Sunday, 23 February 2020

REVIEW The Edge of the World by Garrett Leigh




BLURB:
Shay Maloney is living his dream—on tour with his pirate/folk-rock band. But you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’re from, and that’s where moody filmmaker and researcher Ollie Pietruska comes in.

The band’s management persuades Shay to let a television company film a documentary about his roots beyond his adoptive Irish family, and Ollie comes into his life knowing more about Shay than Shay’s ever known about himself.

But while Ollie holds the key to Shay’s past, he’s also hiding deep scars. Even as the hardships of the tour bring them closer, Ollie’s demons threaten the blossoming romance. They might both reach the breaking point before Ollie realises he’s been standing on the edge of the world for too long, and it’s Shay who holds the key to his future.

A friends-to-lovers, rock star, road-tripping romance, with a guaranteed happily-ever-after.
REVIEW:
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s easier to review a flawed book. There’s plenty to pick apart, comment on and explore. With a good book, it’s harder because what more can you say than it was flawlessly written, and I loved it. Well, I’ll give it a try.
I got hooked on Garrett Leigh when I read her Roads series and nothing I’ve read since has disappointed. The author has a knack for writing flawed but beautiful characters that are so easy to slip into. Ash from Roads is a character that has lived with me for years, and I think both Shay and Ollie will be joining him on the list of characters who have taken over my life for the time I’ve been reading them, and beyond.
The book was flawlessly written, and I didn’t notice any faults in grammar, style or editing. That might have been because I was so enthralled by the story but if there are small flaws, I’m sure any reader who notices would forgive just because the story and these characters are so absorbing.
This is one of those rare stories that takes you on a journey of amazing scope. Ollie has been researching Shay’s past and the story of his ancestors takes us all over Europe and through many trials and traumas. Through it all is their own story of heartbreak and recovery, which is slow but steady.
Sometimes, when you have two characters who are obviously meant for each but keep bouncing back and forth between attraction and rejection, for whatever reason, it can be frustrating. You can find yourself metaphorically yelling at the page for God’s sake just get over it and get together. In this case there was less frustration and more heart-in-the-mouth praying that this time they’d get over their hurdles and allow themselves to be together. I’ve rarely read two characters with so much personal growth. The Ollie and Shay we end up with are not the Ollie and Shay we were introduced to and the journey has been one partly spent together and partly on their own. It wasn’t an easy one, but true self-development never is, and these boys have a lot to get through and get over.
All-in-all this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. As usual Garett Leigh does not disappoint. When you pick up a Garrett Leigh book you know you’re going to get a gritty, earthy, well told story about characters who bite back. This one is not the exception. I heartily recommend to anyone who wants something beyond the fluffy bunny romance with characters who grip you by the throat and don’t let go until four a.m. when you have work the next day and finally run out of just one more pages.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

BLOG TOUR - RENEWED by Maggie Blackbird




Renewed 
The Matawapit Family Series Book 4 
by Maggie Blackbird 
Genre: Inspirational Contemporary Romance 

ABOUT THE BOOK

When two former enemies fall in love, family secrets threaten to destroy their fragile union and everything they hold dear. 

With their extreme ideas about traditional Ojibway life, the radical Kabatay clan have made enemies in their fight to rid the reserve of Western culture and its religion. Disowned by her family for daring to love the church deacon’s eldest son, Jude, Raven Kabatay longs to put an end to the feud started by her mother, brother, and sisters against the Matawapits…people she’s come to think of as her own since Jude changed her life. 

Jude Matawapit suffered a humiliating divorce after his wife left him for another man, but with Raven, he’s created a beautiful, new sanctuary after losing his previous one, and his new haven is everything he’s ever wanted for himself and his children. Only two things could destroy his pristine bliss: the secret he holds close to his chest, and the vengeance Raven’s family wants to exact on the Matawapits. A secret and vengeance that could cost the unlikely lovers their hard-won, much longed for happily ever after. 


Goodreads * eXtasy Books

GUEST POST

It is so nice to welcome Maggie Blackbird to my blog. She has been so very kind to me, and now it's time to return the favour. Maggie has written a quite amazing series of books about the Ojibway, the largest First Nation tribe in Canada. 


Maggie is going to tell us about how she decompresses after she has been busy writing.


I use a laptop and desktop to write.  Once I shut off the computers, I’m done.  My phone is devoted to my personal life.  There is nothing writing-related on it, and I prefer it that way.  My down time is important for me.  I dedicate a lot of hours to writing, whether drafting a new MS, editing a MS, working with my editor, my publisher, marketing, blog posts, etc.  When I’m done, I want to get away from that world and delve into another.

I read that my favourite romance author, the late Johanna Lindsey, unwound after turning in her manuscript by playing a video game for twelve hours.  For me, it’s golf.  Since I live in a seasonal climate, I can’t very well golf in the winter haha.  So I record my golf tournaments (I watch the PGA, European, and Asian tours), sit back, relax, and watch.  Okay, not watch.  I get a bit crazed, heh.

I play fantasy golf, so I make my picks every Tuesday morning.  Come Thursday, I begin watching to see how my picks are doing.  And I get too involved LOL, whining when my picks are playing poorly, hissing if my fave golfers aren’t making birdies, and some ranting if an easy putt is missed.  Yes, I get worked up watching golf, but it’s a fun worked up because I enjoy the game.

When the majors are airing, my writing wanes LOL, because those are four special times of the year that are must-watches.  Y’see, sometimes I do watch golf while I’m writing.  I’m doing that right now.  The Sentry Tournament of Champions is on, and I’m multi-tasking because I’m writing this blog post.  I always stop writing when a golfer is making a shot.  If it’s a golfer I’m not a fan of, I keep typing haha.

As for summer, I can hardly wait to take my sticks to the links.  I even schedule time away from writing to enjoy hitting the links.  Down time is a must, or I’ll burn out.


Thank you, Maggie. I can't say that I have any interest in golf myself, I have no interest in any sport to be honest, but it's great you have a hobby to help you unwind and to remind you that there is more than writing out there. For myself, I favour the playing games for twelve hours approach, whether they be computer or tabletop.

Now, let us take a look at the previous books in the series. If you haven't yet read them all, I would strongly suggest you do, not only because they make sense of the final instalment, but also because they're all damn good.





Sanctified 
The Matawapit Family Series Book 3 
Genre: Contemporary Inspirational Romance 

ABOUT THE BOOK

In the midst of a battle for leadership at their Ojibway community, two enemies of opposing families fall in love… 

After suffering a humiliating divorce, infuriated Catholic Jude Matawapit bolts to his family’s Ojibway community to begin a new job—but finds himself thrown into a battle for chief as his brother-in-law’s campaign manager. The radical Kabatay clan, with their extreme ideas about traditional Ojibway life, will stop at nothing to claim the leadership position and rid the reserve of Western culture and its religion once and for all, which threatens not only the non-traditional people of the community, but Jude’s chance at a brand-new life he’s creating for his children. 

Recovering addict Raven Kabatay will do anything to win the respect and trust of her older siblings and mother after falling deep into drug addiction that brought shame and anger to her family. Not only does she have the opportunity to redeem herself by becoming her brother’s campaign manager for chief—if he wins, she’ll have the reserve’s backing to purchase the gold-mine diner where she works, finally making something of herself. But falling in love with the family’s sworn enemy—the deacon’s eldest son, Jude—will not just betray the Kabatay clan. It could destroy everything Raven believes in and has worked so hard for. 






Redeemed 
The Matawapit Family Series Book 2 
Genre: Contemporary Inspirational Romance 

ABOUT THE BOOK

A single woman battles to keep her foster child from his newly-paroled father—a dangerous man she used to love. 

Bridget Matawapit is an Indigenous activist, daughter of a Catholic deacon, and foster mother to Kyle, the son of an Ojibway father—the ex-fiancé she kicked to the curb after he chose alcohol over her love. With Adam out on parole and back in Thunder Bay, she is determined to stop him from obtaining custody of Kyle.

Adam Guimond is a recovering alcoholic and ex-gangbanger newly-paroled. Through counselling, reconnecting with his Ojibway culture and twelve-step meetings while in prison, Adam now understands he’s worthy of the love that frightened him enough to pick up the bottle he’d previously corked. He can't escape the damage he caused so many others, but he longs to rise like a true warrior in the pursuit of forgiveness and a second chance. There's nothing he isn't willing to do to win back his son--and Bridget.

When an old cell mate’s daughter dies under mysterious circumstances in foster care, Adam begs Bridget to help him uncover the truth. Bound to the plight of the Indigenous children in care, Bridget agrees. But putting herself in contact with Adam threatens to resurrect her long-buried feelings for him, and even worse, she risks losing care of Kyle, by falling for a man who might destroy her faith in love completely this time. 






Blessed 
The Matawapit Family Series Book 1 
Genre: Contemporary M/M Inspirational Romance 

ABOUT THE BOOK

It’s been ten years since Emery Matawapit sinned, having succumbed to temptation for the one thing in his life that felt right, another man. In six months he’ll make a life-changing decision that will bar him from sexual relationships for the rest of his life.

Darryl Keejik has a decade-long chip on his shoulder, and he holds Emery’s father, the church deacon, responsible for what he’s suffered: the loss of his family and a chance at true love with Emery. No longer a powerless kid, Darryl has influence within the community—maybe more than the deacon. Darryl intends on using his power to destroy Deacon Matawapit and his church.

Hoping to save the church, Emery races home. But stopping Darryl is harder than expected when their sizzling chemistry threatens to consume Emery. Now he is faced with the toughest decision of his life: please his devout parents and fulfill his call to the priesthood, or remain true to his heart and marry the man created for him.

This is very erotic book about a spiritual journey. 

**On Sale for only 99 cents at eXtasy Books for the month of February!!**



ABOUT THE AUTHOR


An Ojibway from Northwestern Ontario, Maggie resides in the country with her husband and their fur babies, two beautiful Alaskan Malamutes. When she’s not writing, she can be found pulling weeds in the flower beds, mowing the huge lawn, walking the Mals deep in the bush, teeing up a ball at the golf course, fishing in the boat for walleye, or sitting on the deck at her sister’s house, making more wonderful memories with the people she loves most. 







GIVEAWAY

Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!





Tuesday, 28 January 2020

CLOSED Nephy's News Giveaway D&D Special


For almost a year, we have been playing a D&D campaign with friends. It takes place in a Kingdom called Domaria, as set out in the map. We have visited the College of Wizards, the Monastery of the Heavens and the Evergrow Forrest, where we aided an elven revolution, and are currently in, or rather under, the Broken Mountain.

The campaign became so rich and coherent, turning into an epic story, I decided why not write it as a story? Every week at our session, I make notes and write them up as a novel, which is currently in its third volume.

My next step is to publish the first volume "Wraeth and the Goddess of Chaos" - yeah, we accidentally unleashed Belladonna, the Goddess of Chaos on the world - as an ebook. This is my current fun project. At this point, it's proving difficult to get the entire party to agree (take that as read) on the first book, but it's coming.

In celebration of our great endeavour, both in Domaria and here, I am giving away a set of D&D dice to anyone who comments below. It would be nice if the comment were D&D related, but anything will do, even Hi.

Happy adventuring friends.

REVIEW A Not So Typical Love by Tristen Rowen




Jordan and Jamie’s love is anything but typical.

Jordan Cameron is not like most nineteen-year-olds. He’s never been on a date, he’s never left New England, and he’s never fallen in love. He lives in his own world, or so that's what it seems to the average person. No one, not even his thirty-one-year-old brother, Tim, has ever given him the chance to break free.

With a schizophrenic mother in a group home and a career-obsessed absent father, Tim does the best he can raising someone with Jordan’s challenging behaviours. Despite Jordan’s diagnosis, Tim refuses to label him because “labels make us less than human.”

Thirty-year-old Jamie Perron has a history of bad relationships. After his girlfriend kicks him out this last time, his friend, Tim, lets him move in for the summer before embarking on a ten-month teaching stint in London. Jamie changes everything Jordan has ever known.

Music is the driving force that draws Jordan and Jamie together. With a similar taste in music, Jamie understands Jordan when no one else does. Never did Jamie think he would develop such an intense, romantic relationship with a strange, quiet, and sullen (yet cute) nineteen-year-old boy through the course of one interesting summer. Jamie changes everything Jordan has ever known.

This is the summer of Jordan’s sexual awakening.


Review


After the break up of his most recent relationship, Jamie stays with his friend Tim and Tim's brother, Jordan.


Jordan does not have a formal diagnosis of autism, but he is most certainly autistic. Both myself and my children are autistic and I identify with so many characteristics. At one time or another, one of us has experienced all of the difficulties Jordan does, although, thankfully, not quite as bad as his ultimate meltdown. It's come close though. The selective mutism, in particular, is something that is very familiar to all of us, as is the difficulty in handling small changes to routine.

It was nice that the book contained multiple points of view. It's interesting to see how our difficulties are perceived by neurotypical people, although I suspect there are few who are as understanding as Jamie.

I loved the way the relationship developed so slowly and naturally and the multiple music references added richness. Basically, Jamie and Jordan bonded over the music. Music is extremely important to Jordan as it reminds him of a time when his mother was involved in the family, and they were happy. Now, she's in a nursing home, entirely cut off from reality, not responding to either of her sons. Jordan's mother was heavily into punk music and her tastes were pretty awesome. I'm not entirely sure how younger people would react to the music, but it was my era and my tastes so I absolutely loved the blast from the past and I would play the song as it was mentioned. It made the reading experience so much richer and I can recommend it.

Jamie and Jordan's journey is so touching and well written. They are both ordinary, yet extraordinary young men and I felt for both of them, wanting them to win, to find their happily ever after. There were times when I couldn't quite see how that was going to happen, but the author was masterful in his crafting of situations that brought the impossible into the probable.

Both characters went through a lot of growth, but Jordan was truly inspirational to those who, like my family, are used to hearing all the things we can't do. It's nice to see someone saying - this is what you can achieve if you work hard enough and want it badly enough.

There was a time when society decreed that people with a "mental handicap" (which autism no longer is but that's not the point) should have sexual relationships and especially not children. Well, I am a former solicitor with two wonderful children. My daughter is a nurse in a long term relationship, with a house, a car and all the trappings of "normal" life. My son is at university and is going to do great things.

This book should be required reading in schools, giving the neurotypical population a clear message that "autistics are people too" and autistics the message - do not let anyone tell you what you can't do. It's your life and you can do great things with it.

The best word I can apply to this book is inspirational.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Jamie Deacon FREE SHORT STORY

Thank you so much for allowing me to stop by today to share a little about my new Boys on the Brink short story, available FREE AND EXCLUSIVE to everyone who signs up to my newsletter! 

Off Course is a sweet YA LGBT+ romance centred on Jason and Taz, rivals on their county cross country team, and can be downloaded by subscribing here. I hope you have as much fun reading my story as I had writing it, and I look forward to welcoming you to my quarterly newsletter, where I share reading recommendations, updates on my writing, and anything else I think might be of interest to my readers, including the occasional cute dog photo!

About the Story


Blurb

Available free and exclusive to newsletter subscribers.

He should never have gone running that afternoon—not with the roads so treacherous, and certainly not without checking his phone was charged. Then again, if there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Jason Connor is famous for, besides being the star of his cross country team, it’s his impulsiveness. So, when an injured ankle leaves him stranded in the woods with no means of calling for aid, it isn’t the first time a rash decision has led him into trouble. 

 As dusk approaches, Jason believes his situation can’t get any worse…until rescue arrives in the form of Tarek Bahrani—beautiful, infuriating, and the very last person Jason would choose to find him sprawled in the mud. 

The two have been enemies since clashing at the Brookshire County Championships, but while Taz is a constant reminder of Jason’s biggest mistake, he might just be the only one who can help him put things right.

Sign up here to get your free copy!

Teaser


My head snaps up and I strain my ears to listen. Footsteps. Not the hurried, uneven footsteps of someone fleeing a pursuer, but the measured pace of a serious jogger. My heart high-jumps into my throat, then drops in an ungainly tumble to my stomach. God, not him. Please let it be anyone else but him. 

Even as the prayer forms in my mind, I know it’s hopeless. I grind my teeth, frustrated at my own impotence, and watch for the figure to come into view. There’s only one person around here dedicated enough to be out running with the clouds about to burst, and it also happens to be the last person in the world I’d choose to find me on my backside in the mud. 

Catching sight of me, he slows to a halt a few paces away. He brushes the dark curls off his sweaty forehead and raises an eyebrow. “Jason Connor. Fancy meeting you here.” 

I glare up at him, summoning all the venom I can muster whilst in a crumpled heap on the ground. Christ, of all the residents of Oakmere who might have stumbled across me, why did it have to be him? Tarek Bloody Bahrani. Beautiful, infuriating Taz. My nemesis. The one boy who has seen me at my worst.

About Jamie Deacon

Author Bio


Born in 1982, Jamie Deacon lives close to the River Thames in Berkshire, England, and is a full-time author of young adult fiction featuring characters across the gender and sexuality spectrums.

When not writing, Jamie loves to read, play board games, and solve cryptic crosswords. 

Jamie’s debut novel, Caught Inside, was published by Beaten Track in 2016 to much acclaim, including two Rainbow Awards. It was also nominated for a Lambda Literary (Lammy) Award, a Bisexual Book Award, and a Next Generation Indie Book Award.

Connect with Jamie

Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Thursday, 16 January 2020

An Interview With the Boys from Projext X


Buy Links

Project X follows three boys - Matthew, Morgan and Cory - through university and then to hell and back. May I present an interview with the trio of...friends.

Question: So tell me, Matthew. You didn’t have the best impression of Morgan at first. What led you to that?

Matthew: (gives a nervous glance to Morgan, who shrugs) Um. Well. The first time we met was when me and Cory were visiting the university for the first time. To be honest, I didn’t really want to go there. I thought the place would be full of snobs. Then I saw Morgan with these three nobs, complaining about the gravel ruining their designer shoes, and I thought they were pretty much the worst people I could hope to meet.

Cory: It didn’t help that Morgan had this gorgeous, shiny, sports car, and parked it next to our piece of crap.

Matthew: Hey, don’t talk about Ellie like that.

Question: Ellie?

Matthew: That’s what we called the car.

Question: Why Ellie?

Cory: Because it looked like a herd of elephants had gone over it.
(Morgan sniggers)

Matthew: It’s alright for you! We saved up for almost a year to afford that car. It was our most prized possession, and the way you looked at it on that day made me want to smash your face in.

Morgan: Glad you didn’t try. I would have hated scuffing my shoes.

Matthew: See? That’s one of the reasons I thought he was a complete bastard.

Question: Because of his shoes?

Matthew: No, because he’s a sarcastic son of a bitch.

Morgan: Guilty as charged.

Question: What about you, Cory? What did you think about Morgan?

Cory: (looks uncomfortable) I kind of knew from the very first day that he liked Matthew. There was just something in the look he gave him. Then I watched them. Matthew kept saying what a bastard Morgan was, but he kind of lit up whenever Morgan was in the room. He said he hated the way everyone ran around Morgan, and he would never do it himself, but he never took his eyes off him. By the middle of the first year I knew they were falling for each other, hard.

Matthew: Now, hang on a minute. I SO did not fall for Morgan in the first year. It wasn’t until he started acting like, well, kind of a human being I started having feelings for him.

Morgan: And I certainly wasn’t falling for Matthew. I wanted him, but I wasn’t falling for him. Until then, I got whoever I wanted. I was looking for someone with some brains in their head and a real personality. And yes, I wanted someone who would piss my father off, but I wasn’t falling for him.

Cory: They were crazy about each other.

Morgan and Matthew That’s not true.

Cory: Whatever.

Question: How did you feel about that, Cory?

Cory: (flashes a quick, sad glance at Matthew) Terrible. The worst thing was, I knew I couldn’t stop it. Matthew was always adamant he wasn’t gay. He told me that if he ever thought he might be, or was just…curious, he’d come to me first. (Flashes another look) It isn’t that I was pissed he didn’t come to me first, it was just…. I’ve had a crush on Matthew since I was about eight years old. It was okay when I thought he was straight. I couldn’t have him. End of. It wasn’t about me. Then, when I saw him start to fall for Morgan, and he was so blind about it, I started to wonder. Maybe, if he was gay, I’d have a chance. If he was looking at Morgan like that I might be able to make him look at me like that.

Question: Did you do anything about it? Anything to try to make Matthew look at you like that?

Cory: (shakes his head) No

Question: Why not?

Cory: It was already too late. He was already in love with Morgan. He didn’t have eyes for anyone else.

Matthew: I was not in love with Morgan. I was never in love with Morgan.

Morgan: Really? It kind of felt like that to me by the end. I mean…you did say it.

Matthew: (blushes) That was different. Of course I was in love with you by the end. We’d been through so much.

Morgan: Yeah.

Question: Do you want to tell us a bit about what happened?

Matthew and Morgan: No

Question: Is it too hard to talk about.

Morgan: Well, it’s not easy, but the main reason is that if we talk about it and give away too much of the plot and no one will read our book.

Question: Ah yes, the book. Project X. What do you have to say about that?

Matthew: I think it’s pretty good. It tells the story well, but if you ask me, it shows Morgan in too good a light, especially at the beginning. It just doesn’t show what a complete and utter bastard he was.

Morgan: I beg to differ. The very first line is ‘Morgan Bentley is a bastard’ You can’t really get clearer than that. Besides, I never was that much of a bastard. Not really. I had my own issues. And I did try to be friendly.

Matthew: That’s your interpretation of ‘friendly’ is it?

Morgan: (with the sexiest smirk ever) What can I say. I guess I am a bit of a sarcastic bastard, but I’m a very sexy one.

Matthew: I can’t argue with that, and to be fair, I never said you weren’t sexy.

Morgan: True.

Question: So, back to the book. 

Morgan: Sure, but just so we don’t give away too much, let’s just leave it to the general promo huh? If you want to get to know us better and hear our crazy story, you’ll just have to read the book. It’s worth it, I promise, if only to find out how devastatingly gorgeous I am.

Matthew: And I can’t even argue about that.


Monday, 13 January 2020

CLOSED; RELEASE DAY - Project X GIVEAWAY


I am finally able to share with you the release of Project X with eXtasy Books Project X was an experiment for me as well as the sinister protagonist in the book. It is the first book I've written where I've deliberately drawn directly from my own life and experiences, not that I have any experience of the sci fi elements, which are the parts that go a little bit further than science or medicine are capable of at the moment - at least that we know of.

If you read to the end you will find an amazing GIVEAWAY to celebrate the introduction to the world of Morgan, Matthew and Matthew's best friend and biggest fan, Cory.

In the first part of the book, we follow Matthew and Morgan through the first year or so of their law degree. I draw directly on my experiences of my time at law school, especially with regard to the moot. Mooting is explored in another of the amazing blogs that have helped and supported me in bringing this book to your attention. Look out on 21st of this month on the amazing blog of Maggie Blackbird which I would recommend generally to anyone who has an interest in indigenous peoples.

There are so many wonderful blogs who are helping me out so keep a careful watch on Facebook and follow all of them. Most of them have something to say about Law, the study and practice of it.

For my part, let me introduce you to the book and the beautiful boys who inhabit it. Especially Morgan, who is a bastard--maybe--but is hot hot hot.

But tonight…tonight, Morgan wasn’t gorgeous, Morgan was…he was…there was no word to describe what he was. He was leaning against the fireplace with a glass of brandy in his hand, wearing the tightest pair of leather trousers I’d ever seen. Not only were they tight, but they were split up the sides and laced, showing off a good two inches of skin on either side.

If that wasn’t enough to make me shiver, his top half was encased in a close-fitting, soft leather waistcoat over a white linen shirt. The crisp whiteness set off the inky blackness of his hair, which was loose around his shoulders. He’d even outlined his eyes in black eyeliner. It made the green more vivid than ever. Shit, he was every girl’s wet dream. He even had me feeling hot and uncomfortable under that vibrant, electric stare.


Blurb

Morgan Bentley is a bastard. Matthew knows this absolutely—until he doesn’t.

Matthew and his friend Cory are thrilled to attend one of the most prestigious universities in the UK. On their pre-entry visit, they met Morgan Bentley and his stuck-up friends. Matthew takes an instant dislike to the arrogant, conceited, self-obsessed, beautiful, intelligent, and charismatic boy. Throughout the next year, Matthew harbours his dislike, never missing the opportunity to complain to his best friend, Cory, what a bastard Morgan is.

Then, an unexpected turn of events catapults Matthew, Morgan, and Cory into a nightmare, and all the things Cory had said about Matthew’s true feelings about Morgan come crashing down on his head, and he realises that what he thought was hatred and anger was, in fact, growing attraction and begrudging admiration. But when the deadly nature of the elusive Project X is revealed, it seems their budding romance is doomed before it begins, as one of them is unlikely to survive.

 Author Bio


Cheryl was born into a poor mining family in the South Wales Valleys. Until she was 16, the toilet was at the bottom of the garden and the bath hung on the wall. Her refrigerator was a stone slab in the pantry and there was a black lead fireplace in the kitchen. They look lovely in a museum but aren’t so much fun to clean.

Cheryl has always been a storyteller. As a child, she’d make up stories for her family and they’d explore the imaginary worlds she created in play.
Later in life, Cheryl became the storyteller for a re enactment group who travelled widely, giving a taste of life in the Iron Age. As well as having an opportunity to run around hitting people with a sword, she had an opportunity to tell stories of all kinds, sometimes of her own making, to all kinds of people. The criticism was sometimes harsh, especially from the children, but the reward enormous.

It was here she began to appreciate the power of stories and the primal need to hear them. In ancient times, the wandering bard was the only source of news, and the storyteller was the heart of the village, keeping the lore and the magic alive. Although much of the magic has been lost, the stories still provide a link to the part of us that still wants to believe that it’s still there, somewhere.

In present times, Cheryl lives in a terraced house in the valleys with her son, dog, bearded dragon and cats. Her daughter has deserted her for the big city, but they’re still close. She’s never been happier since she was made redundant and is able to devote herself entirely to her twin loves of writing and art, with a healthy smattering of magic and mayhem

Excerpt

Morgan Bentley was a bastard. An utter, complete, A-one, cut-glass bastard. He was arrogant, selfish, cold, standoffish, cruel, and completely heartless. His history was peppered with broken hearts and broken people attesting to the fact. There was no doubt about it—he was a bastard.

Morgan didn’t have any friends. What he had was an entourage: people who cared less for the person he was than for the prestige his company brought. At the moment he had a girlfriend, the undoubted Alpha Female of the university, a bitch called Charlotte Lethbridge, whose father owned half of Mayfair. The relationship wouldn’t last, though. They never did. And next week it could just as easily be a boyfriend.

No one ever said no to Morgan. No one outside his circle of “friends” ever said anything at all unless he invited them to, which he rarely ever did.

Cory often said Morgan was sad—he had to be. He had to be lonely and sad because he had no real friends, no lasting relationships, no one to share with. Not like us. Sometimes I had to stop myself laughing when he said that. Morgan Bentley sad? Not bloody likely. He had everything. I mean everything.

His father was a research chemist, heading a huge multinational corporation. They manufactured drugs and engaged in research projects, sometimes for the government. I think that’s why Cory was so fascinated with Morgan. He was getting a degree in biochemistry and wanted to be a researcher himself. Cory was awesome...but he had flaws, and his fascination with Morgan was one of them. Personally, I wouldn’t care if I never saw his smug face ever again. Hell, I’d have been so much happier if I hadn’t.


For a different perspective on how Morgan felt about that initial meeting you might like to read the Prequel. This gives away spoilers if you haven’t read the book, but is a nice, currently free,  introduction to the boys and how their different perspectives work.



GIVEAWAY

As I've been promising Project X for some time, I am going to offer two prizes. The giveaway is open to anyone who comments on this post or on the post on Facebook 

First Prize
A digital copy of Project X in your chosen format, plus an eXtasy gift voucher to spend as you please

Second Prize
A digital copy of Project X in your chosen format


I hope you enjoy the shenanigans, and of course buy the book and enjoy the crazy world of Morgan, Matthew and Cory.

The contest will remain open until midnight (GMT) on 31st January.


Saturday, 11 January 2020

Project X Release Day 13th. A peek at how Law is Made




But tonight... Oh my God, tonight... Tonight, Morgan wasn’t gorgeous, Morgan was... He was... There was no word to describe what he was. He was leaning against the fireplace with a glass of brandy in his hand, wearing the tightest pair of leather trousers I’ve ever seen. Not only were they tight, but they were split up the sides and laced, showing off a good two inches of skin on each side.
If that wasn’t enough to make me shiver, his top half was encased in a close-fitting, soft leather waistcoat over a white linen shirt.  The crisp whiteness set off the inky blackness of his hair, which was loose around his shoulders. He’d even outlined his eyes in black eyeliner. It made the green more vivid than ever. Shit, he was every girl’s wet dream. He even had me feeling suddenly hot and uncomfortable under that vibrant, electric stare.

Matthew thought Morgan Bentley was a bastard. He held on to that belief for a long time. Then things started to happen, little things that started to change his mind. This wasn't one of them.

Blurb

Matthew and his friend Cory are thrilled to attend one of the most prestigious universities in the UK. On their pre-entry visit, they met Morgan Bentley and his stuck-up friends. Matthew takes an instant dislike to the arrogant, conceited, self-obsessed, beautiful, intelligent and charismatic boy. Throughout the next year, Matthew harbours his dislike, never missing the opportunity to complain to his best friend, Cory, what a bastard Morgan is.

Then, an unexpected turn of events catapults Matthew, Morgan and Cory into a nightmare, and all the things Cory had said, about Matthew’s true feelings about Morgan, come crashing down on his head and he realises that what he thought was hatred and anger was, in fact, growing attraction and begrudging admiration. But when the deadly nature of the elusive Project X is revealed it seems their budding romance is doomed before it begins, as one of them is unlikely to get survive.

How are Laws Made

 New laws are made by Parliament and are termed ‘primary legislation’ because this is the first place to look when you want to know what the law on any particular matter is. I say ‘the first place’ because you can’t rely on what’s written in an act to tell you what a court is going to say on your case.

This is because there are a number of ways of making ‘secondary laws’, such as common law and legal interpretation. None of the other methods actually make new law, but are just interpretations of primary legislation. That’s not to say they don’t change, or at least bend the meaning or application and need to be studied carefully together with the Acts of Parliament (called statute) to work out what the law actually says.

So, how is an Act of Parliament made? Usually this is a process that happens over time, although they are sometimes rushed through if there are serious matters to be dealt with. I have to say that these ‘fast track’ laws are often badly drafted. They’re not well thought out and they often have effects that were never intended.

The first step is to identify an issue that needs to be dealt with by a law. Sometimes these come from specific events, for example the gun laws that were passed after the Hungerford massacre in 1987 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungerford_massacre Sometimes they come from political manifestos (the statement of intent put out by political parties before elections), and sometimes they come out of committees, studies or parliamentary questions.

Once the issue has been identified a proposal is made. These can come from all kinds of sources, for example a political party, public enquiries, lobbyists and campaign groups. No matter where it comes from, it will need the backing of a government minister, who will champion the cause as the law follows its path through parliament.

Before laws are drafted they are set out in a ‘green paper’, which is an initial outline of an idea. A ‘white paper’ might also be drawn up, which is a firmer statement of intent. The proposer/minister, then sends the proposal to experts, interest groups and people likely to be affected by the plans who are asked to make comments. Sometimes panels or commissions are set up to consider the plan.
These commissions can take weeks or even months to carry out their enquiries and report.

Once the consultation stage is over, a final draft of the ‘white paper’ is drawn up and is then put forward to the next stage which is a cabinet committee. Basically, the government minister(s) who back the proposal seek to persuade their colleagues to support it before it goes to the committee which is made up of ministers from all political parties, and chaired by a senior member of the cabinet.

If the cabinet committee approves the plan, it’s then put to the Legislation Committee. It will not usually be the only proposal put through at any one time, and the Legislation Committee chooses which ones they want to put forward. The plan is then drawn up into a ‘bill’ by highly specialised lawyers.

All the bills the government intends to put forward are announced in the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament, after the summer recess.

The bill then goes to either the House of Lords or the House of Commons and goes through a series of steps

First Reading – when it’s simply read out.
Second Reading – in the House of Commons, the MP’s discuss and debate the bill, and vote at the end. In the House of Lords they don’t vote.
Committee Stage - the bill is carefully considered in great detail by a committee of MP’s, or the Lords. Any changes have to be formally proposed and voted on.
Report stage – The approved bill is sent back to the House where further changes can be suggested.
Third Reading – A further debate and final amendments can be introduced.
Approval by the opposite chamber – if the bill started in the House of Lords it goes to the House of Commons. If it started in the House of Commons it goes to the House of Lords. It then goes through the same stages all over again. Both houses have to agree on the final bill.
Finally, the bill goes to the Queen for the Royal Assent. Once that’s given the bill becomes an Act and is law.


In practice, some of these steps are often skimmed over or rushed, and it needs to be mentioned that many of the people responsible for the law making process very much have an individual/group/governmental agenda and may be out of step with the best interests of the country or particular demographics within it.

I hope you enjoyed your peep into some of the things Morgan and Matthew learned about at university.

Projext X will be formally released on Monday so check in then for some fun, some snippets and a giveaway.


Thursday, 9 January 2020

Release Day - Project X



My fantastic (and I use this in two senses of the word) is now out. As I was too ill to do a proper launch, I've set the 13th as an arbitrary, but hopefully lucky, day to have an official launch. Between now and then, I will be posting all kinds of weird and interesting (I hope) snippets about me as a writer and my progress to writing the book, as well as boring things like how our present law came to be and how it's made. (the book is set in a law school so that's not entirely disconnected.)

Blurb

Morgan Bentley is a bastard. Matthew knows this absolutely—until he doesn’t.
Matthew and his friend Cory are thrilled to attend one of the most prestigious universities in the UK. On their pre-entry visit, they met Morgan Bentley and his stuck-up friends. Matthew takes an instant dislike to the arrogant, conceited, self-obsessed, beautiful, intelligent, and charismatic boy. Throughout the next year, Matthew harbours his dislike, never missing the opportunity to complain to his best friend, Cory, what a bastard Morgan is.

Then, an unexpected turn of events catapults Matthew, Morgan, and Cory into a nightmare, and all the things Cory had said about Matthew’s true feelings about Morgan come crashing down on his head, and he realises that what he thought was hatred and anger was, in fact, growing attraction and begrudging admiration. But when the deadly nature of the elusive Project X is revealed, it seems their budding romance is doomed before it begins, as one of them is unlikely to survive.

As I said, I will be posting about legal related issues and as a preliminary, I have some thoughts on the notions of truth and justice that I hope will make you think.

Truth

The two main characters in my new book Project X are law students, and the first half of the book is set in a university where they are studying law.

What can be more important to the study of law than getting to grips with the concepts of truth and justice, which are surely at the heart of our legal system?

Everyone thinks they know what these two words mean, but do they? And do the meanings remain the same from person to person, country to country, law to law? From a legal perspective, at least, neither are absolutes.

So, let’s take a look at what truth, isn’t or might be.

The Oxford Dictionary describes truth as – the quality or state of being true. They define true as – in accordance with fact and reality, and accurate and exact, and genuine.

Do you think you know what truth means, what it is?

Two hundred years ago most people would have told you it was an absolute truth the world was flat. What’s changed? Is truth defined by knowledge? Is science an absolute truth? Rules and hypotheses change all the time. Scientific ‘laws’ are constantly redefining themselves.

What about so-called ‘universal truths’ such as killing is wrong? It says so in the Bible, where it is literally written in stone. But is that really the truth, or at least the whole of the truth. For one thing who or what must we not kill? Animals? People? For the purposes of this post let’s assume we just mean people. Thou shalt not kill…humans. This is an incontrovertible, universal truth. Or is it?

What about war? What about soldiers being taught to kill and/or maim other people. This is in direct contradiction to that primary commandment. But we have to kill them if they’re trying to kill us, right? Or might be trying to kill us. Or support those who are trying to kill us. Or are getting the way. Or have something we want. Going too far? Let’s reel it back.

In English law, murder is defined as – the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another. What an interesting use of words. Murder isn’t the killing of one human being by another, but the unlawful killing of one human being by another. Presumably this is to justify capital punishment. But who decides when a universal truth, becomes a qualified truth, and what that truth will be? If murder without reason is wrong, who decides what the reasons are? Who has a right to?

Even those reasons change with time. We no longer hang people for stealing bread. In the UK we no longer murder people at all, for any reason, but in other countries, they do. In some countries they execute people for being gay, for example. So is truth defined by society?

What about observable truth. If you see it happen it must be true, right? Not so. Many social experiments have discovered that people perceive things differently. Given any particular situation, people perceive it in their own, unique way, describing objects, scenes and even people differently. So, is truth defined by perception?

What about something as simple as a book? Either it’s fiction or it’s not. Either the contents are true, or they aren’t. In any event, we can all agree that a book is a book, surely? What about the Bible? Some people believe it is a work of complete fiction, others believe it is absolute truth, while others believe it has some truth but is open to interpretation. Yet others believe is shouldn’t be called a book at all because it’s actually a disparate collection of writings, by different people, at different times, collected together and specifically chosen for their coherence to a theme. It is a collection of stories, contained in separate documents, scrolls, letters etc. Is the Bible an anthology? The abstract of a room full of scrolls? Is truth defined by belief?

In truth, there is probably no one answer to any questions, but they open the mind and focus it on one important aspect of legal study – everything is open to interpretation and challenge.


Law degrees, in general, are not concerned with the practicalities of working with the law on a day to day basis, but on the theories and concepts behind it. Our boys will be struggling with these concepts (or maybe not, especially in Morgan’s case), as well as the even more abstract theories of at what point does something you are doing become deliberate?

Justice

If there is no fixed definition of truth, what about justice? Surely everyone knows what justice is. The Oxford dictionary defines it as – the quality of being fair and reasonable. I won’t even go into a discussion about the words ‘fair’ and ‘reasonable’. I’m sure you’ve got a fair idea of how fixed and consistent they aren’t. Neither will I go into too much detail as to what justice actually is, because I’ve done all the philosophising above and I actually believe the reader has enough intelligence to be able to see that everything said about truth could easily be applied to justice. Instead I will take a look at how justice is applied. Surely that must be consistent, right? We may not know precisely what justice is, but we know how to apply it fairly.

According to the UK Legal System there are three main methods of applying justice:-

Compensatory – satisfying a physical need
For example, in the laws of Hywel Dda of Wales, in the 10th century, if someone killed a cat, it was a serious affair. In a rural farming community cats were relied on to keep down the rat population. Rats ate grain and could mean the difference between a family, or even a village, having enough food to eat through the winter, or starving. In order to satisfy justice the cat was hung up by its tail with its paws touching the ground. The person who killed the cat had to pour grain over it until it was covered to the tip of the tail. Laying aside whether you would want to eat grain that had been poured over a dead cat, it at least meant you wouldn’t starve if rats got into your grain.

In English law this type of justice is known as compensation (money given to someone because of a loss they’ve suffered, for example if they’ve been injured through someone else’s fault, or because they’ve had their things taken away.) We don’t pour grain over dead cats anymore because we put a monetary value on the grain/loss of the grain and pay that instead. This in itself can bring plenty of interpretational problems. What do you get paid? The cost of buying the grain (new or second hand)? 
The actual loss suffered (the cost of the grain that was eaten by rats)? Something to prevent the loss happening (the price of a cat)?

Also under this heading is a type of justice known as restitution, which is not about money, but replacement. For example, if you buy shoes from a shop and they fall apart when you first wear them, you can take them back and either have your money back (compensation) or replacement shoes (restitution).

Punitive (punishment) – satisfying an emotional need
The victim of crime gains absolutely nothing quantifiable from the punishment of the person who injured them (physically or metaphorically). There is some weight to the argument that the punishment it to ‘teach the perpetrator a lesson’, so they will be discouraged from committing similar crimes again. Unfortunately, studies show that this is not always the case. The Ministry of Justice’s report of October 2018 shows re offending rates of 40% for juveniles and up to 64% for adults. And what about capital punishment? That teaches the perpetrator nothing, or if it does it’s irrelevant because he isn’t going to be able to commit any crimes when he’s dead.

However, the main aim of punitive justice is to satisfy the emotional, and unquantifiable need for justice, which in this case, effectively amounts to revenge. The victim, and society as a whole gain nothing from it other than a sense that justice has been done, and the satisfaction of knowing ‘he got what he deserved’.

The whole concept of punitive justice rests on the natural human desire for revenge. But don’t people get jumpy when the word vendetta is used! Not so very long ago vengeance ranked right up there with honour as a reasonable right, to the point of justifiable murder of those who have wronged you or your family. Vendetta takes on a different and more acceptable meaning in some cultures, where it is still seen by some (although not the law, I have to say) as a perfectly reasonable way to gain justice. Isn’t Batman on a vendetta?

It might be worth noting that the word vendetta comes from the Italian vindicta which stems from the Latin vindicare, which is also the stem for vindication.

Arbitrary – satisfying a social need
In this case, I use arbitrary not in the usual sense of ‘on a whim or personal choice’ but in the context of arbitration. This is used in cases where there is unlikely to be any clear winner or loser, and theoretically no one is at fault. It is generally civil and not criminal law, and is used to satisfy two competing needs.

Examples of arbitrary law include the laws relating to child contact, employment law, equity and trusts etc.

In children proceedings, it is quite common for both parents, or occasionally third parties, to have equal rights with regard to children, and the court is not being asked to decide whether the rights exist, but to choose which ones should take precedence, to best satisfy the needs of the child – which of course are defined by society.

In Victorian times it was quite acceptable, and indeed desirable, to physically chastise children. Right up until fairly recent times, nothing was seen as wrong in older siblings, even quite young ones, taking care of the little ones, to relieve the burden of the parent. It is still seen as perfectly reasonable to send children to their room, or ground them. However, all these things are now considered to be within the definition of emotional abuse and/or neglect. I have personally been involved in cases where a child is placed on the child protection register because parents shout at each other in the presence of the child/ren.

In employment law there is often a conflict in the rights/needs of the employer and the rights/needs of the employee and commercial arbitration can be brought in to negotiate and arbitrate between the two. Before official bodies such as A.C.A.S and laws requiring arbitration, this kind of negotiation usually rested in the hands of the Trade Unions.

Often cases apply more than one of these models. For example, people convicted of crimes can, in rare circumstances, be required to pay compensation to those they have wronged. This is usually limited to financial crimes. Community Service has elements of both punitive and restitutional justice. Employment law can include arbitration and sanctions, usually compensatory, against one party or the other (usually the employer)


I hope you’ve enjoyed, and maybe even learned something from these thoughts – which are that and nothing more. If you have, stay tuned for more thought-provoking posts between now and Monday.



Friday, 27 December 2019

Silver's First Christmas - Part 5 (Final Installment)



Silver was a slave. When he was less than 12 years old, he was kidnapped, tortured and 'conditioned' to be the perfect plaything. What he doesn't know about bringing pleasure isn't worth knowing, but he knows nothing about being free. Since being saved and falling in love, Silver has a lot to learn and it's hard. All he knows is how to obey. Where once he was terrified of the world and everything in it, now he's beginning to see a life beyond his front door, but it's small steps.


Writing Silver was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Seeing the world through eyes that can't remember ever having seen it before was so refreshing, so thought provoking. I've jotted down some of the thoughts it provoked in a series of stories about Silver's First Christmas, and I'm going to share them with you over the next two weeks. I hope you enjoy.

If you do, check out Silver's journey to get to this point in the Enigma series.


I don’t understand Christmas. River has tried to explain many times but gets frustrated. I think this is because he doesn’t understand it himself.
The Nativity is very confusing. There are pictures and little models everywhere of a baby, with animals and angels and men dressed in bright clothes, with gifts in their hands. River has tried to explain what it means and it’s a pretty story but he seems to think it’s real. Lots of people do.
I find religion confusing. There are too many questions with no answers. When I get to a hard one, people say things like ‘It’s in the Bible’, or ‘You just have to have faith’. I’ve read the Bible, but it’s a horrible book. They kill babies and destroy whole civilisations because God tells them to. God seems to be cruel and harsh and the whole situation reminds me a lot of when I was a slave. You obey your Master in all things, no matter what you might think of them, and if you don’t you’re horribly punished. To me, faith is fear - you have to do it even if you don’t want to because if you don’t something bad will happen.
As far as I have discovered, most religions are the same. You must accept things are true when they can’t be true. It’s the ‘must’ that scares me. I have a lot of trouble with ‘must’. There’s still such a strong compulsion to obey unquestioningly that I need to remind myself I have a choice. And that’s another thing that scares me; having to make that choice.
River and I talked about this one day. It was a time when I was reading about religion a lot. I got upset because I was torn in different directions.  I knew in my heart it was wrong but the compulsion was so strong I couldn’t let it go. I read all the ‘Holy Books’ and went to different churches, trying to find a way I could comply with all the commands but not compromise my heart. It was a horrible time and I’m still not easy with the whole thing, which is why Christmas scares me so much.
I’m trying very hard to listen to my inner voice, as River taught me, but it’s not easy, especially when the world is full of commands I have to struggle with every day. What do you want is a hard one and I get asked that a lot. Even River asks me, and I try my best to listen to my inner voice, but most the time I just say what I think he wants because it hurts me to make decisions like that.
Then there is the whole thing about Father Christmas. I see him everywhere; a big fat man with a beard, dressed in red. He’s supposed to come down the chimney on Christmas Eve and leave presents underneath a tree that grows inside. I can’t see how a man that big can come down a chimney, or how he could give presents to everyone in one night. At first, River told me it was ‘magic’ and that worried me a lot because I was being told to ‘believe’ again and I was torn between the compulsion and the inability to comply.
When I told River I was having a hard time, he admitted none of it was true. It was just a story, but not like the Nativity. People truly believe the Nativity is true, but no one except children believe in Santa. Parents tell their children the story about Father Christmas is true, even though they know it isn’t. I tried to tell River it’s wrong to lie to children but he said it was an okay lie and warned me that if I told anyone’s children Father Christmas doesn’t exist I’d get into trouble. Thank goodness Ben is old enough to not believe the stories anymore.
Not everything about Christmas is hard, though. The lights are pretty. Lots of people have them in their windows and on the outside of their houses. Some of the houses in the streets with front gardens have lit up reindeer, or moving Father Christmases, and there’s lots of snow everywhere.
I love snow. It makes me feel shivery inside, but not in a cold way. I was so excited the first time I saw snow. I danced in the garden and felt so light, as if the snow swirled me up and made everything new. Of course, it doesn’t because when the snow melts everything underneath is still the same, only muddier, but for a while the world sparkles and is still and silent. I like that. I like it a lot.
In the art shop where I work. they have all kinds of ‘seasonal displays’ which can mean two things. First, are the things that are decorated to be Christmassy—sparkly and glittery, or with Father Christmas and elves. Apparently red and green are Christmas colours as well as sparkle. I’m not sure why. Second, are the things Rusty, the manager, hopes people will buy for Christmas presents. For example, we stock craft kits and Rusty ordered in lots of Christmas related things, like little houses and snowflakes. I made River get some and we did them with Ben. It was a lot of fun.
We each have our own decoration hanging on the Christmas Tree. Ben’s is all black with silver squiggles. River’s is red and green with real holly stuck on it and mine is frosty silver with snowflakes. Did you know that no two snowflakes are the same? So many of them fall and they all look the same, just soft white feathers falling from the sky, but they’re not the same, not at all.
I made another tree decoration as a surprise. I worked on it at the shop. It has miniatures of Ben and River on it; Ben on one side and River on the other. It was a surprise. They were very excited.
We also made a snow scene for the window. I don’t know why people do that, and neither does River, not really, but they’re so pretty we did it anyway. I brought some kits home from the shop to do the tiny houses, and some fake snow that came in a glass tube and got bigger and bigger when we put water on it. Ben painted glitter on the roofs and some of the snow to make it look like real snow when it catches the light. River and I made tiny trees and roads and a river and… well, let’s be honest, I did it. River was supposed to be helping but he just sat and looked at me most of the time. I like it when River looks at me with that dreamy expression on his face. It makes me feel warm inside.
All in all, Christmas is quite a stressful time. River has been running around like a crazy man and getting cross all the time. I hope it will get better when Christmas is over.
My favourite parts were getting the tree—it makes the house smell so lovely—and, of course, the presents. I don’t have much money but I had so much fun shopping. Ariel came with me and I laughed the whole time. Ariel’s like that. He makes me laugh no matter what and I can’t be scared when he’s around. It’s not that I’m scared of being out in the world anymore. Well… Actually, I am still scared but I can control it now. I’ve told River I’m not and that’s the closest I get to lying to him. If I told him the truth he’d worry, and he’d get protective. My independence is too important to jeopardise by confessing how hard it is to maintain.
Today, is Christmas Eve. The whole house is glittering with lights and decorations, the presents are wrapped and under the tree and there’s a saucepan of mulled wine keeping warm on the stove for when Ben goes to bed. He’s pushing things with River. It’s already an hour past his bedtime and River’s getting impatient for our time. They’re squabbling. I’ll go over in a minute and sort it out. Ben always listens to me. I don’t know why, but he never argues with me like he does with River. I guess it’s because they’re brothers and I’m not.
It’s snowing. The white flakes are soft and silent. I like to follow them down from the sky to the ground. They’re not like rain. Rain is fast and makes a lot of noise, at least when it’s this heavy. Snow doesn’t make any sound at all. In fact, it seems to suck all the sound out of the rest of the world. It makes everything soft, white and silent. Oh boy do I love snow.
“Watcha looking at?”
I can’t believe I got so caught up with the snow I didn’t even notice Ben going to bed. “Snow.”
“I thought so. That’s what I told Ben.”
“Ben?”
“He wanted to say goodnight, but you looked so beautiful with that misty expressions on your face, we decided we’d let you stay there for a while.”
“You should have called me, River. You know Ben likes to say goodnight to me. I wouldn’t have minded.”
“You were far away, darling.”
“Not that far.”
“Far enough to not notice that I’ve been sitting here for almost five minutes since Ben went to bed, watching you.”
“Really?”
“Do you have any idea how beautiful you are when you’re dreaming?”
“I don’t, but you keep telling me, and I trust you so I guess I have to believe you.”
I turn in River’s arms and look down at him. He hates that he’s shorter than I am. I like it. It means he can tuck himself into my chest and I can put my arms around him and feel protective. River protects me so much, sometimes it’s nice to pretend I’m protecting him.
River’s eyes are shining and he raises his head to kiss me. River’s kisses are wonderful. They’re not slick and accomplished like many I’ve had, but they’re full of love and very, very sweet.
“I’ve got something for you,” River says in a husky voice. “A very special Christmas Present.”
“You have? Where is it? Can I have it now?”
“Yes, you can have it now. I want to give it to you when it’s quiet, just the two of us. Tomorrow is all about Ben, but tonight is just about us.”
“I have something special for you, too. I was going to give it to you with all the others tomorrow but I’ll give it to you tonight. It won’t be fair if I have one and you don’t.”
“Okay, I’ll get mine and you get yours. Meet me in front of the fire with glasses of mulled wine in five minutes.”
A thrill of excitement shoots through me. I love surprises and this one sounds so lovely.
My present to River is under the tree and it only takes seconds to grab it. I put it carefully on the floor at the side of the sofa and hurry to the kitchen to pour some mulled wine. It smells delicious. On a whim, I put it into some nice crystal glasses. I hope it’s not too hot. I didn’t realise quite how hot it was. How hot does something have to be to break crystal glasses?
I carry them very, very carefully to the living room and put them on the low table, then curl up on the sheepskin in front of the fire with my back against the sofa.
I look up and smile when River appears. I’m so excited. I wonder what his gift is. I hope he likes mine.
River sits next to me and cuddles up. For a moment, the presents are forgotten, and I’m lost in my beautiful River. He keeps telling me how beautiful I am but he’s the one who’s truly lovely. In the flickering firelight his hair shines with an almost metallic sheen, a kind of dark red, with flashes of gold. I have to touch it. It’s getting long and curling at the ends. I think it’s growing because he can’t be bothered to have it cut but I hope he keeps it this way. I wind one of the curls around my finger and tilt it so the hair catches the light from the fire. It looks like I’m holding a flame in my hand.
“Earth to Silver.”
“What?” I glance up at him, feeling warm and cosy and kind of mushy inside.
“You were far away again.”
“I was just thinking how beautiful your hair is. It looks like fire.”
“Nah.” He takes his hair back and examines the end of it. It’s just long enough to bring round into his line of vision.
“Hold it up to the fire, like this.” I tilt his hand until the hair catches fire and he laughs.
“I guess you’re right.” Catching me around the waist with both arms he draws me close and kisses me in that way he has, the one that makes me feel special and breathless.  “Only you, my love. Only you could make it a good thing that my hair catches fire.” He kisses me again, gently. “I shouldn’t be surprised. You’ve already lit a fire in my heart.”
“Oh, that’s a beautiful thing to say.”
“I’ve had a great teacher for making beautiful things.”
That makes me blush. I know he means me.
“Speaking of beautiful things,” River says. “I have one for you. At least I hope you’ll think it is.”
Handing me a large, flat package, River gazes at me hopefully. I’m going to tell him this present is the most beautiful thing in the world no matter whether it is or isn’t.
The wrapping paper is so lovely, silver with snowflakes all over it, I can hardly bear to remove it. The snowflakes are raised up and if I close my eyes when I run my fingers over them I can imagine they’re real; except they aren’t cold, of course.
“Silver?”
“Huh?”
“You’re getting lost again.”
“But it’s amazing. If you close your eyes the snowflakes feel real – except for the cold.”
“The paper isn’t the present. You have to take it off to see the present.”
“I know.”
Very carefully, I slip off the silver ribbon and loosen the tape.
“For goodness sake, Silver, just rip it off.”
“I can’t rip it, it’s too pretty to tear.” Under the paper is a white box. I fold up the paper and lay it to one side then stare at the box. It’s perfect. Smooth and white with crisp edges and a raised part in the middle that looks like a curled up dragon. I run my fingers over it and––”
“Silver, if you don’t get on with it I’m going to open the present myself.”
“Oh. Sorry.”
Inside the box is some tissue paper and when I push it aside I can’t believe my eyes. It’s amazing. The smell of leather tickles my nose and the touch of it under my fingers is silky soft. In the middle of the book is a dragon, curled around two silver letters, an S and an R.
“It stands for Silver and River,” he says unnecessarily. I raise my head, feeling stunned and fuzzy. I forget to say thank you. It’s just too much. No one has ever given me anything so beautiful before. I have very few possessions and this is worth more than all of them together. “Take it out.”
“Can I?”
“Of course you can. It’s yours. You can do whatever you like with it.”
Running my fingers over the dragon again, I carefully lift the book out of the box. It’s quite heavy.
“Open it.”
“Oh, I can’t do that. It’s too beautiful to open.”
“Silly. What good is a book you never open?”
I think about it and realise he’s right. The book is filled with thick, creamy paper. I can tell it’s the highest quality. I could use this for all kinds of things – sketching, water colour, acrylic maybe. Inktense would look lovely in here. No, the book’s just too nice to spoil.
“I thought you could use it for special paintings, maybe make a collection just for us – you know, grown up ones just for us.”
I don’t understand what he’s saying – until I catch the expression on his face. “Oh.” My imagination starts racing. I’ve done a few sketches of River naked. He has such a beautiful body and it gives me a lot of pleasure to render it on paper, although I’m not good enough to really do him justice. The thought of making a whole book full of pictures of River’s naked body in different positions and mediums makes me shiver and my body tingle.
I can’t help giving him a dirty look, it’s the way I’m wired. He certainly doesn’t complain. “You’re going to have to learn to lie still in all kinds of weird positions.”
“I can manage that.”
“Hmm… We need to practice. Maybe we could try right now.”
“Can I open my present first? I have a feeling if we start practicing, I’ll forget all about it.”
“Oh, yes, I forgot. Go on then.”
I’m excited all over again, nervous too. What if he doesn’t like it?
River doesn’t unwrap his package carefully. He rips off the ribbon and the paper, throwing it into an untidy pile at the side of the sofa. I didn’t put the present in a box so as soon as he takes off the paper he has it in his hand.
River stares at it for so long I get nervous. What if he doesn’t like it and he’s trying to think of a way to tell me that won’t hurt my feelings?
It’s very simple. I made it at the shop. I’ve been experimenting with porcelain sugar sculptures. It’s a particular kind of sculpting where the porcelain is hand rolled and pulled until it’s very thin, like spun sugar. This one is a picture frame formed by two trees. The trunks are the sides. The spun branches spread out, meeting in the middle to form the upper edge, and the roots form the bottom.
On one side, a squirrel climbs the tree, while on the other an owl sits in the branches. There are birds, perched and flying,  and weaving through the roots. All the extra details have been hand painted with a tiny brush. Inside the frame is a photograph of me, River and Ben. It was taken in Sam’s garden, with the oak tree behind us. None of us noticed at the time that there was a squirrel in the branches. It looks as if it’s about to jump on Ben’s head. It was the photograph that gave me the idea for the frame.
“It’s amazing,” he says at last, sounding breathless. “How did you do it? Where did you fire it?”
“Rusty has a friend. He let me experiment. He wouldn’t normally, but Rusty told him I was trustworthy. I tried a few things that weren’t right, but none of them exploded.” I’m really proud of that. Many novices use the wrong clay and if there are too many impurities they can explode. In the worst cases it can damage the kiln. Most professionals wouldn’t dream of letting a novice use their kiln. I don’t know what Rusty said to him to make him trust me but he was very nice, even about the ones that didn’t work out. He has a shop and wants me to make more for him. I don’t know if I will. It was fun to do, something new and special for River, but I’m not sure I want to do it again.
River hands me the frame and for a moment I think he’s giving it back. A pang of pain shoots through me before he gets to his feet and holds out his hands for it. Taking it as if it’s the most precious thing in the world, River places the frame on the mantle, moving candles and photographs to make room.
“That’s better. I was scared I’d break it but it looks perfect there.”
“Thank you,” I whisper, getting to my feet. “Do you know what else looks perfect?”
“No, what?” From the smile on his face, I know he knows what I’m about to say.
“You,” I breathe and this time when we kiss it such a different kind of kiss.

Hours later, we’re lying in bed, tired, sated and content. I’m wound around River in the way I like best and he’s stroking my hair. I love it when he strokes my hair. It’s one of my favourite things.
“So,” he says, sounding sleepy, “what do you think of Christmas so far?”
“I think it’s very stressful,” I say, thinking about it, “There’s so much to do and everyone seems to be doing it at the same time. There are too many people and too much glitter. Shopping makes my head hurt, and if Ariel hadn’t been there, I don’t think I could have done it. I’m glad we’re going to Sam’s for dinner tomorrow because it seems to me that’s the most stressful thing of all. There are so many television programs about it, and different ways of doing it, and… well all kinds of things. Hannah’s a really good cook and I’m looking forward to it.”
“It was nice of them to invite your parents, too.”
“Yes. I can’t wait to see them again. It’s been ages.”
“I’m sorry we didn’t get to go up in the summer.”
“You can’t help it if your car was broken. Besides…I wasn’t… I couldn’t have…” I sigh. Even now, there are times when something scares me, and I can’t go out again for ages. That place inside my head where I go to be safe is still there. Fortunately, I know my way out again, and River knows how to help me if I get lost, but it takes time.
“Don’t worry. You can’t help being ill and you’re getting better every day.”
“I know.”
Is it an illness? Really? Fear? That’s what it is, I think, fear. Fear of everything. Fear of being free. Is that an illness? I don’t know.
“I like the sparkle,” I need to change the subject. Thinking about how different I am, how River sees my struggle as an illness, is making me sad. “All the glitter and lights. Some places are beautiful. Rusty let me help decorate the shop. I’m glad about that because if it had been up to him there would have been nothing but glitter and holly.”
“That might have been nice.”
“Not as nice as the forest I made. We used some of our kits so people can see how nice they look when they’re made up.”
“No one who buys one of your kits will be able to make it look as nice as you do.”
“But it doesn’t matter. As long as they make it look as nice as they can it’s worth it. It brings beauty into the world, so it’s beautiful.”
“What’s your favourite part?”
I have to think about that. I have so many favourite parts. Going shopping with Ariel. Choosing presents. Making River’s surprise. All the pretty things. But none of that is my favourite.
“My favourite part is that everyone’s nice to each other. People smile at me, even when they don’t know me, and say Merry Christmas. It makes me feel happy inside whenever someone does that. Usually, people don’t talk to me at all, so that’s special.”
“Yes, yes it is special. Just like you.”
“I’m not special. I’m just…”
“Unique, that’s what you are. My very own, unique, enigma.”
I feel sleepy but find enough energy to kiss River’s shoulder.
“Merry Christmas,” I whisper and hear him echo it as I slide into sleep.


Merry Christmas.