Waiting For Callback: Take Two – February Post For The British book challenge

For various reasons I only managed to read two books in February which qualified for the challenge. One of them was the script for Harry Potter & The Cursed Child, which I can’t talk about for obvious reasons (#KeepTheSecrets). But that’s ok, because my other read was the brilliant Waiting For Callback: Take Two, by Perdita and Honor Cargill.

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Take Two picks up where the first book ends. Elektra James has just been offered a staring role in a Hollywood film and her (potential) boyfriend, Practically Perfect Archie, has just kissed her. Everything looks set for one amazing and romantic summer…

But of course, things don’t go exactly to plan. It’s hard to have a romantic summer when your potential boyfriend goes to Transylvania to play a vampire hunter (surrounded by ‘maidens of peerless beauty’). Meanwhile, being on set has its own challenges: Elektra has to transform into a dystopian action hero (including learning how to run like a normal person) while fending off the advances of smouldering co-star Carlo AND still keeping up with her French GCSE homework….

I really loved Waiting for Callback, so I was definitely looking forward to getting my hands on Take Two. You’ll be relived to know that it didn’t disappoint AT ALL. Take Two has just as much warmth and humour, and the same fantastic cast of characters. There is more from Moss, Elektra’s super-fashionable friend, more from Eulalie, her fabulously French grandmother (‘Is it being too late to rescue the situation? Le shopping?’), and more from her poor, stressed-out mum: “‘It’s bad enough that they’re expecting Elektra to miss some term time,’ (it really wasn’t) ‘without her having to drop everything and gallivant off to Mali!'”  There are also some brilliant new characters introduced. In particular Amber Leigh, the queen-bee A-list actress, and Eddie, the Abba-loving stage-manager, both absolutely leapt off the page. Of course, Elektra herself is as funny, vibrant and relatable as ever, whether she’s having tea at Claridges in her horribly purple school uniform, or suggesting replacing her actual birthday party with YouTube videos…

Seeing the inside of a film set for the first time through Elektra’s eyes was fascinating. But there is also drama in her personal life. At one point I literally had tears running down my face. And they weren’t happy tears either – it was just SO SAD. But then, by the end of the book, I was crying happy tears, because – no.  I won’t spoil it. You’re just going to have to read it yourself.

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!

Gilded Cage, Deep Water, The Otherlife – January books for the British Books Challenge

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‘A modern Britain. An age-old cruelty.

Britain’s magically skilled aristocracy compels all commoners to serve them for ten years – and now it’s the Hadleys’ turn…’

The setting was the real hook for me. This is no invented dystopian world. The brutal servitude enforced by ‘the Equals’ (the magic-possessing aristocrats) is taking place in modern day Britain, and that’s what makes Gilded Cage so shocking. The Equals have used their magic (‘Skill’) to create a slave state run entirely for their own benefit, in which everybody else has to spen ten years of his or her life as a chattel. I loved the realism provided by the little bits of re-imagined history dropped into the story. For example, the references to the Confederate slave-owning states of America, and the way Oliver Cromwell’s revolt against Charles I is replaced with that of Cadmus the Pure-in-Heart, (the ancestor of the Jardines, the most powerful modern family).

The story moves along rapidly, told from various different viewpoints, and the characterisation is great. Two teenage boys are at the heart of the story: the youngest and most powerful Jardine brother, Silyen, and Luke Hadley, an ordinary 16 year old who is sent to the horrific slave town of Millmoor. While Luke becomes involved in the resistance movement, Silyen is working on his own bid for power. Luke is noble and heroic, contrasting strongly with Silyen’s creepiness (which reminded me a lot of Sebastian from The Mortal Instruments). Supporting characters are also really well drawn. I really felt for Gavar, the Jardine heir who loves his illegitimate daughter and feels trapped by his destiny – he is most definitely in a gilded cage. And his nasty, plotting fiancée, Bouda, is one of those wonderful characters that you just love to hate. Gilded Cage is the first part of a trilogy, so I’m really hoping she gets her come-uppance in one of the next two books…

 

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What if you discovered you weren’t who – or even what – you thought you were?

Suddenly people start to fear you. They think you’re evil. Cursed. And then they want to destroy you.’

Deep Water reminded me a lot of another series that I really love: The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper. It has that same sense of mysticism and place, of magic being rooted in a particular landscape. In the case of Deep Water that place is the Cornish coast: its villages, cliffs and caves. When Danni’s mother goes missing, Danni has to go and stay with her Dad in Cornwall, and Danni’s life rapidly becomes stranger and stranger. Her mum is found on a Cornish beach miles from home, and she has amnesia. Strangers cross themselves when Danni is nearby. Her hands start leaking water. And what is the truth behind the activities of the cult which dominated a nearby village not so many years ago? As Danni starts to uncover secrets about her family and its origins, her mum’s life hangs in the balance. Will Danni be able to accept what she is before it’s too late?

I really loved reading this story. Danni is a believable heroine, and Levi (her friend) and Elliot (her potential boyfriend) are both great characters.  Mamwyn, Danni’s previously unknown Cornish grandmother, is just brilliant: strong and unusual. And the insance, vengeful Crawford  and Aunty Bea are a perfect villainous couple. I’d love to read more about Danni and her special gift, so fingers crossed for a Deep Water follow up one day soon!

 

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I always get away with it when I try stuff like this. Partly it comes down to sort of assuming that I’m going to. I’ve got loads of confidence. And Loki got away with everything. Well, almost everything.

I love anything Viking or Dark Ages, so The Otherlife, with its blend of modern London and Norse mythology, is as perfect read for me. The story focuses on two teenage boys: the clever but struggling Ben, and the rich, dangerous Hobie. They become unlikely friends when Hobie realises Ben can see The Otherlife – the Norse gods – and becomes obessessed with finding a way into The Otherlife himself. There are two stories interwoven: the Norse story of the murder of Baldr by Loki, and the unexplained death of Ben’s friend and tutor, Jason. And it’s all set against the background of school exams – scholarships and GCSEs – and the huge amount of stress that they can bring. The story switches from Ben’s POV to Hobie’s diary entries – something I found really effective – and the pace ramps up as Ben discovers Jason’s death and then starts to try to find out what really happened that night at Hobie’s house….

Ben and Hobie are wonderfully contrasting characters. Ben is into metal, suffers from terrible headaches, and (at least at the beginning) seems rather put upon by his divorced parents. Hobie is so spoilt that he has his mother’s au pair boil him a second egg because the yoke of the first is too runny. But as their friendship grows, the risks that Hobie is prepared to take to keep Ben in his life get darker. The ending is a real twist that I didn’t see coming.

A who-dunnit set in London with Norse Gods and an antagonist who is as fascinating as he is destructive – what’s not to like?

British Books Challenge 2017

When we found out that the wonderful Chelle Toy from Tales of Yesterday was hosting the challenge this year, we decided we had to sign up. You can read all about the challenge (including how to sign up and a list of useful FAQs) on her blog here. Basically, the idea is to celebrate British writing by committing to reading and reviewing at least 12 books by UK authors (check out Chelle’s post to see who counts as a UK author) over the course of 2017. That’s only 1 book a month!

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How hard can it be?

We haven’t completely decided what books we are going to read yet – there are an awful lot of brilliant books to choose from – but here are some that are definitely on our list:

Waiting for Callback: Take Two – Perdita & Honor Cargill

Freshers – Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison

The Shadow Keeper – Abi Elphinstone

Counting Stars – Keris Stainton

Day 7 – Kerry Drewery

How to Catch a Witch – Abie Longstaff

We’ve going for a mixture of new releases and books which are already on our (over-grown) TBR piles. We will be adding to the list above as we go through the year.

Roll on 2017!

 

 

 

 

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.

UKYACX 2016!!!

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UKYACX 2016 poster children

Liz and I had a couple of firsts this weekend: our first visit to Newcastle, our first live event talking about our writing, our first time signing books for readers (apart from our book launch, which somehow just feels different).

We were in Newcastle – which is GORGEOUS, by the way: that architecture! And those accents!! Swoon. – for the UK Young Adult and Children’s Extravaganza 2016 (UKYACX for short). We’d been invited by the lovely organisers, Kerry Drewery and Emma Pass, to come and talk about The Witch’s Kiss. Two minutes each on a panel with three other authors. Our tendency to ramble was strictly controlled by the Sand Timers of Fate and the Honkers of Doom, ably wielded by Kerry, Emma and our wonderful MC, Paula Rawsthorne.

Obviously, four minutes isn’t very long (and as a team we had twice as much time as the individual authors). Still, we spent approximately 30 times as long as that worrying about what we were going to say. Something concise, intriguing, amusing, devastatingly witty… I’m really not sure we managed to cover all (or any) of those bases. And yet, it was a huge amount of fun. We got to talk about our book (which we love). I didn’t publicly humiliate myself by falling off the stage or tripping over my own feet (both of which I’ve done before). And we got to answer some really great questions from the audience, including:

  • which book would you recommend and to whom?  I chose Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, which I’d give to anyone who says they don’t like graphic novels.
  • which are your favourite film adaptations of books? I picked The Lord of the Rings trilogy (the extended versions, of course) and Love and Friendship, the recent film version of Lady Susan.

 

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Waiting for the fun to start…

Aside from our own panel, we really enjoyed the opportunity to meet other authors and readers. It was fascinating to hear about other writer’s lives and inspirations. I was particularly intrigued by Paula’s ghostly encounter in a Derbyshire cottage, and as for Kirkland Ciccone’s amazing catwalk demo…. There are really no words.

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This blurry photo almost entirely fails to capture the moment.

This is the third year that Kerry and Emma have organised UKYACX, and from what I’ve heard, it just keeps on getting better and better. Whether as a visitor or a participant, I can’t wait until next year’s event.

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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The music of The Witch’s Kiss

This is a blog post we wrote a couple of months back as part of our blog tour; the post was hosted by the lovely Andrew over at The Pewter Wolf. Someone was asking us again the other day about what soundtrack we’d choose, if The Witch’s Kiss  got made into a film (and assuming we had any say in the matter), so we decided to re-post the article on our own blog. What do you think? Have we chosen the right tracks, or would you do something different?

 

Here’s the thing: neither of us can actually write with any noise going on at all. It’s like we have to channel our (stereotypical) inner librarians: there must be ABSOLUTE SILENCE in the work place. Which is too bad, because we both love music of all types. Our protagonist in The Witch’s Kiss, Merry, also sings (badly) and listens to music – actually, singing turns out to be pretty important in her world…

So, we’ve tried to pull together a brief list of some of the songs that really evoke, for us, the mood of the story and the goings-on within.

 

The Weight of Living, Part II – Bastille

This song explores both the headlong rush of feeling that you’re suddenly getting to be a grown up, and the fear that somehow you’re not quite doing it right… The lyrics of the first verse sum up what’s going through Merry’s head in the first bit of the novel: Now that you are here, suddenly you fear you’ve lost control…Do you like the person you’ve become?

 

Jar of Hearts – Christina Perri

The background (and the centre, in a way) to our story is the version of Sleeping Beauty we created, called The King of Hearts in the novel. Key lyrics here are those of the chorus, which rather echo the King of Hearts’ activities: …running round leaving scars, collecting your jar of hearts, and tearing love apart…

 

Faded – Alan Walker ft. Iselin Solheim

The vocals here are wonderfully eerie, tying into the fairy-tale atmosphere we’re trying to evoke. Also, we think the lyrics capture how Jack, our Sleeping Beauty, might be feeling: the monsters running wild inside of me, I’m faded…so lost, I’m faded. After all – he has been asleep for a seriously long time…

 

Poison – Rita Ora

Merry knows she shouldn’t get close to Jack, but still. That’s why this song works: Nothing could kill me like you do. You’re going straight to my head…I pick my poison and it’s you. And poison is pretty common in fairy tales: poisoned apples, sleeping potions, black thorns exuding deadly venom…

 

Fix You – Coldplay

The relationship between Merry and her brother Leo is such an important part of The Witch’s Kiss, at least as important as the romantic relationship. Fix You expresses Leo’s desire to help his sister, even when he knows there may not be much he can actually do: Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones, and I will try to fix you.

 

We might as well be strangers – Keane

Another older song, but we love how it describes the pain and isolation of love going wrong, as it so often does: I don’t know your thoughts these days; we’re strangers in an empty space. I don’t understand your heart; it’s easier to be apart.

 

Radioactive – Imagine Dragons

We always wanted to write Merry as a forceful & determined hero: some kind of Buffy/Maleficent genetic mash-up. And this, with its awesome bass line, is the song for that moment where the hero finally gets her stuff together: All systems go, the sun hasn’t died, deep in my bones, straight from inside, I’m waking up, I feel it in my bones, enough to make my system blow…

 

I lived – One Republic

This would be perfect for the closing credits if The Witch’s Kiss ever gets made into a film: with every broken bone, I swear I lived. We’re keeping our fingers crossed!

 

 

 

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!