Category Archives: Writing

The Witch’s Tears : fantasy soundtrack

When The Witch’s Kiss came out last year we compiled a list of songs we thought worked really well as a sort of soundtrack to the book, usually because something in the lyrics reflected the mood of one of our characters at one particular point in the story. You can check out that soundtrack here.  Figuring out the perfect music was a lot of fun, so we’ve decided to do it all over again for The Witch’s Tears….

My Immortal – Evanescence

From the opening of the book we’re plunged straight into Merry’s grief about Jack. Sure, she and Leo fulfilled their quest at the end of The Witch’s Kiss, and they both came out of it alive. The scars and burns on Merry’s arms have healed. But neither she nor Leo can get past what they experienced, or the death of people they loved. The chorus of this song expresses it really well: These wounds won’t seem to heal, this pain is just too real, there’s just too much that time cannot erase.

Somewhere Only We Know – Keane

Ah, the Black Lake. Merry hates it. But she also, somehow, sort of loves it. It was the only place she got to spend time with Jack. Whether in her dreams or in real life, she can’t quite seem to get away from it. This song captures that dilemma of a place that holds both happy and terrible memories: Is this the place we used to love? Is this the place that I’ve been dreaming of?

Demons – Imagine Dragons

Ronan is one of two new characters in The Witch’s Tears. He first shows up as a good samaritan, chasing off Leo’s attackers and bringing him home. But let’s just say that Ronan is… complicated. As it says in the song: Don’t get too close, it’s dark inside… This is pretty much the perfect song for Ronan. Plus, Imagine Dragons!! (cue fangirl screaming).

Fix You Up – Tegan & Sara

The second new character is Finn, a teenage wizard with whom Merry is pretty much forced into an acquaintance. They get to know each other, slowly. But how much of what Finn reveals is the truth? And how much is he keeping hidden? Meanwhile, of course, Merry is not exactly being open either… What I wanted most, was to get myself figured out. And what I figured out… was that I needed more time to figure you out.

Take me home – Jess Glynne / White Horse – Taylor Swift

Tell me I’m safe, you’ve got me now. (Take Me Home)

I was a dreamer before you went and let me down. (White Horse)

Two more songs that catch the ups and downs (and ups and downs) of Merry’s interactions with Finn.

What can I say – Brandi Carlile

Merry and Leo’s relationship is central to The Witch’s Kiss and The Witch’s Tears. But like any real relationship, it’s affected by all the stuff that the two of them have lived through. Leo is really struggling to cope in The Witch’s Tears, and Merry is stuggling to help him. As events unfold, she worries more and more that she’s going to lose her brother, one way or another. And even worse, it’s going to be her fault… Oh, Lord, what can I say? I’m so sad since you went away. Time, time, ticking on me. Alone is the last place I wanted to be…

Seven Devils – Florence + The Machine

Eventually, all of Merry’s worry and guilt ignites into fury. And because she’s a witch, she’s more than capable of translating her fury into action. Inevitably, someone gets hurt. This song is full of despair and revenge, and that’s what Merry’s all about at this point in the book.  See, I’ve come to burn your kingdom down. And no rivers and no lakes can put the fire out.

Just Hold On – Louie Tomlinson / Steve Aoki

We’re not going to tell you what happens at the end of the book – obviously – so you’re just going to have to trust us that this song works on SO MANY LEVELS. It works for Merry, it works for Leo. Plus, it references BOOKS and STORIES, so it’s clearly perfect. What do you do when a chapter ends? Do you close the book and never read it again? What do you do when your story’s done?

Have you read The Witch’s Tears yet? What would you include on your soundtrack? Let us know!

The Witch’s Tears – cover reveal!

We were very excited on Thursday when the gorgeous cover of our next book, THE WITCH’S TEARS, was revealed over on the Maximum Pop website. Here’s another look at it:

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Stunning, right? As with THE WITCH’S KISS, this cover was designed by the brilliant Lisa Brewster at Black Sheep.

And here’s a little hint about what’s inside:

Can true love’s kiss break your heart…?

It’s not easy being a teenage witch. Just ask Merry. She’s drowning in textbooks and rules set by the coven; drowning in heartbreak after the loss of Jack. But Merry’s not the only one whose fairy tale is over.

Big brother Leo is falling apart, and everything Merry does seems to push him further to the brink. And everything that happens to Leo makes her ache for revenge. So when strangers offering friendship show them a different path, they’d be mad not to take it…

Some rules were made to be broken, right?

THE WITCH’S TEARS is out on 26th January – we can’t wait to share it with you!

Deleted scene: Jack & Meredith (Part 2)

 

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Chinthurst Tower –  we imagine Gwydion’s tower to have been a bit like this, but much, much taller…

 

Jack must have fallen asleep. When he woke again he was lying on the low bed, his body covered with poultices and ointment. The feeble glow of a rushlight deepened the shadows that crept around the corners of the room.

‘Meredith?’

‘I’m here, Jack.’ She moved into his vision. ‘How are you feeling?’

‘Better, I thank you.’ He shifted position and winced, tugging at the cloth strips pinned tightly around his ribs. Meredith put a hand over his, stilling him.

‘I know the bindings are tight, but leave them be if you can. I’ll take them off in a day or so.’

‘I would not leave you open Gwydion’s ill-will.’

‘I do not fear Gwydion.’ Meredith moved the rushlight closer so Jack could see her face, see that she spoke the truth. ‘I don’t believe he will hurt me. He told me when I first came here that I reminded him a little of someone. A woman he had known.’

‘My mother, perhaps. He loved her, once. Or he said he did.’ Jack had no time to wonder what Gwydion had seen in Meredith that reminded him of Edith: sudden, bitter grief took the air from his lungs and forced tears into his eyes. Grief, because he did not know his own mother. Grief, because now he never would.

Meredith gently pushed Jack’s hair back off his forehead.

‘Jack, what happened last night? What had you done, to earn so much wrath?’

‘The wizard sent me out to kill my brother. But I failed. I still don’t understand why.’

‘Did somebody stop you?’

‘No. Maybe. I don’t know. I was about to –’ Jack took a deep, flinching breath; breathed out slowly. ‘I was on the point of killing Edmund. He’s one of my brothers; the elder, I think. But just as I was about to strike, my mother rushed into the room. Threw herself across his body. I – I plunged the sword downwards, the creature that controlled me thinking to murder them both with a single blow, but –’ He held his hand up, remembering the hilt twisting in his palm and pain streaking up his arm. ‘But the blade didn’t pierce my mother’s skin. It shattered.’

Meredith didn’t reply.

Jack wasn’t surprised: what could she possibly have to say to him? He turned his face to the wall.

‘You should just kill me, Meredith. There must be knives in the kitchen. Put me out of my misery. Think of the lives you would save.’

‘I planned to kill you, when I first came here.’

Jack looked back at her.

‘Why didn’t you?’

‘Because some of the time – a lot of the time – you are still yourself. And you are innocent. If I had found you to be completely Gwydion’s creature, without hope of redemption…’ Meredith sighed. ‘But you’re not. And I have come to know you, to be – to care for you.’ She leant closer to him, traced over one of his eyebrows with her finger. ‘I know I should kill you. But I cannot.’

Jack caught her hand in his and kissed the palm lightly.

‘But you can’t save me, Meredith. No one can. And I would rather be dead than live like this. I can feel it getting stronger, the curse that possesses me. Each time it takes over my body, it stays longer. One day, it will not leave.’ He dropped his gaze. ‘I’m frightened.’

‘Don’t despair, Jack. There is still hope. Though I have to ask you: did Gwydion perform any further enchantment on you after your return from Helmswick?’

‘None that I remember. Why?’

Meredith put her hand on his chest, just above his heart.

‘There is a mark here I don’t understand. As though you have been pricked with something.’

Jack craned his neck to look down. There was a ring of tiny circular marks on the left side of his chest. The skin around them was blackened. He prodded the spot with his finger and gasped.

‘It hurts. What has he done?’

‘I don’t know.’ Meredith leant over and touched Jack’s skin very carefully with the tip of her little finger. He shuddered. ‘Did Gwydion say anything when he was attacking you?’

‘Yes, though most of it I didn’t understand. But some of the time he was raving about something breaking, or weakening.’

‘He must have been talking about the curse he has placed you under. What happened at the palace last night somehow diminished its power.’

‘Is that possible?’ Jack could not keep the yearning out of his voice.

‘It’s possible.’ As Jack watched her, Meredith bit her bottom lip, frowning as though trying to come to a decision about something. ‘There’s more than one kind of magic in this world, Jack. There’s wild magic and tamed magic. There’s magic of the elements: of root and stone, of river and wind. And then there’s the magic of light: of sun or moon or star, of fire or candle. Magic in itself isn’t good or bad; ‘tis only made so by the person using it. Apart from the dark magic, that is. The magic of the shadow realm is wholly evil, and anyone foolish enough to meddle with it will end badly. But it is also the weakest magic, for it cannot exist in balance with any other form of enchantment. It consumes, or is consumed.’

‘How do you know all this, Meredith? I thought you were just a –’ he broke off, but Meredith smiled slightly.

‘Just a kitchen maid? And so I am. But I also have some skill with charms and potions. I am not certain, but I would say that the curse came into contact with magic of a different nature. Maybe a powerful protective charm of some sort.’

‘And it caused this?’ Jack pointed at the marks on his chest. He watched her eyes narrow as she peered the damaged skin.

‘No. I think this was done by Gwydion, afterwards. None of the ointments I applied have had any effect on it.’ Meredith’s lips compressed into a hard line. ‘I am only guessing, Jack, but I fear he has linked your life to his, as a way of strengthening the dark magic, and as a protection.’ She looked down, away from his gaze. ‘If I am right, no one can kill the wizard now, unless they kill you at the same time. And no one can kill you unless they kill the wizard. You both live, or you both die.’

‘So it is too late. There is no way now to stop Gwydion. Or to stop me.’ Jack waited, but Meredith didn’t look up. ‘You should have killed me while you still had the chance.’ He closed his eyes and turned away from her, grunting slightly with the pain of moving. ‘I wish you had killed me.’

The bed shifted as Meredith got up; she pulled the bedclothes over his shoulder. He felt her breath, warm against his neck, and heard her voice whispering in his ear.

‘You’re tired, Jack, and in the darkness you see no way out. But hope may rise with the sun. Sleep now, and be comforted. Sleep.’

Jack did not resist.

Our first fan art

So here’s a piece of digital art by the wonderful Hayley Fraser (@HayleyFraser_x). It’s the scene when Merry first sees Jack coming out of the lake:

 

Jack grinned, and drew his sword. The blade was snapped off about a third of the way down. The broken edge was jagged and uneven.

But probably still sharp enough to kill me.

Merry had always thought of herself as strong. Tough, even, given all her sporting activities. But the shock of the King of Heart’s appearance, of the brutality and bloodlust written so clearly across his beautiful face, made her feel weak and exposed, like she might just shatter at his slightest touch –

‘Leo – help!’

Leo was pounding towards her across the grass, but he was going to be too late, she knew he was going to be too late –

The ground dipped, twisting her ankle, throwing her sprawling onto the grass.

Jack stood above her, silhouetted against the stars.

He raised the blade above his head –

 

We love this artwork – hope you do too!

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Deleted scene: Jack & Meredith (part 1)

We’re going to start adding some extra The Witch’s Kiss content to the site: some deleted scenes and perhaps some brand new writing too! First up is a scene between Jack and Meredith, in the Dark Ages setting of the fairy tale. If you want to read what happens when Jack gets sent to Helmswick, it’s on page 220 of the book.

 

Every day, Jack prayed.

He prayed for the people he had murdered, and he prayed that, when night fell, Gwydion would not send him out to murder again.

Mostly, he prayed for death.

And yet, death evaded him. He tried stabbing himself, but Gwydion had somehow enchanted his skin so it healed instantly. He tried to hang himself, but no knot held once placed around his neck. He even tried starving himself. But Gwydion had dragged in the girl who cooked and waited on Jack and threatened to torture her in front of him if he refused to eat. Jack wondered, sometimes, whether he should have starved himself anyway. To sacrifice one girl in order to protect who knew how many others: that surely would have been the correct choice. But he couldn’t do it. For the past five months, Meredith had been the only human being he had spoken to, apart from Gwydion. And Gwydion didn’t really count.

There was a knock at the door.

‘Are you awake, Jack?’

‘Yes. You can come in, Meredith.’

‘I’ve brought your supper. Mutton stew, tonight.’

Jack dragged himself off the bed. The stew smelled good, but his mouth was so dry. He sat at the table and started stirring the food around the wooden bowl, trying to summon up the ghost of an appetite.

‘Please try, Jack. I’m not ready to die today.’ Meredith sat on the bed, watching him. Jack forced himself to take a few mouthfuls. The pity in her green eyes made the weight on his chest even heavier, but to be alone again would be even worse.

‘Do you know what hour it is, Meredith?’ Gwydion had last sent Jack out two nights since, but Jack was still tired; someone had been screaming again last night, up in the tower above. Horrible, agonized screams. He couldn’t ask Meredith if she’d heard them too. It was terrible enough to think about what the wizard was doing, let alone speak it aloud. ‘I have slept away most of the day, again.’

‘The evening draws on, Jack.’ She reached out and touched him gently on the arm. ‘He will be here soon. Eat.’

Jack choked down a little more of the stew and drank some of the weak ale Meredith had brought him. The knowledge of what was coming next… It sliced his guts like a knife.  Some of the enchantments Gwydion had put him under were permanent, at least as long as the wizard lived. But the spells that allowed the curse to take hold, that turned him into the monster he was becoming – they needed to be renewed every few nights. The magic was old and dark and powerful. And it had to be fed.

The door opened: Gywdion walked into the room. He frowned at Meredith, and she jumped up off the bed.

‘I do not know why I tolerate you, girl.’ He beckoned her over, and when she was standing in front of him he grasped the back of her neck. Jack gritted his teeth, holding himself rigid, forcing himself not to react as Gwydion pulled Meredith close. ‘You’d best watch your step, or I’ll find another use for you.’ He released her.‘Now get out. You can come and clear this away later.’

Meredith hurried out of the room without another glance at Jack.

But why would she look at him? She knew what he was going to become. What he was going to be sent out to do.

‘Come, Jack.’ Gwydion was holding the door open. ‘We have work to do.’

 

Jack – as The King of Hearts – is sent to Helmswick. But his attempt to kill his younger brother fails….

 

Jack lay on the floor in his cell, trying not to move. Even breathing hurt. Gwydion’s rage, when The King of Hearts returned empty handed, had been beyond anything Jack had witnessed before. The wizard had stripped him almost naked – flogged him – kicked him, screaming and storming the whole time. Jack had passed out in the end.

There was a noise on the far side of the room. Jack opened his eyes a little; Meredith was kneeling by his head. There were tears on her cheeks.

‘Oh, my poor Jack, what has he done to you?’ She lifted his head a little and pressed a cup to his lips. ‘Drink a little, then I will look to your wounds.’

‘No – no, Meredith. Don’t…’

‘Please Jack, try the medicine.’

Jack swallowed a little of the liquid. It tasted sweet and spicy, and eased the pain in his lips and throat.

‘Don’t help me, Meredith. I should suffer. I deserve to suffer. I nearly killed – I nearly –’

‘Sssh, don’t talk now. Rest, while I put bandages on. Then we will talk…’

 

More soon!

Researching The Witch’s Kiss

[This blog post was part of our blog tour and was originally posted over on Bart’s Bookshelf.]

We both LOVE history – love it so much we both studied it at university – so we knew right from the beginning that we wanted to set the ‘fairy tale’ bit of The Witch’s Kiss in the past. But, there’s a lot of past to choose from…

After a bit of thought, we decided that we didn’t want to go with a generic, ‘medieval’ sword and sorcery setting. Yet we knew that the story of Jack, and how he ended up cursed, needed to be set far enough in the past to have that slightly other-worldly, fairy tale feel. Plus, why have a Sleeping Beauty character that only sleeps for a hundred years, when you can have him sleeping for centuries? In the end we picked late 5th / early 6th century Anglo-Saxon England as our setting for the historic sections. And although The Witch’s Kiss is fantasy, we wanted to make sure we described Queen Edith’s court, and the village were Jack grows up, as authentically as possible.

So the first thing we did was buy a whole load of books – yay!!

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Some of our lovely, lovely books

 

We read history books – Max Adams is BRILLIANT, by the way: his books are as gripping as any novel – and some of the surviving literature from (very approximately) the same time period. The nerdier of the two of us (naming no names) now has three different versions of Beowulf, and really recommends the Seamus Heaney translation.

There are also, of course, a lot of amazing resources on-line and out there in the real world. To get an idea of what our Anglo-Saxon characters might wear and how they might live, we looked at websites like Tha Engliscan Gesithas and Anglelcynn Re-Enactment Society. We also visited the wonderful Anglo-Saxon section in the British Museum (where we spotted Jack’s ‘seax’) and we were lucky enough to see the Staffordshire Hoard on display at Lichfield Cathedral (the design of the handle of The King of Heart’s sword is inspired by an item in the hoard).

 

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The Battersea Seax at The British Museum

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A garnet & gold sword pyramid from The Staffordshire Hoard

And then there’s the language. Obviously, we couldn’t write the Anglo-Saxon sections in actual Old English. But when faced with a choice of words, we did try to use ones derived from Old English (rather than Latin or French, for example) wherever possible. And we carefully avoided anything obviously anachronistic. Personally, it makes us want to tear our eyes out when a pre-twentieth century book character goes around saying stuff like “What’s up? You okay?”

As well as choosing the right kind of modern English, Merry, our hero, has to cast a few spells in Old English. So back when we were writing the first draft (way before agents and publishing deals) we had a go at constructing some appropriately spell-like Old English sentences. Cue more books:

 

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Leofwin is awesome, BTW

Merry has some difficulty dealing with Old English when under pressure:

Merry gasped as whatever had been pinning her in place – terror, or magic – vanished.

‘Damn –’

She dropped her phone and fumbled for the parchment. There was a new line of writing, an instruction.

The monster is intent on sin. Name his name to draw him in.

There was a single sentence underneath:

Æstand, heortena cyning

Was she supposed to translate it? Right now?

‘Seriously?’ Merry yelled at the manuscript. But Jack was getting further away. Merry swore again, and ran after him.

Luckily our publishers got our attempts at old English professionally checked before going to press, but we were pretty pleased to find that we weren’t too far off.

As you can (hopefully) tell, we had a huge amount of fun researching the historical aspects of The Witch’s Kiss. Almost too much fun. So our message to any other writers out there thinking of dipping a toe into historical research is: go for it, but remember you also have to write the book. J