Our Authors

Interview with Robinne Weiss

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robinneweissRobinne Weiss—an entomologist and educator by training—has never been able to control her writing habit. She has been publishing poetry and short fiction since the 1970s and has been known to answer exam questions in verse. She has published several excellent novels for middle-grade readers: A Glint of Exoskeleton and The Dragon Slayer’s Son, with a third, Brisket’s B&B currently in the works. She has also published the teacher’s guide Insects in the Classroom which draws on her decades of teaching as The Bug Lady.

Greetings Robinne, and thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions for us today.

Firstly, can you tell us a little about your books?
In A Glint of Exoskeleton, Crick (a girl who can talk to insects) and her cockroach friend Peri must save the human race from a deadly new disease engineered by mosquitoes.

In The Dragon Slayer’s Son, Nathan and his friends are dragon slayers in training, after the death of their parents. When they learn that Nathan’s father might still be alive, they mount a rescue mission that requires them to enlist the aid of the dragons themselves.

Outside of writing, you have a wide range of skills and passions. How have they influenced and inspired your stories? Any more than others?
I’ve always been a science geek, and I find it difficult to write fiction without injecting some science into it. Even my dragons, imaginary though they are, are based on science—shaped by the same evolutionary forces that shaped New Zealand’s bird and insect fauna. Other interests creep in from time to time; Brisket’s B&B involves a lot of scones, biscuits, and cookies, which I enjoy baking.

A Glint of Exoskeleton and The Dragon Slayer’s Son are independently published. Is there a particular reason you chose that route?
When I decided to close my science outreach business and write full-time, my plan was to go the traditional publishing route. But the publishing world has gone through dramatic changes in the past few years—indie publishing has become more professional, and big publishers have cut back on what they offer authors in order to maintain their own profitability. The more I learned about what I could expect from a traditional publisher, the more I felt it simply wasn’t a good deal for the author anymore. Once I realised that, the decision to go indie was a natural one—the amount of control it gives me over the process suits my personality. I can craft the book from cover to cover at my own pace, and without having to wait months for agents or publishers to get back to me.

Can you tell us a little about the indie publishing process?
I want my books to be able to stand side-by-side with traditionally published books—I don’t want them to smack of self-publishing. So, for me, the indie publishing process starts with a lot of revision and editing. My first draft gets put aside for a few weeks after I’ve finished writing. When it’s rested a bit, I go back over it myself and revise. My kids and husband then read it—often aloud so I can hear how it sounds and how someone else interprets it. I revise it again. Then it goes out to a team of beta readers (kids and adults). I do another round of revision after that.

At this point I decide whether the book is ‘publishable’. No, I don’t publish everything I write—as an indie author, I have to be my own gatekeeper. At this point in the process I’ve invested nothing but my time in the book, but from here on out, I’ll be putting money into it. I want it to be worthwhile.

My first monetary outlay is for the cover. I can’t draw to save my life, so I pay an illustrator to create my covers. A good illustrator will capture the spirit of your book. But to do this, the author needs to provide details. I send the illustrator a synopsis of the book, plus a detailed list of possible cover imagery—I describe the main character (physical and personality), the setting, supporting characters, and overall theme of the story. The illustrator does his magic and comes back with something that is usually entirely different from what I visualised, but absolutely perfect. I have the illustrator make me a front cover only, but I ask for the images in separate files. So I get a finished front cover, plus each component of that cover (text, background, figures) separate. With these, I can create a back cover for the print book, plus all my marketing material.

While the cover is being made, I edit the text. First, I make two editing passes to find as many errors as possible myself—the cleaner the manuscript is, the cheaper the professional editing is. When I think I’ve got a pretty clean manuscript, I send it to a professional copy editor.

Even a professional editor will miss mistakes, so after the editor has been through it, I make two more passes (forward and backward—yes, it’s tedious), trying to catch the last of the errors.

When I think the text is perfect, I create the files for upload to KDP, Createspace, Smashwords, etc.—one for e-book format, one for print format. Smashwords has a nice guide on formatting for e-book, which I follow, and Createspace has a guide on print book formatting.

Uploading to KDP etc. is easy—the websites walk you through the process and give plenty of opportunities to tweak things. Once I’ve uploaded my files and have addressed any glaring problems with them, I request my ISBNs. You can only do this 8 weeks from publication, so it’s one of the last things I do.

I always order a physical proof. There’s nothing like having the actual book in hand to help you find mistakes. And it’s better to take the time to find mistakes before publication than afterwards. I always find more errors after publication, too. It’s the nature of the beast. The great thing about indie publishing is that I can go in and fix the errors whenever they surface.

Do you have any advice for writers intending to pursue that path?
Indie-publishing requires a great deal of self-control. It’s easy to whip a half-baked piece of writing up on KDP or Smashwords. You’ve got to be able to control that urge and wait until the piece is polished. Also, the most difficult part of indie-publishing is what comes after publication—marketing. I don’t claim to have a handle on that. I’m still learning—getting better at that is one of my goals for 2017.

And lastly, what can we expect to see from you in the near future?
I have a kid’s guide to backyard bugs coming out at the end of July, and I’ll be releasing a new middle-grade novel, Brisket’s B&B, later in the year. I’m also working on the sequel to The Dragon Slayer’s Son and revisions of a young adult novel that I deemed not quite ready for publication last year.

Many thanks for your time, Robinne.

If you wish to check out Robinne’s writing yourself – they might be aimed at the 8-12 market, but they’re excellent for all ages – you can find them here: The Dragon Slayer’s Son and A Glint of Exoskeleton

Interview with Christopher Keene

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 Christopher Keene’s first novel, a LitRPG adventure, Stuck in the Game, was published by Future House Publishing in August 2016 with the sequel, Back in the Game, following in 2017. Christopher has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature with Honours in Creative Writing. He has received two honourable mentions in the Writers of the Future competition and won first place in a creative writing competition for the University of Canterbury Gazette.

Christopher recently signed a contract with Solstice for his grimdark/epic fantasy trilogy, A Cycle of Blades. The first book in the trilogy, Gods of the Mountain, is scheduled for release later this year.

Welcome Christopher, can you please tell us a little about your books?
Stuck in the Game and Back in the Game are my first two books in the LitRPG series, Dream State Saga. As their titles imply, they are the usual ‘stuck in a video game’ story trope, but with a bit of a twist in that the protagonist must stay in the game to help him recover from a car crash which paralyzed him and put his partner in a critical condition.

Aside from that I also have an epic fantasy trilogy in the works, a dystopian sci-fi novel under contract with Lang Publishing and am currently under negotiation with a few publishers for a fantasy story that uses New Zealand and Māori mythology as the basis for its setting and magic.

  

What exactly is LitRPG, and what inspired you to write in that genre?
According to the Facebook group LitRPG is a sci-fi or fantasy story that follows two rules: 1) It involves some type of explicitly stated progression (ie leveling, report of item finds, quests, etc). 2) It involves a game-type world of some kind that the main character has been involved in. I’ve had feedback that Dream State Saga is a decent gateway series for anyone wanting to give this genre a try.

When I first wrote Stuck in the Game I didn’t know LitRPG was even a thing, and I doubt many authors whose books fit into it (e.g. Tad Williams and Ken Catran) know about it even now. I was lucky to find this niche market after my book’s release. What inspired me to write the book was when a friend of mine (who the book is dedicated to) bet me I couldn’t write a story as good as anime like Sword Art Online, .Hack/Sign, and Log Horizon after I criticized their stories. I want to say I succeeded, but anyone who has watched these shows are free to let me know whether or not they concur.

You chose to take the traditional route, and went with the Future House Publishing, can you tell us a little about the process of seeking a traditional contract?
I’ve always found the traditional publishing route to be a lot like fishing. Through much trial and error, I finally found the right formula for writing a good query letter or as I like to call it, the bait. Querying is pretty much the bread and butter of submitting to agents and publishers and once it was pitch perfect, I started throwing out some lines; submitting it to agents and publishers alike in the hope of getting a bite. I actually got two bites at once, one was from Future House for Stuck in the Game and the other was from my agent for another book. I decided to race them to see which would get a book out quicker. Needless to say with two books to zero, Future House turned out to be the bigger catch.

The covers are beautiful! What is it like to work with a publisher? What are some of the advantages? Disadvantages?
Thanks! A word I would use for what it’s like working with a publisher is motivating. Knowing that other people are going to be waiting on your input and suggestions really encourages you to work hard and think about things you might not have if you’re self-publishing. For the other advantages you pretty much hit the nail on the head, they supply the cover art that you want, as well as the many stages of editing and marketing.

The disadvantage is that once it’s released you have to go through a proxy to fix any errors that might be found. Luckily there’s only been a few of these. As a poor student at the time, the biggest motivation to traditional publishing was that it cost me nothing. As a novice to publishing I didn’t want to spend money I didn’t have on something that professionals could do for me.

Stuck in the Game on display at ComicCon, 2016.

Do you have any advice for any of our members who might be seeking a publisher for their own books?
There’s no dancing around it, traditional publishing is a competitive industry. Unless they’re trying to scam you, no publisher is going to choose you out of the thousands of other people submitting unless your writing is good, and the only way to be a good writer is to be honest about how bad you are now and dedicate yourself to improving.

The other side of the coin is resilience. More often than not, you will get rejections. I received hundreds before realizing what I needed to make my query letters stand out. Learn from them, second guess yourself, get a second opinion, and remember that you’re selling yourself as well as your writing so try to be professional.

And finally, what can we expect to see from you in the future?
More books! As mentioned above, a dystopian story is coming out soon as well as my first adult fantasy book, not to mention the Dream State Saga is getting another sequel. It’s a big jump for me going from a smaller publisher to a larger publisher and I’m hoping to catch one of the Big Five in the future. I’m always juggling several projects at once so who knows which one is going to help me break into the big time.

Either way, both the goal and the process itself is enjoyable to me, so I feel I win either way.

Thanks Christopher! It’s been great chatting with you.

If you wish to learn more about Christopher’s writing, please his blog: https://fantasyandanime.wordpress.com/

And you can buy his books, Stuck in the Game and Back in the Game in ebook format, via Amazon.

Future House Publishing publish Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, and Middle Grade books, with distribution in ebook and print in Barnes & Noble, Costco, Amazon, and through independent retailers. They have published 40 books since their formation in 2014, but are not currently accepting submissions.

Writing Fairy Tales

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(A Guest Post by Shelley Chappell)

southernstarRecently I put out a call for submissions for an anthology of radical retellings of fairy tales for young adult readers. I’ve always loved fairy tales and I released my own collection of novelette-length retellings, Beyond the Briar, back in 2014, followed by some shorter fairy tale retellings. I’m keen to see what other writers might do with fairy tale retellings and, in particular, to gather together fairy tale retellings by Southern writers – citizens or residents of New Zealand, Australia or a South Pacific island – and explore what synergy we can create in our retellings.

Wish Upon a Southern Star will be a collection of quirky and profound reinterpretations of our favourite tales. The contributors will all be citizens or residents of New Zealand, Australia or a South Pacific island. The stories will each retell a single fairy tale, which may be from the European fairy tale canon or a lesser known original (including non-European fairy tales). I’m really looking forward to reading the submissions and selecting some thought-provoking stories for fairy tale fans to read.

As many writers have never experimented with fairy tale retelling, my fellow writers at the Christchurch Writers’ Guild have asked me to share what I know about fairy tales and my suggestions of how to rewrite them. My recent blog series covers this subject in depth, tracing why I love fairy tales, what fairy tales are, the history of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, fairy tale critics, approaches to fairy tale retellings and a writing exercise on how to radically retell fairy tales. But that’s a lot of reading! For those of you who just want a quick overview as you’re chomping to get started, here are the essentials:

What is a fairy tale?
A fairy tale is a kind of folk tale which takes place in a magical, other realm, contains archetypal characters, repeated motifs, and a plot structure involving journeys or quests, tests, magical help, transformations, punishments and rewards.

What’s important about the history of fairy tales?
Fairy tales have been around for thousands of years but they took on a new lease of life with the writings of the French around the turn of the seventeenth century followed by a range of collectors and writers in the nineteenth century, including the Grimms, Hans Christian Andersen, and Andrew Lang. To retell fairy tales, you have to know the originals. You can read a huge range of fairy tales from around the world online.

How do you retell one?
Fairy tale retellings can be standard and close to the original or they can be radically different or ‘fractured’. How radical or fractured a fairy tale retelling is depends on how many of the key elements are changed – characters and their roles and motivations; settings; plot events; motifs and objects; genre; narrative perspective; themes and messages. If you want to write a radically retold fairy tale, you’ll need to work out how and why you want to change each of these elements – what you want to keep (so that the fairy tale is still recognisable) and what you want to transform.

If you’d like to contribute to Wish Upon a Southern Star, please read the details in the Call for submissions and contact me if you have any queries. I can be reached on my Facebook page, my website, or by emailing wishuponasouthernstar@yahoo.com. Happy writing!


once upon a time closeShelley Chappell wrote her PhD on the motif of fantastic metamorphosis in children’s and young adult fantasy literature and has taught literary analysis at a variety of institutions. In her spare time, Shelley writes fairy tales and other fantasy fiction for all ages. She is the author of BEYOND THE BRIAR: A COLLECTION OF ROMANTIC FAIRY TALES.

Interview: Shelley Chappell

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once upon a time closeToday we are interviewing Shelley Chappell, a Christchurch writer who has been a member of the Guild since 2013. Shelley wrote her PhD on the motif of fantastic metamorphosis in children’s and young adult fantasy literature and has taught literary analysis at a variety of institutions. In her spare time, Shelley writes fairy tales and other fantasy fiction for all ages. She is the author of BEYOND THE BRIAR: A COLLECTION OF ROMANTIC FAIRY TALES (2014) and a number of short stories.
 
Shelley, can you please tell us a little more about yourself (and your creative endeavours)?
Sure! I am Christchurch born and bred and I love living here in New Zealand. I find nature very inspiring and the openness of the Canterbury Plains and the forested, hilly seascapes of Banks Peninsula have influenced my writing, as well as that feeling you get as a Kiwi of being at the very edges of the earth. I grew up curious, loving to learn new things, dreaming vividly, reading avidly, and longing to travel to all the wonderful places in the world I could only experience imaginatively. Once I did a little of that and settled back in Christchurch, it was a pleasure to go places again on paper and get back to my writing roots. I’ve been writing stories ever since I could pick up a pen and I’m currently working to complete several novels and short stories.
 
I am very curious about your PhD topic, can you please explain to us a little about what it means?
My PhD was on the topic of fantastic metamorphosis – shape-changing and magical transformations. I analysed this motif (recurring story element) in children’s and young adult literature to try to understand what messages the idea of metamorphosis conveys. For example, I looked at stories in which only children can change shape and explored how these stories imply that children are closer to animals and nature than adults and civilisation and that they have fluid bodies and identities. I looked at how many werewolf stories were representing lycanthropy as an inherited gene and how lycanthropy was therefore becoming a metaphor for race, and I explored how many selkie stories were using selkies (seals) and the sea as a way to symbolise a desire to transcend the limitations and constraints of adult consciousness. My PhD is available to read for free online at the Macquarie University library website.

Has your knowledge of literary analysis affected your writing style?
Yes, absolutely. I consider my undergraduate and postgraduate literary degrees as an apprenticeship in the craft of literature. For me, as much as writing is about simply loving stories, it is also about loving the craftsmanship of creating them. Being trained in literary analysis taught me a lot about how stories are crafted, and this has helped me to be intentional as well as instinctive in my writing.

Has your knowledge of literary analysis influenced your reading habits?
Not really. I have always loved genre fiction more than literary fiction. There are many brilliantly written works of genre fiction and understanding how the texts have been crafted can definitely enhance my reading pleasure, but mostly when I read I tend to get lost in the tale and not pay so much attention to the trappings. I can also be be a fairly forgiving and tolerant reader. If something about the story rings true, it will hold my attention, even if there are flaws in the telling. So long as I can find a character I like and something I want to find out, I’m going to enjoy the story, regardless of whether it has aspects that could use some refinement.

What are some of your favourite books? And why?
I love books with characters that I can relate to – especially girls and women who are psychologically real, with interests and perceptions that adhere to my own, taking on life’s challenges. I particularly enjoy stories about relationships, stories where characters face physical and social challenges, and stories where characters are trying to understand themselves and find a way to live well in the world.

You have published a number of retold fairy tales, but with a distinctly unique twist. What draws you to rewriting fairy tales?
I wrote a recent blog post on this so ideas about this are fresh in my mind! To sum up, I like having a loose story structure to work within, I enjoy the fun of changing and disguising the familiar story elements of the original tales, I love the shared language of fairy tales and the way fairy tales connect us to other readers and writers, and I enjoy plumbing new depths in the tales and finding fresh meanings.

You took the independent approach to publishing your novellas. How did you find the process and would you recommend it? 
It took a little bit to get my head around the process at first, but once I figured things out it became straightforward and easy to reproduce. I wouldn’t recommend independent publishing to authors who are looking for a large (especially mainstream) audience, unless they are willing to invest in their own marketing campaign. But if you have a niche market or a story (or collection) that is unlikely to get picked up by a traditional publisher, then I think it’s a great way forward.

What advice do you have for other writers?
As a young writer and a fantasist, I always hated hearing the advice that you should write what you know. If we only wrote what we know and have personally experienced then most of us would be writing very limited stories. My advice is to write what you would love to read. Write the story that would excite you if you saw it at the bookstore, the sort of story you couldn’t wait to get home and read. Write about characters you would like to spend time with and take them on adventures you’d like to know all about to places you’d like to visit. Most of all, have fun!

Bloody Quill from Jessica Colvin

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Bloody QuillRecently, the Christchurch Writers’ Guild held their first ever annual awards dinner. As part of the awards, our members were invited to share snippets of their writing. This is just one of the extracts that graced the imaginations of our membership.

This snippet was submitted by
Jessica Colvin for consideration for the Bloody Quill, stories about death scenes. 

Once Were Angels
By Ami Hart (aka, Jessica Colvin)

Extract from her current Work in Progress

WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC VIOLENCE

Odez pleaded with her silently for a moment, then whispered “Sam…” as his hand stole beneath the heavy coat. She froze at the mention of her real name, her face turning a deathly pallor. When Odez’s fingers touched the hilt of that finely carved bone knife, his strength of purpose flooded back and doubt fled.

I need this. There it was, justification in grave-digging spades.

“Please forgive me, but soon you’ll see. All this is necessary.” He drew the bone dagger with deliberate care. The alabaster blade seemed to glow with a light of its own in the dim room. Silence reigned and in that moment nothing else existed, just this room, her, him and the moment to come. An inevitable juncture loaded with dread and promise, blood and blessing.

Sam’s gaze trapped his— twin barrels, ready to fire— but she said nothing. Accepting her fate? That was when Odez felt a foreign, invasive presence and its sudden arrival threatened to syphon away what courage he had. A war drum raged in his chest and part of him simply wanted to run.

They were here already?!

He was out of time. If he didn’t do it now, she would be damned. He couldn’t let that happen to another one.

Odez stepped forward, lifting the weapon to strike. His action accompanied by Sam’s sharp intake of breath, a startled finality, one last gasp. Her eyes narrowed, drilling hatred at the weapon in his hand. He spoke the sounds, the song that would unbind hidden things. The resonance of his voice reverberating the air, the voice of an angel— stolen for this dark purpose. When he drove that point down she caught his arm.

Odez baulked at the sudden resistance, his face twitching in surprise. Sam’s grip was deceptively strong, even when the point of his blade jagged her arm, drawing a steady line of scarlet which spotted the front of her gown.

The window behind them rattled in its frame. He dared not divide his attention – maybe it was just the wind— no likely not.

He strained against her, his body cording with the effort. The knife’s mean tip inching down toward Sam’s sunken, sickly chest. Her desperate nails dug into his wrist while her ocean-wild eyes pleaded. If she had been able speak he imagined she might say: I don’t want this, I don’t want to die. The usual mantra of the death-bed where the biological imperative went about its urgent, final business. The fear of the unknown, the fear of becoming nothing, the forever-black that lurked behind one’s eyelids.

“Let go. You need to let go of this life.” He grunted.

The tip touched the front of her gown, an over-washed hospital grey stained with desperate patches of vitality. Just like this reality. It’ll never be clean again. The Great-See had tried to address the disarray but reality was inherently messy, biologicals were messy, and free-will made it messier. He leaned in closer, putting his weight over the knife. That was when her free hand found his face, striking him hard. Odez’s head snapped to the side and her nails raked his skin. Then those same punishing fingers groped beneath his chin, pinching deep as if seeking to strangle him, stoppering air that he didn’t actually need.

Human Futility.

Changing tack, Odez levered the knife sideways. The shift in momentum weakened her grip allowing him to angle the bone knife round, down and right into her side. Her blue green eyes watered and the age-lined face tightened with agony, twisting a mouth already enraged by defeat. He drove the knife deeper up between her ribs until the fine long tip reached her heart. Only then did he dare rasp, “It is done, it is done,” the words lacking his usual musical resonance.

Her grip around his neck slackened and he felt a peculiar sensation as her half-aware fingers traced the underside of his jaw. When her hand fell down with graceful finality she blinked slowly. Her eyes zeroed in and out of focus, from him—that murderous blot in her vision— to somewhere else, faraway.

Then something he hadn’t prepared for occurred. He felt the stutter of her dying heart, fluttering frantic like a butterfly stuck in a jar. Infinite black edges ringed his vision, while a deep pain ground within his own chest. It was all there, the harsh-cut reflection of what he’d done including the cold but simultaneously searing burn of the knife within, lodged deep against a background of screaming nerves and sundering cells. Odez struggled against it. Panic burst up and he cried out at the same moment that she whispered her last. The room swayed, swimming in pain, until it all flowed away, like a whirlpool were pulling it down to some black place. Sam’s strength was gone, her eyes had lost their focus, the ocean that they were, becoming still. Two, no, three deep gasps and that last exhale just kept going out and out, forever to its end

Odez was breathless as he pulled the knife from her body, hand trembling. A vital sickening warmth followed as the knife exited, flooding over his hand. He looked down stunned by the murder-redness of it.

It is done — those words fast losing their meaning in the face of the horror he had just experienced.

How? What was she?

 


About the author:

jesse-amihartAmi Hart is the pen name for Jessica Colvin. She is a writer, artist, and mother of two from Christchurch, New Zealand. She lives in two worlds: one being post-quake Christchurch and the other is a fantastical place where dragons and space ships soar, sometimes side by side.
Ami is a member of SpecficNZ and the Christchurch Writers Guild. She has had several short stories published in various anthologies and is currently writing a fantasy novel. She blogs about her writing adventures here: http://www.amilibertyhartwriter.com/

Cut Quill from J L O’Rourke

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The Cut Quill for 2016

Recently, the Christchurch Writers’ Guild held their first ever annual awards dinner. As part of the awards, our members were invited to share snippets of their writing. This is just one of the extracts that graced the imaginations of our membership.

This snippet was submitted by
J L O’Rourke for consideration for the Cut Quill, extracts from beloved stories.

Hocken Hostiles
by J L O’Rourke

They don’t like me. I haven’t done anything to them, they just don’t like me. Actually, I’ve noticed they don’t seem to like anybody, really. I mean the lifts.

They’re funny things, lifts. They’re not supposed to have emotions, at least that’s what I’ve been told, but I’ve always had this sneaky feeling that somewhere along the line, someone forgot to explain that to the lifts. And these ones here are particularly bad.

The first time it happened, I just thought we’d been a bit too slow leaping aboard. There we were, loaded down with jackets, briefcases, good solid brown-bagged Knox-College lunches, and all the other paraphernalia essential for making small-town escapees look like big-time writers, surrounded on all sides by a battery of lift wells. I suppose if we’d been on the ball we would’ve taken them by surprise and used the stairs, but we didn’t. One of us hit the ‘going up’ button and they plunged into attack.

You’ve got to admit though, their strategy’s faultless. Hit the enemy where they least expect it and when you’ve got them on the run, keep on advancing. They strike first by sending to collect you the one furthest away from the button you pushed. Then, as you all make a dash for the door, the lift begins its own patented entrapment movement, carefully timed to coincide with your kneecap or left ankle. I’ve struck plenty of vindictive lifts before, but these boys are positively carnivorous. I mean, you can usually fend off an attacking door with not much more than a slight shove, or at least by the strategic application of a number ten boot into an unprotected vital area, but these guys just keep on coming. They seem to like the feel of a delicate, erstwhile human, body squishing succulently between their doors and dripping down into their mechanisms. They probably oil their cogs with the blood.

By this stage of the skirmish they have succeeded in pulling off Plan A and at least have you divided, if not wholly conquered. They have completed a devastating pincer movement on our three innocent scribes. One is trapped inside entirely at the mercy of the mechanical sadist. One has been abandoned in the foyer and forced to take her chances with any one of the lift’s cloned cronies, while the third has been unfortunately sacrificed to appease the machine’s insatiable appetite.

So there I was, enclosed in the lift, alone except for the remains of my colleague, jammed in the door. While the lift decided which floor it was going to prematurely eject me onto, I collected my friend’s brown-bagged lunch and any other bits that looked as if they could be usefully recycled.

Sure enough, in spite of the fact that I had pushed the button marked ten, the lift halted on level nine. I steeled myself mentally for the next round of the fight but it paused only long enough to belch my companion’s remains onto the tiles before slamming its cell door shut again.

By this time I had realised something was slightly amiss. A momentary spasm of paranoia with claustrophobic overtones swamped my psyche. I could see myself trapped forever in the Hocken lift shaft, doomed to ride up and down until I suffocated, sustained only by two good solid brown-bagged Knox-College lunches.

Then it happened. The lift lurched, a bell tinged and I was dumped on level ten, cast aside as an unworthy adversary, as it shot downwards to seek new prey.

It’s been that way all week. They don’t like me, those lifts. I don’t think they like anybody. Or maybe it’s all a plot by Knox College to save on brown-bagged lunches.


About the author:

jennerlitchwarkJ. L. O’Rourke is the pen-name of Jenner Lichtwark. Jenner writes contemporary murder mysteries, urban fantasy, stories for children and rambling freeform poems. The Christchurch earthquakes have left a legacy of anxiety and panic attacks which saw her quit her regular job in 2012 to establish Millwheel Press Ltd, publishing her own works and offering editing advice and assistance to other writers. When not writing, Jenner enjoys being in a theatre, either onstage as a singer or backstage where she has been everything from floor crew to stage-manager. She lives in Christchurch with an assortment of hairless dogs, fluffy cats and grumpy guinea pigs.

Bloody Quill from Angela Oliver

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Bloody QuillRecently, the Christchurch Writers’ Guild held their first ever annual awards dinner. As part of the awards, our members were invited to share snippets of their writing. This is just one of the extracts that graced the imaginations of our membership.

This snippet was submitted by Angela Oliver for consideration for the Bloody Quill, stories about death scenes.

The Hunt
by Angela Oliver

WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC VIOLENCE

(Note: this is an extract from my yet incomplete manuscript, Tail of Two Scions. It therefore contains spoilers, and unveils my darker side. Some of the violence may be toned down for the actual novel.)noirbongofossa

Ombra’s dreams were drenched in blood. Even the ghostly murmurings of the Lemures, trapped with Noir’s trophies, did little to offer comfort and relief. They mocked him.

There came a sliding, grinding sound and the trapdoor crashed open, the bright light an assault against Ombra’s night-touched eyes. Noir loomed, a dark silhouette above.

“Ombra,” he said, “get your tail up here now. Today we are going hunting.”

Hunting? Hunting what? Ombra knew better than to ask. Noir did not appreciate questions, or anything except answers. The young simpona dragged himself up, out of the pit.

Noir’s nose rankled. “You reek,” he said. “What have you been doing? Bathing in your own filth?”

Ombra shook his head and stared at the floor. Three fossa cubs were wrestling, one gnawing industriously on the other’s tail. Kaikitra lazed in a patch of sunlight near the entrance way, the fourth cub stretched out across its mother’s rump.

“They are nearly seven moons old,” Noir declared. “It is time for their first real hunt.” He pushed one of the cubs out of the way with his foot, eliciting a scream of surprise, or possibly pain.

Ombra winced.

The black-furred Hunter unhooked his long whip from its hook on the wall and snapped it against Kaikitra’s side. “Get up,” he commanded. The fossa grunted and stood, her cub tumbling from her with a startled squeak. “Come on,” he turned to glare at Ombra. “Since today I am feeling generous, I shall let you ride.”

***

The big red antelope grazed patiently at the foot of the tree. Ombra hurried to heave on the riding platform and harness. It was heavy and cumbersome, but after six moons under Noir’s command, Ombra had developed strength and skill enough to quickly get the antelope ready.

The cubs had trailed their mother from the tree house, and now scrambled through the branches, playing tag and trying to grab each others’ tails.

Noir cracked his whip and they all froze. “Here,” he growled. One dawdled a moment too long, obsessively chewing a large leaf, and it suffered the sting of the whip with a squeal of pain. Kaikitra already stood beside the antelope, ears perked and head held high and alert, eager for the chase, the hunt.

“Do not forget my kibay,” Noir instructed, scowling at Ombra. He sprang easily up onto the antelope’s riding platform.

The young simpona scrambled to obey, racing up to the tree-house to fetch the sturdy carved stick, its sturdy head stained in darker shades. How many lemurs had it killed? Ombra dared not think.

“Too slow,” Noir tickled him with a crack of the whip. “I should use it on you.”

Ombra put his hand to his stinging cheek, his fingers came away sticky.

“Get up, we have some vermin to flush out.”

A heartbeat later, and Ombra took his position on the riding platform, crouching low at the front and clinging with both feet. Noir whipped the antelope into action, urging it deeper into the forest.

***

Ombra’s heart sank as they passed the lake; they were headed for the Low Quarter. The fossa flowed around them, Kaikitra striding to the front, whiskers forward as it scented the air. Behind their mother, the cubs bumbled along, occasionally batting at its tail or tumbling over one another in the leaf mulch.

They passed the patch on the lake shore where Rakoto and Eloise had shared time and conversation. White egrets squabbled in the trees.

Kaikitra froze, ears pricking high and sharp eyes focused off into the undergrowth.

A small dark lemur crouched in the shadow of a bamboo grove. His eyes were wide and his head completely devoid of fur. His fingers tightened about a twig of bamboo.

“Kary,” Ombra silently mouthed the name.

“Kaikitra, kill!” Noir shouted, striking down with his whip. The fossa sprang into action, three of the cubs trailing after it.

Kary roared an alarm call, dropped his bamboo twig and leaped up into the trees. The fossa followed. It was more agile than the half-starved orphan. Ombra squeaked as those powerful jaws closed about the little bekola. Kary screamed. The fossa shook him into silence and flung him to the ground.

“No!” Ombra cried, scrambling to dismount, to run to his once-friend’s aid.

“No.” Noir’s voice was firm, cold. He looped the whip about the young simpona’s throat, pulling hard. “Watch.”

Ombra struggled for breath, fingers clutching at the rough leather.

Still alive, Kary dragged himself along with his front legs, his spine crushed. One of the cubs crept forward to sniff him. It drew back, then lunged, flipping him over with its snout, batting him with its paws and tossing him in the air.

Ombra wanted to close his eyes, to look away, but he could not. He tugged at the whip – it could not yet be too late to save Kary – but the whip bit deep, the edge raw and sharp.

“Watch,” Noir growled.

Another cub joined in, grasping Kary’s head in its jaws. There came a terrible crunch. The little bekola stopped twitching. Dead.

The cubs played with him a few heartbeats longer, then began chasing each others’ tails.

Ombra felt the whip slacken against his throat, then something slammed into his back, shoving him off the antelope. The damp leaf litter caught him in its foetid embrace.

“You dared to disobey me,” Noir growled.

“You let them kill him.” Ombra’s voice was flat, emotionless, as he fought against his grief. So quick, so brutal.

One of the cubs bounded over to him, nudging its head against his hip, begging to be scratched. Its jaws dripped red with gore.

Ombra recoiled back, stomach heaving. He fought to keep from vomiting. Last time he had thrown up, Noir had made him eat it (“I will not have you waste food”).

“Collect it,” Noir instructed. The whip whistled past his ear.

Ombra paused, confused. Collect what?

“It. The vermin.” The whip whistled again. “Bring it to me.”

Kary.

Speechless, cold with grief and raw with bitter rage, Ombra approached his fallen friend. He gulped back the rising bile, almost choking on the taste of sour fear. Kary’s cheeky grin now twisted into a grimace of pain and fear, his bright eyes clouded, head crushed and broken. Ombra took off his soiled lamba and laid it across Kary like a shroud. He rolled him up, lifting him. He was so tiny, so light – all skin and bone and blood. So much blood. Ombra walked back slowly, struggling against the great heavy weight of sorrow and fear, so much heavier than his broken burden. The fossa cubs followed, sniffing at him curiously.

“You knew it,” Noir declared.

Ombra gave a short nod.

“It is good then, that it is dead. No son of the Queen should associate himself with vermin-scum.” Noir spat a great gob of leaf mulch onto Kary’s shroud. “Pass it up.”

Ombra obeyed, wincing as Noir shoved Kary’s battered body into one of the saddle bags.

“For the cubs, for later,” he said, then tugged out the lamba, rolled it into a wad and flung it at his apprentice.

“Put it back on.”

It was sticky with blood and gore, and reeked of fear.

“Now get up here.”

Ombra hunched in his foetid robe, one hand clutching the finger-bone. He could do nothing to block out the screams, the howls, as Kaikitra and the vicious cubs cut a path of destruction through the homeless lemurs. Those that were healthy enough escaped up into the trees, but there were many that were not. Some so pitiful that they barely moved, seemed almost to welcome the gaping fangs and powerful claws.

Ombra lost count of the number of victims.

The smaller of the fossa cubs began to tire, plodding flat-footed with its head lowered.

“I think that is enough for today.” Noir patted his bulging trophy bag. He had taken his token from all of the kills, leaving the corpses to rot in the woods. “We have certainly cleaned out a number of vermin.”

Ombra allowed himself a sigh of relief. His body trembled with the stench of pain and the grief surrounding them. It was all he could do to keep his balance against the antelope’s rocking back.

***

Noir turned his steed and they plodded back out from the Low Quarters. The antelope was just about to step out of the gloom and into the light when Ombra suddenly felt Noir jerk upright behind him. He heard a low chuckle.

“Well, well, well, looks like we have one final trophy for the taking.”

Ombra looked up. A red-furred lemur crouched on the ground, carefully wrapping one of the previous victims up in a stained lamba. She froze at the sound of hoofs squelching on leaf litter, rose her head and turned to face them.

Ombra felt a flicker of recognition and fear. She was the one that had adopted the tiny orphan. He struggled to remember her name. Mit-something? Mitaiza, that was it. Of the kit there was no sign. She probably died moons ago.

“Mitaiza, RUN!” he shouted.

Mitaiza looked up at him, startled to hear her name, and hesitated for one heartbeat. Kaikitra reached her in three strides and caught her just as she leaped for the trees. One bat from the powerful paws sent her sprawling into the leaf mulch, whilst another pinned her to the ground. The mighty jaws opened, ready to rip and rend.

“Hold!” Noir shouted.

To Ombra’s amazement, Kaikitra obeyed. The fossa stopped, motionless, jaws still gaping. Beneath her, Mitaiza gasped, half-stunned with fear.

Noir slid from the antelope’s back and gestured to Ombra. “Come.”

With a solid gulp, Ombra slipped down behind him. What game was he playing now?

“Here.” Noir slipped his kibay into Ombra’s hand.

Ombra stared at it in horrified amazement.

“It is time to see if you have what it takes.”

A long silent pause, in which Kaikitra’s low purring-growl came the only sound.

“I want you to kill it,” Noir finished.

“K-kill it?” Ombra tripped over the words.

“Yes, kill the vermin. Bash its head in, beat it to death. Think you can do it?”

There was no answer to that.

“Is that a no?” Noir leaned closer, his eyes bright in the gloom. “Because if it is, if you cannot do it, then you know what will happen, do you not?”

Ombra swallowed hard.

“I will let Kaikitra play with it. And you know what a mess it makes.”

Ombra knew only too well. He hefted the kibay in his shaking hands, held it above Mitaiza’s head.

She stared up at him, her eyes wide with fear and the certainty of death. He wondered what she could see in his own.

He swung the kibay with as much force as he could master, its heavy head connecting in a jaw-crunching blow. “Run!” he shouted as Kaikitra tumbled backwards, sprawling into the leaf-mulch. Followed it up with another blow, cracking it hard across the fossa’s muzzle.

This time Mitaiza did not hesitate. She scrambled free and disappeared up into the shadows of the tree.

Again and again, Ombra rained blows down on the fossa, all the anger, the rage, the helplessness suddenly expressing itself. It may have fought back, for Ombra felt hot flares that burned and faded, and his fur became sticky with blood. It may have been his, or it may have been the beast’s.

Finally, spent, he sagged, leaning on the kibay. Kaikitra was barely recognisable. Its jaw was shattered and broken, the side of the head caved in, fluids leaking into the soil.

It was only then that Ombra realised what he had done – he had killed the Hunter’s pet. He looked up, and into Noir’s fiery gaze.

Noir was smiling.

Smiling!


About the author:

angelaoliverAngela Oliver is an author and illustrator, who prefers writing about animals rather than people. She is currently working on the series she describes as “epic fantasy with lemurs” and struggling her way through second-book-itis. Although from her whimsical art and furry protagonists, she may come across as a writer of the cute and fuzzy, she seems to have a taste for the gruesome.