Caisteal Beag

Cottage on a Hill from tinyhouseswoon.com

Cottage on a Hill from tinyhouseswoon.com


The lovely Julie Valerie has been featuring a series of 100 word flash fiction stories on her blog, all of them inspired by the Home Sweet Teeny Tiny Home Project. To read my story, follow the link below:

Caisteal Beag (Little Castle)

You can also find out more about this teeny tiny fiction project, and how to submit a story of your own, for inclusion in a teeny tiny ebook! (I’ll stop saying ‘teeny tiny’ now…)

Many thanks to Julie for letting me out to play on her blog. :-)

The Cat Owner’s Guide to Decorating the Christmas Tree

Bring in Christmas tree from boot of car. Go back to close boot. Remove cat from boot.

Set up tree base; fill with water. Stop cat from drinking the water.

Place tree in base; get husband to hold steady while screwing in fixing bolts. Push cat’s nose away from bolts. Cat decides to climb husband’s leg instead. Tell husband to stop jiggling around and moving the tree.

Cut mesh surrounding tree and throw to one side. This distracts cat for 0.0001 seconds.

Tree springs into shape. Cat springs into tree.


Remove cat from tree. Get Christmas lights from box and start to unravel. Cat tangles them up from other end as you unravel them.

Start to rope lights around tree. Cat unropes them faster. Distract cat by throwing a non-breakable bauble across room. Finish arranging lights.

Repeat as above; this time with tinsel.

Start hanging baubles. Continue to distract cat by rolling them. Realise there are 50 baubles all over the living room floor, leaving you with 4 to hang on the tree.

Give cat a scrap of tinsel to play with. Hang remaining baubles. Switch on lights. Step back to admire handiwork.

Get a well-deserved glass of wine from kitchen. Return to find cat in tree. Spend evening playing slightly drunken game of ‘catch the bauble’ as puss chucks them off the branches. Decide it’s quite cute, really. Go to bed.

Get up to find naked tree and highly decorated living room floor. On entering kitchen, find sparkly poops in litter tray.

Decide it’s not too early to start the wine again.

Our tree, before cats. It may not look like this now...

Our tree, before cats. It may not look like this now…

Thanks to Suzie over at Suzie81 Speaks for inspiring this piece, with her post The Cat Owner’s Guide To Wrapping Christmas Presents.

Next week: The Cat Owner’s Guide to Preparing Christmas Dinner… ;-)

Winter Warmers

This post was originally written for a blog hop last year, but I thought I’d revisit it for Julie Valerie’s Hump Day Blog Hop. Bloggers – join Julie on the last Wednesday of every month, share a link and read others. Readers – get lots of varied content in one place. Result!

This is a very sad snowman. I shall post a proper one shortly.

This is a very sad snowman. I shall post a proper one shortly.

So for this blog hop, I had to name the following things:

Favourite song with winter in the title or lyrics:

In the Bleak Midwinter sung by any lovely cathedral choir, at a midnight service on Christmas Eve/Day. I’m not a religious person, but I love this.

Favourite book about winter:

I’m going to name three. They’re about Christmas as well, and I always re-read them at this time of year:

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper – second in a series of five amazing books, filled with adventure and Celtic mythology. Will wakes on his eleventh birthday on Midwinter Day, to discover he is the last of the Old Ones of the Light, tasked with protecting the world from the rising Dark. He must seek out six ancient ‘signs’ to help turn back the Dark. This is the book that started my love of legends and magic.

Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher – a good old-fashioned love saga, perfect for curling up with next to a roaring fire. A group of ill-assorted people of all ages are brought together in an old house for Christmas. Will it be a disaster – or the best Christmas ever? And it’s set in the Scottish Highlands.

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett – the Discworld’s version of Christmas is even better than ours. Featuring Death, and his granddaughter Susan, two of my favourite Pratchett characters. What happens when Death has to stand in for the Hogfather? Can Susan save the Discworld from the machinations of the evil Mr Teatime? If you don’t read Pratchett (why not??) this will sound like gobbledygook, but it’s brilliant.

You can see how battered my copy of Winter Solstice is...

You can see how battered my copy of Winter Solstice is…

Favourite ‘hot’ winter film:

‘Hot’ as in featuring a sexy man? Hmm…

The Holiday as it stars Jude Law. Understated British sexiness. Or Chalet Girl – Bill Nighy can be my sugar daddy any day. ;-)

Favourite winter memory:

I’m going to be soppy and say the first Christmas hubby and I spent together. We put so much thought into our presents (even though we had very little money), we got a real tree, and we had a Christmas dinner that could have fed six people (the cat got a lot of it). It was magical, and we’ve tried to make it that way ever since. Aaww!

Favourite winter holiday destination:

You know, I like the crisp coldness of winter in Scotland. Okay, sometimes that’s rainy slushiness instead, but I think winter should be cold and summer should be hot. Don’t mix them up. So if I went somewhere, it would have to be cold and snowy. Vermont? Austria? Anyone want to pay for a holiday for me??

Snowman on Calton Hill, Edinburgh. Pic courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Snowman on Calton Hill, Edinburgh. Pic courtesy of bbc.co.uk

What books will be in your suitcase this winter?

All of the ones listed above. Also: The Christmas Spirit by Susan Buchanan, A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett, and many others! :-)

Like to party? Hop along the Hump Day Blog Hop on Julie Valerie’s Book Blog. Click here to return to the Hump Day Blog Hop.

Something Wicked…

This story originally featured on Mari Wells’s blog, for Witch Month. In case you missed it, here’s the latest instalment featuring my Lochie Witches…

 

Something Wicked This Way Comes

The Halloween decorations made the houses almost as festive as Christmas, Fenella thought as she walked home. It wasn’t even the day itself, yet porches were already decked out with strings of lights in the form of spiders or ghosts, giant plastic pumpkins lounged in gardens, and windows were draped with fake cobwebs. Fenella liked it. Who cared if Halloween had become fun and ‘Americanised’? It made a welcome change from her own Samhain, which was getting more intense every year.

The cloaked and hooded figure lounging in her doorway added to the spooky nature of the street. Except that Fenella hadn’t placed it there.

‘Well met by moonlight, Sister,’ the figure intoned, and then rather spoiled it by giggling.

Fenella burst out laughing. ‘Well met indeed.’ She pulled her visitor into a hug, and the hood fell back to reveal the mane of auburn hair and freckled features she knew and missed. ‘Hi, Kate.’

 

‘So what brings you here?’ Fenella sank into an armchair and took a swig of her tea. ‘And why can’t you just phone, like a normal person? Or does that Goddessforsaken town you live in not have phones?’

Kate jiggled her mug from hand to hand, perched on the edge of the comfy Ikea sofa. The room could not be more different from her own living space. Fenella favoured bright, modern fabrics and light wood. Kate’s ancient cottage was welcoming, but in a muted, faded sort of way.

‘We have the internet too, you know,’ Kate said primly. ‘Also, flushing toilets.’ She grimaced at her scalding hot coffee, but drank it anyway. ‘Oh – and vampires, of course.’

‘Yes, they do rather lower the tone of the place.’ They spoke lightly, but Fenella knew her friend was worried. ‘I take it they’re being more of a problem than usual?’

Kate had left the coven many years ago, and taken on the unofficial and unenviable job of keeping an eye on the town over the river. As well as the human population, there was a thriving colony of vampires. Thanks to Kate’s vigilance, they mostly behaved themselves. The ones that got out of line were dealt with, either by Kate herself, or one of the warrior families allied with her.

‘One of them is.’ Kate pulled a face at Fenella. ‘I’m sorry to ask you so close to Samhain – I know you’re all busy – but would the Coven let me see the books? I need a spell stronger than any I’ve got. It’s a long shot, but there might be something in there that would help.’

‘It’s not the Coven, as such, we’ll need to see.’

Kate raised an eyebrow. ‘No?’

‘No. It’s young Evie.’

‘What!’ Kate nearly spilled her coffee. ‘What the hells – she’s about twelve, isn’t she?’

‘She’s sixteen.’ Fenella was already dialling a number on her mobile.

Kate finished her drink and took her mug into the kitchen. She gazed around the modern, tidy little space, thinking of her temperamental Aga and chipped Belfast sink. But then, Fenella didn’t do much magic here. Kate needed a large, practical kitchen. When she returned to the living room, Fenella was already pulling her coat back on.

‘We’re going? Right now?’

‘Yup. Come on, if we hurry, we’ll be in and out before her mum gets in. You know she doesn’t approve of the Coven…’

Kate snorted, grabbing her cloak. ‘Which is a bit ridiculous, since she comes from a family of witches.’

‘Yes, but she never had the talent, remember? It skipped a generation and came out in Evie – in a big way.’

The two women hurried along the street. Fenella paid no attention to the Halloween decorations this time. Instead, she worried about the wisdom of introducing Evie to Kate. They were the two most powerful witches she knew, and both inclined to be solitary, in spite of Evie’s belonging to the Coven. A lot of witches found Kate a bit weird. She mentally shook herself. Kate was a law unto herself, but that was all. Maybe she would even be a good example to Evie, who in Fenella’s opinion was a bit too cocky for a sixteen year old.

They arrived at a house which as far as Kate could tell, was a carbon copy of Fenella’s, except bigger. Fenella had scarcely knocked when the door flew open, revealing a teenager in skinny jeans and a band t-shirt, fair hair piled in a messy bun on top of her head.

‘Auntie Fen!’ Evie hugged Fenella, then looked past her. ‘And you must be Kate. I’ve heard all about you.’

‘Ha.’ Kate gave a little bow. ‘I hope I live up to expectations.’

They entered the smart hallway, a polished wooden floor leading to a flight of stairs carpeted in cream. Kate couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t a practical colour at all.

Evie seemed to read her mind. ‘Mum has the house looking as unwitchy as possible.’ She scowled. ‘Because she can’t do it, it doesn’t exist. Isn’t it awful? At least Auntie Fen’s is colourful, even though it’s modern. This is the blandest house in existence.’

‘That’s enough.’ Fenella poked her niece in the arm. ‘I take it we’re heading up to your room?’

‘Come on!’ Evie bounded up the stairs two at a time.

Fenella and Kate exchanged glances. ‘She is good,’ Fenella murmured.

‘I have no doubt of it.’ Kate had sensed the power in the girl. She was already a force to be reckoned with. Kate had been too, at that age.

They mounted the stairs and followed Evie into her bedroom. In many ways it was a typical teenage cave; clothes strewn about, posters of bands on the wall. The scent of roses filled the small space. Under the window a desk held a pile of assorted books and magazines, and an iPod dock. A miniature cauldron stood next to the desk, simmering away with a mixture the colour of pea soup. Also on the wall was a fire extinguisher. Evie was practical as well as talented.

‘You said vampires, Auntie Fen,’ Evie was sitting at the desk, leafing through an ancient tome, pages crackling. ‘That’s all in this volume, but I didn’t know exactly what sort of spell you wanted..?’

Fenella realised she didn’t know either. She sat on Evie’s bed, moving a plush toy owl out of the way. ‘You said ‘problem’, Kate? What sort of problem?’

Kate sat cross-legged on the floor, as though she were Evie’s age. ‘No, you said ‘problem’. It’s a bit more than that – and it’s two problems. Number one: I need a stronger Sensing Spell. A vampire passed my boundaries – and I didn’t know it.’

Fenella whistled. She knew how strong Kate’s magic was. ‘That must have been a powerful vamp.’

‘She is.’ Kate’s voice indicated she didn’t want to go into that. ‘The other problem…this vamp sucked a friend of mine dry. I healed him with a Blood Spell – with my blood. I don’t know what that makes him, but that can wait. For now, I need to strengthen my ability to see what comes into the town.’

‘Wow.’ Evie was staring at Kate in admiration. ‘There’s a few Sensing and Boundary Spells in here. Do you want to take the book? I don’t need it for – er – anything, just now.’

Kate looked at Fenella. ‘Would that be okay? I don’t want to upset the Coven.’

Fenella shook her head. ‘Evie’s had the books since she turned sixteen. Let’s face it; none of the rest of us are any good with them. If she’s happy for you to take it, that’s fine.’

‘Thank you, Evie.’ Kate nodded at the young witch. Glancing at the cauldron, she asked, ‘What are you working on, anyway? Smells like there’s a Love Potion in there somewhere.’

Evie wriggled. ‘Ah, well, it’s something my apothecary suggested. To improve the – uh – Samhain spell.’

‘Good Goddess, you guys aren’t still trying to conjure him?’ Kate said incredulously. ‘Whatever for? I know you want to relive the Lochie Witches’ glorious past, but honestly..!’

Fenella was wriggling too. ‘Well, we got the Great Black Dog last year,’ she retorted. ‘So we thought we’d try for – you know.’

‘I do know.’ Kate saw the woman in Evie, vying with the girl. The woman and the witch – a dangerous combination. ‘I know what you want him for, young miss. And I’ll tell you this – as your first, he’s a dangerous choice. If he’ll do it.’

‘How dare you!’ Evie sprang to her feet, knocking over her chair. ‘I know what I’m doing – I’m not some kid!’

‘Of course you’re not.’ Fenella glared at Kate, willing her to shut up. ‘It’s just that Kate’s got some…experience…’

‘With him? How can she?’ Evie asked. ‘No-one’s conjured him for centuries!’

‘Your coven hasn’t conjured him, you mean.’ Kate rose from her position on the floor. ‘That doesn’t mean that no-one else has.’

‘Oohh!’ Evie all but stamped her foot. ‘I don’t believe you!’

The argument was interrupted by a sharp ‘Pop!’ from behind them. The three women froze, and turned to the cauldron.

Evie’s concoction, which had been simmering moments ago, was seething and bubbling now like hot lava – if lava was a sickly shade of green. As they watched, the larger bubbles grew into tendrils, reaching up from the cauldron like rotting fingers. The rose petal scent was gone, replaced by a decayed, cloying smell.

‘It’s never done this before,’ Evie said uncertainly. Her anger at Kate was forgotten. She looked at the older witch.

‘Too much power in here…’ Kate mused, approaching the cauldron. ‘Is he part of this spell already?’

‘Yes,’ Evie whispered.

‘Evie!’ Fenella was horrified. ‘You know he’s not to be invoked until Samhain itself!’

‘I just wanted to try something.’ Evie’s voice held a tinge of fear. The fingers were elongating now, reaching out to the three of them, trailing down the sides of the cauldron towards the floor. Evie squeaked and jumped back. The potion was changing from green to black. An air of menace came with the change, as though some conscious entity was behind it.

‘Oh no!’ Evie moaned as the tendrils reached the carpet, causing it to sizzle and burn. ‘Mum’s going to kill me!’

Fenella would have laughed, if the situation hadn’t been so serious. What had Evie done?

Kate, however, appeared unperturbed. She reached out – and poked one of the blackened fingers. To Fenella and Evie’s surprise, it retreated.

‘Get back in that pot, you.’ Kate said conversationally. ‘Stop trying to scare people.’

The fingers stretched and warped and shivered, then shortened until they were sliding back into the cauldron.

‘I know you feed off emotion,’ Kate was lecturing the dark green gunge, which had settled a bit, although it was still bubbling. ‘But feeding off a witch’s anger is dangerous, even for you. Especially three witches – the magic number. Bugger off – and if you’re about at Samhain, watch your step.’

The pea soup mixture blew a raspberry at her, then went back to simmering. Evie and Fenella stared, open-mouthed. Evie recovered first.

‘Who were you talking to?’ she squeaked. ‘Not…not..?’

Kate patted the cauldron. ‘Sorry I lost my temper. That was stupid of me. You’ll be fine, Evie. Just be careful. And remember, he’s a man, once he’s in that skin. Just a man.’

‘That’s like,’ Evie replied slowly, ‘How he’s just a dog, when he’s a dog?’

‘People give him the power.’ Kate gathered up the spellbook from the desk. ‘Because they know what he is. But on Earth, not Below, he’s just whatever form he takes. Oh, he has words, and we all know how powerful words are. But that’s all. No magic, no superpowers, nothing.’

‘What’s he like?’ whispered Evie. ‘Really?’

‘What he was like for me won’t be the same as for you. Or for your Auntie Fen. Or Nana Anne. Or any of the others. Understand?’ She and Evie locked eyes for a moment.

Fenella had had enough. ‘Evie,’ she said firmly, ‘I don’t know if what we’re planning to do at Samhain is a good idea, after all.’

Kate patted her fellow witch’s shoulder. ‘I do. It is. I wish you every success, ladies.’ She tucked the spellbook under her arm. ‘I better get back. I have someone really evil to deal with.’ She met Evie’s eyes again. ‘Evil is all here on Earth. Remember that. Thanks again for the book – I’ll get it back as soon as I can.’

Evie and Fenella looked at each other as Kate turned for the door.

‘Kate!’ Evie called. ‘Thank you – for rescuing my bedroom carpet.’

Kate grinned. ‘Have fun with him – Sisters.’ She used the Coven’s term of address for each other.

‘Tell him Katarina says hi.’

 

Thanks to William Shakespeare for the title – even if he did take terrible liberties with the story of Macbeth…

Pic courtesy of eastsidepatch.com

Pic courtesy of eastsidepatch.com

An Apology In Advance

I discovered last year that this is the time when blogging goes a little bit askew. For someone without a large family, I do a surprising amount of stuff over the festive season. I am lucky to have a group of lovely friends to visit and who come to visit me. Then there’s the usual round of gigs, shows, carol concerts (several friends, and my mum-in-law, sing in two separate choirs). This year, a couple of extra things are happening, one good and one not so good.

I’ll start with the not so good thing: my mum has to go into hospital for an operation in December. Now, it should be straightforward, but my family doesn’t have a very good record when it comes to illness. If something can be complicated, it will be. Fingers crossed.

The good thing happening is that my cousin is getting married at the beginning of December. So I’m going to a winter wedding. At a venue up in the hills of central Scotland, overlooking a lake – it will be beautiful, but definitely cold and possibly snowy! Think my outfit will involve a dressy-but-warm coat of some kind.

The only bad thing about this wedding is the timing – it’s the day after I see Slash, Myles and Co. in concert. Yes, again. The other one was an extra; this is the official tour date. Fortunately, I’m booked in for hair and make-up the morning of the wedding. Good luck to my beautician on making me look presentable after a night of dancing, sweating and screaming at a gig. ;-)

Anyway, with all this going on, my presence in this world called the blogsphere may be a bit erratic. I’m also trying to get a short story completed for entry in a magazine, and I have vowed to myself I will have the first draft of my novel finished by February.

Fellow bloggers: apologies if I’m not around commenting and taking part in things as much as usual. I’ll be dropping in and out, just not as regularly as before. If I don’t speak to you, have a lovely Thanksgiving and Christmas and Winter Solstice and any other festival you celebrate. Or if you don’t, look after yourself and snuggle under a blanket with a good book. :-)

Karen xx

The winter wedding venue. The Vu, pic courtesy of humanistweddingsinscotland.blogspot.com

The winter wedding venue. The Vu, pic courtesy of humanistweddingsinscotland.blogspot.com

RnF’nR! Slash Brings Proper Music Back To MTV. I’m there!

Well, what a night that was! You all know I like a bit of rock ‘n’ roll. Last week I ended up at one of the best gigs EVER (and I’ve been to a few). :-)

An amazing announcement was made two weeks ago: Slash, Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators would be playing a gig to be filmed as part of MTV World Stage, on the run up to the European Music Awards in Glasgow. This gig would be available only to fans on Slash’s mailing list. Anyone who knows about music television will get what I mean – MTV don’t play music anymore. Especially not rock music. And an unexpected Slash gig! This was a pleasant surprise.

I lurked by the computer on the appointed sales day and got tickets, which were limited to two per person. The morning of the gig dawned, and hubby arranged to leave work early. Like the madpants that I am, I took the day off and queued at the venue in order to get to the front. I was accompanied by the usual suspects (you know who you are). ;-)

Security was tight: bags were searched on entry, as well as tickets being scanned and photo ID checked. This did make entering the venue a slightly saner experience than usual, as everybody was slowed down. Usually it’s a mad dash to see who can get to the barrier first! I marched in quickly (walk, don’t run) and gazed in surprise at a completely empty hall. I was first in! I strolled down and took up my favourite spot, right between where Slash and Myles would be standing. My crowd of crazy friends soon joined me and the hall filled up. MTV bigwigs and VIPs were up on the balcony, safe from us moshers downstairs.

The gig was a double bill with Glasgow band Biffy Clyro going first. They’re not my kind of thing, but their fans had a ticket allocation as well and certainly got things going. After that came one of the quickest turnarounds ever seen in order to get their gear off and Slash’s on, so the latter wouldn’t break curfew. (Ha – they still ran over). The already-buzzing crowd got more and more excited, and totally drowned out the wee lassie from MTV when she announced Slash.

Slash and Myles take command of the stage

Slash and Myles take command of the stage

From the moment the guys took to the stage, the crowd, myself included, went MENTAL. This band just get better and better every time I see them. Every rock fan (and many others) knows Slash’s signature guitar style and top-hatted appearance, but vocalist Myles Kennedy is a force to be reckoned with. I stand by my opinion that he has the most versatile voice in rock. He delivers songs by Guns ‘n’ Roses, Velvet Revolver – basically every band Slash has played in up to now, as well as their own stuff – and manages to keep the feel of the old numbers as well as adding his own style. I could listen to this guy sing forever. Yes, I do have a crush.

Myles singing - to me! *swoon*

Myles singing – to me! *swoon*

Bassist and backing vocalist Todd Kerns is an amazing musician in his own right – check him out, rock people – as are Brent Fitz on drums and Frank Sidoris who provides extra depth to the guitar sound on tour. They all manage to be slick and down ‘n’ dirty at the same time. Although the set was shorter than usual, they squeezed in 14 tracks, including four from the new album ‘World On Fire’. Brilliant stuff.

Talented guys

Talented guys

Highlights of my evening: having Myles sing part of ‘Anastasia’ to me, getting a handshake and a thumbs up from him at the end, and Slash throwing a setlist in my general direction – which several hands grabbed for and missed, but a nice security guard handed it up to me. Result!

The Cat in the Hat

The Cat in the Hat

Long-suffering hubby enjoyed himself alongside me and took these super photos. Big kisses to him.

Addendum: Since I began writing this, the guys also closed the MTV EMAs show proper, with a tribute to Ozzy Osbourne, who received a Global Icon award. Slash and the boys (together with Simon Neil from Biffy Clyro) played a fantastic rendition of Ozzy’s hit ‘Crazy Train’. Ozzy and Sharon were in the audience and loving it! Awesome.

If you like your rock ‘n’ roll loud but fun, go and see Slash, Myles and Co. You’d be mad not to. I’ll stop burbling now. ;-)

See you again soon, guys!

See you again soon, guys!

Counting Down and Looking Back

The countdown to Halloween has begun! It’s one of my favourite holidays – well, it would be, with my love of things witchy and spooky. This week, I shall be carving pumpkins and decorating the house ready for the day itself. Somehow, two creepy skulls have found their way into my collection. Think I’ll sit them either side of the front door. Don’t worry, they’re not real (or are they..?) ;-)

As Halloween used to be the end of the year, I’m using it as an excuse to do a little recap. I’m also six months into my second year of blogging. So how has this year gone so far?

Well, I’ve written a lot of short stories, some finished, some still needing work. Many of them have been written at the request of other bloggers, for special events and story prompt challenges. I’m very flattered that others want to feature my ramblings! I even won a writing competition with one of them: Do You Believe In Magic?

I’ve kept up my practice of blogging at least once a week. This is good for me, as it makes me sit down and write SOMETHING. Unfortunately, we had a little family crisis a couple of months ago, and my writing routine suffered. Things are getting back on track now, so hopefully I’ll get back to doing the stuff that’s fallen by the wayside, namely:

Submitting to magazines and anthologies. I missed a couple of deadlines over the last two months. Annoying, but life gets in the way, as they say.

Working on my poor neglected novel. I really must get back to this. A writer friend has just finished her first draft, so I need to get my butt in gear!

Overall, though, I’m happy with writerly things. On the non-writerly front, back in April and May, I was one of the lead trainers for the Commonwealth Games volunteer drivers. That was hard work, but fun! And long-suffering hubby and I had a fantastic summer holiday in Tunisia: I’m back! (What do you mean, you didn’t notice I was gone?)

Some other highlights from the last quarter:

Top post: Things I Can’t Do Now I’m Over 40. Lots of you identified with this one, and added your own suggestions to it!

Top fiction: The Blood and the Cauldron, written for Mari Wells’s Vampire Month.

Thank you to all my readers for supporting me, and have a Happy Halloween everyone! :-D