Burning Embers – First Chapter

 

CHAPTER ONE

The sky was mottled grey over murky water. Beside the Temple of Dancing Light, a skinny girl sat on a standing stone and stared at the grey horizon. Waves crashed below her dangling feet. The Sisters of Light promised that anyone with the Gift of magic, would be able to see the faces of their loved ones in the very first rays that broke the surface. The first wash of light was pale and slow to spread and Feia held her breath, hoping to see something, anything. Disappointment was a familiar companion.

Her dark hair was tied back, and the grey school uniform hung loose from her shoulders. She would have given up, but that meant accepting that she wasn’t special. Perhaps she couldn’t see anything because she didn’t know who she was? Like a tickle in the back of her mind she felt incomplete. But what if that was just wishful thinking? What if this was all she was, a girl who no one wanted?

Feia watched a shaft of light as it pierced the black clouds above her. Then she slid down a tall standing stone, hands scraping on the rough-hewn surface. Her feet landed in the long grass that sprouted through cracks in the paving.

A shriek screeched over the wind: ‘Get her!’

Feia heard the heavy thud of boots and turned in horror to see a pack of girls charging towards her. A shiver of shock and fear raced from her skull down her spine. She darted to the side, but before she’d gone two steps she was grabbed. Her captors pushed her against the obelisk. She flinched as the stone chafed her skin through the woollen dress.

Knowing it would provoke the leader, Feia smiled.

‘Saka, nice to see you out in the fresh—’ she said, then faltered as a slap silenced her. She looked down, refusing to search Saka’s gaze for mercy; she’d never find it anyway. A second slap had angry tears building behind her eyes, despite the promises she’d made to herself never to cry in front of them. Beyond the group of girls was the familiar courtyard and then the Temple. None of its windows, though, looked out towards the standing stone.

‘What are you doing, Feia?’ Saka demanded.

‘The stone is sacred, Saka,’ she replied.

 They always said that Feia didn’t have any sense, and she agreed. If she had been sensible, she would have been asleep. The sun was yet to rise over a cold autumn morning but she had already left a warm bed behind. She had decided that she’d rather be a slug, a dead fish or anything that meant she wasn’t like her classmates; nothing like them at all.

In many ways, it was good that she’d made the decision. Feia didn’t look like the other girls, and because of her differences they had turned her body into a battlefield of scars, scratches and competing bruises. Children in Arngeir typically had dark eyes, and Feia’s were the colour of morning frost. Most children were also taller, broader and stronger than her. She’d learned to be quick; she’d had to. Even if she had looked like them, which she didn’t, she wouldn’t want to act like them.

‘You’re not on the stone any more, Foundling. What are you doing out here?’

‘Nothing!’

‘You think you’re special, don’t you? We know you’re not.’ Saka laughed. ‘I know exactly what you are.’

Feia kept her gaze lowered.

‘What are you, Feia?’ Saka asked, grabbing her throat. She was so close that Feia could see the tiny hairs on her face. Saka’s nails punctured her flesh. ‘You’re a dirty Foundling, and if you were special then someone would have wanted you!’

‘Choke on poison!’ Feia fought the iron grip of the girls. Her skin stung. It wasn’t true. She told herself for the hundredth time that Saka only spoke aloud what she feared herself, but it was hard to ignore the murmur of doubt. What if it was true? What if Saka was right?

Saka drew out a long thin knife. ‘Have you ever seen this before?’

Feia’s gaze was caught on the steel blade. It had a sharp serrated edge. She squirmed harder against the arch, willing to scratch her back on the surface if it meant freedom.

‘You’re a ghost,’ Saka said. ‘Sometimes we don’t even see you.’

Feia watched the slow movement of the blade. She wished they couldn’t see her now; she wished that she could vanish.

‘If you died, would you haunt us?’

Feia gasped, feeling the press of Saka’s blade against her chest.

‘I want you to remember me,’ the girl persisted.

‘You won’t be home for long!’ Feia snapped back. ‘They’ll sell you off to the ugliest—’

She was slapped again. Pain flared in her cheek.

‘I don’t want to see you any more, Feia! The Sisters don’t want you here either.’ Saka tossed her hair over her shoulder. ‘They’ll thank me for this. Ridding them of a pest.’

The girls pinned Feia tight to the pillar. She pushed against them and tried to scratch at their hands. She kicked against the muddy ground, searching for a hold. If she could just get a bit higher, get rid of one of the girls – too late. The knife was pressed to her throat. The edge of steel felt icy against her skin.

‘Are you worthy, Feia?’

Feia pulled her head back out of the way. The girls pushed her so she couldn’t move. The blade was laid against her neck, sucking out the warmth of her flesh.

‘Let me go!’ Her cry was picked up the by the wind and tossed over the cliff.

‘My, what is this?’ Saka leaned forward and touched her fingertip to the leather cord that held a necklace around Feia’s neck. ‘You’ve stolen from a baby, Feia.’ She tsked. ‘I can’t believe that you, of all people, would take the only possession of another Foundling.’

‘I’m going to give it back!’ Feia protested. The necklace belonged to Edeara. It had been left in the courtyard and Feia had tied it around her own neck to keep it safe.

‘Are you jealous, Feia?’ Saka’s voice softened.

Feia trembled and the knife-blade dipped. She could feel every move of the metal, every tiny scratch of the tip and every expectant breath from the girls around her. Grains of time passed. The knife-point pressed against her skin. Her heart skipped a beat. Don’t give up. Do not give up, she thought. Feia kicked up, hard and sudden. Her knee collided with Saka’s middle and the girl pitched forward, and the knife flew out of Saka’s hand and spun. Feia twisted her face away and felt it nick her nose. She heard with agonising clarity as it pinged against the stone column and dropped. It thudded into in the mud by her foot. She pushed hard against Saka’s shoulders, shoving her back, then ran. Feet slipping on damp grass, she charged towards the edge of the cliff, anywhere forward, anywhere far away.

Saka spun around to shout after her. ‘You’re nothing special!’ she roared. ‘No one wants you!’

‘Stop it, Saka!’ Feia turned back to face the group. She could feel the thump of her heart against her ribs. It would have been better to run, safer to flee, but she was trapped. Caught between the stone and the cliff Feia balled her fists. ‘I warn you!’ She felt like a cornered animal, desperate. A surge of bitter frustration rose like heat in her veins. She could feel it building within: she was burning with energy.

Saka stormed towards her, though the other girls hung back. ‘No one wants you.’ She gripped Feia by the shoulders and shoved her back towards the cliff. Feia gripped her hands tight, trying to push back, but slipped in the sodden ground.

‘Your mother didn’t want you!’ Saka was relentless and shoved again. Fear gripped Feia by the throat as she risked a look back. One more step and she’d fall over the edge. Her fingers tightened their hold on the other girl. Fighting back.

‘Give up! The world is better without you!’

‘NO!’ Feia pushed her back. All the misery and the fading wounds that Saka had inflicted surged up within her. The heartache couldn’t be stopped and it poured out without warning, rising from the centre of her chest and into her arms. She couldn’t hold the misery inside any more. She couldn’t hold back the tide of pain. Then, in a flash, it happened. In the final desperate shove, white-hot heat rose in her body and coursed down her outstretched arms and out through her palms. Her anguish manifested. It struck Saka’s shoulders in two bright bursts of avenging fire. The girl’s clothes burst into a wrathful roaring blaze. Saka shrieked and fell back as the flames licked into her hair until it blackened. They curled around her face, and the girls at the arch screamed in terror. Saka spun desperately. She wrapped her burning arms over her face. She staggered.

As Saka’s frantic steps wavered towards her, the stench of burning flesh broke through Feia’s horrified enchantment. What had she done? Was she more like them than she’d thought?

Without thinking she ran at Saka and wrapped her arms around her, bundling her to the damp, muddy ground. She pinned the other girl down, grabbing handfuls of slick mud and throwing them on top of the flames, feeling helpless. She didn’t know if it was the impact of her body on Saka’s, or if it was the mud she piled on top of her, but those flames that had survived the fall now ebbed. A few small and particularly wicked ones curled in Saka’s hair, and Feia smothered them, smearing mud through the pale locks as the girl lay whimpering beneath her. 

‘Help!’ Feia looked up at the girls who had been quick to pin her for Saka’s knife. The girls who were so ready to damage someone different. She felt, with a sense of detachment, that her hands and face were hot. Tears fell down her cheeks. 

‘Help me!’ she cried again. One of the girls broke away from the arch and fled, skirts flapping, across the courtyard. The others chased after her, wheeling like a flock of crows. Panic curled and twisted in her belly. Saka rolled and turned away from Feia, wrapping her face in her cloak, sobbing.

‘Saka…’ Feia’s voice dropped to a whisper. ‘I’m so sorry I – I didn’t mean it.’ As soon as the words left her lips, she knew that she lied. She had meant it; she’d wanted the girl to be burned to oblivion. She’d wanted Saka to suffer. She had wanted revenge.

‘I’d take it back—’ this was true. The sincerity of her own emotion rocked her and she laid a hand on Saka’s shoulder. Revenge was bitterer than expected. A sour taste on her tongue. Saka pulled away from her with a cry of pain. Feia rested her hands in her lap, pulling down her dress sleeves to cover the newest bruises that purpled her skin. Footsteps came quickly. Feia watched as Sisters scuttled towards her. She was pushed back, out of the way, as two of the Sisters let out shrieks of horror. A kitchen hand, a strong young man, joined the group with a dark blanket that he tenderly wrapped around the collapsed victim. Feia was left motionless on the grass as Saka was picked up and carried away.

Dear Reader,

Thanks for getting this far, I hope that you are enjoying the story. Burning Embers is available at most online outlets including Amazon! If you have kindle unlimited you should be able to read the whole story for free.

Happy Reading 

Editing for Authors

WIP

All this time at home and I might just get done writing done!

Starting on the Sequel to Burning Embers (again) – but first I’m catching up to where I originally got to. It needs a lot of editing, but I’m enjoying the story!

​#forgingthefires

Excerpt from Chapter One

The door opened again and a young woman of diminutive height and build entered. Those sat beside the door continued their game, refusing to flinch as the door slammed shut behind the girl. Her dark hair had been cropped short to her shoulders and clung to her face as she moved through the room. She carried a note in one hand which she set down on the bar top. Though she’d stepped in between the patrons, they talked over her head, leaning to one side to speak around her. A thin band of light circled her neck, glinting in the firelight; another slave band. Feia looked at her own wrist and the glint of magic that snaked around the pale skin. She returned to watching the girl standing, unnoticed at the bar. The barman spied the note laid upon the wooden surface, scribed a brief response upon it and turned to the next customer. The girl retrieved her missive and left. A wisp, moving through the crowded room with all the impact of a softened whisper.

Looking Beyond

Today’s daily prompt was:  Blindly

It’s nudged me into a few different thoughts. Yes, it would perfectly fit into a ninty-nine word flash fiction for a certain season and I’ll see what I can do with that…

However, it’s made me think about the way that we edit. Blindly. Honestly you’re writing away and you do a few sweeps of editing and then you celebrate because the project is done!

A few weeks later, you look at the print out, or open up the file and there it is. A blatant error staring you in the face. A missing word, a missing letter… for me it evokes a visceral sense of fear. The – oh my goodness, if there’s one error there must thousands! (My mind races at this point) Maybe this is simply an entire manuscript of errors, there will never be an end to the editing, where do all the missing words go!?!

After some careful scrolling I tend to calm down, breath, and set myself a few targets.

What might be worse than the occasional missing word (because they’re easier to spot) are the sneaky phrases that just slip into the text.

I’ve written a previous post about editing here:

My current sneaky words however are as follows.

A little – this is a continuation of my earlier frustrations with this phrase. Why do I feel the need to modify every emotion, or image with ‘a little’. She was angry vs she was a little angry. She threw herself against the glass until it gave a little vs she threw herself against the glass – where do you come from ‘a little?!’ why are you in my work like a constant tiny plague of self-doubt! Commit to the image! Commit!

Though – like a little, this pesky devil is sneaking in. She was tired though. Why the though? Why can’t she just be tired? Again, I feel it’s a rebellion against the responsibility of writing, the sentences are self-moderated to have less impact.  Why?

Just – similar to the others…another sneaky word that just…

She – now this is an interesting word. It’s very useful. For projects with female protagonists the tag of, she is inevitable. However, I can’t help but feel I over use it, despite my attempts to change it up with other phrases such as, the young woman or the solider – depending on whose point of view I’m writing from.

So how do I find these pesky little slips?

I suppose the easy way to combat editing blindness is as described above (with less panic.) Give the project, novel, poetic collection time to breathe. Then return to it with fresher eyes and fresher mind. Find all the devious inflections and then do a ctrl-f to find them in all their triviality. Then work through them, see where they’re needed and where they add nothing but doubt- remove them.

Be ruthless.

 

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

I’m back! Another long long absence, and for that I’m terribly sorry. Bad writer!

I blame post by post writing forums, they’re the perfect space to express stories and explore a world through writing. They’re also less lonely than trying to write alone.  There’s something exciting about being able to collaborate with other wonderful authors and take an active part in the story. In many ways it’s intoxicating.

I made the fundamental mistake of giving myself a month of after completing the manuscript. So, eight months later I feel pretty refreshed! The benefit of a break means that I’m editing with fresh eyes and the overall edit is done. So excited. Another bonus, is that for the last few months I’ve been crafting new projects and continuing to develop as a writer. Focused on shorter pieces I feel as though I’ve continued to improve and this has been reflected in the editing as well.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be trying to complete writing prompts and forward advice on editing and scraping that manuscript into a polished finished article. If you’re unlucky, I’ll share my advice on creating a synopsis and confront my own fears when doing so.

If anyone has a subject they’d like me to discuss in a blog, please leave me a message!

But from here, it is onward and upwards and the future is bright.

Happy June Everyone!

This a much delayed post that was originally titled, Happy May. I was working on a Monday to Monday basis and then it all just ridiculously busy!

However, the writing has still continued and the manuscript marches on – so I feel quite proud of myself. Not that I haven’t been struggling at points. I worked out in January that if I continued at my then current pace that I’d be finished, edited, polished by mid-June. This will not be the case. But I am over half-way and satisfied with what I’ve achieved. I’m always going to want to go back and tweak things, expand threads and themes and cut back on anything unnecessary but the chapters are sound. They’re a good foundation. Hooray!

But what have I learnt or re-discovered in the last few months?  This has turned into a directive for writing manuscripts and is a lot longer than I thought it would be. But maybe someone will find it useful?

  1. It’s important to stick to the schedule you’ve set yourself. The first time I allowed myself a night off because other things took priority…was the first step on the downward spiral staircase to leaving it week after week without getting back into putting words on a page.
  2. Once you’ve stepped onto that downward staircase…it’s harder to climb back up. I felt guilty for not writing and it coloured my experience of the months. Once I did start writing again, I felt it wasn’t as good and that I’d lost my flow, maybe even any latent talent or ability I had, had just drained away!
  3. You’re on the descent – don’t panic! Start as soon as you can. It’s important to turn around and start making your slow and at this stage, painful journey back up the stairs again.
  4. If you make a start, even if it’s just two metaphorical steps, or a couple of paragraphs, make sure to reward yourself. Fantastic! Today for the first time in a week, a month…more months, you’ve started writing again. No it hasn’t gone smoothly and it probably isn’t your best work, but you’ve made a start put the guilt to one side and relax. This will make it easier to write a bit more tomorrow. Build up an aim for each day, even if it’s just a sentence. Before you know it you’ll be writing more and more and the story will start to flow again.
  5. It doesn’t matter that you’ll therefore have patches of writing you’re less than satisfied with. When you make it to the end of the journey, have climbed the thousand steps, you’ll have made it. You’ll have a first draft and honestly, some of the best advice I ever received was ‘it’s okay to write a rubbish first draft.’ It gives you something to work with. You can’t edit a blank screen.
  6. My technique is always (at the moment at least) to write in pen on paper. I’ll start with scribbling down at the top of the first page what the chapter should include.  Followed by a random list of which characters are in it, and what they want at this point in the story. It could be minor, they might just want a sandwich. But it gives me a guide of points to hit as the chapter progresses and means that it is an active part of the story.  It drives the plot onward.  What is the crux, I ask myself, the crux of this scene?  This has led to pointless scribbles down the side of pages saying ‘A crux, a crux on all your houses.’
  7. Over a few days I’ll write a chapter by hand. It might sound silly but I aim to write at least ten lined pages (A5) per chapter. This will translate to somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 words when typed later on. If I’m writing with pen and paper and I finish the day unhappy then I know there is still work to do before I even start transcribing. I’ll scan what I’ve written for stand out images and phrases. It won’t (hopefully) all be abominable. Sometimes having to go through a handwritten section means that although I’ve written the chapter, it’s the wrong chapter, or the wrong thing has happened or I’ve tackled the subject from the wrong angle. Re-writing at this stage brings me back to the overall arc of the story and sometimes I scrap the start completely and start with a clearer image once I’ve bungled through it once. If there was anything that you wanted to keep – include it. The scene might flow naturally in that direction – but if not then don’t worry. Set the image aside and maybe it’ll come up again. It’s better to keep text then to scrub it violently from the page.
  8. Then I’ll type the chapter up. If an idea seizes you or the dialogue lifts, roll with it. Remember to bring it back to the hand written scene at the end though to remain focused. If you’ve dragged yourself through the scene a couple of times by this point already you’ll have a strong idea of where to go. This is a first edit and usually I feel confident once it’s complete. There’s a buzz of satisfaction and excitement, before the budding dread of: ‘oh no…now I have to write the next chapter, what if it’s awful? What if it’s all been a lucky fluke so far!?’
  9. Move on. Don’t let chapter dread get in the way of you finishing that manuscript! Put down the first words and write as much as you can before calling that first day of handwriting a success. The going back to it the next day will hopefully be easier and before you know it, you’ll be starting the next chapter, and then the next.
  10. Write and type at least two more chapters before going back with a critical editing eye and at that stage try and expand instead of cutting. Ensure there are no spelling mistakes of obvious grammatical errors. Then you know. Edit edit edit. But more on that another day.

Please remember to leave me a comment and let me know if this is any help to you at all 🙂

Good luck writing!