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

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Hi all! As promised, I’m over at Mari Wells‘s blog today, with my story for Witch Month. If you’ve read my previous witchy stuff, you’ll see some familiar faces. Less than a week to Halloween – and the magic is hotting up… ;-)

Follow this link – if you dare!

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Pic courtesy of eastsidepatch.com

Pic courtesy of eastsidepatch.com

The Logie Witches

Last year I started writing short stories based around this local legend. There’s another tale coming soon, for Halloween. Meanwhile, I’ll let you be creeped out by the ‘factual’ version… ;-)

 

A few miles from my home stand the ruins of Logie Old Kirk (Kirk being the old Scots word for church). Situated just outside Stirling, a church was first dedicated in this ancient parish around 1173. The ruins date back to around 1592.

In 1720, the Old Kirk was said to be used by ‘The Witches of Logie’ for their rituals. It was probably already falling into disrepair at this time. The use of churches by those practising the ‘Black Mass’ is well documented. Old, often abandoned kirks frequently appear as the meeting place for covens in Scottish folklore.

Logie Old Kirk

Logie Old Kirk

Behind the Old Kirk is the hill known as ‘Carly Crag’ or ‘Witches Craig’. Carly, or carlin, is the old Scots word for witch, or old woman (from the Gaelic cailleach). It was on Carly Crag that the Logie Witches were supposed to meet with the devil himself, who took the form of a black dog with burning eyes. He would cavort among the witches with a blue torch attached to his hind quarters. Quite why he needed a blue torch there remains unclear! Also, the Evil One was running the risk of a singed bottom, as torches and lamps burned oil at that time. Maybe, being the devil, he was impervious to flame!

Carly Crag

Carly Crag

There are several documents pertaining to this local legend:

In David Morris’s (1935) essay on the local township, he told the common story that “an elder in (the new) Logie Kirk was of the opinion that the Carla’ Craig…was haunted.” At the end of the 19th century, Morris remembered a local lady known as ‘Ailie’, who was said by many old folk to be the traditional ‘witch of Logie’:

“Sickly children were brought to her for her blessing. Occasionally people came from as far as Stirling on this errand. Her method of giving the blessing was to blow her breath on the child, and this was supposed to ward off evil. It was also said that anyone buried in Logie Kirkyard on the first day of May, Halloween, or other days of that kind, without her blessing, would not rest in his grave…”

Another legend told to Morris stated that:

“Around 1720 witches were believed to rendezvous with the Evil One who would appear in the form of a large black dog.” This is clearly the most well-known tale relating to Logie Old Kirk and Carly Crag. Again, the devil appearing in the form of a dog crops up more than once in the folklore of Scotland.

Another account of the belief in witchcraft and animistic pre-Christian rites on the crag came from Charles Rogers (1853):

“About the second decade of last century, there lived in the parish of Logie several ill-favoured old women, to whom the reputation of witchcraft was confidently attached. They were believed to hold nocturnal dialogues and midnight revels with the Evil One, and Carlie Crag was regarded as one of their places of rendezvous. Satan, though he was believed to appear to them in various forms, was understood, in his interviews with the dreaded sisterhood, to appear most frequently in the aspect of a large shaggy dog, in which form it was alleged he had repeatedly been seen by the minister.”

I first heard the story of The Logie Witches when visiting the Witches Craig Caravan Park, where I was testing a new tent, believe it or not! I wondered how the park had got its name, and this led me to the local legend, and my explorations of Logie Old Kirk and the Carly Crag. Do the kirk, and the crag, feel spooky? A bit. Do they feel evil? No. The Old Kirk is now overlooked by several modern dwellings, though they do not detract much from its isolated location. There are several interesting gravestones in the Kirkyard, featuring masonic symbols and the macabre skull carvings which are common on grave markers of this era. There is now a new Logie Kirk, built in the early 1800s and still in use, closer to the nearby caravan park and visible from the modern road. The Old Kirk is further up into the hills, shrouded by trees, so it can’t be seen from the roadside.

Macabre gravestone

Macabre gravestone

I used the tale of The Logie Witches as inspiration for a short story, The Summoning, featuring a modern day version of the coven. I played around with the locations of the various landmarks a bit (artistic licence!), as I thought it would be funny if my witches had to contend with the road and the caravan park. I then wrote The Potion Mistress as another little spin-off.

The crag is a fine site for ritual magic, and its associated devil-lore may simply derive from Pictish shamanistic practices, remains of which have been found across the Scottish hills. These rites survived longer in the remote areas of Scotland than in other parts of Britain. On the other hand, maybe witches did indeed meet with the devil there. Maybe they still do..?

(References: Morris, David, B., “Causewayhead a Hundred Years Ago”, in Transactions of the Stirling Natural History and Archaeological Society, 1935. Roger, Charles,” A Week at Bridge of Allan”, Adam & Charles Black: Edinburgh 1853.)

The Potion Mistress

So…Halloween is fast approaching. This flash fiction story was originally written for a Creative Writing course assessment, last year. As one of the characters will be popping up again in a new tale on Mari Wells‘s blog later this month, I thought I’d remind you about our precocious Lochie Witch… ;-)

**********

The shop bell rang, jangling her aching bones as well as her ears. Abigail narrowed her eyes, assessing the girl as she entered. Her customer was pretty, but unlike many, had taken no particular care with her appearance. Fair hair scraped up into a messy bun, no make-up, no jewellery, yet she carried herself with immense confidence. This young lady was good at something, and knew it. Abigail wondered what it was.

The girl approached, pulling a piece of paper from her bag. She regarded Abigail the way they all did: not seeing her, just a person behind a counter.

“I need these.” The girl held out the paper. “Do you stock them?” Abigail slid her glasses down from where they were holding her frizz of hair back. She took the list and peered at the tiny writing, then turned to the shelves behind her. “We have them all,” she answered over her shoulder. “I’ll just be one moment”. Might as well get the hard-to-reach one out of the way first. Pulling the ladder towards her, she climbed painfully onto the first step.

“Umm…” Her customer sounded less sure of herself. “Can I give you a hand?”

“I can manage,” Abigail snapped, then winced. Mother wouldn’t be pleased if she lost a customer due to being touchy about her – condition. “Sorry.” As she reached for the jar, she couldn’t help thinking: my hands work fine, thank you very much!

“So does your sarcasm.” Abigail fumbled the container in shock, then caught it. Dismounting the ladder as fast as she dared, she faced the young woman. “How did you hear that?”

“You might as well have screamed it.” The girl was looking at Abigail properly now, her mouth twisting in amusement. She held out her hand, an old-fashioned gesture. “I’m Evie.”

“Abigail.” They shook hands. Abigail placed the jar in front of Evie. “Do you want to check this?”

Evie removed the lid, and the scent of roses filled the air. “Mmm, wonderful. Yes, that’ll do nicely. You said you had the other ingredients?”

“I do.” Abigail collected the other two jars. Evie sniffed the second one in approval. The third one, she opened and dipped a finger towards. A single drop rose from the jar and landed on her finger, like a raindrop falling the wrong way. Evie blew on the liquid, and Abigail watched it dissolve into a million sparkling fragments, blue-black like the sky of a storm, before they disappeared. Now she knew what her customer was.

“You’re a witch.” Abigail could scarcely believe it. “A real one. But you’re so…”

“Young?” Evie’s eyes seemed to look right inside Abigail. For the first time, someone saw her. “You’re an apothecary. A real one. And you’re too young.”

“I’m sixteen!” Her voice was defensive. It always was. “Mother can’t manage anymore…and I’m better than her, anyway. At making…stuff. I just can’t get around the shop as fast.”

“What’s wrong with your legs?” Evie asked bluntly. Abigail liked her for that. No pussyfooting around the subject.

“Spina bifida. They thought I might never walk at all.”

Evie nodded.

“My grandmother told me about this place. She said it was the best. I think she knew your mum well – back in the day. Gran said, if the daughter’s half as good as her mum you’ll be all right. Looks like that’s true.” Evie replaced the lid on jar number three. “Why are you so surprised to see a real witch? I thought you’d get loads of us in here.”

“No,” snorted Abigail. “Lots of people who think they are – or want to be. Girls – women – wearing pentagrams or moon symbols and carrying tarot cards. Or the ones who want to know how to stay beautiful or catch some man…” She trailed off, knowing what was in the jars in front of her. The makings of a bona-fide love potion.

“It’s not what you think.” Evie reached for her purse as Abigail measured the ingredients into stoppered vials. “You know what next Thursday is? Sorry, of course you do!” She amended as Abigail glared. “Well…the coven’s going to have another go. I think this is what’s been missing. This is the first year I’ve been allowed to read the books, but I’m really good at doing this – stuff.” They shared a conspiratorial glance.

“The sisters sent me here to get the missing ingredients. I’m glad they did. You know your stuff – like what these are for. Hopefully, this time we’ll succeed.”

Abigail stared at her, then the penny dropped.

“The Sisters?” she exclaimed. “You’re one of the Lochie coven? Then that means you’re going to…”

Evie nodded. “On Samhain. At the Old Kirk. This year we’ll do it.” Her face took on a wistful expression.

“We’ll conjure – him.”

*********************

If you’ve read The Summoning (if you haven’t, why not? Go and read it now!) you’ll know who Evie is trying to conjure, and in what form. Will she succeed? Wait and see…

The Old Apothecary Shop by Olivier le Queinec

The Old Apothecary Shop by Olivier le Queinec

The Crazy Cat Lady Strikes Again

As those of you who follow me on Facebook may know – I’ve adopted another one! Or she’s adopted me, whichever way round you think it works. Here’s the latest addition to our furbaby family: Arwen, aka Towanreef Autumn Sunset (isn’t that a posh mouthful?)

Arwen

Arwen

Of course she’s adopted long-suffering hubby, and our other three cats too. Sooty (black fluffball from hell) is ignoring her, as she does with everyone. Frodo (white fluffball from marshmallow land) likes her. And Sam the other barmy Bengal…well, the big wuss is a bit scared of her. Arwen refuses to be intimidated by his size and shoutyness, and this is confusing him greatly. But he’s getting there. She keeps trying to play with him, and pounce on him – in other words, she’s wearing him down. Hilarious to watch.

My bestest buddy, the even-crazier cat lady and breeder, rehomed this girl with us. Arwen is a young adult (she’s just turned two). She’s very frisky, nosy and mischievous. Favourite tricks so far: getting into the under-stair cupboard and knocking things over, climbing on top of the kitchen cabinets, and jumping into the fridge. Sam used to be able to do the latter, but he’s too much of a big heffalump now.

Arwen is also clever. She learned to use the cat flap without lessons from me, or the door being propped open. She’s the only cat we’ve had who’s managed this. Brains as well as beauty!

Eagle-eyed readers will spot a trend emerging with our cat names. When we adopted Frodo in January, and decided on his name, we didn’t even think about the ‘Frodo and Sam’ thing. But on adopting the new girl, we decided to stick with our Lord of the Rings theme, hence Arwen. I think we’ll change Sooty’s name to Smaug, as that’s the character she most strongly resembles. ;-)

So we have two girls and two boys – and that’s it! Yeah, yeah, I hear you say. No, seriously, I think four is enough for now. The more you have, the more complicated it gets, with territories, rivalries, and whatnot. Also, expensive! They are all fully vaccinated, microchipped, and insured, things I strongly believe in. They are also spoiled when it comes to cat food. They probably get better nutrition than me (she says, reaching for another cake).

Look out for Arwen (and the other furries) in future posts. I’ll leave you with another pic of this gorgeous girl.

Beautiful sunny lady

Beautiful sunny lady

How I Like My Vampires – a Guest Post on Jeanie Grey’s Blog

My friend and fellow vamp-o-phile Jeanie Grey kindly asked me to write a guest post, on how I like my vamps and why. In answering this question, I manage to include booze and sex as well, so I reckon that covers the essentials. ;-)

Jeanie is an excellent author of ‘extraordinary romance and erotica’. Follow me over to her blog to see what she writes, and while you’re there check out my ramblings.

Meanwhile, I’ll return to my writing desk, and mixing my vampires and my witches. Is that like mixing the grape and the grain? Wait and see…

“How I Like My Vampires” by Karen Soutar, on Jeanie Grey’s Blog

Thanks to Jeanie Grey for making this quote look cool!

Thanks to Jeanie Grey for making this quote look cool!

Do You Believe In Magic?

Back in July, Twitter friend and writer Rayne Hall ran a little writing contest. The challenge was to write a short piece where all the dialogue was in the form of questions. One character has something to hide; the other probes. I entered the story below, and was delighted to be chosen as the winner!

As magic is on my mind, and with the Witching Month approaching, I share it with you now. It’s a wee flash fiction of 300 words, but who knows where it may lead… ;-)

**********

‘What are you?’ He whispered.

Her steady gaze made him ashamed of his question. But he had to know.

‘What do you think I am?’

He shook his head. ‘How should I know? Is there some – logical – explanation for what you can do?’

‘What do you mean by logical?’ She walked round the table, trailing her fingers along the magazines and books strewn there. Did the pages flutter, the models on the covers stretch and sway as though they longed to be free?

He didn’t want to believe that everything he knew was wrong. It must be an illusion. That was it. He was hallucinating. ‘Did you slip me something at the party last night?’

‘Is that what you think of me?’ The hurt in her voice spiked his heart. ‘I think I’d better go, don’t you?’

He wanted to say no, but his treacherous throat closed up.

She scooped her coat from a chair. ‘Do you want this to go somewhere? Are you willing to take a risk?’

This? Was there a ‘this’? Yes, there was, and he knew it. He just needed to get his head round it. He forced his stupid voice to say something.

‘Why won’t you tell me what happened last night?’

Her hand was on the door knob, and she paused. Her back was to him when she spoke. ‘Are you ready to hear the answer? Or do you want to keep believing you imagined it?’

The thought of not seeing her again was making his chest ache. She was looking at him now, one eyebrow raised. He tried to put everything he felt into his gaze, since his brain and his mouth still weren’t connecting too well. Maybe it worked, because she let go of the door. Her next words thrilled and terrified him all at once.

‘Do you believe in magic?’

Pic courtesy of newauthors.wordpress.com

Pic courtesy of newauthors.wordpress.com