Saturday, 22 October 2011

Tricks and Treats in Unicorn Wood

As Katherine’s muse, I naturally have a lot of influence over her work. This week I’d like to point my glittery horn towards her second novel Spellfall, which features a whole herd of unicorns as well as a haunted wood, an old lodge, a mysterious standing stone, an evil Spell Lord, and – since it's set at Halloween – plenty of tricks and treats!

This is the only one of Katherine’s books that starts in a supermarket car park in the rain, but strange things are happening the week before Halloween and it’s not long before our heroine Natalie is drawn into a sinister magical plot:

Natalie saw the first spell in the supermarket car park. It was floating in a puddle near the recycling bins, glimmering bronze and green in the October drizzle. At first she thought it was a leaf, but as she drew closer it began to look more like a crumpled sweet wrapper – a very interesting sweet wrapper. Pick me up, it seemed to say. Surely I’m worth a closer look?

Not everyone sees spells in supermarket car parks, of course, and Natalie is not just a normal girl. Her mother was a Spell Lady of Earthaven, which gives her the power to cross the boundary between worlds and makes her a target for the evil Lord Hawk, an exiled Spellmage who is planning to destroy the giant tree that is home to the spirit of Natalie’s dead mother. The magical gateways are barred to him. But at Halloween, between midnight and dawn, the boundary between worlds opens allowing creatures from both worlds to cross.

Here, Natalie and Lord Hawk’s son have fled into Earthaven and need some swift transport:

As soon as she saw the unicorns, Natalie realized her mistake. Horses with horns didn’t even come close. The herd was grazing on the riverbank upwind of the village. A thin mist drifted off the water, curling around their fetlocks. In the half light, their coats glimmered liquid silver. Their tails floated on the air as lightly as dandelion seeds, their manes were clouds, and their horns flashed rainbow haloes around their finely chiselled heads. Long-legged foals rippled among the adults, the tiny horn stubs on their foreheads still covered in silver fur. Natalie tried to count them, but it was impossible to focus on the creatures. As soon as she thought she had an animal fixed in one place, it would shimmer – and the next time she looked, it would be grazing on the far side of the herd.

Ahhh... I can remember when I was still a sweet little foal! Yet (much as I hate to admit it) this book is not all about spells and unicorns. When Lord Hawk kidnaps Natalie, her family and friends left behind in the real world are frantic with worry. Since her father is still drowning his sorrows in drink, it is up to Natalie’s best friend Jo and sulky stepbrother Tim to rescue her. They enlist the help of the Death Head gang by daring them to go trick-and-treating, but what will they find when they venture into Unicorn Wood at Halloween?

Follow @reclusivemuse on Twitter for more tricks and treats from the book this week.

“Spellfall” is available as an e-book for Kindle (and Kindle apps) at the special Halloween price of
£1-99 from
$2-99 from

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Mystery of Unicorns

It didn’t take Katherine’s new publisher Templar very long to find out about me. I suppose an author’s muse is quite important, since without muses where would our poor human authors be? They would just be writing their old stories over and over again… which is only good if their last story happens to be something like Harry Potter.

Anyway, Templar wanted a biography of Katherine to go on the last page of her new book – you know, the sort of thing that makes authors appear to lead incredibly exciting lives jumping out of aeroplanes and saving the rainforest etc., accompanied by a photo that makes them look like a beautiful princess or (if they’re men) moody and interesting?

The Muse suspects half this stuff is as inventive as the words in their novels, since an author actually leads a very boring life hunched over their computer writing about people jumping out of aeroplanes and saving the rainforest - because if they were doing all of that themselves, they wouldn't have time to write about it! And, although cameras can't lie, the photo might be the result of five hours in a professional studio with added airbrushing, or taken twenty years ago when the author was still a beautiful young princess… or be of someone else entirely who didn't write the book. So rather than dig around for interesting stuff from Katherine's past and spend hours with my glittery horn airbrushing her photograph, I suggested that her publishers put in a picture of ME instead. Having seen Katherine’s (unairbrushed) photo, they were only too happy to agree.

Small problem... unicorns are much too shy to have their photographs taken – the best you’re likely to get is a fuzzy snap of our tails as we disappear into the enchanted mist. Professional photography studios and five hours of hair and make-up are obviously out. Anyway, I am a muse and take many forms, depending on the kind of book Katherine is writing at the time. (She’s blogged about me HERE if you want to see some of those forms), but none seemed quite right for my first appearance as a muse in a real book.

In their search for a suitable image, Templar sent Katherine this lovely little book they published earlier this year.

illustrated by Ian Andrew, Petra Brown and Beverlie Manson.

A whole book about me! It’s based on a file of notes found in the office of Professor Miriam Carter after her mysterious disappearance at her final lecture in 1939, when apparently she took a small sliver of unicorn horn and ground it into a fine powder using secret ingredients to make a potion. She drank the frothing potion, and… well, you'll have to get hold of the book to find out what happened next.

Let’s just say it contains many beautiful pictures of me, in many guises, from the romantic kind of unicorn on the front cover that charms maidens, to a fearsome Persian breed called the karkadann that fights to the death. I have to say there are some very unflattering pictures, too, including one of an ancient beast called an “elasmotherium”, a shaggy and fearsomely ugly ancestor of your modern rhinoceros (I ask you!)

The book also contains maps, flaps, miniature booklets, and sparkly samples of things like qilin scales - in case you're wondering, the qilin (or kirin) is a Chinese unicorn! It charts the history of the unicorn from the Garden of Eden through to Elizabethan times, when "unicorn horns" like these narwhal tusks were the prized possessions of kings and queens.

narwhals (arctic whales) with their "horns"

Professor Miriam says Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan also met unicorns (no, it wasn’t me... I wouldn’t have anything to do with bloodthirsty men like those). And did you know that, in some translations of the Bible, the unicorn was the first beast to be named by Adam? Well, naturally Eve put him up to it.

So I wonder if you can guess which picture I chose for the biography page of my author's new book? Katherine says I should put it here, but I can’t because of copyright, so you’ll have to wait until February when "Sword of Light" is published to find out!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Unicorn’s Great Dream

What do authors do on their days off? I followed mine when she sneaked away from her computer last weekend and tracked her down at Interrogate! the UK’s first ever festival of social justice, held at the lovely Dartington Hall.

This festival used a mixture of debate, dance, and drawing (the artistic kind, not the “hung, drawn and quartered” kind) to interrogate income inequality, which is something Katherine has blogged about, but occurs in all sections of society and not just among authors. Wherever there’s income inequality, they tell us, there’s unhappiness… things got quite heated, and bankers were mentioned a few times (in “hung, drawn and quartered” terms, I have to admit).

At this point, judging the audience to be a rather miserable crowd and not noticing my glittery horn at the back, the new Minister for Happiness told us all the secret of being happy… apparently, all you need is a GREAT DREAM.

Janet Street-Porter (famous on TV for being a Grumpy Old Woman) has already tried it with mixed success, so the unicorn thought he’d give it a go, too:

G is for giving. I give unicorn glitter to people on Twitter (follow me @reclusivemuse and you might get some, too!)
R is for relating. I relate online, since that’s the best place to find a unicorn these days.
E is for exercising. My author diligently exercises me every day.
A is for appreciating. I do appreciate a nice review.
T is for trying out. Authors are always trying new things - it’s called research and is tax-deductible… assuming your author earns enough to pay tax in the first place, of course.

Not bad so far. What about the dream part?

D is for direction. I have plenty of goals (write a best-seller, net a 7-figure advance for my author, get a Hollywood film deal and retire in enchanted clover, that sort of thing), but have trouble is finding the right road to take me there.
R is for resilience. I have to admit my author doesn’t bounce quite so well these days if she falls off me.
E is for emotion. As you know, I’m a very emo-unicorn.
A is for acceptance. I accept I only have one horn (a shame, because you’d get double glitter if I had two!)
M is for meaning. My author’s got me on a quest for the Grail while she’s writing her new Pendragon series… does that count?

Of course, Katherine did not take a complete day off in the end, because I found her sitting in the sunny Dartington gardens at lunchtime writing this poem:

Let’s interrogate society
in the great Dartington Hall
with its fireplace big enough for a banker
and an audience held in thrall.
The nice lady from the Guardian
wants schools open to all
and the man in charge of happiness
is setting himself up for a fall.
The second speaker bored us
with statistics upon the wall
and everyone ran over time
so the last man caught the ball.
Questions from the audience
raised transport issues for the poor,
asked where transition happens most,
and why generations shut the door.
But our allocated hour was up
so answers never reached the floor,
and a hundred people headed home
wishing there had been time for more.

So how happy are you? And how do you score on the Great Dream?


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