Make it Monday: Greetings! 

I love receiving cards, don’t you? But even more than receiving, I love MAKING cards! Here’s some of my recent makes. 

Shark week. Meeting the most vicious fish in the seas!

When hubby and I went on our little adventure, we never for one second thought we’d end up coming face-to-face with some of the most vicious creatures under the waves. We were blessed to dive in the Galapagos, Panama, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and many more places, seeing stunning underwater worlds and the incredible creatures that live there. Of course, not every sea creature wanted us there and more than once we had a face off with the most vicious fish under the sea. And here he is…..


We got a couple of pictures of clown fish (in this case a tomato anemone fish) getting grumpy with visitors and this one decided that we’d got a bit too close to his home so bit my husband!

And now, here’s a few pictures of sharks…..

Grey reef shark, Thailand


Black tip reef shark, Malaysia


Leopard shark, Thailand


Thresher shark, Philippines


White tip reef sharks, Thailand


Leopard shark, Thailand


Whale shark, Philippines


Galapagos shark, Galapagos Islands


Another shot of that beautiful leopard shark in Thailand

Getting the most from conferences

It seems as if conference season is already upon us. There are innumerable conferences, locally, nationally and internationally, all eager for your business. When I was first setting out I went to a number of different conferences and met some fantastic people, many of whom are now dear friends.

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I have my lanyard I take to all conferences. It’s got different tickets, badges and stickers on

Conferences, especially if you’re a writer, are an invaluable tool. We’re known as a fairly reclusive lot so a conference allows you to leave your characters behind and meet real people. Understandably, it can be fairly daunting so I’ve come up with a few tried and tested methods for you to use:

  • Choose your conference carefully. It’s not cheap buying tickets, booking transport and hotel rooms so make sure that the conference is one which you will find interesting and importantly, beneficial;
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    Meeting Graham Higgins at BristolCon was a highlight in 2013

  • Do your homework. I’m not just talking about deciding on which outfit to wear (although this is important, see below) but look at the conference website: which writers, agents or publishers are going? Check out their webpages or look them up in the ‘Writers and Artists’ Yearbook’. Know who they are and what they do;
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    I was terrified at NineWorlds in 2011

  • Which brings us to something important – start growing your online presence. If you don’t already, get a twitter account and start following people who interest you. If you’ve recently read a book by an author, tweet them and tell them how much you enjoyed it and say you’re looking forward to seeing them at the conference. Obviously with everything on the internet, there’s a fine line between being friendly and demanding. Would you really want people sending unsolicited emails etc? No. Be professional and most importantly be polite – you don’t want to arrive at a conference with a reputation for being ‘that annoying person’ who people avoid;
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    With other Fox Spirit Writers at EdgeLit in 2013

  • Plan your weekend. Most conferences have a vast array of events, talks, screenings, signings and more. Most post their programme beforehand so get a copy and review it, deciding which events you want to go to. It saves you a lot of time once you are actually at the conference. I’ve learned this from experience, don’t forget to book in time for food. My first NineWorlds Conference, I rushed from event to event and didn’t eat for 12 hours. When I met an author I admire and had been looking forward to talking to, I was so exhausted and hungry, I could barely remember my own name and just mumbled something about needing coffee. Very embarrassing!;
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    I helped promote Fox Spirit Books at ExeCon in 2014 with Adele Wearing and Alec McQuay

  • If you’ve written a book or are looking to get into publishing, then you need to start branding yourself and your work early on. Sadly publishers don’t have the finances at the moment to promote new or even established authors as much as they might like so you’ve got to do a lot of the hard work for them. I became known as the girl with the dresses because I chose to wear an array of summer frocks at a couple of writing conferences I attended (as an aside, it was more of a practical move than a fashion choice due to an unseasonably warm September). I quickly realised how beneficial this is: when contacting people after the conference I could remind them of who I was by saying ‘I was the girl in the green dress’ and at future conferences I’ll keep up this tradition. I spoke with comic book writer Tony Lee and he said that he was often recognised by people because they knew his distinctive waistcoat, shirt and tie combination, not what he actually looks like. Branding is very important so choose your outfit carefully;
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    I was too shy to speak to James Herbert at FantasyCon in 2012

  • In-keeping with this, maintain your decorum. You do not want your ‘brand’ to be ‘drunk girl flashes knickers as she falls off table onto lap of famous author’;
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    Riddle Me This! Would you dare to wear cosplay to a conference? NineWorlds 2013

  • You’ll meet a lot of people at the conference and you’ll be given a lot of business cards. Everyone has their own way of storing them (one friend puts them in special envelopes to remind herself which day she was given them, another sorts them by person) but one thing I found invaluable is to write a few things on the back of each card such as at which event you met the person, perhaps the anecdote you told them, anything to jog their memory when you contact them in a months time;
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    Excuse the dodgy haircut (note to self, don’t go for a new style days before going away). Launch of Tales of Nun and Dragon and FantasyCon 2012

  • Which brings us to your card. At my first conference I was surprised at the number of unpublished writers with their own business card, the title ‘Author’ splashed across the front. However, seeing the number of cards flying around the hotel bar I realised that for my next conference I need to have my own cards;
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    Doing a bit of book promo at Nine Worlds 2015

  • It’s fabulous to go to a conference with a friend and it’s great to have that comfort of knowing someone but remember you’re there for you. Get out of your hotel room and go and meet people. You never know what might happen, either you’ll meet a new friend or better yet, you might meet an agent or publisher who accepts your work;
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    I was lucky to attend the Exeter Novel Prize 2014, which was presented by MP Ben Bradshaw (even though I hadn’t submitted) and got to meet agents and writers

  • If you’ve got them, don’t forget to check out the facilities for children. I’ve been impressed with the efforts Nine Worlds has gone to to ensure youngsters are entertained, but not all conferences are so inclusive. This also goes for if you have additional needs (I remember one venue didn’t have accessible rooms for people in wheelchairs). Know where baby change facilities/accessible toilets are. Should you need additional assistance, let the guys working at the conference know so they can help (again, Nine Worlds does this well, with coloured badges). It’s one area where pre-planning can save time and stress;
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    Don’t forget to eat!

  • If someone agrees to look at your work, make sure you follow their guidelines to the letter and as always in a polite and not over-friendly manner. Yes, you shared a few drinks but do you really want to start a professional relationship with ‘we got trashed’?;
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    Causing chaos at ExeCon in 2014

  • Finally, and most importantly, have fun!

So there you have it. Conferences are great places to meet people with similar interests to you and you never know, they might be the start of exciting new chapter. Enjoy!

Any additional hints or tips? Let me know in the comments below

The Big Interview: Kalkidan Legesse

One of the things I love about where we live is that there are so many independent shops selling a range of local, handmade and ethical products. One of my favourites is ‘Sancho’s Dress‘ which sells ethical and sustainable clothing. Co-owner, Kalkidan Legesse has a fantastic eye for fashion and all will fit you with the perfect outfit, either for a special occasion or day-to-day wear.

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I spoke to Kalkidan about her inspiration for Sancho’s Dress, how she selects pieces for the shop and what she has planned for the future.

GCH: Your inspiration for Sancho grew after your travels through Ethiopia. That’s an unusual destination for tourists, so what drew you to the region?

KL: Well the main reason is because I am Ethiopian. My family migrated to the UK when I was 5, and I grew up in Reading with a warm and family orientated Ethiopian community. We returned to Ethiopia for the first time when I was around 15 and then when I was 20 I returned again to work for the NGO World Vision Ethiopia for a 6 month period. As is the case for many first generation immigrants I sought to understand the country and culture that I was from to find some answers to the questions I held about myself. In Ethiopia I was first introduced to weaving, spinning, design and the textile markets of Africa’s largest outdoor market. I fell in love with the skill, the joy and the life of making and the independence and dignity of the makers themselves.

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GCH: Can you tell us a little about Sancho and its ethos?

KL: Sancho’s is a sustainable clothing company that helps people, mainly here in the UK, find clothing and gifts which have been made in a way that protects the environment and helps makers to thrive in their craft. We curate contemporary slow fashion pieces at affordable prices, striving to connect brands which are doing amazing work to you. We have jewellery made by communities who, before their current work, lived in the largest slums in the world. 90% of our cotton clothing is made from organic cotton, protecting land from deteriorating and farmers from cycles of life threatening debt. It all makes a positive impact in the world by fighting poverty and climate change.

GCH: Given the disposable, cheap fashion available in stores, how do you aim to change people’s perception of ethical, fair trade and quality clothes?

KL: I believe the most important thing is that we exist, we provide an example of an alternative, of clothing which is made to last and ethically made, clothing which of course is beautiful. Then people are put in the position where they need to make a decision, I think some people are more conscious of this than others, which is natural as with all social movements there are early actors and late actors and people who are never too keen.

I also think that we need to be working hard to provide options for people, we are working to carry larger ranges with more items in them..think swimwear.. so that people can choose.

Finally outreach is important, we use our instagram and facebook pages to talk about the ethos of our business and help people understand that organic clothing can be as significant as organic food and that fair trade is as powerful if not more so as aid in lifting people out of poverty.

Its all a work in progress but  I think we’ll get there.

GCH: How do you ensure your products are ethical, fair trade and organic?

KL: We have a sourcing criteria for the shop to make sure all the styles we carry are doing good in the world. The first is certification, there are some amazing audit bodies like GOTS, WFTO, BAFTS and the Fairtrade Foundation which set out a criteria for cotton farmers, and garment manufactures to follow in order to minimise their environmental impact and ensure poverty alleviation. These are often called the ‘10 Fair trade principles‘ and they protect the workers rights, ensure safe and fairly paid conditions and absence of forced work. We source 70% of our items from fully certified brands. The remaining 30% is sourced from designer-makers, usually made here in Devon. They are independent, and usually at least partially self employed, and their craft helps them to earn a portion of their living.

GCH: What makes you different from other stores on the high street?

KL: Profits are not the basis of our business, we are motivated by the belief that we can make a difference in the world by helping people to reduce their carbon footprint and to connect them with makers in the UK and in some of the most impoverished areas of the world.

We also spend a lot of time with our customers helping them to find items of clothing that suit them, make sense in their wardrobe, clothing which they can wear on a multitude of occasions and will last them at least more than 30 wears.

GCH: What’s your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur and working for yourself?

KL: I love that work is as serious or as playful as I need it to be, my partner and I can go from concentrating on strategic meetings to dancing to whatever is on BBC 6. There is a lot of joy in working with someone you love and trust, whose vision you share.

GCH: What would you say are the top three skills needed to be successful?

KL: I would say you have to be willing to learn, they are so many mistakes to make and you will probably make them all, and unless you can reflect on that and improve you’ll just go in circles. You have to be able to communicate your idea and the value of it, people are bombarded by different causes and worries in the world not to mention their own lives so unless you can speak to them you wont hold their attention. Finally, you have to enjoy your work, there is a LOT of hard and dull aspects of being an entrepreneur and unless you can find joy in them, or in between them you are not going to have much fun.

GCH: I love your Instagram account. How important is social media to your business?

KL: It is the primary way in which we communicate with our customers and friends so I would say it is of huge importance to our business. Social media is fantastic as it works to start leveling the playing field between huge companies and independents, it has allowed us to capture the attention of our customers in a way that other business on the high street, with less heart, can’t and something like a TV ad probably wouldn’t have.

GCH: What are your plans for Sancho in the future?

KL: So many plans, I want there to be a sustainable shop that everyone in the UK can access within the next 10 years. We’re currently laying down the groundwork for the next shop so we’ll see if we can make that dream a reality.

GCH: What’s your favourite or most meaningful piece you’ve sold in Sancho?

KL: What a lovely question, everything we sell is hand picked, tested and curated by me so I feel an attachment with all of it. The past few days, when I’ve been walking through town or by the river I’ve seen a few dozen people wearing items from Sancho’s, and each time my heart leaps. I never know if I should introduce myself or if that would be too weird, but yeah at the moment I don’t have a favourite item but I absolutely love seeing people wear our collections.

GCH: Who has been your greatest inspiration?

KL: Well I’m a fortified member of the Beehive and I am in awe of Beyonce’s bold and brazen power, creativity and femininity as the mug says ‘Beyonce has the same hours in a day as you’ so I try to remind myself. More deeply though I love and respect my parents and all that they sacrificed and invested in order to raise me and my sister in the UK. From my experience, migrating to another country is one of the hardest journeys to take so I see their strength and perseverance as a source of my own.

GCH: What drew you to Exeter?

KL: I came to Exeter university to study PPE and I stayed because of the amazing people, the liberal and inclusive community and the easy access to fish and chips by the sea!

GCH: It’s no secret that I love books and there are some special ones I always keep close by. Do you have a favourite book and why?

KL: I have to say I haven’t read a lot recently although I have 11 more books to read before the end of the year. Now that I’ve told you the context, I love the poetry of E.E Cummings, disjointed yet whole – it’s beautiful. I love Othello, the perception of black males in western society hasn’t moved too far forward and it is eternally relevant. I loved the vampire novels of Anne Rice I grew up with a crush on Lestat rather than Edward of Jacob. I’m reading a few management books at the moment haha, they are not so exciting. And if podcasts count, they count right? I’ve completely addicted to the Serial series right now.

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GCH: Your passion for your work is clear, but what do you do in your spare time? (if you have any!)

KL: In my spare time I like to run, to cycle, to see my friends to hang out with my boyfriend. We have this thing where we harmonise badly on acoustic songs which we enjoy a little too much. I’ve always loved writing poetry so I’m trying to do more of that. I love to travel, so I like to make plans in my mind and wish them into reality, I have 3 trips planned this summer so it’s kinda working.

GCH: Tell us a secret.

KL: Hmm, lets see… I a huge star trek fan and wish I got to speak about that more often. Does that count? If not DM me. (GCH. You all know we love our geek shows here! I’ll let you decide who the best ‘Enterprise’ Captain is, although I do love Picard personally)

If you’d like to know more about what Kalkidan is up to, check out her blog, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram

My Path to Publication

Geri meets Aggy

The publishing world has undergone a rapid shift in recent years, even in the time since I dipped my toes into the ocean of books, agents, ebooks etc. However, I’m often asked how I got my work published so I thought I’d share my story in case it helps someone else on their journey to publication and a few tips based on my experiences.

I’ve always written. One of my first memories was of sitting with my cousin, writing a very long and protracted story. I can’t remember all the details but I do remember it ran to about eight pages, quite a feat as I was only about 7years old! At college I’d written for our local paper and had written some short stories for myself. When hubby and I decided to take a gap year, I decided that would be the perfect time for me to get that novel out.

I remember writing the opening chapters to what would become ‘Akane: Last of the Orions‘ while on a beach in Brazil. Reading it to hubby, he was excited and I was keen to learn what happened to Akane and her friends but it would be another few years before I had finished the novel. In the meantime I undertook the London School of Journalism’s Creative Writing Course which gave me some useful guidelines and helpful feedback from the tutors. I also worked on a few pieces featuring animals and people we’d met on our travels. In theory I’d love to publish them one day, but I know they’ll stay safely in my computer.

I completed ‘Akane: Last of the Orions‘ as part of a National Novel Writing Month challenge but it needed a LOT of work. As an aside, if you’ve not completed NaNoWriMo before and are an aspiring writer, give it a go. It’s a fun challenge which can set you up with some good writing practices.

When we returned to the UK I decided to try and sell some of my work. I attended a writers conference ‘FantasyCon’ and was bombarded with information – ways to get an agent, ways to self-publish your books, reasons not to have an agent, self-branding, writing for YA, ensuring your book will be the ‘next big thing’. It was frankly too much and everyone I met had an opinion on how to do it ‘correctly’. I left slightly more confused than when I arrived, but filled with ideas. I had also met some funny, interesting and people who would ultimately help me on my writing journey.

I’d got chatting to Adele Wearing the first night of the conference and she contacted me a few weeks later to discuss a project she was putting together. That was the start of ‘The Girls Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse‘. It was a really fun project, one I hold very dear, and which allowed me to try different writing styles, from tongue-in-cheek articles, to opinion pieces, to short stories. It also gave me the confidence to submit my stories to websites and I’m still very happy that I won the poll on Fantasy Faction for my short story ‘The Last Dragon Keeper’.

My interest in writing grew and I helped to set up ‘Resident Writers’ which prompted me to write an assortment of pieces, including poetry which is definitely not my forte! I continued submitting to different websites In the meantime, Adele had decided to collate and publish a book called ‘Tales of the Nun and Dragon‘ and asked if I would like to submit. My short story ‘Into the Woods’ was accepted and I really enjoyed writing all the blood and guts. ‘Tales of the Nun and Dragon’ was well-received and launched at the next FantasyCon, with Adele deciding to set up Fox Spirit Books soon after. Further titles from Fox Spirit Books followed and Adele kindly agreed to publish my collection of short stories, Weird Wild, which included an adapted version of ‘Into the Woods’. The following year ‘Akane: Last of the Orions‘ was also published by Fox Spirit Books. All the while, I continued submitting my work, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so and writing on my blog.

I had a bit of a break when the toddler was born. The voices were still there, demanding attention, but not surprisingly there was a louder, more demanding voice who needed me, so my notebooks and ideas were put away. Although I still wrote a little, I had become rusty and my old website became slightly redundant. I briefly returned to work, but for a variety of reasons, decided to leave my job and devote myself to raising our daughter, trying my hand at crafting and focussing on my writing. In 2016 I took on the role of ‘Commissioning Editor’ for ‘Fennec Books’ an imprint of Fox Spirit Books and soon after my first pre-teen novel ‘Ghoulsome Graveyard‘ was published. I’m planning next year to try self-publishing so pop back regularly to see how that’s going and I’m also submitting to different magazines and publications, with a short story appearing in the June edition of Sirens Call.

So I’m by no means an ‘expert’ on getting published. My path is very different to other authors – I’ve met people who have agents but who have no books currently in print and others who’ve lots of work either self-published or published through small presses, I’ve met people who use Patreon and others who only show their work to family. However, I have a few suggestions (in no particular order) if you want to your your work out there.

 

  1. Firstly, make sure your MS is ready for publication. Get others to read it and offer suggestions (it’s up to you if you accept them). Check, then check again for grammar and spelling mistakes (you never get them all but sending something filled with mistakes with get your MS rejected as agents don’t have the time to sort your laziness).
  2. Sounds daft but be passionate about your book when discussing it. If you’re not excited, how will anyone else be?
  3. Ive been told that you need a minimum of 10k followers on Twitter, as well as an author page on Facebook. I’d agree and disagree about needing 10k followers on Twitter. I’ve met established writers who struggle to make 1000! However, most publishers or agents are looking for some sort of online presence and Twitter is great for that. Few pointers – it’s SOCIAL media. Don’t spam people with ‘buy my book’ ads-nothing will get you blocked faster. Engage with people and make it fun. I tweet about books (and promote my own) but also chat with people about movies, crafts, dogs, anything really.
  4. A blog is also helpful as it gets you writing regularly and improves your writing but you need to keep it up to date, which is why I took mine down after having my daughter as I didn’t have time to maintain it and it looked a bit shabby and unloved. Websites are easy to set up and you can make it engaging by inviting blog-hops (where others contribute content. I do interviews with inspirational women who had interesting jobs or were challenging the establishment) or a regular item – I do ‘Make It Monday’ and movie reviews. On my old website, in the run up to an anthology I was in being published, I did a month of promo, inviting contributions, which was really fun & got word out there about the antho but it was hard work coordinating so many submissions and getting them all scheduled so it’s not for the faint-hearted. Facebook is a good media but a) think about your audience – for example it’s not the preferred social media for under 25’s or over 60’s so may not reach your target audience and b) I struggle with private/public so some authors keep separate accounts (I personally don’t bother). There’s also Instagram which I’m learning to use and Snapchat as well as Reddit and more popping up regularly. All have their pros and cons. Whichever you choose, post regularly, engage with people and don’t spam!
  5. I’d recommend going to writing conferences. There are many which are genre specific (Romance, World Con, and FantasyCon are a few which spring to mind but there’s loads). I was lucky and met some great people at these conferences, who I’m happy to say are now friends. My first conference I met a lot of wannabe authors and it sounds awful but they smelled of desperation – they were buying agents drinks and generally sucking up to everyone. One man actually turned his back on my husband as soon as he learned he wasn’t in ‘the biz’. So just get chatting to people and you never know who you’ll meet. (We did the awards dinner and I accidentally sat next to an agent who after chatting about tv shows etc offered to read my novel.) These conferences are also great for learning more about getting published or just about your favourite authors or subjects so go and enjoy.
  6. Agents. There are a lot of pros and cons about agents. In theory they get your book into the hands of publishers faster, sort contracts and generally look after you. However, I know authors signed to an agent who haven’t sold any of their manuscripts so it’s up to you. If you’re going to approach an agent, check their submission guidelines CAREFULLY. Nothing will get your MS thrown into the slush pile faster than sending it in Word and they wanted it in Pages or set out incorrectly. This sounds simple but don’t send it to a wrong agent. Like readers, agents have their own interest areas so I wouldn’t send my horror story to a romance agent – it’s wasting both our time. As I said, follow guidelines and be polite – Twitter is filled with authors sending snotty replies to agents who they feel have taken too long or rejected their work. Publishing is a small world and you don’t need that sort of negativity against your name. You’re trying to sell your books, but also yourself so acting like a child throwing a tantrum is not professional. If they reject, say thanks for their time and that’s it. Take on board any suggestions they may make. If you want an agent, keep going – they receive hundreds of manuscripts a month so yours needs to really stand out.
  7. If you get an agent, or work with a small press, read the small print of any contract – check about foreign rights, who gets what if it’s sold to TV or movies, rights for audiobooks, how long you’re entering into the contract and who gets the rights to our work when it ends, who pays for editing and formatting, and what type of publishing will they do (print or eformat).
  8. Which brings me to small presses and self publishing. Some people dismiss these as vanity presses but in recent years they’ve been putting out some good work. As with agents, follow their submission guidelines and also check their contracts as above. For example my contract means my publisher gets the rights to print and e-format for a year, then all rights return to me & I can sell it elsewhere if I want. They’re fantastic for new authors, but their budgets are small so be prepared to do a lot of self-promotion.
  9. I’d also recommend getting your name out there by submitting short stories & articles to magazines. A lot aren’t accepting submissions from unknowns anymore (eg Women’s Own used to do periodical mags just of fiction but I think they’ve stopped them now) but there’s loads of online places to submit. As above, check guidelines, proof your submission and write a good story.

These are only a few suggestions, if you’ve got more (and I’m sure you do!), let me know in the comments below.

National Share-A-Story Month

We love stories here. Be it the worlds of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler for the Lamb,  Scott Snyder for hubby or Gaiman for me, there’s always a yarn being spun (I’m tempted to insert a pun about my knitting addiction here, but I digress).

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But whilst I love to read stories, I also love to craft them. I’ve talked before about the voices in my head, telling me their tales (and more than once, their tails!). Way back in 2012 I submitted a short story ‘The Last Dragon Keeper‘ to the monthly Fantasy Faction Writing Challenge. In an open vote, my short story won! As part of National Share-A-Story Month, I thought I’d do a Throwback Thursday to the world of Eui, Rowan and dragons. Click the link to see the original article and carry on reading for my story of The Last Dragon Keeper.

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Original artwork by Katie Marshall

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The Last Dragon Keeper

Eui watched as the waves surged towards the shore. Ice had formed on the water, the motion turning it to mush as it covered the smooth grey rocks that acted as boundary between land and sea. She wrapped her arms around herself, trying but failing to keep out the wind, which threatened to tear her clothes and pick at her bones. She knew that her mother would scold her for forgetting her jacket but in her desperation to get out of the house, she had left it, stowed snugly in her wardrobe. Eui stamped her feet to try to warm them but the wind kept forcing its way through her thick boots, biting her toes.

The ground began to shake. It started with a slow trickle of the smaller rocks, which quickly blended with the mush of the ocean water. The larger rocks began to vibrate then roll down the hill and into the water. Eui stood her ground as rocks large and small snapped at her heels, flinching as the larger ones bruised her. Eui breathed deeply, inhaling the familiar ash scent that covered the island more deeply than the perma-snow.

The earth juddered to a stop and Eui carefully stepped out of the pile of stones that covered her feet. The icy slush boiled along the shore then all was still once more. Eui turned as she heard footsteps crunching on the gravel and smiled at her father.

“Your mother is worried about you,” he said, not looking her in the eye but focusing on the ocean.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I did.” Eui risked a look at her father but could not read his expression. The silence settled over them, only slightly comfortable.

Finally, taking a deep breath, Eui said, “The dragons are dying father.”

“As are we, Eui, as are we. We can only hope that they die before we do. A dragon alone in this world, without a Keeper, would soon fall prey to the blades of the Sagar.”

If they’re lucky, thought Eui, but she did not pursue the matter.

Every Keeper knew the challenges faced by the dragons. The Sagars were hunters who sold dragon meat and their scales and teeth, which held magical properties. For over a generation they had hunted and killed dragons, depleting their numbers in an unending quest for the perfect hunt: A mythical beast, defined by its purity and beauty. With each retelling of the myth, the dragon grew in grace and size until Eui, who had been told stories of the Sagar which had kept her awake at night, did not recognise the creature as being a dragon but an animal of pure virtue. Knowing no dragon had ever been born matching the myth kept the Sagars hunting and Eui from peaceful dreams.

However, the biggest threat was the dragons themselves. Females would lay between 15-20 eggs and would continually defend her nest from attacks by males. Of the eggs that survived, not all would hatch, with some being trampled. Finally the female, tired and undernourished, would die. If she was lucky, she might see the one or two of her offspring who would emerge from their eggs, snorting flames and growling to be fed.

In the absence of a mother, when the infant dragons smashed from their eggs, they would bond with a Keeper. The Keepers were almost as old as the dragons themselves but they too had slowly grown fewer and fewer until Eui and her brother Rowan were the only non-bonded keepers. The last surviving female was guarding her egg, waiting to die.

“It’s a very special time for your brother. He will be bonded, probably today,” said her father, his eyes remaining on the waves.

“And what about me?” asked Eui.

“Is that why you wish to leave? You lack purpose?”

Eui flashed a quick look at her father. He would claim that it was the wind that brought tears to his eyes, but the clench in Eui’s stomach reminded her of the argument with her mother.

“There is a world beyond the isle, father. I wish to explore and there is nothing here for me. There will be no more dragons once this has hatched and bonded with Rowan. A Keeper with nothing to keep.” Eui’s eyes flooded with tears that threatened to fall. Her father swung an arm around her and gently pulled her close for a brisk hug.

“Come, Eui. They are preparing for the ceremony. I have to get to the Great Hall. Greeson and the elders are waiting for me.”

Together they walked slowly up the beach, slipping occasionally on the loose gravel. Kissing her on the head before gently pushing her towards the settlement, Eui’s father walked towards the mountain. Suddenly he called Eui and she ran to him as the wind stole his words.

“Eui, Keepers are like the seasons. We are currently in the darkest winter we have known, filled with darkness and despair, but after the winter, the spring warmth always comes. Remember, your name means spring in the old tongue. Wait and you will see the beauty when we emerge from the darkness. I know you feel there is nothing for you here, but your brother will need your support and love. Being a Keeper is not easy and he still has a lot to learn.”

Eui gave her father a small smile, then turned and jogged into the settlement, flinging open their door. Her mother looked up from where she was sat by the table, her sewing needle raised. She regarded Eui with a stony expression.

Eui paused, looking contrite under the glare of her mother. “Father said you might need some help preparing for the ceremony,” she said finally.

Her mother laid down her needle. She studied the garments laid out across the table then quietly said, “Go and wake your brother. He needs to get dressed. The ceremony starts soon. The egg is hatching.”

Eui dipped her head and avoided eye contact with her mother as she wound around the large table and up the stairs. Launching into her brother’s room, she jumped onto his bed, bouncing up and down.

“Wakey, wakey,” she called as Rowan swatted at her.

“Get off,” he shouted as Eui continued jumping.

“Mother says you have to get up. The ceremony is going to start soon so you need to get into your dress,” teased Eui.

“It’s a robe,” roared Rowan, sitting up and pushing Eui off the bed.

She landed with cat-like grace, giving him a smug smile. “Whatever. The egg’s hatching. You’re about to become a Keeper.”

“Yeah,” said Rowan without enthusiasm, pulling a shirt from the floor and sniffing it. Deciding it didn’t smell, he dragged it over his head, then ran his fingers through his hair.

Eui watched her brother. Three years older than her thirteen, his training made him appear older but seeing him first thing in the morning always reminded Eui of how young her brother really was.

Playfully kicking him, she ran from the room, calling, “Your dress is on the table. Hurry up or I might spill my breakfast on it.”

Eui charged into the kitchen, Rowan a few paces behind. They both stopped when they saw their mother’s stern face.

“Hurry up,” their mother said, handing Rowan his robe. Smoothing her hair, she stood a little straighter and scowled at her children. “I will see you at the Great Hall,” she said, leaving them.

Eui grinned at her brother. Rowan ignored her and carefully picked up the robes his mother had spent weeks embroidering. Slipping the delicate fabric over his head, it cascade down his body. Checking the sleeves were straight, he tugged at the hem. Eui bit her cheeks to stop from laughing while Rowan slipped into his boots.

“It’s a robe,” he growled.

Eui couldn’t contain herself and started laughing.

Looking down at himself, Rowan sighed, then he too started giggling. “Ok, it’s a dress. Can we go? I have a dragon to meet.”

Together they walked from the settlement towards the Great Hall, Rowan complaining about the cold and the snow getting into his boots. Entering the cave that would take them to the Great Hall, they could hear the Elders singing, and the pained final breaths of the female dragon. The Great Hall was a large cave, which had formed in the mountain, decorated by generations of Keepers. There were designs showing the bonding ceremony, the history of the keepers and dragons, with some designs used to train young keepers.

Eui and Rowan joined their parents, on a large platform just above the pit where the dragon rested with her last remaining egg. The female dragon was large, her scales a burnt orange turning to red on her belly and yellow on her wings. Her breath was shallow and laboured; the keepers knew that it would not be long before she would join her brethren in the flame halls of the underworld.

Eui stole a peek at the egg. It was about the size of a boulder, with mottled brown spots and she heard the frustrated squeaks as its occupier nosed its way out. The Elders stood on the opposite platform, their chants rising and falling with the breaths of the female. The large dragon’s head drooped, rose, then fell again.

Greeson silenced the Elders with a raised hand. “She has passed to the underworld,” he said.

No one made a sound as they watched the dragon ease its nose, then its body and finally its long tail from the egg. It opened its mouth and coughed, sending a ball of flame harmlessly against the wall. Shaking itself, its wings unfurled and the Keepers stood amazed. The baby dragon’s body was a paler colour than its mother’s, but its wings were pure white, veins highlighted in golden scales that caught the light. Shaking its head, it emitted a small bark before experimentally flapping its wings. Its dark green eyes took in the unmoving body of its mother before it spotted Rowan standing on the platform. Another flap of its wings and it was eye level with the platform, barking happily.

The Elders began chanting in the ancient tongue. Eui did not understand all the words but knew it was the song to encourage the dragon to choose its Keeper. Rowan grinned as the dragon looked at him and bowed deeply as he had been taught. The dragon started to dip its head when it caught sight of Eui behind Rowan. Cocking its head to one side it forgot to move its wings, flapping quickly as it began to fall. Rowan remained bowed, but his mother shifted nervously. Rowan dared to peek and frowned when he saw that the dragon was not returning his bow. Finally, he stood and looked at his father, who shrugged his confusion.

Standing, Rowan blocked the dragon’s view of Eui. The dragon craned his neck to look around the boy. Eui looked back wide-eyed back at the creature floating effortlessly before stepping past Rowan and raising her hand towards the dragon.

The dragon swooped close, it’s sudden movement causing Eui to step back in surprise until the dragons long black tongue flicked out, licking her hand. Eui giggled, running her hand along the dragon’s muzzle as it growled contentedly.

“The dragon has chosen its Keeper,” called Greeson, his voice echoing.

Eui stopped playing with the dragon as the words struck her like a physical blow. She looked at Rowan, his face contorted with anger, her mother with her hand covering her mouth in shock and finally her father who was smiling at her. Stepping forward he lifted Eui onto the dragon’s back. Eui hugged the dragon’s neck as it rose and circled the Great Hall.

“Spring has come with the last Dragon Keeper,” Eui’s father said.

***

Meet the Maker: Goals

So today we’re looking at goals. This is a slightly challenging topic to discuss, especially when your creative endeavours are so varied, and ever changing. When I bought my sewing machine, my aim was to make unique items for my daughter and I to wear. I’ve reached this goal (and ensured a steep learning curve!) but now I’d like to slowly start sharing what I make and hopefully start building clients and business.

For ease, I think I’ll divide it into writing goals and crafting goals.

Writing goals:

  • Keep writing! I’ve been pretty slack since I had my daughter so need to get back to writing regularly
  • Finish editing ‘Elesphere’ my young adult fantasy novel. I was pretty much finished but it needs a lot more work.
  • Ongoing work on my ‘Vampire’s Bodyguard’ series. More details on this to come!
  • Look into self publishing Elesphere and The Vampire’s Bodyguard next year. I’ve also got an idea to expand a short story but I’m keeping that a secret for now.
  • Obviously I’d love best-seller status but frankly, having people out there, reading my work is still surreal so I’ll just take a couple more happy readers. For now.

Crafting goals:

  • Ongoing skill development.
  • Improving my felting and learn to make fairies and characters.
  • Design and make a range of greetings cards to sell.