Happy 3rd Blogiversary To Me!

Pic courtesy of littlebcakes.com

Pic courtesy of littlebcakes.com


It is 3 years to the day since I published my 1st blog post. Woo hoo! *stuffs face with cake* *chokes* *swigs champagne to wash it down*

Right, now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time for my usual ‘what have I achieved in this last year of blogging and writing’ bit. GROAN – long-suffering hubby and everyone else

Oh shush, you lot. I’ll rattle through the list, and get back to posting cute cat pictures asap. Number 1 definitely has to be…

I kept blogging! And writing!
It turned out to be a much busier year than expected. Mum and I sold the house I grew up in (I inherited my Dad’s share), and hubby and I helped Mum move into a lovely bungalow. From my share of the house sale, hubby and I were able to undertake some major renovations to our house. All this took up most of the summer. Then, in the autumn, I unexpectedly got not one, but two promotions at work. Eek!
The promotions would have been no problem…except because not much had been happening at work prior to this, I had undertaken two new writing-related projects in September, so suddenly everything was happening at once. Aarrgh! In the face of all this, I’m delighted I kept up my blog, and my short story writing. Although in all fairness, the latter was helped by one of the aforementioned projects, namely, me joining…

Falkirk Writers’ Circle
This turned out to be a great idea. The Circle has a busy programme of events, so I’ve attended workshops, read my work aloud, written new stuff, and will even have a chance to perform some of my work in front of an audience during a Words and Music evening in May. The latter is part of the Falkirk Tryst, an Arts Festival which takes place every year. The music part is supplied by a local folk band.

On the subject of those writing-related projects I undertook, the other one was me deciding to do my…

Open University Degree in English Literature and Creative Writing
I’m nearing the end of my current course, as I write this post. I have enjoyed it – but I think I may miss out next year and resume my studies in a year’s time. Work, and the Writers’ Circle, is making fitting in studying difficult, and to be honest I’d rather concentrate on those first two for now.

And finally…

Published work
Short story ‘Cu-sielge Dubh’ in The Sirens Call eZine (Issue #22 Supernatural Horror).
An article in Divine Magazine, an LGBTQ publication, on a topic that’s close to home for me.
I’ve been featured on the Flash Fiction Podcast ‘No Extra Words’, with my story The House.
I have also, through my work with Falkirk Writers’ Circle, had three short stories published in the local newspaper, The Falkirk Herald.

So all in all, not a bad year! In the coming year, I intend to:

Keep blogging, and publishing short fiction on my blog (of course!)

Continue working with Falkirk Writers’ Circle

Keep submitting stories to magazines and anthologies

And of course, keep posting cute kitty pics! I promised you some, didn’t I? Here they are:

Thanks and big hugs to all my readers!

Karen xx

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The Sirens Call – Issue 25 – Things That Go Bump in the Night

I was very flattered to be offered the chance to showcase my photography in this month’s issue of The Sirens Call eZine. There’s a little interview with me as well. Thanks very much to Nina for thinking of me when it came to the artwork for this issue.
The eZine also features poetry, flash fiction, and short stories from an all female line-up, in honour of Women in Horror Recognition Month.

Click here to download your free copy!

Women in Horror Month

I’m gruesomely delighted to be featured today on Nina D’Arcangela’s blog, Spreading the Writer’s Word, for Women in Horror Month. Join me as I chat about my favourite horror books and films. And don’t forget to check out the other posts – Nina has been doing at least one a day, the tireless lady. You may discover some new favourite writers.

Oh yes, and here’s a link to find out what else is going on for Women in Horror Month.

Inspiring Rooms, A Writers’ Circle, and the Open University Again

Hi people! Well, after my good intentions to get back to blogging after my holiday, I discovered that it’s very hard to concentrate when your house is a building site. But – the Great Kitchen Renovation is done! Complete! Finito! Thank f*** for that. (Pardon my French.) It looks fantastic, and together it and I have already produced a lavish Scottish-themed dinner for me, hubby, and two German friends who were visiting last week. You should see how much wine food I can fit in my new fridge!

Pic courtesy of blogyourwine.com

Pic courtesy of blogyourwine.com

The ground floor of the house is now resplendent in a colour scheme of reds and creams, although Frodo Cat is trying to add more cream by spreading his fur far and wide. Now that downstairs is back to normal, I have finally been able to tidy the office (which has had half the downstairs furniture in it up until now). This is in readiness for much writing, especially as I have taken on two new ‘things’, as follows:

A few weeks ago I attended my first meeting of the Falkirk Writers’ Circle. I enjoyed it very much and have been going weekly ever since. I received a lovely welcome in week 1, and said so at the end of the meeting. When I turned up for week 2, several members expressed delight, as apparently people often turn up for the first time, enthuse about how much they’ve enjoyed themselves, and then never return. I guess no-one wants to say, ‘Oh dear, I don’t think this is for me after all’, or whatever. Maybe it’s the prospect of reading their own work aloud? Who knows. Anyway, I loved it and I loved week 2, which was indeed a ‘Read Your Own Work’ week. Such a great variety of pieces! Poetry: rhyming, not rhyming, and written in Scots. Chapters of novels. Memoirs. Flash fiction. Short stories. I think I’m going to be in good company, and encouraged to write more and improve my writing, which is great. I’ve already been inspired by two guests, Janet Paisley and Alan Bissett, who spoke about poetry and prose respectively, and gave us writing exercises to do. The Circle has a packed programme of events, so whatever you write there’s something to interest you.

Pic courtesy of falkirkwriters.org.uk

Pic courtesy of falkirkwriters.org.uk

Aaand…I decided a few months ago to bite the bullet and go for my degree in English Literature and Creative Writing with the Open University. Some of you may remember I did their Level 2 Creative Writing course last year, and that will count towards the degree. I have to fill in the gap, as it were, of Level 1 courses this year and next. So this week I start a course on The Arts Past and Present, which has literature, but also painting, sculpture, film…I think it will be interesting, and hopefully my studies last year will stand me in good stead, as I already know how the OU website works, how to submit work, and how to take part in online tutorials and chats. Now that my preferred writing and study space is sorted, I’m raring to go!

Of course, there is a tiny spanner in the works: the OU tutorials are on the same evening as the Writers’ Circle! Aargh! They’re not every week though, so I’ll attend the first one, introduce myself, meet my tutor…and then see how many I actually go to. If the Writers’ Circle is doing something particularly good that night, I think they’ll win. 😉

This might be me soon...

This might be me soon…

Phew! That’s all my news, I think. Feel free to bombard me with yours in the comments. I’m bound to have missed some things over the last few weeks.

(Oh, and don’t think you’ve escaped my Istanbul photos. They, and a blog post, will be on their way soon… 😀 )

The Sirens Call – Issue #22 – Supernatural Horror

I’m a busy bee just now! I’m so pleased to feature in the fantastic FREE ezine The Sirens Call this month. Check out my twisted tale on page 4, along with lots of other great horror stories, features and artwork.

(For my short story, I had another little play with a local legend, but in a more sinister and gruesome way…)

The Witches Craig, pic by Karen Soutar

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.

Double, Double Toil and Trouble

The cauldron is being stirred once again. I’ve sent Sam the Bengal Cat out to look for frogs, newts and other ingredients I need. Unfortunately, he’s the most incompetent familiar in the world, so I’m likely to get leaves, seeds, and drinking straws (don’t ask).

October is the Witching Month over at Mari Wells‘s blog, and I’m preparing a tale of covens, spells and other strange things. We’ll meet some of the Lochie Witches again, as well as Kate, a solitary witch who featured in my serial for Mari’s Vampire Month. Who knows, maybe a vamp or two will sneak in..?

Thank you William Shakespeare for the title of this post. I will undoubtedly be stealing lines from you again in weeks to come, William. That also goes for Messrs. Burns and Pratchett. And possibly Ms. Rice.

To warm my lovely readers up, I’ll be featuring stories old and new in September, with witches, vampires, and those unfortunates who meddle with them. Let’s go back to the beginning, when we first met the Lochie Witches… 😉

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

The Summoning

The witch could see the caravans through the trees. They were an incongruous background to the activities taking place in the ruins of the old Kirk. She pulled a face. Legacy was all very well, but she sometimes wished their rituals happened in a different location. After all, it seemed wrong to summon the Evil One not a hundred metres from shower blocks and chemical toilet sheds.

“Stop daydreaming, Sister!” The voice cut through her thoughts. Aunt Aileen, brandishing a large wooden ladle, broke through her reverie and brought her attention back to what The Sisters were doing. They all called each other Sister, although none of them actually were. They were all related, albeit sometimes distantly – connected by their ancestry, going all the way back to the famous Lochie Witches of the 1700s. Those witches, however, had not had to contend with a busy road on one side and a caravan holiday park on the other. Back then, the Kirk had been remote and hidden amongst the trees at the foot of the Crag. Now, tourists roamed the grounds by day, although admittedly, there were not too many of them braving the Scottish weather at this time of year. At night, there was always the chance that a gang of lads and lassies from the nearby town would want to use the place for drinking or shagging or both.

The coven was the bedraggled remnants of those witches of the 18th century. Not for the first time, Fenella found herself wishing that more of the female line had died out. If they could no longer gather thirteen witches, then she wouldn’t be freezing her arse off on Samhain, trying to summon Auld Nick with fragments of ancient spell books, and a coven consisting of seven senior citizens, three working mums, two singletons and a precocious fourteen year old who was enjoying it all a little too much. Every year they tried to replicate what their infamous ancestors had done, and every year nothing happened, apart from Nana Anne setting her dress on fire and her cousin Jess falling over a tree root and twisting her ankle. Until last year, when the spell might be said to have worked. They had indeed conjured “auld Nick in shape o’ beast” – to quote a famous poem – except the beast in question was a large black beetle. The only reason that they knew the beetle was the Evil One was by the mark on its carapace. It had waved its antennae at them reproachfully and then spent the rest of the night sitting on Evie’s shoulder, much to the teenager’s delight. It hadn’t seemed inclined to do anything else – but then what could he do as a beetle? The 18th century coven had summoned him in the form of a huge black dog, which was much more the thing. Apparently the great hound had roamed the hills all night, terrorising locals and sheep, until the dawn sent him back Below.

Nana Anne stated she was positive she knew which part of the spell had gone wrong and this year they would succeed – properly. Fenella put her thoughts to one side and, at Aunt Aileen’s frantic ladle-waving, returned to the circle of Sisters around the cauldron. The potion was complete and being stirred by the three most senior coven members: Nana Anne, Nana Evelyn (her niece Evie’s namesake) and Aunt Aileen. It was the job of the others to chant the spell, ensuring that the last word was spoken at precisely six minutes past seven. Fenella had often wondered about the significance of that time, but it was in one of the spellbook fragments that had survived unscathed and was very definite. The hour – or six minutes past – was fast approaching. She joined hands with her other Sisters and, at a nod from Nana Anne, started to chant. At the exact same moment, the three witches in charge of the cauldron changed direction with their ladles and stirred counter-clockwise.

The skies above darkened further, if such a thing were possible during a Scottish autumn. Angry clouds gathered overhead and the wind picked up, whistling round the old stone walls of the Kirk and sighing through the trees. The surface of the liquid in the cauldron became as shiny as glass, and even with the stirring of the ladles the massing clouds were reflected in it. The wind was howling now, sounding like the mournful cry of a dog, and Fenella’s scalp prickled. This felt different to the last time, sure enough. There was a…presence, that was the only word she could think of…to the storm, an intensity that she hadn’t encountered before. She chanted with more purpose, her voice stronger and clearer. The others had felt it too, even young Evie, whose face had lost its this-is-fun-because-I-shouldn’t-be-doing-it look and taken on a determined expression. As the climax of the spell was chanted and the ladles made their last turn counter-clockwise, the clouds reached down from the sky, tendrils of grey searching like groping arms in the dark until they found their target – the cauldron. The link that formed between the liquid and the clouds looked like the tornado from The Wizard Of Oz, except for the colours contained within it. The blue-black of the night sky vied with the steel grey of the clouds and the glassy texture of the potion, which itself flashed all the colours of a prism as the column spun faster and faster. Fenella twisted her wrist, not letting go of her Sister’s hand, and sneaked a glance at her watch. They had finished the chant at exactly six minutes past seven. Just as she looked back at the column, it collapsed in on itself, swirling into nothingness in the bottom of the cauldron. There was a single crack of thunder overhead, but no rain fell. Instead, the ensuing silence was absolute. Hardly daring to breathe, the Sisters all leaned forward, but cautiously, in case a massive hound jumped out of the cauldron at any moment.

This, unfortunately, did not happen.

What did happen was that from the cauldron came a short, sharp bark.

Evie was the first one to move forward. Letting go of her Sisters’ hands, she stepped forward three paces and peered over the edge. Her face broke into a massive grin.

“Has it worked?” Nana Anne asked eagerly – far too eagerly for a ninety-year-old woman, Fenella thought. And what a stupid question! If they had indeed conjured the huge black dog of legend, it should have bounded out of the cauldron at the precise moment that the column disappeared. There was no room in there for anything larger than – oh no – surely not…

“Well,” Evie said slowly, “It’s kind of worked…” She reached both arms into the cauldron. When they came out, they were holding a black dog.

A little black dog.

There was a moment of stunned silence. On the one hand, it was a dog. This was a definite improvement on last year. On the other hand, Auld Nick wasn’t going to be doing much terrorising this year either. He looked like…

“I think he’s a Scottie,” Evie said hesitantly. “That’s good, isn’t it? I mean, we are a coven of famous Scottish witches.” Fenella groaned.

“I suppose it is him?” asked Nana Evelyn. She stepped round the cauldron, careful of any treacherous tree roots, and stood beside her granddaughter. Smoothing the dog’s fur back, she checked behind his ear. Sure enough, there was the mark. “It’s him. Well. Sisters, we must congratulate ourselves. This is a step forward from last year.” The dog wriggled. Evie put him down on the overgrown floor of the Kirk. Once again, Auld Nick glared up at them with a reproachful expression. Being a dog this time rather than a beetle, it was much more effective. The Sisters hung their heads, not wanting to meet his eyes. All except Evie, who seemed oblivious to the undercurrents running between the little dog and the older coven members. She scooped him back up and cuddled him. He wriggled a few times, then gave up, barked his sharp bark again and licked Evie’s face with a long pink tongue. She giggled.

“He seems to like Evie,” Aunt Aileen remarked, as dog and girl proceeded to romp around the Kirk grounds, chasing each other, the one barking, and the other laughing. “He did last year, too. I wonder what that means?”

“Sisters!” Nana Anne’s voice, surprisingly strong, cut through all their thoughts. “I agree with Sister Evelyn. It is another step forward. I will study the text fragments and next year, I am sure we will succeed and bring forth Auld Nick in his true beast shape. And perhaps after that, we will do what our predecessors never succeeded in doing, and bring him forth in the ultimate form.” There was a pause as everyone considered the implications of that. From the woods, the excited barks of a small dog were heard, mingled with Evie’s shouts. Fenella wondered if she should make sure they were all right, and then decided she was worrying needlessly. Nobody else would be in the woods at this time of night in this weather. As a Scottie dog, the Evil One couldn’t do more than bite a few ankles anyway. And her niece was still too young to be of any danger. Fenella suspected, however, that when Evie came of age she was going to be a witch to be reckoned with. After all, they hadn’t succeeded in conjuring Auld Nick at all until last year – the first time Evie had been part of the coven. And on both occasions he seemed to prefer Evie’s company… Fenella resolved to bring this up at the next meeting. For now, let the Sisters revel in their nearly-success, and let Evie romp around with her new playmate.

“I expect he’s catching rabbits, or something,” cousin Jess remarked to Fenella, as they each sipped a mug of mulled wine to the background of whooping and excited barking. “Not quite sheep, but still… Must be boring, being cooped up Below. Bet he’s glad to get out in the world for a bit, even as a Scottie dog.” Fenella giggled, and then bit the laugh back. The older coven members wouldn’t approve, but now the drama of the ceremony was over, it all seemed ridiculous once more. Grown women in a freezing ruin, trying to summon the devil for a night of – what? If they ever truly succeeded, what were they going to do with him? Well, obviously, she and Jess…and maybe one or two of the others…but Nana Anne? Aunt Aileen? Fenella suspected that if Auld Nick did ever appear in all his glory, the coven would be seriously depleted, as several of the older members would die of a heart attack.

In the woods, Evie and her canine companion had ceased exploring the undergrowth and were now resting on a grassy bank, sheltered by the trees. Evie lay on her back, the little dog lying on her chest, gazing into her eyes. The young witch broke eye contact for a moment to stare up at the inky black sky through the bare branches above. Then she met the dog’s eyes again.

Her gaze was far more than that of a teenage girl.

“I’m sorry you’re not a huge hound,” she said. “I’m sure if I looked at the texts I could work it out, but they won’t let me until I’m sixteen, and that’s two years away. Mind you, they are getting better at figuring stuff out. I’m sure you’ll be a big dog next year. But that’s not the ultimate aim, is it?” The dog panted at her in that smiley way that dogs do, and licked her face again.

Evie smiled back. “The year after next, then. I’ll be sixteen – of age. They’ll let me read the spells. I’ll figure it out, and persuade them to try my suggestion. I can be very persuasive. Some of them didn’t want me in the coven last year, at thirteen, but I convinced them. So I’ll get my way, and then…” She paused to savour the delicious thought for a moment. So did her companion, his eyes sparkling and his tongue licking his lips – although he might have just been thinking about rabbits – or sheep. Evie doubted it, though.

She knew what witches had always really summoned the devil for.

“I’ll conjure you in the form of a man”.

(Apologies to a local legend for playing around with it, and being creative with the location of various landmarks. This was originally going to be a much darker story, but it went off in a different direction. I think the ending promises darker things to come, however…)