Short Story

Blog Tour: Nothing Is As It Was [short story anthology]

Climate Change Cover

A child is inspired into action by watching their hero. A mother is forced to choose between goats and cattle when the water runs out. From seas to wildfire, Nothing Is As It Was brings together short stories and flash fiction on the theme of environmental damage.

I love the range of stories this anthology offers. New and upcoming authors. Flash fiction and short story. Voices from around the world. Given the global nature of environmental crisis, it is good to have as wide a range of voices as possible.  

Issues explored range from overfished seas to flooding, wildfire to plastic pollution. One message which recurred across the anthology was there is only a finite amount of time in which we can make a difference, and that time is running out. The anthology doesn’t take an upbeat approach to environmentalism. Instead, it asks people to imagine different possible scenarios. By showing possible futures it invites the reader to change the present.     

One of my favourite stories was Mirror Image by Anna Orridge. Mirror Image is about the point of no return and has a really interesting structure. It is split into two sections, offering two possible realities. In the first section, a soft-play centre has been repurposed to grow plants. In the second section we follow the same family to the same soft-play area, but this time they are looting for any remaining food. The world is decimated. The familiarity of a day at a play-centre will give this story particular resonance with many readers.

Another favourite was The Goodluck Camera by Kimberley Christensen. A Westerner claims her archeology will bring good luck to an area of poverty. It explores Western attitudes towards third-world countries, and I loved the idea of a camera which could take pictures of what is buried beneath the soil.

Cli-Fi is not a genre I have read widely, but I would be interested to explore it further. There are some strong voices working in this area, and the message of this anthology got under my skin.

 

Thanks to Anne Cater for organising the blog tour, and for my ebook of Nothing Is As It Was. Opinions my own. Check out the other stops on the blog tour:

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Short Story

Guest Review: Make More Noise! short story anthology.

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Repro_MakeMoreNoise_cvr.inddIf you missed out on  #Vote100, where have you been?
1918 was the first time women in the UK had the right to vote. Although voting rights were still not equal with their male counterparts, this was a crucial step in the battle for female suffrage in the UK.
Make More Noise! is an anthology of short stories written to mark this centenary. It focuses on gender equality and the importance of political rights. 
I have teamed up with Amy from GoldenBooksGirl to read and review the book. Amy has reviewed half the stories, and my reviews will be appearing shortly on her blog. 
Huge thanks Amy for your contribution. 
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On Your Bike by Jeanne Willis- I really struggled with the narrative voice of this, and overall didn’t like it despite the super interesting concept of a woman traveling the world by bike. It felt fairly repetitive and dull, and I think it could have been so much better. 

The Tuesday Afternoon Ghost by Ella Risbridger- I loved this. It was an atmospheric, not quite ghost story about two girls who experience an unusual accident. Some moments sent a shiver down my spine, and I enjoyed the exploration of friendship) I’ve been a fan of Ella Risbridger’s columns for years, and my first experience of her fiction writing was just as wonderful. Let me tell you, if she releases a children’s or YA book, I will be ALL over that.

The Otter Path by Emma Carroll- another story I adored. This one is about saving otters and celebrating land girls, and it’s full of Emma Carroll’s trademark excellence. It’s so well written, full of heart and there was even a bit where I cried. It was interesting to learn more about land girls, and I also enjoyed the message that you shouldn’t judge people based on the way they seem alone.

The Race by Ally Kennen- this is the story of Faith, as she goes to stay with her aunt and uncle on their farm and takes part in the titular race. I liked the dynamics of the big family, especially the humour, and I thought it was a nice story. I have an Ally Kennen book on my TBR, and this has made it more of a priority!

Discuss, Decide, Do by Catherine Johnson- This is the story of Claudette, a Jewish girl facing personal problems,  who witnesses a fascist protest against Jews just after World War Two. I thought the characters, particularly Claudette and Rita, and I found it fascinating to read at the end that it had been based on true events.

Short Story

Fan-Fiction: Now We Rise Blog Tour

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Today is a very special post.

Children Of Blood And Bone is a reccent favourite. By favourite I mean I have been imploring everyone to read it. This isn’t just good, guys, it is stellar. 

I am delighted to take part in the blog tour. This is the most open and unconventional blog tour I have been invited to join, and it is a breath of fresh air. Instead of asking everyone to write a review for a scheduled date, it invites bloggers to create orignial content. As much original content as they like during the period of the blog tour. 

If you like Hogwarts Houses and Divergent factions, you will love the magi clans. Essentially these define people by how they channel their magic. Reapers see the dead, healers cure people. Tiders channel their magic into water and Winders into air. My story is about a Tider and and Winder. It takes a similar theme to Children Of Blood And Bone but imagines the troubles and strengths a Winder might have when faced with a tyrant. Along the way she meets a boy called Taki … but I won’t spoil it. 

Constructive feedback is always welcome. Hope you enjoy. 

 

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(Photograph: Paul Nettleton)

Cry Mama Khazri – Louise Nettleton

Sit quiet when the soldiers come. That’s what Mama always taught me. Sit quiet, say nothing and listen to the wind. Even so, the first time the soldiers came, Mama was impressed that I had sat quiet at the back of the cupboard, even as people screamed and shots rang out and doors were broken apart.

‘Did you not feel frightened?’ she said.

‘No Mama,’ I told her. ‘The wind sung me a lullaby.’

Nobody else heard it. There were no other winders in our village, no other children who played games with the wind. The wind played games with me and told me stories and when other children’s papers blew away, mine always sailed back into my hands.

One day I moved from the back of the cupboard and pressed my eye to the key-hole. I had always imagined the soldiers to be unnaturally big and was surprised to see that most of them were boys. At their head was General Arun, the King’s nephew. The General lead raids on the villages. Some said he wanted to weed out magi, but often there was no reason for the raids other than Arun enjoyed it. Before he killed people he let them beg for as long as possible. Let them build up hope and thank him for his mercy before he ran them through with his bayonet. When he made a kill, the general left a white blossom on the ground. Some said it marked one step closer to purifying the land, but most people in the villages thought it was a boast. It was the General’s way of saying he was leader of the hunt.

When I was fifteen Mama was killed. For weeks I spoke to nobody. I tried to tell people how I felt but my voice didn’t work. The wind spoke for me: gales tore through the village, uprooting trees and bringing roof-tiles down. The wind became my second Mama. It wrapped me in soft breezes and whispered comforts. So it might have gone on, except when I was reminded to sit tight, stay silent and do nothing when the soldiers came I could no longer nod in mute agreement. Why should the soldiers not hear about the pain they had caused? The next time the soldiers came I was ready. ‘Wind, you must not comfort me tonight,’ I said. ‘Comfort is no longer enough. If I am to sit quietly I need to know my voice has been heard.’  Wind magic is like a whisper crossed with blowing, blowing gently until your desire connects with the heart of the breeze. The wind caught my desires and the magic ignited. My back was against the cupboard wall but my mind was with the breeze.

This was different to any magic I had experienced. I was the puppet-master. The wind was obedient to my command. At my bidding it cried like a widow who had just learned of her partner’s passing. It cried like a small child whose mother had been cut down. I watched through the keyhole. The soldiers’ stumbled and misfired as they covered their ears. They had heard such cries before but had always been able to silence them with a bayonet or a sword. General Arun cursed and cried for his men to keep their positions. It made no difference. They fell back with their fingers in their ears and ran for the woods.

Give the girl a chance.

The elders talked long into the night. The village was recalled early the next morning, as the sun rose in the orange sky. A cock crowed, and I took it to be an omen. If the cock could not be silenced, nor could I.

‘Aira is of an age to test her magic,’ said the High Elder, ‘but she must visit our neighbours in Kalamon so she truly knows what the soldiers are capable of.’

I rigged a sail boat and set out along the coast. The wind was my constant companion along the journey and it sped me on my way. The journey which would have taken another person into the night took me two or three hours, and the sea remained calm although I had a great wind in my sails. When I reached the harbour at Kalamon I leapt out to drag my boat in, but a boy leapt from the jetty and took hold of the prow.

‘Thank you,’ I said, afraid my displeasure was evident in my voice. What made him think I wasn’t managing? The boy said nothing, nothing at all. His brow was furrowed as if doing the job was only an excuse to let his mind roam. He insisted he would walk me to the settlement in the olive groves.

‘There is no need,’ I said.

‘My Grandfather insists.’ He said it like it was final. Like me he had been taught to respect his elders.

Almost the whole village had been burned to the ground. Possessions were scattered everywhere – watches and photographs and wooden trinkets half-buried in the mud. The only survivors were the people who lived in the hills. Between the possessions were twenty or thirty white blossoms.

‘We will not clear it, although the soldiers say they will impose a fine if we do not get rid of this eye-sore. I replace the blossoms myself. Why should the truth rot away?’ It was the first thing he had said. His voice was deep for a boy his age, and melodic. It was clear he spoke from a place of hurt, a place of sorrow.

I remembered how little I had to say after Mama died, how I feared the damage I would cause if I tried to open my mouth. I no longer resented the boy’s help or his companionship. That night I told the wind to carry his tale. To tell it to the neighbouring villages, and the trading ports and the towns beyond the hills. Tell them that a young boy sits by the water for fear of looking at his homeland. When I searched for him the next morning, he was nowhere to be found.

I asked after him in the groves. People were so afraid they would miss the harvest that they did not look up from their work. Finally a man with cotton-white hair came over. He held out his hand and introduced himself as the boy’s grandfather.

‘Taki will not thank you for taking his story,’ he said. ‘Though I am pleased to think he opened up to you. He has not spoken a word since the night the village burned. His mother and father and sister died. Taki only survived because he was helping me with the harvest. He goes to the water every morning at dawn and does not return until sundown. Not unless …’ and here the man’s face split into a sad smile, ‘not unless I ask for his help. Taki is not a bad boy. He blames himself for what happened.’

Waves reared and crashed to shore. Taki stood amid them with nothing but a light spray hitting his legs.

‘You’re a tider?’ I said, intrigued to see magic channelled through water.

‘Haven’t you done enough damage?’ Taki came on to the sand and the sea settled back into an ordinary tide.

‘I met your grandfather,’ I said. ‘He says you’re a good boy.’

Taki’s mouth twitched. ‘He is everything I have in this world,’ said Taki. ‘I lost my whole family in that raid, and all my childhood companions. I want the General to know my feelings, but what good is crying? Crying never made a difference.’

We walked past the ruined village, thinking to call on Taki’s grandfather. The day was silent. No laughter, no dogs barking. No sounds from the grove. Not the sound of people singing or branches being trimmed. We turned a corner and saw smoke tearing through the trees. It burned my nose and throat and filled them with the smell of burning flesh. Taki broke into a run. I ran after him, but the ground blistered my feet and the smoke choked my lungs. I grabbed Taki around the waist and held him down.

‘Mother Air if you have ever loved me help us now!’ I cried. The oxygen left the flames and they died like a snuffed candle. Taki directed the river water to rain over the village. People came, coughing and retching from the smoke. Every one of them held a white blossom. A small girl approached Taki and held a flower out to him. For the first time in my life the wind was silent. No comfort whispered in my ear. When I tried to call to the wind I could not find the magic inside myself. There was nothing left but guilt and hollow anger. The image of the burned dwellings seemed to consume my thoughts.  I thought to leave that night. I was an intruder in this grief, and worse than that it was my fault the general had come. Survivors told us how General Arun had demanded to know where the magi were. Not a single person had spoken against us.

A makeshift camp was set up. All evening I cut bandages and applied salves and boiled water above a fire. I spoke to no-one. As night fell I crept from the emergency shelter towards the harbour. I threw my bag into my boat and pushed it out to sea.

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ The water pushed my boat back towards the shore. Taki took hold of the mast.

‘Taki … it’s my fault …’

‘It’s your fault General Arun will not rest until every one of our kind is dead? It’s your fault the soldiers set fire to civilian homes? Girl, you found a way to defy a tyrant. That doesn’t make the tyranny your fault.’

‘But those people. They died because of me.’

‘Those are my people you’re talking about. They didn’t die for you. They didn’t die for me. They died for what is right and it is our job to avenge them.’ Taki looked at me and it was as though the sea raged in his eyes. ‘I chose not to cry because I did not want my voice to be shouted down, but there is only so long a person can remain silent Crying is for the dead of night. Crying is a heart-song for the people we love. It is not the way to defeat a person like Arun. Let us shout and let us rise. Let us use our magic to rally people to action.’

Taki was right. The general would never listen to our pain. He was not afraid of our pain. He enjoyed it. He was afraid of our numbers, of his victims getting together and using their magic to put a stop to his time in power.

‘General Arun will return,’ I said. ‘He will not rest until he has our magi heads.’

Taki took a moment before he spoke. ‘He has hunted us for too long. He has told people our deaths cleanse the land. Now we must stand against him.’ As Taki spoke I felt a breeze tickle the back of my neck. I tried to ignore my fear and guilt. Arun had killed our people. Not me. Arun was on a merciless quest to rid the land of magi and he would destroy whole villages and towns and kill every person who stood in his way. I reached deep inside for a place of anger, a place of vengeance. The wind howled around the ghost village. It howled through the burned groves. I hoped this wind would be enough when Arun returned.

The moon rose. By its light I saw Arun’s ship cutting through the waters. Arun stood at the bow, his sharp profile lit by a swinging lantern. As the ship turned I saw two white flowers in Arun’s belt. There were shouts. Men came forward, gesturing to the harbour. As the ship pulled nearer Arun aimed a harpoon gun at my chest.

‘Little magi,’ he called. ‘What use is magic against a warship? Once I have killed you, I will take every person who tried to protect you.’

In my rage I called upon all the winds of the world, winds with a hundred different names – bora and caju, khazri and norte and squamish. They came from different places, each forged by its climate, but they howled with the same rage. I used my vengeance to summon them in kinship. Desert winds stung my face while arctic winds came biting cold. My hair flew around my face as I gathered my winds together.

The waves crashed into the rocks. I met Taki’s eye and he held my gaze. Together we built our magic until a tidal wave rose from the shoreline and thundered out to sea. It curled over and charged. The clouds parted, revealing the moon. By its light I saw our wave arching over the ship. Arun’s hand faltered on the harpoon gun as sea spray lashed his face. He fell overboard. Powerful currents held him beneath the water. Taki used his magic to fill the water with white blossom. Arun drowned in a sea of his own making.

The surviving soldiers turned their lifeboats away from shore. They cried for Arun but no answer came. No command. The men who had looked so powerful as in the days when I peeked through the keyhole suddenly looked fragile. They pulled their oars against a swelling sea.

‘Others will come,’ said Taki. The sun rose, turning the sky orange. It reminded me that after every battle a new day would come.

‘We will rise,’ I said. We watched dawn rise. I vowed then never to cry for mercy to a tyrant when I could summon a hurricane.

 

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Begin, End, Begin – A #LoveOzYA Anthology

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Begin, End, Begin was established as a result of the #loveOZYA community, a social media group who promote everything there is to love about Australian YA. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey and The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak are two of the best YA books I’ve ever read, but without a large range available in most British shops, it takes the internet to promote titles between countries.

It is a great anthology of short stories. Lots of the stories pick up on the pressure young people are under to achieve in a world which seems to offer little in return. I was pleased to find stories about first jobs and post-school choices – this is something I think British YA is lacking. In every other age-band it is commonly understood that young people want to read about the near future, as well as the things which reflect their current age. There are stories here about balancing school with a part time job, about university choices and how difficult it can be to move away from the life you have always known.

I would love to hear what some teenage readers think about the anthology. Did you feel it reflected your concerns?

In one sense it was nice not to recognise the author names because I read blind. I didn’t know whether an author was a debut author, a major award-winner or a midlist staple. I read the words alone. Having read these stories, I am keen to read novels bythe featured authors, and to explore the breadth of Aussie YA. Here are some short reviews of my favourite stories:birdOne Small Step by  Annie Kaufman

 The first child born on a Mars colony has been featured on social media since birth. Every step of her life has been watched, and it is no different now she is making her choice about university. Zaida’s parents want her to accept Harvard so they can share the good news with their audience on Earth, but is that what Zaida wants? There is someone back on Mars she would like to stay for.

This story shows a problem which has only faced the current generation of kids – social media parenting. Do we have a right to put our child’s life on the internet? At what age should someone decide for themselves? These are new questions, and it is good to see conversation directed at the people who matter most: the young people who have grown up in a time of social media.

The pressure to decide your future at a young age is also well portrayed. Why does everyone think Zaida should know what she wants now? Where do we get this misconception that everyone picks one path? Young people are afraid to stray from the traditional route of school-university-career, but in reality most lives don’t work that way. What happens when you hate your course? When you want to do a job unrelated to your qualifications? When you relocate for love to a place which makes your job unviable? Young people need to know that these hurdles are normal, and life is less predictable than it can seem.

 

 

I Can See The Ending by Will Kostakis

Adam can see the future. He plots it on post-it notes every time he sees something new. He knows his friend’s kitten won’t survive, and he knows he will one day divorce the girl he wants to date. Should he date her, knowing how it ends?

A story which reminds us life won’t always be smooth. Things which have taken years to build can end in a moment. Should we give up before we hurt ourselves, or enter with realistic expectations?

Adam and Nina work in a shopping-centre food court, and Adam thinks he is losing hours because he has hit 18 and must be paid a higher salary. It was nice to see the dull, disappointing reality of youth depicted alongside the romance. Life isn’t all successes and late-night parties, and it is good for young readers to know that saving money in a boring job is where lots of things start.

 

 

Oona Underground by Lili Wilkinson

Meg would follow Oona anywhere. When Oona sent a note into circulation, saying it would predict her future love, Meg stole it. She couldn’t risk Oona choosing someone else. Meg follows Oona to the Witch Queen to learn their destiny.

A lyrical story about letting other people make their own choices. This reminded me of David Almond’s A Song for Ella Grey. Both have vibes of Orpheus and Eurydice, and both are about girls who love another girl so much they would follow her to the end of the world.

 

 

Last Night At Mount Solemn Observatory by Danielle Binks

 Bowie’s brother King is about to travel the world, and Bowie wants to be part of his last night in town. She loves King, and the friends he has made even though so many people don’t bother to get to know him because he uses sign language.

The descriptions of sign language were fascinating, and I loved how the characters’ names all made expressive signs. Bowie is a great protagonist – she loves maths, and there were lots of maths in-jokes. It was lovely to see a story where interest in maths is celebrated.

 

Louise Nettleton

Huge thanks to Harper 360 for my copy. Opinions remain my own.