colour some of my readers had liked in the illustrative sample.

Cover Reveal: Leaving Birds

Here’s the final cover of Leaving Birds, a standalone collection of creepy folktales with adult themes, and a companion to the modern ghost story Laying Ghosts.

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Leaving Birds contains:

  • ‘The Woman with Hair of Gold’ – retold from a Russian folktale
  • ‘Peig’s Place’ – a modern ghost story re-imagined from an Irish folktale
  • ‘Polly’s Folly’ – the possibly true events behind the murder ballad ‘Pretty Polly’
  • ‘Serendipity Rules’ – the newspaper report that inspired the plot of Laying Ghosts

If you like to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of books and how they’re written, Leaving Birds also contains insights into how each story inspired the writing of Laying Ghosts.

Laying Ghosts is available:

Leaving Birds is available:

Follow Virginia on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/selkiemoonmysteries

Virginia King FB Nomad Portrait

 

In the Selkie Moon Mystery Series, Virginia King gets to explore far-flung places full of secrets where Selkie delves into psychological clues tangled up in the local mythology.

Before Selkie Moon invaded her life, Virginia was a teacher, an unemployed ex-teacher, the author of over 50 children’s books, an audio-book producer, a workshop presenter and a prize-winning publisher. These days she lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney with her husband, where she disappears each day into Selkie Moon’s latest mystery. Bliss.

 

 

My review of Sandlands by Rosy Thornton

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At that, the crease smoothed away and she smiled at him. ‘Oh, don’t worry, we’re still appalling know-it-alls. We dig things up, but then we photograph and catalogue, record and document, and as often as not we put things back. It’s not the finds so much as the findings. Not the objects but the stories they tell.’

Sandlands is a collection of sixteen linked short stories, all taking place in and around the small coastal village of Blaxhall in an area known as the Sandlings in Suffolk, England. Life and death, past and present, overlap in these stories, coming full circle. The victories, losses and betrayals of past generations come back to haunt the present, forever imprinted upon both the physical landscape as well as the realm of memory and imagination.

In ‘Nightingale’s Return,’ birdsong fills the air as a recently retired clerk travels from his native Italy to visit the farm in Suffolk where his father worked as a prisoner of war during World War Two. In ‘Mad Maudlin,’ one of the more unsettling stories in the collection, a pub lodger stays up late to compare old video footage of the pub from decades before. ‘Silver Studded Blues’ is a story of regeneration and renewal and the surprises which nature sometimes brings, wrapped up in the story of a man who has spent his entire life in (nearly) the same place.

Thornton’s stories are quiet, delicate and full of wonder. They slowly weave their way into your heart, where they remain.  They are poignant, poetic, lush with the landscape, wildlife and history of Blaxhall and beautifully written but, above all, they are perfect. By perfect I mean perfectly composed—each word earns its place, and then some. Each character, each setting, each paragraph hearkens back to another, lending a satisfying, almost musical, quality of resonance within the stories and, indeed, within the collection.

As I read, I found myself turning each story over, wondering what had really happened. This wasn’t because the writing was unclear at any point but more a result of the writer wanting the reader to make his or her own mind up as to what had occurred. Thornton’s stories are multi-layered and nuanced in such a way that they lend themselves to varying interpretations, a feature I very much enjoyed.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Thornton’s work and, perhaps, even visiting the Sandlings someday.

Sandlands is published by Sandstone Press and is available from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017KU9E9K/ 

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Sandlands-Rosy-Thornton-ebook/dp/B017KU9E9K/

You can follow Rosy Thornton on Twitter: @rosy_thornton

Visit her website: http://rosythornton.com/

 

A short story by Katrina Hart to celebrate Halloween

To celebrate Halloween this year, I’m sharing a special (and rather creepy!) story written by my good friend, Katrina Hart. Katrina is the author of the brilliant fantasy novel, Finding Destiny, which is available from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Finding-Destiny-Katrina-Hart-ebook/dp/B00U1WUFSE/ . You can visit her blog https://katrinamarie25.wordpress.com/ to read more about Finding Destiny and all of Katrina’s other writerly activities. Follow her on Twitter: @KatrinaHart2015 and like her author page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Katrina-Hart-1785712648319624/

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The Memories of Home…

Looking Through the Mirror of Life.

By Katrina Hart

Monica-The Reflection of Life’s Mistakes.

Monica screamed at her bruised reflection in the kitchen window as her husband leaned over her shoulder to wash her blood off his hands. She turned so her small body was pressed close to his, and waited until he turned off the tap and moved so they were face to face. She had decided she would not stand for this again. She knew this wasn’t her home anymore.

‘Darling, you shouldn’t push me so, then we wouldn’t fight,’ her husband Sam whispered in her ear as he stepped away from her shaking body and picked up the fallen chair before sitting on it.

Monica wanted to say something; she wanted to scream for real and believe that this would never happen again. But the laughter in the mirror that was covered with a pink sheet against the wall stopped her. She heard the song that her mother used to sing flood the room.  She began to sing:

When Mummy’s little girl cry, Mummy’s comes to sing her a lullaby. When Mummy’s little girl loses her way, Mummy shines the light home. When Mummy’s little girl cry, Mummy comes to sing her a lullaby.’  The words felt like they had taken over her body and filled her brain with a sense of being home. She reached for the mirror and began to drag it out of the room. She didn’t look back to see if Sam followed her as she hurried up the stairs pulling the mirror into her bedroom, locking the door behind herself. Then she flopped onto her bed panting for breath.

Monica lay for the longest time remembering Sam, how at the beginning he had made her heart whole again. He had been a nurse caring for a patient in the next bed to her mother’s. She remembered looking over through her tears as her mother’s doctor had told her, her mother had shut her out of her failing memory. Monica remembered gripping her mother’s shoulders, shaking her, begging her ‘not to let go and leave her.’ Sam had come over to her and taken her out of the room, he had promised her ‘things would be okay.’

After that day she had come to see how truly alone she was apart from Sam. Her sisters were too selfish to care about anything apart from their own needs.

Sam had been her hero. He was a tall, handsome man, with the bluest eyes she had ever seen. He would buy her flowers and tell her things like ‘I’ll never leave you,’ ‘I love you’ while she cried out her worries over never being recognised by her mother again and her fears that she would be alone in the world. Never really belonging anywhere.

Then he changed. He lost his temper over silly things, until he couldn’t control himself. It was like some beast had taken him over and Monica was his prey. Monica could still hear the giggle in the mirror as she drifted into a deep sleep.

****

Monica- When one reflection freezes the other moves.

Monica woke hours later to the moon shining through the window. She felt lighter as she found a note slipped under the door. She debated if she should leave the safety of her room and face Sam or stay a little longer. The note read… When my little girl cries painful tears, Mummy slay the monster my little girl fears.  Monica dropped the note as the red blood like ink dripped onto the floor. She ran back to her bed and sat legs crossed, the tips of her toes dug into her soft quilt as she gripped hold of the sides of the pink sheet that covered the mirror.  She remembered that this mirror had been in every place inside her mother’s home.

This mirror reflected her mother singing in the kitchen, and moved when her cat had pawed its reflective glass, and helped her mother be sure her tear-filled eyes were not red anymore before she greeted her husband.

Now she mouthed, ‘When my little girl cries, Mummy brings her home safe.

Monica was ready to go home to the memory she was promised this mirror could take her to, and she would never have to leave. She remembered her mother telling her as she made her take the mirror with her before she got really ill.

Monica yanked the cover off the mirror and blinked at her reflection. She was seven years old again with two pink ribbons in her black hair. Her seven year self waved at the mirror before she moved towards Mother, who was baking a chocolate cake and singing her favourite song blasting out from the radio.

Monica’s heart pounded as she reached for the safety of that kitchen. Of her seven year old self. Her palm slipped through the glass like she was a ghost passing from one phase to another. She could hear laughter as her body went through the glass. And all her troubles left her mind as her feet touched the kitchen floor.

Monica looked down and realised she was seven again. She ran to her mother who turned and gave her the warmest smile that filled her heart with such happiness that she let out a childish giggle. Her mother winked at her as she picked up Daddy’s hammer that had blood dripping off the end and walked to the mirror, smashing it into so many pieces. Monica breathed a sigh of relief, now there was no way back for either of them. Then Monica’s mother turned to her and held out her hand. ‘My girl, you know you’ll always have a home with me.’ Monica smiled up at her mother and she knew she had found her home, where her heart belonged.

The End

Happy Halloween everyone!