Guest Post & Excerpt From A.F.E. Smith, Author Of Darkhaven

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This week it’s my pleasure to introduce you all to A.F.E Smith! No doubt you’ve already heard of her: her fantasy novel Darkhaven is being released July 2nd, and is already receiving some very impressive reviews. Not only that, it has one of the loveliest covers I’ve seen in a while. So without further ado, here is A.F.E. Smith with an excerpt from Darkhaven and some accompanying murderous thoughts…

Darkhaven Excerpt, and Accompanying Murderous Thoughts…

When W.R. agreed to let me loose on her blog, I asked her what kind of post she’d like. An excerpt? An article?

Either would be great, she replied (thus demonstrating a touching but misplaced faith in my abilities). It’s totally up to you.

And so, since everyone knows I’m hopeless at making decisions, I present to you my one and only excerpt-article of the tour. Here’s the start of chapter 2 of Darkhaven, followed by a few relevant thoughts. Murderous ones, obviously.

***

The first thing they must have seen when they broke down Florentyn Nightshade’s door was the blood. Spattered across the walls, pooling on the polished wooden floorboards, dyeing the sheets to deep crimson: it didn’t seem possible for all that blood to have come from a single man. Not that there was much left in him. He lay sprawled on his back, bleached to bone white like driftwood left too long in the sun. The only colour in him was the night-dark hair that proclaimed his lineage, and the gaping hole where his throat had been.

Myrren stopped just inside the door, pressing the back of one hand to his mouth in a vain attempt to suppress the bile rising in his throat. The thick, metallic odour in the room was horribly familiar, but for a moment he couldn’t place it – and then when he did, he wished he hadn’t. It was the smell of the slaughterhouse.

He turned his head, searching the faces of the three or four Helmsmen crowding the doorway behind him.

‘Where is Captain Travers?’ he asked stupidly, as if that were the most important question. But he wanted Travers to be there. Travers was in charge of the Helm, and the Helm had clearly failed in their duty.

‘Called away to the cells, my lord,’ one of the men said – which reminded Myrren all over again of Ayla. No doubt Travers was currently learning of her escape. Yet now all Myrren’s anguish over that seemed trivial and irrelevant.

‘Then you tell me, please,’ he said. ‘W-what happened?’

‘We don’t know, my lord.’ Myrren couldn’t put a name to the speaker; the watching Helmsmen were all alike with fear. ‘A maidservant tried to deliver his breakfast, but found the door locked. She knocked and got no answer. And then …’ He swallowed. ‘And then she noticed the smell.’

Myrren nodded. ‘So she sent for you. I see.’

His gaze settled briefly on his father’s body, then shied away again. It was a good thing he hadn’t eaten this morning; as it was, the scant contents of his stomach were rapidly congealing into something cold and nauseous.

‘Did – did anyone try to revive him?’ It was another stupid question, given the state of the body, but it had to be asked.

‘I checked his pulse,’ a different man said. His striped sleeve was stained with a rust-dark smear, as though he had wiped his bloody hand on it. ‘But there was nothing …’

‘No. Indeed.’ Myrren could hear his own voice becoming ever more clipped and precise, a counterbalance for the tumult of emotion inside him. ‘So, then – so –’

‘We’ve had the physician to him, my lord.’ One of the Helm came to his aid. ‘He thinks it happened between seventh and eighth bell yesterday.’

Seventh bell A presentiment formed at the edge of Myrren’s thoughts, but he pushed it away.

‘So someone broke into Darkhaven last night,’ he said. ‘Crept to my father’s room, picked the lock, then relocked the door behind him after doing his murderous business – all without being seen by any of you?’

‘No, my lord,’ the Helmsman said. ‘He couldn’t have left through the door. Not with it locked from the inside.’

***

And so the investigation begins! But why murder?

When I first started writing fantasy, I was – quite naturally – influenced by the things I’d read and seen. And the things I’d read and seen tended to be of the classic good vs evil kind: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia. Of course, the problem with good vs evil narratives is that they present one side of a conflict as entirely disposable. It doesn’t matter how many stormtroopers or orcs get killed. They’re bad guys. They’re faceless.

So when I first started writing fantasy, I would have my hero get into fights and kill a bunch of people, because those people didn’t matter. They were just the opposition. (Strangely enough, this attitude characterises pretty much every political debate I’ve ever read on the internet.)Scavenger_day09

Yet as I grew older, and perhaps a little wiser, I became increasingly aware of the price of a life – human or otherwise. Writing fantasy in which the hero mowed down row after row of interchangeable bad guys didn’t seem quite so appealing. And it’s probably because of that shift in attitude that I turned to murder.

That might sound counterintuitive, but I think it’s because when murder is made the focus of a narrative, death immediately becomes a weighty, significant thing: a thing that has consequences and requires answers. A man investigating a murder is perhaps the opposite of those trigger-happy heroes of my early writing. He is taking a single death and resolving to bring the person responsible for it to justice.

Of course, when the murder victim is his father and the chief suspect is his sister, that makes things a little more complicated …

Darkhaven BlurbCover_image_DARKHAVEN_AFE_Smith

Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.

When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?

Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.

Get Darkhaven at:

HarperCollins
Amazon (global link)
Barnes & Noble
Google play
iBooks
Kobo

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Author_photo_DARKHAVEN_AFE_SmithAuthor biography

A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.

What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.

Author social media links:

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DARKHAVEN on Goodreads

Actors I Would Choose To Play My Favourite Book Characters

My mind works in odd ways- quite often particularly in comparisons and matching pairs. Mostly this involves spouting movie and book quotes at inappropriate moments because they’re so very, VERY applicable to the situation. But sometimes it involves watching movies and tv shows and scaring the dog by shouting: “Ha! S/he’d be perfect for [John/Jill Character] in [AwesomeBook]!”

One of my favourites is Benton Fraser from the Candian Show Due South. He’s a mountie (obviously) who thinks that the reason young street thugs are criminals is because they have “never been shown the rewards of a honest day’s work”.

DueSouthCaptainCarrot

When I started watching this show (and you should watch it, too, it is fantastic) the only thing I could think for several episodes was: “It’s Captain Carrot! It’s the quintessential Captain Carrot!” For those of you who aren’t (yet) fans of the late and great Sir Terry Pratchett, Captain Carrot is one of AnkMorpork’s City Watch, under the command of Sam Vimes. He is upright and kind and good and perhaps just a little bit stupid. But not as stupid as all that, and certainly no pushover. He believes so utterly in people that sometimes the sheer force of his belief causes them to act in the right way. He’s a wonderful character. He and Benton are brothers in arms, and if I could pick an actor to play Captain Carrot, I would pick Paul Gross. Canadian accent and all.

And speaking of Terry Pratchett’s characters, I’ve always been a bit annoyed at the actor they chose to play Rhincewind in film/tv. Because I would have chosen this guy: balfour

He’s got the long, weird face and big nose that I’ve always pictured Rhincewind with, not to mention the long, gangly limbs I’ve always thought necessary to the part. I’ve never thought of Rhincewind as being old. Long hair, scrubby mustache, robes, hat with ‘wizzard’ on it- yes. Old, no. So Vote #1 Eric Balfour For Rhincewind!

Of course, any list of actors I would choose to play favourite book characters wouldn’t be complete without one of Diana Wynne Jones’ characters in it.michael-fassbender-s-prometheus-robot-continues-his-alien-streak-f1

This particular one is from her A Tale Of Time City: an android called Elio. He is smooth and quiet and mostly emotionless, but he has a kind heart and a sneaking fondness for Vivian, Time City‘s young heroine. And there is a lot more going on under Elio’s smooth, pale surface than at first appears. He, of course, could only be played by Michael Fassbender.

I’ve even had this happen with characters in the books I write. I’ve had it happen for a few of them, but the most important one was when I first started writing Spindle, which is now on preorder for publication August 10th. The two main characters are Polyhemia – or Poly – a girl who is certainly not a princess, but who has been cursed to enchanted sleep just the same; and Luck, an absent-minded and long-lived enchanter, who has woken Poly.

Luck

At about the same time I wrote the First Ever Draft of Spindle, I was watching Supernatural (before it went all grand and huge and annoying). And at some stage through the series, Castiel came upon the scene.

I froze. Looked at the screen. Blinked. Did a double take. Stared at the screen again. But wait! That’s Luck! That’s him, to the very life! Even some of the mannerisms were right on. I knew right then that if Spindle ever became a movie (why yes, I do like my delusions thank you very much) I’d want Misha Collins to play Luck. Of course, he’d have to get rid of that pesky American accent, but he’s an actor, right?

What about you guys? Who are some of your favourite book characters, and who would you choose to play them if they were made into movies? And if you’re an author, who would you choose to play your characters?

Dead Man Walking (Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge)

He wasn’t any deader than usual.

I mean, sure, he was dead. His head was barely attached by a few wet strings of whatevertheheck, and floating in a pool of blood so warm that it must have been pumping through his veins just moments earlier. No, Roman was about as dead as you can get. It’s just that after a bloke’s come back from the dead half a dozen times, you start getting a bit cynical.

I kicked him a few times to make sure anyway, which turned out to be a bad idea because his head fell off all the way.

“Mongrel!” I said gloomily, more as a general swear than at him in particular. Roman doesn’t like me really swearing. “Blood on me jacket again!”

I crouched by the pool of blood and pushed his head back toward his neck. Nothing happened, but I kept it there anyway, ignoring the darker, slicker patches that showed on my leather cuffs. Roman’s not a vampire or anything like that. He just dies a lot. And it turns out that in a world where someone’s always trying to kill someone else, that can be a pretty lucrative talent.

Fingers clawed at my arm.

“Water!” rasped Roman, sucking in a gurgling breath.

“Oh, shut up,” I grumbled.

He sat up easily, dripping gore, and ran a bloody hand over his neck. “You’re no fun anymore, ya know that?”

“It wasn’t even frightening the first time.”

“You keep tellin’ yourself that, kid. You get the money?”

“What am I, an idiot?”

Roman flicked me a Look. “You weren’t supposed to break cover this early. I was supposed to take a ride to the city morgue. You should know by now that some of ‘em come back to check.”

“If I sneak into the morgue any more times this year, I might as well install a revolving door. Besides, what were they gonna check? They cut your head off.”

“I remember. Not my favourite way to die, I have to say.”

“Keeping score, are you?”

“Well, at least we got to live the high life for a while,” said Roman, shrugging. “And the Client paid well, so we should be comfortable for a while.”

“Where are we going this time?”

“Heard a rumour of some kids like me, up in Melbourne. They call ‘emselves Gamers. Maybe we’ll go there for a while.”

“More like you? Together? How’d they find each other, the White Pages?”

“Internet, kid. What are you, ninety? And you found me.”

“Yeah, but I’m not special,” I argued. I just like hanging out in morgues. “It was an accident. I dunno, Roman: a bunch of ‘em together, dying and coming back to life? We really wanna be in on that?”

“Bigot,” said Roman, grinning. “Hey, the Client’s little friends left a machete behind.”

“I’ve already bagsed it,” I told him. “You got the crossbow last time.”

“Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” said Roman. He was closer, of course.

I darted in front of him to get it first, and a sharp noise cracked through the air. Something punched my chest, hot and cold and powerful, and spun me away from Roman.

“Ow!” I staggered, shocked at the suddenness of it all. “Mongrel! What was that?”

My knees gave out, sprawling me in Roman’s blood. Only it couldn’t be his, because his was over there…

“Oh heck,” I said, and my voice sounded thick, as thick as my blood. “I’m gonna die.”

I saw a confusingly sideways montage of Roman dashing at the shadows on the other side of the street, a shard of light glinting in his hand. Gunshot split the air once again, then four times in quick, frantic succession. I heard a heavy, wet, smacking sound, and the client’s head somersaulted through the air, rolling out of sight down the bitumen.

“Baby, you still with me?”

There was Roman again. I must have lost a piece of time, or consciousness, because he was holding me now, gripping me too tightly with arms that were wiry and uncomfortable. I wasn’t used to being this close to him.

I snuffled a sick laugh into his shoulder. “Guess we asked for too much this time, eh?”

“His mistake,” said Roman, eyes like flint. “Police’ll get a body this time after all.”

“Two,” I said, snuffling again. “Reckon I should have picked you up from the morgue after all. Heck, Roman, it hurts!”

There was the stubbly warmth of his cheek against my forehead. “I know.”

“Money’s in the station lockers,” I said to the growing void. “Number seven this time.”

“Don’t be like that, baby,” said Roman. “We’ll get it together.”

“You suck at lying,” I said.

My heart ceased to beat, the silence of it ringing loud and sudden in my ears. Light and consciousness slipped away.

Darkness.

Darkness.

I woke, gasping and flailing, to a feeling of claustrophobia and the smell of plastic. My hands slapped against thick plastic above and around me, and I felt the sharp teeth of a metal zipper on my fingertips.

A body bag. I was in a body bag.

But that was Roman’s trick! I had been dead. So very, very dead.

Breathing too quickly, I struggled with the zip, tugging at it with my fingernails until I’d made an opening big enough for my hand to slip through. I unzipped myself and emerged into bleach-scented chill like a butterfly from its chrysalis.

“Well,” I panted, into the cold silence of the morgue. “This is a twist.”

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

I hope you enjoyed my offering for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge. I saw the prompt and had an idea and opening sentence almost at once. The only problem is, I think there’s more story… Aaaaand now I wanna write it as a tv series. As if I haven’t got enough to do.

You can check out the challenge and all the stories in the comments section here!

Writerly Things

I like to Google-Search stuff sometimes. Sometimes it’s writerly stuff that I need to know (for instance, when the screwdriver was first invented/mentioned) and sometimes it just weird stuff that occurs to me as I’m taking a break from writing (or procrastinating, as it’s otherwise known).Writer 1

This afternoon I Google-Searched for images of writers. It came up with some interesting pictures. According to Google, writers are people who drink, smoke, love cats, tea and/or coffee, and live in cluttered, paper-strewn offices and studio apartments.

And my personal favourite?

Writer the last

<– This guy. He’s wondering what the heck he did to bring himself to this point in his life.

By and large, then, there seems to be a general idea of what a writer is/likes/does. Which is interesting, because it prompted me to think about the writers I know (other than myself, of course).

99% of the writers I know love and/or have cats. Myself, I feel about cats much the same way that I feel about spiders. Most of ’em are too big to squish without feeling sick and the ones that aren’t make you feel creepy-crawly up the back for ages after you do squish ’em. If you want to know more about my brief experiment with having a cat in my house, I refer you to The Saga Of Cat. TL;DR? It didn’t work out so well. I’m definitely a dog person.

Writer 2

Smoking and drinking? Don’t know many writers who smoke: we seem to (mostly) know better nowadays. Drinking appears to be more common, though from what I can tell it’s more of a celebratory/after work type thing. The days of artistically drunk writers who scrawl away under the influence seem to be largely gone. Though if you replace ‘whiskey’ with ‘bacon’, then I, too, frequently write while under the influence. Each to his own, eh?

Tea and coffee now, that’s where I become properly writerly. I love my cuppa tea. Several a day, in fact. Writers are divided between tea and coffee, but it’s always either one or the other. Can’t get through the day without at least one cup. Getting up when you’re stuck at a difficult part in the paragraph, savouring a moment of peace in the storm of words with your fingers wrapped around a warm cup and the scent of tea lingering in the steam. Pepping yourself up with the caffeine. We’ve all been there.

writer 5Now when it comes right down to littered houses, I’m slightly red-faced. My house isn’t in the best state at the moment. That, however, is not a constant state: if I have too much clutter around me, I can’t concentrate, and I can’t write. There are sometimes that I literally have to clean before I can settle to write. Procrastination? Writer’s Block? Maybe. But I prefer a clean house. The other writers I know waver between highs of spotlessly clean desk/house/nook/other, and troughs of the time in between, when everything slides slowly until it’s a huge mess again.

So what are your writerly things? What are some of the stereotypes you’ve seen? Are they some of the ones I’ve mentioned, or do you have your own weird writerly things that no one else seems to have?

Comfort Reads

There’s something about reading a favourite book. It makes you feel warm and comfortable and peaceful. It’s the intellectual equivalent to a cup of tea, or sliding between newly washed sheets, or cuddling up in front of the fire on a rainy night.

It’s that feeling of contentment. Whether it’s the story, characters, writing style, or a combination of all three, there are just some books that are long time favourite comfort reads. They touch us on an emotional level; and that, like favourite memories linked to smells and tastes, brings back the delight we first felt when reading them again. Out of all the fiction I own (and I own a couple thousand – pysical – books) I have one that I re-read more than any other. That’s my all time favourite comfort read. I do have nine runners-up, though. Maybe you’ll see some of your own comfort reads on the list.

10.Steven Brust’s Dragon. Odd to equate a comfort read to something that contains so much death and killing and slaughtering and mayhem and death and- well, you get the picture. But I love the structure, story, and characters. I can read this one again and again.

9. Diana Wynne Jones’ Hexwood, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Year of the Gryphon. I adore Diana Wynne Jones’ books. I have so many favourites of her books. Hexwood is a glorious confusion that doesn’t quite make sense until the end, but keeps you hooked anyway, Howl’s Moving Castle is a delightful fairytale of a shy girl who makes magic hats and is turned into an old woman by a nasty witch (and is a lot less shy as an old woman), and Year of the Gryphon is one of the best ‘school stories’ I have ever read. Think tiny assassins, gryphon crushes, and schoolmates who are as likely to use orange peel as bat’s teeth in a spell.

8.C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Series. These were one of the first fantasy series I read. I read them over and over again, particularly The Horse and His Boy. So much adventure! Such a new world! And delightful, old-fashioned characters who spoke in old-fashioned ways. These are still a huge favourite with me, along with Lewis’ Perelandra trilogy, which I can also read over and over.

7. Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Series. This is a series following the adventures of Taran, Assistant Pig Keeper, and his friends Fflewdder Fflam and Princess Eilonwy. They are simply wonderful. The Chronicles of Prydain were the first fantasy books that taught me there could be depth to character, that not all bad guys are completely bad, and that not all the good guys stay good. Taran, with his striving to be a hero and his journey to wisdom, is one of my favourite book characters.

6. Antonia Forest’s Entire Marlow Series. In fact, everything by Antonia Forest. I can’t say enough good things about Antonia Forest. Ostensibly, most of her books are school stories. Don’t let that deceive you, and don’t think Enid Blyton. The range and scope of Antonia Forest’s books is far beyond that. Her characters are real, believeable, and entirely loveable. There are the twins, Nicola and Laurie, the older sisters Kay, Rowan, and Ginty, and brothers Peter and Giles. Then there is the next door neighbour Patrick . . . At school or at home, these are some of the best books you’ll read.

5. Kate Stradling’s Kingdom of Ruses. A deceptively simple fantasy. Viola’s family have been serving the Eternal Prince of Lenore for generations. A buffer between the Prince and the people, they basically run the country. There’s only one problem- the Prince doesn’t exist. So what happens when a Prince turns up? Fun and danger and romance, of course, with a good dash of hilarious dialogue. This is a quiet, delightful story with entirely loveable characters that I can read again and again.

4. Frances Hardinge’s Twilight Robbery. Every time I read a book by Frances Hardinge, I’m convinced that it’s my favourite. Twilight Robbery and Mosca Mye, however, I keep going back to read. Mosca Mye and Eponymous Clent almost defy description, but I’m so glad they exist. I will gobble up any and every book about them as they come out, but I believe Twilight Robbery will always be my favourite. I’ve already read it a few times since buying it, and I’m certain I’ll read it many more times.

3. JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit (and LOTR, but especially The Hobbit). The moral of the story is, of course, never set out on an adventure without your pocket handkerchief. I’m very much distressed with the rather dreadful job Peter Jackson made with the movies of The Hobbit, but I’ll always be glad to sit down and re-read it with a cuppa tea and a plate of good things. I made sure I bought the lovely big version with beautiful colour illustrations for that very reason.

2. Patricia Wrede’s The Raven Ring. I love Patricia Wrede’s writing. Her books were the first fantasy I read in which it was perfectly obvious that princesses and other females actually could save the day. All her books are favourites. However, The Raven Ring is the one I read again and again for its simplicity, amazing world-building, and wonderful characters. It’s a setting in which I feel immediately comfortable.

My all-time favourite at #1? That would be (fanfare, please!):

1. Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice All of the others are interchangeable as regards their place on the list. P&P is not. It’s the one book I go to again and again. I’ve read it more than ten times since I first read it at the age of nine or ten. That’s about once every two years. I love the feel of the book. I love the dialogue. I love how fallible and prickly and teachable Lizzy is. I love that she can hold her own against the clever Mr. Darcy. I love that she can see the foibles and failings not just of her family, but of herself. She’s a beautifully well-rounded character for any age. I love all of Austen’s books, and I adore her Juvenalia, but P&P is the book I consistently read over and over again.

What about you guys? What are some of your favourite fiction comfort reads? It’s okay if you have some of the same as mine. I’ll share. Just don’t try to read my copy.