Thursday, 5 November 2015

News from the writer’s desk: Waiting...

The local postman (or perhaps I should say postperson?) may have been a little unnerved by my prowling around the letter boxes this week.

The reason? 
Well it’s two-fold, and it's down to my dual addictions of words and hot beverages. While one might be said to fuel to other,  the connection may not be that obvious, so I guess I have to explain. 

You may recall I was a weekly winner in the recent AuthorTrope ‘I Made The Darkness’ Hollween writing contest, and was shortlisted for the overall prize? 
Well, the new month brought the news ( that the votes were in and my story ‘Guilt Trip’ had finished as the third place winner. Yay! That means I’m set to receive a specialised coffee (or tea) mug. It’s coming from the States so it may take a while, but I can’t wait to sip my first cuppa from it – and it WILL be strictly off bounds to all others in the house. 

It may not sound like much to you but, hey, it’s the little things, right?

You can listen to all the shortlisted stories at the AuthorTrope YouTube channel

Meanwhile, big congratulations Kevin Grover and Rachel Fox, who won the 1st and 2nd places with their stories “Googleman” and “The Exchange”. Coincidentally, we’re all Brits (even though I’m transplanted) and we are all collaborating on a new anthology of spooky stories due out early next month. 

And, speaking of collaborations, Kevin and Rachel are also featured authors in the creepy collection of stories, “Grim Keepers” which is the second reason I’ve been stalking the humble servant of the Greek postal service. 

I’ve ordered my hard copies from and I’m just waiting, waiting, waiting to hold it between my fingers and whisper “My precious”...  
If you’d like to order too, you can get the book half price by quoting the Discount Code BEN9RZY2

It's also available to donwload as a free e-book at  

Now all I need is a barrel full of patience whilst I wait for books and mug to wing their way across the Atlantic to Greece. 

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Around the Cauldron - "Into the Woods" by guest storyteller Virginia Carraway Stark

This is how it happened, that I ended up in that strange place, that strange forest where nothing was as it seemed.

I was only sixteen when I got lost. I guess sixteen is old enough that you should know better, but it's different when you're actually in the situation and things get weird.

It's different too when you're angry at your mother and you kind of want to make a point. She had insisted I come along for the long weekend camping trip with her and her new boyfriend. He was trying so hard to be friendly when every ounce of my being was screaming in his face, 'you aren't my dad!'. He was older than my mom by quite a bit, and he always had ferrets with him and smelled like them. He had a face a little like one of the ferrets, not exactly unattractive but with a bit of the weasel to him. Even his name sounded a little like a name for a pet and not for a man, 'Howie'. It was  so easy for my mom to sound whiny and imploring when she said it. 'Can't you get along with Hoooowwie?', 'Howwwwie makes the best roast chicken.'. Ugh, every word of praise she heaped on him made him even more distasteful to me, but ultimately, it was the ferrets I couldn't get over, that musky smell that pervaded everything he owned and started to seep into my mother's clothing.

“Let's go out on the lake, I'll teach you how to fish.”

“I already know how to fish, my Dad taught me.” I said, emphasizing the word 'Dad' and then wincing. It sounded meaner than it had in my head. He looked at me with his sorrowful, basset hound eyes and I slumped and took the fishing rod from him.

We caught several rainbow trout and went back and fried them up in a pan. My mom was excited and Howie was showing my how to gut the fish... and yes, I already knew how to do that part too. I watched him 'showing' me how to eviscerate the fish and tried to keep my temper. This was absurd, I didn't want to be condescended to no matter how well meaning he was about it. I suffered through it and ate my fish but then I announced that I was going for a walk.

“Take your brother with you.” My mom suggested.

I shook my head, “He walks too slow.”

She looked at me and then to Howie for help. I felt sick at how quickly she had turned from needing my dad's approval to needing random ferret boyfriend's approval and turned and walked away. I knew my brother was winding himself up to get upset about me leaving but I didn't care.

'Let Mom and Howwwie deal with it.' I thought, after all, he's my brother, not my son. I walked quickly down a path and into the deepest trees that I could find. I walked quickly, trying to walk out of range of the voices I heard still behind me. Finally the scrub land around the lake turned into proper tall trees and I sighed with relief and the cool and the calm that came with a coniferous forest.

I thought conifers were quieter than deciduous trees. No rustling of leaves for conifers, just solemn tall creaking as they thought their dark thoughts in the increasing shade of the forest. The forest was cool and soft after the glare of the sun off of the lake. I sat down at the feet of one of the giants and closed my eyes, letting myself feel the bark against my back, scratching me lightly through my tee-shirt. I couldn't feel the wind that moved the trees, it was almost as though they were talking without any physical stimulation to make them do so. I listened to their voices and watched the little bits of dappled sun that had fought their way to the forest floor play on the veins on the back of my hand. I think it was then that I fell asleep.

I woke up hours later to see that it was nearly dark. I was bitten by black flies and mosquitoes when I slept and felt uncomfortable. I also had to pee. I walked unnecessarily to the far side of the tree I had been sleeping against to do my thing and wiped with leaves, (not poison ivy, I could tell that stuff even in the twilight's gloom). I knew which way to go back but I was a little worried about picking out the path in the gathering dark. I had never been here before and I didn't know this forest at all. I walked for awhile before growing uncertain.

It's much harder to tell distance in the dark, and when you are starting to get scared it's even more difficult. I debated changing directions and setting out on a new course but I knew that if I wasn't already walking in circles I would for sure be if I started second guessing myself.

Darkness was falling quickly. That's more of the nature of a conifer wood. It expels the sun quickly and shadows gather even at midday. I was fighting panic and my chest was tightening. I forced myself to walk more slowly, cautiously. If I rushed in the dark and hurt myself I could be in a bad situation very quickly. Running wasn't going to get me back to the campground. I was certain by now that the forest should have shrunk back down to scrub and I should be able to hear the other campers and see firelight reflected off the lake. It was hard to tell in the dark but I was sure that the trees were at least as large as they had been, but probably larger still. I had gotten turned around and lost.

I had to stay calm. It was quiet, I was safe, I just had to keep my head until morning and everything would be alright.

I stumbled in the dark and pinwheeled my arms to keep my balance. It mostly worked, but it hadn't stopped me from getting half soaked from the small pond that I had nearly stumbled right into in the dark.  Looking closely I could see that it was reflecting a blacker black than the surrounding forest floor around it. I sat down and rung out the calves of my jeans as best as I could. At least the water didn't smell stale or swampy. It smelled like fresh air and ozone. I decided that part of keeping my head was giving up trying to find my way in the darkness and to sit down until daybreak.

The great thing about being lost in a northern forest in the summer is that the sun rises very very early. I put my back to one of the trees a little bit away from the water and focused on trying to breathe slowly. I fell asleep again and this time when I woke up it was early dawn and my stomach growled at me. I was also thirsty. I walked over to the pond and looked in it. It was very dark and I could see that it got even darker the deeper it got. I knew that that likely meant that it was rich in tannins and the good thing about tannins is that they can make water a bit safer to drink. The pond had a very small stream that ran into it, now that I was sitting and not walking I could hear it talking quietly to itself as it poured itself into the forest pool. I went down to the water and took a cautious drink. It tasted cool and delicious and I was already parched from my walk and even more from my near panic. I cupped my hands and poured as much as my hands could hold into my mouth and then forced myself to sit and see if I felt okay after.

I knew that a lot of things that live in bad water don't effect you right away, but some of them make you throw up or queasy really quick. I sat and waited.

When I decided I had waited long enough and all I felt was a deep thirst for more of the delicious water I went back to the edge of it and lie down so I could sip it up right from the edge of the water. I had lost my hair tie while I slept so I held my hair out of the water and tucked it into the neck of my shirt and drank deeply. It tasted a little bitter, almost like black tea from the pine needles and other forest offal that fell into it regularly, it also tasted delicious.

I stopped and looked up, still lying on my belly when I felt eyes watching me. Yellow eyes stared at me in the face of a large black wolf. He was panting, his mouth held open and I saw that he was trembling. He took a few steps closer to me and collapsed about four feet from the edge of the water. I pulled myself up into a cautious crouch, moving slowly. I knew a little about sick animals, enough to know that they can be far more dangerous than a healthy one. Carefully and in a crouch I edged away from the pond. I got far enough away to feel comfortable enough to stand up straight and slowly edged away. The wolf made so sign of following but his ears moved alertly, and his eyes were on me. I turned to walk away and I heard him whine.

It was the same whine my own dog would make when she was sad or lonely or hurt and I turned back before I even was aware I was doing so. I took a couple of steps towards him, waiting to see if he would tense his shoulders or make the slightest sound of a growl.

He didn't, and I walked over to him. He was still panting and up close I could see that his brilliant yellow eyes had a glaze of fear and pain on them. Feeling like I was in a dream I walked right up to him, he didn't growl and I could see now that I was close to him why he was lying down. Two wounds that I recognized at gunshots were high up on his ribs. They were matted with blood but had caked over except for a bit of dark ooze at the sides of the rough circles.  I knew that he wanted something from me, but what it was I couldn't think of until I saw him look longingly at the pool.

He was thirsty. Maybe, most likely, he was dying and he wanted a drink of water.

I reached out a hand towards him. His skin flinched and he whimpered but he put his head down on the ground. I gently touched the area near the gunshots. It radiated heat. I guessed that whoever had shot him had left him to die and now the non-lethal wounds were infected with the bullets still inside. He panted harder and whined again.

I went down to the stream and cupped my hands and brought it back to him. I held them out, wondering if he would bite my hands off even as I saw my hands going out to them, water dripping out from between them. He lapped it up, my hands were fine. His tongue had been soft and his teeth were the healthy white of an animal with a long life ahead of him. I wondered if I could do anything about the bullets. I knew that if I could get him to a vet they might be able to remove the bullets and save his life but I had no tools and no way to do any sort of surgery. I had only seen a bullet removed once, in a dog and the dog had to be sedated to keep him from biting from the pain. This was a wolf.

He looked at me with mournful eyes. I went and got him another scoop of water. He was very thirsty and most of it was spilled by his lapping tongue or my leaking hands. It wasn't enough, he was sick and thirsty and what I was able to give him wasn't enough. I reached out a cautious hand and touched his dark ear. It twitched and then sat still. I stroked the shape of his skull, the sense of terror I had had was gone and I was mesmerized by the fact that I was sitting with a wolf and he was letting me. I felt a sense of understanding with him. We were different he and I, but we were both lost. He licked at my fingers that I had left to dangle beside him. What strange nihilism had seized me that I no longer feared him?

“Do you want more water?” I was a little startled by the sound of my voice after being in silence for so long. He looked at me, his gaze was level and direct and intelligent. I wished that I knew more humans that were as honest as his gaze. I nodded at him and got him more scoops of water.

I sat down beside him, “I should probably go soon. I'm lost, I don't have any food, any way to get food and I can't stay here forever.”

He looked at me.

“I could... maybe I could find help for you... I could bring back a vet, or someone with the park... a ranger, someone might be able to help you.”

He gazed at me still.

“Don't be like that. I could bring back help, someone would care. I mean look at you, you're awesome.”

He panted, smiling at me.

“I don't know who would want to hurt you... you weren't going after something you shouldn't have were you? After a sheep or a calf or something?”

He looked at me reproachfully.

“Well, I thought I should ask. If I got help and it turned out you were in trouble somewhere I wouldn't want to bring more trouble your way.”

High above us in the pine trees a squirrel chittered angrily and a scattering of pine needles fell down into the pond. The wolf sighed.

“Do you want me to have a look at your wounds? I'm not a doctor, or anything like a doctor, but maybe I can look at it and it's not as bad as it seems.”

I swear he understood me. He put his head down and his back was more accessible to me. I looked at the shots, it was bad but maybe not as bad as I thought. It looked like the gun had only been a .22 and I could see a glint of metal when I moved his skin around. I washed my hands in the pond.

“I'm going to see if I can get those out, even if I can get one out it might hurt a bit less. Is that what you want me to do? It could hurt a lot when I try to dig around and I don't have any soap.”

His tail thudded gently in a wag on the forest floor and he kept his head down. I put my fingers into the wounds without thinking about whether it was safe or clean or anything else. He whined but stayed still as I chased the bullet with my fingers. I pulled it out carefully and slowly and then went after the next one.

After closely examining him I decided that he didn't have more than three stuck in him. The other two wounds looked like glancing blows. When I had pulled out the third one he started to bleed quite a bit. I pulled off my t-shirt and pushed it against the wound hard and the bleeding stopped after a few minutes. The wolf didn't say a word to me, but this is what I knew to be true.

He had come here from a far away place. This forest was not his home although this pond was the same in this world as it had been in his and was the reason why he had come here. He had gotten lost in this place, mistaking it at first for his own place and had returned to the pond as the last spot he had been sure was his home.

He had given up, wounded and lost but had found the pond with his last strength and by some miracle I had been here too. His name was Loberius and in his world he was the King of the Wood.

“Loberius.” I said softly. He raised his head in surprise. Had he not meant to tell me things? How had I known? I walked down to the water and washed my fingers off. Loberius got to his feet and came to the edge of the pond. He was feeling better from the wounds being clear! He lapped up water gratefully. Blood muddied the water where I had washed off my fingers. I took the bullets and washed them off too and put them in my pocket.

I expected him to leave, now that he had drank his fill and he was feeling better, but he lie down where I had fallen asleep earlier and closed his eyes. He still had my t-shirt and I felt that this gave me certain rights. I went over to him and put my head down against his flank and closed my eyes. He kissed my forehead and we both fell asleep.

I woke up again and once more, it was getting dark. I was hungry but since there was nothing to eat I took another long drink. Lobarius was awake and alert.

“I'm hungry.”

He didn't say a word, but now I could almost hear him, a voice deep and somber in my head, “Hunt with me.”

“I'll only slow you down.”

He looked at me levelly, his invitation to follow him. Looking behind me as though the campground lay within easy distance and I knew the direction I shook it off. All of it, what had been was passed and so I followed him into the woods and never saw this world again.

+ + + + +

Virginia Carraway Stark has a diverse portfolio and has many publications. Getting an early start on writing, Virginia has had a gift for communication, oration and storytelling from an early age. Over the years she has developed this into a wide range of products from screenplays to novels to articles to blogging to travel journalism. She works with other writers, artists and poets to hone her talents and to offer encouragement and insight to others.  She has been an honorable mention at Cannes Film Festival for her screenplay, “Blind Eye” and was nominated for an Aurora Award.
You can read more of her words at

Around The Cauldron: Green grow the rushes


Footsteps thunder down the stairs as Jean opens yet another packing case. Ivy round the window casts a green gloom into the kitchen featuring a genuine Aga, which she plans to keep, and hideous 1950s cabinets she can’t wait to replace.
Adam is supposed to be sorting out the cupboards in his ‘new’ room?

“Never guess what I found!” he gushes at the doorway.

“You’re supposed to be putting stuff away, not dragging more things out.”

Blank stare.

“OK, go on. Tell me.”

“Ta da!” says the boy, pulling a large wooden disc from behind his back. “Isn’t it cool? Can we hang it on the front door for Hallowe’en?”

The size of large tea tray, but thicker and much heavier, it’s been carved from a solid piece of wood – oak or beech, perhaps. Intricate leaves and tendrils surround a man’s face leering up at Jean. Something about its grin makes her want to laugh, with unease. Dust blurs the lines, but does nothing to soften the gaze of the man staring out of the age-blackened wood.

She shudders. “Ugh. Creepy.”

“Exactly. Perfect for Hallowe’en!”

“I don’t want our new neighbours judging us by some old tat on our front door, so you’d better clean it up before I’ll consider it. You’ve got two weeks – plenty of time.”

Adam grins agreement and gallops back upstairs. Jean returns to her work, confident that his new find will be forgotten the minute he unpacks his GameBoy.

The afternoon passes in a blur of sorting and stowing in unfamiliar cupboards until the dying light of the watery sun reminds Jean of her rumbling stomach and the leftover shepherd’s pie in the fridge.

When Adam fails to respond to her shouts, she climbs the creaking stairs to his room. An involuntary ‘tut’ escapes her lips as she opens the door to a tsumani of Lego bricks. She stands for a moment, watching her son’s back as he sits cross-legged and intent in the corner, wondering if he’s too young for his fourteen years - and if it’s her fault for not bringing a father figure into his life. But no father’s better than an abusive one, isn’t it?

“Adam! Look at the state of this place,” she snaps. “Put that game down and come and have something to eat. Then, I want you to come straight back up here and sort your room out.”

“Not playing a game,” a sulky voice replies. Its owner doesn’t turn or stop its steady, repetitive, rocking movement.

Jean picks her way through the Lego minefield to Adam’s side. To her surprise, his hands aren’t busy with his Gameboy, but are doggedly rubbing with a damp cloth at the grime on the plaque he’s found. She can see it’s a good piece of wood.

“That’s a good start,” she says, touching his shoulder. “But you really need to get your room sorted out. And you must be hungry.”

After a double helping of supper and parental nagging, Adam leaves his mother to her after-dinner glass of wine and favourite soap opera. Heading upstairs, he swipes more rags from the cleaning cupboard and a bottle of linseed oil from her set of oil paints. She won’t miss it, hasn’t painted since that ‘retreat’ she dragged him along on after his dad raised his fist one time too many - and threatened worse.

That was five years ago, but Adam still feels a tightening in his chest every time he thinks of his father. He knows he’s better, calmer, safer, without him, but can’t escape the cloud of guilt for not missing him more.

Shaking off the thought, he starts collecting the bright plastic bricks strewn over his bedroom carpet. Funny, he doesn’t remember getting his Lego out….. but he must have.
Bricks safely gathered in their box, schoolbooks stacked on the desk and the last of his clothes safely stuffed into drawers, he settles down to the task at hand.

The Green Man waits, silent and strong. Bidden by a voice only he hears, Adam nods solemnly, sits down and starts wiping away the years. A branch from the hawthorn tree outside his window taps a soothing staccato on the pane, giving a gentle rhythm to his work. As he rubs away the grime, the wood warms and reveals details he hasn’t seen before: an oak leaf crown, woodbine tendrils tinged the faintest green snaking out from behind ears, delicate fern fronds intertwined with shaggy eyebrows, bullrushes surrounding the neck like a raised collar.  

By the time he hears his Mum call a tired goodnight through his door, the plaque is clean. Tomorrow, Sunday, he’ll finish it off.

Laying back against his pillows, Adam listens to the unfamiliar swhoosh of the wind through the trees in the copse at the end of the garden. An owl hoots. Further off, something – a fox, maybe? – screams. He’s asleep before the moonlight breaks its cloud cover to send cold light through a chink in the curtains onto his smooth cheek.

“Good morning, sunshine!” Jean trills as she bustles in and throws open the window. “It’s a beautiful day. Unpacking’s finished, the sun’s shining and I’m in the mood to explore. What do you say to a proper fry-up and a walk in the woods?”

Smiling down at her son, she’s surprised to see the first fuzz of facial hair. Where’s that come from? How hasn’t she spotted it before? Dammit, her boy’s finally growing up and she’s too busy to notice. Adam blinks and stretches luxuriously before turning back over. But the smell of toast and bacon soon works its magic and he joins her in the kitchen, disheveled and sleep-smudged, rubbing the soft bristle feathering his jaw and mumbling “Thanks, Mum”.  

As Jean hangs sheets out to dry in the autumn sunshine and prepares a chicken for the Aga, Adam brushes oil over the knots and whorls of the Green Man’s face. He polishes it to a high sheen like a conker in the grass on a November morning, admiring the details his work brings out – tiny veins in ivy leaves and a twinkle in the eye that almost seems to be winking at him.

The morning passes in a warm glow of mother-son companionship walking the woods, identifying trees, spotting a tangle of mistletoe high in the branches of an old oak and gathering armfuls of apples from the orchard at the bottom of the garden.
Peeling windfalls at the kitchen sink, Jean smiles to herself as she watches Adam through the window. No need to worry that he’s young for his age. After just a couple of days since moving into the old house, he seems taller, more assured. Almost a man.

A rook’s harsh caw makes her look up. Adam is at the far end of the garden, where the woods begin. He seems to be arguing with someone, his flailing arms shouting anger. Or fear?

He looks her way, flashes a fake smile and stomps back to the house. With a grunt, he pushes past her and heads upstairs before returning and thrusting the restored Green Man into her hands.

“Wow!” she says, admiring his handiwork. “That’s great, Adam. Well done. But, who were you talking to out there?”

“No-one. Just some stupid dog.”

His fingers trace the warm wooden outline of the Green Man’s face, moss-furred cheeks, hooked nose and grinning lips. The leaves surrounding it have leapt into life after cleaning, and the rushes around the man’s collar seem somehow taller. Adam takes the plaque and turns it over, checking its hook, then opens the front door and hangs it from a nail left over from some long-forgotten Christmas wreath.

“There. Now it’s a proper home,” he murmurs. “And we’re a proper family.”

A frown flutters across Jean’s brow but she decides to let it go.

Monday morning. Dim light floods the front bedroom at Cernunnos Cottage. A hand emerges from beneath a thick quilt to beat the alarm clock into submission. Its owner throws the covers aside and sits up to face the first school day in a new home.

Jean pulls on her robe and heads for the bathroom, knocking on her son’s door as she passes. “School day. Time to get up, Adam.”

Minutes pass. Teeth cleaned. Tea brewed. Toast made and cereal placed on the kitchen table. No sign of Adam.

Angry now, Jean stomps up the steps yelling “Get up!”

She stops short outside his room. A strand of ivy is creeping beneath the door and heading for her room. She laughs at her own over fertile imagination. They must have brought in on their boots after their walk in the woods.

She pushes her way into a room swamped in damp green light. The window is covered with ivy leaves and a hawthorn branch has broken through the latch. Fern fronds creep up the walls, thickest where the bed sits in the northern corner. Inside, where Adam lay down the night before, a thicket of bullrushes has taken root.

At the front door, the Green Man’s grin stretches a little wider as laughter echoes through the woods.

This story was featured in an evening of dark tales and improv in the Iron Clad Improv & Castiron Theatre's 'Halloween Dukeanory' at the Dukebox Theatre in Brighton, Sussex, UK, on Friday 30 October 2015.

Big thanks to everyone at Iron Cast & Castiron for making my words part of their night. For more about what they do, go to 

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

News from the writer’s desk: Dispatches from the Dark Side

Well, October has come and almost gone. It brought with it rain, chilly mornings and the evenings drawing in. The first fireplaces have been lit, warming soups have been rediscovered, roast chestnuts appeared on braziers manned by street vendors, and I have been reunited with my boots and sweaters.

On the writerly front, I’ve been embracing my dark side – and getting an unexpected kick out of it.

Apparently, others are too. As reported in my last News from the Writer’s Desk, one of my short stories – Gargoyle – was selected for a night of fairy and folk tales at the New Venture Theatre in Brighton on 16 October. If you couldn’t make it, you can get an idea from this clip, recorded by my good friend Strat Mastoris

Hope you enjoy it – I certainly got a thrill hearing my words in a voice other than the ones in my head.

Another of my stories – Green Grow The Rushes –will get an airing, again down in Brighton this Friday (30 October), as part of the Halloween Dukeanory at the DukeBox Theatre. 

It promises to be a good night, full of dark tales and delicious chills. Details can be found at

Finally, after my delight at having a story selected for inclusion in The Grim Keepers anthology, I’ve got more good news. 

My offering “Seasons Greetings” has been accepted for another creepy anthology “Festive Frights”, due out in early December – just in time to remind you of the sinister side of Yuletide. 

Check out for news of publication dates and where you can download or order a hard copy when the time comes.

So, roll on November. I wonder what surprises it will bring?

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Inri Letters - Part 1: Mother's lament

Dear Sarah,

Well, I suppose you’ve heard the news.

My boy's been arrested, and he’s not talking to anyone. Not even me. His mother, for heaven’s sake.

I can imagine the gossip in the village market this week. I bet they’re lapping it up, aren’t they? Especially that bitch Katy from the bakers. She must be having a field day. She’s always been jealous. 

Our boys were born on the same day, in the same hospital. Did you know that? And, if you wanted proof that there’s absolutely nothing to all the rubbish about star signs and horoscopes, it was those two lads. They grew up just a few blocks from each another, too. Matt was a loud, annoying child as soon as he was old enough to kick a ball around in the back streets. Always making a racket with the other lads after school when my boy was trying to read his books.

Not that it’s surprising. My son had my undivided love and attention, while Katy had five other brats to take care of. No wonder that Matt went feral. Even now, he’s nothing more than a glorified barrow boy, for all his millions and that awful, extravagant house he’s built just outside town.

I can’t help wondering what I did wrong. How I failed my boy. He had everything he ever wanted growing up - not that he ever asked for much. He was clever too, too clever for those idiots they called teachers at the village school. How else could he have possibly have been ‘just’ an average student?

So how we did end up here, with him sitting in prison and refusing see anyone? I wish I knew.

Personally, I blame that lecturer at college. Filled his head with all sorts of ideas. Introduced him to unsavoury sorts who filled my nice, clean house with smoke, loud music and long conversations late into the night. Eating my food without even a “thank you”as if I was some kind of skivvy serving at the table of their ‘higher cause’. They sat around talking about equality and fraternity – but who did the washing up when they’d all passed out on the living room floor? Yes, you guessed it.

And then there was that strumpet, always hanging on his arm. Stroking his hair like he was her special pet. Like he was her property. Not even she had the common decency to offer a helping hand when I fetched and carried as they plotted late into the night. Playing the Lady – like I didn’t know where she’d come from, or what she really was.

But did I ever complain, or leave them wanting? No. Not once. 

Let’s face it, they were the first group who ever really befriended him, the first friends he’d ever had over for a meal. I could hardly turn them away, could I?

The only one who showed the slightest decency towards to me was that Jude. A strange lad. Always so intense, so much in earnest. A little bit too eager. A little bit too fey (not that he stood a chance with my boy). But to give credit where it’s due, Jude was the only one to speak to me like I mattered. His praise of me as “the woman that made the man who leads” us was almost embarrassing at times. Almost.
I wonder what’s become of him  now?

Sarah, I want you to do me a favour. When they ask you what you know about the whole thing (and let’s face it, they will, everyone knows you’re my favourite cousin) just tell them that he’s a victim of wrongful arrest. That it’s all been a huge mistake, it’s a conspiracy, and that he’ll be out soon. That one day, they’ll be proud to tell the world that he came from THEIR village.

And if my mother asks you, just tell her that her grandson has gone abroad to study for a few years.

Please write back soon, and let me know what that fishwife Katy has been saying. I wouldn’t wish ill on anyone, you know that, but so far as I’m concerned she can go drown in all those fancy cushions her loud-mouthed son has swamped her with from the leftover stock from his import-export business.

And just one more thing? Can you drop this cheque in the collection box when you go to church on Sunday? Just make sure you leave it open so everyone can see who it’s from.

Meanwhile, I’ll give my boy your love when he finally agrees to see me. And I’ll let him know that you’ll have a plate of your famous almond pastries waiting for him when he gets comes home.

Because he will, of course, be coming home.
Won’t he?

With love,
Your cousin, Mary.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

News from the writer’s desk: Autumn harvest

The morning chill is chasing away memories of sweaty summer days. Evenings are drawing in, squally winds are blowing, leaves are turning and there’s a faint scent of damp and decay in the air. 

Yes folks, it’s autumn, that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness that signals that nature is approaching her annual semi-coma and a good night in involves hot chocolate and roaring fires.

Nature may be slowing down, but my imagination seems to have gone into overdrive. After a fallow period over the past two months, I seem to have got my story-telling hat back on and there’s a bumper harvest burbling up from the depths of my brain demanding to be told, just in time for Hallowe’en.

First off is the publication of “The Grim Keepers”, an anthology of dark little tales from 15 authors. Just the sort of thing to keep to awake and aware of things that go bump in the night after you switch off the bedside light! My contribution Evil Eye draws on some of the customs of my adopted home, Greece, and considers ow they might play out in a modern setting. There are lots of different voices in “The Grim Keepers” – we hope you enjoy them. 

It’s available for free download at Smashwords and will be available to buy as a ‘real’ book on Amazon in just over a week.

Just as I was delighting in the news that the Keepers was coming out, news came that I had been selected as a winner in AuthorTrope’s “I Made the Darkness” competition. 

As one of those short-listed for the overall prize, my tale Guilt Trip was recorded and put online at where you can go and have a listen. It gave me a special thrill to hear my story told in a voice other than the one inside my own head. If you like what you hear, then please give it a thumbs-up on the YouTube page, as it’s the number of Likes each entry gets that will determine the overall winner at the end of the month.

Finally, at least for now, some more of my words will be spoken out loud on Friday 16 October in an evening of Folk and Fairytales at the New Venture Theatre in Brighton (that’s my beloved Brighton in Sussex, England). 

If you’re in town, check it out and keep your ears open for the title Gargoyle and my pen name AJ Millen. 

Details of the event can be found at

More’s to come from my restless pen, and even more restless brain. 
Stay tuned.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Coming soon

OK, OK. I know. Things have been very quiet round SheMeansWellBut Towers lately.  

My mental typewriter has been out of order for a while, not to mention otherwise occupied with all sorts of necessary but boring things. 

It's at the repair shop for a service right now, but will be back with a vengeance very soon. 

Some things will change (including a new pen name for my fiction), some will stay the same, but one thing I promise you....   I'll be back.

Watch this space (bar).