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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A nice Halloween read.... by Ann Evans

If you enjoy the sort of read that sends a shiver up the spine, you might enjoy The Uninvited. It's an ideal Halloween read as there's a nice vampire-ish feel to it.

The idea for this story came about when I worked at the Coventry Telegraph. I remember spotting a headline about a man who discovered he had someone living in his attic. It seems they'd lived there for ages and he'd never known.

It made me think about those noises in the attic that we hear from time to time. Probably it's just birds... probably.

In The Uninvited, my main character, Katie is told by her very unfriendly cousin, Vanessa and their granddad who Katie has to stay with while her mum's in hospital, that it's bats. But it doesn't sound like bats, it sounds like footsteps... and sometimes it sounds like someone whispering.

There's a strange atmosphere in the old bake-house where granddad and Vanessa live. Granddad used to be bossy and loud and Vanessa used to be good fun. True enough she loved to tell creepy stories, but Katie used to love that. Only now it's very different.

Granddad seems a broken man, he's a shadow of himself. And it seems to Katie that he's actually afraid of Vanessa. And as for Vanessa, she's gone weird – all Gothic, but she's become nasty and spiteful.

She's preparing a party for herself – a surprise party. But when Katie asks how she can prepare a surprise party for yourself, Vanessa says, “Wait and see what the surprise is....”

Here's an extract:

Your Grandfather is a good man - a kind man… deep down.”
Katie’s mother’s words echoed in her mind as the taxi neared the old bake-house. Well, he hadn’t been kind enough to meet her off the train, nor had Vanessa, which was odd.
Even though Katie was eighteen months younger than her cousin they had always been the best of friends. It was funny she hadn’t been at the station if Granddad had been too busy to meet her. Although her train had been delayed due to some problem on the line.
Oh well!” Katie sighed as the taxi left Witchaven village and threaded its way towards the isolated bake-house. Vanessa was probably out with friends and Granddad was probably at some meeting or other. He was always involved in committees. He liked organising, giving orders, shouting, bossing people around.
He’s a good man…”
Katie felt suddenly homesick. She hated leaving her mum in hospital, but with her being so ill, Granddad was the only relative to care for her.
Her cousin Vanessa had lived with Granddad and Nanna since she was a toddler. Her parents had been killed in a car crash, so they’d brought her up. But now Nan was dead too. She’d died suddenly from a heart attack at Christmas.
Katie thought back to her last visit here, seven months ago the funeral. It had been the saddest, most awful visit here to Witchaven. Poor Vanessa had been broken-hearted. Granddad had been his usual self though, stiff upper lip, not shedding a tear.
Poor Vanessa, Katie thought as the taxi pulled up outside the bake-house and she clambered out and paid her fare. Stuck with bossy old Granddad.
He was an ex sergeant major, big and loud with a voice that made your ears ring. He was always telling people what to do, bossing them about. She and Vanessa used to giggle at the way his white handlebar moustache would twitch when he barked out his orders. Although sometimes he would get so high and mighty that the only one who dared answer back was Nanna.
For as long as Katie could remember he had been involved in village life. Her mum described him as a pillar of society. Katie guessed he liked bossing committees about too.
She stood for a moment as the taxi drove away. The house was almost shrouded by the oaks, elms and chestnut trees of Oatmeal Woods. On holidays in the past she and Vanessa would go exploring in the woods, which was fun, even if Vanessa did enjoy scaring her with spooky stories about the mystical characters that lived deep in the woodland.
Katie’s gaze switched to the imposing red bricked building. It was centuries old with its huge mill wheel, like the walls, smothered in creeping ivy. Her eyes were drawn to the doorway at the top of the house the miller’s doorway where sacks of grain would, long ago, be hauled up for grinding. She and Vanessa often played in the attic – it used to worry Katie’s mum in case they accidentally fell through the doorway. But they always had such fun up there, even if they did end up dusty with old flour.
Looking forward to seeing Vanessa again, Katie rattled the heavy brass door knocker hoping her cousin would be home. Granddad was so overbearing and loud, he made her nervous.
But she was beginning to think no one was home, as it was minutes before the door finally creaked slowly open. Smoky the cat emerged first and wrapped itself around Katie’s ankles. And then Granddad appeared.
Granddad?” Katie exclaimed, startled by his appearance. He seemed smaller than she remembered. The same thick white hair, the same white handlebar moustache, but his shoulders were hunched and there was a look in his eyes which startled her. A haunted look.
He stared at her for some moments, his pale eyes blank as if his thoughts were far, far away. Finally he exclaimed: “Katie! I’d forgotten. Come in, come in.”
He drew back his shoulders and studied her like a sergeant inspecting his troops. That was more like it, Katie thought, more like his usual self.
You’ve grown!” he stated. “Still skinny though. How’s your mother?”
She… she was quite poorly when I left the hospital,” Katie answered, then afraid she might start crying which he would never stand for, she changed the subject quickly. “How are you, Granddad?”
Me? Never better. And you’re not to worry about your mother. She’s a strong woman. Now come along, I’ll get you something to eat. I imagine you’re just like your cousin, eat like a horse and never put an ounce on.”
Katie frowned. “I don’t remember Vanessa having a big appetite.”
A muscle twitched in his cheek. “Since … since your nan passed away, probably her way of compensating.”
His shoulders slumped again and he shuffled rather than marched down the cool tiled hallway into the kitchen. Katie thought how old and weary he looked.
He cut her a chunk of quiche and sliced up a tomato. “There you go! Can’t have you starving. I’ll make us a pot of tea.”
Thank you,” Katie said, trying to smile. He was making an effort to appear his old self, but it was an effort. She had already glimpsed the old man he’d become. A stooped old man with a haunted faraway look in his eyes. No longer a man to be feared - more a man to be pitied.
Where’s Vanessa, Granddad? I can’t wait to see her again.”
A teacup slipped from his hands and smashed on the red stone floor. As he stooped to clear away the broken china, Katie saw the expression on his face – that same strange, haunted look.
Let me help you,” Katie offered, but he dismissed her offer with a flap of his hand.
I can manage, eat your supper. Your cousin’s probably upstairs in her room.”
Katie sank back into her chair, feeling confused and lost and lonely. She was missing home, missing her mum. She wished Vanessa would come down. There wouldn’t be this awful atmosphere if Vanessa was around.
Vanessa was fun, she could always make her laugh or make her shiver. Vanessa was the best storyteller ever, and there was nothing Katie liked better than curling up under the duvet while Vanessa told her some dark and mysterious tale of witches and goblins.
She tried to eat, but the food felt dry in her mouth. It was strange too without Nanna pottering around. In fact everything was strange.
The silence between her and her granddad went on forever. Finally in an attempt to lighten the mood, she ventured, “Are you still involved with your committees, Granddad?”
Oh yes, most certainly,” he answered, brightening instantly. “I’m Chairman of the Parish Council and on the Board of School Governors. Oh yes and a magistrate now too.”
As he spoke his expression became animated, no longer a cowering old man, his back straightened even his moustache seemed to bristle.
Wow! How do you get time for all that?” Katie asked, preferring him in this mood. She didn’t know that stooped old man at all.
I never idle my time away. Life’s too precious to…” his voice trailed away, and he struggled to finish what he was saying. “…to waste.”
He had to be thinking about Nanna. He probably missed her more than he would admit. Katie wondered if she should give him a hug, but she didn’t dare, so she remained seated and said softly, “Nanna had a happy life…”
Nanna?” He frowned, as if he hadn’t a clue what she was talking about. Then, “Ah yes, your nan, fine woman. Well I must get on. Twilight meeting at the Town Hall. We’re getting close to the election of the town mayor.”
Katie lowered her eyes. No, he hadn’t changed. His committee work was still the most important thing in his life. She must have imagined that haunted look.
She forced herself to appear cheerful. “So who’s going to be elected mayor? I can’t imagine anyone more suitable that you.”
His pale eyes suddenly sparkled. “Well, between you and me, I’ve heard I’m in the running.”
That’s good,” Katie replied, pleased to see his craggy face break into a real smile. But just as swiftly, it vanished. The sparkle died in his eyes and in slunk that stooped, haunted look again. Only this time he seemed to shrink before her eyes, curling up, like a beaten dog, cowering before its master.
Granddad!” Katie cried, jumping to her feet. “What’s wrong?”
Then a prickling sensation at the nape of her neck warned her that they were no longer alone. She spun around.
Standing in the doorway, was Vanessa.
She was dressed in black. Black from head to toe. A long floating black skirt that reached her ankles and a fine black shirt that hung loosely from her thin shoulders with a black top beneath it. Her raven hair had grown longer and she wore it loose, framing a face that was almost pure white – except for her blood red lipstick. There was no hint of her overeating to compensate for losing her nan. She was tall and willowy and beautiful.
Although the dramatic Gothic appearance of her cousin surprised Katie, she ran and threw her arms around her. “Vanessa, it’s brilliant to see you again!”
But Vanessa stood rigid, arms at her sides, expressionless. Projecting an aura of cold, stark bleakness that left Katie feeling uncomfortable and unwelcome.
You’re here then,” said Vanessa, her voice flat, emotionless as Katie stepped awkwardly away from her cousin. “Didn’t Granddad tell you? This isn’t a good time.”
The icy welcome shocked Katie. “But, there’s nowhere else, no one else…” She looked to her granddad for support.
The old man mumbled inaudibly, lowering his head, avoiding Katie’s gaze. Confused, she looked back at her cousin.
Vanessa’s darkly rimmed eyes were icy blue. “Well, just don’t expect things to be like they were. Nothing’s the way it was.” She glared at the old man. “Is it, Granddad?”
Without a word he shuffled towards the sink, shoulders slumped, head bent, a pathetic shadow of himself. Vanessa flicked back her hair, looking triumphant.
Katie stared at them both, shocked by how things had changed. Their roles had been reversed. Vanessa was the domineering one now and Granddad was a trembling wreck under her power.
What on earth had happened here?

The Uninvited is available from Amazon:

If you enjoy The Uninvited, you might also enjoy Celeste. A time slip mystery set in my home city of Coventry in the present day and in the Medieval past.

Both books are published by Astraea Press.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Romance writer turns to crime!

Michelle Kelly 
I'm very pleased to welcome author Michelle Kelly to my blog today. Michelle is talking about her latest book, a crime novel entitled When I Wasn't Watching. Michelle also writes romance and erotic fiction under the name of Kelly Lawrence.

I asked Michelle how she first got into writing. Here's what she said:

“I've been writing stories since I was tiny really. I used to write them for my friends at school when I should have been working! I've only been writing professionally for just under two years however. I was made redundant from my job as a literacy teacher and I thought 'now's the time to give this thing a go.' I was really lucky, or perhaps it was Fate; I had an agent and my first book deal within six weeks of making that decision.”

Her first book, Wicked Games was released in June 2013. It's an erotic romance published by Black Lace. “I caught the market at the right time, in the wake of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon,” added Michelle.

“After Wicked Games I got a contract to write a series of novellas for Mills and Boon. As a reader however, crime is my first love. Then I was reading an article about the recent re-release of a notorious teenage child murderer, and the characters and main plot for When I Wasn't Watching just came into my head. It was a story I just had to write, and I was about a third of the way in when I realised 'this is the stuff I really want to be writing.' I still write romance though, my latest novella Borgia Heat is published in November.

Michelle's crime novel is set in her home city of Coventry and I wondered if that made things easier or more tricky for her when writing the book.

“It was easier in that I knew my setting, but difficult in some ways,” said Michelle. “Knowing what to keep and what to change, and there's always the worry of offending someone...”

Asked what she was working on at the moment, Michelle said: “I've just finished the first round of edits on my first cozy mystery Murder at the Yoga Cafe. It's the first in a series and will be released in the US next year by St Martins Press. I'm now in the planning stages for my second crime novel, a loose sequel to When I Wasn't Watching.”

Wishing Michelle every success for her future books, here's some info about When I Wasn't Watching and a short extract.

Every parent’s worst nightmare… 

About When I Wasn't Watching.

Eight years ago, Lucy and Ethan Randall’s little boy, Jack, was abducted and murdered by teenager Terry Prince. A moment’s distraction had ripped a family apart – and with the loss of their son came the collapse of the Randalls’ marriage. Tortured by memories, Lucy was left to battle her grief while raising her remaining son alone.
Now, Jack’s killer has walked free, giving him the second chance at life that little Jack never had. Lucy’s wounds newly opened, her world is turned upside down a second time when another child goes missing – and she can’t shake the suspicion that Prince has struck again.
When DI Matt Winston, the same officer who found Jack’s body, is assigned to the case, the echoes of Lucy’s past grow ever more insistent. Bound by their tragic shared experiences, Matt and Lucy grow closer – and become fixated on bringing the culprit to justice. But now history has repeated itself, answers seem even further out of reach. And for Lucy, it’s time to face her ghosts, and ask the most terrible question of all: can she ever really forgive herself?

When the phone had rung Lucy had expected it to be Susan from work. They had arranged a movie night on Saturday and she had been looking forward to it; even treating herself to a new pair of jeans. So she answered cheerfully enough, then frowned as a throat cleared on the other end of the line before asking, after a slight hesitation, for Mrs Randall. She paused before realising the voice was asking for her.
It’s Ms Wyatt now,’ she said firmly. There was after all a new Mrs Randall. ‘I got divorced five years ago.’
I do apologise.’ It was a male voice, quite official sounding and also, Lucy thought, nervous. As soon as she thought it a sense of dread twisted low in her belly.
But you were Mrs Lucy Randall? Jack Randall’s mother?’
Lucy felt as though her throat was full of sand as she spoke.
Yes, who is this?’
She hoped to God it wasn’t the press. They had hung around enough in the days after Jack’s death and the weeks leading up to the trial, and then again when Ethan had left her. They had been sympathetic but still intrusive and she had always refused to comment, an instinctive need for privacy taking precedence over the urge to talk, to share and to rail against the injustices Fate had dealt her. But why on earth would it all be dragged up now?
Lucy realised she was gripping the phone so hard her knuckles were white, and she couldn’t process the words coming through.
Until she heard ‘Parole Board’ and her guts twisted further.
Ethan and herself had been asked to attend a meeting with them a few months before, but she had let Ethan deal with it. Afterwards, he had seemed pretty certain that the general consensus was that Terry Prince wasn’t getting out any time soon. But then Ethan always had the knack of hearing exactly what he wanted to hear and no more.
I’m sorry, can you repeat that please?’ Lucy said, her voice sounding far away. Inside she was screaming no no no, because she didn’t want to hear what she suddenly already knew.

If you'd like to read more or buy When I Wasn't Watching, here's the Amazon link: 

Thank you Michelle.