Alistair McGuiness grew up in the UK in a town called Luton, which lies 30 miles north of London. Family holidays were spent in County Donegal, Ireland, staying with his Grandmother in their large family home where she had once raised fifteen children.
It was these annual trips that made Alistair realise his Great Uncles were Seanachaís (Irish story tellers). After a few pints of Guinness in the family bar, brothers Barney and Francis would entertain the evening crowds with their recitations of life in rural Ireland. As their rustic voices carried across the crowded room, Alistair would watch and listen as the animated tales mesmorised the overseas visitors.
44 countries and four decades later, Alistair now calls Australia home and in the tradition of Great Uncles Barney and Francis, loves to recite stories. He lives between the beach and the forest with his wife, two young boys and a fun puppy called Peppi. After decades of adventurous escapades Alistair is calming down and has decided to write more and bungee jump less!
He works as a Business Improvement Specialist and has just spent three years as a fly in fly out employee at a remote iron ore mine site in Western Australia. As a trainer and facilitator, he has worked in Europe and Australia and is passionate about helping people and organisations to become successful.
A fun family day for Alistair would be fishing from the local jetty with his boys, taking the puppy for a walk along the beach at sunset and cooking a scrumptious curry in the evening with his wife.
An ideal adventurous day for Alistair would be a days walking and scrambling in the Lake District with friends, followed by a visit to a village pub nestled deep in the English countryside.
His latest book is the adventure travel, Round the Bend: From Luton to Peru to Ningaloo, A Search for Life After Redundancy.
For More Information
What made you decide to become a published author?
Storytelling seems to run in my family. My Great Uncles were Seanachaís (Irish storytellers) and as a child, I always enjoyed listening to their animated tales about rural life in Donegal. I feel very proud of their talents and felt it was time for someone in the family to write a story instead of telling one!
Would you consider your latest book, round the bend, to be a one of a kind? How so?
The diverse amount of adventure travel books available to readers these days can be daunting. Every jungle, mountaintop and remote village seems to be inhabited by travel writers who are eager to capture their escapades in a book. In such a competitive genre the standout for me, is when a book gives you an entertaining insight to the landscape, the journey and the local people encountered along the way.
Round the Bend captures the emotional turmoil of redundancy, the thrill of safari, the solitude of long distance travel and the apprehension of moving from one country to live in another. I wouldn’t say it is one of a kind, but in terms of adventure travel, it is has been described as inspirational.
Where is your writing sanctuary?
I live in the south west of Australia, in a small coastal town called Busselton and have found a quirky beachside café that overlooks the Indian Ocean. Being a part time writer, early mornings are my time to scribe and the ever-changing moods of the bay are a constant source of inspiration. The coffee is sensational too!
What do you believe a writer should not do as far as getting his or her book published?
You shouldn’t scrimp on professional help. It is essential that you use proof readers, editors and cover designers to ensure your book is as good as it possibly can be. You shouldn’t try and write a book that will appeal to everyone as this is near impossible. In my opinion, the narrower you make the field, the higher the likelihood of finding your tribe.
What inspires you?
The people that never give up, no matter what obstacles bar their way. We all have dreams and aspirations, but to make these come true requires passion and tenacity. I learnt to switch off the television for weeks on end, in order to get my book completed. It’s all about sacrifices.
What is one thing you learned about your book after it was published?
I learnt so much, especially the amount of book marketing required before and after the launch. Early reviews on Amazon are essential and this comes down to having a well thought out strategy including beta readers, an author platform (blog), a sign up page and plenty of buzz around the launch. Authors that sit back and wait for the publisher to do the marketing are in for a shock!
Why do you love to write about travel?
When I travel to a new country, the first thing I enjoy doing is going for a run at sunrise. During this magical hour you see, smell and hear things that are lost as the sun climbs higher. I enjoy capturing snippets of everyday life in faraway places, especially when they can be shared in a quirky way to a global audience.
You’re concocting a recipe for a best selling book. What’s the first ingredient?
I think the first ingredient should be a zesty character that the reader believes in and wants to succeed, no matter what the odds.
What’s one fun fact about your book people should know?
During the three years it took me to complete, I estimate that I wrote the book from 30 different places. These range from Greek Islands, the Australian outback, an English castle, beachside cafes, historic English pubs, an Irish hill side and from 38,000 feet somewhere over India. My mission was to write for an hour a day, no matter where in the world I was.
Did any real life experiences find their way into your book?
The book is exactly that. It is ten months of adventure travel crammed into a few hundred pages. From deep underground in a Bolivian mine, to teaching English in the Amazon and scaling Kilimanjaro to stand on the roof of Africa. They were all real experiences and I have the scars to prove it!
Aside from writing, what’s your passion?
Spending time with my wife and children, exploring remote areas of Australia, kayaking, playing tennis and coaching a local soccer team (as I’m now getting too injury prone to play).
What’s next for you?
The follow up to Round the Bend is due out in early 2015 and this will be a series of short stories about Australia. Children’s writing is something I am keen to try, so there will be plenty of coffee being enjoyed at the beachside café while I work on these projects. I blog about travel and everyday life in Australia at www.thecreativenomad.co
Purchase at AMAZON
A surprise trip to Barcelona with her boyfriend, Jake, seems like the perfect antidote to Grace Sawyer’s current woes. The city is dazzling and unpredictable, but the biggest surprise for Grace is discovering who arranged and paid for the vacation.
Carrie Ann wasn’t just Grace’s foster sister. Clever, pretty, and mercurial, she was her best friend—until everything went terribly wrong. Now, as she flees an abusive marriage, Carrie Ann has turned to the one person she hopes will come through for her. Despite her initial misgivings, Grace wants to help. But then Carrie Ann and Jake both go missing. Stunned and confused, Grace begins to realize how much of herself she’s kept from Jake—and how much of Carrie Ann she never understood. Soon Grace is baited into following a trail of scant clues across Spain, determined to find the truth, even if she must revisit her troubled past to do it.
Mary Carter’s intriguing novel delves into the complexities of childhood bonds, the corrosive weight of guilt and blame, and all the ways we try—and often fail—to truly know the ones we love.
Grace Sawyer had never believed in magic, or miracles for that matter, but that didn’t mean a girl couldn’t pray for a little bit of both. She’d been praying a lot lately. She stepped into her mother’s hospice room and crinkled her nose as the scent of SpaghettiOs and Lysol washed over her. She glanced at her mom’s bedside table. Sure enough, sitting too close to the edge was a chipped brown bowl overflowing with SpaghettiOs, paired with an industrial-sized bottle of Lysol. Grace hesitated. Processed food in a can and industrial-sized cleaners were just the kind of things that could trigger an emotional avalanche inside her. This wasn’t what life should come to in the end. It wasn’t right. If replacing those bits with yellow roses and a nice roast dinner would have changed a single thing about this horrific situation, Grace would have done it lightning quick. This was her mother. The woman who had taken care of everybody else her entire life. Who had opened her heart to homeless, damaged children. She deserved more. But strangely, Lysol and SpaghettiOs were two items Jody Sawyer had insisted on lately. Grace had to fight her instincts, her primal desire to make everything nice, and instead keep each visit as pleasant as possible. She smiled even though neither of her parents had noticed her yet.
Her mother was wide-awake, eyes glued to the television in the corner where a soap opera blared. Before she had moved into this facility, Jody had never watched a soap opera in her life. She wouldn’t have been caught dead eating SpaghettiOs either. The Lysol, on the other hand, was familiar. Grace’s mother had spent her entire life within an arm’s reach of it. Most likely the product of having a revolving door of foster children. Where were they now? Not a single kid from the past had come to visit Grace’s mother. After all she’d done for them. It made Grace rage inside, but her mother hadn’t complained about it once.
Her father, Jim, sat next to the bed on his favorite recliner from home. Jim had put up quite a fuss to get them to allow it in the room, and he was extremely proud of the accomplishment. “I put up my dukes!” he’d say with a grin. Then he’d pump his fists in the air. He’d been practically living here since the doctor had given them the latest grim diagnosis. Grace couldn’t help but think it was probably a welcome relief for her father’s patients. Her father was a psychotherapist, and although he was insightful, Grace had always thought he was a tad too prying. Then again, maybe that was the whole point of going to a shrink. Baring your deepest, darkest secrets. It was Grace’s idea of a worst nightmare. “Hi, Dad,” Grace walked over and planted a kiss on her father’s cheek. He looked almost as thin as her mother. He lowered his newspaper and took off his reading glasses. “Well, hello there, Graceful.”
“How is she?”
“In and out.”
Grace nodded and slowly approached her mother’s bed. “Mom?”
Her mother’s eyes didn’t leave the television set. “Oh, hello,” Jody Sawyer said. “Are you the cleaning lady?”
“Like I said,” her father said. “In and out.”
“It’s me, Mom. I’m your daughter, Grace.”
“My daughter doesn’t clean,” Jody said.
“She’s got that right, “ Jim said.
Grace burst out laughing, then quickly tried to squelch it with a cough. Jody Sawyer pointed to the television and shook her head. She wanted them to be quiet. Grace looked at her father.
“Why don’t you wait for a commercial?” he said. He patted the folding chair next to him. Grace sat. “How was your day, sweetheart?”
Grace reached into her bag and removed two McDonald’s bags. She handed one to her father. He grasped the bag in one hand and squeezed her hand with the other like she’d brought him champagne and caviar. “Actually pretty wild,” she said. “I have news.”
“Do you mind?” her father said.
“Go right ahead.”
He unwrapped his Big Mac and took a bite. “Mm-mmm,” he said. He looked blissful. Grace wanted to bury her face in her sleeve and sob. SpaghettiOs and soap operas, and Mickey D’s? Didn’t they know they deserved better? They were from such a humble generation. Not like the entitled kids of today. Her parents were simple and good people. Let them enjoy what they enjoy. No use forcing kale or tofu burgers on her father now. Grace forced another smile, then reached into the second bag and handed him a napkin.
He winked at her and dabbed his mouth. Then his eyes went to her ring finger. “Did the boy finally pop the question?”
Grace laughed and stretched out her hand in front of her as if examining it for the first time. She hardly ever wore rings or bracelets; they got in the way of playing the guitar. Maybe now she would start. She would wear silver rings with semi-precious gems, like amber, and big chunky bracelets. Maybe even grow her nails and paint them pink. Was that a good enough trade for giving up on her dream? Grace slipped her hands under her legs as if she could shut out making any decisions by sitting on them. “Not yet. But you’re never going to believe this–”
The soap opera went to commercial. A jingle for car insurance came on. “Gracie Ann!” her mother said. She smiled and opened her arms as if Grace had just walked into the room.
“Hi, Mom.” Grace got up and hugged her mother. She felt so frail and tiny in Grace’s arms. Grace could probably pick her up and carry her around the room without breaking a sweat. Not fair, God! Not fair. “You didn’t eat your lunch,” Grace said, glancing at the SpaghettiOs.
“She insisted on them,” her father said.
“I ate ten Os,” her mother said. “I couldn’t possibly eat more than ten Os. I have to watch my figure.”
“If you stuck her in the middle of a cornfield, crows would land on her,” her father said with his mouth full of burger.
“You’re not far behind, Dad,” Grace said.
“Just how we wanted to spend our golden years. Hanging out in a farmer’s field like a couple of straw men,” her father mused in between bites.
Anything would be better than this place, Grace thought. She wished she could bring her parents to a beautiful field at the height of autumn. Give them trees with leaves on fire, and hay that shone like gold underneath an afternoon sun. Give them the smell of apples and the embrace of a warm wind.
“You look beautiful, Grace,” her mother said. Jody Sawyer reached up with a trembling hand and touched the pearls around Grace’s neck. “Is it your birthday?”
“In a few weeks, Mom.”
“Happy birthday, darling.”
“How old are you now? Thirteen?”
“I’m turning thirty,” Grace said. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m all better now, Gracie. I can go home now.” Jody Sawyer looked at her husband Jim, as if expecting him to start packing up the room.
“I don’t think today, Mom,” Grace said. Or ever. As much as she tried to shut it out, Grace could hear the doctor’s voice in her head in a constant loop. Maybe a month, six months at the most, we can’t say for sure. All we can do now is make her comfortable.
Make her comfortable? Was there any comfort in knowing you had six months, maybe one?
“Gracie said she has some news,” Jim said.
Her mother clasped her hands under her chin. “I love news,” she said. “And fries,” she called to her husband.
Grace nodded at her father. He picked up the second bag, then passed it up to Jody. It was odd. If Grace gave her the fries before she asked for them, her mother wouldn’t touch them. If Grace waited until Jody voiced a desire for them, Jody ate every single one. Just one of the little mysteries of dementia. What a double whammy. The doctors weren’t sure if fighting off the cancer had brought on the problems with her memory, or if she would’ve been hit with it anyway. There were just no two ways about it; life could be extremely cruel. “Give us the news,” her father said. “Hurry before her show comes back. We’re not allowed to talk during Days of Our Lives.”
“Jake won an all-expense-paid trip to Barcelona,” Grace said.
“Well, I’ll be,” Jim said. “How’d he do that?”
“The veterinarian group had some sort of a raffle,” Grace said. “But Jake didn’t even enter.”
“He won a raffle he didn’t even enter?”
“Dan went to one of the conferences without Jake and entered for him.” Dan was Jake’s partner at the animal hospital. He and Jake were like brothers.
“That was mighty nice of him.”
“But we feel guilty. Dan could have taken the trip himself.”
“I’m sure he filled out an entry for himself as well as Jake.”
“And Jake won. Seems fair to me.”
“But we would be leaving Dan to run the clinic all by himself, and he’d even have to watch Stella.” Stella was the best English bulldog a couple could ever ask for. If she could, Grace would take Stella to Spain. Stella was a hit wherever they went due to her prowess on a skateboard.
“Well, isn’t that special.” Jim slapped his knee. “Jody did you hear that? Gracie and Jake won a trip to Spain.”
He had entirely missed the point that they felt guilty that Dan would be getting the short end of the stick. It made her wonder how often he misunderstood his patients.
“That’s wonderful, dear,” Jody said. Her eyes traveled back to the television.
“I’m not going,” Grace said.
“What do you mean?” her father said.
“There’s a catch.” There always was.
“You have to pay for your hotel?”
“No, it’s all paid for.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“The dates are set in stone. We’d have to go at the end of next week.”
“It’s a ten-day trip. I don’t want to leave Mom for that long.”
“Nonsense,” her father said. “You have to go.”
“I’d be gone for my birthday.”
The soap opera was back. Jody snatched up the remote and aimed it at the television like she was holding it up at gunpoint.
Grace’s father patted her knee. “We’ll celebrate with you when you get back, kiddo. Take it from me, kiddo—life’s too short not to take free trips.” Jody glared at Jim and pressed on the volume until it was almost deafening. A few seconds later, there was a series of soft knocks on the wall behind her bed.
“Sorry, Mrs. Maple,” her father called out. “You have to turn it down, dear.”
“That old bitch,” her mother said. In all Grace’s years growing up, with all the strange boys tearing through the house, and fighting, and even through the whole Carrie Ann ordeal, Grace had never heard her mother curse, let alone direct it at somebody. Jody turned the volume down a smidge and pointed at the television. “He’s the one I like,” she exclaimed. There was a tall man, visible only in silhouette behind a flimsy shower curtain. “They think he’s Flo’s long-lost brother, but actually he’s just escaped from prison where he was convicted of murdering his second wife. Or is it his third? I can’t remember. Second or third wife, take your pick. It’ll come to me. Darn tootin’ he’s totally innocent, but I know that Flo. She’s going to be sniffing around his tight buns like a hound dog short of a bone. Second. Definitely second wife.”
Grace and her father looked at the television. The naked man stepped out of the shower, surrounded by steam. All you could see were his six-pack abs and bulging biceps. Grace supposed they wanted you to imagine something else bulging. This was definitely soft-core porn for women. Tan, and slick, and ripped, and glistening, he didn’t seem to be in any hurry to pick up a towel. He walked up to the bathroom mirror, reached up, and wiped away the condensation. Soon, his gorgeous face came into view. Grace had to stifle a laugh as he began to touch his cheekbones like a blind man trying to see what he looked like. “Isn’t it awful?” Jody said. “Pretending to be someone else? When all he wants to do is search for his wife’s real killer.”
Grace raised an eyebrow at her father. He looked down at his stomach, and in doing so dripped a thick glob of ketchup onto his fraying cardigan. “Didn’t even look like that when we got married,” Jim said.
“I think he must have had plastic surgery after his prison break,” Jody continued. “That’s why he doesn’t recognize himself!”
Jim Sawyer watched his wife with a smile and a shake of the head. “You wouldn’t leave her for ten days,” Grace said to her father.
“They sure did a pretty good job on him though, don’t you think?” Jody said. Based on where her mother was looking you’d think he’d had plastic surgery on his crotch.
“If Jake wants some old man tripping along with him, just say the word and I’ll pack my bags,” Jim said.
Jody glanced at Jim. He winked at her. She smiled back. Then she turned a smile on Grace. It was actually the first genuine smile Grace had seen out of her mother in a week. “You have to go, Carrie Ann.”
Carrie Ann. The words felt like two gunshots to the chest. Just hearing that name come out of her mother’s mouth made Grace’s heart start tripping. She almost shot out of her chair. “I’m Grace,” she said. “Gracie Ann.” Her voice cracked. “Dad?” she said.
“She’s confused, honey. The past and the present, it’s just one big, ugly glob.” Pinpricks of shame began forming at the base of Grace’s spine.
“I’m not confused,” Jody said. “Carrie Ann came to visit me.”
“My God,” Grace said. This time she did shoot out of her chair. Carrie Ann was the only girl foster child the Sawyers had ever taken in. At first she had been like a sister to Grace.
“Who is she married to now?” Jody said. “I can’t remember.”
“Pay no attention to her, Gracie,” Jim said.
“Why can’t I remember?” Jody pressed on her temples with her index fingers, as if she could squeeze the memory out of her head.
Grace took a step toward her mother. “When did she come and visit you, Mom?”
“Grace, I told you she didn’t,” Jim said. “Don’t egg your mother on.”
“I’m not egging her on, Dad, but if Carrie Ann was here, I want to know about it.”
Her father whacked his newspaper on the side of his chair. “I told you she wasn’t! And I should know. I’ve been sitting right here!”
“She’s still such a pretty girl,” Jody said. “She asked about you, Grace. She asked me all sorts of questions about you.”
Jim got up and threw up his arms. “She’s out of her mind!” He began to pace.
“Dad,” Grace said. “Hush.” Her mother suddenly became very still, which meant she was listening. Grace took her father by his arm and led him back to his chair.
“I’m sorry. She won’t remember me saying it.”
“That’s not the point.”
“I can’t help it. Carrie Ann this; Carrie Ann that. I thought we’d put that nuisance behind us for once and for all. Is this what it comes to? Reliving your worst nightmare?”
“I’ve never heard you speak so harshly about Carrie Ann,” Grace said. Her mom was the one who used to say the worst things about Carrie Ann. She said Carrie Ann was evil. She said Carrie Ann was a curse that would follow all of them to their graves. Once she had even said there wasn’t enough Lysol in the world to get rid of that stain. And each insult had cut into Grace like her mother was saying it about her. Her sister. Of sorts. Her own Dickens-like drama. Carrie Ann was the best thing that had ever happened to Grace, and she was the worst. She’d been out of their lives for nearly fifteen years. And Grace had spent every one of them trying, and failing, to put the past behind her. She turned to her father.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
“That Mom’s been talking about her.”
“Because I don’t want to dredge up all that nonsense. It’s her damn medication. I keep telling the doctor it’s making her worse, and he won’t listen to me.” Her father slammed his fist on the arm of the chair. “These people think just because we’re old that we’re stupid. She wouldn’t be so forgetful if she cut down on some of those pills. How do I know that? Because she’s my wife. Because I’ve been married to this woman for forty-four years. You know what he said to me?”
“That snot-nosed doctor, that’s who!”
“What did he say?”
“Put me in my place. In front of my wife. ‘You’re a psychotherapist, correct? Not a psychiatrist? You don’t prescribe medication?’ That’s what the snot-nosed so-called doctor actually said to me. Can you believe that? Some twenty-year-old who just started wiping his own ass. I’m telling you she’s on too many pills! Makes her soupy. He won’t listen to me!”
“It’s okay, Dad. Calm down. It’s okay.”
“I can’t bear hearing her talk about Carrie Ann. Your mother’s the one who told us never to mention Carrie Ann’s name again.”
Forbid us. Forbid us to ever mention her name again. “I know, Dad. I’ll talk to the doctor. Calm down.”
“I always wanted to go to Spain,” Jody said. She turned off the television and patted the side of the bed. So she’d heard and understood the conversation. God, the brain was a mysterious thing.
Grace went over and sat down. “You never told me that.”
“I would hardly share that with a stranger.”
I’m your daughter! She wanted to shout. But her mother couldn’t help it.
“Just keep talking,” her father said. “At least she’s not dredging up ghosts, or drooling over naked stud muffins.”
And now Grace couldn’t believe her father had just said “naked stud muffins.” Maybe getting away for a bit wasn’t such a bad idea. Grace turned back to her mother. “Why did you always want to go to Spain?”
“My mother went to Spain. All by herself. When she was in her seventies.”
“I know,” Grace said. It had been just after Grace’s grandfather had died. Her grandparents were supposed to take the trip together. Everyone thought Annette Jennings would cancel the trip. Instead, she buried her husband and packed her bags. Little Annette who had never been outside of her home state. Grace had had many conversations with her grandmother about that trip. She was proud of her too.
“It was really something,” Jim said. “Because in those days seventy wasn’t the new fifty or whatever the kids say today. Seventy was seventy.”
“Tell me about it,” Grace said.
Jody Sawyer straightened up, and her eyes seemed to take in more light. “Well, it’s not like it is now. Women didn’t travel alone back then. Wasn’t that brave? My mother sent me a postcard from Madrid of a beautiful tango dancer in a red dress. The dress was made of actual material—beautiful red silk right on the postcard. I’ll never forget it. She’d only written one sentence on the back. ‘Robert would’ve loved the landing.’ My father was very picking with landings and always impressed when the pilot pulled off a smooth one. Anyway. As soon as I got that postcard I knew my mother was going to be all right. ‘Robert would have loved the landing.’ After she died I spent hours just touching that silky red dress with the tips of my fingers and imagining my mother dancing in the streets of Spain.”
Jody Sawyer looked up and swayed her upper body slightly as if watching her faraway self dance. Then she looked down at her hands, twisting the bed sheet. “Look how ugly and wrinkled I am now.”
“You’re not ugly and wrinkled, Mom. You’re beautiful.”
“I wish I had that postcard now.” Her mother looked up into space. “I lost it.”
Grace hesitated. Did she, or didn’t she? Grace opened the bedside drawer and took out the postcard. Her mother was right. The dress was silky. Grace handed it to her mother and watched her eyes light up. Next her mother gently outlined the edge of the dancer’s dress with the trembling tip of her right index finger. Her fingernail was misshapen, the peach paint flaking. Grace would have to see if they could bring in a manicurist.
Jody looked at Grace, her eyes clear and bright. “Gracie Ann you have to go. Film everything. I’m dying to see Barcelona through you.” Grace must have looked stricken, for her mother laughed and then put her hand over her heart. “Sorry, no pun intended.” Like antennas being manipulated for a clearer signal, sometimes her mother tuned in perfectly. Jody Sawyer laughed again, and Grace couldn’t help but laugh with her.
“Make me feel like I’m there,” Jody said, closing her eyes. “Help me shut out this hospice. Let me see beautiful Barcelona.” She took Grace’s hand and held it. “Do it for me. I’ll feel like I’m with you. Bring a camera. And your guitar,” she added. “You never know.” When Grace still didn’t answer, her mother opened her eyes, and lifted Grace’s chin up with her hand like she used to do when Grace was a child. “Be brave, Gracie Ann. Just like my mother.”
“Like my mother too,” Grace whispered back.
Purchase at AMAZON
With her powers growing every day, fourteen-year-old Haylwen Rightad thinks she’s safe in the magical forest. And now that she finally has the friends she always wanted, what is there to be afraid of?
But she’s not out of the woods yet. Old enemies rip through her beloved forest, threatening to haul Haylwen and her newfound friends away. Their safety shattered, Haylwen and her friends are suddenly at each other’s throats. Is the friendship she worked so hard for already ruined, or is there another, unseen enemy at work?
Haylwen and her brother must unmask this mysterious enemy before they can fight it off. But even if all their enemies are destroyed, the King of the magic users will stop at nothing to ensure he’s still in power when the dragons take over the world. And he’s hidden an enemy where Haylwen would never think to look.
If no one is what they seem, who can she trust?
Haylwen, Cadarn, the twins, and Nacia sat in a circle in the open grassy area where they usually met for martial arts practice. They used it for everything now. Today they were practicing sign language. It was quiet, only occasionally broken by a few words, if Cadarn asked a question.
Haylwen took a break and leaned back against the large oak behind her. Surrounded by the trees, the magical trees that somehow kept them safe from the monsters that chased them, she relaxed, hearing the birds and breeze through the leaves above her. Without trying, almost by reflex, she felt the energy of magic. She had been reading and practicing so much, the light leaped to her inner sight without effort. She could see clearly the light surrounding her, and her own bright and strong inner ball of light sitting in her chest.
She let her ball of internal energy grow and felt a tug. For a moment, she felt there were other places in her body where energy would form! She excitedly wondered if they might let her do more with magic. Does Cadarn or my father know? Maybe one of the books? She didn’t wait to ask.
She found one at her throat, touched another really big one at her head. Maybe it was more than one? She focused. Ok, there was the first one in my chest, one in my belly, and at least another one below that. She compared them and felt lines, strings maybe, connecting them. Haylwen suddenly realized they weren’t balls, but were more like pools of energy, with streams flowing back and forth between the pools. She looked at their pulsing movement, growing and shrinking. In another exciting realization, she saw them as tide pools being fed by the ocean of light all around her. They’re all connected!
Then she felt another one, a bigger one, just out of reach beyond her head. She imagined her top pool sending a little stream toward where she felt this other pool. She strained, but it slipped away. She relaxed, and it came closer. She let the stream wander its own way, which just happened to be toward the bigger pool. They touched.
Suddenly, she was swept along in a river. Her little stream grew in an instant, swallowing her in a flash flood. Terror twisted her stomach, but before she could even open her eyes, she stopped. She blinked. Or, at least, she thought she did. Am I awake or dreaming? Or finally gone completely crazy?
She stood on a small island, surrounded by a stream. The stream’s giggles whispered around her as it danced along its rocky bed. Other islands surrounded hers, with swift streams making their way along them, a network of water and earth. Each island had a single tree on it. Her island had a tall oak, and she could swear it was the same one she had been leaning against. She took the several steps to the water’s edge and looked into the rapidly moving water. Though it was running quickly, the water was so clear she could see sparkling stones on the bottom.
“Welcome!” a voice said from behind her.
Haylwen spun and saw an old man standing there, his arms crossed, smiling through his beard. His hair was long, dark brown, and snarled, but in such a pattern as to seem intentional. He wore a long robe of coarse fabric, shaded in browns. His eyes were amazingly bright green and shone in contrast against his brown skin. He stood right where the oak had been, the great tree that was now gone.
“Again we felt. You come.” He spoke so slowly, Haylwen initially thought of saying something during the pauses after his sentences. “Welcome. Haylwen. Quickling child.” She eventually figured out his sentences were all one.
Haylwen didn’t mind waiting, as there was so much going on in her…what she felt coming in from around her. She felt as if she were immersed in energy, in magic. Everything had a background shimmer, as if she could see the energy of the air reflecting and bouncing off the energy of the land and water. The energy carried a chorus of music, perfectly harmonious together, though each was a full symphony by itself. Haylwen caught a part of the tune, a catchy, simple melody that sounded familiar. She was barely aware of a tiny note of wrongness that was somewhere close, but Haylwen lost it in the wonder.
When the old man had not spoken for some time, Haylwen replied, “Where am I?”
He gave a breezy laugh. “You are. Where you were. And still are.”
“Huh? Um, let’s start over. How do you know my name?”
The old man blinked, shook his head slowly. Haylwen felt herself slow down, or everything else speed up, as the old man muttered something about time and quicklings. Either way, suddenly his speech didn’t seem slow.
He said, “You told me your name.” He didn’t seem to be kidding.
Haylwen tried again. “Who are you?”
“I am who I was.” He looked briefly confused, then brightened. “But, of course! For the you-now this is the first.” He made an odd sort of bow, a swaying from the waist. “I am Barandarus, the youngest of the elders, the speaker for the grove.”
A flash made Haylwen look around. On the other islands, where the other trees had stood, now stood men and women, wearing similarly-styled robes. They silently watched.
Haylwen tried again. “What is this place?” She tried not to think she was just hallucinating. A dream, that’s all.
Again, the breezy laugh, which seemed to echo as it spread among the other people. “This is no place, quickling. This is the energy of the grove. You might even call it the mind of the grove,” he said, looking around. “Your energy, my energy,” he continued, waving his hand at the others, “hers and his and hers, all of their energy, vibrating in resonance, in concert. Energy, mind, all as one.”
“Why did you bring me here?”
He shook his head, still smiling. “We do not bring. The way was there, the door to open, and you brought. Why did you bring you here?” After a pause, he continued with a wink. “Perhaps it is guidance you seek from the grove?”
Was that a hint? “What sort of guidance might I want?”
The old man smiled and gave another of his wavy bows. “You told us, or will tell us, this would be the way, but still.” He smiled with a slow head shake. “Curious quicklings, so full of energy, without perspective.” He stood a bit differently. “You said to be sure I will tell you three.” He held up one finger. “One. Remember Rivenwake.”
Haylwen’s eyes widened. Remember Rivenwake? She echoed it in her mind, memories flashing past. Her one real-life meeting with him was a blur of embarrassed stammering as she’d tried to seem normal in the face of his fathomless eyes and too-cute face. Or, could he be talking about her dream of him, running from a horde of assassins and her first kiss, heart-pounding nightmare and romantic fantasy all in one? She couldn’t forget him, despite all her trying.
A thrumming started, and Barandarus blinked. “Nothing save trouble,” he muttered. He flicked a second finger up. “Two. Find Faustas.”
Why did that name sound familiar…? Oh! The mustachioed king from her book on the history of magic! Find Faustas the Traitor?
“He’s dead!” Haylwen blurted.
Barandarus shook his head. “Of course not. Though, it has been a while, even for us.”
A moan interrupted. Low and quiet, like someone in the distance was injured. Barandarus winced and then grimaced as more moans joined, changing voices, coming closer. He shook his head, eyes unfocused. A scream broke his look, and he fixed his gaze on her intently.
“Child, there is damage come to the grove,” he said with energy beyond the volume of his words, “and darkness carried in it. We feel it comes for you. We will do what we can, but they were invited, in a way. You are needed to protect yourselves, ourselves. Go, please go.”
Looking in Barandarus’ eyes, Haylwen could feel his pain. For a second, she knew him, trusted him. She felt a pulling, as if someone had opened a door on a storm.
“Wait, what is the third?” she blurted, fighting the pulling sensation.
“Clearing come. Now go!” Barandarus shouted.
Haylwen let herself slide into the opening, back along the same way she’d come. She blinked and was back in the clearing, sitting just as she had been. She jumped up, the others watching her curiously.
“What’s up, Hayl?” Cadarn asked.
“There is damage and darkness coming to the grove,” she shot out. She blushed slightly, trying not to notice Cadarn’s look. “We should get back to the house.”
She quickly grabbed her pack and went to the edge of the clearing to stand looking toward the main house. The others were slowly gathering their things, except for Oakren. He had grabbed all his things, stepped up almost in front of her, and made a few gestures in sign language. Haylwen shook her head, not understanding. He was deaf, but she felt dumb.
Nacia was leading the others out, and Oakren gestured to her and then Haylwen.
“What?” Nacia said. “You want me to say what? You heard the trees and want to talk to them next time?”
Haylwen looked sharply at Oakren, surprised. Oakren nodded to himself and smiled. He made a few more gestures.
Nacia sighed. “He says he wants you to bring him next time.” She shook her head and said under her breath, “I know he has a crush on you, but honestly.”
Haylwen heard a crash, the distant sound of breaking wood. She started walking, and then heard the sound of a chainsaw. She picked up the pace. Nacia was gesturing to the twins, who looked confused, then angry. They started running, sprinting past Haylwen. By the time Haylwen got to the farmhouse, the boys were standing next to Feabee on the porch, the three of them looking like thunderclouds.
Nacia ran over to stand with her mother, Topaz, just inside the door. They looked so much alike, one just an older version of the other, a mirror through time. Haylwen drifted to stand by her parents off to the side, while Cadarn stood by himself to the side of the porch. Everyone was looking down the path, to where the sounds of crashing branches and large motors were gradually coming closer. Feabee made an occasional gesture to the twins to let them know what the rest were hearing.
Haylwen blanched at a particularly loud crash, wincing. Her father looked at her questioningly. “They are trying to help, and it is hurting them,” Haylwen whispered. Her father held his questioning look for a moment. His eyes popped wide and suddenly narrowed as he heard what she’d said. He looked into the forest briefly and then turned and started to say something to Haylwen.
He was drowned out as a large, olive-green truck crashed through the last of the branches, leaves and twigs caught in its grille and hanging from the roof rack. It looked like some savage beast, a destroyer of trees. It revved its engine and then growled its way up the slope to stop halfway up. It backed off the dirt road onto the grass as a shiny black SUV quietly rolled out from the mangled tunnel of trees. After the SUV passed it, the truck threw itself in a roaring spin that threw chunks of green and mud behind it to block the road out. It sat there, engine still growling. The smell of diesel rolled up to the house.
The SUV pulled off the road and drove across the rolling lawn, leaving crushed grass in its wake. It stopped with the passenger side at the very edge of the farmhouse porch. The passenger door opened and a tall man in a charcoal suit stepped out, directly onto the porch.
With his blond hair chopped short, it took Haylwen a moment to recognize him. “Mr. Johansen,” she whispered, clutching her father and sliding behind him. Her ex-principal was here? A wave of fear washed over her, carrying memories of when he had grabbed her—the feel of his hands on her neck, the chemical smell of his car as he’d stuffed her in.
“You have nothing to fear from him,” her father said in a quiet, but stern, voice, tension rolling off of him.
Haylwen’s mother, Crystyn, leaned over, turning to look Haylwen in the eye. “He will never touch you again, I promise.” Crystyn stood, taking a couple of firm steps to stand a bit ahead of Haylwen and her father. Abrennin twitched away as Crystyn moved past him, like he had gotten a shock. He gave her a brief look of surprise and confusion, but she wasn’t paying attention.
“May I help you?” Feabee said. “You realize this is private property.”
Mr. Johansen took a step toward Feabee, a reddish hue seeping from him. Haylwen’s guts clenched. He was going to use magic to hurt Feabee!
Abrennin whispered something and then choked. Haylwen’s stomach twisted more, realizing what her father’s choking meant. With me and Cadarn here, our parents’ Oath is in effect. Mom and Dad can’t use magic. Her parents might protect her from a physical attack, but what about a magical one?
Feabee shot Abrennin a wide-eyed look and he nodded once. She blinked, then her jaw muscles jumped as a green glow slipped around her. Haylwen squeezed her father’s hand, a question. He smiled thinly and squeezed back. Of course, Feabee could use magic!
“I have information that you are willfully transgressing against federal law,” Mr. Johansen said. Haylwen gave a little gasp as a red arc shot from Mr. Johansen, a striking snake, to bounce off Feabee’s green shield. “You are harboring fugitives, aiding and abetting criminals.” Another red snake slithered along the ground, trying to work its way under Feabee’s shield.
Feabee shook her head with a smile.
“You think truancy laws are less important than any other?” Mr. Johansen said loudly, standing a bit taller. “We must make sure the children of society are safe.”
“My paperwork is in order and has not expired,” she said.
“Perhaps, but it only lists three students,” he sneered.
Haylwen looked over to Cadarn, sharing the look of guilt and fear that this was about them. Haylwen felt her fear twist into anger. Feabee, Nacia, and the twins were going to get in trouble because of her! She looked up at her father, who just held her hand and shook his head slightly.
“Actually, I submitted updated paperwork, which was received two days ago,” Feabee replied.
“And I was sent to confirm the information was accurate. We have the right to do an inspection for classes equal to, or larger than, five,” he said.
“There is no such law,” Feabee retorted, eyes narrowing.
“Law? Oh, I guess you didn’t see the express invitation to an inspection on the forms you completed?” he sneered. His red bubble pulsed. Several snakes struck as he said, “The forms you signed authorized the right of inspection with acceptance. We must make sure there is actual learning, to prevent child neglect.”
Feabee threw apologetic looks at Haylwen’s parents. “Invitation? I didn’t see…” Her green shield was weakening under the repeated attacks.
“You understand that the neglect laws include all students, correct?” The red intensified, and the attacking snakes grew in number. “Under the child abuse and neglect statutes, we have the authority to take all of the children into custody immediately,” Mr. Johansen said.
Haylwen watched as the green glow started to show tiny spots of black, gaps in the shield. Two more red snakes quickly shot out from Mr. Johansen, squirming against the black spots, trying to force their way in. Feabee looked resigned, trapped. Haylwen felt her father try to say something, but he tensed and choked.
“You have no authority here.” Haylwen gave a small gasp, hearing her mother’s voice with such power. “You will take your polluting trucks and leave immediately.” Crystyn stalked across the porch to stand ahead and to the side of Feabee, making Mr. Johansen shift to face her. Haylwen glanced up at her father, who was breathing easier. His face was an odd combination of confused and proud.
Mr. Johansen looked over Crystyn’s head, following where she had come from to see Haylwen and Abrennin standing there. He gave a little smirk, a twisted look of revenge.
“Ah, Mrs. Rightad. I see where your vandalizing daughter gets it.” Several thick red snakes slowly approached her mother. “If I leave, it will be with your truant children…”
A white glow erupted around Haylwen’s mother. Haylwen squinted, slightly blinded as the white glow around her mother flared even brighter, engulfing the snakes, obliterating them.
“You will leave with nothing,” her mother said in a tone that sent shivers down Haylwen’s spine. Her mother had locked eyes with Mr. Johansen. Though he was at least a foot taller, he seemed to shrink with each passing moment, while Haylwen’s mother seemed to grow. The white glow increased in intensity and size, washing like waves against the receding red of Mr. Johansen. “If you ever come close to either of my children again—”
“I did nothing, I have witnesses,” Mr. Johansen interrupted, momentarily straightening, the red pushing against the waves.
The white flared again, and Mr. Johansen took a step back. He had only the slightest hint of red around him now, flickering.
“You have nothing to withstand a mother protecting her child,” Haylwen heard her mother say, as another blinding flare of white pulsed out. Mr. Johansen took another step back, stumbling, withering even more under her fierce gaze.
Crystyn pointed her finger toward the SUV as another pulse of the white light washed over Mr. Johansen. “You and your agent’s invitations are revoked!” Haylwen’s mother nudged Feabee, who nodded once.
Mr. Johansen slid backward down the stairs, banging into the SUV, scrambling to open the door and get inside before being sucked away. He slammed the door closed, and the SUV’s idling engine roared, tires spitting grass and dirt in every direction. Everyone was pelted, but Haylwen noticed not a fleck hit her mother.
The SUV bounced down the hill as the olive-green truck tore out of the way. The black SUV disappeared into the tunnel as the truck spun around, engine roaring, tires clawing the ground, making a new set of wounds in the grassy field. A cold shiver crawled up Haylwen’s legs, tightening around her throat, as she looked at the ruined lawn. Even after the smell of exhaust had drifted away, the wounds were mocking proof they weren’t safe. It was only a matter of time.
PAUL DeBLASSIE III, PhD, is a psychologist and writer living in his native New Mexico. A member of the Depth Psychology Alliance, the Transpersonal Psychology Association, and the International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, he has for over thirty years treated survivors of the dark side of religion.
His latest book is the psychological/paranormal thriller, The Unholy.
About the Book:
A young curandera, a medicine woman, intent on uncovering the secrets of her past is forced into a life-and-death battle against an evil Archbishop. Set in the mystic land of Aztlan, “The Unholy” is a novel of destiny as healer and slayer. Native lore of dreams and visions, shape changing, and natural magic work to spin a neo-gothic web in which sadness and mystery lure the unsuspecting into a twilight realm of discovery and decision.
Purchase your copy:
Thanks for this interview, Paul. I love psychological paranormal thrillers! Can you give us a little background behind The Untholy?
The story comes out of over thirty years of treating patients in psychotherapy who are survivors of the dark side of religion…have been used and abused and cast to the side. I’ve seen that when this happens people, those around the victim, to include family and friends, often turn a blind eye and deny what has happened. Rather than writing a self help book I decided to approach this realm of human suffering in fiction. To tell a story moves the reader into a deep and unconscious dimension that bypasses conscious defenses, leaving us open to truths that otherwise would be blocked. So, dramatizing the dark side of religion, pulling what can be the most vile and evil, and pivoting it against an innocent and sincerely searching soul leaves the reader on edge, hopeful, but unsure as to what will happen and who in the end will survive…a truth conveyed symbolically and dramatically. To have written out a list of what to do or not to do in the midst of religious abuse might have helped some individuals, but would have left many people stone cold because there is no emotion is such guidance. In The Unholy, the story is pure emotion, fear and rage and hope and challenge, that inspires and frightens and causes us to stay up late at night in order to finish the story. Dream and chronic nightmares plagues people who’ve gone through the horror of being abused within a religious system. It could be emotional, spiritual, physical, or sexual torment—or all of the above—a true encounter with the unholy—that people undergo during childhood or adolescence or adulthood. They become anxious, depressed, or suffer a terrible emotional breakdown. I’ve treated them, helped them, and they helped to inspire the story of The Unholy!
You are such a busy person. How do you balance everything and write, too?
It’s a matter of listening to the energy coming from self, family, and friends so that nothing tips more one way than the other and the creative juices stay flowing rather than being depleted by excessive writing and are therefore constantly in a state of being replenished. I had a music teacher who once told me to practice or play up to the point that I feel bored, that the energy for it has been spent, and then to stop for the day. That’s what I do with writing. I stay with it, hit the page running each day, and go for as long and with as much intensity as I have for the scene that I’m writing. Then, I stop. And, if I don’t stop I’ll have nightmare that night that I’m being seduced and used by the muse and that such a thing could lead to utter ruination. There are horror stories about this. Writers in the stories feel the tug to write, the muse senses that someone is taking the bait and then the writer is hooked and reeled in. So, if I let myself be hooked and reeled in then I lose my balance. There is something to being hooked and reeled of course, but the true and balanced thing of it happens when it comes from a hook and a reeling that is my own and not one that causes me to be possessed by something other than my own common sense. After all, what matters is the living of life, and living a good one to the best of one’s ability, writing only a part of that.
Where do you get ideas from?
Ideas come from the deep repository of the collective unconscious mind that inspires images and symbols during the fantasies of waking life and during dreams and nightmares. Mainly, it’s the nightmare stuff that bodes best for writing psychological thrillers and dark fantasy such as is in The Unholy. When I wake up in a cold sweat with the characters of the novels threatening me (I remember when Archbishop William Anarch, sinister prelate in The Unholy tormented me for nights on end, demanding that I not write the story) that’s when I know that real inspiration is flowing and that to listen to it and follow the images and symbols that emerge from my deep, unconscious mind during sleep and during the reverie of writing the story will end up in the development of spine tingling realities that jettison both me as the writer and the reader into phantasmagoric realms that have a way of shaking up conscious mindsets and get our heads blown out in a very, very unsettling but ultimately useful way. My writing, in other words, comes from an inner place of torment that needs to be let out so it can be set right. When mind stuff is set right inside me I can feel it by sensing a quality of being at peace, that I’ve written to the best of my ability and been true to the deep, archetypal energies swirling through my mind during the narrative. It really is a trip to listen to ideas, let them become images, and suddenly have them take over a page. It’s like the pages catch fire and everyone has come to life and things become disorderly, fraught with conflict, and danger looms.
A well-known Century City Producer once said that Jo Sparkes “…writes some of the best dialogue I’ve read.” Her body of work includes scripts for Children’s live-action and animated television programs, a direct to video Children’s DVD, commercial work for corporate clients. She won the 2012 Kay Snow award for her screenplay, Frank Retrieval.
She’s written numerous articles for internet sites. As a member of the Pro Football Writer’s Association, she was a contributing writer for the Arizona Sports Fans Network, where she was known for her humorous articles, player interviews and game coverage. Jo was unofficially the first to interview Emmitt Smith when he arrived in Arizona to play for the Cardinals.
She served as an adjunct teacher at the Film School at Scottsdale Community College, and wrote “Feedback How to Give It How to Get It” for writers, actors, and other artists.
Her latest book is the fantasy, The Agben School.
For More Information
- Visit Jo Sparkes’ website.
- Connect with Jo on Twitter and Facebook.
- Become Jo’s friend at Goodreads.
- Visit Jo’s blog.
- More books by Jo Sparkes.
- Contact Jo Sparkes.
About the Book:
Agben had stood for a thousand years. A mysterious school housing more than students, it was the seat of the powerful Women of Agben, and the center for harnessing the potency of herbs. Few knew all that transpired within the walls.
And now Marra stood at its gate.
Friends and support stripped from her, the fragile life she’d built for herself now lay in tatters. And the source of this evil hunted her like a deer culled from the herd.
The gateway before her was her only hope.
For as the city itself crumbled, all depended not on a prince trying to save his people, nor the valiant men who’d brought them this far.
Everything depended on finding a magic powder in the vaults of Agben itself.
Everything depended on her.
For More Information
- The Agben School is available at Amazon.
- Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
- Read Chapter One here.
What made you decide to become a published author?
Writing, I honestly believe, is almost an addiction. Ultimately I’m not sure I had any real choice.
If I don’t get my proper writing time allotted, if I don’t reach a satisfying point that morning, the entire day feels lost to me. I’m never quite happy.
When I do hit that point, there’s a deep, satisfying feeling. All day long, no matter what happens, I’m content. As if the really important thing is done, so nothing else matters.
Would you consider your latest book, The Agben School, to be a one of a kind? How so?
The Agben School is the second in a trilogy – and yes, the story is a bit unique. I wanted to capture the essence of a true athlete – the competition, the heroism, the sheer thrill of trying for your goal. And discover how that same drive translates to the warrior world as well.
Where is your writing sanctuary?
I have a home in the trees. We live on the second floor, and all we see out the windows is forest. Kind of like Rivendell – without the pointed ears.
What do you believe a writer should not do as far as getting his or her book published?
Don’t sell yourself out.
Writing is an art. It’s creating, sharing a vision, a story. Just be sure that when you hand that story off to others, you’re proud to put your name on it.
If you get into writing solely for the money – well, damn! You are in for one heckuva surprise.
What inspires you?
People. Normal, regular humans doing extraordinary things. A homeless guy returning cash he’d found. A passerby leaping into freezing water to try to rescue an airplane victim.
That choice life sometimes offers, to keep going with your regularly scheduled day, or impulsively leap off a cliff into the unknown.
You’re concocting a recipe for a best selling book. What’s the first ingredient?
For me, it’s the people in it. The characters.
My first writing teacher said that a dam breaking or a volcano erupting is just a documentary. What brings it alive, makes it real, is the people in the story. They’re the connect for the rest of humanity. Who were they, how did they get there? And what did they do?
A story’s events are the roller coaster tracks, if you will. They lay the path of the ride. But the cart – the other half – is the characters. If your readers don’t want to ride along, your brilliant tracks are worthless.
What’s one fun fact about your book people should know?
I’ve been researching herbs, such as Marra uses, with a Chinese expert. And learning quite a lot!
Did any real life experiences find their way into your book?
A few. As odd as it sounds, the self-defense that Tryst teaches Marra is all from Chinese Kenpo karate. There was a time when I actually taught that.