Excerpt – Evangeline & the Alchemist

Today, I thought I’d share the first page of my steampunk novella set in Marvellous Melbourne in 1880s, Evangeline & the Alchemist.

I hope you enjoy….

Chapter 1

As soon as Miss Plockton rapped on the door to the laboratory-workshop in her efficient Scottish way, Evangeline knew something exciting was about to happen.

“Chief Inspector Wivelsfield to see you, sir?” she burred.

“Ah yes. I plum forgot.”

Evangeline’s father placed down his trusty brass screwdriver with the ivory handle. Her father, Professor Montague Caldicott, the pre-eminent horological engineer in all the Colonies, smoothed down his humongous moustache with his real hand.

“Your lesson is over for today, m’dear. Follow Miss Plockton upstairs and continue with your embroidery.”

“But Father…” Evangeline groaned.

“Police matters are not for the ears of impressionable young ladies.”

Evangeline grimaced and stowed away her rosewood-handled screwdriver in the pocket of her dress. The smaller and more delicate screwdriver was a recent gift from her father, an encouragement to pursue her own inventions.

The Professor shooed Evangeline and Miss Plockton from the laboratory-workshop, before carefully locking the door behind him.

There was a time when a visit from the police would have frightened Evangeline. She would have hurried to hide her loot but not today. Today she was a reformed character, setting aside her street urchin ways and learning to be a proper young lady. But Evangeline had to admit being good all the time was a bit dull.

Evangeline sulked all the way up the stairs, clumping her feet and dawdling. Her father passed her and continued up the oriental carpeted hallway into his study, closing the door behind him. The conversation of men muffled by the closed oak door.

Evangeline loitered in the hallway, waiting for Miss Plockton to drag her into the sitting room to complete her crudely stitched handkerchief. Whilst Evangeline was proficient in many skills, needlecraft was not one of them.

Rather than bustling Evangeline away, Miss Plockton did something curious. Her father’s personal secretary produced a large brass key from her pocket and opened the small closet adjoining the Professor’s study. The room where all the house linen was stored.

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The 7/7/7 snippet challenge

Writing Challenge participant Natalie K challenged me to the 7/7/7 Snippet Challenge.

The rules are:

  • Go to page 7 of your work-in-progress
  • Scroll down to line #7
  • Share the next 7 lines of your manuscript in a blog post
  • Tag 7 other writers (with blogs) to continue the challenge.

Here are the 7 lines from the 7th row of the 7th page of my recently “completed” manuscript, Return to the Monolith. I’m stoked to announce, I’ll start querying agents with Monolith from early January. Hoorah! But here’s a sneak peek.

Dawn peeked through the pink-fringed grey clouds, lighting up the sky in the east. The snow-tipped mountains loomed in the distance.  Alga’s heart pounded. This was the first time she had ever walked away from her mountains.

Her stomach had stopped rumbling. Her tears dried up. She tried not to think about her Sisterhouse and what she had left behind.

snow-black-and-white-mountain-ice

Now, I am passing on the fun to seven more writer bloggers. Consider yourselves challenged;

Looking forward to seeing other 7/7/7 Snippets.

Feast menu from Return to the Forest

I’m in the process of revising Book 2 of my Monolith series Return to the Forest. Today I’m sharing a menu from one of my scenes. Who doesn’t like descriptions of food and feasts in particular?

It is the solstice ceremony of Sundku held on a hilltop clearing, where the religious community of the Sisters live.  All the local women travel to the Sisterhouse for Sundku to welcome the early signs of Spring, the fading of the long Winter and to seek the blessing of fertility from the Goddess.

They dance, sing and chant around the pyre, honouring the Goddess and once the circle is closed, the women feast. Hungry after their homage, they need a hearty meal.

At the end of winter, fresh food is scarce but the women of the Forest are wise and resourceful. It would insult the Goddess to skimp on food at Sundku.

picnic

Each woman brings her own contribution to the feast. The long wooden table is piled with;

  • Rabbit stew: served in a thick gravy seasoned with pepper berries, slow cooked in a large pot over an open flame. The stew is served in carved wooden bowls.
  • Acorn bread: heavy and hearty, baked from ground acorn flour into loaves. The fire baked bread is coated with a crunchy caramel coloured crust. The loaves are cut into hunks and the women dip the bread into the rabbit stew, soaking up the gravy.
  • Jam cakes: local blackberries are harvested in summertime and preserved in earthenware jars to last throughout the cold winter. The jam cakes are baked with more acorn flour, dotted with dollops of sweet black jam. The cakes are golden palm-shaped discs with a hint of summer sweetness.
  • Red wine – of course

I hope you enjoyed a little view into the food world of Return to the Forest.

Hungry?

 

 

Three tips improved my writing in 2015

It’s the time of year between Christmas and New Year, like the lull between two waves. Time for planning and reflecting.

Here are the three writing tips I learned in 2015. These three tips definitely made me a better writer.

  1. Specificity
  2. Simplicity
  3. Different scripts

*Disclaimer – I can’t remember where I got these tips from. If it was you, thanks and sorry.

Specificity

Let’s get specific. Lazy writing is full of things, stuff and them. This year I learned to be specific about what I am writing. In 2015, I got out my nouns. First drafts can be full of vagueness but once the red editing pen comes out, it’s time to be precise. But specificity must be paired with tip#2, otherwise the words will grow and multiply like mice. And there’s nothing worse than a mouse plague…shudder…

Simplicity

Why use ten words when you can use two? My writing style is simple, mainly because I don’t like verbose writing personally, but this year I learned to use embrace the simple (and specific). Why use an adjective when I can find the right verb? He didn’t walk, he strutted, she plodded, we ambled. There is more power in brevity.

Like botanical illustrations, I strive to be both simple and specific.

Different Scripts

The third tip is about dialogue. Any scriptwriter knows this stuff but it was a revelation for me. This year I learned that each character has their own agenda in any conversation. Everyone has their own desired outcome from any discussion and our agendas will clash. This tip has helped me to stop my dialogue from being an exposition fest

In normal conversation, there are misunderstandings and confusing conversations when someone doesn’t say what they actually mean. There are a myriad of reasons why we don’t speak our minds. This is also true in dialogue. Each character is reading from their own script and the scripts don’t match.

Your turn – what great tips did you learn in 2015?

Five things which distract me from my writing

I am boringly conscientious. It was always on my school report…Madeleine is a conscientious student. But stuff still distracts me from writing.

Noise, generally power tools

I live in an area filled with older homes under renovation. If the gentle roar of power tools isn’t coming from my own house, it’s one of my neighbours drilling, sawing or generally banging loudly.

Headphones are good.

drill-portable-and-electric

Social media & the internet

I’m not alone. I know the blasted internet and social media call to us all. Distract me. Validate me. Just check the weather. Maybe someone liked my tweet. A quick look at the news. Next thing I know, it’s thirty minutes later. Damned instant access to everything ever.

The day job

Unfortunately I’m not independently wealthy or a kept woman, so I have to work. This is a major distraction from writing. Although perhaps with more time on my hands to write, there’d be more opportunity for other distractions to creep in.

cubicle-farm

People – reminders I need to have a life too.

Note to self – occasionally stop writing and socialise. While Mr Madeleine and friends are a lovely distraction, if they interrupt at the wrong moment, they are in danger of encountering extreme grumpiness. As with many things, timing is important.

Resistance

I often talk about Resistance. The little evil man on my shoulder telling me I’m crap and I’m wasting my time with this writing stuff. He is the root cause of most of my writing distractions.Some days he is stronger than others. I try to ignore his little snarks and keep putting my fingers on the keyboard.

What distracts you from your writing (or other goals)?

When did you feel like a “real” writer round-up?

In early December, I ran a series of posts asking writers…

When did you feel like a “real” writer?

I was lucky enough to get responses from Gail Carriger, Val McDermid, Joanne Harris, Ben Aaronovitch, Victoria Schwab, John Scalzi, Kim Newman, Neil Gaiman, Joanna Penn, Mark Dawson, Barbara Freethy and Kate Elliott.

There were a few themes running through the responses

  • Doubt and the imposter system persists (regardless whether you’ve sold millions)
  • Sometimes it’s your first big deal or success
  • Sometimes it’s not until you reach magic book no. 5

But mainly, you are a real writer when you write….

Now it’s your turn, when did you feel like a “real” writer?

 

Who is your favourite villain of all time?

Villains. We need them.

We need the villain to threaten our hero. We need our villain to be strong and clever. We need her to give our hero a hard time. Villains add colour and complexity to our stories, they bring the complications.

But when I thought about villains, only the scary characters came to mind. Those men and women who send shivers down my spine. And one man jumped into my mind.

This is not my favourite villain for his intelligence or his outwitting of the hero. He brings no witty retorts. He just scares me like no one else can.

I bring you.

Bob from Twin Peaks.

theres-bob

Excuse me while I go and hide behind the couch…..

Who’s your favourite villain?

4 resources for naming my characters

How do I approach naming my characters? Today I’m answering a few questions on character names from AJ Lundetrae.

Chanel, Dior, Lagerfeld, Givenchy, Gaultier, darling. Names, names, names!

Edina Monsoon, Absolutely Fabulous

 

How important are names to you in your books?

Names are very important to me.

I was a strange child and completely obsessed by boarding school books (especially the Chalet School). Using my illustrated atlas and a reference book of names and their meanings, I created my own school rolls. Lists of girls names and their exotic home cities.

2-6-roll-call-class

A name tells you a lot about a person’s past, their heritage, their social position. Names are infinitely fascinating. Especially in writing (rather than making your own children) when you get to choose the first and last name. In writing, your names can be descriptive of the character’s personality or mannerisms. And it’s just plain fun.

Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?

A little of both.

For my Monolith series, I have been obsessed with length. For my main characters, they all have names with four letters; Hana, Alga, Lucy, Erin and Mora. The lesser characters tend to have names of five letters.

Alga is an indigenous Northerner from a goddess worshipping religious community. For Alga, I searched for a four letter names with Estonian and Latvian heritage. I have also made up names for other characters but using foreign language name lists as inspiration.

I really struggled with the right name for Mora for over a year. Mora is the wise feisty grandmother. At one point she was named June, then Vera but now I have settled on Mora. Slightly inspired by the feisty playful Australia artist Mirka Mora.

For my steampunk novellas, I had great fun finding silly place names from the United Kingdom. I didn’t need to make them up. They are all real villages, hamlets or towns from various counties. I also searched for historical popular names on the census.

But in the end, the sound is most important to me.

And a tip I picked up somewhere – avoid names ending in “s”. This makes it messy when adding the possessive noun.

Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?

My manager at work caught me looking at baby names lists recently and asked me if I had anything to tell her. So, yes, baby name lists from pregnancy sites. I have also found names by number of letters, for my obsession with four letter names.

I also search for foreign names and place names.

Here’s a few examples

 

As you can see, I have finally found a use for my obsession with names. If only I’d kept my list of names for my fictitious boarding school. I could finally find a home for my school girls.

How I “finished” – Tip#8 Listening to my gut

Listening to my gut

Feedback from others is super important but I’m learning to listen to my own internal feedback – my gut instinct.

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Sometimes I fretted about a scene or a character but doubted myself and did nothing about it. Only to receive the same feedback from someone else.

If I’d trusted my instinct, I could have fixed the mistake earlier.

So I’m learning to take my inner voice seriously too. My inner voice is just as important.

 

This is the last tip in my series. I hope you found something useful from my navel gazing.

Your turn – what are your tips for finishing a novel?