Friday 8 July 2011

Friday Flash - Lost at Sea

Image is Ships on a Stormy Sea by Ludolf Bakhuizen, c1672.
A fierce wave slammed into the side of the ship, pouring a deluge of brine across the deck. Magda sat in the corner of her small cabin, whispering a prayer. She leaned forward to press her ear to the wall. The cold waters beyond the hull reached for her through the damp wood. She listened hard, and fancied she could hear the lament of those lost at sea.

The door flew open. George stood in the doorway, silhouetted against the raging sky. He stepped forward into the flickering lamplight of the cabin. Fear and panic shone in his limpid eyes. He clasped his hands to his chest.

“My darling! I could not find you!”

“Where else did you think I would be?” asked Magda. She tossed a disinterested glance over her shoulder and resumed her whispers.

“The men would not help me look for you,” said George.

“I rather think they have more important concerns. I wonder that you did not think to look here first. I have hardly left the cabin at all on this voyage.”

“You know that I only insist you remain inside to shield you from the prying eyes of the men. I swore to keep you safe when I found you alone on that beach, and I am determined to fulfil my oath,” said George.

A wave several storeys high crashed against the starboard of the ship, sending it lurching to one side like its drunken captain. George stumbled across the cabin and pitched forward onto the narrow bed. He reached a trembling hand towards his fiancée. Her fevered whispers finally reached his ears.

“My dear! You are praying! Please, do not be alarmed, the storm shall pass.”

“Storms always do,” replied Magda. She wriggled aside to avoid George’s outstretched fingers.

“They’re in ‘ere, lads!” cried a voice.

Magda broke off and turned around. Four men, as wide as they were tall, crowded around the open door. Stares full of suspicion and hatred danced across George and settled upon her. Magda glared at them. Such brutish men, consumed by lust and superstition in equal measure, she thought.

“You! This is ‘cause of you, woman!” said the largest man at the front. Magda thought she remembered his name as Briggs.

“How dare you speak to my fiancée like that!” said George.

“Shut up, moneybags. It’s bad luck fer a woman to be aboard. This storm is ‘er doin’,” said Briggs.

The men piled through the door. The smallest of the four pulled George to his feet, pinning him against the wall with one meaty forearm. The other three seized Magda, dragging her across the cabin. Her lips continued to move in a silent chant. She ducked her head to one side as the sea threw its cold spray across the threshold. The men staggered across the deck, fighting to keep their balance as the ship bucked and pitched beneath them. They shoved her up against the ship’s rail, and Magda’s whispers fell silent.

“Right, lads! Throw ‘er overboard! The storm needs blood,” said Briggs.

The men heaved Magda onto broad shoulders. The wind whipped her hair across her face, snatching George’s protesting cries from the air. Magda struggled in their grasp. With a final push from the men, she found herself airborne, caught between the angry sky and tortured sea.

Magda plunged into the violent waves. The icy water closed over her head, the currents tugging at her voluminous skirt. She tore at her cumbersome clothing with her hands, her cold fingers unable to tear the fabric free.

Skinny fingers glistening with scales wrapped around her arms. She looked down into the faces of two mermaids more barbaric than beautiful. They smiled to display mouths full of fangs. The mermaids kicked their tails, dragging her deeper.

A shoal of mermaids swam up from the dark depths to meet them. More scaled fingers clawed at Magda’s clothes. The layers of her skirt gave way, and she kicked herself free of the human clothing with a final thrash from her tail.

Several fathoms above them, the waves subsided and a cleansing wind tore the storm clouds into tatters. As Magda swam into the cold depths with her sisters, she whispered a prayer of thanks to the Sea Witch.

Thursday 7 July 2011

[Review] The Soulkeepers

I've known GP Ching for a while after discovering her shorter works through the #FridayFlash phenomenon on Twitter, and I've always found her to be an absolutely lovely person, not to mention incredibly supportive of other writers. When I discovered she was releasing a book, I was naturally excited to read it since I already knew I enjoyed her writing.

The Soulkeepers is the first book in a planned series (book two, Weaving Destiny, is slated for September 2011). The blurb reads thus; The night sexy and mysterious Abigail Silva comes to Jacob Lau's bedroom window, he doesn't believe she's real let alone a supernatural force who lives just across the street. Abigail says she's his Helper sent to train him as a Soulkeeper, a gifted warrior responsible for protecting human souls. But Abigail has secrets, and as Jacob is pulled into her strange world, he learns those secrets could cost him his family, his girlfriend, and even his soul.

It's a really interesting concept, and like nothing I've read before. Jacob seems to be your usual teenager struggling to fit into a new school in a new town after his mother disappears. He has trouble with the "popular crowd" and can't wait to get out of this dull new town that he hates so much. That might seem fairly run of the mill, but not many teenagers begin their books by coming back from the dead. Nor do they see their mothers fighting monsters. Most of all, they're not usually Soulkeepers - Jacob has a mystical bond with, and power over, the element of water. He encounters the local botanist, Dr Silva, who turns out to be a lot more than she appears, and she starts training him up to be able to fulfil his destiny. Along the way, he gets himself a girlfriend in the shape of Malini, a fellow social outcast.

If the word 'soul' gets you thinking that this is probably a bit deeper than your usual "teen with a superpower" fiction, then you'd be right. It's not just about teenagers throwing tantrums and pouting all over the place (are you listening, Bella?) In The Soulkeepers, Jacob encounters questions of faith, both in humanity and in a higher power, and the book really kicks things up a gear when we meet the villains of the piece - the fallen angels. They're a truly nasty bunch, which leads to an amazing setpiece between our hapless heroes and the demons in disguise, but I won't say much more because I don't want to spoil it.

Now, I've always been a sucker for angels (Michael is my favourite, in case you were wondering) but having had a fairly secular upbringing, I'm not overtly keen on religious fiction. However, GP has such a knack for storytelling that The Soulkeepers is a less a story about religion and more a story about finding faith - it doesn't necessarily have to be in a particular deity, even just faith in the universe itself will suffice. Jacob's quest for peace with the Almighty could be substituted for anything - hell, if Dr Silva was two feet tall and green, then Jacob could easily be the young Skywalker.

As far as characters go, GP has created a cool bunch here. Jacob is moody but with good cause, and Malini strikes me as being that quiet, shy kid at school who would actually be a really awesome friend if you bothered to say hi. The relationship between them feels very genuine and unfolds at just the right pace. Dr Silva is completely badass, and I actually found myself warming to her more and more as the book went on. However, favourite character has got to be Gideon - you'll see why.

All in all, I really enjoyed The Soulkeepers, and got so engrossed that I think I read the last quarter of the book in one sitting. I highly recommend it, and I award it five blunt pencils!

You can check out more about the book at its website, You can also buy the paperback from Amazon, as well as the Kindle version, and if you have a non-Kindle e-reader, The Soulkeepers is also available from Smashwords!

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Print is Dead

I noticed this the last time I watched Ghostbusters, but then my boyfriend found this and sent it to me on Facebook. As I'm a devout Egon fan, I thought I'd share it with you to prove that all these bloggers who think they're so clever by predicting the end of print have actually been outdone by a character from a movie that came out in 1984. Suck on that, Konrath.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Here be monsters

In the wake of the hysteria surrounding vampires and the never-ending obsession with zombies in popular culture, and to a lesser extent werewolves, I've been rather fascinated by the other monsters that I feel have been somewhat ignored. While the rest of the world tries to decide whether it prefers blood-sucking, lycanthropy or good old fashioned flesh-eating, I've been sat here championing the cause of mummies. Look at the all-powerful Imhotep when he's been fully revived at the end of The Mummy. Who would you rather have, a sparkly disco vamp with possessiveness issues, a moody werewolf who has a worse time of the month than you, a shambling rotting corpse who is truly more interested in your brains than your beauty, or an immortal sorceror from Ancient Egypt? Ooh toughie. (N.B. I feel compelled to exempt Carrie Clevenger's Xan Marcelles and Sam Adamson's Northern Vampire from my comments, as they're both ace)

I actually wrote a mummy story a while ago. True, No Flash is more of a vehicle for my pent-up rage regarding tourists and the fancy cameras they don't even know how to work, but it still stars a mummy. Naturally my fascination with ghosts and spectres knows no bounds, particularly due to my fondness for a particularly dashing Cavalier known as Fowlis Westerby, but I'm not averse to writing corpse brides either. A few weeks ago I decided to resurrect the skeleton from the B-Movie Monster graveyard, while changelings got in on the act soon after. I finally dipped my toe in the waters of science fiction with Evolution, and I think it was at this point that I suddenly realised what I was doing. I was exploring the idea of monsters.

Humans have had monsters for thousands of years. True, those of the cavemen were probably not as imaginative as the Minotaur or the Hydra, but they would be monsters nonetheless. Classical mythology is rife with monster stories, and when you think about it, Lucifer has provided an entire religion with a boogeyman for centuries. We have monsters to justify our fears, but also to create a sense of control. Abandoned buildings can be unsafe, particularly at night, so what better way to keep people out than to install a wandering ghoul who will eat your soul if you venture inside? And how many children have been told that a monster (usually of their parents invention) will get them if they don't do what they're told?

Monsters make excellent metaphors, too. Vampires are often made to stand in for the dangers of illicit passion, while zombies represent the power and threat of the mindless mass. An entire sub-genre grew up around the fear of Communism in 1950s Hollywood, with the best example by far being the 1954 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. No one watching the film can possibly forget what sector of society the Pod People are intended to represent. It says a lot about the engulfing fear of the time that later versions feel neutered and sterile by comparison - indeed, the fear has not been successfully transposed onto another enemy.

In a lot of ways, monsters represent a particular facet of Sigmund Freud's theory of the uncanny. Freud talks about many principles which engender uncanny feelings in a person, but the one relevant to monsters is that of the so-called "return of the repressed". Rather, a person forces their fears, guilt and doubts into their unconscious through repeated acts of repression, but rather than staying there, these feelings return to plague the person. In many ways it is a form of paranoia, in that the person projects these feelings into the space around them (see Robert Wise's The Haunting for a masterclass in this) but in the case of the monster film or story, these feelings take corporeal form in the shape of the monster that plagues them. I took that incredibly literally in Calling All Skeletons, when the past actions of an aspiring politician come back to bite him in the ass, but writers and artists have been dealing with this for years. Some call it karma - I call it uncanny.

Over to you. What kinds of monsters do you enjoy writing, or reading about? And more importantly...why?

Monday 4 July 2011

Photo Prompt 40

Latest prompt, ready and waiting.

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! If you don't comment on this entry, then I can't comment on your story.

The fortieth prompt is Gateway.

Hidden Gateway

All photo prompts are my own photography - you can find more of it on Flickr. You can also buy my prints from Deviantart. 20% of all proceeds go to charity - the other 80% go towards my PhD fees!