Category Archives: Uncategorized

Chapter Ten – The Hand-of-Fate

Raven’s Wand review continues – this week with chapter ten, The Hand-of-Fate

Valonia and her witches badly need to discover a secret. Digging out this information couldn’t take too long, so no lengthy spy missions, and it couldn’t rely on obvious and hackneyed plot devices like crystal balls or just ‘saying a spell’. So, Valonia has to crack a secret and has roughly one chapter to do it in. Enter The Hand-of-Fate; this bizarre creature was my way of combining a bit of exposition with an exciting slab of action. Yes, Valonia could have consulted a crystal ball, but then again many, many other witches have done so in stories down the years. Instead she hunts a giant, subterranean six-fingered hand that’s smothered in living tattoos.

The HoF emerges to duel Valonia at a real place called Troller’s Ghyll, which is in the Yorkshire Dales. I just sent the Ghyll a few miles west into Cumberland (as it then was), but the place is fairly accurately described. Plus, Troller’s Ghyll has a famous barghest story attached to it, and was the first haunted place I spent the night alone long ago. No huge black hounds materialized to bother me, but rabbits nibbled my tent guy-lines a bit. On the way to the Ghyll Valonia again highlights the link between witchcraft and midwifery during a chat with Kolfinnia. I was inspired by an account I read of a woman condemned as a witch during the middle-ages; her crime was to assist a pregnant woman during labour. The twisted logic behind this sentence was that God punished Eve by making childbirth painful for all women, and thus anyone attempting to treat that pain was acting against God – now that really is a tale of black magic.

Sunday clashes again with Flora in this chapter, adding further layers to each woman’s character, and while Sunday might sting like a whip she remains all witch. The swan feathers she’s so proud to fix into her hair are either given freely by the birds or exchanged for something – as is the case with all witches. I couldn’t envisage a story about witches honouring the Earth and its creatures and then have those same witches strike a bird from the air with an arrow to pluck its feathers and enjoy a Sunday roast – pardon the pun. And although this principle is very important to me as the writer I didn’t want it to float too close to the surface. The eco/animal message is there, often in what witches don’t say or do. Wildwood foundations remain unseen but they remain ever green.

Lonely Sands

Raven’s Wand review continues with chapter nine: Lonely Sands

I have a soft spot for Flora, and if I were in Farona’s shoes I think I’d be just as tongue-tied around her. There isn’t space here to say why I admire Flora so much, but my blog will answer that. Just follow the link and read about this rare bloom.

Flora’s real name isn’t ‘Greyswan’ by the way; it’s ‘Grayson’, and the reason it changed is because when she first joined the coven as a child she was so ashamed of her eye-patch that she’d keep her eyes down and mumble if spoken to. Grayson sounded like Greyswan, and it stuck. Grey Swan or otherwise, Flora’s encounter with the kelp-harpy harks back to the book’s earliest draught. In it, the Illuminata’s first-dawn machine has disrupted the world so much that a tear has opened into Ruination. This tear I called ‘The Trench’, and it lurked out in the ocean, steadily getting wider, edging towards Britain and destined to swallow up the outer islands before hitting the mainland. Out of The Trench poured creatures from Ruination, and the kelp-harpy’s mortal wounding at the hands of some unknown Ruinous creature were the first signs of this sinister rip in the world. Sadly, that could have been the plot of a novel in its own right and there wasn’t time to explore it further. So The Trench had to go, although it might get recycled in later books, who knows?

The mysterious Clovis gets another mention in this chapter. As pointed out I loved the idea of men or women or children being witches, and then I thought couldn’t we have alien witches too? The answer is yes; I see magic as a universal force, so it seemed natural to have witches on other worlds. That’s all I’ll say on the matter here, but again returning to the book’s earliest incarnation, when it was just a collection of scribbled notes, each witch had a cat companion that could magically change into humanoid form if the coven was threatened and so fight alongside their witch. These diminutive ‘cat warriors’ never made it further than my hasty notes, but there is an echo: Clovis. You’ll see what I mean when you meet him.


Wildwood’s Regal Guest

the chapter-by-chapter review of raven’s Wand continues – this week, chapter six: Wildwood’s Regal Guest

One character appears in the book thanks entirely to an earlier illustration. As previously mentioned, I began the project as an art venture. The girl lifting the huge bumble-bee into the air was meant to look appealing and cute, and nothing more, but chance seemed to have its own ideas and when Kolfinnia had to rescue something from the barghests I knew it would be that enormous bumblebee: and Lilain the hive-empress was born. As she recovers at Wildwood, Lilain’s needs are tended by a witch called Annie Barden, who’s able to communicate with animals, but the last thing I wanted was Annie and animals talking directly. I wanted animal consciousness to remain a mysterious dimension, so there’s never direct dialogue between Annie and Lilain, or Valonia and captain Jerrow (the crow) or between Kolfinnia and the trees she’s able to gather memories from. I feared that the story might become a little too fairytale if I had talking trees and creatures.

Chapter six was also my pleasure to introduce Valonia’s Wards, and I split them up by season and outfit and made sure each had a distinctive character to hold them in the reader’s mind. I also added the joke about Rooter running off with Lana’s bloomers to make the group’s entry memorable, and OK, it’s not refined but it made me laugh, so what the hell (and it’s another example of down to earth witchcraft).

I frequently don’t know for sure what I’m going to write until I get to that part of the story, and such is the case with the truth about Rowan’s special gift **SPOILERS COMING UP** Rowan can read the mind of the universal consciousness that witches refer to as The Patternmaker (and others might call ‘God’). He knows everything, therefore Rowan knows everything, only she doesn’t know that she knows everything – she’s only just six after all! I tried to avoid writing of God/god because the name has so many meanings associated with it. The Patternmaker is felt rather than seen or heard, and maybe just as well, because in sequel books we come to find that he is a stony being; difficult to understand and tormented in his omnipotence, and with little liking for witches. But why? There is an answer later down the line, I promise. . .

No such book. . .


Here’s an illustration from a story called ‘Troll Busters’ about the three billy goats gruff setting up their own troll-control agency, except this book doesn’t exist. The same goes for stories such as ‘It’s Raining Chocolate’, ‘The Haunted Classroom’ and my own particular favourite, ‘Dinosaurs in Doughnut Land’. They sound (I hope) like exciting children’s stories, although they exist only as titles. For many years I’ve worked in primary schools running illustration workshops and these fake book titles along with others have been a staple of my presentations, except here’s another twist – I don’t drawn them, the children do. I give the class a choice of three titles and encourage the children to pick one and draw whatever image it conjures for them. What happens every time, and delights me no end, is seeing the children not only draw their picture but begin to tell a story to go with it, even if it’s just a verbal explanation of what’s happening. Suddenly, and without really trying, each child has a narrative to go with the title, no matter how scant, or as is often the case, crazy!

I recall walking around a class of year 4s once, seeing how they were getting on (without lingering and looking over shoulders) and one girl was busy illustrating a title called ‘Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Hedgehog’, and I gazed at her work and saw a Godzilla-sized hedgehog chasing after three helpless rabbits fleeing on a skateboard. Curious, I asked why she’d elected to draw rabbits in a picture with ‘pigs’ in the title, of course being careful not to say if it was wrong or right, and she answered; I can’t draw pigs, but I can draw rabbits, and the rabbits are in a gang called ‘The Pigs’. I told her that was one of the most creative solutions I’d ever heard and left her to it, and I still cite this example of lateral thinking in schools to this day.

The ‘Troll Busters’ illustration above is one that I drew just to show in schools as a primer to get the children excited about the drawing task I’ve just described, so you could call it a demonstration piece. Each title is like a door into an unknown room, and sometimes that room is just a broom cupboard and other times it’s palatial, and on rare occasions it isn’t a room at all but another world. One title I used to employ was ‘The Witch That Couldn’t Fly’. I decided to draw a demonstration piece to go with it, like Troll Busters above, but something unique happened. In drawing a few practise witches I became fascinated with their story, and they quickly got their hooks into me. This is how a fake title for a children’s book evolved into the complex and rich Dark Raven Chronicles, the fantasy series I continue to expand and have spent over ten years writing. Sometimes I’m left wondering if the words inspire the pictures, or is it the other way around. I like to let the children decide.





Spring 2018 sees Raven’s Wand published as a deck of oracle cards, lavishly illustrated with characters from the book and with exclusively written meanings. Today – a closer look at ‘Relics’

If you could have sailed around Britain’s coast two centuries ago, there’s a chance you’d have seen large, flightless, black & white seabirds known as Great Auks. They effectively lived an identical lifestyle to penguins, but by 1844 (according to records) the last one was clubbed to death and eaten. This crime was committed in Iceland – but wait, there is a challenge for the killing of the last Great Auk from the nearby Faroe Islands. Think about it – what kind of accolade is genocide? What person or nation would argue that credit for a certain genocide belongs to them? And here I’m not singling out Iceland or The Faroes, all nations have exterminated one spices or another, and often, many species. The true madness of this is its banality: a species was exterminated – so what – it happens – next. The same sort of thing happened to Britain’s wolves, with the last one being killed in the 17th century according to most sources. ‘Relics’ was drawn with these facts in mind. Look closely and you’ll see not just flesh and blood wolves, but wolves hidden amongst the rocks and trees. Witches hid them there to save the last of them, and to me this is what witchcraft is truly about – respect for living things. I say ‘to me’ because there are many interpretations of what witchcraft is, but one thing’s for sure – it wasn’t a witch that battered that lone Great Auk to death in 1844, but hey – so what – it happens – next.

For the love of crocodiles


When I illustrated the story of Peter Pan a few years ago, I spent the best part of 10 months working solidly on Peter’s world: Neverland. Day after day I’d get out of bed and face hours of intensive work at the drawing board bringing J M Barrie’s famous story alive.

I must be one of the very few people who’s never seen the Disney version of Pan, and my first real introduction to the story was reading it in readiness for illustrating it. Immediately it struck me that Peter wasn’t the youthful hero I’d always imagined, but rather a spoiled and distinctly selfish brat. As the weeks and months dragged by and the portfolio of images grew, I came to dislike Peter more and more, and instead find a growing sympathy with his nemesis – Captain Hook. Hook is the far more interesting and complex character. Peter is often obnoxious because he ‘feels like it’, while with Hook we glimpse a reason for his fall from grace. And before anyone berates me for my harsh comments about Peter, remember – amongst other things – he tries to shut the window and prevent Wendy and Co returning home so he can keep her forever, and it’s only the look of despair on the sleeping Mrs Darling’s face that softens his heart. Hook’s bitterness stems from his resentment of Peter’s bravery (or recklessness to be more accurate – he faces off against a pride of lions just to impress his new friends) and more importantly, his ‘cockiness’. That’s when Hook and I became partners – I can’t stand our new age of arrogance that’s replaced modesty, and where those who shout loudest simply must be the best because, well. . . they’re the loudest. When Hook attempts to poison Peter’s drink, he relents and the better part of him thinks twice, but it’s the ‘cocky’ smile on the sleeping Peter’s lips that inflames him again, and so in goes the poison! Sadly – Tinkerbell came along and ruined it all by drinking the poison draught to save Peter’s life. (And remember how Tinkerbell encouraged the Lost Boys to shoot Wendy down with an arrow – to kill her and ensure she didn’t have a rival for Peter’s attention? Twisted, eh?)

When it came to drawing Hook falling into the crocodile’s waiting mouth I felt the story had lost its most intriguing character, and to some extent its heart. If my nemesis had been a selfish and arrogant little boy who infuriatingly always got the better of me, I’d have become a twisted villain like Hook too. And so – Captain James Hook, scourge of the cocky everywhere – I salute you!

Happily Evil



Something the Dalai Lama said long ago stays with me – that every human soul, regardless of nationality, culture or gender, seeks to live a life of happiness, free of suffering. And he’s right. What people define as ‘happiness’ is wildly variable, however. Some find their ‘happiness’ only through material riches or domination of others. When this is the case it’s easy to see that what they’re seeking isn’t really happiness at all, but the alleviation of their own fears, jealousies or insecurities – which in turn makes them feel better – which in turn conveys a twisted sense of ‘contentment’. See how easy it is to cause mayhem in the name of happiness? This doesn’t undermine the Dalai Lama’s wisdom but it does give a startling insight into human behaviour.

When I write my characters I ask myself, ‘what’s this character after – how do they find their contentment, and what lengths are they prepared to go to?’ With characters of high morality it’s easy. Kolfinnia’s happiness is knowing Wildwood-coven will always be her home. Valonia’s happiness is seeing her witches thrive. Moral characters have the shortest and most direct routes to happiness. Then there are ‘grey’ characters such as Hathwell, whose ‘happiness’ is the challenge to find his courage and make amends for serving an organization he doesn’t fully believe in, but having aided their crimes.

Beyond ‘grey’ characters we have the true villains, usually surrounded by a host of ‘greys’ who excuse their actions as merely ‘following orders’. True villains require perhaps the most sensitive writing of all. Their route to happiness is often very convoluted and troubled, although this won’t show on the surface.

Of the three chief villains of The Dark Raven Chronicles – Samuel Krast, Victor Thorpe, and Sef – each of them is plainly destructive and immoral, but look closely and you’ll see the real tragedy; there is redemption waiting below the surface. These villains might be immoral, but not amoral. They know that their actions destroy the sacred quest for happiness in others – and very rarely the reader will see them struggle with this. It might be just one sentence amongst hundreds of pages, such as Victor Thorpe’s brief twinge of conscience in Flowers of Fate, but it is there . . . and for those readers who’ve enjoyed Victor’s company and wonder where this devil’s moral moment went to, look carefully at his initial reaction to the terrible choice laid before him by his bullying grandfather, Barlow . . .

When the pitch-black of a villainy is garnished with a speck of white or grey, it provides the reader a toehold – something that they can identify with in an otherwise alien and opposing mindset. If done right, we might end up actually developing some empathy with our villain (I only say some empathy, not a whole lorry-load!).

Lion of Evermore will be published later this year, in the autumn. Sef takes the role of chief villain, and although the pages and strewn with his depravities, always remember that all he is seeking is a state of ‘happiness’ – just as we all are.

Soul sign

Sunday soul II

Fairies don’t see the world as we do, at least not those fairies that dwell in The Dark Raven Chronicles. When frost-fairy Neet, meets witch Sunday Flowers for the first time, he’s entranced by her soul sign. This mystical representation of the soul takes the form of a tree, and floats above the crown of the head. Some of the branches might be bare, while others are in bud, or laden with fruit or flowers, and these branches might sit right beside others that are twisted and diseased. The branches represent all that’s good and bad about a person. Neet can see this, but Sunday, for all her skills as a witch, can’t.

Neet’s seen many soul-signs down the years, and although he understands little of the symbolism he instantly recognises that Sunday’s soul is unique – terrifyingly so. All other trees he’s seen are complete, yet Sunday’s tree has been cut clean through the trunk. Somehow she has defied the first and oldest universal law – she has died, and returned to life.

Flowers of Fate is the second novel in The Dark Raven Chronicles, and aside from being what I hope is an exciting story, it explores deep issues such as freewill versus fate, atonement and self-sacrifice. I look forward to sharing Flowers of Fate with readers later this year.

Polite pagans

witch picnic

As I write, it’s coming around to that tedious time of the year again, when millions of innocent squashes will be sacrificed in the name of ‘trick or treat.’

Forget for a moment the galling fact that until the 70’s this tradition was unknown in Britain, (I blame John Carpenter’s film ‘Halloween’ for the spread of this begging bonanza) and put aside the sheer irritation of strange children banging on the door demanding bagfuls of boiled offal laced with E numbers masquerading as ‘sweets’. No. For me the most depressing and infuriating aspect of Halloween is the barefaced hypocrisy.

The issue of race has become something of a minefield, but rather than keeping the enemy of prejudice out and fostering respect, this minefield just creates more tension. Say the wrong word, in all innocence even, and you might find yourself looking for a new job. Prejudice doesn’t go away – it just retreats into the shadows. And yet what do we see in our high street shops in the weeks running up to October 31st each and every year?

I’ll give you a clue – they fall into two distinct types. One has green skin, tombstone teeth, weeping boils, hair dripping with chip fat and a fishhook nose. The other kind is a temptress sitting on a pantomime broom in such a way that her fishnet stockings are showing and the tiny hammock that is her bra is struggling to restrain its load, and chances are she’ll be wearing six-inch stilettos, black and nothing but black.

As a recognised belief-system like any other, it’s an enormous credit to modern day pagans and Wiccans that they tolerate this abuse. As far as I know, witches aren’t famed for murdering their critics or demanding Tescos remove their racist, Halloween propaganda . . . and don’t get me started on ‘Christmas’.

So a big ‘thanks!’ to all those happy-go-lucky pagans and witches out there for shrugging it off with dignity and a smile, we could all learn a lot from you. To quote Homer Simpson – ‘God bless those pagans!’