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Excerpt: DARK CHILD (COVENS RISING): EPISODE 4 by Adina West

Posted July 24, 2014 by Mark

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Kat brought her eyes back to Amber. “Am I still in danger?” she blurted. 
      “Of course you are.”
An unexpected visit from Kat’s grandmother adds a shocking twist to the unfolding mystery of her hybrid heritage. Add to this a romantic tangle of epic proportions and Kat’s visit to Akilina’s chateau in the idyllic Loire Valley is shaping up to be anything but relaxing. 
Kat’s powers are growing, and with war between the races looming new alliances are being forged. And everyone, it seems, wants Kat on their side …
This title is the fourth novella-length episode of Dark Child (Covens Rising), which will conclude with Episode 5. Please visit momentumbooks.com.au for further information.

Chapter 35

Kat woke to birdsong. The morning light streamed through a tall open window; a tasseled cord held back brocade curtains. Though Alek’s sable rug lay tumbled across the foot of the bed, the sheets and coverlet were crisp and unfamiliar, the room surrounding her equally so. She had a vague – very vague – memory of being carried downstairs from Sabine’s apartment by Alek, and being transported out of Paris by car. So this must be Akilina’s château. Her aunt hadn’t refused her entry, despite their disagreement last night – which, now she came to think of it, had probably been caused mostly by her being in a rotten mood because she was hungry and overtired. Right now, none of it seemed important enough to fight about. Akilina had one set of beliefs and Kat had another. Maybe they didn’t mesh, but it was hardly the end of the world. She stretched, yawned, and looked around.

There, on the other side of her bed, lying full length on top of the covers, was a familiar giant cougar. He regarded her sleepily through half-closed eyes, and when he saw her looking at him, started to make a rough, throaty rumbling noise. He was … he was actually purring.

She reached out to smooth her hand over the thick fur on his head, and he closed his eyes again, and nestled his head into the spare pillow. So Alek had found a way to stay past dawn, exactly as he’d promised. Funny to think how, only a short time ago, she’d found him terrifying in his cougar form. Now that she knew he wasn’t a wild animal and she was in no danger of being eaten alive, she was almost more comfortable with him when he was like this.

Kat pushed back the covers, and slid her legs out of the bed. Her bare legs. Her t-shirt, bra and panties were all there but her jeans definitely weren’t. She glanced back at Alek, but his eyes were closed, and the golden brown fur on his back rose and fell with his regular breaths. Any bet, it was Alek who’d stripped off her jeans before putting her to bed. Luckily, that was all he’d taken off. She’d been seriously out of it last night. She didn’t even remember arriving here. Being so dependent on others, so vulnerable, was frustrating as hell. She’d no doubt be rediscovering the joys of claustrophobic restrictions on her movements now the attacks on hybrids that Ionescu had predicted had begun in North America. Her protectors would be back on alert again.

Kat found her clothes, including her neatly folded jeans, in an armoire against the wall, and she changed her underwear and dressed quickly with a wary eye on Alek. At least she was feeling good this morning. More than good. Alek’s blood obviously packed more of a punch than Jonathan’s, which probably made sense. He was older and, from everything she’d seen, definitely more powerful.

When fully dressed, she went to stand by the bed. Alek opened one eye a crack to survey her. Not asleep then.

“I thought I’d go exploring,” she said. “I’ll be fine on my own, given it’s daytime and all.”

She expected a protest but he just rolled his head to the side and gazed at her sleepily. A pretty clear body-language signal that he didn’t mind what she did. “You don’t seem worried about me going wandering by myself.” She paused to eye him speculatively. Only last night he’d been the one telling Akilina she had to be moved out of Paris without delay. So why wasn’t he protesting against her leaving his sight? Kat rubbed her wrist absent-mindedly, moving her bracelets up and down. She frowned, then looked down at the one Luc had given her last night. On impulse, she covered it with her hand, pressing it into her skin. And then she could sense them out there, like pinpricks of light in her consciousness. Most of the Paris unalil were spaced evenly to form a distant perimeter around the house. The rest were in a group somewhere outside.

Kat rolled her eyes. “Let me take a wild guess. This entire place is ringed by unalil on guard duty, isn’t it?”

Alek answered with an expression that was probably a cougar’s version of a grin.

Kat shook her head with annoyed resignation, before heading for the door.

As she walked down the wide stone hallway, a memory returned to tickle her mind. Alek had said something to Akilina last night. Something about the others coming back. So, hopefully, that meant Alek’s unalil family were all here somewhere, even Amarok. Yesterday, for a brief moment on the train, she was sure their minds had touched. Was it really possible she had contacted Amarok somehow, even though he’d been hundreds of miles away? A sudden pang of homesickness rushed through her, a need for something familiar. Kat closed her eyes with that thought running strongly through her mind, and immediately sensed another, brighter spark.

She had no idea whether she was doing this mind-connection thing right, but sent a thought toward that familiar energy source. Amarok?

Waiting for you to wake up.

The reply came so immediately that she couldn’t doubt it was really him. And he was close. By concentrating, she found she could trace a path toward him, through the quiet building. The place was huge. Already she’d climbed a staircase and passed dozens of closed doors, and the scale of the hallways and foyers she’d gone through gave her an image of how big the rooms inside must be.

She rounded a final corner, and found Amarok, in wolf form, lying across the doorway of a room. He jumped to his feet when he saw her.

“Hey!” She bent down to put her arms around him, and he nuzzled the curve of her neck. Kat gestured at the partially open door. “Is this Amber’s room?”

Amarok nudged her behind the knees, and she pushed the door open a little more and stepped into the darkness. She paused a moment so her eyes could adjust, then crossed to the bed she saw against the far wall. Amber was nestled beneath the blankets, sleeping. Her expression was peaceful, her features porcelain smooth. There was nothing pinched or gaunt about her anymore, and she’d been both when they’d first rescued her. Kat stood silently by the bed for a while, but Amber didn’t move. Her chest rose and fell, in unhurried rhythm, as she slept.

Kat left the room quietly, then turned to Amarok, who was still waiting outside. “She looks so much better!”

She wants to speak with you, tonight.

Kat nodded, and pulled the door back to its previous position, slightly ajar.

“Can we … is there somewhere we can talk?” she said.

Amarok nodded his shaggy head.

“Good.” She stretched out her hand, and he touched it with his nose. “I have to do something first, though.”

Kat led the way downstairs, to where she could feel the Parisian unalil grouped near the house.

“Do you mind waiting here?” she asked Amarok, and then opened the final door leading out to a walled courtyard abutting the château. It was paved in weathered stone, with beds of rosemary and other herbs in a formal pattern. On the many paths crisscrossing it, half a dozen giant dogs were sprawled, soaking up the sun and resting.

Kat stepped outside, and the nearest, a huge, shaggy Leonberger, jumped to his feet. This one she recognized; even though she’d only seen him out of the corner of her eye for a moment, flying through the air yesterday morning, he’d kind of stuck in her memory.

“Luc,” she said, with a nod of greeting. “Thank you all for coming here and protecting me. I’m sorry I don’t know everyone’s names. I guess I’ll get to know you all with time.” Kat frowned as a sudden thought came to her. “Unless … ” She covered their bracelet with her right hand, and pressed it into her skin. She felt it get warm as she pulled energy from the sunlight around them. As she focused on each stone in turn, she realized they each contained their own unique energy, and she could feel those sparks, like a signature attached to the being they were linked to. It made sense; from what Akilina had told her last night, each stone contained an individual drop of blood. She could sense each of them and call to them in her mind, individually or – for their energies were interlinked with each other, as they were with hers – as a pack.

Can you all hear me? Asking the question felt a bit silly, like saying “Testing, one two three … ” into the microphone in front of a half-filled auditorium.

A chorus of acknowledgments met her; French, and Karpat, and muted canine growls. It didn’t seem to matter. The eyes of each of the huge dogs in the courtyard were focused brightly on her, and she could sense the others out there were also listening, beneath their shady trees and sprawled on top of stone walls.

I know you now. I know you all. She touched the mind of each in turn, and their names came to her. There was Emeka, the big barrel-chested russet mastiff over beside the fountain. The chocolate-coated pointer lying alongside a bed of sage and thyme was Thierry, and, with his floppy ears, he certainly looked less fierce than some of the others. Like Guy, the black Rottweiler, and Jaouad, the black and fawn Doberman beside him, both watching her alertly, ears pricked. Each was solidly muscled and looked bred for attack. And then there was Stéphane, a Carpathian sheepdog, who rose to his feet and shook himself before trotting over to stand beside Luc. He looked immense, though maybe that was just because of his abundance of shaggy gray and black fur.

Far away on the property perimeter were Julien and Rémy, one a speckled black and white setter and the other a chestnut-colored Irish setter. There was Kwasi, a light brown ridgeback, and, finally, Marcel, a lanky gray wolfhound. From each, she could sense both gratitude and devotion.

I’m getting to know you unalil males. Kat let her humor shine through their connection. You tend to be the type to protect first, ask questions later. But you need to know what sort of threat we’re facing.

Then she let the images flow from her mind to theirs: the memories she had all but repressed, of her battle back in the White Mountains with the enhanced monsters from the laboratories beneath the Hema Castus, of their subsequent trip to Hema Castus, and of the emaciated trapped seers, and, finally, the building collapsing in on itself, in ruins.

You must all have heard about the attacks on Tabérin hybrids in America. We don’t know if or when the Directorate threat will find us here. But from something Luc said, I gather you all have your own history with them, and I’m asking you to remember that we are few, and you’re all valuable to me. Dont take unnecessary risks with your own safety to protect mine. We talk before we fight, and, as Ive shown you, when I need to, I can protect myself. Okay?

Again, a chorus of acknowledgments, tinged with respect this time. They’d heard rumors, heard part of the story, but most of what she’d shown them had been unknown to them.

As she finished, Luc separated himself from the rest. The big dog came right up to her, and bowed his shaggy head, butting his black nose gently against her leg. She could feel his approval of what she’d just shared. She hadn’t liked reliving some of those moments, but these males – however new to their roles – were now her inner circle. In a funny way, she felt, they were her ‘pack’. They wouldn’t respect her leadership without knowing what she was capable of, and given the critical nature of the threat they were facing, it was imperative that they work as a team.

As Luc raised his eyes to meet hers, she smiled, and ran her hand through the fur on his neck. There’s someone I’d like you all to meet.

“Amarok?” she called.

 

 

 

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Excerpt: DARK CHILD (COVENS RISING): EPISODE 3 by Adina West

Posted July 17, 2014 by Mark

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The hunger was worse every day, and now there was only a whisper-thin line holding her back from a dark red sea. 
      “You would feed me?” Her voice came out so husky and low that it was a wonder he heard her.
In Paris, Kat hears of horrifying events back in the States. The leader of the Directorate is openly attacking those with mixed Tabérin and human blood. Hybrids like her. And chances are he’ll be turning his attention to Europe next. 
Kat knows she needs to go into hiding again. But then her Tabérin aunt, Akilina, reveals something about Kat’s heritage that changes everything. If Akilina is right, the Directorate will stop at nothing until they have eradicated Kat and the threat she represents. No matter how many they have to kill to get to her …
As the threat from the Directorate intensifies, Ben and Yara barely escape the US with their lives. But being trapped together on a boat bound for Europe could prove much more dangerous than anticipated. Because one of them is in transition, and needs to feed …
This title is the third novella-length episode of Dark Child (Covens Rising), which will conclude on July 31 with Episode 5. Please visit momentumbooks.com.au for further information.

Chapter 24

Amarok stood staring out into the darkness. Forest smells drifted in on the early evening breeze, and the stone balustrade was cold beneath his forearms. The snow-capped peaks of Slovenia’s highest mountain range rose behind him and continued on toward the border with Austria and Italy in the north-west, while Lake Bled lay far to the east, three thousand feet below. Despite the troubling circumstances that had brought them there, he liked this remote castle of Aron’s. It was too long since the family had spent time here.

Amarok, where are you? I need you.

Kat’s words reverberated through his head, and, for a brief instant, he was aware of her surroundings in far-off Paris: a railway carriage, and her feelings of uncertainty and fear.

Kat? He felt her register his shock at the sudden contact, and in the next instant, she was gone, the brief connection between them sundered. Amarok hesitated only a second before hurrying to see his sister.

“I was just coming to look for you,” Della said when he entered the room. “Things have taken a bad turn.”

“She’s worse?” He went to the bedside to see for himself.

Amber’s eyes were open, but she was staring up sightlessly, mumbling to herself.

“No.” Della shook her head. “She’s fine – I think. But she’s in a vision state of some kind. Something bad is happening elsewhere.”

“Does this have something to do with Kat?” Amarok asked. “I was coming to see if Amber was awake, and ask her what she sees for Kat, because I’ve just received a cry for help.”

“What do you mean, received?”

Amarok tapped his head.

Della’s eyes widened. “Kat contacted you? It was more than a decade before I could establish a reliable psychic connection even with Corrin, who I was so intimate with. With you all, as you would be aware, it took much longer.”

“It was only for an instant.” Amarok frowned. “As if she didn’t quite know how to do it properly. But I’m sure it was real. I saw her on a train.”

Della nodded, her eyes troubled,  and then looked down at Amber’s face. “Perhaps you could try to talk to her. She may respond to you.”

“She’s crying!” Amarok said in wonder. And it was true. Silent tears were streaming down Amber’s cheeks, dampening the pillow beneath her.

He laid his hand against one cheek and leaned down to kiss her on the forehead.

Amber blinked, and looked up at him with recognition. “Brother, I see so much death.”

Amarok gripped the pillow beside her head. “Kat. Not Kat?” he demanded.

Amber shook her head from side to side. “No, this happens far away, across the ocean. Whole families slaughtered.”

Della directed a shocked glance at him. “Who?” she asked. “Is there anything we can do?”

Amarok smoothed back Amber’s hair with a gentle hand. “Who is doing this? And who are the targets of this violence?”

“Our distant kin. Our Tabérin blood. Too many to help. Too many to save.” Amber blinked away tears. “But we must be ready to receive the survivors.”

Amarok exhaled, and shared a look with Della across his sister’s bed. He touched Amber’s cheek gently. “Amber, is Kat in any danger? She … communicated with me tonight. She was afraid.”

Amber stared off into the distance, and shook her head at last. “No physical danger. But she will need us. We shall go to her tonight.” She frowned, and looked up at him, her expression troubled. “Alek is already in Paris. He can get to her faster. Why have you not sent him to her, silly Amarok?”

“Sometimes, you see too much,” Amarok said grimly. He bent and kissed her again. “I’ll contact him now.”

“Amarok?” Amber called as he turned to leave. “The covens will rise. All this death will bring the witches out of hiding. There are dark days ahead, and Katerina will need our faith now more than ever.”

Amarok was troubled as he returned to the quiet balcony he’d been on when disturbed by Kat’s call for help. He wasn’t yet sure of the link between the deaths Amber had seen in her vision and the witches. But, given the violent history between the Tabérin and the Families of Power, any mention of them wasn’t good.

*

Establishing a connection with Alek was ridiculously easy, though Alek growled at the intrusion.

What do you want?

Nice to see you still excel at the small talk, brother. Amber’s been getting visions. Something very bad is happening back in America. Find out what you can. But be careful – she also warned of retaliation by the witches.

Amarok wished the next part of his message was as easy to raise with Alek, though he knew Amber was right. If Kat needed protectors, Alek was closest. Maybe his reluctance had something to do with the fact that Alek had received a phone call last night that had sent him hightailing it back to Paris, only he’d refused to tell anyone what was going on.

Spit it out. What is it you’re so reluctant to ask me?

Amarok could hear the amusement coming from Alek. It was impossible to hide feelings from each other when engaged in this sort of connection, and clearly, his own conflicting motivations were coming across loud and clear. Kat had called to him, not Alek. It frustrated him no end to be sending Alek to do a task he’d have infinitely preferred to reserve for himself. But, with Amber still in a fragile state, Amarok’s loyalties were divided. Alek’s were not.

Kat needs backup. You’re closest.

Got it. And then Alek cut their connection.

It could have been worse. He’d expected to feel gloating triumph radiating from Alek at gaining the upper hand in their ongoing tussle, and he’d been spared that. Mostly he was annoyed at himself. For years, he’d been selfless in his protection of Kat. But lately, especially where Alek was concerned, he had trouble putting his own needs last. Perhaps Alek’s innate competitiveness had awoken his own, and realizing what he had to lose had shown him how much it was worth fighting for.

Amarok sighed, and turned to go back inside. Amber had made her pronouncement, so they would travel tonight.

 

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Dark Child (Covens Rising): Episode 3 is available now where all good ebooks are sold

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Dark Child (Covens Rising): Episode 1 is available FREE where all good ebooks are sold

 

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Go back to where it all began with Dark Child (Awakening): Episode 1 available now for FREE where all good ebooks are sold

 

 

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The genre kids are all right

Posted July 15, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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So when I’m not writing posts here I’m actually living a whole other secret life full of action, teaching secondary students about books and writing and stuff. Kind of like Batman. Just without the hero status and heaps of money. But otherwise just like Batman.

Anyway, one of the enviable tasks I get is to introduce fifteen year olds to the subject of Literature. Which means a type of explanation needs to occur where what distinguishes Literature from ‘normal’ English is clarified, and why the books read in Literature are different to those read in English.

It’s a strange conversation, and it’s noticeable just how much the students struggle to articulate the difference between something that is literary and something that isn’t. To be honest, I’m not sure if I have yet worked out a way of making this point clear. What is clear is that they quickly discover that they need to divide their reading, between what is serious and worthy of study, and what is enjoyable.

I loathe this moment. The point where teenagers feel they must put away childish reading and grow up, as if that’s what literary means. Yet we see this distinction reflected everywhere.

In her piece for Slate, ‘Against YA’, Ruth Graham argues that adults should be embarrassed for reading a novel targeted for a younger audience. Titles like Divergent and Twilight and The Fault In Our Stars are singled out for being pleasurable yet trivial moments of escapism, and far beneath a mature and ‘adult’ sensibility.

A cursory glance at the book reviews in last weekend’s papers reveals something in the region of seventeen titles that would appear on the literary end of the bookshelf, and three toward the genre end (if one is running with the literary-genre dichotomy). Of the three genre reviews, two are under 200 words long, compared to the 800-plus afforded to the literary reviews. The genre titles are described as ‘taut’, ‘terse’, and ‘well-structured’, whereas the literary are allowed to look at ‘complex and persistently myth-confused questions’, with characters who are ‘witnesses to extraordinary revolutions [yet] resigned to their fate.’

Even more, one of the genre titles is unfavourably held against Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch – which is comparable neither in plot, style or genre – and Charles Willeford, whose entries into the genre have been around long enough to earn literary esteem.

Okay, maybe it was a bad weekend. But I hazard not. We seem unable to escape this idea that one type of book is worthy, and another not. That one type gets all the ink and the awards and the measured reflection, the other is sidelined and measured against redundant standards. One gets festivals, the other conventions.

And when one might stray into the other, there’s short shrift that borders on disdain.

But I think there’s something in this idea that (some) people view genre as childish, and therefore embarrassing to read – as Graham suggested – and that it is a guilty pleasure and we should really be above such indulgences. It’s the moment I see in the classroom, when the students feel like their childhood imagination is being frowned upon.

It’s hard not to see why.

With almost clockwork regularity, the books that top the lists of favourite/best/most acclaimed young fiction are distinctly genre titles. They involve magic, talking animals, imaginary lands made real, wizards and witches and adventures through time and space. There are distinctly dystopian stories, and others that are pure fantasy, others that push magic-realism into childhood imaginations, and collisions between one genre and another, between one real world and one entirely fantastic.

And like that, we ask it all to stop. All these award-winning titles must then be shelved, and we must go and read serious things. And yes I know we don’t, but this is the illusion that is presented. This is the fallacy that is created by calling a subject Literature, by classifying and critiquing one set of stories one way, and others entirely differently.

What is so wrong about the types of stories we read as children that so many are afraid to recognise their worth as adults? Why can we easily view The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe alongside Anne of Green Gables in children’s book lists, yet shudder at Doctor Sleep occupying the same space as The Perfect Scent, as ABC’s The Book Club did recently?

If we consider genre titles to be enjoyable, even necessary for children, there is something in that for us adults. In spite of the limitations of a subject called Literature, the one thing I try to impress on my students is that once upon a time, Romeo and Juliet was popular, genre fiction. As was (and is) Frankenstein. The only reason they can be classified as ‘literary’ now is the good grace of time, and familiarity.

The stories that last are the important ones, and the ones that will last are the ones we read the most. And just like Batman, they may not be the books we feel we need but instead they’re the books we deserve. And keep coming back to.

 

 

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Podmentum: Thronementum

Posted July 11, 2014 by Mark

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We’ve done specials on Star Trek and Doctor Who, now we bring you a special episode all about Game of Thrones! We discuss the TV series and the books with special guests, including former Podmentum host Anne Treasure. This is also Mark Harding’s final episode as host. Oh, and massive spoiler warning for Game of Thrones.

 

Recommendations:

Anne 

Death, Sex & Money podcast

Patrick

Words of Radiance: The Stormlight Archive Book 2 by Brandon Sanderson

Joel

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Mark

Orphan Black

 

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Excerpt: DARK CHILD (COVENS RISING): EPISODE 2 by Adina West

Posted July 10, 2014 by Mark

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In her dreams, she craved fresh blood. Warm human blood. And her incisors were long, sharp – able to bite through a fragile layer of skin with ease. What sort of monster does that make me?
Kat discovers that her presence in Paris isn’t such a secret anymore. But if she has to battle the Directorate again, it seems she’ll have much more support this time. Some of it from the most unlikely sources.
Meanwhile, teenage loner Ben discovers that he has much more in common with Yara Fortes, the girl of his dreams, than he ever hoped. But in a cruel twist of fate, the shared secret that links them together could also get them killed …
This title is the second novella-length episode of Dark Child (Covens Rising), which will conclude with Episode 5 on July 31. Please visit momentumbooks.com.au for further information.

 

Chapter 13

In English Lit class on the morning after his nocturnal excursion, Ben sat at the desk across from Yara, instead of in his normal position near the back. He was still high on adrenalin. He’d hardly been able to sleep after returning home last night and, even now, hours later, he was sure his pulse was elevated above normal – though that may have been for another reason.

“Yara.” He spoke in a piercing whisper, and she cocked her head slightly in his direction, while continuing to face forward.

“I’m sorry about last night at your house. The lights and the dogs and everything.”

She turned to face him in a flash, high spots of color in her cheeks. “What? That was you? You idiot, Ben, do you have any idea how dangerous … ”

“I’ll be more careful next time. Shhh,” he hissed, finger to his lips as he turned back to the teacher.

“Next time? Are you crazy?” Her voice had risen above a whisper now.

“Yara Fortes, eyes front, please!”

Yara gave a last meaningful glance in Ben’s direction. She was clearly biding her time until class ended. As soon as the bell rang, though, Ben escaped from the room. He didn’t want to give her the chance to spend any more time convincing him not to do something he was absolutely determined to do.

*

All the shutters were closed when he arrived home from school. Falcon was up early. Ben walked through to the kitchen and found his guardian waiting for him, his broad shoulders and long legs looking too big for the chair at the kitchen table. Ben rarely ever saw Falcon just sitting like a normal person. He usually went to work soon after rising for the night, and didn’t return until close to dawn. The rest of the time he spent sleeping in his heavily shuttered room.

So, Falcon sitting there at the table already made Ben suspicious. His next words proved there was reason to be.

“Any plans for tonight?” As usual, Falcon’s tone was calm, but the eyes that surveyed Ben were sharp and knowing.

Ben measured him, trying to guess how much Falcon already knew without betraying anything by his own expression. He kept his mind carefully blank as he answered.

“Ah, not really. Why, do you have a night off?”

“Funny.” Falcon’s tone suggested it was anything but.

They continued to stare at each other and, despite his best efforts, Ben felt himself growing faintly defensive. Damn, he hated it when Falcon did the waiting thing. Ben always caved in first. But this time he was determined not to give anything away if he could help it.

“So … ” Falcon continued in an offhand way. “You weren’t planning another trip to the Fortes house tonight, by any chance?”

“How did you know?” Ben burst out. He was absolutely certain he hadn’t let a single stray thought enter his mind. Over the years, he’d had plenty of practice at blocking out unwanted thoughts.

Falcon glanced down with a secret smile, and then gave a little shrug, as if the answer was obvious. “GPS tracker in your Vespa.”

“Damn. That’s really sneaky, you know that?”

Ben tried to feel angry about it, but couldn’t. It was so like Falcon. No matter what you did, he was always one step ahead, even if it was through using something prosaic, like a piece of human technology. It might have been a complete invasion of privacy, but Ben knew that, ultimately, anything Falcon did was for his own protection.

“Ben, I don’t want to be breathing down your neck, but I’ve got to ask you not to go back there. It isn’t safe.”

“Why?” Ben knew by his tone that Falcon wasn’t talking about the motion-sensor alarms and lights, or the guard dogs, though most people would have thought them reason enough.

Falcon’s eyes met his, the warning in them clear. “They’re not a normal family. Mess with them and it’s trouble, big trouble. And I mean the kind we’ve been trying to avoid for you. What on earth were you doing there?”

Ben’s eyes fell to the ground. He was silent for a moment. Then he faced Falcon, his expression serious. “I already know they’re not a normal family. Yara’s like me, I think. Part Tabérin. And she’s in trouble. Someone in that house … they’re making her drink blood, even though she hates it and it makes her ill.”

Falcon’s eyes narrowed. “And Yara would be … who? The girl from Italian class?”

Ben nodded.

“Let me guess. Yara Fortes?”

He nodded again.

“You like her?”

Ben didn’t want to answer that, but his response was plain from the dark red staining his cheeks.

Falcon swore softly under his breath, and shook his head disbelievingly. “Next time, could you maybe pick someone whose father doesn’t work for the Directorate? Ben, if she’s Victor Fortes’s kid, this is something we really don’t want to get involved in. Especially now.” He frowned. “Some stuff happened recently that caused a lot of tension at work. This is a really bad time to be attracting attention, especially with a background like yours or Yara’s. I want you to promise me you won’t go back in there. It’s too dangerous.”

“I don’t care if it’s dangerous,” Ben said stubbornly. “She’s on her own in a virtual prison. I have to help her.”

He faced Falcon, letting his clear recollection of every interaction between Yara and him float to the top of his mind: the dreams she was having, the way she’d reacted when she cut herself, her narrowed gaze as she caught him watching her in the library and, finally, Yara forcing down the glass of blood, and curling up in pain on the bed in her room.

He knew Falcon was reading his memories, because he gave a grunt, and swore again.

“Like I said, trouble. If she is Victor’s kid and she’s half Tabérin like you, it could be he’s trying to force her transition through feeding her blood. That’s just a theory, mind you, because it’s a godawful, ill-advised thing to attempt, in my opinion.” Falcon fell silent. Ben wished he could see past his ever-present emotional mask and guess what he was thinking.

At last, Falcon shook his head. “Dammit, Ben. Okay, but not tonight. Tonight, you don’t go near the place. We’ll do it my way – in a few days.”

Ben couldn’t believe his luck. Falcon was definitely the kind of person you wanted on your side when doing this kind of operation – but they’d never, ever done anything like this together before.

“You’ll help me? You can get time off work?” He knew that whatever it was his guardian did every night in his job with the Directorate, it didn’t usually leave him time for anything else. Not till now, anyway.

Falcon’s voice was his habitual rough growl. “I’ll make time.”

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Dark Child (Covens Rising): Episode 2 is available now where all good ebooks are sold

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Dark Child (Covens Rising): Episode 1 is available FREE where all good ebooks are sold

 

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Go back to where it all began with Dark Child (Awakening): Episode 1 available now for FREE where all good ebooks are sold

 

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Excerpt: DARK CHILD (COVENS RISING): EPISODE 1 by Adina West

Posted July 3, 2014 by Mark

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Kat Chanter isn’t your ordinary girl. And she isn’t your ordinary vampire, either. The ruthless Directorate would go to any lengths to have her power – including murder. And when that leads to a war between races, Kat’s fate becomes the ultimate prize …
Kat is done with being on the run, or so she hopes. A new pathology job in Paris is her big chance to start afresh, far from the Tabérin Directorate who want her dead. Sure, adjusting to life as a half-vampire, half-human hybrid in transition poses its own challenges, but it’s nothing Kat can’t handle … until the past starts to catch up with her.
When she’s approached by one Tabérin male from her past, she can explain it away. But add in another territorial Tabérin with a newfound conscience and it’s starting to get crowded on Kat’s Montmartre window ledge. Past experience tells Kat to be cautious, especially in her vulnerable state. But how can she tell friend from foe?
Perfect for fans of The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, Dark Child (Covens Rising) is the highly anticipated sequel to the best-selling urban fantasy novel Dark Child (The Awakening). This title is the first novella-length episode of Dark Child (Covens Rising), which will conclude with Episode 5 on July 31. Please visit momentumbooks.com.au for further information.

 

Chapter One

The wave of dizziness swept over her without warning. Hang on, girl. Katerina Chanter clung to the stainless steel surface in front of her and closed her eyes, fighting off the nausea that followed. Not again.

“You okay?”

Kat opened her eyes to see the freckled face of Eoin, her Irish workmate, tilted in her direction. It was just the two of them here in the hematology lab of the American Hospital of Paris, and right now Eoin was watching her with a perplexed frown, waiting for her response. He mimed drinking from a glass, and grinned.

“Been on the sauce again, Kat?”

She gave the smile she knew he expected. “Huh, I wish. Just low blood sugar, I think.” She’d thought the lies would get easier with time, but it turned out they didn’t – however necessary they were. It wasn’t like she could tell cheerful Eoin, with his mop of curly dark hair and infectious smile, that what she really needed was a hit of blood, pronto.

“Go on then.” He nodded toward the lab door. “Take your lunch break early. Go and get something to eat. Bloods from the oncology clinic aren’t due back for an hour, at least. I can cover until then.”

Kat battled against the helpless frustration that welled up as she walked through the hospital hallways toward the exit. She’d been trying to stay heedful of the calming advice Amber had given her shortly before the seer had left Paris. Own your present, Amber had said. But living in the here and now, avoiding her painful memories of the past and her fears for the future, would be so much damned easier if her body wasn’t constantly reminding her of how vulnerable she was, caught in this pre-transition state: half human and half not.

A sense of uneasiness halted her part way along the final hallway, and the back of her neck prickled in awareness of being watched. She turned to look behind her, and the place was, of course, full of people. Patients in transit between wings, trailing their IV fluid stands. A cleaner or two, and a group of surgical staff in scrubs, deep in conversation. Nobody who shouldn’t have been there. Nobody’s watching you, she told herself firmly. But still the feeling lingered, and when she turned to resume her path to the door, she walked a little faster than before.

Kat took a deep breath of fresh air as she exited the hospital and headed out into the sunlight. She’d been in this job for less than a week, and in Paris for only a few days longer. The threat to her life from the Tabérin Directorate was something she and her protectors all hoped they’d left behind in America. Especially since they’d gone to the extra trouble of faking her death before they fled to Europe. With any luck, her cell phone and engraved bracelet had already been discovered in the rubble of the Directorate’s Hema Castus Institute, and they’d have crossed her off their hit list. Nobody except her protectors knew she was in Paris, and even they had left her now the threat was over. Char and Jonathan were running a new club in York, in northern England. Alek and Amarok and their unalil family had gone somewhere remote, to aid in Amber’s recuperation. The last to leave had been Akilina, her hyper-vigilant aunt, who’d retired to her château in the Loire Valley last week – close enough to come rushing back if Kat needed her.

But now, Kat was forced to acknowledge that there was a huge difference between a threat that no longer existed and one that was merely … deflected. She had some freedom, yes, but only during the daytime. Come nightfall, she had to be safely home behind locked doors. No exceptions. Because the Directorate were still out there, and if she made even one misstep, they’d be onto her.

The constant vigilance was wearing away at her nerves. Making her jump at imagined shadows, even in the middle of a sunny spring day like today. This was supposed to be a fresh start, which was exactly what she’d told Alek she wanted, the night before he’d left Paris with the others. A fresh start, with the past safely behind her – and that past definitely included the golden-haired cougar shifter, and the painful confusion he always seemed to inspire in her. Of course, after Alek had left Paris, she’d found the bracelet he’d left for her. And she hadn’t quite been able to bring herself to take it off since.

Her health problems seemed similarly difficult to leave behind. As she headed away from the hospital, down the tree-lined Boulevard de la Saussaye, Kat mulled over her ‘symptoms’. The dizzy spells, the nausea – she couldn’t ignore the fact that they were happening more often. Even now, walking too fast was making her head swim. Were these symptoms of impending transition, or something else, as yet undiagnosed?

It was frustrating that these problems hadn’t gone away even though, despite initial reluctance, she’d been religiously following the regime Akilina had laid out for her. Before agreeing to leave Kat in Paris, Akilina had insisted she agree to take daily doses of blood that the Tabérin elder’s blood-made ‘daughter’, Sabine, was sourcing through a hospital contact. Kat’s current independence … living in Montmartre with Sabine, her new job at the hospital … it had all been contingent upon setting her aunt’s mind at ease.

“Not only have you been through an ordeal, it seems clear your body is preparing for transition. A normal human diet cannot sustain you. And I don’t want you taking the Directorate doses, even if we could source extra for you. It’s treated, and denatured. You must have fresh human blood.” Akilina’s expression had been so serious that Kat felt it was easier just to accede to the request. It seemed pretty clear that if she hadn’t, her aunt would have rethought the whole plan to leave her alone with Sabine and decided to stay to keep an eye on things. That was not what Kat wanted. She appreciated her aunt’s concern for her, she really did. Though their connection was recent, she couldn’t ignore the wishes of the woman who was her only link to the father she’d never known. Still, having someone around who was so concerned, so protective, was sometimes a little … claustrophobic.

Kat arrived at her favorite lunch place near the hospital, a modest bistro on one of the River Seine’s small islets, Île de la Jatte. She slid into her usual seat, giving a grateful smile to the waiter seating her. He was the main reason she kept coming back here; he seemed to have taken a liking to her on her first visit, and fast, attentive service in Paris wasn’t something to be taken lightly – especially when you had limited time for lunch. She ordered the plat du jour, like she always did. It was hard to pass up two courses at such a reasonable price. Since starting this job last week, she’d been eating her biggest meal at lunch, and for dinner having soup from a big batch she made every few days. Having her appetite back was one thing she was glad of. It seemed when she was supplementing her diet with a good dose of O positive every day, she could eat normal fare without it tasting like cardboard. She still found herself zoning in on the meat dishes every time, though.

Her steak and fries arrived quickly, and she cut into the meat as soon as the waiter had turned away. As she’d requested, it was ‘au bleu’, or rare. Very rare. The way she always needed it these days.

As she raised the fork to her mouth, she noticed her hand was shaking, and it didn’t become steady until she’d almost finished the steak. She tried not to let it worry her, but it was unnerving having her body give such clear signs that it wasn’t coping. Not on one dose of blood a day, anyway. She finished her steak, and picked at a few of the fries, then looked up and caught the waiter’s eye. He hurried over to remove the plate, and then brought her dessert; tarte tatin with thick cream. She was a bit addicted to the upside-down apple pie, which seemed to be served everywhere in Paris.

Her waiter lingered to hold the door for her as she gathered her things and left. Very thoughtful, as always.

The walk to the hospital seemed half the distance on her return journey. The same body she’d been dragging along before lunch was weightless now, and she was uncomfortably aware of the connection between this and the meat she’d just eaten. Like the symptoms it corrected, it was happening too often to ignore. But, just lately, it seemed that even a good meal of red meat didn’t make her feel better for longer than a couple of hours.

She sighed. Maybe it was time. What she was doing now clearly wasn’t working … but, given her aunt’s protectiveness, she wasn’t thrilled by the thought that her logical next step was to call Akilina for help. Still, she couldn’t ignore the possibility that the elder’s blood was the only thing that would work for her now, anymore than she could face the counter possibility: that nothing would work.

Kat entered the coolness of the hospital, and passed a white-garbed orderly who was adjusting a wheelchair. The tang of his sweat assaulted her, and she knew with a certainty she couldn’t explain that he’d had curry for dinner the night before, and started his day with black coffee. She continued down the hallway to the pathology department, rounded a corner, and swung open the door to the hematology lab. Eoin called out a greeting and reached for a clipboard.

“Hope you’re feeling better, because the oncology bloods have come in. A big batch.” He walked over and handed her the clipboard with a wink. “Be a star, and start while I grab a bite to eat? I haven’t been out yet.”

Was it her imagination, or did he seem a little flustered? Kat’s nostrils flared as she caught the scent of stale perfume on his shirt collar. Having met his wife Lainey a couple of days ago when she’d come to take Eoin out to lunch, she recognized a trace of the fragrance she wore. But there was another, fresher scent too, though Kat knew Lainey was away in Dublin. She’d only chatted to the woman for a few minutes, but Kat had liked Lainey instantly; she was the type to face everything with a smile, to see the best in everybody.

Even, probably, to see the best in a philandering husband.

“Kat?” Eoin prompted.

She forced herself to meet his eyes. It was none of her business why he was late going to lunch, and why his jacket smelled like Audrey, the nursing unit manager from oncology. No matter how much she wanted to say something, to exhort him not to do this to his lovely wife, she couldn’t. It wasn’t her place. Especially not when her suppositions were based on abilities that weren’t human. For a moment, she fancied she heard Eoin’s heart beating, a hurried staccato thump thump thump thump thump.

She took the clipboard with a forced smile. “Sure, I’ll go ahead and start. Enjoy your lunch.”

As soon as the door had closed behind him, Kat dropped the clipboard onto the stainless steel counter with a clatter, and sank onto a stool. Her hand went straight to her rune necklace, and she pressed it hard against her chest, closing her eyes and taking deep, slow breaths.

It’s not normal, a worried little voice in her head taunted her, in a refrain she knew all too well by now, but then another part of her cut in with a relaxed southern drawl. Honey, you ain’t never been normal.

“Ain’t that the truth,” she said aloud to the empty lab, with a wry smile, and went over to her handbag to retrieve a small sample tube.

At least, with Eoin gone, she could do her daily check on the blood sample she’d taken from herself when she’d started work here. She hadn’t centrifuged it. She hadn’t refrigerated it. In fact, in every regard she’d done the opposite of her training. The sample should be degraded. If it had been normal human blood, the cells would have broken down by now.

She drew a small amount of blood from the sample tube, and prepped a slide. When she slid it under the microscope, and focused – well, she couldn’t say she was completely surprised by what she saw, seeing as it was the same thing she’d seen every day so far. The blood sample was still perfect. Completely abnormal in its concentrations, with its huge overabundance of elongated platelets and shortage of red cells. But otherwise perfect. Not a hint of hemolysis. Despite her having exposed them to sunlight, and frozen and rethawed them, and dipped them in boiling water, the red cells looked as smooth-walled and robust as they had on the day she’d taken the sample. Five days ago.

She disposed of the slide, sealed the tube again, and returned it to her bag with a sigh. So, basically, her blood was super blood. It could live outside her body for days on end, even under the most extreme conditions. Maybe at least part of that could be explained by her Tabérin heritage. She’d never had the chance to get any Tabérin blood under the microscope, and the scientist in her itched to confirm her hunch that all Tabérin blood had a similar platelet and red cell profile to hers. It also made sense that the blood of a near-immortal being would be able to withstand a heck of a lot more punishment than a human blood sample.

But something still stood out as strange. During her short stint at the Hema Castus Research Institute, back in New York, the windowless lab and all the protocols her workmates had introduced her to had made one thing very clear; the scarce blood samples they were studying, the two other samples with elongated platelets, just like hers, couldn’t tolerate even the tiniest amount of sunlight. It wasn’t a leap to assume that those blood samples had been from other hybrids, those with both human and Tabérin blood. And that Tabérin blood, like the Tabérin race, was fatally compromised by sunlight. So far, Kat thought, her reasoning made sense.

But she’d left her own sample tube on the windowsill in full sunlight for a couple of hours two days ago, and when later she’d examined it under the microscope, she’d seen no after-effects whatsoever. Why was sunlight not an issue for her blood? It was yet another thing to add to the litany of oddness that had plagued her ever since her life went to hell in a hand basket a couple of weeks ago.

Kat shook off thoughts of the mystery, picked up the clipboard, and went over to start on the oncology batch. Her fingers were quick and sure as she methodically placed the samples in order. She’d been noticing changes like that in every area. Better vision and sense of smell. More strength, speed, dexterity, and, at least, with Eoin gone, she could apply those to getting this batch done in half the time it would usually have taken. Hopefully, before the effects of her lunch wore off.

It would have been nice to find some sort of middle ground, instead of these alternating states she’d been experiencing lately – heightened senses and abilities, followed by debilitating weakness. She gave a mock grimace. Ah, who wanted normal, anyway? Definitely overrated.

Tonight, though … if things didn’t improve, she had to call Akilina.

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Dark Child (Covens Rising): Episode 1 is available now where all good ebooks are sold

 

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Go back to where it all began with Dark Child (Awakening): Episode 1 available now for FREE where all good ebooks are sold

 

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I, MORGANA by Felicity Pulman: Excerpt

Posted July 1, 2014 by Mark

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PROLOGUE

I am an old woman now. My bones creak and scrape together like bare branches in a winter wind. I ache with longing for my youth. When I notice my reflection, I am aghast at the vision of the hag who looks back at me. I mourn the passing of who I was, and everything I could have been. More than anything, I long to reverse time. Throughout the years I have tried and tried to do this, without success. Now, even my most potent spells and incantations cannot transform me into the young woman I once was, with all my life still to live. With age, my magical powers have all but deserted me. Once I was desired by men; now I am disregarded by all and loved by none.

And I ask myself: How has it come to this, when once the future looked so bright and full of promise? And I swear a sacred oath to the gods, whoever they may be, that if only they would grant me my life anew, along with the wisdom I have learned so painfully, I would not make the same mistakes again. I would not lead us all to destruction.

But the gods are deaf to my prayers and to my promises. All I can do now is call for parchment, cut my quill, and tell my story. I shall start at the beginning, because that’s when the first seeds of doom were sown: when I was a child and believed I had the power to make the whole world new.

 

CHAPTER ONE

“Look at me, Merlin! Look at me.” I twirl and twirl, giddy with delight, bubbling with laughter as the earth turns around me and my hair flies into my eyes.

“Well done, Morgana! You must concentrate now; think about being a bird. How will it feel when you are flying?”

I close my eyes and I try, I try so hard, because I know how much it’ll please Merlin if I succeed. Around and around I spin, the world gone dark around me, the air swishing past.

“Open your eyes, Morgana! Look about you. See that raven? Remember what I told you? You have to think that raven, be a raven.”

I am a raven. I am a raven. I am Merlin’s raven. I am! I am a raven flying, flying high, soaring into the sky, riding on the wind.

 I think it. I will it with all my heart, my mind, my soul.

Something shifts. Something changes. The air feels cool against my cheek, my black feathers ruffle in the breeze. I look down as a little girl dissolves into light and shadows, and I know that I am free!

Merlin knows it too. I can see him down there, shading his eyes from the sun as he stares up at me. I feel such exultation, such triumph, I could almost burst. I am Morgana, Merlin’s raven, and I have the whole realm in my power. All that I can see below me will be mine one day. I know that’s true because my father has willed it, and Merlin has promised me.

He’s waving at me now, beckoning me to come down, for I have proved myself to him. But I am gone beyond him. I am intoxicated with joy, with the sensation of flying and the knowledge that at last I have unlocked the secret to shape-shifting. Now I can escape from my earthbound body and become anyone or anything that takes my fancy. And so I fly on, for the first time able to look down on the land that one day will be mine, and on the people over whom I shall rule. Beyond the spit of land on which our castle stands is the dark blue ocean, buffed into sharp waves by a brisk wind. It’s a ragged coastline of jagged cliffs, marked by the foam of breaking waves at their base. The sea hides a multitude of broken dreams, ships coming close to harbor but caught by waves and tide instead, and torn to pieces on the cruel and unforgiving rocks below the surface.

Bells ring out as I fly over the abbey. Obeying their urgent summons, the monks of Tintagel hurry to Mass in their great stone church with its cross at the summit. In my bird’s mind I pull a human face at them, for their love of the Christ is not for me. I put my trust in Merlin’s magic, not the will of the god they worship.

On a whim I fly onward, to the place where my father died in battle, for I have never been allowed to see the place where he fell, just as I was not allowed to see his dead body, nor was I able to mourn him openly, as a daughter should.

Once I come to the battlefield, I alight on a branch and look out across the bare scrubby grass that lies baking in the glare of the sun. I try to imagine how it must have been: my father’s troops trying to defend our territory against the soldiers of the High King; a battle that ended in the death of my father, Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. My heart fills with sorrow as I recall the events that led to that moment.

It all began when my father was summoned to London to pay tribute to the new High King, and made the mistake of bringing his family with him, for it was then that Uther Pendragon fell in love with my mother and she with him. I remember how awed I was by the magnificence of the High King’s palace and the presence of kings and nobles from across the southern country. We’d walked along the banks of the River Thames, my father and I, while he’d announced his dreams for my future.

“I shall not make any arrangements for your betrothal, Morgana, not yet. There is time enough to choose a worthy consort to be at your side, but it is you I shall name as my heir, and it is you who will rule Cornwall in my stead. I’m putting my trust in you, Morgana. You must take care of my realm and rule wisely and well. You must not fail me in this. Do I have your word that you will do as I ask?”

His words had so filled me with excitement that I’d stopped walking and faced him. I’d crossed my hands over my heart and sworn an oath that I would never let him down, and that I would do all that he asked of me, and more.

My father had laughed then—not at me, but with relief, because he knew that I understood the gravity of his charge. And I saw the love and pride that shone in his eyes when he presented me to Uther, the High King, as his heir.

But there are other things I remember about that time. How Uther followed my mother, Igraine, around his court, seizing every opportunity to take her hand and press it to his lips for a lingering kiss. At the time I’d thought it a mark of his respect for us, but later I understood that Uther loved my mother. I also remember the growing tension between my father and mother that culminated in a bitter quarrel and led to our hasty departure from London.

Just six months after that, my father is dead and my mother remarried.

I shake my glossy feathers into smoothness, as if I could at the same time shake myself free of memories. Conscious of time passing, I look out over the battlefield once more, and mouth an anathema against the man who caused my father’s death. Then, with some trepidation, worried I may have lost the knack of it, I launch myself off the branch. I spread my wings and my body lifts up into a current of air that will blow me toward the forest and Merlin.

My flight takes me over the castle and I look down at its inhabitants, tiny as ants as they swirl in patterns around the courtyard, going about their business. I fly closer so that I can see them more clearly, for I am intrigued to find out what people might do, how they might act when they believe themselves unobserved.

I see my mother, and my heart catches in my feathered breast. She is sitting in her private arbor. With her is Uther Pendragon. As I watch, he places his hand on her stomach and leans over to kiss her cheek. She laughs, and puts her hand over his—and I realize the significance of what I see. Looking at them now, at the way their joined hands stroke the curve of her belly, I understand that soon I shall have yet another rival for my mother’s love.

How I hate Uther Pendragon! I hate him for the way he took my father’s place so soon after he was killed. That he loves my mother beyond reason, I have no doubt. But I blame him most bitterly for my father’s death in battle and for seizing our kingdom. I also blame him for taking my mother away from me. These days she has eyes only for him.

If only I knew how to do it, I would strike Uther Pendragon dead! And my mother’s unborn child with him. Merlin has promised to teach me more tricks and more magic than mere shape-shifting; he’s promised to give me all the gifts I shall need to rule a kingdom. I don’t want another rival for Merlin’s affection. What I really want is to change things back to how they were; to turn back time and have power over life and death, and that’s what I would learn from him.

A sudden thought strikes terror into my heart: What if my mother bears a son, what then? I fly back to Merlin as quickly as I can and, as soon as I’ve transformed myself, I question him.

He gives me a fond smile. “You have nothing to fear, Morgana. Remember: your father has named you as his heir, even if Uther has usurped your position for the moment. But I believe you have an even greater destiny, for while Uther dabbles here with your mother, he is neglecting his duty as High King. The kings of Britain are jostling for power, leaving our country disunited and increasingly vulnerable to attacks from across the sea. You have courage, and intelligence, and you have shown great aptitude in the magical arts. I believe that when the time comes, and with my help, you will have the strength and the knowledge to unite all the tribes of Britain and bring them under your protection so that we may live in peace and prosperity once more.”

I take comfort from Merlin’s words, for they justify my father’s trust in me. But Merlin has not yet finished.

“A word of warning,” he says, and now his voice is stern. “When I bid you to return from flight, or to do anything else, I expect you to do as you are told. No!” He raises his hand as I open my mouth to argue. “I know it is a temptation to fly further and to test yourself, especially when you are new to shape-shifting, but you must always respect your magical powers, Morgana, and use them wisely. You are six summers grown now; old enough to obey my instructions as well as learn from me.”

“Of course I shall do everything you ask, Merlin.” I am so grateful for the mage’s reassurance of my destiny that I will promise him anything. I am also grateful to have escaped a long lecture. Although I love Merlin, and will do anything to please him, I do hate it when he’s cross with me!

Merlin is something of a mystery to me. He has power, I know that—the power of a mage steeped in magic—yet he is not a member of our court. My mother has become a devout Christian since marrying Uther, and anything to do with the occult has been banned. But Merlin and I have always met in secret, right from the very first when, by chance, I escaped my nurse and my sister, and ran into the forest beyond the castle looking for adventure. Merlin found me—or perhaps he knew I would come that day and so he waited for me? I know not, but since then we have always met in the forest, and I have told no one about what he is teaching me.

He looks a bit like an elderly owl, with tufty white hair and piercing eyes that seem to see right through me. I know that he believes in me, for he cares for me as a father would. And I try to please him in everything, for there is much I can learn from him, lessons I need to understand if I am to fulfill the shining destiny he has promised me. I am determined to do well, to be the best. I am determined to justify his faith in me, and fulfill the oath I swore to my father.

 

I, Morgana by Felicity Pulman is available now where all good ebooks are sold

 

 

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GORGON by Greig Beck – Excerpt

Posted June 11, 2014 by Mark

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City of Uşak, interior Aegean region, Turkey

The Uşak rug bazaar was one of the largest in the country, with buyers coming from neighboring provinces to select the best, which they would sell internationally at greatly inflated prices. Before dawn, hundreds of sellers crossed the Lydian Cilandiras Bridge over the Banaz Stream, to compete for space in the bazaar and for the buyers’ attention. It was still dark, but soon the sun would rise, and the cacophony of hawkers’ voices, haggling traders, and playing children would turn the park-like grassland into a riotous circus of sound and color.

Halim watched his mother and grandmother unroll a pair of enormous rugs, their best. Pressure was on all of them to sell their wares early and then be off home. There was death about, a grotesque illness sweeping the countryside. The whispers hinted that the army had collected the bodies of the afflicted, and whole families, whole towns had been wiped out. The newspapers had urged people to stay indoors. A djinn, his grandmother had whispered knowingly. Other old women had picked up the word, and made the sign of the evil eye over their faces, so the devil would not see them this day.

Halim’s mother held his shoulders tight and stared into his face as she laid down the law to him: he was to stay close to her or his grandmother. Halim hummed and drew on the ground with a stick, watching his mother smooth the rug’s edges, and then work with a fine pick to adjust any thread that dared to lift its head above its brothers. He knew why she paid the rug such fussy attention – it took many months to weave, dye, and then dry, but a single sale could deliver enough money to keep the family comfortable for the next half-year.

Bored, Halim said he was going to have to pee, and headed off to the tree line. Once out of sight, he changed course and instead made for the bridge. His mother would scold him if she knew, and his father would more than likely thrash him for disobeying her. But this time of year, snakes, frogs, salamanders, and all sorts of wonderful creatures came out to bask in the day’s warmth. If he could catch one, it would keep him amused for the entire day.

He leaned over the side of the bridge, and waved at his dark reflection. He had the stream to himself, save for several large dragonflies, about a thousand chirruping crickets, and a few small birds warbling in the trees hanging over the water. There was a chill on the back of his neck – cold, but not unpleasant. Halim had collected a handful of stones, and now he dropped them one at a time into the cool swirling water, causing a few minnows to dart out of the reed banks to investigate, before vanishing in flashes of silver and green. He hummed tunelessly in the pre-dawn. He knew if they didn’t make a sale early, they would be there all day and long into the warm evening, before grandfather came with the truck to carry the three of them back home for a late supper. Until then, it was dry flatbread with pickle jam – luckily, he liked pickle jam.

As he watched the water, chin on his hand, the air misted and became cooler – like smoke lazily drifting across the stream surface to dull its sparkle. He looked skyward, expecting to see clouds pulling across the sky – which would be a tragedy for his mother, and all the rug sellers. Three hundred and sixty-four days a year they prayed for rain, but on the day the rugs were unfurled in all their brilliant dyed glory, they prayed for it to be dry. Today there were no clouds, just the same thin mist drifting in from the east. He squinted; it seemed thickest down the road, as if his grandfather’s truck was backing up, blowing exhaust fumes. But there was no truck, no noise, and even the birds and crickets had grown quiet.

Halim angled his head, his face creasing as he concentrated. In the center of the rolling mist, something was taking form, rising up, solidifying, a dark center appearing as if the cloud was denser at its core. The shape was tall, moving toward him, but gliding rather than walking. He grimaced, rooted to the spot. Something about the dark mass instilled dread in the pit of his stomach.

‘Hello?’ His voice was weak, betraying his nervousness. Speak like a man, his father would have said. Halim regretted wandering away from his mother and grandmother. He had the urge to turn and flee, and not stop until he was hugging his mother. But he couldn’t move.

The mist began to clear, and just as the form became a figure, something warned him to look away. He spun, crushed his eyes shut, and placed his hands over his face. He leaned far out over the bridge, holding his breath while he waited. He could feel it now, freezing cold on his back, every hair on his body standing erect, his skin prickly with goose bumps. There was no sound; it was like he had stuffed cotton in his ears, the air muffled and silent around him.

He couldn’t take it any longer and opened his eyes, looking down into the stream. He saw himself in the water, and looming up behind him, something so monstrous, so horrible and terrifying, that he immediately voided his bladder into his trousers. He felt bile in his throat and an explosion of pain behind his eyes. The warmth down his legs unlocked his stricken throat and he found his voice, screaming so long and loud he thought he would never stop.

He did, when consciousness left him.

When he awoke, his head hurt, and there was a needle-like pain behind both eyes. His senses slowly returned – he felt the sun hot on his face; he heard the stream slipping by underneath the bridge, crickets singing, dragonflies zooming about, their iridescent wings and green eyes like tiny jewels.

Halim had never owned a wristwatch, but the sun was well above the horizon – hours must have passed. His mother would skin him alive. He got to his feet, staggered a few steps, then began to run, back along the path, through the trees and into the bazaar. But instead of the swirling dust, riot of color, and noise of hundreds of people haggling, fighting or laughing, there was nothing. A silence so total, he had to rub his ear to make sure he hadn’t been struck deaf.

‘Mama? Nana?’

People everywhere, but all so still. Some were lying down, others were kneeling or sitting, many with hands thrown up trying to shield their faces. Halim saw that all were a ghastly white, even their eyes were the bleached blankness of dry sand.

He found the small square of ground marked out by the beautiful reds and blues of the rug dyes his family preferred. Mama was there, sitting crosslegged, one arm out, the other hand over her face. Nana was kneeling, tiny as always, her hand in front of her face, warding off the evil eye. It hadn’t worked.

‘Mama?’ He touched her – she was as hard as stone.

He nudged his grandmother, and she toppled over, her body remaining in its pose, stiff and unbending.

Halim crouched next to his mother and edged in under her outstretched arm. ‘I’m sorry, Mama. I fell asleep. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’

His head ached terribly as he leaned against her, feeling the hardness under her clothes. The familiar feel and smell of her, of her warmth, perfume, and love, was gone. A tear rolled from his cheek, to splash onto her leg. It dried quickly on the stone.

 

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How to read more than one book at a time

Posted May 27, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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It occurred to me the other day – not for the first time – that I was reading too many books at once. For multiple purposes, some legitimate, others more indulgent, the reading pile is not so much reflecting those yet to be read, but rather those that are in a current stage of being read. And this would be okay, if I didn’t keep adding to it.

It works like this: first, read a book because you want to.

Then, read a book because you have some other obligation (in this case, I need to teach the book to a classs, which must happen in a timely manner to fit the curriculum).

Then, join a book club so that you have another time-determined book to read.

Then, join another book club with different people because misery loves company, and obsessive book readers need a different crowd to share their obsessions with.

Then, pick up a book that you have already read but just have to dip back into because you love it so much and can’t resist. Or the book loves you, it practically knows what you like from a read. But you have an open relationship. It lets you read other books so long as you come back to it. Anyway.

How do you read multiple books at once?

1. Invest in audiobooks

This is the best way to do it, especially if you have a regular, clockwork-type schedule that involves commuting. Additionally, with digital downloads replacing CDs, they’re infinitely easier to manage now. (I feel old saying that, but come on, the Stephen Fry-narrated Harry Potter audiobooks were something like 100 discs. That’s a lot of inserting in and out of the car stereo.)

As someone who was prone to re-reading a lot, I decided a while ago to save all the books I had already read for audiobooks, to read them in an entirely different fashion. It’s great.

Essentially, I get a half hour in on the drive to work, half an hour back, and with books varying from ten to forty hours in listening, you can cover a read in a couple of weeks. Added bonus: switching your brain out of work-mode on the way home.

2. Alternate days

One book one day, one the other. Oddly enough, this can create more excitement in sitting down to read a book, knowing that you’ve got to wait just a bit more before you get back to it. And then the disappointment at having to wait another day to pick up the next chapter is quickly erased when you get to return to the other book your’re reading.

For advanced players of this game: have a different book for each day of  the week. You have your Monday book, your Tuesday book, and so on. I’m not even kidding.

3. Limit your time

Half an hour on one book, then switch. Almost like a Pomodoro technique for reading. This does have the unweidly effect of blurring plots and characters into one big congealed narrative mess, but sometimes that’s not so bad. When someone tries to pitch a book as American Psycho-meets-The Lord of the Rings, you could actually achieve that just by going from Bateman to Baggins in one sitting. Think of the possibilities.

4. Mix your mediums

You’ve got the book by your bed, and the audiobook in the car. Now just add one on your phone, stick another one on your iPad by the couch and you’re set. Each place becomes a specific read, so that not only do you vary when you read your multiple books, but also where you read them.

5. Relish the differences

Ensure that each book you’re reading – at different times, in different places, in different ways – is wholly different to the rest. Keep your genres and your styles distinct, to minimise cross-pollination of your imagination, and keep each story vibrant and resonant.

For the ultimate book nerd, keep notes as you go, allowing yourself time to reflect and ingest before switching onto the next book. Then again, if you’ve got time to make notes, you’ve got time to squeeze another book in.

Occasionally I do preference one book over another, and it gets a bit more of a go, but I’ve yet to feel like I’m not reading anything properly, or doing any of the books a disservice. In the end, I don’t think it’s a byproduct of the hyperactive state society seems to exist in these days (though perhaps it does have something to do with that post I read a while back on calculating how many books you can read before you die), but I don’t seem to be able to get out of this multiple-book state.

But why would you want to, when there are so many books to read?

 

 

 

 

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The White List by Nina D’Aleo – excerpt

Posted May 14, 2014 by Mark

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Chapter 11 is watching you.  

Silver is an intelligence operative working for an agency that doesn’t officially exist—beyond any government and above the law. Chapter 11 is the kind of place a person can join but never leave. And it keeps a third of the world’s population under constant surveillance. At work. On the street. In their homes. 

Why? Because of Shaman syndrome. 

One in three people are born with Shaman syndrome, which endows them with abilities they cannot control and do not even know they have. It is Chapter 11′s responsibility to cap and surveil these walts—as they are known—to ensure their talents don’t turn ugly for the ordinary people around them.

After Silver’s partner, Dark, is seriously injured by a walt, Silver is driven to investigate. What starts as a routine investigation isn’t as clear-cut as it seems, especially when she discovers there’s a price on her head. 

Chapter 11 might be watching the world, but it can’t see the division in its own ranks. Someone wants the white list—the list of every known walt that Chapter 11 has capped—but for what purpose? Silver needs to find out the secret behind Shaman syndrome, before it’s too late. 

 

In rush-hour traffic, it took me a good hour to reach the destination. I parked under a streetlight and stepped out to look around. I’d ended up at an abandoned warehouse close to the waterfront shipping sector of the city. There weren’t any houses in sight. I checked the address on my phone and it appeared to match what I’d written down—but it didn’t even seem like the right suburb. Strange.

Night had now taken over from the light and heavy shadows stretched across the concrete square leading to the darkened warehouse. I shivered in the evening breeze. The air carried a tinge of smoke and the murmur of a storm. I stared at the warehouse. Smashed windows, graffiti marked, creepy and isolated—everything about the place said stay away. And I wasn’t about to argue. I started to get back into the car, but then thought maybe Dark had an old street directory in the trunk that I could check. So I went around and opened it up, rummaging through Dark’s duffle bag of tools. Footsteps sounded close by. I looked around the side of the car. A person, a woman, was approaching. I recognized her as the girl from the elevator at Dark’s apartment building.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

I stepped out from behind the car, not sure what she meant, confused at seeing her again, and by her saying but not sounding sorry.

She closed the distance between us fast and punched me in the face. A terrible debilitating pain crashed me to the ground and my eyesight blanked out then flashed back in. I rolled away as her boot rushed toward my head. I scrambled to my feet and grabbed for my gun. It was gone. The girl gave a nasty smile and opened her jacket. She was wearing my duty belt. I stared, shocked: how had she gotten it off me without my knowing? She took my gun out of the holster and held it up as if to say, Looking for this?

I struck fast, slamming my hand into her throat. She reeled and I bolted. There was only so long fists could hold up against bullets. Shots rang out and I lunged behind the side of the warehouse. The girl came after me, pulling on night-vision headgear as she ran. I crashed blindly beside the building, dragging my hand along the wall and stumbling over unseen rubble. I turned the corner into a lamp-lit area and saw a wall blocking my path. It was too tall to climb. I looked left and right searching for a way out and spotted an open window up about twice my height. I could hear the girl’s running steps closing in behind me.

I darted forward and grabbed a discarded cardboard box. I shoved it up against the side of the warehouse and climbed on. It collapsed, dumping me onto the ground. I swore and grabbed another box. I leaped up and reached for the window, grasping at the ledge. I stretched up, every part of my body straining. My fingertips closed over the windowsill. A hand darted down from the window and closed over my wrist. It wrenched me off my feet and dragged me upward.

 

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The White List by Nina D’Aleo is available now where all good ebooks are sold! Click here to purchase or find it at your preferred ebook retailer

 

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Should I keep reading?

Posted May 5, 2014 by Mark

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As avid readers, we’re often faced with the dilemma of what to do when life attempts to crash our reading time. Sometimes there are practical reasons to stop reading. Sometimes there are ethical reasons. And sometimes you should just keep reading.

1. Someone asks, “What are you reading?”

KEEP READING My significant other asked me this the other night. I tilted my book slightly so she could see the title on the cover but didn’t engage in conversation.

2. Someone sustains an injury

DEPENDS Look up, see if they’re ok. If they are, keep reading. If not, gauge the level of injury before putting your book down. Bruises = keep reading. Any blood = sigh and make a show of putting your book down, so they are aware of what an idiot they are. Broken bones = ok, stop.

3. Your phone rings

KEEP READING The sooner the caller learns to send a text like a normal person, the better. You’re giving them a valuable life lesson.

4. Someone offers you food

PUT THE BOOK DOWN Always go with the food. Bonus points if it’s free food.

5. You approach your destination

PUT THE BOOK DOWN I cannot tell you how many times I’ve missed my stop when I’ve been reading on public transport.

6. Someone invites you out to do something ‘fun’

KEEP READING Ok first of all, I’m reading and reading is delightful. And second, all the fun stuff happens indoors, everyone knows that.

7. Someone offers you a drink

DEPENDS Assess the caffeine/alcohol content first. If someone is interrupting your reading time to offer you water or juice or some other lame drink, don’t even look up.

8. There is something good on TV

KEEP READING That’s not a good reason to put your book down. Unless it’s Star Trek, then it depends. Keep reading if it’s the original series, Voyager or Enterprise. Put the book down for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.

9. Your significant other/parent/roommate will get angry if you don’t put your book down

KEEP READING Everyone knows the secret to successfully living with another person is to find something you do that annoys them and do it as often as you can.

10.  You’re about to be arrested

KEEP READING A dose of escapism is probably what you need right now.

 

 

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Excerpt: The White List by Nina D’Aleo

Posted May 2, 2014 by Mark

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Chapter 11 is watching you. 

Silver is an intelligence operative working for an agency that doesn’t officially exist—beyond any government and above the law. Chapter 11 is the kind of place a person can join but never leave. And it keeps a third of the world’s population under constant surveillance. At work. On the street. In their homes. 

Why? Because of Shaman syndrome. 

One in three people are born with Shaman syndrome, which endows them with abilities they cannot control and do not even know they have. It is Chapter 11′s responsibility to cap and surveil these walts—as they are known—to ensure their talents don’t turn ugly for the ordinary people around them. 

After Silver’s partner, Dark, is seriously injured by a walt, Silver is driven to investigate. What starts as a routine investigation isn’t as clear-cut as it seems, especially when she discovers there’s a price on her head. 

Chapter 11 might be watching the world, but it can’t see the division in its own ranks. Someone wants the white list—the list of every known walt that Chapter 11 has capped—but for what purpose? Silver needs to find out the secret behind Shaman syndrome, before it’s too late. 

Chapter 3

In this club, La Nox, the term exotic dancer didn’t quite cut it. Seriously I had to admire the athleticism of those girls. They were managing to maintain sexy while performing major feats of strength and acrobatics. They were flipping, jumping and kicking, dancing and sliding up and down poles that extended the full two stories of the club—all this while virtually nude. I had a mental flash of myself up on stage, out of breath and sweaty, mascara running and flab flying as I failed at cartwheels and fell into the crowd. Not a pretty sight. Maybe the imagery was overly self-critical. I did maintain a certain level of fitness—it was necessary for the job—but even so, the usual extent of my nude escapades involved dashing from the bedroom to the shower and back and I couldn’t imagine that changing any time soon.

Not surprisingly Dark knew exactly where he was going, so I trailed him through the club, which was crowded with patrons both male and female. I spotted the bachelor party, now one of many, settling into a corner booth. Dark and I took a position by the bar where we could keep them in sight and wait for our chance. A topless waitress came to take our drink order. She recognized Dark and spoke to him by name. They exchanged niceties and, to my partner’s credit, he looked her in the face the entire time—which was surprisingly more difficult than it sounds. In most human cultures, staring directly into someone’s eyes while talking, other than in intimate situations, comes across as threatening or strange. Our eyes naturally wander, especially to anything unusual—like a gigantic pair of double-Gs covered only in body glitter. She tried to strike up a chat with me as well, but I gave closed answers and kept my arms by my sides—my Italian parentage tended to make me talk with my hands, and the last thing I needed tonight was to accidentally grope some unsuspecting exotic waitress mid-conversation about the sunny weather we were having. She left and Dark glanced at me and snorted.

“What?” I asked.

“Could you be any more uptight?” he asked.

“We’re not on vacation here,” I told him defensively. “We are actually working.”

He shook his head and muttered, “Another arrest by the fun police.”

I gritted my teeth. I hated when he called me the fun police. It made me feel like he was some young springbuck cavorting through the fields of fun while I was the grumpy frumpy killjoy chasing him down with an oversized net, trying to foil all his good times. In reality, whatever Dark did with his time off was his business. Whether he felt as if we were married or not the fact remained we weren’t. I didn’t keep tabs on him and I didn’t try to curtail his fun. I could be fun and spontaneous too … At least I kept telling myself that and hoping it was true.

It was something I questioned, though: how did people see me? How did I want to be seen? How did I even see myself? Who was I? I’d heard that whoever we really are emerges when we’re all alone, unobserved. Well, when I was alone … I was usually asleep. It was the only chance I got. I wasn’t sure what that said about me, but now wasn’t really the time for self-reflection. Now we were working.

A group of lap dancers had surrounded our bachelor party. One girl stood gyrating in front of the walt. He was rocking, but not in time with the music or with the hypnotic circles of her hips. He was moved by an even more savage, primordial drive, one that was about to rip through his reasoning and send him green. The dancer would be the first one hit. I imagined pieces of sequined thong, silicone and lower intestine splattered across the walls and this time the imagery was not exaggerated.

“Bos, we’ve got to move now.” I said.

“No shit,” he muttered back. “I’ll try to get him to the bathroom,” I said.

“I don’t think there’s time,” Dark replied.

The walt staggered to his feet, knocking the dancer out of the way. Dark reached into his jacket and drew his primary weapon. If the walt lost it before we could get him, there would be no other choice but to put him down—not a concept that sat well with me. As a partnership, we’d never had a fatality before and that wasn’t pure luck. I put myself on the line every time to stop a shoot. The put-downs were murder—no matter how you dressed it up. Not that I had ever mentioned this conviction even to my partner, let alone any of our colleagues.

I moved past Dark, weaving a quick path through the crowd. I reached the walt and, with a glance to make sure none of his friends were looking, took hold of his wrist and directed him away from the dancers. He resisted, pulling back sharply. His otherwise handsome features twisted with anger and confusion. I tried to give him a reassuring smile and spoke close to his ear, “It’s okay, buddy. I know you’re not feeling great. Come with me, I’ll get you some help.”

I touched his hand lightly, slipping a sedation patch onto his skin. I noticed the spot from the laser sight of Dark’s weapon vibrating on the side of his head. I tried again to lead him away. This time, the sedative working fast in his system, he followed with minimal struggle. I took him down a crowded hall toward the women’s bathroom.

In most clubs on a busy night, the line to the ladies’ room would be a mile long, but here, with women guests the minority, it was inhabited by only two other girls. They were dressed in super short dresses and heavily inebriated. They were hugging each other and singing loudly into the mirror, using their tiny shiny purses as microphones. Their ankle-breaking high heels slipped around on the tiles. They cheered as we entered and both tried to high-five me on their way out, missing completely. One slapped my shoulder and the other lost her feet and fell over—legs in the air, flashing her underwear to the world. She lay where she’d fallen, paralyzed by hysterical fits of laughter. Her friend joined her on the floor and the two of them rolled around wetting themselves with the hilarity of it. The scene didn’t look quite so riotous from where I was standing, but I’d had my fair share of drunk and disorderly nights in my younger days so I really couldn’t judge.

I managed to shuffle the blitzed duo gently out of the bathroom and close the door on them. I moved the walt into a cubicle and sat him down on the toilet. I turned and locked the door, but as I turned back, it happened. He gasped. His pupils went from pinpoint to fully dilated in one second. All his muscles tightened. The veins in his neck bulged. I only had time to duck as he lunged at me, taking a swing that ripped the cubicle door off its hinges and sent it flying into the bathroom. It hit the mirror with so much force the glass exploded. I twisted and lunged backward, trying to get out of his way, but the walt caught me with an upper cut to the stomach. My ballistic vest absorbed the impact, but it still knocked the air out of me. I landed sprawled on the tiles and the walt rushed me. Completely disoriented by his condition, he misjudged the distance between us and smashed into the wall instead with a brutal whack that rattled my teeth and broke a row of tiles.

He reeled around, blood streaming down his face. He tried to charge again and toppled sideways, taking out a sink. It shattered to the floor and water gushed from the fractured pipes. I took the chance and leaped at him. I caught him around the middle and crash tackled him to the ground. I tried to pin him, but I may as well have been wrestling a rhinoceros. He flipped up with so much force we hit the ceiling and crashed back down to the tiles. His body mostly broke my fall, but then he was on me, his fingers clenched into claws, reaching for my neck. I went for my TRANQ gun.

The bathroom door flew open. Dark charged in with his weapon drawn and took aim at the walt. The young guy broke for the window, smashing through the glass and a good part of the wall. Dark and I both cursed and rushed for the damage. We looked out and saw the walt crashing down the fire escape. He found his balance and jumped from the structure down to the alleyway—a good twenty-five feet below. He landed on his feet running. We scrambled out onto the metal steps and flew down after him. We reached the alley and sprinted toward his fleeing shadow.

“No good,” Dark yelled out to me. “He’s heading for the road.”

We couldn’t allow the walt to cause a crash. Dark pulled up and dropped to one knee. He took aim at our walt’s back. I kept running, drawing my TRANQ and firing before he could get a round off. The dart struck dead on, into the back of the guy’s neck. He ran at least another two yards with enough sedative in him to drop an elephant, and then the effects hit him and he stopped. He didn’t fall, which would have been normal: he just froze. We ran the distance and as soon as we got to him, Dark threw the stocks around the walt’s arms and locked him down. We were literally five steps from the end of the alley, where pavement met a busy inner-city road. A constant stream of headlights passed before us. Our walt was shaking.

Tears shimmered on his cheeks. He looked young and scared, confused. He was struggling to whisper, his lips reluctant to move, “I’m sorry. I want to go home. Where’s Mom? Where’s Dad?” Then he bucked back and shouted. “Fuck off!”

Dark fought to hold him. I ripped a syringe off my duty belt and pumped another dose of paralytic into the guy’s neck. His eyes rolled back and his head hit his chest.

Dark and I exchanged a glance. This one was a real fighter. He stumbled to one side and we struggled to right him. His wallet tumbled out onto the ground. I crouched to pick it up, while Dark started walking the walt back down the alley. A honking horn drew my attention and I glanced up. Across the street, I saw the silhouette of a man in black standing, watching. I couldn’t see if his eyes were on me or not, but somehow I felt they were. A bus crossed in front of my line of sight and when it passed the person was gone. I dismissed him as a random passer-by.

“Sil,” Dark called for me from halfway down the alley. I shoved the walt’s wallet into my pocket and rushed to catch up. Dark was already on his cell phone calling in the catch and ordering a clean-up crew for the bathroom and a tech to check for CCTV footage. For sure Chapter 11 surveillance would have recorded the catch—including my use of the TRANQ, which was, as I well knew, against Chapter policy. Since every person is different we couldn’t be sure of the exact amount of drug needed to bring down any one individual, so we couldn’t be sure that one hit would be enough and that wasn’t good enough as far as the Chapter were concerned: regulations were to go straight to lethal force. Even so I’d always preferred to answer to my superiors than to my conscience.

“I’ll lay the cover for the friends,” I told Dark as reached the parking lot.

“No, you take him. I know who to ask,” he said. He handed over the shackled man and flipped me his keys. I headed for the car while he jogged back up to the entrance of the club. We needed to get someone to tell the friends the cover story—that our walt had decided to call it a day and had caught a cab home to sleep it off. I assumed Dark would ask one of the girls he knew in there to pass on the message. I looked around for witnesses to refute the story, but there were only a few knots of people up near the entrance of the club and no one was looking. The clean-up crew would double-check that.

I reached Dark’s car and directed the walt into the caged-off back seat.

“Watch your head, buddy,” I said, helping him to lower in. I locked the door and went around to the passenger side. The adrenalin was draining fast from my body, leaving my limbs weak and heavy. It hadn’t exactly been a flawless catch, but the job was done. Zero fatalities.

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 The White List by Nina D’Aleo is available from May 13 where all good ebooks are sold and is available for preorder now

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Books every writer needs to read

Posted April 24, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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In the middle of the debate about whether one can actively teach writing, or whether it’s an autodidactic process gleaned from years of practice, reading and osmosis, I got to wondering about books writers read to help their writing.

Not necessarily the books about writing, per se, but rather the books we read for examples, and inspiration, and indefinable reasons that relate to putting us in the right mindset to sit down and write. And I imagine it’s different for everybody, there’s a set of books for each of us depending on need and demand. But at the same time, the reasons why we need these tokens of inspiration should be the same for all of us, we just exercise them differently.

Then I came across Flavorwire’s ‘25 Books Every Writer Should Read’, the latest in lists of these kind that seek to define truly where the wellspring of knowledge lies, by reducing it down to dot points. And normally these lists are all fine, in an instantly enjoyable and immediately disposable kind of way, but this one bothered me a bit. A lot, actually (as much as one can be bothered by a list).

I had read nothing on this list. Not one book. Several I hadn’t heard of. Was I deficient in some way? Would I never truly be a writer because Flavorwire determined I didn’t read the right books? Of course not, it’s just one person’s opinion. The oddity was in how divergent their opinion was to mine, when it comes to the source of inspiration.

So, here’s my list. The books I think every writer should read.

1. A book that is captivating from start to finish.

Bonus points if you read this in one night. But essentially, it’s a story that just hooks you from the first sentence, a story that keeps you churning through the pages yet hanging on every word, desperate to reach the end and know it all. Lately, for me, that was Floundering, by Romy Ash.

2. A book that is great with dialogue.

I hate writing dialogue, I find it difficult and I either underwrite it or overwrite it, and find it infinitely helpful to have good examples at hand. And for that I find Cormac McCarthy enormously helpful, if only because his dialogue works perfectly (for me) – it gives you the voice of the character, their rhythm and pitch, their humour and their emotion. And it does it so sparsely, that you never feel as if the dialogue is working too hard to get your attention, particularly in No Country for Old Men.

3. A book that is great with plot.

One that shows how to weave the threads of the narrative together, how to combine characters and scenes and elements of the plot and drop them into situations so plausible and natural that it’s impossible to see where the artifice ends and the naturally occurring lives of the characters take over.  I inevitably have a Stephen King book close by, but mostly I refer to IT, because it does everything, and is so enormous as a narrative that there are countless examples throughout.

4. A book that is a classic of the genre.

If only to know where you’ve come from, and what you’re working on top of. If we’re all dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, it’s worth becoming familiar with the giants so that we can have a sure footing. Has to be Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

5. A book that is short and efficient.

Even if you don’t want to be when you’re writing, it helps to know how to do it. And when it’s necessary. Less is more and all that. And it’s not just about being obscure, but about using words to the maximum of their ability. For this I like Steven Amsterdam’s latest, What the Family Needed.

6. A book that is enormous and complex.

And if you want to attempt something that isn’t short and sparse, how do you do it without burdening the reader with too much plot? How do you write 600-plus pages and still make sense of the narrative on the page? In your head? And how do you tie it all together? I like big books and I cannot lie, but writing that much terrifies me. But I look to Umberto Eco, and Foucault’s Pendulum.

7. A book that is great with setting.

Particularly if the setting is crucial to the story (when isn’t it?), and you don’t want to feel like you’re artificially inserting description and location just to make the place a character in the story, and other clichés. I love writing about place, and how it works within a narrative, and there’s any number of books I draw on to help with this, but for now I’ll go with Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino.

8. A book that is great with characters.

Just to round it out, particularly for me who always worries that the characters I write aren’t interesting enough, or don’t translate from my head into someone else’s head the way I want them to, I always need to go and see how others do it. Easiest solution for me is to go read someone who has written more characters than I can imagine: Terry Pratchett and Night Watch.

9. A book.

Any book. Whatever book you like. The book you’re currently reading, because all writers should be readers. Or the book you’re terrified of because it’s so good and you’ll never write anything close to it, so you just sit it next to your computer, taunting you with its brilliance. Or the book with a great cover that you just love to look at because it reminds you of the story inside, and how that reminds you of the story you’re trying to write. It doesn’t matter. Just read books, and use them, they can only help your writing.

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Excerpt: Troll Mountain: Episode III by Matthew Reilly

Posted April 23, 2014 by Mark

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A dauntless young hero.

An army of brutal monsters.

An impossible quest 

Journey to the mountain …

Raf’s mission to Troll Mountain is in ruins. 

Having penetrated the mountain, only to be caught in the act of stealing the fabled elixir, Raf must now face the trolls’ champion in a fight to the death.

As the trolls gather to watch the fight, Raf watches them closely. If he can somehow survive this fight, his mission may not be over.

The final battle for Troll Mountain is about to begin. 

IN THIS, THE LAST OF THREE SERIALIZED EPISODES, MATTHEW REILLY TAKES YOU ON HIS WILDEST RIDE YET: A HEADLONG QUEST TO THE DARK HEART OF THE KINGDOM OF THE TROLLS.

 

The trolls poured up and out of the lone tunnel that granted access to the Winter Throne Hall, fanning out as they did so, rushing eagerly to the eastern side of the great open space so as to get the best view of the Fighting Platform.

Storm clouds rumbled overhead. Rain was coming.

The king and his entourage mounted the winter throne while Raf and Grondo marched across the open-air hall, through the ranks of trolls, to a plank-bridge leading to the Fighting Platform.

As Raf strode past all the trolls, they mocked him, spat at him, declared their eagerness to see his blood.

But then, fleetingly, Raf noticed two things: first, he snatched a glimpse of one of Ko’s distinctive little green barrels over by the north-western column. And second, he saw Düm.

The gentle troll was lingering at the very back of the crowd of trolls, over by the single entrance cut into the floor of the Winter Throne Hall, unnoticed by any of the others.

Before he could see any more of Düm, Raf was shoved across the plank-bridge onto the Fighting Platform. Grondo followed behind him.

The two hobgoblin jesters were already on the wooden stage, pantomiming a death match. One stabbed the other with an imaginary sword and the second one fell, clutching his chest in mock agony. The two jesters scampered off the platform as Raf and Grondo stepped onto it.

The plank was removed and Raf suddenly found himself standing alone with the troll champion out on the round wooden stage, high above the eastern slope of the mountain. The stage was perfectly circular, perhaps twenty feet across, and made of thick wooden planks.

By the gods, Raf thought, now he really hoped he had interpreted Ko correctly.

The sight of the barrel made him think that perhaps he had, but then again, he might have gotten it all terribly, terribly wrong—

“Choose your weapons!” a troll who appeared to be some kind of referee called.

“My war hammer!” called Grondo.

The crowd cheered.

“And you, thief? Choose your weapon, for what it will be worth!”

The trolls laughed.

Raf thought for a moment. “My axe.”

A massive hammer was thrown onto the platform. A troll was sent below to the cell area where Raf’s axe had been sequestered.

As he waited for its delivery, Raf’s eyes scanned the Fighting Platform desperately. He was sure Ko had been directing him to challenge the king, knowing that such a challenge could not be refused, and thus bring himself here—although perhaps Ko hadn’t known about the king’s special privilege. And Raf had seen the barrel up here and Düm …

But why? What was Ko’s plan? The Fighting Platform was completely bare. There was absolutely nothing here that Raf could use.

He looked up and saw that, owing to the way the platform extended out from the Winter Throne Hall, he could see the crenellated battlement ringing the summit of Troll Mountain, complete with its troll-added horns.

If he could fling a rope over those horns, he supposed, his current position offered a viable route up to the Supreme Watchtower, but such a throw was well beyond his range and right now, with the imposing figure of Grondo looming before him, finding a rope and throwing it was the last thing he could do.

At that moment, Raf’s axe was tossed onto the Fighting Platform and the scene was set.

The massed trolls leaned forward, leering, salivating. The Troll King grinned nastily. His son, Turv, did the same; his wedding day would be remembered for a long, long time.

Raf’s heart sank.

He’d clearly got Ko’s plan wrong, and now he would have to face the trolls’ best fighter in mortal combat.

Grondo towered over him, impossibly huge, his tusks rising from hairy tufts on his jaws, one of his great gray fists gripping his enormous hammer.

Raf just stood there, puny and thin, holding his home-made double-bladed axe. The axe hardly looked capable of nicking Grondo’s thick hide.

Then it started raining. Thick pelting drops. The trolls didn’t even notice. Rain didn’t bother trolls.

“We don’t have to do this, you know,” Raf said to the champion. “We don’t have to fight.”

Grondo smirked. “Fool. You do not realize. This fight has already begun.”

*

Grondo lunged.

Raf dived. And the hammer came down on the stage with a resounding boom. So powerful was the blow, splinters flew up from the slats.

Grondo swung again, chasing after Raf, but Raf dived clear again.

Boom, boom, boom!

Duck, roll, dive.

The rain kept pouring. Lightning flashed.

The crowd cheered at every swing.

*

As the trolls roared at the action on the Fighting Platform, at the very back of the crowd, Düm came alongside the she-troll, Graia.

“Graia,” he whispered. “If you want to leave Troll Mountain forever, come with me now.”

Without a word, Graia took Düm’s hand and followed him down the stairs, away from the Winter Throne Hall.

A short way down, in a tight bottleneck of a tunnel, with the echoes of the crowd far above them, Düm did a strange thing: he closed the thick stone door—the only point of entry or exit to the Winter Throne Hall—and then he reinforced it with a pair of heavy stone sleds parked nearby.

Almost the whole troll community was up on the winter hall watching the fight … and he had just trapped them all up there.

*

Somehow, Raf was still alive, dodging and evading Grondo’s mighty swipes, slipping and sliding in the rain.

The rain didn’t help Grondo’s footwork and at one point, Raf managed to run under one of the big troll’s lusty blows and swing at him with his little lightweight axe—and he drew blood from the troll!

The axe cut Grondo’s skin under the armpit, in one of the few places where a troll’s skin was soft and sensitive.

Grondo froze.

The crowd gasped.

The big champion touched the nick, and saw his own blood on his fingertip. He glared balefully at Raf.

He wasn’t hurt. He was angry.

Grondo roared, a great bellow, and, raising his hammer above his head, came charging at Raf.

Hammer blows rained down around the darting figure of Raf and had any single one of them hit, he would have been knocked senseless and done for.

Grondo’s charge was fast and furious and relentless and it afforded Raf no chance of reply. Indeed, it took all his nimbleness to evade the flurry of blows—until suddenly, Grondo anticipated one of his moves and trapped him at the edge of the stage.

Grondo had him.

Raf had nowhere to go. He stood there exposed, soaked by the rain and lit by the lightning storm.

The big troll swung the final blow of this match and Raf went flailing off the edge of the platform.

 

Troll Mountain: Episode III is available now for $1.99 where all good ebooks are sold

 

 

 

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Excerpt: Troll Mountain: Episode II by Matthew Reilly

Posted April 17, 2014 by Mark

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A dauntless young hero.

An army of brutal monsters.

An impossible quest.

 

Journey to the mountain … 

The only unguarded entrance to Troll Mountain is the abandoned kingdom of the hobgoblins. 

With no other route available to them, Raf and his newfound friends, Ko and Düm, enter the dark, dank world of the hobgoblins. 

But is it truly abandoned?

IN THIS, THE SECOND OF THREE SERIALIZED EPISODES, MATTHEW REILLY TAKES YOU ON HIS WILDEST RIDE YET: A HEADLONG QUEST TO THE DARK HEART OF THE KINGDOM OF THE TROLLS.

Chapter 10

The realm of the hobgoblins was a dank collection of dark tunnels and immense stone caves, all cut out of the living rock. Exposed sections of a strange rust-colored stone could be seen in its walls. These sections were framed by long-abandoned scaffolds and ladders.

“What is this strange stone?” Raf asked, touching it.

Ko said, “This ‘kingdom,’ it would appear, was actually once a mine. Similar mines were common in my homeland, for that substance you see is raw iron which, when smelted in a furnace, can be used to make very effective weapons.”

“I have heard tales of an ancient tribe of men who lived in these lands,” Raf said. “They were clever men, and they wore shiny armor and bronze helmets with red plumes. But they left when their home city, across the sea to the south, was attacked, and they never returned.”

A short way down the first tunnel, Raf’s group came to a broad pit in the floor, spanning the entire width of the passageway. At the base of the pit were a dozen upwardly pointed wooden spikes. In among the spikes, Raf saw the remains of a troll, skewered by no fewer than five of the deadly stakes.

The troll, he noticed, was not very decomposed. “That corpse hasn’t been here long,” he said.

“A rogue troll seeking shelter, I would guess,” Ko said.

“It must have entered from the other side,” Raf said, “for the spider web sealing our entrance was undisturbed.”

Düm just nodded in agreement, saying nothing.

Two small stepping stones protruded from the right-hand wall of the pit: the only way across.

Raf and Ko skipped easily across the stepping stones, but Düm needed the help of a rope to get across. It was a simple but effective trap to stop a troll from entering the cave system.

They passed through two massive mine-caves, each connected by long straight tunnels that contained other traps. Grim hobgoblin decorations flanked the walls: more troll skulls, and some bear and wolf skulls.

In the first of those caves, Düm found a large wooden sledgehammer near some other mining tools. For a human, it was a large thing, to be wielded with both hands in a slinging over-the-shoulder motion, but Düm held it lightly in one hand.

Flanking the entrance to the next tunnel were the rotting corpses of not one but two trolls: they were both affixed to the wall with their heads sagging and their arms spread wide, their giant hands nailed to the stone wall.

Raf stared up at the dead trolls in disgust.

Düm just averted his gaze.

“Hobgoblins did this?” Raf gasped.

“Yes,” Ko said softly.

They passed between the two hideously displayed trolls, entering the narrow stone tunnel beyond them.

“Why would the hobgoblins leave this place?” Raf asked. “It gives ample shelter and good defense against the trolls.”

Ko said, “Hobgoblins are most unpleasant creatures, not just because of their cunning but because they only consume. They do not build anything. They do not domesticate animals or plants. They do not renew. Hobgoblins live in places built by others and they simply consume what is available for as long as it is available. Then they move on to another place and slowly destroy it. Hobgoblins cannot see beyond the needs of the present moment. They stayed here for as long as it sustained them and then moved on.”

“Are trolls any different?”

“Oh, trolls are much smarter,” Ko said. “Why, this is the cause of your current dilemma. The trolls deduced that they needed to secure their food and water supply for the future. They did this by damming the river and essentially enslaving the human tribes downstream. They give you just enough water to survive and you give them food. This enforced tribute feeds the trolls with minimal labor on their part. In this regard, the troll is much smarter than the hobgoblin.”

They edged further down the tunnel.

“What exactly is a hobgoblin?” Raf asked.

Ko shrugged. “Hobgoblins are smaller than men, but they speak like men. They have hands and feet just like ours but their skin is coarser, leathery, more bristled. If they were not once men then maybe they were once apes—it is as if they are an animal caught halfway between the two, for they share features of both.”

As Ko said this, Raf realized that the tunnel through which they were walking was becoming oddly warm and humid.

They came to a doorway and stepped out into an enormous cavern.

Raf stopped at the sight that met him.

A broad lake of steaming water filled the floor of the mighty space. Raf had seen thermal springs before, but not an entire subterranean lake.

A low wooden bridge spanned the hot lake, giving access to a most unusual feature that dominated the far wall of the massive cavern: a railless stone path cut into the rock wall itself. It switched back and forth up the three-hundred-foot wall, steadily ascending. Any slip or stumble would result in a fall into the steaming pool at its base. Bored into the huge rock wall from the path were many man-sized mini-tunnels.

At two places up the path’s length there were ancient guardhouses with drawbridges folding down from them that spanned gaps in the vertiginous walkway. At the moment, the lower of the two drawbridges was folded down and open, while the upper one was folded up, barring passage across its void.

At the very top of the path, Raf saw an imposing stone doorway like the one through which they had entered the old mine: the exit.

Raf stared up in awe at the incredible feat of engineering.

Beside him, Ko wasn’t looking at it at all. He was peering at something on the ground nearby. He dropped to his knees to inspect it. “Oh, dear, this is not good.”

Düm saw what Ko was examining and sniffed with distaste. “Droppings…”

“These are mountain wolf droppings,” Ko said. “And they are fresh.” He drew his sword with a sharp zing.

“Mountain wolves…” Raf said. He was already gripping his flint knife.

Düm hefted his sledgehammer.

Ko said, “Something did move in after the hobgoblins abandoned this place…”

A sudden cackle of laughter echoed out from the upper reaches of the cave.

Raf spun.

Düm turned.

“I seeeeeee you!” a thin reedy voice called from the darkness.

“I see you, too!” another voice called from another direction.

“I see you three!” a third voice called.

Raf spun again, eyes scanning the cavern, but he saw nothing, no movement.

“You shouldn’t have come here,” a lower voice said from somewhere much closer. “Because now you must die.”

Raf’s heart was pounding as he turned once more to face the tunnel through which they had come and abruptly found himself staring into the eyes of a hobgoblin holding a sword.

The sword came rushing at Raf’s face.

 

Troll Mountain: Episode II is available now for $1.99 where all good ebooks are sold

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Excerpt – Troll Mountain: Episode I by Matthew Reilly

Posted April 7, 2014 by Mark

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A dauntless young hero.

An army of brutal monsters.

An impossible quest.

 

Journey to the mountain …

In an isolated valley, a small tribe of humans is dying from a terrible illness.

There are rumors, however, that the trolls of Troll Mountain, the valley’s fearsome overlords, have found a cure for the illness: a fabulous elixir.

When his sister is struck down by the disease and his tribal leaders refuse to help him, an intrepid youth named Raf decides to defy his tribe and do the unthinkable: he will journey alone to Troll Mountain and steal the elixir from the dreaded trolls.

But to get to Troll Mountain, Raf will have to pass through dangerous swamps and haunting forests filled with wolves, hobgoblins and, worst of all, the ever-present danger of rogue trolls …

The journey to the mountain has begun.

IN THIS, THE FIRST OF THREE SERIALIZED EPISODES, MATTHEW REILLY TAKES YOU ON HIS WILDEST RIDE YET: A HEADLONG QUEST TO THE DARK HEART OF THE KINGDOM OF THE TROLLS.

 

Later that evening, long after the last fires in the camp had winked out, by the light of the full moon, Raf slipped away from the small collection of shanties that formed the village of the Northmen.

As he crested one of the higher hills, he looked behind him and saw a glow on the distant southern horizon, far beyond his village: the settlement of the Southmen tribe.

For many generations the Northmen had fought with the Southmen, but few remembered what had actually caused the rivalry. Perhaps it was their base physical differences: the Northmen were fair of skin and hair, while the Southmen had a darker complexion, with long beards, hairy forearms, and bushy eyebrows.

As a child, Raf had been instructed to raise the alarm should he ever see a Southman anywhere near their lands. Sure, Southmen did not steal children in the night, but they were scum, untrustworthy dogs who would steal your crops the moment you turned your back.

It was similar with hobgoblins. Smaller than a man but more cunning and sly, a lone hobgoblin could slip into your hut in the night and steal all of your allocated food from beside your bed. Acting alone, a hobgoblin was a troublesome thief and while its cackling in the night might give a child nightmares, on its own a hobgoblin was of little danger to a human—it would be quick to flight. Larger groups of hobgoblins, however, could be lethal: if a gang of them caught a man and pinned him down, they would eat his flesh while he was still alive. Hobgoblins did not build or make anything. They lived in caves in the mountains or in abandoned places built by others.

Trolls, however, were another matter entirely.

They did steal children in the night.

And even a single troll was deadly.

Any news of a rogue troll in the valley triggered great fear and panic. Fires would be lit and a night watch instigated if a rogue troll was known to be about.

If Raf ever saw a troll he’d been told to run away as fast as he could.

*

The trolls lived to the north of the river valley amid some forbidding mountains that, by an accident of geography, sealed off the peninsula on which the valley tribes lived.

The Black Mountains, they were called.

The mountains dominated the landscape, jagged, dark and tall, and always within sight of the valley: a constant reminder to the Northmen, the Southmen and the other minor tribes of the strange foreign culture that held ruthless sway over their lives.

For it was within those mountains that the trolls had blocked the river that flowed into the valley. And by controlling the flow of water to the peoples of the valley, the trolls exacted tribute from them: food and, occasionally, human sacrifices.

Apart from the trolls, the Black Mountains held within them other dangers: isolated clans of hobgoblins and roving packs of mountain wolves.

Between the river valley and those fearful mountains was a ribbon of barren land known as the Badlands.

Once, it had been a healthy forest fed by the same river that continued on into the valley, but now the Badlands was little more than a stinking waste of swamps, marshes, and bracken. It was a dead land that conveniently separated the creatures of the mountains and the humans in the valley.

Dawn came as Raf crested the northernmost hill of the river valley and beheld the Black Mountains and the Badlands. A chill wind rushed down from the mountains, bitingly cold.

A tribal elder had once told Raf that the trolls liked the cold, needed it, that they couldn’t survive in warmer climes—which was why they stayed in the mountains and sourced tribute from the human tribes.

For a long moment Raf stood on the summit of that last hill, caught between two worlds: the familiar world of his valley and the unknown world before him.

Sure, he had practiced with his weapons at the edge of the Badlands, but he had never dared to venture any kind of substantial distance into them.

But today is different, he thought. Today I must.

He looked behind him and beheld his own valley again, with the scar of the dead river running down its length, and for a moment he doubted his mission and considered going back—

No. He was going to do this.

He was going to do this for his sister.

And so, with a deep breath, Raf turned toward the Badlands and stepped out of his old world.

 

TROLL MOUNTAIN is a serialised ebook from bestselling author Matthew Reilly. Episode I is available on April 8 where all good ebooks are sold. 

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What is the point of reading scary stories?

Posted April 3, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Why write horror stories?

Why write something that is designed to induce fear? Designed to scare? Designed to shock and upset and haunt and terrify?

And why indeed do we read these stories? Why do we watch them?

It is a strange thing for me to find it the genre that I have settled into, that I have found comfort in, both as a reader and a writer. It’s certainly not through education, or carefully guided study. I basically fell into it by accident, having not really thought much of the genre or the writers within it.

Recently, Neil Gaiman spoke at BIL 2014 (a kind of anti-TED talk conference; BIL & TED, geddit?) and he discussed why he tells scary stories to children. Gaiman describes his reason as ‘inoculation’, a way of acclimatising readers to the difficulties and challenges in life.

Gaiman says that his fiction stories are ways of getting ‘to deal a little bit with the things that scare and hurt and damage us.’ He goes on to describe how he signs countless copies of Coraline to now-adult aged readers, and how that has enabled a conversation with his readers about how they have dealt with horrible things in their lives, and that the book became a comfort for them. The story, which deals with a young girl’s misadventures in a parallel world with parallel parents who attempt to sew black buttons over her eyes, is aimed at a younger audience, and is extremely dark, Gaiman clearly labelling it as a horror story for children.

For Gaiman, the horror story offers possibility, and hope, but not in the usual way. It talks to the reader, without talking down to them. It doesn’t try to hide, but instead reveals uncomfortable truths, truths that the reader is afraid to deal with. And the inoculation he speaks of is the fact that the reader knows they can get through it. They can get through the difficulties. If the horrific aspects of life are depicted in a story, then they’re manageable, they’re navigable.

Even if the characters of a horror story succumb to the terrors that lurk, even if the ending is a negative one, the reader still survives. They are the witness to the horror, the friendly ghost that accompanies the characters into the haunted house, and are able to walk back out again.

Terry Pratchett, who wrote the glorious end-of-the-world novel Good Omens with Gaiman, acknowledges this process between the horrified and the horror in his book Hogfather. The book itself is part of his Discworld series, which is primarily a fantasy-themed series, but in this particular story Pratchett deals instead with the fantastical things children believe, and what their terrifying reality is. In Hogfather, there really are monsters under the bed and in the cupboard, the Tooth Fairy travels with pliers, and the bogeyman actually exists, though he is upset as nobody believes in him anymore.

Pratchett has his characters confront the terrifying make-believe, often with improvised tools like fireplace pokers, and contrasts his heroic characters who can make sense of their fears with those who succumb to them and give in to the terror.

In the dedication at the beginning of his enormous horror novel, IT, Stephen King writes to his three children, then aged fourteen, twelve and seven.

‘Kids, fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists.’

The novel itself deals with a group of children who are confronted by unspeakable horror during one summer. Two decades later they reunite as adults to not only remember what had happened, but also to finally confront and defeat the horror in their lives. It’s a powerful structure, and one that acknowledges how horror works for readers.

As children, we are afraid easily. We scare at the coat on the back of the door, the noise from the floorboards, the cellar with the broken light. As children, so much of the world is unknown, undiscovered, and strange and unusual. We scare because our imagination overruns our knowledge. Our conscious gives way to the unconscious, and terror reigns. We are scared because we don’t know any better.

As we age, so our knowledge grows. Things stop mystifying us, we reason our way out of our fears. We know that the shape is just a coat, the noise is just the house cooling after the warm day, and the cellar is dusty and dank because we haven’t cleaned it this year. We think too much, and imagine too little.

It pains me that horror can be maligned as a genre, or misjudged as ghastly and disturbing preoccupations of writers and readers. For me, a horror story works when it tricks the reader, it fools them into believing something they know cannot be true. A horror story does something I think no other genre can do, by not just utilising your imagination, but letting it loose and allowing you to see the world as more than the sum of its parts.

One of Edgar Allen Poe’s greatest short stories, The Curious Case of M.Valdemar, managed to create a scene for readers where a person was both alive and dead at the same time, terrifying and fascinating us all at once, by using words to extend the reality of the known world.

A great horror story is about believing, and in this belief we can confront more than we can in our waking lives.

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We really need to stop arguing about books vs. television

Posted March 27, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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In a recent article published in the New York Times, authors Mohsin Hamid and Adam Kirsch were asked if the new ‘golden age’ of TV shows were becoming the new novels of the 21st century. Both answered in depth, providing clarifications on either form and how they see them working as mediums and as vehicles for narrative. Interestingly, neither actually answered the question with a yes.

Not to stop there, a follow up in the Houston Chronicle by Maggie Galehouse – reprinted by Fairfax in the weekend papers across Australia – decided to take this manufactured argument and run with it, as a means of laying a boot into TV shows and audiences. Clearly books are better than TV, to Galehouse, so let’s all sit around and pat ourselves on the back for our ability to read.

In her article ‘The Book Is Mightier Than The Box’, due credit is given to shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men and True Detective, mainly for their ‘complexity’, and their ability to maintain an audience over several years. Galehouse continues comparing what she watches against favourite books, and admits that while she’s happy to commit time to watching the odd TV show here and there, she’d much rather read, making special mention of Middlemarch and Russian classics. The reader is left with Galehouse’s claim that she has yet to be floored by a film or TV show as she has been by a book, and uses her experience of reading As I Lay Dying as a prime example of the superior experience of reading.

Let’s put a stop to this ridiculousness now.

As Kirsch says, ‘to liken TV shows to novels suggests an odd ambivalence to both genres.’ If we continue to compare TV shows with books, or suggest that – much like films were rumoured to do in the 20th century – television will kill off reading, is facile. To do so is to suggest that audiences, readers, people, can only take their stories in one particular way. And that a story is a universal thing that needs a perfect-fit vehicle to deliver it to the audience.

It is impossible to declare Breaking Bad will render Harry Potter obsolete, and I can’t think of anyone who would promote the argument. There is no debate here, except among the grumbling few, among the cantankerous receivers, who feel the need to rank and rate and decry that the book is dead, the pen is mightier than the sword, the idiot box reigns supreme and we are all slaves to the latest thing.

In pitting books against TV, Galehouse and others are doing a disservice to creativity. The commonality between the two – story – is irrelevant. It would be like suggesting that cakes will kill off omelettes because they both use eggs as an ingredient. Nobody’s competing here. TV executives are not plotting grand schemes to overthrow the bestseller list, just as authors aren’t crying over  lost readers due to boxset binging.

The parallel existence of The Walking Dead comics and TV series are evidence of our ability to maintain two distinct narratives in our heads in two distinct mediums. Increasingly, Game of Thrones is doing the same. Both the film and original book of The Shining is just as appropriate, both being classical forms of their genres and mediums, but wholly different stories and experiences. There is no competition.

We’re all in this together. Books, films, TV, everything creative. Everything that tells a story. These are aspects of humanity that we have all craved, we have all created, we have all experienced for as long as humanity has existed. I’m sure our Stone Age ancestors didn’t sit around and debate whether cave painting was better than the latest fireside singalong.

Currently, when we are busy trying to hold on to every bookstore, trying to save every arts prize from obsolescence, and trying to find enough relevance for local content on our TV screens, it makes no sense to pit the creatives against one another. Creativity needs to exist within our culture, our society, not fight for the scraps of attention it is afforded through meagre funding, political threats and cultural warfare.

The most galling thing about Galehouse’s article isn’t the manufactured argument, or the inanity of comparing Dostoyevsky to Mad Men, it’s that this is a shipped-in reprint. Could we not find a local writer to make up ridiculous things? Could we not, perhaps, find a local writer to comment on the hesitation and occasional reluctance of Australia to accept local stories when we are drowning in American, British and even Scandinavian imports?

Could we not find anything meaningful to say about the relevance and importance of all stories, all creativity in a country that regularly battles to see art as anything but a waste of time and money?

We need stories. We need books and films and TV shows. We need our creative expressions to be shared and enjoyed and argued and forgotten and then found again. We need them in all shapes and sizes, in all mediums and genres and styles and fashions. Creativity should be the ultimate democracy, a mirror that shows us how all voices can sound in their infinite ways, as an act of humanity talking to each other, and to itself.

 

 

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These upcoming book-to-film adaptations should be TV series

Posted March 18, 2014 by Mark

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The Forever War

Optioned many years ago by Ridley Scott, this is one of the best science fiction novels ever written. Humans and aliens engage in a war that, due to the time dilation that occurs when travelling close to the speed of light, takes centuries to fight. The soldiers are increasingly removed from the society they’re fighting for as massive technological and social changes sweep away everything they know.

Why should it be a TV series? The story literally takes centuries to tell. It would be like a more realistic version of Battlestar Galactica or a better version of Space: Above and Beyond. There’s room to explore the complex relationships that develop between the soldiers and the pain of those bonds breaking when re-assignment means your friends will be centuries away.

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The Passage

Optioned by, of course, Ridley Scott, The Passage is a post-apocalyptic quest novel set in a world where a plague has turned most of the population of the United States into vampiric zombies. The original twelve infected patients hold a psychic influence over those who were infected via their actions, and a group of survivors decides to seek them out with the help of a seemingly immortal child.

Why should it be a TV series? It’s a massive novel that is just the first part of a trilogy that’s due to be completed at the end of this year, The Passage is a huge work, with many characters, sub-plots and backstory, with multiple narrative arcs that take place in different locations and different periods of time.

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Wool

Ridley Scott *also* bought the rights to Wool, another post-apocalyptic epic from self-publishing sensation Hugh Howey. After an environmental catastrophe, a handful of survivors live in underground silos, awaiting the day when the surface is safe once again. Wool takes place several generations after the catastrophe, where the inhabitants of the silo aren’t exactly sure what happened or what they’re waiting for, and are struggling against an oppressive regime that operates out of the silo’s IT department.

Why should it be a TV series? Wool is actually the middle story in a trilogy, with a prequel, Shift, and a sequel, Dust. There’s a lot of world-building that goes into making the silo societies seem believable and there are many supporting characters and groups that could stand to be explored in more depth in a series.

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The Girl Who Played With Fire/The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

After the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo underperformed at the box office, the two sequels were put in limbo. The first one made enough that these films are still in development, but not enough to fast track them. The shame is that while the successful Swedish adaptations did a great job with the first film, the sequels left a lot to be desired.

Why should they be a TV series? The original Swedish films were intended for release as TV seasons, and after seeing True Detective, it’s clear that a 6-8 episode run for each of these stories could yield some spectacular results. With more and more film actors turning to TV, it’s not even that unrealistic to imagine Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig reprising their roles from the film.

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Ready Player One 

This is a brilliant novel that takes 80s nostalgia and creates a thrilling and riveting narrative. In the not-too distant future, most people spend their time in the OASIS, a virtual reality system developed by an enigmatic billionaire. When the billionaire dies, a contest begins. Whoever can decipher the clues and defeat the challenges hidden in the OASIS will win control of it. It’s a race against the clock for a loose fellowship of individual players to defeat a highly organised and ruthless corporation that wants to win control and remake the OASIS as they see fit.

Why should it be a TV series? Again, there’s a lot of world building that needs to be done, and the references to 1980s popular culture are so dense that they’d probably need a little more room to breathe in a filmed adaptation. The episodic nature of the events as they unfold would also lend it towards a longer adaptation.

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Robopocalypse

This novel about the survivors of a robot uprising is currently on Steven Spielberg’s to-do list. Robopocalypse is the World War Z of robot novels, a history of the individuals who made it, many of them from different parts of the world, facing very different threats. There are some spectacular set pieces, and some very cool stories.

Why should it be a TV series? The fact that the narrative is episodic, with each part about different characters in different locations, means that it would hang together better. And there’s room for even more stories to be told in this world,  as all the varieties of robot could be explored in-depth.

 

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How Not To Write A Novel

Posted March 17, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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After looking back last week at the tools and teaching on writing that I received at university, I was struck at how much of the following years has been a process of undoing. Having to spend the good part of a decade taking an autodidactic approach to writing is not necessarily unusual, but an approach that in hindsight would have been better served by better education.

Too much time was spent ignoring or resisting natural inclinations because they had been ingrained in to me that there was a particular way to write, a particular voice and quality to the words and the story, and that every effort I made was measured against this standard. So, in the spirit of offering hope and guidance, here’s the way I don’t approach writing anymore.

Disclaimer: I am guilty of all of these.

1. Pretend to be a different writer

This is crucial. As mentioned, we often spend too long trying to write ‘good’ writing. And we measure that against notions of what is ‘good’, as promoted by critical acclaim, reviews, sales and – of course – by those we learn from.

By trying to be what somebody else thinks is good is case of putting the cart before the horse. We end up trying to emulate a particular style or story that has already worked, and ignore impulses to deviate. What we’re doing is ignoring ourselves.

Read a lot, and write a lot. If you find out what you like to read, chances are they’re the type of stories you like. Chances are, they’re the kind of stories you might like to tell. Follow your impulses.

2. Finish before starting

This can manifest itself in two ways. Firstly, by excessively planning. Planning and planning and planning. It’s the ultimate procrastination, because it feels like work, and it feels like writing. But at some point it becomes overblown, and overdone, and there’s nothing left to write anymore. There are ten thousand ways to write a story, and over-planning can leave you trying all of them before actually making a start.

Secondly, explaining everything about your story to everyone else. This happens when the enthusiasm for the planned story is so great that we just have to tell someone. Everyone. And then we lose it, because all the energy and excitement goes into the telling, and it never seems as great when we start to put it on the page.

3. The art of reorganising a desk

In other words, deprioritising the writing. Everything else is irrelevant, unless we’re writing. But somehow we find a way to make up every available excuse to prevent us actually starting, because that it the most terrifying thing in this whole process.

We become irresponsible school kids, explaining that the reason why we haven’t started the novel yet is because the dog ate the desk, and now you need a new one from Ikea, but that’ll take a while to put together because Allen keys are frustrating things, and there was a piece missing, and now you’re not sure if that’s the room you want the desk in anyway, perhaps a minimalist aesthetic would increase the clarity of your writing, and guess what? Not a word was written. Not one.

4. Edit first, write later

What we do when we finally start the damn novel, is write a great first chapter, but then start to edit it. Because it could be better. It can always be better.

And guess what? We end up rewriting that forever, for all eternity, because in editing it we’re not just calling into question our writing choices in that chapter, but all the choices we were going to make about the entire novel. We’re chopping trees down when they’re still saplings.

6. Frontloading

But say we start to write, and we write that first chapter and we resist editing because we’re good writers. Easy, right?

Nope. What we’ve ended up doing is putting every great idea we ever had into the first chapter, as if we’re trying to write The Bible, Das Kapital, Ulysses and A Brief History of Time all at once. But I get why we do this. We’re so enthralled at our ability to finally put words down on a page, we become worried we won’t get to do this again. So we put everything in.

The solution is: write more. This one thing that we’re writing is not the only thing we write, so long as we keep writing. There’ll be more time later to explain the universe.

7. Lie

By this I mean: we lie about the word count, about our progress to our friends/spouses/waiters/strange men at the train station. We lie about how great it is, how bad it is, how we’re nearly finished, we’re just tinkering, about what kind of story it is, what kind of story it isn’t, and when it’s going to be done.

This isn’t complex psychology. We’re lying to ourselves. And we need to stop it. Because it means we’re lying on the page, and we need to write truthfully.

8. Do anything but write the damn novel

So we stop pretending, we stop with the distractions and the procrastinating, we stop questioning ourselves as we go, and we start actually writing the book. Because that’s the only thing that will work.

There are a million ways to not write a novel, there’s only one way to write it.

 

 

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Excerpt: Kill Zone by Harry Ledowsky

Posted March 13, 2014 by Mark

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A nuclear device the size of a briefcase has been developed in Pakistan. The scientist  responsible has disappeared with it. The CIA believes the target is on US soil.
When the disappearance of the miniaturized nuclear weapon is uncovered a covert division of the CIA sends Ryan Nash, a major in the 82nd Airborne, to Pakistan. His mission is simple: assassinate the rogue physicist before the drop-off to a fundamentalist Islamic cleric can occur in the North-West Frontier Province.
But the mission is not as simple as it seems.
The CIA’s budget is being slashed in the wake of the disastrous war in Iraq, and the covert division is being shut down. The deputy director of the CIA, Conrad Lawrence, wants to stop the mission, and is willing to go to any lengths to achieve maximum deniability.
Will the team be able to stop the weapon getting to the United States? How far is Lawrence willing to go to stop the mission? Is the target really what it seems? Nash and his team must race against the clock to stop the terrorists and uncover the corruption at the heart of the CIA in this high-voltage military thriller…

 

“ETA three minutes,” said the Blackhawk pilot through the microphone.

All eleven men from the 82nd Airborne Division began to systematically check their gear, weaponry, and ammunition. The M4 carbines, with their attached M203 grenade launchers, were readied. The night-vision goggles attached to their helmets were pushed out of the way and their flak jackets, designed to protect them from shrapnel and light arms fire, adjusted and pulled tight. It was a ritual they’d performed dozens of times before. Rations wouldn’t be needed this time; it was going to be a short operation.

Major Ryan Nash checked the lipstick camera attached to his Kevlar helmet. This would send live pictures of the mission via satellite to their command post in Jalalabad.

He and his men were on their way to recover the last of the five Navy SEALs killed in Kunar. The bodies of the other four had been recovered before the initial rescue mission had to be aborted. Earlier a helicopter that was attempting to recover the body came under heavy Taliban fire from a strongly fortified cave high above the dried riverbed, where the body of this SEAL still lay, and was forced to abandon the rescue. Nash was determined that this wasn’t going to happen again.

The fallen SEAL was coming home.

The Blackhawk roared just ten feet above the barren terrain as it raced toward their target. Banking to starboard, it dropped to just above the sandy surface of the riverbed’s winding path and charged along it. Suddenly the Blackhawk turned a bend in the river and came to a hover, hanging in space like a huge insect. From its doorway an M60 air-cooled fifty-caliber machine gun exploded angrily to life.

One of the aircrew rained five hundred and fifty shots per minute of hot lead onto the granite clifftop and the heavily fortified cave only three hundred meters away. The empty cartridge cases and links spewed into the canvas ejection-control bag to stop them being flung into the path of the rotor blades or turbine-engine intake.

As the Taliban ran for cover near the cave’s mouth, pieces of rock, shrapnel, and dirt exploded like bombs all around them.

Just below the Blackhawk and several meters ahead of it the body of the Navy SEAL could be seen wedged between some boulders on the edge of the riverbank. Clouds of dust, as fine as talcum powder, swirled about as the helicopter dropped from the sky and bounced on the uneven terrain on the edge of the riverbed. The doors rumbled open.

“Go! Go! Go!” Nash screamed as he leaped from the doorway, followed by seven of his men. As they clambered across the rocks, the fine dust and sand blew over them, covering them in a deathly red mask.

“Rodriguez! Johnson! Recover the body,” Nash barked.

The two men hurried toward the fallen SEAL.

Suddenly the persistent and unique sound of AK-47s cut through the air, biting into the earth and ricocheting off the rocks around them, followed by the unyielding fire from a heavy machine gun.

The Blackhawk leaped back into the sky to avoid the relentless fire from the mouth of the cave, retreating a few hundred meters further and firing brutally toward the cave and its militia.

“Get some cover, over there!” roared Nash as he and the rest of his men raced over a landscape that was totally devoid of grass, trees, or vegetation of any kind. The rocks and pebbles, as hard as iron and as sharp as razors, cut into their leather boots and rolled beneath their feet as they scrambled for cover.

It was as if they had landed on the surface of the moon.

To his right he could see that Rodriguez and Johnson had reached the SEAL and were lifting him into the green rubberized body bag. Even over the din of the fight and the helicopter noise he imagined he could hear the sound of the zipper closing.

Raising his binoculars, Nash looked at the cliff face and studied the cave at the top. At its entrance, protected by the hedge of boulders, a band of five or six Taliban was firing down on them. Given that the SEAL commander had reported around twenty, the rest must have fled or were hiding deeper in the cave somewhere, he thought. Four of the Taliban had established a defensive position at the cave’s mouth and were enthusiastically firing the heavy machine gun.

“Kelly!” he called.

“Yes, sir.”

“Take them out!”

Kelly nodded to Jacobs and Bennett. They armed the M203 grenade launchers attached to their carbines and fired. The rocket-propelled grenades exploded in front of the cave between its mouth and the gun emplacement. Two bodies flew high into the air like bolts of cloth and dropped out of sight.

They waited for some returning fire. There wasn’t any.

Pausing to assess the situation, Nash peered through his binoculars and then signaled his men to carefully and silently make their way up the stone path that snaked up the mountain. With their weapons readied, they edged in single file along the rocky and rough track that climbed toward the cave’s entrance.

Arriving at the cave’s mouth, they found three Taliban fighters dead: one slumped over the machine-gun position; the other two bent and twisted in the dust nearby.

“Bennett, Kelly, come with me,” said Nash as he raised his Beretta M9 automatic and made his way into the cave. Kelly followed with his favored weapon, a flamethrower, which was held firmly out in front of him.

Standing in the cave’s entrance, Nash was surprised at how large the inside was. A small oil lamp barely lit the interior, and seven bedrolls were on the floor. A satellite phone was sitting on a box of ammunition next to an assortment of papers and maps.

Nash signaled silently with his fingers. Bennett and Kelly moved to his left. The three of them crept further into the bowels of the cave complex, which split into two passages and disappeared into total blackness.

The remainder of Nash’s team took up defensive positions just inside the cave’s mouth, watching the terrain below for any sign that the Taliban or their reinforcements were returning.

As Nash, Bennett and Kelly edged their way silently down the main tunnel, a volley of nine-millimeter bullets flew out of the darkness and tore into Kelly. Instinctively he squeezed the trigger of his flamethrower. A dripping liquid flame, some twenty meters long, shot from its mouth and raced into the depths of the cave, setting everything in its path alight. As Kelly fell to the cave floor, a barrage of sickening screams came from the direction of the flames.

Crashing through the wall of fire, two Taliban, their clothes ablaze, raced toward them. Thrashing their arms about wildly, they were trying to beat out the flames that were consuming them.

Nash aimed and fired two shots. Both bullets hit the first of the Taliban squarely in the head, and it exploded like a ripe melon. Bennett fired his M4 carbine and the second Taliban crashed to the cave floor. The screaming stopped as the stench of burning flesh and rancid smoke began to fill the cave.

Nash leaned over Kelly. The first bullet hadn’t penetrated his flak jacket but the second had caught him in the side of the neck, where his carotid artery was vigorously pumping the life from him.

“Did I get him?” Kelly asked.

“You sure did—barbecued him good,” Nash replied.

Kelly smiled and then said, “I’m really cold, sir.”

“You’ll be fine,” said Nash, knowing full well that he wouldn’t be. “Get the medic in here!” he called to Bennett, who rushed from the cave toward the rest of the men.

Cradling Kelly in his arms and with his thumb pressed hard against the artery in his neck, Ryan Nash watched another of his men die.

Suddenly, through the smoke, Nash thought he heard a sound. He laid Kelly’s head gently onto the cave floor. Covered in blood and moving to his right, he stepped through the smoke and came face to face with another Taliban fighter. This one was armed with a knife.

Nash looked deep into the man’s black eyes. “A knife …?” he asked.

The Taliban didn’t utter a word. He simply smirked through a shaggy black beard and broken yellow teeth.

“Maybe some other time,” said Nash as he raised his Beretta and pulled the trigger. It didn’t fire. It was jammed. He pulled the slide back to try to free the shell, but the Taliban lunged forward, slashing at Nash with his blade.

Nash leaped to one side, dropped the Beretta onto the cave floor and pulled his Special Forces dagger from its sheath. With a twenty-two-centimeter blade of hardened blue steel it was sharp enough to shave with.

As his enemy lunged again, knife held high, Nash leaped to his right and grabbed the Taliban around the head and shoulders. The Taliban’s arm carrying the knife was now pointing straight up into the air and was pinned hard against the side of his head. Nash lifted him above the ground. The Taliban’s feet flayed about desperately. He was much smaller and lighter than Nash had expected.

“This is for Kelly,” he whispered as he slit the man’s throat to the spinal column and dropped him to the ground.

The blood gushed from his neck, a strange gurgling sound filling the silence of the cave as his life drained from him and raced across the rocky dirt floor.

Nash stepped back through the smoke and into the cave’s entrance, where the medic was crouched desperately over Kelly. Nash looked down and the medic simply shook his head. In the corner Bennett was busily collecting the papers and maps that had been left beside the bedrolls and satellite phone.

Bennett stopped and stared intently at the piece of paper in his hand. “Major, you’d better look at this.”

Kill Zone by Harry Ledowsky is available for $5.99 where all good ebooks are sold. Click here to purchase from your preferred ebook retailer

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Excerpt: 8 Hours to Die by JR Carroll

Posted February 18, 2014 by Mark

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Perfect isolation. No phones. No neighbors. No help. 
Ex-cop turned criminal lawyer Tim Fontaine and his wife Amy are heading for their weekender – a restored farmhouse in remote bushland known as Black Pig Bend.
But even before they’ve eaten dinner, three outlaw bikers arrive on the scene. Suddenly Tim’s house becomes a fortress. Who are these people? Why have they come? Who sent them?
As the lights go out and darkness descends, their idyllic world is transformed into a nightmare from which there is no waking up. Tim must grapple not just with formidable adversaries, but with unsettling questions relating to his own past, both as cop and lawyer, and even to his marriage.
But even if they survive this night against appalling odds, the ordeal is far from over. For when the past comes knocking, it will not be denied …

 The following excerpt takes place after Tim and Amy have reached their isolated cabin. Night has fallen, they’re having dinner, when there’s a sudden knock on the door…

Friday, 7.53pm

Tim had his hand on the door knob and had begun to turn it when a little voice kicked in: Danger, beware: sabre-toothed tigers out there. He opened it a crack, a bit more than that, glimpsed a tall figure standing there, face obscured, head ringed by the outside light. Maybe someone else behind him; Tim wasn’t sure.

‘Yes?’ he said.

‘Special delivery package for one Tim Fontaine,’ the man answered. ‘You Mr Fontaine?’

Tim was used to FedEx deliveries in his business life; they were a normal, everyday occurrence, but out here?

‘Depends,’ Tim said. ‘What’s it about?’

‘Guess,’ the man said. Tim saw his hand come out from behind his back; a weapon in it, he thought. He didn’t wait to find out. It all happened in a flash as he slammed the door hard in the man’s face even as he tried to shove a foot inside. Then Tim jumped to one side as a barrage of bullets ripped through the solid timber door amid ear-shattering screams from Amy, who was standing at the table. He heard a shattering of glass and swivelled to see she had dropped her wine glass on the floor.

‘Amy! Get down!’ he yelled. She seemed to be rooted to the spot, unable to move. He rushed to her side and pulled her to the dining room with him as more shots tore through the door. He gripped her wrist as splinters flew and the room began to smell of gunsmoke.

‘What is going on?’ she screamed. Through her wrist he could feel her trembling. They were standing pressed against the wall.

‘I don’t know!’ he said. ‘Some guy with a gun—I don’t know! Shit!

‘Mr Fontaine!’ a voice called from outside. ‘Come on, now. I have to deliver this package!’

‘Leave it there and fuck off!’ Tim shouted back, realising at once the absurdity of his riposte.

The man outside laughed—two men laughed; maybe three. Fuck. ‘Can’t do that, Mr Fontaine,’ came the answer. ‘Against company regulations. You have to sign for it, see. As evidence. I could lose my job.’

More laughter from outside. But at least they weren’t shooting—for the moment.

Tim said nothing in return. His mind was working fast. Thoughts collided, became chaotic as fear swamped his rational mind. He put an arm around Amy; her shoulders were shivering.

He looked at her scared face, then at the door, splinters of timber sticking out of it.

He had to get his shit together. This was suddenly a bad place.

‘You OK?’ he said, almost a whisper.

Amy gave a nod in return. But she wouldn’t look at him.

The man outside was yelling: ‘Give it up, mate. You can’t win this one.’

‘Who is he?’ Amy said.

‘I don’t know. No idea. Some rough-looking bastard, middle-aged, bikie gear.’

‘Bikie?’ she said. ‘What the bloody hell—’

‘No idea.’ He was trying to think of any connection he’d had with bikies. If he had bikies after him for some reason, they were in deep shit.

He turned his attention to the house. Tim had always been security conscious—had to be, both as cop and lawyer. His current home in Canberra was no fortress, but not too far off it: high brick fences, sophisticated alarm system, sensor lights. Here on the farm, which was unoccupied much of the time, he’d been more concerned about ferals or drifters breaking in. So he’d gone to considerable trouble with the door locks, and steel bars on the front windows.

There were two doors to the house—front and back. Both were made from heavy timber, not the cheap, off-the-rack stuff; both were fitted with multiple deadlocks set in steel plating. Since arriving they hadn’t gone out the back, so the security door was still locked.

Only two ways into the house—and only two out.

‘Mr Fontaine!’ the man outside shouted. ‘Come on, now. We need your cooperation.’ He then lowered his voice into a growl: ‘We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Choice is yours.’

Tim was thinking about the windows. Windows were always a weak spot in any house. No need to smash through a door if you could force a window. These were all of the traditional farmhouse sash type. No large glass panels or floor-to-ceiling sliding doors. The windows all had locks fitted, but most of the frames wouldn’t budge anyway due to warping and numerous coats of paint over the decades. They were stuck fast. The kitchen and dining room windows were double sash, with small quarter panels in the upper half and a single pane below. Tim had never been able to raise or lower them. Plus, they were protected by steel bars set too close together for anyone to squeeze between, even if someone was prepared to smash the panes and try to wriggle through.

But—these were obviously dangerous and determined men. They had at least one gun. They were here on a mission. Maybe they had the tools to lever the bars off, or force them wider apart.

Somebody wants to get in badly enough, they will find a way in. Matter of when, not if.

 

Click here to purchase from your preferred ebook retailer

Not for the faint hearted” – Shane Maloney, author of the Murray Whelan series

8 Hours to Die scorches along relentlessly, displaying all of JR Carroll’s trademark thriller-writing skills: hard-edged prose, vivid characterisation, a strong sense of place and tense plotting.” – Garry Disher, author of the Wyatt series and the Challis & Destry series

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Where do you get your great ideas? A Brief Chat with Harry Ledowsky

Posted February 14, 2014 by Mark

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1. What is your daily writing routine?

I’m an early morning guy, start about 7- 7.30 and finish around 12-12.30

2. Name some books or authors that have influenced you.

Frederick Forsyth, Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum and John Grisham. I’ve always liked stories, that although fiction, could actually happen.

3. Why should people read Lethal Metal?

Because it’s a story inspired on an actual event and involves the greatest submarine disaster the Russian Nuclear fleet history the sinking of the Kursk, a Russian Mafia boss and an al Qaeda terrorist. It’s set in Murmansk the biggest city in the Arctic circle and the home of the Russian Nuclear submarine fleet at a time when the Russian military machine is in desperate decline, where a terrorist buys nuclear material to make a bomb and is hunted. A scary scenario and one that could actually be playing out somewhere right now.

4. What do you hope readers take from your book?

First and foremost I hope that they enjoy it. I write to entertain and involve and am not interested in sending any sort of social or political message. If the pace leaves them breathless and they can’t put the book down then I think I’ve done my job.

5. What are you currently reading?

“The Good Food Guide” for 2014. Silly I know but I’ve several family events on the horizon and need to be prepared. As far as a novel is concerned nothing. I’m taking a break from writing & reading and giving my brain a rest. Although late last year I read “The Killing of Osama Bin Laden”, “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Why Nations go to War” Normally it’s the daily papers and car mags….. not very high brow stuff really.

6. Where do you get your ideas?

Ideas are everywhere all you need to do is look around, that’s one thing I’ve never had a problem with. That’s probably why I was reasonably successful in adverting for thirty years. Writing three hundred pages is where the hard work is, the ideas aren’t. Right now I’ve enough ideas for another three books.

Lethal Metal is available from 25 February 2014. Click here to preorder from your preferred ebook retailer. 

About Harry Ledowsky

Harry Ledowsky is one of Australia’s most awarded Creative Directors and has been a judge on every major Advertising Award in Australia. Creator of “Oils Ain’t Oils” for Castrol, “Aussie Cossie” for Speedo, “Happy Joe Happy” for the NRMA and “The Bundy Bear” for Bundaberg Rum. He was National Creative Director and head of the Worldwide Creative Directors for Young & Rubicam and was named as “the second most outstanding individual in Advertising” by the Financial Review. He has won over 150 National & International Advertising Awards and been nominated to the Australian Advertising Hall of Fame, who said he was: “A master of drama, pathos and humour….

Having retired from the ad industry he now presents the Morning show on 99.3 Northside Radio.

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The death of the pen

Posted by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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A discussion yesterday about the practice of editing on paper against editing electronically branched off into an interesting tangent: just how attached are we to maintaining paper and handwriting practises? Furthermore, is this getting in the way of some fairly serious progress of twenty-first century society?

While the reports of the book’s death were greatly exaggerated, to the point of being entirely fictitious and presumptuous, it has since emerged that we actually are reading more now than ever before – at least as far as our ability to track this kind of thing.

Writing as a method of communication has always been after the fact; we spoke before we wrote, and writing initially was merely a method of establishing fact, of dismissing doubt. By the time the first books were created, writing was still a unique, unrepeatable event. Reading as a past-time was not a fathomable occasion. If we wanted to share stories, we shared them, by and large through voice and performance.

From the advent of the printing press to the spread of public education and universities, through the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution and on to the technological advances of the twentieth century, the book emerged as a convenient method of containing and conveying words, of communicating stories, of ingesting and processing new information. Reading and writing as a study and as an art arrived.

Our nostalgia for the book as a physical paper product is founded on a short-sighted view of human history. We have always communicated in the most convenient form available. As we settle into the twenty-first century, it becomes apparent that not only are we swallowing stories at a higher rate and in more ways than ever before, but we’re also physically reading more content as a whole. Far more communication occurs through reading, and effectively through writing, but here’s where the issue arrives.

With more being read, that means more are writing. But not writing by hand. If more and more content is arriving in a typed form – a trend that really isn’t going to lessen lest the computers turn on us – then really it should be handwriting that we’re issuing death notices for, not paper books.

Unfortunately, it appears the older generation is the one that’s caught up in blindly nostalgic waves of OCD with their inability to let go of handwriting as an asset. I say this not as an outsider, but as part of that generation. I still instinctively handwrite, I still find it easier to shape thoughts through a pen than through the tips of ten fingers. And certainly, it is an asset in a profession where handwriting might be required, but how many of those still exist? How many will for the next generation?

While Victoria has recently decided that it will look into ‘planning’ for online, typed exams for Year 12 students, leading education systems like those in Sweden and Norway have had them implemented for years. Our failure to act is costing the students. To compound this, the recent Australian Curriculum – while admittedly introducing many positives – emphasised handwriting as a key component of students’ learning, something that had rightly disappeared in recent years.

We emphasise the introduction of technology into learning, into the lives of the younger generations, as it has become the currency and medium that dominates our lives. Pen and paper are as archaic as the topics in the history curriculum. But then after all this embracing of technology, something strange occurs.

By the time these students reach their final years, all assessments become handwritten again. All final exams are written, at hours on end, with a pen and paper. Why? Why do we insist this happens? Everything we had encouraged them to learn for more than a decade is diminished by the distillation of their ability through a pen.

Many universities still follow this model as well. The fear of plagiarism, the fear of students using more than the contents of their heads is what drives this avoidance of technology in exams. And yet it has no practical parallel in the real world. We never confine our knowledge in our jobs, we never limit our resources to see what we can really do. So why test this way?

We need to let go of handwriting as the end of the line for the written word; we’ve found a better way. The pens of the world are haemorrhaging our words, instead of giving them new life. To use them as modern tools is damaging the capability and potential of our potential society.

 

 

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11 February new release titles

Posted February 11, 2014 by Mark

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8 Hours to Die by JR Carroll

An isolated farmhouse. One knock on the door will shatter their peace. No phones. No neighbours. No help. And the clock is ticking…

Ex-cop turned criminal lawyer Tim Fontaine and his wife Amy are heading for their weekender – a restored farmhouse in remote bushland known as Black Pig Bend.

But even before they’ve eaten dinner, three outlaw bikers arrive on the scene. Suddenly Tim’s house becomes a fortress. Who are these people? Why have they come? Who sent them?

As the lights go out and darkness descends, their idyllic world is transformed into a nightmare from which there is no waking up. Tim must grapple not just with formidable adversaries, but with unsettling questions relating to his own past, both as cop and lawyer, and even to his marriage.

But even if they survive this night against appalling odds, the ordeal is far from over. For when the past comes knocking, it will not be denied …

Not for the faint hearted” – Shane Maloney, author of the Murray Whelan series

8 Hours to Die scorches along relentlessly, displaying all of JR Carroll’s trademark thriller-writing skills: hard-edged prose, vivid characterisation, a strong sense of place and tense plotting.” – Garry Disher, author of the Wyatt series and the Challis & Destry series

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The Memory of Death: Death Works 4 by Trent Jamieson

He thought he’d return from Hell a hero. But things are never easy when your business is Death.

Steven de Selby gave up his love, his life, and his lucrative position as Head of Mortmax, the corporation in charge of Death. Then he found himself banished to the briny depths of hell. But hell has never held him before …

Now Steven’s back from hell, after escaping from the cruel Death of the Water, but he’s not sure how or why, or even if. No one at Mortmax trusts him, and he’s running out of time to prove he is who he says he is.

Steven is about to discover that hell really is other people, and the worst of them may well be himself.

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What Goes on Tour by Claire Boston

What goes on tour, stays on tour … or does it?

Few people know that socially awkward Adrian Hart is actually rock god Kent Downer, and that’s the way Adrian likes it. His privacy is essential, especially now that he has guardianship of his orphaned, ten-year-old niece, Kate. But when the nanny quits in the middle of his tour Adrian finds himself in a bind.

Until Libby Myles walks into his life.

Libby has only ever wanted to become a full-time author and prove to her parents that she can make it on her own. On the surface, the temporary job as the nanny for Kent Downer’s niece looks perfect—the pay is fabulous, the hours are short and Kate is a big fan—it’s the rock star that’s the issue.

Arrogant and way too attractive for anyone’s good, Kent Downer has enough swagger to power a small city. But when he’s out of costume he’s different—shy and uncertain. For Libby it’s a far harder combination to resist. She needs to find a balance between work, writing and ignoring her attraction to the rock star, because if she falls for him, it could mean the end of her dream.

But when a horrible scandal is unleashed—putting young Kate in danger—there’s more heat between Libby and Adrian than just sexual attraction. Libby must figure out if Adrian ever cared for her, or if it was all just part of the show …

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Sly by Rick Feneley

Meet the Bulli Boys, if you’re brave enough. 

Sly Fox lives with his one-legged alcoholic father, incontinent Communist grandfather and his dog, Comrade, in a run-down beach shack in the coastal town of Little Bulli. New-boy-in-town Brett ‘Harry’ Harrison is intrigued by the outcast Sly and strikes up an unlikely and forbidden friendship with him.

Together the boys discover the delights of sex, drugs and cheap booze, but their great passion is the story of Sly’s pioneering ancestors, as revealed by the dusty and fragile Fox family chronicles.

Sly and Harry’s friendship is indestructible, or so they think, until a shocking act of betrayal alters the course of their lives forever.

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