The Indie Showcase presents, Stephen Hollands


Please welcome this week’s guest to the Showcase.


I’ve loved books ever since I was old enough to read to myself. At the earliest age, I can remember, if I saw a book – I wanted to read it!

I grew up on a diet of books involving good old fashioned, rollicking adventures – and if it involved anything remotely connected to folklore, myths or legends, I wanted it.

Tales of pirates, witches, highwaymen, smugglers, faeries, ghosts or the supernatural in general were (and still are) always at the top of my reading list.

I came to writing quite late in life. Back in the mid-nineties when I was in my forties, a local newspaper used to run a Halloween ghost story competition every year. Each Halloween it would be the same – blood curdling tales with death and retribution from evil spirits…. I wanted something different, so one year I decided to enter it, and I was awarded the £100 first prize for my efforts. That got me thinking – if people liked my short ghost story, perhaps I could write something more substantial?

Around 1996 I embarked on a historical novel based around the revolt of Boudica in 61 AD.

I never completed it due to several reasons which I won’t bore you with here. When I look back at it now, I can see an awful lot of faults in my early writing, but it proved to be an invaluable learning curve. After that, I had a break of several years, but a nagging voice kept calling me back to writing. Amongst my love of folklore was a deep fascination with belief in faeries. Not your Disneyesque, Tinkerbell variety, but something much darker and more traditional… No wings, no wands or magic dust, and certainly big enough to interact on a social level with humans.

I began writing my first fantasy novel ‘A Faerie’s Tale’ in March 2013, using my years of folklore studies to create my faerie world and its inhabitants. I began with the merest germ of an idea – a young faerie woman, trapped in the human world, who is unable to return home without human assistance. I started writing, and, almost magically, (no pun intended there) the story began to unfold. Halfway through, I realised that this would be too big for one book – particularly as I was aiming it at the young adult market of twelve years and upwards. I quickly decided that I would be able to create a trilogy out of this, and so I have.

‘A Faerie’s Tale’ was published in 2016. I ended it on a cliff-hanger – hoping that would entice people to read the second book. Book II however, ‘A Faerie’s Destiny’ is in fact, a prequel to book I, explaining why the main character Willow, finds herself banished to the human world when her uncle steals the family lands and wealth. Book III, ‘A Faerie’s Blood’ completes the trilogy. The first book moves back and forth between the modern human world and the faerie realm, whilst books II and III are set entirely in the faerie world of Eyedore.

It has been a real journey. Early on, I decided to self-publish using Amazon’s CreateSpace (now defunct) and KDP. It seems to have worked well. I now have several great reviews on books I & II and recently I received the first one for book III, so currently I’m feeling rather happy. And although I have pitched this towards younger readers, most of my fans are very adult indeed…

At this point – I must mention my covers. They were created for me by a very talented artist called David Hurrell from the land of Essex…. David and I have known one another for many years, so when it came to selecting an artist, it was a no brainer for me. He astounded me with his work. I was very specific on what I wanted for each cover, and he has captured my visions beautifully. I have also received a lot of positive feedback on the cover art, so to David, I owe you a massive thank you… (Couldn’t have done it without him).

And what about the future? Well, I already have an idea for a new project, although I suspect that this one will be a stand-alone rather than another trilogy. I’m going all out for folklore/myth/legend overload on this one. It will involve assassins, seers, gypsies and possibly a pirate – not sure on that last one yet…

I have also released a short E-book on Kindle of supernatural stories called ‘Shadows’. Hopefully, at the grand old age of 59, my writing career is just beginning…

One of my favourite quotes comes from someone who helped inspire me to keep going whilst working on book I – ‘Never Give Up On Your Dream…’ She didn’t – and neither will I…

Below, you will find the blurb and an extract from each book of the trilogy…


‘A Faerie’s Tale’

‘Cast out into the human world and falsely branded a thief, Willow a woman of the Faerie realm is unable to return home. Without assistance she will perish and her lands and property will be taken from her. Abducted by those who would do her harm she is followed back into her own world by her human allies who assist in claiming back her family heritage. Danger and the threat of death are never far away and only perseverance and a little luck will see them through…’

Extract:

For the first time in her twenty four summers the young woman experienced the creeping anticipation of genuine terror.  Bad enough, that from the outset, they had blindfolded her, bound her wrists, and dragged her through the forest for a full day; but now that they had finally reached their destination, she knew in her heart that her situation would only worsen.  Blind beneath the hood they had forced her to wear, she stood waiting for something dreadful to happen.  Her mind played tricks on her as it predicted the agony of a flint or bronze blade across the soft flesh of her throat, causing her to swallow in fear. 

She knew they had entered a building of some kind for her senses had detected the drop in temperature, the paved surface of the floor beneath her bare feet and the sudden loss of the familiar forest sounds.

Behind her she heard the cultured voice.  The voice she had known since her childhood, the voice she had once trusted…

‘This is where we part.  Do not attempt to return or you will be dead before the next sunset.’  Then a question, directed towards another, ‘You know what you have to do?’

‘Aye,’ a coarser voice replied.

‘Then we shall begin.’

The cultured voice continued, but this time in the old language, uttering an incantation so ancient that it chilled her soul.  She knew these words and at once she understood what they were going to do to her.  Her dread expanded tenfold.

The blade she had first feared struck out, but it did not touch her flesh.  Instead, it cut through the bonds about her wrists.  Then, before she could react, the thrust of a boot against her backside sent her violently forward, flinging her into her destiny.  She fell upon the stone floor, striking her elbows as she went down.  Simultaneously the warm humid heat of high summer rapidly plunged to cold biting winter.  Sitting up and removing the blindfold she found herself alone within a cold stone chamber.  Faint light filtered through the slit of an entrance telling her that daytime lay beyond.  Timidly she rose and ventured outside, and her worst fears were confirmed.  This was not her world.  As she suspected, they had sent her into the realm of the others, the outlanders…

Now she wished that they had simply killed her.  She would have preferred that, for in her opinion it would have been the more merciful thing to have done…


‘A Faerie’s Destiny’

‘At only two summers old Willow witnesses the birth of her baby brother and the subsequent death of her mother, Rowan. She goes to live an idyllic life at Oak Hall with her father and her uncle Flint. But unbeknown to Willow, her uncle harbours dark ambitions and aims to overthrow his brother and take everything. From the moment she arrives at Oak Hall Willow is in mortal danger, but she has an unknown protector who mentors her and prepares her for the coming conflict…’

Extract:

Emerging from the bushes came a very angry looking girl.  Cinder badly wanted to laugh, but prudence kept his mirth in check.  He estimated her to be just a year or two older than himself, putting her at around nine summers or so.  She possessed a strikingly pretty face, but her glare warned him of a formidable temper too.  Advancing boldly, she stood just an arm’s length away before she spoke in an aloof manner.

‘Who are you, boy – and what are you doing in my woods?  And that was really disgusting the way you spat those plum stones at me!’

Relieved to see only a girl, his sense of humour finally got the better of him and he began to laugh loudly.  His amusement didn’t help the situation at all.

‘If you do not tell me what you are doing here, boy, I shall infest you with worms!’

He grinned back.  Despite her bold front, he could see the tremble of her hands and detect the tremor of fear in her voice.  Calmly he spoke to her.

‘My name is Cinder.  My parents are travelling healers.  We’re camping somewhere over there before we go on to Nettlebed in a few days’ time.  So who are you?’

Who am I?  You mean you do not know me?  Everyone around here knows exactly who I am!’

‘Well I told you I’m not from around here.  We’re passing through.  Would you like one of my plums?’

The question caught her off guard and, before she could continue in her lofty manner, the girl found herself drawn in at the sight of the purple fruit.

‘Ooh yes, I like plums.  How many do you have?’

‘Enough for two each; and some apples and homemade bread too…’

Giving in to his natural charm, the girl smiled sweetly. 

‘I shall allow you to sit beside me then,’ she said.


‘A Faerie’s Blood’

With Willow abducted by Flint for a second time, her friends must rally round once more to come to her aid. But this time, without Cinder, they must turn to the witch Nightshade for magical assistance. But when full blown war finally breaks out between the forces of darkness and light it is only Willow who is capable of saving the day, and through her Moon Goddess she invokes an ancient and lethal power. But that power comes with a high cost and at the same time it reveals a dark secret that threatens to tear Willow’s family apart forever…

Extract:

On walking through the doorway, Alice’s senses were assaulted from all directions.  For a few moments, the inner darkness left her blind, but as her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she gasped in wonder at what she saw.  Truly, this did indeed fit the description of that stereotypical witch’s house she had imagined earlier.  Bunches of dried herbs hung from the ceiling, their combined scents filling her nose with a most wonderful aroma.  Clutter of all kinds also filled the place.  Small tables covered in boxes and jars, piles of ancient looking books, a skull with a burning candle sitting on top of it, and a stack of small, empty metal cages all contributed to the overall effect of years of hoarding.  A fire, burning in a stone hearth, gave off a surprising amount of warmth.  The atmosphere felt thick and cloying, and Alice felt overwhelmed by it all. 

Dimly, through the gloom, she took in her surroundings, but despite all of these things, it was the soft, chesty cackle that really caught her attention.  Turning her eyes in the direction of the sound, she peered through the darkness.  Then came a movement, graceful and flowing.  She realised it to be a bare arm, the fingers outstretched beckoning to her.  Her bowels turned to water, and she wanted to turn and run out of there as terror rose in her throat.  Oak gripped Alice’s arm, and eased her forward. 

The owner of the disembodied hand came into Alice’s view, and her terror grew tenfold.  The sight before her left Alice quite astonished.  Nightshade looked ancient.  Her face possessed so many lines and creases it reminded Alice of an old prune.  The woman’s eyes were deep set and her mouth, a darkened gash against the stark white flesh of her face.  What few teeth remained were dark brown in colour.  Hair, ragged and grey hung in greasy clumps to just below her shoulders.  A wide band of woven wicker-withies circled her brow, and a necklace of bones adorned her neck.  Nightshade reached out to a dish at her side and picked up a handful of shelled cobnuts.  She trickled them into her gaping mouth and despite appearing to possess few teeth, she began crunching on them noisily. 

Alice began to shake, and then that soft cackle rippled through the air for a second time, followed by a whispering, hissing voice.

‘So, this is one of the outlanders you have taken into your home, Oak?  What do they call you, girl?’

Taken aback by such a blunt question, Alice reacted feistily.

Girl?  No one has called me that in a long time.  I’m an adult woman!  And my name is Alice!’

Another phlegmy chuckle floated through the air, followed by a sarcastic retort.

‘I’m probably three times your age.  To me that makes you a girl…  And so that is what I shall call you…’  Again that soft, evil chuckle chilled Alice to the bone.  She waited for some further instruction and it wasn’t long in coming.

‘Come here girl, closer so that I may see you a little better.’


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FACEBOOK:  facebook.com/srhollands

TWITTER:  @srhollands1


My thanks to this weeks guest for a great post. I hope you all enjoyed it.

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Have a good week,

Richard.

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