Brida Anderson

Urban Fantasy

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Character Agency and what else to learn from Dragon Age as a writer

If you love games and fantasy books, read Chuck Wendig’s post:  “Dragon Age Inquisition. A writer’s perspective”.

Screenshot Dragon Age Chuck Wendig

 

Chuck’s current (or maybe all-time) bone to pick is character agency. In this and follow-up posts, he had a lot of very interesting things to say about agency which aren’t just interesting to writers.

Also interesting how he takes apart a whole game from a writer’s and a player’s perspective.

Also check out his other recent post on character agency, looking at female characters, HOW “STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS” STILL END UP WEAK AND POWERLESS (OR, “DO THEY PASS THE ACTION FIGURE TEST?”).

It’s especially great to read if you like to read (or write!) kick-ass heroines with a lot of oomph.

Over to you. What do you think? How come so many “strong” heroines end up weak when it counts?

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I’d love to talk to you. Due to an avalanche of spam, I had to close comments on the blog. If you’d like to comment on this blogpost, please talk to me on Facebook or on Twitter instead.

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brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb Brida Anderson’s novel, Hedge Games, released in December. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.

Fantasy Warrior Workout for beginners

He pulled me close, against his hard chest. His heart was still beating rapidly from racing after my attacker, thumping just under my cheek.

“I won’t ever let him get close to you again.” His voice was rough, a stark contrast to how gently his hands teased the hair from my face. “Shhhh, don’t cry. It’s over. He can’t hurt you anymore.” His claymore fell to the stone floors of the hall with a clatter and he picked me up in his arms.

Mhmmm, yes? :-)

Just playing around a little to get you in the mood for a good warrior workout. ;-) I don’t mean a Spartan Warrior workout or WOD. I mean the feeling we get when training with a workout that our beloved Highland hunks, elf warriors, Shadowhunters and Dark-Hunters wouldn’t sneeze at.

Admit it, you’re discreetly drooling inside when reading how Jace trains in the large hall at the New York institute.
Or Adrian Paul, from Highlander?

 

So, training for girls who read … ;-)

kettlebells fantasy warrior workout brida anderson

I’ve been practising yoga for years (when I practise, cough) and some other sports on and off. With two kids, there hardly seemed to be any time. Enter my new love: kettlebells. You can do a taxing workout in as short as 20 minutes (at least when you start out) — ideal with kids. Unlike barbells, you move the kettlebells with your whole body, especially your core, and in movements that are similar to real-life movements. That’s why it’s so effective at building up strength, and that’s why a kettlebell training can stand in for double duty as strength and cardio training.

Bonus: you feel as if you dropped in one of your favorite books or tv series when you skillfully manouver that metal ball around. Especially if you combine it with certain yoga moves.

So, use that skilled imagination of yours that you primed by reading all these lovely books!

I’ll assume in the following that you know a little yoga and have tried out kettlebells before and know the correct form for the exercises that you pick. Poor form in kettlebell exercises can lead to injuries, so be careful. For the first attempts with KB it’s best to have a trainer or someone who knows KB well to spot you and correct you. And to use a lighter weight so you can concentrate on what you do with that heavy ball instead of being blown away with happiness that you can move that thing AT ALL. ;-)

Put on some sexy music. If you’re just starting out with kettlebells, pick music that’s not too fast or it will make you compromise on form.

Shove your mat or carpet against a blank wall and face it. Concentrate hard on wishing yourself into a dojo of your choice, where you are training either alongside or to surprise your favorite book-boyfriend.

Lead your body through several repetitions of the Sun Salutation from yoga. In their place, you can alternate stretching as high as you can and doing push-ups. Glide over into some Warrior stances from Yoga for good measure. Hold each stance for five long slow breaths. Really feel the power moving through you, your strength awakening. The Warrior-asanas have the nice side-effect of making building up confidence. Plus they always make me feel like an amazon, so there’s that. :-)

Next pick a kettlebell with a weight that you can safely handle in about 30 controlled swings (both hands, both legs, power comes from the butt). Done those? Sweating already? Good. :-)

Then attack the kettlebells with a circuit round of exercises. Pick 3 to 4  different kettlebell exercises (there are a ton of videos on YouTube and Pinterest posters with good KB exercises) that you repeat each for 12 to 15 times, depending on how fit you are. Use the same weight you used for the swing if the exercise uses both hands and is NOT overhead. Pick a lower weight if the exercise uses only one hand or is overhead.

I try to alternate between ones where most of the strength comes from the legs (like the squat) with ones where my arms have to do more work (like the tricepts-exercises and the abs).

My circuit is usually:

  • Around the World and Figure Eight’s for the fun of it
  • deep goblet squats
  • one of the many snatch and lift-variations or dead lifts
  • something for the triceps
  • plank rows / renegade rows (plank position with kettlebell)
  • sideways plank rows and/or oblique twists
  • waist swings

But do what rocks your boat! Be playful. There are so many different possibilities with kettlebells. Just try to do them in perfect form and slowly at first (with not a lot of weight) so you don’t hurt yourself. Then have fun! :-)

After 12 to 15 reps of your chosen exercises, do one more Sun Salutation, then the next round of your kettlebell exercises.

One more Sun Salutation, the third and last round of these exercises.

Don’t be afraid of the repetition. You’ll be surprised to see that you can do a lot more if you alternate exercises as if you trained just one round with “as many repetitions as I can manage”. I can do one set of swings with 32 repetitions. On a good day. But if I repeat the swing again in the middle of the circuit, I can do *another* 20 repetitions.

For cool down and stretching, I use different yoga asanas that are good for stretching my sore spots. Yours might be different, so pick accordingly. Something to stretch the back of the legs, the shoulders and the butt should be included.

If you like, throw in a little Zumba-like dance now. Put on quick sexy music. Just shake everything loose, celebrate that you just kicked butt!

Here’s a little bonus to get you motivated:

Doing this training twice a week is enough. And you’ll be done with it in about 30 minutes, plus the warm-up and cool-down time. If time is a problem, you can always do fewer exercises. Include the kettlebell swing in any case, that’s the foundation and works your whole core. The rest is just icing on the cake.

Marvel at the new body and fresh strength that emerges after a few weeks of this training. Now come to a LARP con with me and raise your sword in the air – you’re ready for battle. :-)

Sam Heughan – have you seen this Highlander?

Alright, let’s put it on the table up front: I haven’t read Outlander. I tried twice since it first came out, and I couldn’t get over the first part. It reminded me of my aborted attempt to study History at university. I had loved history classes at school. At uni, not so much. The first few weeks of any class were great. But when I was ready to move on to the next bit, they stayed on the same narrow topic for MONTHS. Yawn. (That was years before I learned I was a Scanner, btw. More on that some other time. Rest assured: It’s not an alien life form. I think. ;-)

So, anyway. That was my impression reading “Outlander” when what I was used to was Highlander-romance, sometimes paranormal Highlander romance. While in the romances, I sometimes cringed when things were too modern or badly researched, here there was history.  That was fine. But there was so much of it! And so much backstory. And so much stuff about the modern guy who I didn’t care for at all. I just wanted him out of the picture so the highlander could ride in, like: finally.

So when Outlander (gah: first I wrote Highlander … ;-) now came out on iTunes, I hesitated. I watched the trailers – and I loved what I saw. Still on the fence, I decided to skip the first episodes and to start with episode 7, The Wedding. For … cough … various reasons. ;-)

alright, not in the highlands. Photo taken in Sweden, castle by the sea (photo: Brida Anderson)

alright, not in the highlands. Photo taken in Sweden, castle by the sea (photo: Brida Anderson)

 

I was totally hooked by that episode. The writing, the story, the dialogue, the grittiness of it all. Like Game of Thrones without chewing my nails to the quick. I watched the eighth episode and am now severely tempted to start over at the beginning, with Sassenach.

I’m still torn on whether I like the heroine. I love the nuanced way she’s played and love the actress, but the heroine herself. Hm, we’ll have to see. But the Highlander, Jamie, comes alive so much and in so many small details, he feels real.

No wonder Sam Heughan, the actor who plays Jamie in Outlander, picks up Twitter followers by the bucketful. If you also love Jamie, here’s something for you: The page collated Sam Heughan’s rare Question & Answer session that he held for reaching 100K twitter followers. (That was two months ago, he’s at 114.000 now.) Now some of it reads just plain boring taken out of the context of Twitter. But if you’re on Twitter, you can imagine the heart palpitations some of these answers must have given, when he used their Twitter handle to, personally, send them a hug or a greeting. :-D

Outlander Twitter accounts to watch: Sam Heughan. Caitriona Balfe, the actress playing Claire . The writers’ of the show are at @OutlanderWriter.

Something else that I love about Outlander beside Jamie and the show’s look is the song that haunts the opening sequence, The Skye Boat Song (Skye Boat Song on Amazon.com). It’s based on an old song and poem and has such a nice Celtic, past-times touch combined with drive and determination. Reminded me of Loreena McKennit and Enya, in a good way.

The feyish quality of it is especially lovely when coupled with snippets of the series filmed in modern times. It went straight onto my playlist for writing. Can’t decide which version to show you here. One where you see the opening sequence? Maybe rather one where you can sing along:


 

Last but not least for you Outlander-addicts, here’s a sneak peek at the next season:

What do you think?

Breathe, life is good!

Written for you on the 12h of February.

I read a blogpost by Elizabeth Gilbert today (“The Best Thing you can do for yourself – and all the women around you“) and it resonated into my evening. It’s just past 9 PM now and the youngest (3) is finally sleeping. He’s transitioning from napping in the afternoon to not napping. You remember that horrible time? When they’re cranky all afternoon if they don’t nap but if you put them down to sleep, they resist with the power of pure thunder. :-) If they do sleep, even if it’s only for 40 minutes, they have a hard time falling asleep in the evening and keep waking up at night.

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One of those days, anyway.

So he was sleeping, I had snatched my notebook from the study and was on my way downstairs to write to you, carrying in my other arm a load of “woops, potty training”-clothes from my youngest. I could bemoan that it’s only 9 PM and I’m SO VERY tired.  Again. But you know what? Life is good.

Elizabeth Gilbert is right. We have to stop comparing ourselves and bemoaning our shortcomings. Yes, it would be lovely if my children hadn’t been sick this past week, if the nursery hadn’t had to close because of some foul water rising up through the ground. I’d be further into my projects, for one thing, closer to bringing them out into the world. Into your hands. Does it count? Should it make me sad that, like all moms I know, I’m galloping on the spot because the day has many hours but not enough to do all that I plan to do? No.

Life is good because: My youngest is sleeping soundly, with a smile on his face, and before he fell asleep, he tried to sing along with me to an old lullabye.

Life is good because my husband and my older son are giggling in the bedroom. My son has a bronchitis currently and needs to inhale twice a day with a (loud) nebulizer machine. To sweeten that time for him and because my son is sensitive to loud noise, my husband had the idea to put noise-cancelling headphones on them both (with a connector) and to watch silly cartoons or comedians with him while he inhales. My son loves this quality time with dad and it’s so great to see them giggle and laugh about the same things. :-)

The sound of their chuckling fades as I continue on down the stairs. Life is good because: The first thing I see in the living room is our kitten, curled up in the “knightly castle” the kids and I put up in the middle of the living room today.
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She loves the sheltered space and stretches contently when I come closer. There’s an armchair waiting for me and the notebook, and, if I Iike, a very nice white wine is waiting in the fridge. My husband found it for me in the one (1) shop here that is allowed to sell alcohol. What a treat! I can sip the wine while I dive back into writing Poison Patch.

Life is good because I get time to write, in the quiet of the living room, with a purring cat for company — and the scene I have the pleasure to write for Poison Patch today is a playful bathhouse scene in Faerie, complete with naked yummy elves and gentle caresses under a waterfall. Maybe it will make it into the final manuscript, maybe not. But it sure is a treat to write.

Life is good, hm? :-)

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I’d love to talk to you. Due to an avalanche of spam, I had to close comments on the blog. If you’d like to comment on this blogpost, please talk to me on Facebook or on Twitter instead.

tendril_small

brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb Brida Anderson’s novel, Hedge Games, released in December. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.

New Urban Fantasy books 2015

Honeys, I hear you. It’s been over a year since Hedge Games came out and you haven’t seen hide or tail of book 2. I get at least one message through Facebook per week asking me when book 2 will be published. Enormously encouraging — but so far I had to mumble in reply. With the move to Qatar, all writing was on hold.

The good news: Since last September, I’ve been working like a woman possessed on … cough … not exactly (only) book 2 but many writing projects at once. This year will see the release (fingers crossed) of:

German edition of Hedge Games, HeckenspieleThe German edition of Hedge Games, “Hecken-Spiele”. If you’re at Leipzig Bookfair/Leipziger Buchmesse, you can check out teaser chapters at the booth of my friend Anja Bagus.

 

cat doing pushups on keyboard

always important: a little catnastics while you write …

Book 2 in the Rule of Thorns-series. I’m about 50 percent done with the 2nd draft of Poison Patch. Once I’m all done, it will fly out to my beta readers. After I’ve reworked it another … uh … five to ten times? ;-), it will go to my editor, then to a proofreader, then I’ll do the ebook formatting stuff and THEN you’ll finally hold it in your hands. I was asked by a blogger for when she can announce the 2nd book when she blogs about Hedge Games. And my succinct answer was: “uh … oh gee … uhm … let me think”.Depends on how quick my beta readers are, how quickly I can work in their feedback. We’re saying 1st of December 2015 now. But I REALLY hope it will come out sooner than that.

This year I’ll also release the Witches of Riverdale book. You probably remember the short story I wrote for Witches in Fiction last Halloween? “All Hallow’s Morning”  didn’t let me go and I switched NanoWriMo projects at the last minute, turning the short story into a whole book. It’s been slumbering and cooling down since then while I finish the 2nd draft of Poison Patch. But I love the book and really want to see it fly out into the world 2015. To tide you over till then: Did you know I have a Pinterest board where I collect witchy pins? Creatively titled … wait for it … Witches of Riverdale. ;o)

Right now, I can spend more time with fiction because the next non-fiction is a little ways off. But come March, I’ll have to divide my few kid-free hours between fiction and non-fiction again. (Which is what I normally do bec. nonfiction pays the bills.) Bad for finishing the novels, but good for those of you who enjoy my nonfiction. ;-) The project is still hush-hush; you’re gonna like it if you’re interested in losing a few pounds while you balance one kid on each hand. ;-)

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I’d love to talk to you. Due to an avalanche of spam, I had to close comments on the blog. If you’d like to comment on this blogpost, please talk to me on Facebook or on Twitter instead.

tendril_small

brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb Brida Anderson’s novel, Hedge Games, released in December. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.

Straight from Faerie: Sea-green jasper

I just came across this heart made from sea-green jasper on Etsy (in the Laveo Beads-shop) and wanted to share with you.

Look at this beauty! Looks like it beamed straight over from Faerie, doesn’t it?

 

Green Sea Jasper (c) by Laveo Beads

Green Sea Jasper (c) by Laveo Beads

It’s drilled with a hole so I can just (barely) keep myself from buying it. (I like whole stones that I just have lying around the house); but maybe one of you can use it in making stunning jewelry. :-)

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I’d love to talk to you. Due to an avalanche of spam, I had to close comments on the blog. If you’d like to comment on this blogpost, please talk to me on Facebook or on Twitter instead.

tendril_small

brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb Brida Anderson’s novel, Hedge Games, released in December. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.

Puddle splashing

It must be my kids’ favorite activity in Doha: puddle splashing.
Since this is Doha in the desert state of Qatar we’re talking about and not your daily stroll through a forest back home in rainy Europe, “puddle splashing” doesn’t involve rubber boots and mud. (More’s the pity.) It calls for a SUV and a mom with nerves of steel. ;-)

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This is the sight that makes my kids shriek with glee when we drive through the compound gates on our morning school run. The puddles are much deeper than they look. Even with an SUV, you get the feeling you’re more swimming than driving. The limousine drivers take long detours or are a hazard for other traffic because they drive around puddles — regardless if they head into oncoming traffic or over a sidewalk. Doha, eh?
This is a typical street of Doha after one night of a little rain.
Seriously gentle rain.

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My youngest couldn’t sleep last night, so I took him outside to “feel the rain”. We stretched out our hands and you could feel the waterdrops touching your skin but they were so light, even after five minutes your hand wouldn’t even get wet.

My son was mesmerized nonetheless: “Rain, mom! Look!” He ran inside, yelling for his dad to “come outside and look! It’s raining!!”
It feels really weird to me that rain is something this special to him. He is 3,5 years old, has lived in Qatar for almost a year now. He doesn’t remember a time when he had thick, pelting rains all through spring, fall and winter, sometimes even all through summer. He doesn’t remember going crazy with his older brother in huge puddles, mud and water splashing up high …

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Puddle splashing means: driving through the puddles at high speed (at least high in my kids’ perception ;-). The goal is to make the water fountain up to the roof. We had sooo much fun last spring, when for the first time it had rained for 2 days straight. Some roads had totally disappeared under water. The trek to school was an adventure for my kids.

They always roll their eyes when SUVs much bigger than ours and better equipped evade the puddles, driving like some stoned granny at 5 km/hour in weaving curves so their car doesn’t get muddy … Usually, the driver doesn’t look like s/he’s from a country with much rain. (To phrase it very politically correct, I hope.)
Yes, there could be rocks hidden in the water or deep ruts. Doha’s roads are in notorious bad shape. But what’s a little risk to your car if you can make your kids squeal with delight? ;-)

Here’s a short film from last December. The puddles weren’t deep yet, it had just started to rain.

The road I drive past before the movie ends is completely flooded as soon as it rains for more than 1 day. Now imagine Doha last spring, when it rained for 3 days …

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If you’d like to leave a comment on this blogpost, please leave it on the Facebook page or through Twitter instead. I’d love to talk to you.

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brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb Brida Anderson writes Urban Fantasy and Steampunk.  Hedge Games released in December 2013. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.

Reading live from Staub und Aether in Secondlife

The lovely Kueperpunk made it possible: Anja Bagus and I are reading LIVE from our stories on Valentine’s Day. You can tune in from wherever you are, because the reading will be held inside Secondlife, at Kueper’s author hub Brennende Buchstaben. :-)

staubundaether_lesung_februar2015

I’m sooo excited!

squeee :-)

I’ve been to past readings at Brennende Buchstaben and was always blown away by the attention to detail these guys invest, be it creating a unique set for every reading, fitting to the book’s theme. Some very creative stuff! Or Kueper helping out the author reading parts of the book — and he has a great voice and presentation style. He could also read a phonebook and make that thrilling ;-)

Sooo, anyway: The reading will be in German; Q&A in German or English — whatever you prefer. I’ll tune in from Qatar. Hold your fingers crossed that I’ll battle the crappy internet here successfully with voice. If not, we’ll resort to text chat and Kueper will play a lag-free prerecording I’ll send in of my short story.

See you there!

Edit:

“Staub und Aether”‘s ebook is available now.  4 short stories, over 100 pages total. Stories are in GERMAN.

Staub und Aether on Amazon.com

Staub und Aether on Amazon.de

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<p class=”p1″>If you’d like to leave a comment on this blogpost, please leave it on the <a href=”http://www.facebook.com/bridaanderson”><span class=”s1″>Facebook page</span></a> or through <a href=”http://www.twitter.com/bridaanderson”><span class=”s1″>Twitter</span></a> instead. I’d love to talk to you.</p>

<p class=”p2″><a href=”http://brida-anderson.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/tendril_small.png”><img class=”aligncenter wp-image-415″ src=”http://brida-anderson.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/tendril_small-150×150.png” alt=”tendril_small” width=”50″ height=”54″ /></a></p>

<p class=”p1″><a href=”http://brida-anderson.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb.jpg”><img class=”alignleft wp-image-413″ src=”http://brida-anderson.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb-150×150.jpg” alt=”brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb” width=”100″ height=”102″ /></a> Brida Anderson’s novel, <a href=”http://bit.ly/hedgegames”>Hedge Games</a>, released in December. You can find her at <a href=”http://www.brida-anderson.com”>www.brida-anderson.com</a>, <a href=”http://www.facebook.com/BridaAnderson”>Facebook</a>, and <a href=”http://www.twitter.com/bridaanderson”>Twitter</a>. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.</p>

After NaNoWriMo is before NaNoWriMo … or is that Christmas?

My loves,  what’s been going on here? Beside life in this little desert town that has been as chaotic as ever ;-)

50.000 words — one of them must be right

I’ve written a novel for NaNoWriMo that wasn’t planned at all. I switched it at the last minute because the short story I wrote for Witches in Fiction 2014 just wouldn’t leave my thoughts. So I dove into world building, character building and motivation for a week for “Witches of Riverdale” , then set out. Ended up writing 60.000 words in 3 weeks in November. I’m still stunned by that. My highest wordcount in the shortest time so far. And some days of writing more than 6.000 words in one day — that hasn’t happened ever since I became a mom.  :-D *happy dance*

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NaNoWriMo is always a great teacher, to any novel writer. What I take away this year? That it’s possible at all to write so much for a novel in such a short time. That I can create about 10-15 pages per day, even with kids. What helped me immensely was Reverse NaNo WriMo. (Here’s a suggestion how that goes.) I didn’t do it by the letter, but I started out using their wordcount goals. Then kept going with the high goals until our visitors arrived. Didn’t write at all for a few days. Visitors left — I picked up using the 1st week of Reverse NaNo WriMo once more. Caught up, then kept going to write a padding for the next 4 days of visitors.

If you do NaNoWriMo, give the Reverse idea a try. :-)

Elves or witches? Tough call

For December, I’m at the crossroads of two projects I love very much. Should I use December to turn the Zero Draft of NaNoWriMo into a real first draft? Or sit down to complete the 1st draft of Rule of Thorns, book 2? Gah, choices.

 

Adventures of the Fae Cat

On the non-writing side, we had our kitten spayed. There were complications and I spent a lot of November in and out of the vet’s with her. She kept taking off her cone, worried at the wound and they had to redo surgery. Poor cat.  :-( Now things are looking up; hopefully we can remove the cone in four days so she can go back to her normal slinky, playful life.

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Before the cat surgery we also had visitors here in Qatar. It was huge fun to see the country from a tourist’s point of view and to take tours we hadn’t because as an expat you get so caught up in managing the move, then the day-to-day.

I’ve also started (a few months ago, actually) to volunteer for an hour per week in the German school. In German the work’s called “Lesepatin”. Sort of like a “reading fairy” or “reading godmother”. Someone unrelated to the kids and not a teacher coming in once per week to practise reading with the children who can’t do that at home. Because their parents don’t speak German, or because the parents don’t have time or can’t be bothered. Can’t say a lot of moms get into it, maybe because you can’t phantasize yourself as this great storyteller who reads to the kids but instead  you keep very much in the background, just listening to the kid struggle through the text, only gently correcting when the right word doesn’t come fourth, even after several attempts. It takes a lot of focus — you have to imagine someone who needs ten minutes for half a page of text. But it’s very rewarding to see the children improve — and their joy, when with the improvement, they start to enjoy reading. And hey, what better use of my time than to create future readers? ;-)
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If you’d like to leave a comment on this blogpost, please leave it on the Facebook page or through Twitter instead. I’d love to talk to you.

tendril_small

brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb Brida Anderson’s novel, Hedge Games, released in December. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.

Witches in Fiction: Part 2

Here’s the second part of my short story for Witches in Fiction 2014.

Enjoy! :-)

All Hallow’s Morning Part 2

A Robin Armstrong story

> All Hallow’s Morning, Part 1

“So I hang out with you until the culprit is found or my memory returns?” He laid his hands over Robin’s. His gaze was still haunted but there was something else moving in the blue depths. A flicker of passion.

“Uh …” Robin licked suddenly dry lips. “Yes, we …” She cleared her throat. “I’ll ask the weres to bunk together and you can have the room to get some rest …”

Sky bent closer, his gaze focusing on her lips. “You know, I’ve never kissed a witch before.”

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“Or you don’t remember …” Robin whispered. He was so smooth and warm under her fingers, the sparks in his eyes so bright.

The stink of burning bacon cut straight through her arousal.

“Oh my God!” She tore out of Sky’s grasp. He tried to hold her back, but dropped his arms when the pan on the stove ignited with merry flames.

“Shit, shit, shit …” Robin hurriedly turned off the gas. With a teatowel, she beat at the flames. It caught fire and she managed to smack Sky with the burning towel when he tried to help her.

“Ah, sorry!” She dropped the towel with a curse and stomped on it.

Sky pushed her aside and plunged his hands into the flames.

“Are you nuts?!” Robin tugged at his arms.

The flames died. Sky raised his hands, wriggling his slender fingers. They were unscathed. He looked mesmerized at his own hands. His voice was still deeper than before when he muttered: “Interesting. Downright intriguing.”

Robin’s breath stuttered. “Do … Do you feel odd?” Had he been impervious to flames before, or had some side-effect of the spell been time-triggered?

Sky spun around, seeking her. “You may serve me, little witch.”

“What?!” Robin scampered backward. “I don’t serve anyone.” He was off his rocker. Did she know how to pick ‘em, or what?

“You will serve me when I COMMAND it, little witch.” Sky’s voice didn’t sound like him anymore. It was so deep and slick, Robin could almost taste it on her tongue.

“I simply HATE when people call me that!” Faintly, she heard her phone ring in the hall. It was still in her jacket. Her jacket which hung right over her spellbag … Robin fell back another step. The kitchen wasn’t large. Only a few more steps …

The reddish light of the hallway enclosed her like a soothing embrace. She had made it and he hadn’t followed her. Yet.

She pounced her jacket on the chair, digging for her phone, while she kicked open her bag with a foot. Was there anything useful left inside?

Micah’s ID flashed across the screen.

“Micah!” she panted. “Something’s wrong with Sky.”

“Who’s Sky?”

“The human I took home. Only, I don’t think he’s human anymore.” Robin looked toward the kitchen. Sky had ignited the gas again and was playing with the flames. While she watched, he pushed his whole face into the flames, as if he was gobbling them up. “He’s like …” Dare she say it? “Like possessed. Fire doesn’t hurt him.” They both knew there was no such thing as real possession. A very skilled witch could ride your mind or transmorph you into something else, but the traces of that spell would scream loudly at anyone checking you. This wasn’t what had happened to Sky.

Micah swore. “Look. The Taumathurgists found some weird traces around the site. Whoever did that spell didn’t use witchcraft.”

“So, what then?” Robin’s gaze was still glued to Sky. He was done playing with the stove and looking around the kitchen. For her?

“One of the theories is that somehow the spellcaster merged with the human in the ritual. If we take out the man, we probably take out the caster as well.”

“How do you mean, take out?”

Micah’s next words were drowned out by a shrill ringing. Instinctively, Robin cowered, covering her ears. But it didn’t do any good. The sound was coming from her wards, beamed straight into her head. Their gentle background hum had been replaced by a shrill warning to their Ward Witch.

A large shadow loomed in the doorway. Sky! And he was holding a candle, a feather and a small bowl in his hands. All broken. “Thanks for telling him about those, earlier.” He dropped them on top of the pile of stones and stomped on the whole ensemble with his boot. With a last desperate clamour, half of her protection died.

He hadn’t known anything about magic when he arrived. He was either a gifted actor or someone else was driving Sky.

“I’m in trouble,” Robin blurted out. “Sky, he’s …”

Sky cocked his head. “He’s what?” One hand lazily stroked up his chest. “Irresistible?”

“He has broken my ward,” Robin blurted into the phone.

Sky advanced on her. The smile on his face looked sick. “Come, witch, we have better use for our time.”

“A team of Roses is on their way to neutralize him.” Micah was speaking quickly. “They said to keep him contained if you can. But, Robin, get the hell out of there! They might torch your house –”

Sky plucked the phone from her grasp and dropped it. He stepped on it, the crack of the casing as loud as a gunshot in Robin’s ears.

“I require more nourishment to maintain my form.”

Robin blinked at Sky. “You what now?”

“The pale fire in your kitchen isn’t enough.” He grabbed both her arms and frogmarched her into the living room. “Light a fire.” He let go of her and waved his arms. Armchairs, sofa and couch table slid, groaning and creaking, to the sides, clearing the space in front of the fireplace. Last night, she had celebrated Halloween here with her room-mates and some friends, and hadn’t cleared the table yet. Now thanks to Sky, half-finished drinks, pumpkin pie and cupcake icing oozed into one big mess.

Robin’s gaze roved over the small room, frantically searching for a weapon. Unless she strangled him with fairy lights until he dropped unconscious, there was nothing here. Maybe she could throw the candleholders? But her aim was lousy and her powers of telekinesis non-existent. She had dropped that class as soon as she could.

Contain him … Like any witch, Robin had a pre-echted circle in her house. Hers was in the living room, spelled to be hidden unless needed. Maybe she could lure Sky inside the circle and activate it?

“A fire? By all means.” She moved past him to the wood. She needed her matches. They always sat on top of the fireplace, but were now hidden somewhere between all the little pumpkins, cats and ghosts.

“He likes handling your riffraff,” Sky said, touching his fingertips to the pointy ears of one cat. “It gives him a sense of home, of safety.”

Ice formed at Robin’s spine. She pulled out a log, threw it on the fireplace. “Who’s ‘he’?”

“The were you call Sky,” Sky said.

“You’re not a were, you’re human.” Robin tossed another log onto the first. She touched the logs, bespelling them to not catch fire. She dropped a bit of kindling on top and went hunting for the matches, using that excuse to touch her foot to the circle, calling it. It was filled with ash, ready to use. Sky didn’t notice the shallow groove in the hardwood floor or didn’t care.

“He was a were when we turned him. Delicious.” Sky smacked his lips.

“What’s his name?” Robin tried to keep the disgust out of her voice. Her hand closed around the box of matches.

Sky waved it off. “He has no name anymore. He’s a vessel.”

“So who am I talking to?” Magic was flickering around Robin’s fingers, using her nervous sweat as conduit. It was biting her with sharp little teeth, as if begging to be used.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Sky tugged her closer. “Light the fire.”

“Coward,” Robin spat. “Say your name.”

Sky made a move as if to strike her but then recoiled. He let go of her and looked as if he was grappling with himself. “Ah, this form is weak yet. More nourishment!”

She lit a match. Sky’s silent struggle ceased. His gaze was drawn to the small flame as if it was magnetic.

“Here, catch,“ Robin tossed the match onto the logs. The kindling ignited and burned bright. Sky eagerly turned to the fireplace.

Taking the matches with her, Robin ran to the couch table. She gathered up an arm full of leftovers from the night before — candles, food, cups — then jumped into the circle. She dropped her loot in the center and sunk to her knees. She pressed her fingertips into the ash. There wouldn’t be enough time to properly raise a circle and anchor it.

Magic licked at her fingers from the left. She had filled the groove in the floor. She set one candle in the center and one in a corner. A glass with water and a ripped streamer she placed in two other corners. The dish with pumpkin pie had to stand in for earth. She lit the candles, then sat in the center. She raised her arms. “Guardians of the circle, hear me! We call to you this day to join us. Lend us your help. May you be blessed and smile upon this rite!”

Panic slammed in her chest when Sky jumped next to her in a blast of hot wind. This was what she had planned but he was so close! Her living room was small and so was the circle. Sky and her were filling it completely. Sky’s eyes were shining bright red. The heat he was giving off stole her breath.

She dipped her fingertips back into the ash of the circle and visualized  a white sphere growing from the floor, keeping them safe on all sides. Tingling through Robin’s awareness, it rose around them like a semi-opaque wall. Pumpkins and fairy lights threw orange spots of light on the barrier from outside. The air tasted cooler and Robin felt calm settle over her nerves.

She closed her eyes, her concentration focussed. “Guardians, hear me! Elementals, hear me!”

“That fire was a meagre offering, witch. But your puny circle won’t contain me.” When Robin looked up, the Black Sabbath t-shirt was peeling away in shreds. The jeans followed. Sky’s chest was covered in runes that were glowing like embers.

She had never seen anything like it. Panic was firing like shots inside Robin’s brain. How could she fight against that thing and leave Sky unharmed?  She needed to separate him from whatever was possessing him. At university, she’d only ever learned to reverse transmorphing spells gone wrong. They had never dealt with a being that consisted of two separate entities. True possession …

Inspiration struck. “I call the element of fire. May you bless and smile upon this rite.” Her voice was strained. She wouldn’t scream. It was never smart to yell at the elementals. “Salamanders, help me. Hold and hallow this space.”

Sky’s head fell back and he screamed, a sound so deep and anguished it couldn’t come from a human’s throat. In the center of the circle, Robin was mere inches from Sky’s feet. He was writhing, fighting powers unseen. It meant he was a threat – to the circle or to herself, or the elementals would have ignored him. The struggle was harsh but silent. As elementals of fire, salamanders knew no restraint, no caution. They hallowed this circle and consumed what was soiling it, a threat to it. It was working. Robin felt giddy with relief — and worried for Sky.

“Guardians of fire, I call you on this night. Lend me your passion, creativity, your inspiration. Bless and smile upon this rite.” She waited, breath held. Nothing happened. Sky’s silent struggle continued. The scent of the pumpkin pie tickled her nose and Robin wrinkled it. To be distracted by food at a time like this! No, wait. She was never hungry inside her circle. This was something else. She slid on her knees to the dish and scooped out filling with two fingers. “Guardians of Earth,” she whispered, “I call you on this night.” She asked for help, then closed her eyes and touched her lips to the pie filling. Its creamy, spicy scent transported her back a year, to the last Samhain celebration with her family. “You think this will work?” she whispered. There was no reply, only the soothing calm of sitting in her circle.

“Welcome Goddess and God on Samhain night …” Tears were hot on her face when Robin intoned the words of her family’s Halloween ritual. She had planned to celebrate with her roommates and Sky tonight, after dark had fallen. Not like this!

The words came haltingly at first, then quicker.

“… This time marks the death of old ways,

we cling no more to what came before.

We open our eyes and see

that darkness surrounds us and mystery …” Her voice cracked but she pushed on.

The words fell from her tongue even while her thoughts raced. They had been imprinted on her with every Samhain celebration since she was old enough to hold a candle and take part in her family’s ritual.

The deeper she traveled into the ritual, the more Sky changed. First the light blazing from his eyes changed color. From glowing embers to blazing blue and back. So Sky was still in there. And whoever was riding shotgun had lost some foothold, apparently. He hadn’t lashed out at her yet, either. Maybe he was too weak? Over the next minutes, he turned white as a sheet and his skin looked like brittle parchment. When she continued, Sky started moaning and  thrashed slowly. He rose off the floor, still struggling.

Nearing the final words, Robin pushed to her feet.

The exterior ward of her house screeched for her attention, then died abruptly. Red laserdots scittered over the carnage in her living room. Glass shattered and men and women in black uniforms stormed her living room. Roses! The agents were armed to the teeth and their guns were trained on them. Her circle wouldn’t hold bullets for long but maybe just long enough.

More people hurried into the room, this time from the hallway. They were clad in white overalls with a blue waxing moon stitched over the chest. The Tauma Squad. The cavalry had arrived. They’d know better than to interrupt a ritual near its peak.

Fetching the candle, Robin stood face to face with Sky. He was hanging suspended in her circle, eyes still burning red, then blue. He had stopped struggling.

She raised her hands, palms forward, holding his gaze.

I let go.

I embrace the coming dark.

As I let go,

he lets go.

He doesn’t cling. His time to leave is nigh,

he becomes breath and shadow and thought.

As I loosen my grip on what must depart,

he departs.

She hurled the last words at him.

Sky gasped from pain. His eyes were brilliant blue in his ghostly face. “Help me,” he wheezed, “help me.”

Robin blew out the candle and sat it under Sky’s feet, in the middle of the circle. She took his hands in hers. They were so cold.

In darkness we see the light within.

In darkness we trust the light within.

In darkness we are the light within.

Gathering the magic of the circle in their entwined hands, she laid them over Sky’s heart. “Blessed be.”

A chime like a gong made her head hurt. Sky’s eyes rolled up in his head and he crashed to the ground.

A wind rose in the circle. It spun the streamer and the scraps of Sky’s clothing around her in dizzying circles. Out of the air fell … something. For a second, Robin’s brain refused to make sense of the scrabbling legs and hideous flesh-colored carapace. It looked like a lovechild between a scorpion and a facehugger from Alien. A stinger rose high over its back. Two eyes stared at her, sunk deep into the carapace of its back. The stinger quivered when the critter hesitated between Robin and Sky.

“You are one ugly motherfucker,” Robin whispered.

The scorpion scuttled in her direction. It accelerated, stinger held high, and stabbed. The stinger narrowly missed Robin’s legs, piercing the barrier of her circle instead. With a violent tug at Robin, the circle shattered, robbing her breath.

While Robin panted, trying to get her bearings, the critter escaped the circle – and with it, the wind. Her big ficus shivered and rustled, its thin branches straining to move with the air current. Flurries of green leaves were circling the scorpion like snow while it headed for the hall. Objects tore away from the walls, the windows. Paper pumpkins, cardboard bats, a glow-in-the-dark skeleton whooshed past Robin and slammed into the agents and taumathurgists. Robin’s hair kept blowing in her face, robbing her of sight. Orange fairy lights ripped away from the window and whistled past her. The agents batted at the plastic strings threatening to slide around their necks, their guns lowering.

Breathing heavily, Robin quickly dismissed the guardians, elementals and quarters. She felt for Sky’s pulse. Weak, but there. She was about to get up, when it hit her: When she sensed Sky, he read as a were now. And his scent was clear. He smelled of the faint musky scent of weres and of his own bewitching mix of sea salt and sage. Nothing else.

Six laserdots focused on the critter. It stood still in the whirling typhoon, apparently mesmerized by the lights. Maybe it thought they were fire?

Robin threw herself to the floor next to Sky just before six high-velocity spellguns barked at the same time.

With a screech, the scorpion fell on its back, its stinger stabbing the air. The wind died down abruptly and the tornado of Halloween decorations clattered to the floor in a series of crashes. Pottery shards pelted everyone in the living room. Robin threw herself over Sky to keep him safe. When she looked up again, the Tauma Squad had gathered around the writhing scorpion. Their spells and light show were too intense for Robin’s tired brain to make sense of.

One of the Roses stepped forward, a man in his thirties with dark-blonde hair. Agent Grey, no doubt. “Armstrong, hand over the human!” He sounded strangely amused.

“He’s not human. That … thing over there took over a were. It only read as human to us.”

“You took out a demon. Sure.” Grey chuckled.

“I didn’t say that.” A demon? Her blood ran like ice. “They don’t exist.” No-one had ever managed to summon one with a spell.

“Well, it’s only an educated guess so far,” Grey drawled, jerking a thumb in the direction of the Tauma Squad.

A cage made of light rose between the members of the Squad. The scorpion inside it wasn’t moving, but Robin was pretty sure it wasn’t dead or they wouldn’t go to all this trouble.

“They take the thing, we take the human. Up!” Grey reached for Sky’s arm.

“He’s not human!” Robin yelling, clinging to Sky’s arm. “And he’s badly hurt.”

Grey dropped Sky’s arm. “What did you do to the guy? He was a human this morning.”

“Nothing!” Robin yelled. “I cooked bacon, that’s all.”

Grey chuckled. “May be you witches make a hell of a bacon, but that guy’s still human. Abducting a human’s a crime, Armstrong.”

Robin groaned. “I didn’t abduct him. He was –“

More Roses gathered around them, their guns trained on Robin and Sky.

Anna Moray, the head of the Tauma Squad stepped through their ranks. “Agent Grey, stand down your men!”

They didn’t. Of course not. Not without Anna and Grey slapping procedure and jurisdiction at each other. The taumathurgist won. They could all sense that — whatever Sky had been this morning — he was now a were. Not Grey’s mess anymore. When Anna put it that way, the Roses reluctantly trotted out. Robin had a feeling she hadn’t seen the last of Grey.

She slid her fingers into Sky’s hand. “Don’t patch him up. He’s had four already today.”

Anna nodded. “We were briefed.”

Too tired to even get up, Robin stayed at Sky’s side when the taumathurgists probed and sensed him for over an hour.

“You know he needs to be checked more thoroughly, Robin.” Anna’s voice was gentle but Robin knew there was steel underneath. Anna Moray always got the job done. “We can all sense he’s a were. He won’t be killed and you’re not in trouble for harboring a human. But he needs to stay in a secure facility.”  At her nod, three witches in white robes bent to pick up Sky.

“I’ll go with him.” Robin tried to get to her feet but she was wiped out. The spell had drained her. She should have found sustenance while they checked Sky. Now it was too late. She’d be out for hours if she dropped unconscious now.

“You won’t. But he’s coming to, so I give you five minutes to say goodbye. For now.” Anna nodded at her team and they gathered in the kitchen.

Sky stirred behind her. His warm hand brushed away Robin’s hair and stroked her shoulder.

She turned to him, letting her gaze run fondly over his face. Now that the demon was gone, the eyes twinkling at her through the curtain of his hair showed their true were colors: bright sky blue with shifting golden flecks. She stroked the hair from his face. It was silky against her fingers.

Too-blue eyes caught her, widened in alarm. His hand closed around her wrist. Sky struggled to sit up, frowning with confusion. “Where am I? Who are you?”

“Not again,” Robin whispered, horrified. His memory had been wiped again? Regret tasted metallic on her tongue when she leaned toward him. She’d have to bespell him. He had too much shit ahead to go through the whole angst of amnesia right now. “Don’t fret, all is well.” Slowly, she raised her hands.

“Yes, I know.” He caught her hands, his lips twitching into a smile.

Robin blinked, confused.

“I was just kidding.” Sky pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. “I don’t really remember a lot but I know who you are.”

His face faded in and out. Damn, not now! Robin clung to him but blackness pulled her under.

*         *       *

“Robin?”

Pumpkin Marshmallows by Sugarthesky on Etsy

Pumpkin Marshmallows by Sugarthesky on Etsy

She struggled awake when her room-mate called her name.

Matthew’s black hair was standing straight up, displaying the off-white streak along the middle. “You know the living room’s totally trashed?”

Robin sunk back against the couch. “Yep. We’ll sort it tomorrow. Don’t get all worked up, I can’t deal with a skunk attack.” Unseeing, too tired to even lift her head, she felt along the couch table, through the debris of last night’s party. She almost wept with relief when her fingers landed in a smushed cupcake. She scooped off the sweet cream and pulled apart the spicy cake, eating morsel by morsel, letting the spices revive her.

“Don’t worry.” Matthew knelt down next to her. “You’re okay?”

Robin licked the cupcake from her fingers and leaned against his chest. “You won’t guess what kind of day it’s been.”

“It looks bad.” The were closed his arms around her in a brotherly hug.

Ryan sat on the couch behind Robin and lowered a cellophane bag into her lap. It was filled with orange marshmallows, lightly dusted with sugar. “We came past Karen’s stall and brought you back something. Happy Halloween.”

Her favorite. Robin opened the bag and slid out one of the little fluffy marvels. “Thank you!” She nibbled at a corner of the pumpkin marshmallow. “Did you have something planned for tomorrow?”

Ryan scratched at his stomach. “Not really. Hanging out. Getting some sleep.”

“I have to break someone out of the containment ward. You two game?”

The men grinned, showing pointy eye-teeth.

Matthew ruffled her hair. “We wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

+++

Happy Halloween, guys! :-)

I hope you enjoyed “All Hallow’s Morning”. Check out my Urban Fantasy HEDGE GAMES if you did. :-) And subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases.

tendril_small

brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb Brida Anderson’s novel, Hedge Games, released in December. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.

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