September 23, 2014

Craftblogclub Winter Challenge

I’ve done a few of the #Craftblogclub challenges since the Twitter chat started a little over a year ago, and the current challenge is to create something that is winter themed. Now, for a frosty soul like myself, you’d think that would be easy. Should I knit or crochet something? Make some wintry jewellery? Produce some wintry calligraphy?

Well I actually ended up doing something by accident. I’m working on a unit with the students at the moment which is Visual Recording in Art and Design, and they have to produce an illustration of the local area. We’re doing primary drawings around town this afternoon, but on Wednesday afternoon they’ll be drawing from photographs, and it was while I was preparing for this session that I ended up with my response to the winter challenge!

This is the photograph that I decided to use – I took it in January 2013 in Jesmond Dene, when I decided that scampering through the snow to take photos was a productive use of a Sunday.

And this is my illustration! I decided to only do a section of the bridge, and I decided to have another go with charcoal, something I haven’t used since A Level Art! I hope I’ve managed to capture the snow okay.

What do you think?

September 19, 2014

#FridayFlash – The House That Could

Image by nemyouth. Edits by me.

Number 34 Winscott Road had been empty for twenty seven years and four months. The house was well aware of the figure, being careful to celebrate its anniversary with the sort of precision that accompanies being abandoned. Over the years it put a lot of effort into working out exactly why its owners left and didn’t return, but eventually, sometime around its eighth birthday, it came to realise it was happier empty than it had ever been while occupied. There was no one to slam doors, hurl crockery at the walls, turn the air blue, forget to take out the rubbish, refuse to clean up the frequent spillages, or pee in the garden after a drunken night out. The house would grudgingly admit that it missed the breaths of fresh air that followed the annual spring clean, and that it missed laughter in front of the television. Silence was little compensation for the loss of tiny footsteps pattering around the house.

Once or twice, youths broke in and tried to take things away with them. The house quickly recognised them as intruders and dealt with them accordingly. It had learned to bear the smell. A few years ago, a man from the council turned up and made some phone calls, but the surveyor that arrived a week later went down into the cellar and never came back up. Such a pity about that door that used to jam in damp weather. Still, his colleagues came to take him away, along with what was left of the youths, and the house quietly watched as a group of women in overalls and yellow rubber gloves attacked the dirt with bleach. Men with a van took the mouldy or stained remains of the furniture away, and soon the house echoed with the creaks and sighs of an empty property.

It would have kicked itself if it could when it realised what was happening. The men with grey suits and smooth words should have been its first clue. They led other people, sometimes families, mostly couples, but occasionally singletons, around the property. It sat quietly, holding its breath, until they left, all the while trying to decide what to do. It tried talking to number 32 but it was always busy dealing with the devastation that the twins left in their wake. Number 36 seemed to do nothing but sleep. The house was on its own.

Number 34 had been empty for twenty seven years and eleven months when the new family moved in. The parents were pleasant enough; he was a teacher and she was a sculptor of some sort. Their children were teens, a girl and a boy. She was a performing arts student, he was doing something with maths. It didn’t take long to get into the swing of family life again, the hustle and bustle, and the smell of home-cooked food. The father had a compulsion towards cleanliness, and the house got used to noise, life, and having the carpets hoovered twice a week.

It should have known it wouldn’t last. The daughter found friends her father didn’t like. Then came the late nights, the waiting up until the early hours of the morning, the screaming matches in the living room, the stomping on the stairs and the slamming of doors. The mother spent less time at home and more time with her sister to avoid the ugly scenes. The house grew less tolerant towards the family, and over a matter of weeks decided to take matters into its own hands. It had a repertoire of tricks up its sleeve, and soon the doors began slamming without human hands laid upon them. Windows slid open in the dead of night, and the house strangled the heating so the bitter cold woke the family up. Things went missing, only to turn up in the wrong places.

The house expected the family to turn on each other, to throw blame for the strange happenings. The house was wrong. The daughter confided in her brother that she was afraid her rebellious ways had attracted a poltergeist, and he convinced her to give up her friends. Her mother threw herself back into family life, and her father stopped shouting. The house realised it couldn’t stop its mischievous ways in case the fragile peace fractured. It continued on its way, although it scaled back the events for fear that the family might leave altogether.
On the day that should have been its twenty eighth anniversary, the son left the evening of laughter and camaraderie in the living room, headed upstairs, patted his bedroom wall, and whispered two words.

“Thank you”.

September 12, 2014

#FridayFlash – Clay Angels

Image by ernestbon. Edits by me.

There had been a sculptor’s studio down by the river for as long as anyone in the village could remember. Passed down from father to son, its current occupant was Gunther, an unmarried recluse who conducted almost all of his business by letter. In lieu of a son he had an apprentice, a young man named Hans, who was the village’s sole point of contact with the studio.

Each sculptor had a speciality that made his work so desirable within the district, and sometimes even as far as the Royal Court. Gunther’s grandfather had a way of sculpting animals who looked so close to being alive that many mistook them for real pets. Gunther’s father could make bouquets of flowers that were realistic enough to cause people to sniff them. Gunther’s only talent lay with angels. The fad of the day was to cover tombstones and mausoleums in the Heavenly host, to better aid the passage of the deceased, and Gunther did not want for commissions.

Gunther spent all day surrounded by his angels, and in some way fancied himself their father. He talked to them when they were still raw clay, and he continued to chatter as he brought them forth, smoothing and moulding until they emerged from the pale blocks. Once fired, he sang to them in low tones, unfurling the songs of his youth until they were ready to leave him. Even after they’d gone on to their new homes, he still fancied they were with him, fluttering in the shadows, or whispering in the breeze outside. Even Hans did not know of his strong fondness for the angels, being away from Gunther on errands as much as his master could arrange.

One day in the depths of winter, a letter came requesting Gunther’s presence at Court. Normally he would have simply sent Hans, but his apprentice was visiting nobles in the south of the country and could not be reached for some weeks. A personal request from the King could not be ignored, and it was with a heavy heart that Gunther packed some things and set out for the Court. He left behind a thirty-strong batch of angels, all ready to be packed and dispatched to their owners, and assured them that he would return as soon as he was able. Gunther took just one angel with him, a beautiful statue intended as a gift for the Queen.

Halfway between his village and the Court, about as far as Gunther could get from civilisation, he was set upon by bandits. They robbed him, and stole everything he had except for the statue. One of her wings was broken off during the scuffle, and in a panic, the youngest bandit shot Gunther as he tried to flee across the fields. The sculptor was left for dead, and the bandits made off with his belongings. The broken statue lay forgotten in the snow.

Yet she did not forget the bandits. It took her some hours, but she mustered the will to force herself to sit up, and then to haul herself upright. Gunther’s body lay still some feet away, and she did not have the heart to check him for signs of life, for she knew they could be none. Instead, she set off back down the road towards the village, hiding in ditches or behind trees whenever she heard people coming.

It took her several days, being so much smaller than Gunther and unused to movement, but at length she returned to the studio. She told the others what had happened, and they shared a communal outburst of shock, grief, horror, and fury. It was the final emotion that spurred them to action, and at the dead of night, the angels swarmed out of the studio. Those with wings took to the air, leading the rest towards the bandit’s hideout.

Many days later, Hans returned to the studio, and found it empty of both Gunther and the angels. A letter from the Court arrived, demanding to know where Gunther was, and why he had not heeded the summons. Hans set out along the road to the Court, and discovered a shallow grave not far from the road, a makeshift cross of twigs and an angel marking the spot. Hans recognised the statue from Gunther’s studio, although she’d had two wings the last time he’d seen her. He exhumed the body of his master, and sent word back to the village to have him reburied properly, along with the angel.

Hans himself continued on the way to Court, where stories of an alarming nature were being circulated among the shady underclasses. It seemed that a party of bandits had been set upon in the night, torn to pieces by some nameless creature, the only clue being a haze of clay fragments that dusted the remains. Hans said nothing, and after explaining the events to the King, returned to the studio to take over his master’s trade.

It did not take him long to decide to specialise in angels.

September 7, 2014

#BookReview – Dawn’s Bright Talons

Dawn's Bright Talons smlIt must be noted that, aside from a few exceptions (like Crooked Fang), I’m not usually a huge fan of vampire novels. That said, I can honestly put my hand on my heart and recommend Nerine Dorman’s latest, Dawn’s Bright Talons, with the most enthusiasm imaginable. It’s not often that I end up so engrossed in a book that I almost miss my stop on the train, yet this book managed exactly that.

Dawn’s Bright Talons is a dual point-of-view novel, told by both Isabeau and Michel. Isabeau starts out in the book as a dancer at the Moonlit Garden, while Michel is the vampire manager of his own theatre, the Hall of Mirrors. They’re thrown together through circumstances that neither of them could predict, and end up as small pawns in the games of power being played by the ancient vampires who run the city of Ysul.

The dual perspective and its exotic setting are, to my mind, the aces up this novel’s sleeve. Readers are given the opportunity to get to know both protagonists, and an interesting quirk eventually allows them to share the page, even when the other is not physically present. Ysul feels like a melting pot of every fantasy and alt-history city you’ve ever imagined, and it comes across like the meeting point of Anne Rice’s New Orleans and even Alexandre Dumas’ Paris.

As with all of Dorman’s work, Dawn’s Bright Talons is an inventive story that weaves a wider backstory as political machinations grind into gear behind the scenes due to the fallout that accompanied the city’s colonialisation. Bigger themes are at work here, and you can either read it as a fun vampire novel, or see deeper ideas. The vampires here are not the vapid pretty boys of Rice’s novels, but nor are they the ugly nosferatu of German Expressionism. Michel is a fairly useless vampire, being neither super strong nor well versed in his own lore, but this is precisely why he’s such a good protagonist – there is a very real possibility that he could fail, and badly. I wasn’t as keen on Isabeau, finding her narration a little implausible as she’s supposedly only around sixteen years old, and she takes longer to warm to. Still, there’s an interesting mythos in here that definitely requires further expansion.

It’s a fast-paced story, and I was struck by how much I could see exactly what was going on. It’s also highly engrossing, and I can’t recommend it enough. In fact, it gets a very rare 5 out of 5 from me!

If you’d like to try and win a copy of the book, check out Nerine’s guest post about it here, and leave a comment!

September 5, 2014

#FridayFlash – Père Lachaise

JimMorrisonGround mist crept along the avenues and lanes of the cemetery as the clock struck midnight, calling the luminaries to the Rond-point Casimir Périer. The shades of the great and good gathered around the monument, early arrivers taking up seats on the benches intended for the living that visited during the day.

A skeletal figure stalked to the centre of the circle, the bones of its left hand wrapped around a scroll. The figure, known only as the Monsieur, cleared his throat. No one knew exactly who he was, or had been, but the common belief was that he had been the first person buried in the cemetery. Why he adopted the form of a skeleton and not that of a phantom was beyond the understanding of any of the graveyard’s inhabitants, but either way, the Monsieur was a forceful presence. A hush descended on the gathering and the Monsieur uncurled the scroll.

“We have had a good day for visitors, my friends!” His voice was low and sonorous, echoing with the weight of the ages. A cheer went up from the assembled spectres.

“Does anyone have any interesting stories from the day, besides the usual tourists?”

A dapper gentleman clad in the garb of the third decade of the twentieth century stepped forward. A spontaneous round of applause rippled around the circle.

“Ah, Mr Méliès! Always a pleasure. How was your day?” asked the Monsieur.

“I did not have tourists, only film students. They left me some lovely letters. One of them even said that if it were not for me, there would not be a Lord of the Rings,” replied the gentleman.

“What is a Lord of the Rings?” asked the Monsier.

“It’s a trilogy of books, man. Someone must have turned it into a film,” replied the rock star who reclined on a bench.

“It must have many visual tricks if this student can link it to me,” replied Méliès.

“Then that is a very good day for you, Mr Méliès. Was there anything else?” asked the Monsieur, already scanning his list for visitor totals.

“Yes, just one. A girl with a strange accent had a small figure with her, and she took several photographs of this figure with my headstone.”

“What was the figure?”

“A sort of doll. I believe – and I know this sounds crazy – that it was some sort of Egyptian mummy.”

Nervous laughter broke out around the circle, but a loud Irish voice interrupted.

“I saw her too, beside my tomb. She thanked me for writing my books, and wanted to pass on greetings from her friends, Nerine and Carrie.”

The crowd turned to face the newcomer, a tall, familiar figure. The Monsieur nodded to him.

“Late as always, Mr Wilde, but you are welcome nonetheless. Have you any comments as to what we are to make of this person?”

“She is a writer, and writers are eccentric folk.”

The assembled shades laughed, well used to Oscar Wilde’s activities in the cemetery. The Monsieur nodded again and Georges Méliès stepped back among the crowd.

“I have the visitor totals for you all. Mr Wilde, you were yet again the second most visited tomb. Frederic Chopin was third, and Edith Piaf fourth.”

The dignified artist beside Méliès hung his head, and the filmmaker patted his arm.

“Never mind, Jacques. I heard someone say there is a party of art history students due tomorrow, and they will make a beeline for the great Jacques-Louis David! You’ll do well then,” he whispered. The artist nodded sadly.

“You don’t need to tell us who came first. Again,” said the composer beside Oscar Wilde. It was a constant source of irritation that the creator of the opera Carmen would continually fail when compared to a mere singer – and an American, at that.

“Indeed, Monsieur Bizet, our most visited resident for the day was Jim Morrison! Let him have a round of applause.”

The Monsieur bowed towards the singer. A smattering of applause broke out across the gathering, but irritated mutterings and whispered vexations ruined the moment.

“Hey, man, don’t get pissy with me. I don’t understand why these people come to visit me either. If I could send them your way, I would – they’re so noisy, I can’t get any sleep,” said the singer.

“I’m sure it’s a real chore,” replied Bizet, twisting his lip into a sneer.

“Has anyone ever stolen part of your grave? No. So quit whining.”

“Now now, gentleman. Tomorrow is another day, and the totals are reset to zero. We all have an equal chance of visitors, and you artists are always most popular than our distinguished scientists.”

“Has anyone got any suggestions about boosting visitor numbers? People need to know who we are. I don’t want to be forgotten,” said David, the melancholy artist. He was already slightly more transparent than Bizet, though not as transparent as some of the spectres around the circle. If he didn’t know who they were, how could visitors be expected to remember them?

“I overheard one of the visitors talking about putting photographs onto a thing called ‘Twitter’. Apparently anyone in the world can access them. Perhaps if people know where we are, others are more likely to come,” replied Wilde.

“It is something we will have to look into. For now, let us get some rest and reconvene here when the clock again strikes midnight!” The Monsieur clapped his hands and vanished, taking his scroll of visitor numbers with him.

The shades of the cemetery’s famous inhabitants drifted away, heading back to tombs, sepulchres and modest graves. Jim Morrison shook hands with Méliès, hugged Wilde, and ignored the jealous glares from his neighbours as he loped back to his grave. As he lay down and made himself comfortable, he chuckled that he had indeed broken through to the other side – though he could never have imagined it would be like this.

August 29, 2014

#FridayFlash – The Aether Shroud

By Mikhail Lomonosov (Unknown) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is part eleven of my Astral Mage serial, following The Tide Turns!

Artemuse couldn’t leave her body without raising Draumir’s suspicions, nor could she ride away so he wouldn’t notice when she entered the astral plane. She needed a distraction.

A thundering crash filled the air, and Draumir’s face blanched as he watched the Statue Army wipe out a company of his dead soldiers. Those who still possessed legs clambered to their feet and lumbered towards the militia, only to be knocked flying again by a stone mace or axe. The militia changed their strategy and began hacking off limbs to prevent the dead soldiers striking fatal blows.

Draumir turned away from Artemuse and the Queen, and Artemuse seized her chance. Mirage galloped away from the battle, dodging the blades. Artemuse pulled her cloak around her and allowed the feathers to become skin, her arms to become wings, her eyes to see further than ever. She took flight from the saddle, leaving Mirage to head to safety, and concentrated on the peculiar feeling of dizziness she’d felt up at the Vaal’kyr roost, particularly the heavy pull in her stomach when she realised where she was.

She knew she’d reached the astral plane when her vision cleared. She climbed higher to get a better view of the battle, and circled above the necromancer. Frustration emanated from him in black waves as the militia hacked at his dead soldiers, and he urged other corpses to rise. From here, she could see how he did it – he simply slammed the souls back into the dead bodies, and made them move.

Artemuse dipped lower and began to weave a spell. It was elegant in its simplicity – a shroud of aether to block the necromancer’s commands. In her old life as a healer, she’d used the shrouds to ease the passage into death, allowing the dead to sleep quietly. Now she was essentially doing the same. If she could block the commands long enough, the souls would depart and the necromancer would have nothing to slam back into the bodies.

The aether shroud dropped over the necromancer, settling like a blanket of snow. He turned, and looked at her, his eyes burning through the emptiness of the astral plane.

“Silly little mage. Do you think you can defeat me on your own?”

Before Artemuse could reply, a shadow rippled along the ground below her. A familiar shadow.

“She isn’t on her own, necromancer.”

Artemuse looked up to see the Vaal’kyr, returning now that they had chased the wraiths away. Anger blazed in Kione’s eyes, and Artemuse shivered, glad that the Vaal’kyr were on her side, and not against her.

“Vaal’kyr…we thought you were mere myth.” The necromancer’s voice faltered, and the confidence drained out of his pose.

“You thought wrong.” Artemuse swooped down and tore off the necromancer’s helmet. Beneath was a swirling mass of grey cloud that coalesced to form a face, and two eyes glared out from the shadows. The necromancer reached up to grab at Artemuse, his fingers brushing her wing, but she wheeled to attack again. There was one spell she thought might work – the only spell she’d hated working as a healer. The spell of soul banishment.

The necromancer formed a ball of astral energy, and threw it at Artemuse. It bounced off the inside of the aether shroud and rebounded, catching the necromancer square in the gut. He doubled over and dropped to his knees. Artemuse knew he wouldn’t be stupid enough to try it again, and this was her chance.

Kione dropped lower, and caught the edge of the shroud with one claw. Artemuse chanted the words of the banishment spell, her beak struggling to fully form the syllables, but she powered it with enough intent to knock a cyclone flat. Kione tore back the shroud as Artemuse chanted the final word, and directed the spell at the necromancer.

The cloud that had been his face collapsed in upon itself, the light of his eyes flaring once before winking out. His body crumpled, and his clothes piled into a heap on the ground. Across the battlefield, the dead soldiers also fell, the bodies vacant once more as their souls departed.

“You did well, Lady Owl.”

Artemuse turned to Kione.

“Is it over?”

“It is now. With no forces, Draumir will be taken under arrest, and in all probability left to rot in a dungeon somewhere.”

“Will I see you again?”

“It is unlikely, little one, although if you do, I hope it is under more positive circumstances.” Kione smiled before she turned to join the Vaal’kyr, already heading back to their roost in Rhodenius.

Artemuse watched them leave before she sought out Mirage. On impulse, she whistled, and he trotted through the wounded soldiers and confused militia towards her. She balanced on his saddle as her feathers became a cloak, and her wings receded to arms. Mirage cantered towards the Queen.

The Statue Army had already left the field, lumbering away across the Plains towards the City. Artemuse couldn’t see Eddister anywhere, but Draumir knelt on the ground, manacles around his wrists and ankles, and the captain of the militia’s sword against his neck.

“That was impressive work, Arti…whatever it was that you did. Draumir here is going to be coming back to the city with us.” The Queen smiled at Draumir, but there was no warmth in her expression.

“For imprisonment?”

“To stand trial. I will not be the Monarch my husband was.” The Queen climbed up into Prado’s saddle, and the company made its way across the field.

The people of Rhodenius gave them a rousing reception as they returned to the city. Feasts had begun in every quarter, and the militia dispersed to enjoy the festivities. Artemuse was to accompany the Queen back to the castle, and she looked longingly at her tower.

Something told her she wouldn’t be seeing it again for a while.

THE END

August 22, 2014

#FridayFlash – The Tide Turns

Combat de chevaliers dans la campagne by Eugène Delacroix

This is part ten of my Astral Mage serial, following on from Battle!

The Vaal’kyr needed no further encouragement. They dropped from the sky, plummeting towards Draumir’s troops. The wraiths scattered, and darted away towards the distant mountains. The Vaal’kyr swooped to tear the enchantments from the war trolls before racing after the departing wraiths.

Artemuse dipped to get a better view of Draumir’s forces. The professional forces swarmed forwards to tackle the Statue Army. The militia mopped up the few individuals that broke through as stone maces tore open the air and Draumir’s knights alike. Further back, the war trolls, no longer bound by any loyalty to their lord, swung their clubs with indiscriminate force, knocking Draumir’s peasants flying. It looked as though Draumir had underestimated the Rhodenius forces.

But he’d have taken the city if I hadn’t roused the Vaal’kyr.

She looked for the dread lord himself, and found him attempting to hack his way through a water funnel controlled by the Queen. Artemuse worried about the Queen being in battle, but she was a powerful mage. Surely if anyone could beat Draumir, it was her. He swung his sword in all directions, but the frothing water surrounded him. The Queen shouted something at him, but Artemuse couldn’t make out the words.

Satisfied that the Vaal’kyr had neutralised the threat on the astral plane, Artemuse flew back towards the Rhodenius forces. The Statue Army were fighting onwards, cleaving paths through Draumir’s lines. Rogue elements had climbed the statues and were chipping at the stone, but war swords were not made for mining and the statues picked them off like fleas. The militia moved forwards, engaging anyone they encountered.

She spotted Mirage standing further up the slope, watching the battle. She flew towards him, and he snorted as she dropped back into her body. Her fingers curled into Mirage’s mane, and the solid mass of his body felt comforting after her time as an indistinct spirit on the astral plane.

“I think we’re winning, Mirage.”

The horse shook his head and pawed the ground.

“What do you mean? The Vaal’kyr have chased the wraiths and the trolls are taking out Draumir’s own forces.”

The horse whinnied and swished his tail. A cold rock of fear settled her stomach.

“Draumir has something else up his sleeve, doesn’t he?”

Mirage nodded. Artemuse spurred him towards the battle. He picked his way through the fighting, dodging swords and stepping neatly around dying men. The Statue Army had worked their way almost entirely through Draumir’s lines, although many of the peasants had fled across the plains.

Another battle horn sounded, this one low and sonorous. It chilled the marrow of Artemuse’s bones, particularly when she realised it came from inside the water funnel. She rode up to the Queen, and even her jubilant expression faltered.

“That was Draumir’s horn but who can he have left to call upon?” she asked upon seeing Artemuse.

“I don’t know.” She gave an account of all she had seen from the astral plane, and the Queen frowned as Artemuse described Mirage’s reaction.

“I fear this will not end well.” The Queen maintained the water funnel with one hand while sending ice flares into the sky with the other. Artemuse guessed she was recalling the Statue Army, and sure enough they lumbered towards them through the remnants of Draumir’s forces.

“By the stars, look!” Artemuse pointed towards the mountains. A massive white horse picked its way through the dead and dying, but the mages were more concerned with the figure astride the horse. Gunmetal armour glinted in the fading sunlight, the visor down on a helmet shaped like a raven, its wings curved around to hide the nightmarish face within.

The Queen snatched the water funnel away from Draumir and concentrated on firing blasts at the approaching figure. Every jet of water fell short, or missed its target entirely.

“You might be able to contain me with your trickery, but not him.” Draumir laughed, a harsh sound of razors on rusty metal.

“Water magic doesn’t work on the dead.” The Queen’s voice rang hollow.

The men who had been twitching in their final death throes clambered to their feet in the figure’s wake. They shook themselves, and stretched their dead limbs. The dead wearing the colours of Rhodenius remained unmoving on the ground.

“You still won’t take the city.” The Queen tried to sound defiant.

“Your Vaal’kyr are gone, and your statues can’t fight forever. Your militia will tire before my dead men will. True, you struck a blow with the war trolls, but they’ve grown bored and left the field,” replied Draumir. “Before I end your forces, I only have one question. How did you know we were coming?”

“I have many advisors who can see further than you can imagine,” replied the Queen, cutting in before Artemuse could reply.

“Hm. An unsatisfactory answer. And who is this whelp you have with you?” asked Draumir, finally noticing Artemuse.

“My maid.”

Artemuse bobbed her head to Draumir as a mark of respect, but wondered at the Queen’s sudden denial of her abilities.

Arti, don’t be dense, she’s not telling him simply because you’re the only one who can stop him. Eddister’s voice sounded loud in Artemuse’s head, but when she looked around she couldn’t see the Guardian.

How? She mentally asked the question but tried not to look inquisitive.

Water magic doesn’t work on the dead, but astral magic does. 

Of course! It’s the realm of the soul! Artemuse could have kicked herself for not realising it sooner.

Go to it, my sweet one. We’ll hold him off as long as we can but you need to destroy that necromancer.

Artemuse looked at the sky, and imagined the way it looked on the astral plane, shot through with purple and silver. She needed to get there using her body. But how?

Continues next week!

August 21, 2014

What’s the appeal of vampires in fiction?

Dawn's Bright Talons smlI’ve always been a fan of Nerine Dorman, and I’m pleased to let her set up a stall here at the Cabinet of Curiosities to tell you all about her latest offering, Dawn’s Bright Talons. Take it away, Nerine!

A toothsome morsel…

Something for which I’m eternally grateful for at present is the fact that the whole thing about vampires seems to have died back. Tweelight fever is over. I don’t hear much about True Blood or The Vampire Diaries either. Vampire aficionados can breathe a sigh of relief while it appears that YA dystopia and perhaps even zombies have nearly run their course until the Next Big Thing comes along.

Who knows what that will be, but you can be pretty sure it won’t be vampires. At least for a while yet. And I’m hoping for it to be a while, because the vampire, in my mind is such a wonderful character to play with in fiction.

I used to love role-playing when I was younger, and I think if I had half a chance (and more time) I’d definitely have a regular gaming group going. At present, however, that’s not to be, and even when I still roleplayed a few years ago, I was a frustrated author at heart. Players kept destroying my carefully constructed plots whenever I was in charge of a campaign.

Which brings me back to vampires. As characters, they’re fantastic. There’s the slight case of immortality tempered with an allergy to sunlight (I’m a huge fan of giving characters serious flaws so that they’re not superhuman), and they have other aspects, that I often feel are underplayed, and I wish authors would look beyond the obvious.

A love affair between a human and a vampire can only end in a few ways: the vampire loves the human until they die; the vampire turns the human into a vampire; or the vampire finds some sort of way to turn human again. It’s old, my friends, old, old, old. What are some of the other cool things a vampire can do or be (besides a kickass private detective or rock star).

I’ve always loved the idea of vampires who are able to pursue their passions indefinitely due to their condition. This gives them a unique perspective through ages when others are ephemeral. What if you have a vampire who’s an archaeologist a la Indiana Jones? Or a vampire who has definite interests, like trying to get a space programme off the ground? What about a vampire who really enjoys his unlife instead of moping about a One True Love who died during the seventeenth century and now he’ll never get over it?

Perhaps a good starting point is to ask yourself, what would *you* do if virtual immortality was within your grasp? In fact, let’s hear from you, and let Icy be the judge. The best comment on this blog post receives a digital copy of Dawn’s Bright Talons, my most recent fantasy novel.

They are as night to day–but blood will tell when facing a common enemy.

A sought-after dancer in the upmarket Moonlit Garden, Isabeau Letier, has not given her future much thought. All that matters is the art of dance, and charming wealthy patrons into parting with a few extra coins. She has her exotic good looks and her youth. What could possibly go wrong?

When a mysterious nobleman pays her undue attention, Isabeau’s darker, bloodthirsty nature awakens and she kills him with her bare hands after he follows her home. Even worse, she drinks and enjoys his blood. Her brother, Eric, returns home to this disturbing tableau yet remains calm even as the corpse sifts to ash in the morning sun. Isabeau has no choice but to follow her sibling’s lead.

Not many people know that Michel Roux, owner of a slightly down-at-heel theatre in the District of Paper Lanterns, is a vampire. He prefers to keep things that way and steer clear of the petty politicking of the city’s vampiric subculture. When his estranged sire, Tomas, goes missing, and his grandsire sets him the task of solving the mystery, Michel is unwillingly dragged into all of the very dangerous games he thought he’d left behind him.

Isabeau and Michel become unlikely allies as they try to wriggle their way out of being the pawns in a game where they don’t know the rules. Isabeau’s ancient heritage is a danger, not only to herself, but to the established hierarchies at odds with one another in the city of Ysul, and the elders are desperate to either control her–or kill her.

As events unwind, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate friend from foe, and as the two flee for their lives they must also explore the true nature of the bond that they’ve forged and uncover the ages-old secrets that have pushed them onto this path. Warring factions are about to overturn centuries of custom, and two young people are marked to pay the price—in blood.

NerineThank you Nerine! You can buy Dawn’s Bright Talons on Amazon or Smashwords, and you can stalk Nerine on Twitter at @nerinedorman, or sign up for her newsletter here!

An editor and multi-published author, Nerine Dorman currently resides in Cape Town, South Africa, with her visual artist husband, and has works published by Kensington, Dark Continents Publishing, eKhaya, Tor Books and Immanion Press. She has been involved in the media industry for more than a decade, with a background in magazine and newspaper publishing, commercial fiction, and advertising. Her book reviews, as well as travel, entertainment and lifestyle editorial regularly appear in national newspapers. A few of her interests include music, travel, history, Egypt, art, photography, psychology, philosophy, magic and the natural world.

But why not try to win a copy? Simply comment on this post telling me what *you* would do if virtual immortality was within your grasp! The best comment on this blog post receives a digital copy of Dawn’s Bright Talons.

August 20, 2014

3 Reasons to love Sleek’s Arabian Nights palette

I think anyone who follows me on Instagram or Facebook will have seen photos this week of me showing off the eye makeup I’ve been doing using the new limited edition Arabian Nights palette by Sleek.

Isn’t this packaging gorgeous?!

As with all Sleek palettes, it contains twelve shades that are a mixture of ‘sparkly’ and matte. There are more shimmery shades than matte in this one, but they’re completely blendable. Note: I don’t use the applicators. It’s brushes all the way for me.

This is the first look I came up with. I used Scheherazade’s Tale in the corner, Sultan’s Garden over the eyelid, and Hocus Pocus at the outer corner and in the crease. I’ve also got Valley of Diamonds under the eye.

Then I tried this one out. This one features Gold Souk in the corner or my eye, blended into Aladdin’s Lamp across the eyelid, with Stallion at the outer corner, in the crease, and under the eye.

Today’s is this one. This one has Scheherazade’s Tale in the corner, Simbad’s Seas across the eyelid, and 1001 Nights in the crease, with Black Magic under the eye.

Here’s the finished look. As well as Sleek eyeshadow, I’m also wearing Rimmel eyeliner, Soap & Glory Thick & Fast mascara, Max Factor Face Finity foundation in Light Ivory, and Maybelline Super Stay lipstick in Beige For Good. My blusher is from the Body Shop but I couldn’t tell you what shade it is!

But what are my three reasons to love Sleek’s Arabian Nights palette?

1) Wearable!

The colours look really dark in the palette but I actually find they’re quite wearable, even during the day, especially if you use Scheherazade’s Tale or Gold Souk all over the eyelid.

2) Longevity!

The colours have tremendous staying power – bearing in mind I use Urban Decay’s Primer Potion on my eyes under my shadow, these colours really do stay put all day, and they remain vibrant for hours and hours.

3) The price!

The palette is only £7.99, and considering how many shades you get, and how well they last, I think that’s phenomenal value. I bought a four-shade palette from Illamasqua that’s worth £34 and it’s nowhere near as good as Sleek.

So there you have it. Do you wear Sleek? Have you tried the Arabian Nights palette yet? Which of these three looks do you like best?

August 19, 2014

Why I love my lomo camera

I bought a Diana Lomo Mini camera a little while ago, and in the few times I’ve used it, I’ve certainly become a fan! There’s something appealing about the unpredictable results, and considering how easy it is to ‘fix’ images that aren’t quite right in Photoshop, it’s quite nice to take a photo knowing there will be some sort of flaw in the final image!

I got my film processed a little while ago and scanned the negatives, so here are some of my favourite shots.

abandoned flower

This is an abandoned flower head that I found sitting on the stone shelf beside the aga in Belsay Castle, Northumberland. It lookeed so lonely.

belsay castle

And here’s Belsay Castle itself! Nature is slowly reclaiming the building.

light trails

Light trails – I took this photo out of a moving train as I was leaving London. When I first saw the negative I thought the squiggles were a fault with the film, until I scanned it and realised what they were!

pulled film

The view from a bus stop. This shot was right at the start of the film, hence the burns either side. I just couldn’t fake those sorts of light leaks with Photoshop.

sunlight

Enjoying a sunny day through a tree!

Do you shoot film, and if so, what camera do you use?