Pictures and Pears and Other Randomness

Helen Jones, of Journey to Ambeth, just posted some lovely pictures for her “Thursday Doors” series, of the church in Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire. Take a look, here. I love the way Helen’s pictures can grab me and just, for a few minutes, toss me into another place, right across the other side of the globe. And then, bing, I’m back in my Canadian existence, just a little richer for my tiny little armchair travel experience. (Check out this crazy lapis-lazuli-and-gold swimming pool she posted pictures of the other day. I mean, doesn’t that make you feel like your mind has expanded just a tiny bit, knowing this ludicrously, gloriously extravagant piece of achitectural razzle-dazzle exists in the world?)

One of the things that caught my attention in today’s post, though, was the name of that one and only English Pope, Nicholas Breakspear (who apparently came from Abbots Langley, hence his inclusion in the post). I’d never heard of him before. Now, frivolously-minded person that I am, it didn’t make me think deep thoughts about history – it just set me to wondering if he’s any relation to The Bard. You know, 12th-century Breakspear to 16th-century Shakespeare… Maybe in the intervening 400 years, the family figured out how to wave about their weaponry without cracking it – from Nick “break spear” to Will “shake spear”… [Yeah, I know, it’s bad. I just couldn’t resist.]

Nicholas Breakspear would have been Pope right around the time Brother Cadfael did his sleuthing in Shrewsbury Abbey, and Catherine LeVendeur hers in Paris. As far as I know, those two never did cross paths, although I’m sure they would have got along swimmingly. Neither did Lord Peter Wimsey and Inspector Roderick Alleyn, although by rights they should have – both attended Oxford right around the same time, were younger sons of the peerage, had mothers who read almost like identical twins, and married women involved in the arts/writing scene. And that’s not even taking into account the Scotland Yard connection. Lord Peter’s brother-in-law, Charles Parker, in fact occupies Inspector Alleyn’s chair as Chief Inspector, right around the same time. We must be dealing with parallel universes here; I’m sure Scotland Yard Chief Inspectors aren’t as thickly strewn on the ground as all that. (While we’re at it, Carola Dunn’s Alec Fletcher, the Hon. Daisy Dalrymple‘s husband, is another contender for that Chief Inspector’s chair. That seat must have been one hotly contested piece of furniture in the 1920s.) IMG_20160211_125146

Anyway. To wrap up today’s silliness, here’s a picture of Steve on a laundry basket. Just because you, I’m sure, needed to see a photo of a bear sitting on a household implement today. You’re welcome.

Life, the Universe, Fictional Sleuths, Pictures and Pears. And bears, of course, as well.

PS: Have you put in a pre-order for Checkmate yet? Just eight more days…

PPS: Now that I think of it, none of this has anything to do with pears, just spears. But I like the alliteration.

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CHECKMATE has a Due Date!

Checkmate_CVR_XSML

We have a due date! One for the newest book baby. No, it’s not a due-back-at-the-library date, it’s the day Checkmate is going to be officially released: February 19th!

That’s not much more than a week away. Are you excited? Yes, you are, very excited indeed. Because you can’t wait to read about the further adventures of Cat, Guy, and Bibby (who’s now called Bina, seeing as she’s no longer a little kid – if you haven’t yet read “Lavender’s Blue”, go over here to find out about it). And there’s this new kid, Rhitha – what’s going on with her and her family? Why is her sister being so mean to her? You’ll find out soon…

So mark it on your calendar: next week Friday you can go online and get your very own copy of Checkmate. Or, even better, you could hop over to Amazon or Smashwords right now and pre-order the ebook, then you’ll get it delivered the moment it’s released!

Just nine more days!

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Check It Out: Author Interview with Zach Chopchinski

Some of you might remember that for the first time last April, I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, hanging out in a virtual “cabin” with a bunch of other crazy Wrimos and having wild pillow fights supporting each other in our writing efforts, in the process making some neat new friends. One of the friends in question is ZachChop, aka Zachary Paul Chopchinski.LLP_5958

Zach’s written a novel called The Curious Tale of Gabrielle, and he is re-launching it in a new & improved version (it’s always good to make a good thing better, no?). To this end, he’s doing a blog tour, suitcase full of novels in hand, to promote his book, and he asked if our little corner of the web could be one of the stops on the tour. Now, we love having friends over to stay, so of course I said yes.

So here we are, sitting at the kitchen table with cups of coffee, tea, hot chocolate or double-malt whiskey in front of us, embarking on amo vitam‘s first ever author interview (ta-dah!). Pull up a chair, pour yourself a cuppa, and have a listen-in.Gabrielle_Final_525x8_BW_290_Front_PROOF

  1. So, Zach, seeing as I’ve not yet read your book, I don’t really know anything about it. What’s it about? What happens?

 The Curious Tale of Gabrielle is about the journey of a young girl named Gabrielle who receives a mysterious bracelet from a stranger. The bracelet allows her to go back in time and re-live the lives of those who previously owned it. In this book, Gabrielle finds herself 500 years in the past, in English-ruled Scotland. Here, she finds herself in a battle between the town and the lord who wishes to take Gabrielle’s friend, Heather, as his bride against her will. Suddenly, Gabrielle finds herself in an adventure to end all adventures as she tries to save Heather and figure out why she is having this journey.

  1. That sounds really cool. What inspired you to write it?

One day, I was checking out an old antique shop near where I worked in Portland, Maine, when I came across a really cool silver bracelet. The shop owner told me that the bracelet was 500 years old and I remember thinking to myself WOW, imagine if this was a human, what stories it would tell!

  1. Wow, I’d love to see that! By a weird coincidence, I just wrote a story that prominently features a mysterious silver bracelet, myself – silver-bracelet inspiration must have been in the air. So, why the re-launch of Gabrielle?

I decided to re-launch TCTG because I felt like I didn’t do it justice the first time. I was really just excited to publish my first novel and there was a lot of things I rushed through. Once I was published and I actually sat back and thought about it, I realized there was more of the story to tell. Through many, many long discussions with my wife about plot twists and story lines, I decided to introduce another main character, Morrigan, in the first book rather than wait.

  1. As I said, making a good thing better is excellent work. Tell me about your life as a writer. What gets your creative juices flowing? Where and when do you do your best writing?

I generally do my best writing at night. I also have to be secluded in my office with incense and my writing play list. Having ADHD, routine is really important to me. It is equally—if not more so—important in my writer life. If the conditions aren’t perfect, I just don’t get any writing done, no matter how much I want to. So, when I do find myself in the perfect conditions, I have to take advantage of it.

  1. I hear you – writing conditions matter a lot to me, too. What’s the hardest thing about writing for you? The best thing?

I find that the hardest thing about writing, is actually sitting down and creating. When you’re still in the conception phase and everything is in your head, it remains perfect and without flaws. Once you start drawing it out, imperfections emerge, difficulties arise and the work becomes staggering, and can become quite discouraging at times. With that in mind, I would have to say that the best thing about writing, as despicable as it sounds, is just driving through it and accomplishing your goal.

  1. Yes, getting a story finished is hugely rewarding! Now, if you could only achieve one thing with your writing, what would it be?

For my writing to remain loved and cherished after I’m gone. I want to create something thats beautiful that many people from different walks of life appreciate and come together on. This may seem like a tall order to fill, but it’s all I really want out of my writing.

  1. What’s next on your drawing board (or plot pile, as it were)? Is there something?

Presently I am working on the second book in the Gabrielle series, but more excitingly, I am now developing a more in depth plot line that will span the remainder of the books. Without revealing too much information, lets just say that Gabrielle doesn’t yet know what she’s gotten herself into. Developing Gabrielle into the song character that she is destined to become, there needs to be an equally powerful force in direct opposition that compels her to rise to that challenge. I have a feeling that Gabrielle will be meeting with this character sooner than she thinks.

Something else that I have been working on—well lets say toying with—is something called Webley and The World Machine. I don’t have much down on it yet but the idea that I have floating around in my head is something along the lines of steampunk fantasy meets Dungeons and Dragons meets The Chronicles of Narnia (without the religious undertones).

  1. Ooh, that sounds really interesting! But now for something completely different: What was your favorite treat when you were a kid? You know, the kind of thing you’d blow your allowance on (if you got any)? And when’s the last time you had some?

WOW, this made me think. I would have to say that my favorite childhood treat was Rice Crispy Treats. I remember every Friday afternoon my grandmother would pick me up from school and we would start the drive to the ferry boat that would take us to Kelley’s Island. I remember jumping in the back seat of the van and there would always be a baggy of Rice Crispy Treats for me to nibble on for the drive. I would have to say the last time I had one was when my wife worked at Starbucks…so probably last December.

  1. What about Gabrielle – what’s her favorite treat? Does she get to have any in the book?

Gabrielle’s favorite snack is Chamomile tea with honey and ginger cookies. Yes, she gets some when she first meets Alexandria who mysteriously knows that these are her favorites. This scene sets an ominous tone for the book and probes Gabrielle’s curiosity. 

 I must say, I like chamomile tea myself. I’ll have to go hang out with Gabrielle and find out if we share more than those preferences.

Well, thank you very much, Zach, for stopping by here on amo vitam and sharing your book with us!

And that, folks, was Zachary Paul Chopchinski. He can be found at his website, zachchop.com, where you can find links to get The Curious Tale of Gabrielle in any format you’d like.

Life, the Universe, an Author Interview and a Book Re-launch. Go check it out!

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Lavender’s Blue, the Song

“Lavender’s Blue”, the Septimus Series Short Story that I posted the other day (if you haven’t read it yet, go here, or here and download yourself a copy to keep), started with a song – well, actually, with a movie. That’s right, the Cinderella movie that I love so much.

The lullabye “Lavender’s Blue” features quite prominently in the film, and so afterwards, I had the song stuck in my head. And as I kept singing it, and thinking about Cat and Guy and the world they live in, a story started taking shape in my head. Voilà, “Lavender’s Blue”.

And here is the song (well, one version of it – it’s a folk song, so there are lots of different versions. The one Cat sings has a slightly different last line).

Life, the Universe, and a Lullabye. Enjoy!

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Wordless Wednesday: After Breakfast

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3 February 2016 · 08:31

Lavender’s Blue

So, that surprise I promised you to shorten the wait until Checkmate comes out? Here it is: a free short story!! It’s all about Cat and Guy and Bibby and something that happened about four years after the end of Cat and Mouse. Seeing as it is a quite short short story, I’m posting it here in its entirety. But you can also go over here and download it as a pdf, if you’d like to put it on your ebook reader or print it on paper (it’s only four pages). That page will stick around, so you can go back to it whenever you like.

So now, without further ado, I give you:

LAVENDER’S BLUE

Fresh lavender

LAVENDER’S BLUE

 

“Lavender’s blue, dilly, dilly, lavender’s green,” Cat sang, “when you are king, dilly, dilly, I shall be queen.” The baby gurgled quietly to himself as he sucked his fist, and his eyes drifted shut, as they usually did when Cat sang him this song. He still hadn’t been named, this third one of her baby boys. With Cory and Kell, she had known what they were called almost as soon as she had realised she was pregnant, but this little one with his funny shock of hair that made him look like a red-crested cockatoo had reached the ripe old age of almost four weeks without a name of his own—he was just ‘Baby’.

“Call up your men, dilly dilly, set them to work;” she sang, “some to the plough, some to the fork. Some to make hay, some to cut corn, while you and I, dilly, dilly, keep ourselves warm.” She bent down and laid the sleeping baby into the cradle, his sandy lashes fanned out on his round cheeks.

“Speaking of working men and of forks,” Cat said, “it’s time for Papa to come for dinner.” She walked into the kitchen, where her stepdaughter and oldest son were playing on the floor. “Bibby, could you go get Papa please?”

“No, he’s not ready to come yet,” said the girl, who was in the middle of pulling a shirt knotted out of handkerchiefs over the head of a nondescript little stuffed animal.

“What do you mean, he’s not ready to come?” Cat put the dinner plates on the table.

“He’s still busy,” Bibby said. She was lisping a bit, in typical six-year-old fashion—she had lost both of her front teeth in the space of the last two weeks and wasn’t quite used to talking through the gap in her teeth.

Cory looked up from his block tower. “Mumma, I’m hungwy!”

“Yes, sweetie,” said Cat, “we’ll eat as soon as Papa comes in. Bibby…”

“I told you, Mumma, he’s still doing something! He feels rushed.”

Cat frowned at Bibby. What made the girl think she knew whether her father was ready to come for dinner? This was the second time in the last week she had simply refused to do something Cat had asked her to do, with the same reasoning. Cat knew that Bibby had the same intuitive ability she had herself that allowed her to sense her family’s needs—’being an Unissima’, they called it. It came from being your birth mother’s only child. Bibby supposedly had a double dose of it, being the only daughter of a woman who was an Unissima herself, but Cat had been under the impression that it just meant the girl had shown signs of her ability extremely early, when she was only a toddler. It wasn’t as if she could read minds—could she?

“I guess I’ll get him myself, then,” Cat said, trying to keep herself from sounding annoyed. She untied her apron, then stepped out of the cottage into the warm spring sunshine and went across to the workshop on the other side of the yard, sticking her head in the door. “Guy, dinner is ready! Are you coming?”

“Can’t right now, Cat!” He was standing over a large bucket, dunking a pottery bowl into a greyish slurry. He pulled it out, let it drip off, then put it on a board which already held a dozen of similarly coated dishes. “I have to get these bowls glazed; we’re doing a glost firing tomorrow morning. Don’t wait for me with dinner; I’ll come in when I have this lot done.” He gestured at another batch of bowls which sat on the worktable, waiting to be glazed.

“It’s okay, Mumma,” Bibby said when Cat came back into the kitchen. She twisted a red-gold curl around her finger. “Don’t be upset; Papa’ll come in soon. And I made Cory wash his hands for dinner.”

Cat shook off her irritation and smiled at the girl. “Good job,” she said, then picked up Cory and sat him in his place on the bench. “One potato or two?” she asked, as she began to dish out the food to the kids.

“Two, please,” said Bibby, climbed up on her chair and carefully set her stuffed animal next to her plate. “And lots of butter’n parsley. Flick likes butter’n parsley.”

“Is that what you call your stuffie—Flick? I thought it was Mimi.”

“Yup. I think it’s Flick now,” the girl said through a mouthful of potato. “It only was Mimi last week. Names change sometimes, you know, and you gotta listen and make sure they’re right. Can Flick have some cheese with his ‘tato? He said ‘please’!”

“Oh, very well, if he said ‘please’.” Cat handed her a slice of cheese.

Bibby gave her a bright gap-toothed smile, and let her stuffed animal take a pretend bite of potato from the end of her fork.

Cat sat down to her own dinner. She hoped Baby would nap long enough for her to be able to eat in peace; two-year-old Kell was still asleep in the next room, too, and he often napped right through the dinner hour, which sometimes allowed her an extra break.

She was in luck. Neither of the little boys made a sound until she had finished her meal and cleared up the dirty dishes. Perhaps she would even be able to sneak in a little rest herself before they woke?

Quietly she opened the door to the bedroom and peeked in. In the cradle, Baby was snoring a soft little baby snore like the creak of a tiny weather vane turning in the wind. And over on the boys’ bed—she couldn’t even see little Kell’s red hair; he had buried himself right under the covers again. He would get all sweaty and overheated; she’d better pull the blanket away from at least his face.

But wait—was that lump under the blankets a little boy’s body? Cat took three more strides, reached out a hand and pulled back the quilt.

No Kell. No Kell! Where was he? Her gaze whipped around the room, searching for her toddler. In the corner by the bathroom? No. Inside the open box bed? Not there either. Beside the big cupboard? No again. And then Cat’s eye fell on the outside door, and her heart leapt into her throat: the door was ajar. Just a crack, so slight that she had overlooked it at first, but the door was open! Had she forgotten to latch it? Or had Kell learned to lift the latch himself?

She ran over and yanked open the door. “Kell! Kellie? Where are you?”

No red-headed toddler anywhere in sight. Not by the pump, not by the big kiln, not by the firewood stack. “Kellie!!” Harsh fear clutched her by the throat.

Suddenly she saw out of the corner of her eye Bibby’s copper hair flying as the girl burst out of the front door and ran across the yard to the workshop.

“Papa, Papa,” Bibby called, “come quick, it’s Mumma!”

A moment later, Guy rushed out of the workshop on the heels of his daughter. “Cat! Cat, what is it? Are you hurt?”

“No, Papa,” Bibby called, “she’s over here, and she’s really scared!”

“What is it, what’s wrong?”

“It’s Kell!” A sob caught in Cat’s throat. “He’s not in his bed, and the back door was open! I don’t know where he is! He could be anywhere! Maybe he fell in the clay pit! Maybe he…”

“It’s okay, Mumma,” Bibby said, her big turquoise eyes on Cat’s face. “It’s okay, don’t be scared. You’ll get better.”

“It’s not me! It’s Kell! What if he’s hurt? What if…”

“But he’s not,” the girl said.

“How can you say that? You can’t know that! He’s not here, he’s not anywhere…” Cat could hear the rising hysteria in her own voice. “Guy, do something!”

But her husband’s eyes were on his daughter. “What do you know, Bibby?”

She didn’t respond, so he repeated himself, more sharply. “Ysbina! What are you saying about Kell?”

Her head flew around. “He’s fine!” she said. “ Don’t you know? It’s Mumma that’s scared and needs your help.” She looked from one of them to the other, a slightly puzzled expression on her face.

“How should we know that? We can’t know that! What if…” Cat began, the panic in her throat choking her and setting her ears ringing.

But Guy held up a hand as if to stop her. He was still looking at the girl. “Do you know where Kell is? Is he in the house?”

“No… No, he’s not in the house. I don’t really know where he is, but he’s fine. He’s happy,” she said. “Don’t you know that, Mumma?”

Cat couldn’t think. She couldn’t feel. She couldn’t sense anything but the overwhelming fear that something had happened to her little boy, that he was out there somewhere in the woods, perhaps bleeding, crying, frightened, that…

Suddenly she felt Guy’s hands cupping her shoulders, and his turquoise eyes bored into hers. “Cat,” he said firmly, “Bibby is right! Think, Karana, think! Do you know? You’re Unissima, you have the Knowing! Do you feel that Kell is hurt?”

And with the warmth of his touch, Cat could feel a calm flowing into her that drove the panic into the background. She drew a deep breath, then another one. A feeling rose inside of her that came alongside the fear and pushed it away, replacing it with a certainty of what she needed to do.

“The woods,” she said, “he’s in the Wald! And—no, he’s not hurt. You’re right, Bibby.”

“Yup,” said the girl. “And he’s—something with lavender.” She tipped her head like she was listening to something. “Oh, you know, Mumma.”

And Cat did indeed know. Not exactly what Bibby meant about lavender, but she knew where to start looking for little Kell.

“Watch the boys, sweetie,” she said. “Papa and I are going to get Kell.”

 

He was exactly where Cat knew he had gone, and it was his singing that guided them. A few hundred yards past the Septimus Tree, in a little clearing, they heard him.

“Wawember boo, diwwy diwwy, wawember gheen…” his little voice sang, and there he was, sitting in the middle of a big clump of blooming lavender, happily playing with a handful of flowers and two rocks.

Cat snatched him up and hugged him so tightly he started to squirm.

Guy wrapped his arms around both of them. “Well done, Karana; well done!” he said in Cat’s ear, then gave Kell a squeeze of his own. “Don’t ever run away like that again, you little rascal!” he said.

Kell thrust the lavender blossoms in his grubby little hand at Cat. “Fowers, Mumma!”

“Yes,” said Cat, her voice shaking, “yes, lavender!”

 

“Well done,” said Guy again when they got back to the cottage. “He really was in the lavender. Well done, Bibby Karana.”

The girl smiled a gap-toothed smile, then tipped her head to the side. “I think…” she said, “I think I’m going to be ‘Bina’ now. ‘Bibby’ is a name for little kids.”

Cat smiled back at her. “Makes sense to me,” she said. “You’re sure not a little kid any more; I can’t think what I would have done without you today. I didn’t know that Kellie was okay until you said so and made me pay attention to my Knowing. How did you know?”

The girl wrinkled her forehead. “What do you mean?”

“How did you know that Kellie was okay?”

“Well, you can just feel how people are feeling, can’t you?”

Guy smiled at his little daughter. “No, Karana, we can’t. Most of us don’t know at all what’s happening with other people unless we see it with our eyes, or they tell us. And even an Unissima like Mama doesn’t always know, right, Cat?”

Cat nodded. “I only know sometimes, mostly in emergencies. But you haven’t always been able to feel it so precisely, either, have you, Bibby?”

“I dunno,” the girl said, squeezing the tip of her tongue out between the gap in her teeth. “And it’s Bina.”

“Maybe your special Knowing is getting stronger because you’re growing up,” Cat said. “And you certainly are. So, you want to be Bina now? We’ll try to get used to it. Where’s Cory and Baby?”

“Well, when you and Papa went to find Kell, me and Cory looked at a picture book, and then Dilly woke up and I sang him the Lavender Song and Cory helped rock the cradle, and Dilly went back to sleep for a bit. Oh, but there he’s woke up again!”

They could hear the baby crying in the house, but Cat didn’t immediately go to him.

“Dilly?” she said, thinking hard. “You think Baby’s name is Dilly?”

Bibby—Bina now—tipped her head to the side again. “Yup,” she said after a moment, “seems that’s his name.”

Cat turned to Guy. “What do you think? Could that be short for something?”

“Dilly? Dil—Aldyl! With a ‘y’ in it. That was my grandfather’s name. I like it.”

“Aldyl—yes. It’s right. So Dyllie it is!”

They went inside, and Cat bent down and picked up the baby.

“Lavender’s blue, dilly, dilly,” she sang, “lavender’s green; when you are king, dilly, dilly, I shall be queen.” She looked into Baby Dyllie’s slate-blue eyes and rocked him to the tune. “Let the birds sing, dilly, dilly, and the lambs play; we shall be safe, dilly, dilly, out of harm’s way.” She smiled across at Guy, who held little Kell in his arms, swaying with the music. “Who told me so, dilly, dilly, who told me so?” Cat sang. “’Twas my own heart, Dyllie, Dyllie, that told me so.”

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More New Stuff, and a Surprise

You know how I’ve been promising Book 3 in the Septimus Series for quite some time now? Well, it’s getting close – really, really close! And just to whet your appetites, heeeeeere – DRUM ROLL, PLEASE! – is the amazing, snazzy, mysterious and oh-so-promising COVER (once again designed by the great Steven Novak).

May I introduce: CHECKMATE!

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And of course you want to know what the book is about, don’t  you? Yes, you do. Here’s what:

Rhitha’s life is miserable – but then she meets Bina.

Rhitha’s sister has been bullying her all her life, for no reason that Rhitha can see. But when they move to Ruph, there is a new friend in Rhitha’s life: with the help of Bina and her unique powers Rhitha begins to see that there might be more going on in her family than meets the eye. There is a secret nobody suspected…

Things come to a head between Rhitha and her sister in a clash that draws in everyone around them. Are the peculiar forces at play in Ruph responsible for fanning their conflict? Who is the mysterious stranger that appears at Grandmother’s door in the middle of the storm? And can Bina help Rhitha find the strength to stand up to the bullies and become who she is meant to be?

I know, I know – there’s nothing about Cat or Guy or Bibby in this blurb. Or is there? To find out, you’ll have to wait just a tiny little bit longer, because I have another surprise for you that’ll help explain – and that one is going to be free! A special treat, from me for you, to shorten the wait.

Life, the Universe, New Stories and Surprises.  Just a few more days!

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