Anne Bishop – Etched in Bone

For fans of fantasy writer, Anne Bishop, a new novel, Etched in Bone, in The Others series is due out on March 9th 2017. The Others novels, of which this will be the fifth, confirm the authors ability to fascinate readers with strange but engaging characters in disturbing yet surprisingly likeable worlds.

Climactic finish to Stories People Tell

I have just finished the first draft of my eleventh novel, The Stories People Tell. A hundred and twenty four thousand words written in two and a half months. Details of all my novels can be found here.

Right up to the very last chapter (the one hundredth), I had no idea how the story would finish. Amongst other things, I was surprised to discover that the climatic end was a joyous celebration of the city of London and the wide diversity of the people living there.

The Stories People Tell relates the tale of Annie, an unknown seventeen year-old schoolgirl , who gets caught up in a grass-roots gay women’s movement in their opposition to Nolan Kard, current Lord Mayor of London. A rich entrepreneur, turned politician, he is campaigning to ‘Keep London Straight’. His off-hand attitude, his tasteless humour and his widespread influence, especially within the police, are undermining the country’s longstanding institutions. Annie, who is normally shy and retiring, discovers she has far more talent than she imagined. Despite herself, she becomes the figurehead of the ‘London Whatever’ movement that rocks London and its certitudes, but in so doing, she becomes the number one target for Kard and his rogue police, not to mention his sinister gang of ghost writers


Flags fluttered in the breeze over the hotel entrance as they reached Charing Cross Station. People were leaning out the many windows to catch a first glimpse of the march, whistling and cheering as the head of the cortege swept into view. The station forecourt was packed with people none of whom seemed in any hurry to catch a train. They erupted in cheers and clapping as the first of the marchers drew level with the station.

Annie halted the march and grasped the microphone Bertie handed her. She took several steps beyond the column of people, Xenia, her faithful bodyguard, at her side. Kevin, her girlfriend, on the other. The crowd hushed. “Thank you,” she said, her amplified voice echoing back from the façade of the station and away down the Strand over the heads of the marchers. “Thank you all for such a warm welcome. It touches us deeply. We, the women, men and children of London, march to put an end to violence. The violence of words, of acts, of fists, of firearms and bombs. We oppose violence not with ever more violence, but with everyday acts of kindness, with concern for those who are poor, rejected and in ill health. It is not easy. But that is our goal. If that goal appeals to you, join us now. We are on our way to St. James’s Park where there will be speeches, but also music and dancing. You are all welcome.”

She paused a moment, the fist of her right hand cradled in the fingers of her left. “We raise our fists in salute, it is not a threat but a sign of solidarity. In those fingers held tight we embrace everyone however different they may be. Gay. Trans. Straight. Black. Yellow. White. All sorts. All colours of the rainbow. All are welcome in our London.” She raised her fist in the air. Behind her, the marchers as one saluted in their turn and with it a roar went up that rippled back down The Strand. Then hesitatingly people in the station forecourt and at the windows above, raised their fists, till a sea of raised fists greeted her.

Annie nodded as a token of recognition and returned to the march, her arm slung around Kevin’s shoulders, her heart beating fast with the emotion of the moment. Bertie raised her arm and gave the signal for them to set off towards Trafalgar Square.

The Book of Dust

Delighted to learn from the Guardian that Philip Pullman is to publish a new trilogy set in the same context and with some of the characters from his earlier trilogy, His Dark Materials. The new trilogy will be entitled The Book of Dust and the first volume is due out in October 2017. Looking forward to rediscovering more of the magic and the thought-provoking writing of Pullman.

New cover for Artworks

London Whatever! An extract.

One month ago today I began a new novel entitled Stories People Tell. I am now half way through the book and have written 55,000 words. I know numbers mean very little, but when a story flows so freely that you write over four thousand words in a day, as I did yesterday and the day before, it is an exhilarating experience. When your fingers freeze because you are out on a walk in icy cold weather and have to write down the next fragment of the story, you know something special is going on. When the only light on a moonless night on a deserted path through the forest is your iPad open to Scrivener with you hunched over it, fingers typing away, you experience the full force of stories.

It is not easy sharing an extract from the draft, but I wanted you to be able to read some of what I as First Reader have read and written. First Reader? Because I get to discover the story first. Now it is your turn. But bear in mind, there are a number of story threads in this tale and you are following just a fragment of one of them. And if you like it or it sparks thoughts, don’t hesitate to tell others about it or add your messages below.

(What you need to know: Annie is an unknown seventeen year-old schoolgirl caught up in a grass-roots movement against Nolan Kard, a rich entrepreneur, turned politician who is campaigning to ‘Keep London Straight’. His off-hand attitude, his tasteless humour and his widespread influence is undermining the capital’s longstanding  institutions. Annie, who is normally shy and retiring, becomes the figurehead of the ‘London Whatever’ movement and in this extract is attending a spontaneous rally in a park somewhere in London.)

A roar went up from the crowd as the small group parted and Annie stepped forward. Several people patted her on the shoulder. Others shouted words of encouragement. Seeing the size of the crowd from the edge of the platform took her breath away and her head began to spin. She grasped the railing and tried to suck in a deep breath. The crowd roared again like a wild but joyful beast. She raised her fist in salute and the crowd followed suit, a sea of raised fists swaying in front of her. The sight was exhilarating, but also terrifying. There was a power in this situation that she could never have imagined.

What next? The crowd fell silent and someone handed her a microphone. She stared at it unsure what to do. She had not anticipated this. She had no speech at the ready. Her mind was a blank and she struggled to keep the panic at bay. If only she’d known, she’d have asked Alice. The old Professor might have been retired, but she would have known what to say. She thought of the Prime Minister, of all his worries and what he’d told her about Kard undermining those who did the work.

She took a shaky breath, raised the mic to her mouth and spoke. “It is so easy to stand on the sidelines and sneer at those who are trying to get the work done.” She halted to catch her breath and look around the crowd, giving the words time to come. A swaying fresco of faces stared up at her, expectant. She gripped the railing even tighter, almost giving in to the vertigo. “It is so easy to mock and poke fun at the institutions on which society is built.” She felt her voice grow stronger as if she had unearthed an untapped source of energy. “It is so easy to point your finger at those who are different and say they are to blame.” The words flowed more easily now. Goodness knew from where.

She lowered her voice almost to a whisper, her lips brushing the mic. “If you are one of those who snigger at these antics, if their bad taste makes you laugh, if you would vote for the buffoon thinking he is different and will set things right, remember one thing.” She raised her voice little by little. “Driving the vision of a straighter, greater Britain is the dubious humour of a madman whose only aim is to build an empire over the ruins he leaves behind. There will be nothing great or straight in the nightmare he has in mind. There will be no freedom at the end of the road. A twisted smile may linger on your lips, but if you do not see him for what he is, whatever you are, where ever you live, who ever you know, you will stand alone, powerless, a slave to the will of a man who cares nothing about anyone or anything but himself.”

“I am reminded of the story of the emperor’s new clothes. In this version the Emperor is a would-be President.” Laughter rippled through the crowd. “He stands before us in his dirty underwear expecting us to pretend he is richly dressed.” The crowd roared with laughter. “He is mistaken. It is us that are richly dressed in all our gay colours and pretty makeup.” Some whistled, others called out ‘love you’, most just returned her smile. “He would have us all clad in grey, each of us straight-jacketed into uniform thoughts so he can feel special. No way!”

“No way!” cried the crowd.

“This afternoon, a journalist asked me why we call our movement ‘London Whatever’. I replied that rather than pointing an accusing finger at the world, ‘Whatever’ opens its arms to embrace difference. ‘Whatever’ is inclusive. Why shouldn’t girls love girls or boys love boys? Why shouldn’t gender be a question of personal choice? ‘Whatever’ celebrates the richness and diversity of the world. It hugs rather than sniggers. It is open and frank. And as part of that frankness we stand up and laugh at the bully in his dirty underwear who has this crazy idea that we should bow down to him as if he were a richly dressed President.”

Enough was enough. She lowered the microphone. The crowd erupted in cheers and stamped their feet. Before the cheers had time to die down, someone pulled out a drum and began hammering out a wild beat. Only to be joined by a pair of bongos. Another person shouldered a fiddle and added a melody to the beat. Several others took out flutes and in no time the crowd was transformed into a colourful, dancing mass.

A new novel

For some time, I have been struggling to put a damper on a new novel which was clamouring for my attention, but Sunday, two weeks ago, I gave in. Whole scenes were running through my mind demanding to be written. So temporarily abandoning Forget Me Not which was nearing completion, I began a new novel with the working title, Stories People Tell (tentative cover above). Writing on average a chapter a day, I have now written over 20,000 words and am enthusiastic about the result.

I was planning to give you a peek, sharing the first couple of paragraphs of the draft, but it is still undergoing changes. With such inspirational writing, you don’t necessarily know where the novel is heading. Here is no exception. The initial idea that sparked the book turned out not to be the subject of the book, as I had imagined, but only a starting point. Anyway, here’s the current beginning. (*)

Annie looked up, startled. Nothing ever happened in the East End. Yet, there she was, on her way home from school like every other week day, except that today the path across the park was blocked by crash barriers and the grass was packed with a raucous crowd sporting badges, waving blue banners and screaming “Kard, Kard, Kard.”

Sure. She’d noticed the posters plastered on the walls around her community school and on the walls and windows of deserted houses and warehouses awaiting demolition, but she hadn’t paid them any attention. She might be studying sociology at A-level, but she was not much interested in politics. It all seemed so pointless and fake. During break, she’d even heard a brass band marching the streets announcing some event, but it was frankly not her type of music. There were several groups of rough-looking youths sporting large blue badges loitering at street corners. But her thoughts had been more on avoiding them than why they were there.

Of course, she’d heard of Kard. Who hadn’t? You couldn’t open a newspaper without his face leering out at you. The man had a regular spot on all the talked-of TV chat programmes. He reminded her of a stuffed pig. A thick set, blundering oaf who constantly cracked jokes, most of which were in bad taste. Some of her friends thought he was a laugh. A few found him handsome. One even claimed to have met him. Her mother called the man a buffoon and was clearly amused. Her father said if he was a buffoon, he was a dangerous one. Her sociology teacher said Kard hailed the end of history. Didn’t he really mean the end of the world? (…)

(*) The whole draft is now complete and I have begun editing, The above is from the latest version of the draft. Updated: Tuesday February 21st 2017.

The Stories People Tell

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Stories are a major subject of all my novels and I am currently toying with the idea of writing a story devoted to a person who is stuck in a very unpleasant story told by a sinister author.

“Stories are an important part of our life,” someone once claimed, pleading for the importance of novels, but the truth of the statement goes way beyond that. Stories, often very short ones that we tell ourselves, are an essential ingredient of our understanding of ourself and the world.

So what do these micro stories do? They tie together the fragments of what is going on around us so the world makes sense. They inform our actions.

There are stories designed to prepare us for an uncertain future, the difficult interview, the prospect of a dressing-down, the physical challenge of a race or a combat, repeated unendingly in the hope that doing so will influence what happens.

There are stories that are for our own personal satisfaction or glory, like walking into a crowded concert hall, sitting down at the grand piano and playing the most brilliant piece of music, despite having never played piano before, only to get up and walk away, not even acknowledging the astounded audience. Or there are more sinister imaginings that creep up on us unbidden. The out-of-control car that mashes into us as we walk along the side of the road, or the dog gone wild that leaps up at us, its jaws wide, its teeth ready to maul.

Of course, if our story strays too far from reality and nothing sets us right, we could be in for trouble. I remember admiring a girl I saw every morning at the bus stop as I walked by. I was a pupil, working on a building site during my school holidays. I imagined chatting with her and even us going out together. When I finally got up the courage to say “Hallo”, she shied away and my story came clattering down around my ears.

The above example illustrates how interpretations get between us and other people when we falsely believe they are drawing us closer together. Here’s another example. A healer has an intuition about the person he’s talking to. His whole practice relies on trusting such intuitions. The person looks absent, as if her soul had taken leave of her. He knows she has recently had an accident, so he asks, “Did you black-out during your accident ?” Startled, she replies, “No.” His ‘story’ and the related interpretation get between him and his patient.

But the vast majority of such micro stories weave themselves into the fabric of life almost unseen, but not unheeded. It is they that make sense of the world for us, that link together the disparate to create coherence and meaning, that allow us to interpret, to anticipate, to act. But they are still stories, fiction, or at best embellished reality. They are based on our guesswork, our imaginings or our desires and fears. The might become reality, but they are not it yet.

Such micro stories are not always helpful. They can be a source of continual conflict between people, especially in couples. Here’s an example. The husband gives the headlines of news heard on the radio about the plans of a large tobacco company to end the production of cigarettes. Not waiting for further information, his wife attacks those who criticise people without good reason. Her behaviour is familiar to him. He is furious that she always defends the opposing side. On a deeper level he feels trapped by a vision of himself that he doesn’t like and which he doesn’t agree with. He is not the character in her story, but how does he escape? We are all both the heroes and victims of our own and other people’s stories.

A new end, a new beginning

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As a writer, you know you are drawing near the end of the novel you are writing when ideas start to surface for the next book. The other day I passed the 100.000 word mark on Forget Me Not, having finished chapter ten. Ideas for future books include the sixth and final book of The Storyteller’s Quest; A possible sequel to In Search of Lost Girls; and finally a completely new idea about someone trapped in a story…. an exciting prospect. I’m tempted to go with that first.

Here’s an extract from the draft of the end of chapter ten of Forget Me Not.

Ethy staggered against the table in the potting shed, causing several pots to tumble to the ground and smash. Clutching the wooden surface for support, she felt as if her head were spinning but her stomach couldn’t keep up. Could it be an earthquake? The table still rocked where she had jostled it, but the packed earth beneath her feet remained motionless. No. This was in her. More likely it was a virus or something she’d eaten. She felt weak and queasy. Of course, it could be this place catching up on her, finally getting its revenge.

She’d been lucky so far. Not only did she not get lost like all the other girls who ventured out, but she suffered none of the distractions or delirium that had made lumbering vegetables of many of the girls, Beth and Maria included.

She glanced at the others. Beth was huddled in her wheelchair oblivious to the world. Maria in comparison looked alarmed. Her head swivelled in every direction as if in search of an explanation but her expression spoke only of incomprehension. Both Anju and Tricia looked green, but maybe that was only the light reflecting off so many leaves. (…)

Traces – an ultra-short story

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Out walking every morning before breakfast I take photos and have ideas for my books and stories, but this morning was the first time I composed a complete ultra-short story (or is it a poem) on my phone while I was out. Called Traces, it begins as follows:

On my walk, crossing so many traces of stories yearning to be told.
A misplaced golfball close to a golf course, its owner lost in the search… (read on)

Blinded by inspiration

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I attended a workshop given by the poet Laura Kasischke (in the photo above) organised by the Geneva Writers Group. It was all about images, or rather metaphors … and the importance of the senses as the source of all perception of the world. There were many writing exercises amongst readings and the occasional discussion. Based on the juxtaposition that underlies metaphors, each exercise strung together a description anchored heavily in the senses and a question or judgement linked to a different context. Here are a few of my pieces sparked by this jostling of disparate worlds.

Derelict house

Rain ran over her bald head and dripped from the faded red dress which hung torn from her sagging form. Ivy had crept up her legs and over her body, its deep green leaves in stark contrast to the pale ivory of her skin and the prominent bluish veins. She sat in the ruins of an armchair, unleashed springs sprouting around her as she stared out over the abandoned garden. Despite the heavy makeup, cracks ran down the side of her face, threatening to reveal the bones that jutted out. Her chest heaved in one long drawn-out sigh and she turned the page of the book resting in her lap, slowly, ever so slowly. The ink on the page had long been washed into a grey-blue blur and the paper buckled in the rain. Curving her index finger, she dug the long nail into the soggy mass, and, tearing downwards, left a deep gouge in the body of the book that the rain hastened to fill.

The White Room

The double bed fills most of the room, its covers folded down with hospital precision. Slippers slink side by side, their toes peeking out from under the bed. On the dresser, each tube of lipstick, each bottle of perfume, even the paper hankies, are aligned in neat rows. The wicker wastepaper basket, mostly concealed beneath the worksurface, is empty. Not an odd angle, not a rough edge, nothing to get hold of. I round the bed, cross the plush carpet, feeling it’s softness ease between my toes, and pull at the wardrobe door. It resists. I pull harder and it flies open. Crying out, I jump back in alarm as a host of empty cardboard boxes tumbles out on top of me.

 Vulnerable

You step out from behind the lectern, smoothing the folds of your dress as you do. Smoothing your nerves too. So many people watching, listening, sizing you up, row upon row of them awaiting the impossible, drooling in expectation, on the look out for the slightest miss step. Your eyes are wide, your jaw set, your arms snake around your chest, clasping you tight, crushing the breath from your lungs. Whatever you do, don’t let it show. You know the routine. Throw up a rampart of words. Plough on. Let the words tumble over the waiting audience, hurry, out run them, knock the breath from them, eliminate them before they do you.