Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Black Abbot and the Girl with a Spinet




My new novel – Freya’s Choice – is set in the charming, picturesque and seemingly tranquil small town of Abbey St. Francis. Chocolate box thatched cottages sit alongside a meandering river. Birds of every hue sing and chirrup. The world moves at a slower place in communities like this, doesn’t it?

Well, don’t you believe it! In my small town – hardly much more than a village really – strange things happen within some of those cottages. Unnatural, spooky things. The river transforms into a raging torrent when it feels like it. A massive bird takes to the air and a new resident has moved in. One that will change everything for this peaceful little backwater. 

In England there are many places like Abbey St Francis. And some of them are well haunted. Scarily well in some cases. Many of them hide deadly secrets. Oh yes, a lot can – and does – go on in the heart of rural England…

On the edge of the Cotswolds, nestling in some of the most beautiful countryside England has to offer, lies the pretty village of Prestbury (meaning ‘priest’s fortified place’). Already, we can get a hint of the history of the place. In fact, in the Doomsday book of 1086, its name was given as Preosdabryg. This is seriously ancient territory. Along with such antiquity, frequently come troubled spirits unable to find rest. It seems Prestbury is no exception.

In the peaceful parish church of St Mary, a monk known only as the Black Abbot created hauntings so severe and worrisome that he had to be exorcised. But no one has been able to remove him completely. Although banished from the church, he continues to wander the churchyard and disappears through a wall into a cottage in the High Street where he starts moving things around in the attic. He only ever does this at All Souls’ Day, Christmas and Easter.

Another - and most tragic - ghost is the young girl who haunts Sundial Cottage. She plays her spinet. Many people have heard it through the years and she appears to have been particularly active during World War 2 when a family, who took refuge there, reported sightings of her.

Other ghosts haunt Prestbury – the charging horseman, killed by an arrow during Edward IV’s reign, a phantom horseman, who literally lost his head during the English Civil War, and a number of others, perhaps as many as twelve, making this one of the most haunted villages in England.

Prestbury lies in the heart of England, in the vicinity of so many bloody battles fought over many centuries. So many people in that area had their lives torn away from them that perhaps it is unsurprising to find many of them still tread their ancient paths, searching for their elusive rest….

Freya’s Choice is published by Amber Quill Press. Here’s the blurb:

Nothing much happens in Abbey St. Francis, but Freya’s about to change all that...
 
Eve Lawson is no stranger to heartbreak. Three years ago, the man of her dreams betrayed her and left her unwilling to trust anyone ever again. So when gorgeous hunky farmer, Mark Latimer, starts to take more than a casual interest in her, she is cautious and nervous of committing either her mind or her body to him. But the attraction is there, and it’s growing. All Eve needs is just a little more time. 

Abbey St. Francis—a sleepy, pretty village where nothing much happens and traditional values are held true—has been Eve’s home all her life. No one suspects that the beautiful young woman who has just moved into West Lodge is anything other than a wealthy and generous benefactor. But Freya Nordstrom is not what she appears to be.

Then the mysterious stranger takes more than a passing interest in Mark, and Eve knows she has a battle on her hands. But never in her wildest dreams could Eve have imagined the nature of the forces stacked against her... 

Here’s a short extract:

...A loud flapping startled me. I looked up and couldn’t believe what I saw. The most massive bird I had ever seen flew past me and hovered, silhouetted against the moon. Then it flew directly toward West Lodge. I glanced back down at the cats. Their ears twitched, but nothing more. I searched the sky for the giant bird again, but it had disappeared. 

Could I have imagined it? Surely not. I certainly wasn’t imagining those cats or the malevolence in their eyes. 

My knees buckled from my unaccustomed crouching position, but I was scared to make any rapid movement, and Freya’s cats continued to stare at me. Their eyes narrowed, as if at any moment they would pounce and tear me to shreds. But their hackles didn’t rise, they didn’t arch their backs, spit or make any of the warning gestures cats employ to let you know they’re about to strike. They just sat there, like statues. Waiting. 

My knees ached and I had no choice or I would simply keel over. Slowly, I rose to my feet, wobbling with the effort, while I kept my eyes on the animals. 

Their gaze traveled upward with my movement. A chill wound itself around my spine, spiraling the length of it, and I shivered. 

Then, as if receiving some signal I couldn’t hear, they blinked in unison and turned away. They slunk down my path before jumping over the wall and out of sight. I continued to watch and, in the light of the streetlamp at the bottom of Freya’s drive, saw them emerge and pad slowly up her long drive. They matched each other step for step, their tails held high. 

Then I saw a tall figure striding down Freya’s drive toward me. He passed the cats, apparently without acknowledging their presence. Too dark and far away to make out his features, my heart still lurched. 

Mark. I could see the familiar long hair fanning his shoulders, the white shirt and dark pants. Tears pricked my eyes. At that moment, I wished with all my heart I hadn’t seen him. It couldn’t be happening again. Surely he wouldn’t betray me as John had. After all he’d said to me. And I’d believed every word. 

So Freya had been telling the truth. Somewhere along the line she’d made his acquaintance, and now I knew why he hadn’t answered his phone. He’d been with her. 

I told myself to calm down. There could be a hundred innocent explanations for his visit. But unless I asked him, I wouldn’t know. I hurried down my path and opened the gate. 

“Mark! Hi!” I hoped I sounded nonchalant, but a note of desperation had crept into my voice. 

He reached the end of her drive and turned left. He was directly opposite me now, in shadows, on the other side of the lane. Any second and he would cross over. 

“Mark!” 

He must have heard me, but not a flicker. He never broke his stride. Just carried on walking, farther down the lane, away from me, while I stood and watched him, my insides turning to mush in dismayed disbelief...

You can find Freya’s Choice here:






Sunday, 1 February 2015

Who is Freya? What is She?



My new novel – Freya’s Choice – features the most powerful of all Norse goddesses. Her legend and myth live on, far beyond the Icelandic Sagas in which she so prominently features. Friday is named after her.  Her name is among the most popular bestowed on baby girls this century. So who – and what – was she?

Various accounts bestow different attributes to her.  She is the Great Goddess, Queen of the Valkyries (‘choosers of the slain’), the Daughter of Time, patron and protector of the human race. She is strong, beautiful and as wise as any of the Eldest Ones. She is an important fertility goddess and member of the Vanir – one of the two branches into which the Germanic gods were divided.

She has her own Nordic Rune - fehu – and it's written like this (usually in red):
The Sagas present a fantastic mythology of her life and deeds.
Freya and the Vanir fought a war against the Aesir – led by Odin – and lost. As part of the peace settlement, Freya and her twin brother, Freyr ,went to live in Asgard with the Aesir. From then on, Freya and Odin divided up the heroic dead and Freya took half of them to Fólkvangr – the ‘army’ or ‘people’s’ field within which was housed her hall of Sessrúmnir. The other half went with Odin to live in his hall of Valhalla.

But there were so many facets to this goddess - the gentle as well as the warlike. Freya flew over the earth, sprinkling morning dew and summer sunlight behind her. She shook spring flowers from her hair. She was a shapeshifter, able to ‘fly in a falcon’s skin’. Freya alone lived on after the gods and ‘kept up the sacrificing’; a generous goddess, bringing prosperity and riches as did her brother, Freyr and her father Njord. She brought bounty to the fields, animals and mankind. The festivals of Beltane (April 30th) and Winter Nights (October 14 and 15) were dedicated to her, according to Nordic myth.


She clearly had an excellent PR machine in place, because there was another, far darker side to Freya.

She is often portrayed in her falcon guise, with wings held forward to both protect and reveal her feminine form. She is the epitome of sensual lover and mistress. Freya was amoral. All were hers for the taking and she took them. Frequently.

She wore a beautiful necklace – Brisingamen, meaning ‘flaming’ or ‘glowing’ – fashioned by four talented dwarfs. When she first laid eyes on it, she had to have it. The dwarfs were  reluctant – until she agreed to sleep with them all. Freya got her necklace. The dwarfs had a good time. The necklace, on the other hand, led to a lot of trouble, involving Loki, Odin and a number of bloody battles.


 Freya was the mistress of the inner seith (fire) and the religion of Wikkerie (witchcraft), She followed shamanistic ways, possessed psychic ability and behaved in a lascivious and wanton manner. Her sacred mountain was Venusberg, the entrance to the Elven realms. She is associated with the Caspian tiger (now extinct), the lynx and the witches’ cat. She could be cruel, vindictive, and could transform others into birds and animals as it suited her. Many of the gods became her lovers including the mischievous Loki. She bore two daughters – Hnoss (‘Jewel’) and Germesi (‘Treasure’) both fathered by her husband, her beloved Odur.
 
For all her lust and faithlessness, Freya adored Odur and was devastated when he disappeared, never to be seen again. It is said that, to this, day, she searches the heavens and the universe, looking for him and weeping tears that wash out to sea and transform into amber and gold.

We owe much of what we know about Freya to the great Icelandic writer of sagas – Snorri Sturluson – who, in the 13th century (among other works) wrote The Poetic Edda and The Prose Edda which contain many references to her.

In her chariot, drawn by two enormous cats (the colour of which varies between grey, black or blue depending on the source), Freya cut a powerful, irresistible figure. But in the spirit of the old song, ‘Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets’, she was utterly devoid of any sense of shame. Trust me, if Freya set her sights on your man, she would have him.

And that’s just what my main character, Eve, has to contend with…

 Freya’s Choice is published by Amber Quill Press. Here’s the blurb:


Nothing much happens in Abbey St. Francis, but Freya’s about to change all that... 
 
Eve Lawson is no stranger to heartbreak. Three years ago, the man of her dreams betrayed her and left her unwilling to trust anyone ever again. So when gorgeous hunky farmer, Mark Latimer, starts to take more than a casual interest in her, she is cautious and nervous of committing either her mind or her body to him. But the attraction is there, and it’s growing. All Eve needs is just a little more time. 

Abbey St. Francis—a sleepy, pretty village where nothing much happens and traditional values are held true—has been Eve’s home all her life. No one suspects that the beautiful young woman who has just moved into West Lodge is anything other than a wealthy and generous benefactor. But Freya Nordstrom is not what she appears to be. 

Then the mysterious stranger takes more than a passing interest in Mark, and Eve knows she has a battle on her hands. But never in her wildest dreams could Eve have imagined the nature of the forces stacked against her...

And here’s a short extract:



...A loud flapping startled me. I looked up and couldn’t believe what I saw. The most massive bird I had ever seen flew past me and hovered, silhouetted against the moon. Then it flew directly toward West Lodge. I glanced back down at the cats. Their ears twitched, but nothing more. I searched the sky for the giant bird again, but it had disappeared. 

Could I have imagined it? Surely not. I certainly wasn’t imagining those cats or the malevolence in their eyes. 

My knees buckled from my unaccustomed crouching position, but I was scared to make any rapid movement, and Freya’s cats continued to stare at me. Their eyes narrowed, as if at any moment they would pounce and tear me to shreds. But their hackles didn’t rise, they didn’t arch their backs, spit or make any of the warning gestures cats employ to let you know they’re about to strike. They just sat there, like statues. Waiting. 

My knees ached and I had no choice or I would simply keel over. Slowly, I rose to my feet, wobbling with the effort, while I kept my eyes on the animals.

Their gaze traveled upward with my movement. A chill wound itself around my spine, spiraling the length of it, and I shivered. 

Then, as if receiving some signal I couldn’t hear, they blinked in unison and turned away. They slunk down my path before jumping over the wall and out of sight. I continued to watch and, in the light of the streetlamp at the bottom of Freya’s drive, saw them emerge and pad slowly up her long drive. They matched each other step for step, their tails held high. 

Then I saw a tall figure striding down Freya’s drive toward me. He passed the cats, apparently without acknowledging their presence. Too dark and far away to make out his features, my heart still lurched.
Mark. I could see the familiar long hair fanning his shoulders, the white shirt and dark pants. Tears pricked my eyes. At that moment, I wished with all my heart I hadn’t seen him. It couldn’t be happening again. Surely he wouldn’t betray me as John had. After all he’d said to me. And I’d believed every word. 

So Freya had been telling the truth. Somewhere along the line she’d made his acquaintance, and now I knew why he hadn’t answered his phone. He’d been with her. 

I told myself to calm down. There could be a hundred innocent explanations for his visit. But unless I asked him, I wouldn’t know. I hurried down my path and opened the gate. 

“Mark! Hi!” I hoped I sounded nonchalant, but a note of desperation had crept into my voice. 

He reached the end of her drive and turned left. He was directly opposite me now, in shadows, on the other side of the lane. Any second and he would cross over. 

“Mark!” 

He must have heard me, but not a flicker. He never broke his stride. Just carried on walking, farther down the lane, away from me, while I stood and watched him, my insides turning to mush in dismayed disbelief...

You can find Freya’s Choice here: