“Of course, the French have always had a certain… elegance in these matters, so it shouldn’t be a surprise how few of our jewellers measure up, but honestly you would think that she could still afford something of note. Her uncle is the Duke of Sutherland, for God’s sake, even the Viscount of Trentham’s family put on a better show.”

Arthur had a tendency to tune out the details somewhat when Elizabeth ranted about her peers, as she was wont to do after these dinners, but with the mention of  jewellery his attention had snapped back to his beloveds words and he listened with growing mortification.

“I’m sure that garish, mass-produced tripe makes her feel like the belle of the ball in Dornoch or wherever it is she spends her time usually, but this is Edinburgh not some parochial little nowhere. I understand why the Duke never takes her to London.”

The main topic for tonight’s post-dinner debrief had been settled when Elizabeth had paid special note to one of the attendees’ somewhat overstated necklace, and while Arthur normally chose to cherish these stolen moments by focusing on the fine curve of her neck, the rapid motion of those gorgeous lips, and the flush that entered her face as her scorn enlivened her, it had not escaped his notice how similar the object of her derision was to a necklace sitting in her drawing room, where it was intended to be discovered tomorrow as she proceeded to her needlepoint.

“Honestly, we are living in the time of Fontenay and looking at her neck you would think that we had not yet even reached Froment-Meurice. Ghastly.”

And the more Arthur thought about it, the more concerned he grew that, while heartfelt, the poetry which adorned the box containing the jewellery may not quite be up to snuff. Frankly, the gesture that he had thought would guarantee her heart was rather turning into a disaster. Nevertheless, he held his composure until he had seen Elizabeth to her carriage and it was out of sight.

As Arthur climbed into his own carriage he fretted. The entrepeneurial young delivery lad he had used to make the deposit in the first place was unlikely to find a pretext to return to Elizabeth’s home for several days – and most certainly not before his ruse had been discovered. No, if this was to be resolved in a timely fashion, he needed to think a little outside the box.

Leaning forwards, he called to his man – “Buttress, take me to an inn.”

“At this time of night? It’ll only be drunkards and ruffians” the ginger-bearded coachman responded.

“That’s what I’m counting on.”

“Alright, I guess…”

Raibert knew he wasn’t the only one who had clocked the stranger as soon as he walked into the bar – it wasn’t unheard of for a posh lad to come here, but they normally had the decency to at least dress down a little first. He’d have to move fast if he wanted to gain the man’s confidence before someone else got hold of him.

As soon as he made eye contact though, the toff scurried over almost – looking almost embarrassingly grateful.

“Why hello there, I don’t suppose I could borrow a moment of your time?” the fop panted. A ruddy Southerner – Raibert should have known.

“Aye, I can spare a few minutes”

“I’m looking for someone who can perform a… certain task for me.”

“Oh, well certain tasks are me speciality”

“It does require a certain level of discretion”

Agreeing to meet at the fishmarket in the early hours, when it was busy enough that their movement might be undetected but not so late that they were likely to bump into anyone Arthur knew, the two left the inn together.

“Well then, ye’ve come to the right man”

“I have an item which needs… acquiring at very short notice”

“Oh, that’ll cost ye – when were ye thinking?”

“Well” – the gentleman shifted uncomfortably – “tonight.”

Raibert sucked in air between his teeth and looked at his prospective employer.

“It is rather urgent, you see. There’s a trinket – a necklace – that is in the drawing room of a nearby house, which I would like back in rather a hurry”

“And what’d ye be wanting to pay for such a task?”

“Name your price”

Raibert named. Named with ludicrous abandon, in fact, an outlandish sum which should give him a further leg up in the negotiations over this clearly desparate man – and was astonished when the gent assented with no haggling. For a necklace?

As they hunched forwards and discussed particulars, including layout, address, timing, and other similar details, the wee lordling took great pains to repeat the light touch nature of the job. “Leave absolutely no trace” – “No-one can see you” – “Nothing else can be missing” – and similar repeated motifs peppered the conversation.

Now, Raibert couldn’t say for sure that absolutely nothing else might find its way into his pocket should it happen across his path, but he got the gist of the sentiment and reassured the gentleman that he understood the ramifications for his reward should, for example, the house be ransacked.

“And sir?” Raibert called, as they parted ways. “Something less conspicuous when we meet later, please”

Elizabeth awoke with a start at the noise from downstairs. She understood that keeping a household running sometimes required a staff willing to work at these ungodly hours – in fact, she personally approved of the idea that as much work as possible be done at times when staff wouldn’t get themselves underfoot or make their presence too obtrusive – but clattering about when she was trying to get her well-deserved rest? Intolerable. She made a mental note to be particularly liberal with her reprimands in the morning.

Raibert cursed under his breath. With his eyes on the door and the hallway beyond, he’d not noticed a heavy copper kettle on the floor near the stove, and as his foot hit it, there was a perceptible “thunk”.

He crouched and froze in place – no stirring from upstairs. Perhaps his heightened senses had made the sound seem more audible than it really was – he had to admit that most of his best liberatory work had been undertaken in alleys, and a sleeping house was a much more formidable beast than he had anticipated. Not for the first time since they had parted ways, he toyed with the idea of simply meeting up with the toff at the fish market and freeing him of his purse there – but there would be too many people around. Hell, even whatever the gent had had about his person when they had met earlier would probably have been a better reward proportional to the risk – but he’d let his greed get the better of him.

Ah well, here now – he started to creep back through the kitchen, this time paying more attention to his feet than to where he was going. Entering the hall and then stealing into the drawing room, he was grateful that the gentleman had been so fastidious in his description of the location as the necklace box wasn’t immediately visible on entry – he had to shift some papers to get to it, but peeking inside he was sure that he had the right one. Not bad, but the gentleman was definitely paying above the odds for the recovery fee – he had seen others like it in jewellery store windows for a much cheaper price.

Either way, the sooner he was out of here the better. He shuffled back to the hallway and through to the kitchen – he’d originally thought about maybe looking for a little more silverware here or there, but no sense pushing your luck.

This was altogether too much. Elizabeth’s sleep had been thoroughly ruined. While she had initially had some fun planning some particularly cutting admonishments for the morning, as the movement downstairs resumed she grew increasingly frustrated. How was she supposed to be at her ladylike best with this sort of unruly staff?

Still, if anything her barbs would be even more sharp if launched now, so perhaps it was best to voice her opinions before time could dull their impact.

She crept out of bed, determined to catch some hapless maid mid-clumsy-fumble, and down the stairs. Seeing the silhouette of a shape moving through the kitchen, she sprung into the room, full of righteous indignation, making her presence known with a resounding “Excuse me!”

Raibert felt his nerves relaxing as he approached the door leading from the kitchen to the outside world, and the promise of imminent riches. However, suddenly from behind him, an outraged voice screeched “Excuse me!”

He span on his heels. An indignant young woman was visible in the light from the hallway – the jig was surely up. She would see his face – or chase him if he fled – and by morning everyone would know who he was.

Only one way out of this one. He grabbed at the handle of the copper kettle that he’d kicked earlier, springing up and swinging it at the side of the woman’s head with a tremendous wallop.

Elizabeth fell before she had even had time to fully register that this was not, in fact, a clumsy servant. Raibert dropped the kettle – an even louder clattering waking the rest of the household – and sprang for the door – leaving Elizabeth crumpled on the kitche n floor in a pool of rapidly spreading blood.

Raibert watched the gentleman standing awkwardly around in the fish market, debating whether to even go ahead with the meeting, but he was damned if he was going through all that without getting paid. Lad looked tense, but not guilty – he doubted the news would have spread yet.

As Arthur saw Raibert, some of the tension went out of his shoulders – and as Raibert produced the necklace waves of relief emanated from the young toff.

“It went well then, I take it?” enquired Arthur, reaching for his purse.

“Not quite according to plan, but we got away with it.”

“Oh, what changed?”

“Someone came into the kitchen as I was heading out the back.”

“Wait, who? That is very much not according to plan.”

“Some posh lady. Don’t worry, I didn’t leave any witnesses, like ye said”

“I’m sorry, beg your pardon, what?”

“Well I lamped her upside the head and pegged it”

Arthur froze

“Look, we don’t have all day – give me the money, I’ll give you the necklace, we go our own separate ways and forget about it.”

“Is she alright?”

“Well, no – that was the point. Look, I know it isn’t exactly ‘no trace’ but it’s better than a witness, right?”

“Oh God Oh God Oh God”

Raibert waited another moment or two, watching Arthur mutter to himself, but as the lad started to rock back and forth – and as he didn’t seem amenable to the explanations Raibert proffered – the older man lent forward and slapped the little lordling.

“Look, we can’t stand around here, not with you like that – here’s the bloody necklace, give me the money, and we won’t ever have to see each other”

Raibert held out his hand for the purse and held the necklace in the other. Jolted by the unexpected slap, Arthur’s eyes became more clear and less distant. He looked at the necklace in its box.

“Wait, this is just the necklace?”

“That’s all you bloody asked me to get”

“There should have been some papers with it”

“You didn’t ask me to get any damn papers, I just got the necklace”

This time, Arthur wailed. Giving up on him, Raibert grabbed the purse, dropped the necklace in its place, and legged it, leaving the gentleman in a gathering crowd of onlookers. Time to bloody get out of town.

Not long later, Inspector Bell stood in the kitchen looking at the body of Elizabeth. Bloody stupid business, as far as he was concerned – who got killed by a ruddy kettle?

“Sir?” a young Constable called, leaning past the body from the hallway. “I think I have something. Might be a Clue, sir.”

“What is it?”

“Well one of the maids here says these papers shouldn’t be here. Nothing left in the drawing room normally sir. And it’s a little, well, odd…”

“Hand it over, lad.”

The inspector took the paper from the constable’s fingers and unfolded it, furrowing his brow before reading aloud:

“Without you I would feel such angst

So I would give my hearty thanks

If you would only care to deign

My love feelings to entertain

It makes me feel ever so glum

Whenever I return to London

Seeing you makes my heart go faster

I remain, your loving, Arthur”

“Well,” Bell said, refolding the paper and looking around the room, “at least she got out of it before she read the bloody poetry. Possibly a kindness. This is probably our guy though, I can’t say that he sounds the most stable.”

The cruelest part, thought Arthur as he sat in his cell, wasn’t that the judge hadn’t believed him. It wasn’t everyone thinking he was a murderer. It wasn’t even his father’s face at the trial.

No, what he regretted most about the whole affair was that The Scotsman had chosen to print his poem in its entirety. He had been willing to admit that he wasn’t exactly Rabbie Burns, but the accompanying commentary had been scathing – although not as much as the comments in the subsequent letters pages – and now every bloody guard thought that quoting lines of it at him through the bars was the height of comedy.

But perhaps art is formed through trying times. After all, wasn’t he really the victim here? And that might be the perfect theme for a truly great poem…

Photo by Adam Wilson on Unsplash

Edinburgh // Copper Kettle // Angst

Duke of Sutherland, some of the largest landholders in 19th century Britain, subsidiary titles included Marquess of Stafford, Viscount Trentham, etc.


Victorian Jewellery Design, Ch. 4 http://www.victorianweb.org/art/design/jewelry/gere/4.html

Eugene Fontenay https://gallerease.com/en/artists/eugene-fontenay__d68ce49a7da9

Froment-Meurice https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fran%C3%A7ois-D%C3%A9sir%C3%A9_Froment-Meurice

Newhaven Fishmarket https://www.thefishmarketnewhaven.co.uk/history/

The Scotsman was a broadsheet 1855-2004 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scotsman


At the very bottom of the garden, where the wild things grow, was a little peach tree. To reach it you had to push through the dangling branches of a particularly resistant willow, balance along a very old and precarious wooden beam which served as an improvised bridge across a stream, and climb a ladder propped against a square of ivy covered walls. Inside the ivy garden, everything felt somehow just a little different from outside.

Outside, the ivy and the mistletoe and the fungi grew with reckless abandon, wrapping their tendrils and threads around every branch, every trunk. The canopy was as dense as that of a rainforest, and anyone walking there would find their boots kicking up thick piles of decaying leaves, or encountering sudden, unexpected rocks and ruts. Nothing had order, though everything felt just as it should.

But once you dropped down from the ladder into the ivy garden, you found that the ivy trailed off into a neat lawn with beds of uniform, colourful flowers, an ornate iron bench next to a sundial, and, right in the centre, the peach tree.

Despite its small size, the peach tree was strong and flourishing, with mesmerising pink blossoms in the spring, and vivid green leaves, huge and without a single imperfection, in the summer. And the peaches themselves were round and juicy each and every year, the most delicious you’ve ever sampled.

Then one year, the tree grew a green peach.

Emery Jones first noticed the green peach on a sunny Saturday afternoon in late June. It was a deep green, very different from the early colour of an unripe peach – and this peach was as full and ripe as any had ever been. They had first found the ivy garden when they were four years old, and all five summers since then they had enjoyed the peaches on their visits. They always visited the garden alone; they had no siblings and for some reason they never told their one good friend, Lara, about the garden. In fact, they’d never even mentioned it to their Aunt Marian; they assumed she must know about it, with it being in her own garden, and someone must have put the ladders there. But she never asked whether Emery had been there, and Emery wasn’t one to share much about what they did or where they went with anyone.

Having never seen a green peach, Emery wasn’t sure if it would be safe to eat. After a few minutes of examination, they pulled it gently towards them to sniff it and it came away easily in their hand. It certainly seemed ripe and ready to eat. Cautiously, they took a bite – and relief washed across their face as they tasted the most delicious peach they’d ever eaten. Despite savouring each bite, they found they devoured it much more quickly than they’d hoped. After pulling the last bits of verdant flesh from the stone (which was a deep emerald green) Emery stuffed it into their pocket and started to scramble back over the walls and up towards the house.

Emery lived with their Aunt in a large cottage style building; the kind that nobody seems to build any more, with lots of different levels and doors and staircases. Aunt Marian had never had anychildren of her own, but since Emery’s parents died when they were an infant she had raised them as if they were her own child, in the house that would be theirs when they turned eighteen. She was a kind woman, almost always busy with work or chores, and almost the exact opposite to Emery when it came to sharing her thoughts – she would always tell you the truth about what she was thinking and feeling, though generally softened so that you never felt bad about what she said, even if she disagreed with you. She was also very empathetic, and could always tell when something was wrong with Emery which was perhaps part of why they never really shared much – with Aunt Marian there was no need, because she already knew.

On the way into the house, Emery poked their head in to say hi to their Aunt working on some sewing in her study, and ran off to their room where they promptly became engrossed in a book and forgot all about their unusual afternoon snack. They didn’t think of it again until the next morning, when they felt something hard in their pocket whilst they were getting dressed and pulled out the emerald stone. Placing it on their shelf, they turned to go downstairs and suddenly heard a whisper in their ear. Quickly jumping round they stared about the room, looking for the source, but there was no-one there – only the quiet mess of a young child’s bedroom. The whispering hadn’t been loud enough to make out any words, so Emery assumed they must have imagined it, or else a sudden draught had arrived and then hastily left.

But as the day went on, they heard the whispering again, tickling their ear every now and then. They started to make out the odd word “Garden…”, “play…”, “come…” – and once they even thought they heard their name. But each time they would turn, and each time there was no one there. Even more worryingly, as the day went on they started to feel a strange swaying or squirming sensation alongside the whispers, as if their body was moving in many directions at once, despite being completely stationary.

Of course, Aunt Marian noticed something wasn’t quite right almost immediately. Over lunch, she asked Emery what they’d been up to over the weekend.

“Nothing much… just playing in the garden,” came the usual answer. Aunt Marian frowned.

“Nothing strange has happened then? You seem a little distracted…” she pushed, as Emery stared at their ham sandwich.

“Nope… I’m just looking forward to the summer holidays, I guess.” they answered. This wasn’t enough to satisfy their aunt, but she knew better than to push further; that would just make them clam up more.

“You know, you are so much like your father sometimes.” she said, as she started to clear her plate. Emery wasn’t paying enough attention to respond.

That night was the first night Emery dreamed about the Ivy Woman. She appeared in glimpses, darting between the trees as they walked through the woods in the garden. At first they weren’t sure she was even really there, there was so much ivy anyway, but then they caught two wide green eyes looking at them, followed by a flash of a bright red smile with gleaming white teeth.

Over the following nights they would see more of the mysterious figure, until eventually she was walking alongside them through the trees.

One night, something compelled Emery to speak to her.

“Who are you?” they asked sheepishly, before immediately regretting the decision to talk.

The woman merely looked at them and smiled. Emery supposed that perhaps she wasn’t able to talk; after all their experience with sentient plant based beings was very slim. But the next night as they walked in silence, she spoke too.

“I do not have a name. I am a daughter of the forest.”

“Are there more of you?” replied Emery, still anxious but won over by their curiosity.

“Not here. I am the only one.”

“What do you do here? Apart from walk with me?”

“I guard.”

Emery’s imagination immediately produced images of countless magical creatures and monsters whom she could be guarding, but not being sure that they wanted to know which one could be nearby they didn’t ask any more. They’d started to find, not enjoyment, but a familiar comfort in these dreams each night, and didn’t want anything to risk turning them into nightmares.

These comforting dreams were becoming more and more important to Emery as their days slowly began to fill with more unsettling happenings and the pit of fear in their stomach grew.

On Tuesday morning they noticed their spit had started to develop a slight green tint when they brushed their teeth in the morning. It was so slight that they weren’t even sure whether it was really there. On Thursday they almost smashed one of Aunt Marian’s favourite glasses when it became inexplicably stuck to their hand for a few seconds. And the whispering grew to be near constant, if very quiet most of the time, and a lot of their focus was spent on trying to tune it out. It reached a peak in their Friday afternoon maths lesson, when they heard their name so clearly they turned and shouted “WHAT?!” at Daniel Marsley, who just stared back along with the rest of the class. Emery turned sheepishly back towards Mr Buttress, who was shaking his head disapprovingly.

“Can we have a word in the book corner, Emery? Everyone else carry on with your work please.”

Emery slunk their way over to the book corner and plopped down onto a giant beanbag, staring at the ground and panicking about what to say, though at least the whispering seemed to have momentarily paused. Mr Buttress arrived and perched on the top of one of the bookshelves.

“I’ve noticed you’ve not quite been yourself this week, Emery. Is there something going on you’d like to talk to me about?” he asked, in a gentle voice. Having expected a thorough telling off, Emery was pleasantly surprised – they looked up and Mr Buttress smiled back kindly through his bushy ginger beard. “You can always tell me if something’s worrying you, you know. Something at home maybe?” he went on.

“Um… no, nothing’s going on. I’m just a bit tired.” Emery replied. As kind a teacher as Mr Buttress was, they knew he’d probably think Emery was making it up if they told him what was really happening, or else tell their aunt to take them to a doctor who’d insist on asking way more questions.

Mr Buttress studied them carefully, and then stood up.

“Okay,” he said “It is nearly time for the summer holidays after all! We all get a bit tired around this time! But you should try and get to bed early this weekend if you can, and you can always ask me to chat again next week if something comes up, all right?”

“Okay” Emery smiled back, and they walked back to their seat, just as the bell rang for assembly.

As soon as they and Lara rounded the corner into a quieter street on the way home from school that day, Lara stopped them and demanded to know what was going on.

“What was that all about in maths?! I heard you saying you’re just tired but I don’t decide to shout at Daniel Marsley whenever I get tired… something’s up with you this week and I know it.” she said.

“No, honestly, I’m fine,” Emery replied, “I’m just bored of school that’s all.”

“I don’t believe you,” replied Lara, “And I’m not giving up until you tell me.”

They knew her well enough to know that she really meant this… they’d have to come up with something more, but they just couldn’t bring themselves to admit the truth even to Lara. It just sounded so unbelievable!

“Fine, I’ll tell you.” Lara stared back expectantly. “I ate a funny looking peach at the weekend, from this little tree in my garden, and I think it might have made me a bit ill or something.”

Lara continued staring, as if waiting for more. “That’s it. I’m just worried about that, that’s all”.

“So this is all just over a gone off peach?” she asked.

“Yes.” Emery insisted back.

“Well… you won’t mind showing me the tree then? Maybe we can see if any of the others are bad or something?” They didn’t like the idea of showing Lara the garden, but knew she wasn’t going to drop this without some kind of evidence, so they agreed that she could come over tomorrow morning and they’d show her.

The next day the two children pulled on their boots and trudged down to the ivy garden together. Emery half expected to see the Ivy Woman waiting there, but she wasn’t and they breathed a sigh of relief. They spent a few minutes examining the tree, which contained only normal peaches now, and Lara delivered her verdict

“They look absolutely fine. I’m sure there was nothing wrong with this peach, and if there was you’d feel a lot worse by now. You need to stop getting worked up over things and just ask someone for help, silly billy.” Emery feigned relief and for the rest of the morning they made extra sure to act calm and collected, so much so that by the time Lara left to go home for lunch, they had a splitting headache. Their aunt gave them some Calpol after lunch when they mentioned it, and suggested they relax in bed for a while, and they were so exhausted from the effort of pretending all morning that they fell asleep before teatime and slept right through the evening.

They woke at around 4am, sweating profusely, from their most vivid dream yet – in it, the Ivy Woman had asked Emery to come and visit her. They realised they really needed a wee, but as they moved to get out of bed they felt almost stuck to the sheets – pulling the duvet off was like ripping off a plaster. They managed to free their arm to flick on the bedside lamp, and to their horror they saw tiny pointy tendrils sprouting from the skin all along their arms and legs. Shouting, they jumped from the bed and sprinted to the bathroom, and began vigorously rubbing their arms, and a few seconds later, the tendrils seemed to have disappeared, as if nothing had been there at all. Taking a few seconds to catch their breath, Emery paused and listened… they couldn’t hear any movement, so they assumed their scream hadn’t been enough to wake Aunt Marian.

This was the final straw for Emery. What was going on didn’t make sense, but it was happening anyway, and they needed to get to the bottom of it. They knew the answer would lie in the garden, and they decided to head there as soon as the sun came up, which was in just an hour or two. But before they did, they knew that they would have to tell someone about what had happened, in case anything went wrong. They pulled on their clothes and crept down the stairs to where their phone was charging in the kitchen, and pulled up a message to Lara, and then they typed out everything, starting with the green peach and the voices, moving through the dreams, right up to the events of that night. They no longer cared if Lara thought they were lying – they finished the message by explaining their plan. They would go down to the garden and look for the Ivy Woman, sure that they’d find her there, and confront her.

Hitting send, they pulled on their boots and sat by the door, waiting anxiously. After another hour, the sky was light enough for them to set off, and they trudged purposefully through the woods until they reached the ivy garden. They trembled as they climbed over the ladder, and sure enough, the Ivy Woman was waiting for them inside, sitting on the bench.

“I’m glad you came,” she said “I knew you would.” They sat down next to her.

“Why is this happening to me?” they asked “All these strange things. Was something wrong with the peach?”

“They’re happening because you belong here now.” she replied, calmly, and Emery found themselves suddenly exhausted. They noticed a tickle on their back, and turned their head to see that the ivy from the wall was creeping over their shoulder and across their chest, but they couldn’t muster the energy to move any further.

“… what’s going on… who… who are you…” they stammered, falling deeper into a trance and feeling the ivy wrap more tightly around their limbs.

The whispers they had been hearing all week were now clear, crisp voices, and Emery realised they were the voices of other children – which they now realised were here in the garden too, somehow inside the ivy that was slowly covering every inch of their body. They had a vague sense that they weren’t going to be able to get free from the ivy, and that they were going to be taken into it, but they still couldn’t muster enough energy to try and escape. This was going to be the end.

Amongst the children’s voices, Emery started to notice one that stood out from the others.

“Emery!” it shouted, “Emery!! Wake up!!” They felt a strange prickling sensation on their arms. “Come on Emery!! Get up, now!!” Something clicked in their brain… it was Lara! What was Lara doing here?!

“Lara?” they murmured “Lara… is that you?”

“Yes!” she cried, “It’s me! You need to get up now Emery! I can’t pull you out on my own.”

Emery realised that if Lara was there, that meant that not only did she believe them enough to come to the garden, but that she was also in danger. That was enough for them. They started to push against the ivy with all the strength they could gather. Slowly but surely, it began to rip, until it was broken enough that Lara was able to pull them up from the bench and away onto the lawn.

The two children embraced.

“Thank God!” Lara cried. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to get you out!”

“I’m so sorry” sobbed Emery back. “I should have told you sooner. I guess I was just scared.”

“It’s okay, I’m here now, and you’re safe.”

Emery and Lara turned to face the Ivy Woman.

“Why are you doing this?” cried Emery, “And who are all these children?”

“Whatever you do, you’re not going to take Emery away! I won’t let you!” added Lara.

Emery took a breath ready to shout more questions, but then they paused – the woman had fallen to her knees in front of the bench and was staring at the ground.

Putting their hand out to Lara to signal for her to wait, they lowered their voice and spoke calmly

“Look… if something is wrong maybe we can help… as long as you don’t try to take either of us again.” Lara stared at them wide eyed, as if she thought they might have lost their right mind, but the woman started to speak slowly.

“I… I don’t know why I take the children. I only take the ones like me. The ones who keep it inside.”

“Keep what inside?” asked Lara, her curiosity winning over her anger.

“Everything. Everything that they think… and feel… I can’t help but be drawn to them. If we are the same, I… I always think the next one might… might just… be someone who could become a friend.”

It was clearly giving the woman great pains to speak in this way. Emery paused for a moment, contemplating.

“You’re right,” they said. “I was keeping everything inside. But that’s never good. The only reason Lara came here to save me was because I finally told her everything that had been going on.” Lara still had hold of their hand, and at these words she squeezed it tight.

“I know how lonely it can get when you close up like that. But this…” they gestured at the ivy “is not the solution. I don’t even know what’s going on here – to be honest I think I’m a little in shock. But if you have some kind of magic that put these children there… can it get them out too?”

At this, the Ivy Woman frowned and began to cry.

“What’s wrong?” asked Lara.

“She is scared of losing the children, even though they don’t want to be here.” Emery answered for her. They were starting to feel a deep connection similar to the one that they’d felt in their dreams of her. They could feel what she was feeling, and understand her fear.

“But it’s ok,” they continued “You don’t have to be alone. If you keep talking, we’ll keep visiting, won’t we Lara?”

Lara was still somewhat confused by the sudden change of atmosphere but as any good 8-year-old best friend would, she immediately gave a vigorous nod.

“Of course we will. I mean, you’re a magical woman made of ivy. This is amazing! I have so many questions! No-one at school would believe this in a million years!”

The woman smiled meekly and, saying nothing, rose to her feet and raised her arms in the air, and slowly the ivy began to shrink back up the walls, and dozens of children began to appear out of it, first appearing almost transparent, like ghosts, but growing clearer until they were fully formed. Emery noticed that they were dressed in historical clothes, some of them hundreds of years out of date, and realised the woman must have been taking children just like them for years.

“It’s time to go home, children” said the woman, and the children cheered, several of them thanking Emery and Lara gratuitously. Then, one by one, they began walking towards the walls and, as they approached them, faded back into nothingness.

“They are going back to their own times and lives,” explained the woman. “The harm I’ve caused is not irreparable.” She smiled broadly and kindly, ready to begin her new life.

From then on, Emery and the Ivy Woman met many times, and with each meeting they shared more of themselves. When Emery grew old, none of their children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren really believed that they had once been shy and closed off – to them, Emery was the most open, honest person they knew.

The Ivy Woman’s friendship with Emery and Lara endured, and each new generation brought new playmates for her… always there now by choice, drawn in by the wonder of her magic and staying for the friendship.

The stone of the green peach still, to this day, stands in a small display case in Emery’s family home, and every summer the family shares a picnic in the ivy garden, joined by the Ivy Woman and Lara and her family, finishing off with a dessert of the most delicious peaches you’ve ever tasted.

The end

Photo by Alyani Yang on Unsplash

The Power – Naomi Alderman


Equality, prosperity and power are just some of the aims of feminists past and present – but what would a world controlled by women actually look like? In her fourth novel, author Naomi Alderman inverts traditional gender roles to create a world where women quite literally hold all the power and men tremble at their feet.

Love it or hate it, utopian and dystopian fiction has a lot to say about how people live their lives and the desires, dreams and fears that lurk under the covers of society. Dystopic works throughout the 20th century have explored totalitarian states, brainwashing, societal complacency and overpopulation. They reflect societal fears of a future in which too much power has been lost to the state, through the wonderful world of science fiction.

This genre suits feminist complaints by questioning the conventional exercise of power between the sexes, often delving into frustrations of women in a patriarchal society. Previous works explored the prospect of women-led civilisations in which gender roles are reversed or worlds where women live alone, having somehow discovered the secret to asexual reproduction.

There is a reason you don’t get many all-male utopias, but I’ve often wondered why there aren’t more novels that explore what a world would be like where women not only ruled, but ruled with power. So many science-fiction novels strived to illuminate societal inequality through exaggeration and role reversal, or the creation of purer, softer societies where women rule each other with soft hands, but I have yet to come across a book which inverts the status to devastating effect.

‘The Power’ is just such a novel.

Naomi Alderman’s latest novel is a manuscript written 5,000 years in the future, documenting the rising power of a female elite. The story begins with the ‘Day of the Girls’, when teenage girls across the world wake with a strange new power. It starts as a subtle throbbing sensation between the collarbones and crackles across the skin, filling the air with electrostatic discharge and the smell of rain and rotten fruit, before emerging as a spark of light from the tips of the fingers.

What would the world look like if men were afraid of women rather than women being frightened of men?

A slight warning, while not fully divulged in this review, the book contains one or two themes that some readers might find disturbing.

Through the guise of a fictional future researcher, Alderman follows the stories of four characters and how they are affected as the world begins to change. We meet Roxy, a tough, foul-mouthed daughter of a London crime lord who is out to seek revenge; Allie, a dual-heritage girl from Jacksonville who, having suffered unspeakable abuse at the hands of her foster father, rebrands herself as charismatic faith-leader Mother Eve; Margot, the aspiring New England Governor along with her confused daughter Jocelyn; and Tunde, a plucky Nigerian journalist who strives to uncover the ugly truth behind the rising female power.

‘Men have evolved to be strong worker homestead-keepers, while women – with babies to protect from harm – have had to become aggressive and violent.’

A few videos emerge across social media platforms showing girls seemingly electrocuting men with their hands. The initial reaction is one of disbelief, but as more and more begin to appear, society is forced to attempt to address this strange new phenomenon. As childish tussles give way to deadly brawls and schools are forced to begin gender segregation, the very fabric of society unravels and young women are recruited to fight a bitter battle between the sexes that ravages Eastern Europe.

In Alderman’s present, electricity is no longer a thing of convenience, but a power to be held within the hands of women, to throw off the shackles of oppression. The future, however, is anything but bright, and all thoughts of equality are thrown to the wind. Ideas of a softer, more maternal society give way to hordes of women who rule with iron fists, as men are assigned their place on the bottom rungs of the ladder, forced into submission as slaves to the female race.

The storyline is complex and multi-layered, presenting a future where women have forgotten the male-dominated times of the past – the systems overthrown within the main body of text – and men are thought to be the fairer sex. This book is so much more than the latest attempt at a feminist dystopia. It is refreshing and insightful, combining a gripping storyline alongside an interesting analysis of societal ideas about equality and fairness within gender roles.

This review was first published on online for E&T magazine.

A Tale of Two Families – Dodie Smith

“But these backwaters of existence sometimes breed, in their sluggish depths, strange acuities of emotion” ― Edith Wharton

I’d never heard of this book, or the author, before I was asked to review it. In fact, I will confess to having thought it was a modern novel – as so many I am requested to review are. So I was surprised, but also not, having read the novel, to discover it was written in the 1970s. I was taken by the language and setting, and thought the portrayal of the time was done very well, but I also thought that is had a slightly modern feel to it. This has led me to conclude that Dodie Smith was somewhat ahead of her contemporaries in her writing style.

A Tale of Two Families – Dodie Smith

‘This is going to be a long five minutes’ walk,’ said June.

May thought this possible as there was still no sign of any house, but she continued to find things to praise: the overgrown hedges, the tall, still-dripping trees, the brilliant green of the grassy verges, the freshness of the air. And after several more bends in the lane they saw a white wooden gate standing open. Once through this they looked across a large, circular lawn surrounded by a gravel drive. And now at last they were face to face with the house.

‘Much too large,’ said June.

51QWhoqlqpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_May and June are devoted sisters, married to equally-devoted brothers, George and Robert, and even after more than two decades of marriage the four still thoroughly enjoy each other’s company. So when May and her highly-successful husband commit to a five-year lease on a huge, decaying manor house out in the country it seems only natural that they should persuade June and Robert to accept, rent free, a cottage within the grounds.

The two families leave London and, once joined by two not-quite-stereotypical grandparents, and blessed by regular visits from their respective children, begin to thoroughly enjoy their new experiences. Any initial qualms about leaving the city are lost in blissful hours spent wandering through the lilac groves, listening to the birdsong of the resident nightingale, absorbing the country air and indulging in May’s excellent cooking. The only thing that could possibly distress this perfect equilibrium is the compulsory visit of dreaded Aunt Mildred aka ‘Mildew’. Eccentric, annoying and thoroughly too young for her age, Mildred delights in secret dramas, regardless of their truth, or the harm that they may cause.

First and foremost I was absolutely delighted at Dodie Smith’s portrayal of country living. There are few things I love more than day-dreaming of a blissful, quiet life somewhere remote, with only the smell of flowers, birdsong, and the thought of bare-footed, early morning strolls through dew-soaked grass to trouble me. Even though Smith’s portrayal comes through the eyes of a somewhat dysfunctional family unit it still felt to me like a kind of absolute heaven, although perhaps a less than traditional view of heaven . I was so taken by the setting, from the second May and June arrived at the manor house, on a day in which the house and ground were engulfed by a stereotypical English downpour. The rain could not put me off, there was a magic in the dripping of the tree-lined driveway, and the impression of the foreboding, unloved Dower house, standing cold and resolute against the elements, and when the washed-out introduction gave way to pure, unadulterated spring bliss I was smitten. The whole book is brimming with lilac groves, quaint woodlands, blossoms, sundials and mounds and mounds of asparagus and strawberries – I loved every single second of it.

This is a book where characters are really central to the plot, I know characters are important in any story, but here it is the development of the characters that drive the story forward. Smith clearly had a talent for creating quirky, yet believable characters. Each and every character that passes through the estate has some kind of secret, inner passion or frustration. From the sensual Corinna, who is well and truly tired of waiting for saintly Hugh to make a move on her, to the quietly frustrated Robert, who, try as he might, cannot get his next novel on paper. Mildred inspires the release of these frustrations, allowing characters true desires to take form, while undoubtedly an expertly crafter character in her own right, her primary role is to serve as a catalyst for development in others.

In this way the story is very much in the moment, and in the experience, of two families shared existence. The day-to-day happenings in the Dower house are all at once endearing, humorous, envy-inducing, and on the whole utterly ridiculous. Think about it, could you really imagine your parents moving in with your aunt and uncle? Or yourself moving in with your sister/brother and their significant other? Regardless of how close knit a family you come from the situation is really rather odd. The book reads like an extended summer holiday – beautiful in its own way but very much temporary. I get the impression that, in the end, both families might actually quite like to return home.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Tale of Two Families, and would be interested to look up Smith’s other works in the future. I found the book to be a perfect, relaxing afternoon read – it left me feeling pleasantly fulfilled, and without the emotional torture than comes from a horrific book hangover. That said, if you like a bit more substance to your books, there is definitely potential to delve a little further into the hidden meanings behind characters’ actions. On the whole, would recommend, whether as a casual afternoon read or a more in depth book club selection.

I received a free copy of A Tale of Two Families from Hesperus Press in exchange for an honest review.

To Kill a Mockingbird ten-day (re)read challenge

“I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” – Atticus Finch

Penguin Random House have today launched a ten-day social media campaign to get people to (re)read To Kill a Mockingbird, ahead of the release of Harper Lee’s highly-anticipated second novel Go Set a Watchman.


The ten-day challenge, which will run from 21–31 May, is described as a ‘a read-along for readers old and new, (re)discovering and discussing the book together to a loose ten day plan.’

‘We’ll together be reading this brilliant piece of work by Harper Lee in preparation for Lee’s second book, Go Set a Watchman, out on the 14th July.’

You can keep up with what’s going on by following the Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr sites that have been set up for Go Set a Watchman.

‘During this time we’ll be releasing lots of Mockingbird material, like family tree infographics, story guides and our favourite quotes,’ A Random House spokesperson has said. ‘We’ll also be making a call-out for everyone to share photos of their well-loved copies of To Kill a Mockingbird and hosting competitions to win copies of Go Set A Watchman to be sent out to lucky recipients as soon as the book is published in July.’

I don’t own a well-loved copy, although I did buy a copy of the new edition a couple of months back in anticipation of the release of Go Set a Watchman. I’m just so keen that I jumped ahead of the game!

Haven’t got a copy yet? Click here to solve that problem.

Go Set a Watchman, which sees Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird return to Maycomb as an adult, will be released on 14th July.


In keeping with the spirit of the campaign I’ve decided to give you a chance to win a copy of the 50th anniversary edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. So if you want to take part in the challenge, but don’t have a copy of the book here’s your chance to get one. Just comment on this post by Sunday 24th May to be in with a chance of winning. The winner will be selected at random.

Good luck!

World Book Night – Amazon freebie!

In celebration of World Book Night I have teamed up with author N Caraway to offer you all the chance to read his novels for free on your kindles.

World Book Night is an annual celebration of reading and books that takes place in the UK on 23 April. Across the country volunteers give out hundreds of thousands pre-chosen books in their communities to share their love of reading with people who don’t own books or are unable to read regularly.

This years book list has some cracking reads on it – check out the World Book Night website for more information, and to locate participating venues.

And for those of your who can’t participate in any of tonight’s events head on over to Amazon, or Amazon UK, and grab yourself a free ebook to sink your teeth into instead.

Click on the book covers to get yourself a copy.

The Manneken Pis

maneA lonely old man is living out the last days of his life in Brussels, a city that alternates between small-town non-entity and extreme surrealist quirkiness, symbolised by the famous statue of a small boy urinating. Increasingly confused by the effects of a heart attack, he tries to find meaning in one last rational act of kindness before he dies.

Set in the capital of a rapidly ageing Europe, the second novel by N Caraway is a tragicomic study of solitude and growing old that also provides a surprising new take on the theme of the classic Frank Capra movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.

The Humanitarian

51W+tDMNtgLAfter decades of civil war a peace deal is in the offing for the ravaged land of South Sudan, where the United Nations and a plethora of non-government organisations have come together to deliver emergency aid to the thousands of displaced and homeless people scattered in camps and villages across the vast wilderness of swamps and scrubland.

Richards is a UN official on his final mission, leading a small team to a remote region. For him it is not just the war which is ending, but the world he has come to inhabit. Detachment and isolation from all that is around him begin to take hold and memories of another life threaten to break through the thin walls he has built around himself. As he sinks deeper into inner darkness a chance meeting with a young priest seems to offer the hope of a way back to belief in humanity and meaning, but the road is rough.

Charlotte’s Web named best children’s book of all time!

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” ― C. S. Lewis

I was over the moon today to learn that Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White had been voted the best children’s book of all time.

The 1952 tale, about a lovable pig named Wilbur who is saved from the slaughter thanks to his unlikely friendship with a resourceful spider named Charlotte, was named number one in a list of 151 books chosen by critics in a poll by BBC Culture.


The initial selection was whittled down to a list of the 21 top books in children’s literature, a diverse selection of books which provides a charming glimpse into children’s literature of the past two centuries.

1. Charlotte’s Web – E. B. White
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – C. S. Lewis
3. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak
4. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
5. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
6. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
7. Winnie-the-Pooh – A. A. Milne
8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
9. A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula Le Guin
10. A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle
11. The Little House on the Prairie – Laura Ingalls Wilder
12. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
13. From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler – E. L. Koenigsburg
14. The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster
15. His Dark Materials trilogy – Philip Pullman
16. Matilda – Roald Dahl
17. Harriet the Spy – Louise Fitzhugh
18. Pippi Longstocking – Astrid Lindgren
19. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
20. Goodnight Moon – Margaret Wise Brown and Pat Hancock
21. The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien

There are many books on the list I would have happily seen voted number one, but I think the most deserving book won. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Little Women are all firm favourites of mine, but they are books I came to love later on in life, whereas Charlotte’s Web was one of the first books I read on my own.


I loved Charlotte’s Web as a child, and I find it just as enjoyable now as I did twenty years ago. So I am over the moon at it’s number one spot. Books which tell a story from the point of view of animals have always been popular among children, and E. B. White took this classic theme and created something truly wonderful.

I’d love to know what your thoughts are on this. Did your favourite children’s book make in onto the list? Do you think something else is more deserving of the number one spot? Let me know! 

Some of my favourite fictional ladies, created by ladies

“Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men.” ― Joseph Conrad

Over the weekend #womeninfiction emerged on Twitter, so in running with the theme I’m here to share with you a few of my favourite fictional ladies.

Renée Michel

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery.

Elegance of the HedgehogRenée Michel is possibly my favourite literary lady of all time. She is a concierge, and self-confessed member of the lower class. Despite how she outwardly appears, she is in fact fantastically intelligent, but she knows her place, and sticks to it, stating that to be “poor, ugly and, moreover, intelligent condemns one, in our society, to a dark and disillusioned life, a condition one ought to accept at an early age”. Madame Michel prefers to lives a secret life, reading Russian literature in the privacy of her lodge while donning the air of a simpleton when speaking with the inhabitants of the apartment complex where she works.

In Renée, Barbery has created a fantastic female heroine for lovers of literature. I challenge anyone to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog and not feel themselves brimming over with admiration for the soft soul nestled within the prickly exterior of Madame Michel.

Petronella Brandt née Oortman

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

18498569Petronella is an 18-year-old Dutch girl whose family have fallen on hard times since the death of her father. She is married off to a wealthy merchant from Amsterdam, Johannes Brandt, but has a difficult time fitting into her new life. Petronella, who prefers to go by the name of Nella, attempts to be a good wife to her new husband, but is forever at the mercy of her stern sister-in-law Marin Brandt. Nella begins as a child, before all too quickly becoming a woman, when the crushing weight of her new family’s secrets is placed on her shoulders.

What is there to not love about Nella? In each stage of her growth she is simply delightful: innocent and charming, determined and strong, and finally, reliable and level-headed.

Jerusha Abbot

Daddy long legs – Jean Webster

9780141331119Jerusha Abbott, or Judy as she likes to be called, was brought up at the John Grier Home, an old-fashioned orphanage. At the age of 17, she find herself at a loose end, she has finished her education, and is no longer young enough to live in the orphanage without paying her way. Imagine her surprise when one of the John Grier Home’s trustees offers to pay for her to go to university. He will pay her tuition and also give her a generous monthly allowance; in exchange Judy must write him a monthly letter. Judy is told she will never know his true identity and must address the letters to Mr. John Smith, and he will never reply. Judy warms quickly to the trustee, gifting him the persona ‘Daddy Long Legs’, and writing warm, detailed letters each month. Judy dotes on her Daddy Long Legs, and, it appears, he on her.

Judy is an amazing character, gifted with the unique opportunity to turn her rags to riches. Read Daddy Long Legs and I’m sure you will find, too, that you fall in love with the little orphan girl and her extraordinary tale.

Geogianna Lennox

Dead and Buryd – Chele Cooke

dfw-cc-dab-cover-mid (2)Georgianna Lennox is a local medic on a foreign planet ruled by alien invaders, the Adveni. The native people, the Veniche, to whom Georgianna belongs, have become slaves in their own home. Georgianna is somewhat unique among the Veniche as her work allows her to tread within the realms of the Adveni forces, treating the sick and injured within the walls of the infamous Lyndbury prison. For Georgianna this is a way of treating her lost people, but it is not enough. When Georgianna’s friendship with a group of rebels risks putting her own freedom at stake, she is faced with a difficult decision – what will she choose to put first, her family or the freedom of her people?

Georgianna is a strong, determined character, but one I felt extremely comfortable getting to know. Cooke has created a character that is admirable, but also wonderfully human. I found her to be amazingly likeable and funny, despite her hard exterior.


Now the Day is Over – Marion Husband

9781908381811-frontcover (2)Are you sick of me talking about Edwina yet? If you are, shame on you, you clearly haven’t taken the time to read the book.

Edwina is the spirit of a young woman trapped between the  early 20th Century, and modern day Britain. Since her death she has lurked the shadows of her former home, critically analysing those who take residence within the walls. In Now the Day is Over she takes the form of super-omniscient narrator, haunting the house which was once hers, commenting on the lives of the adulterous couple who reside within her domain, comparing their existence to the life that was once hers.

I love Edwina because she is so all encompassing. She is deliciously genuine, admirable, maddening, terrifying and somewhat detestable all rolled into one.

Intrigued by any of my lady loves? You know what to do.

Children’s book review tour! Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad – Henry Cole

“Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves” ― Abraham Lincoln

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad – Henry Cole


Another children’s classic, the picture book. It is unusual for me to try and review a book with no words at all, but a challenge I accepted and enjoyed to the last.

What would you do
if you had the chance
to help a person
find freedom.

This is the question presented to a young girl, in Henry Cole’s haunting tale of a young slave’s journey to freedom.

Unspoken is a beautiful example of a children’s picture book with illustrations that are filled with emotion and can, on their own, tell a strong and provocative tale. Cole has taken something which is often associated with children’s literature, a picture book, a wordless story, and created something beautiful. That is not to say that picture books can’t appeal to adults. Children’s classic such as The Snowman, and Father Christmas are stunning and offer equal entertainment for adults as they do for children.  Indeed, the tale told in Unspoken can speak more toward an adult audience as the innocent child is unlikely to grasp the full extent of sadness that underlies the beautiful artwork. To the child the book may appear as nothing more than a story of young girl with a secret friend.

unspoken-9780545399975-pages-16-17-1-final-rightWithout words, the young girl who lives within the illustrations of Cole’s work is almost a stranger to us; we do not know her name, or very much about her life. However, from her actions it seems as though she is from a less than well off family. Cole draws her working on a farm in tattered clothes, leading cattle and feeding chickens. It is while carrying out chores that the child sees men on horseback riding through her family’s farm, they are searching for something, and she is soon to discover the whereabouts of their quarry. Sent to the barn to gather supplies she is startle by a sound coming from a pile of corn – there is someone there.

If we knew little about the young girl, even more mysterious is the identity of the runaway. We see only their eye peeking through the ears of corn, and later, their thankful hands, reaching out to receive food encased within the young girl’s handkerchief. In my mind I have given the runaway a female identity, although each reader will have their own feelings on this matter.


The worry etched on the young girls face as she hides this secret says far more than any words could express. Her concern seeps from the pages, a combined anxiety for the creature in the corn, and that she will be discovered harbouring a fugitive.  She watches with clear disdain as men on horseback visit her father once again, offering a reward for the return of an escaped slave. You can see that the family live a simple life, likely a reward would be very gratefully received, and yet the young girl looks on, in silence.

Our heroine, beautiful in her innocence, seems only to think of the safety of the figure in the corn. She follows her heart, as the runaway follows the North Star, away from the South, to freedom. When she returns to the barn and finds the runaway gone, leaving behind a small token of thanks, she knows she has made the right choice.

Page 2 Unspoken

Without a single word Cole’s book speaks mountains. There is no colour, no creed, no judgement, just a person, helping another person.

In his author’s note Cole writes that he hopes that those who read the book will use his pictures as a starting point to create their own story – filling in all that has been left unspoken.

Children’s book review tour! Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales – Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

I could hardly do a book tour on children’s book for adults without delving into a little bit of young adult fiction now could I? If you enjoyed them as a pre-teen, you will probably quite enjoy going back over them now. Who can honestly say they wouldn’t happily sit down with a copy of Goosebumps, if just for the novelty?

Don’t lie to me.

So the next book on my tour was selected with this in mind.

Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales – Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant


‘Let’s be honest. We have questions about monsters. That’s why we put this book together. That’s why you’re reading this book right now. On old maps, cartographers would draw strange beasts around the margins and write phrases such as “Here be dragons.” That’s where monsters exist: in the unmapped spaces, in the places where we haven’t filled in all the gaps, in outer space or in the deepest parts of the ocean.’

In their Anthology of Beastly Tales Link and Grant answer some questions about monsters, or rather, tell us a few tales about the monsters hiding in plain sight.

But before we begin reading, there’s a pop quiz to complete – this is novel. So as advised, I turn down the lights, pick up a nice sharp pencil, ‘one that can double as a weapon in an emergency’, and tell the truth.

The questions start off casually; multiple choice questions about the way monsters look, would I consider dating a spider, would I let a vampire bite me, you get the gist. But then they get just a little too creepy for a girl alone in a big house on a dark night.

When you were younger, you were afraid that something was in your closet.

There’s nothing in the closet. Really.

Are you sure there’s nothing in the closet.

Maybe you should go look in the closet, just in case.
Yes/No/I don’t want to. You do it.

Check again. Just one more time. Go ahead. We’ll wait right here.

After completing my pop quiz, silently cursing Link and Grant, and with my wardrobe door firmly shut. I began the first story ‘Moriabe’s Children’.

“Alanie had never seen a kraken, but her people spoke of them often. The kraken were out beyond the breakwaters of Serenity Bay, the hungry children of Moriabe. They writhed in the depths and sometimes rose to the surface to hunt. A kraken’s tentacles could encircle a sailing ship and crack its spine. Kraken snapped masts like kindling, and swallowed sailors whole.”

This first tale creeped me out. I’m terrified of squids, and the descriptions of the mammoth children of Moriabe writhing like ink pools under the sea surface made me inwardly shudder. So far so good!Denys_de_Montfort_Poulpe_ColossalThere are fifteen stories in all. Fifteen tales that dip briefly into the lives of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, demons and shape shifters. Some of these creatures hide in the shadows of our own existence, and some inhabit their own weird and wonderful worlds, where flowers are the cancer that infects a person’s soul and artificial boyfriends made from soft plastic walk among the living.

The book has a great combination of stories from different authors from all over the world, and shows an immense amount of imagination and flair. Some of the stories will appeal more to some than to others, as with any anthology, but I think there will be something here for everyone. I was particularly pleased to come across a hidden comic strip towards the end of the book, which was wholly unexpected, and served as a nice break from the rest of the text.

Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)Reading Monstrous Affections was like revisiting my preteen years. Some of the stories don’t try and frighten in the slightest, and instead slip into the weird and wonderful, while others are straight out spine-chilling. I am thinking in particular of ‘Left Foot, Right’ – the story of a young girl who, guilt ridden at her sister’s death, attempts to appease her sisters spirit with the gift of new shoes – which was undoubtedly the most horrifying of the stories from my perspective, and I love ghost stories.

The book is also, physically beautiful, it is a nice weighty volume, with a stunning, if slightly horrifying cover image. The book is hardbacked and made from thick, good quality paper, and to hold in your hands feels almost like a spell book, or book of dark magic, apart from having that wholly divine new book smell, rather than an equally pleasant old book scent.

But the thing I found most impressive about this book, was not the stories themselves, but the fact that many of the stories explore a lot of issues which pre-teen and young adult audiences will be able to relate to. Many of the stories explore sexuality and underage pregnancy, as well as looking at love and friendship, the loss of loved ones and bullying. I think exploring issues such as these is really important in YA fiction, and Monstrous Affections has approached this really well.

Monstrous Affections was a really fun, and at times slightly thrilling book to read. Link and Grant have selected a great variety of short stories to fit into this anthology; of the 15 tales included each is unique, with different ghosts and ghouls unlikely to feature in more than one tale. I think this book would appeal to a wider age group than the young adults it is aimed at, but with adults it would be more of a novelty than anything else. That said, I would recommend that anyone who did enjoy reading the likes of Goosebumps and Point Horror as a pre-teen give it a go.

I was sent a free copy of Monstrous Affections by Walker books in exchange for an honest review.