Broken Wings and Wall Clocks: A Collaborative Short Story.

Merry Christmas everyone!  We are nearing the big day, counting down until we get some time off work, battling our way through crowded shops and snow laden streets and sickening ourselves of mince pies!  This is my favourite time of year, because everyone is just that little bit more generous and thoughtful, and generally kinder.  Whilst this is a season for joy and happiness, it can also be a struggle for some.  I try to be open and honest about my mental health issues, having suffered from depression and anxiety for several years, and I know how stressful, and sometimes lonely this time of year can be as a result.  There is an overwhelming pressure to be happy, and that forced merriment can sometimes have the opposite effect.  If you are struggling with your own issues, I would encourage you to speak out and talk to someone…it genuinely helps.  With that in mind,  for tonight’s blog post, a collaborative short story and the next in my ‘Inspired’ series, I have written a story about my own experiences, inspired by a painting by the very talented artist Lyle Schultz.

Lyle is an artist based in Canada, and a man of many talents.  As well as creating incredible mixed media works of art, which you can find here, he is also a writer, you can check out his writing here, and even a fashion designer, check out his clothing here!  How to describe his work?  I will use the artist’s own words, because he is infinitely more qualified than myself and also has a far more extensive vocabulary:

My paintings are a maelstrom of images and scratches, furious and open, the pictures a window into a mind that is furiously working, a plethora of cartoon madness and pop art motifs running rampant in vibrant colours and bold mark making.  This is a life laid bare, the expression of an artist living to a rhythm of his own making, a riff that sucks in everything contemporary culture throws its way; film, comics, advertising, graffiti, and reinventing it, re-appropriating it, creating a new pictorial language that echoes the work of De Kooning, Basquiat and Grosz, all artists who railed against the status quo, took the outsider in, never moved an inch, fought for their space and demanded to be heard.

My paintings reflect a modern world in which visual saturation is at breaking point, my work is a distillation of the tsunami of images that hurtle through our screens, from the pages of magazines. Everything is here, everything is for sale, our lives imprisoned in a gonzoland of farce and materiality, it is a place that I frenetically describe over and over again, each mark a wake up call, a realisation, an indictment, an attempt to strip away the artifice and indulge in a little bit of magic.

I couldn’t have put it better myself (I genuinely couldn’t).  I was immediately drawn to his vibrant and edgy pieces, and was honoured when he agreed to collaborate with me.  I chose one of his many paintings, which trust me was not easy, and created the story below based on it.  The image inspired me to look inwards at my own struggles and chaotic mind, and to write a story filled with issues and problems, but also hope.  And on that note, I sincerely hope you like it!

Broken wings and wall clocks.

lyleThere are two wall clocks in this office, one directly facing me, and one behind my head. Time is inescapable here, and the ticking away of every passing second, is in surround sound. Sometimes, when I’m not in the mood to discuss my feelings, I stare hard at the little black hand, making it’s way around the clock’s face, willing it to go faster. It never does. In fact, time slows down within these walls, every second dragging and limping by.

“Laura?”

Oh shit, she’s looking at me. Did she ask a question? I suddenly wish I could read minds.

“Yes?”

“How does that sound to you?”

“It sounds, fine, yes. Fine.”

I have no idea if this is the correct response, but I figure I’ve got a fifty fifty shot of getting it right, so it’s worth a punt.

“Excellent. I’ll get those printed off for you then.”

Result! Just another one of Doctor Ferguson’s little exercises, designed to make me change my ‘thought patterns’. I fucking hate the exercises. How can a person change the very way they think? Our thoughts, are as much a part of us as our limbs. I think therefore I am.

The Doctor gets up off the threadbare seat, and leaves the office to locate the printer. I relish these little moments alone, with no questions or analysis. There is a faded poster hanging above the filing cabinet, a ginger cat, hanging from a branch and the words ‘Hang on in there.’ written in bright yellow lettering. I don’t find this particularly motivating, in fact, it pisses me off. If you see a cat in distress, dangling from a tree branch, you go and help it, not take a picture. Dumb fucking poster. The door opens again, before slamming shut of it’s own accord. It is designed to do this, to prevent the spread of fire, but it always gave the impression of being sentient, or perhaps controlled by an invisible presence.

“Here we go.”

Dr Ferguson always falls into her chair, rather than sitting in it. It’s a low piece of furniture, and she is a fairly heavy woman. She always dresses the same, wearing some hideous pastel coloured

cardigan, despite the broken radiators in here producing sauna like temperatures. There’s the same cameo brooch and pearls, as if she is dressed up as a therapist for halloween. The worst part is her lipstick, always the same garish pink, and always smeared on her teeth. Doesn’t she own a mirror?Maybe it’s some kind of test, to see if I’ll notice, to see if I’ll say something. I won’t. After shuffling the papers, she hands them to me, pointing at the boxes marked with the days of the week.

“Just fill in what you do each day under the appropriate heading. Try to include everything, but no need to go into minute detail. I don’t need to know your toilet habits for example.”

She laughs at this. She often laughs at her own jokes. I don’t laugh, mainly because they’re never particularly funny. Sometimes, as in now, I smirk in return, out of pity rather than actual amusement.

“Wait until you see just how much you get up to each day. I am willing to bet you accomplish far more than you give yourself credit for.”

I don’t.

“Even getting dressed and washed is an accomplishment in your circumstances, so think of it like one.”

She always called it that, my ‘circumstances.’ I suppose it sounds better than calling me mental, crazy, broken.

“Will do.”

“Excellent, well that’s the end of the session today. Do you feel like you benefitted from it?”

“Yes, of course.”

I don’t.

“Excellent. Well, then I’ll see you same time next week.”

She walks me to the front doors and buzzes me out. You aren’t allowed to walk about this place unattended. I often wonder what happened to create the necessity for that rule. The building was beautiful once, all red brick and stone roses, but it has been painted and repainted so many times

over the years, that it gives the impression of having some kind of disease, the flakes of paint flaking off like scabs, exposing the red brick flesh beneath. It looks sicker than the patients within.

I start walking, pulling my jacket tighter in a feeble attempt to keep out the cold. The hospital was built long before the need for car parking spaces, and so I was forced to abandon my car a few streets away on a single yellow line. I’ve been over an hour now. I hope I don’t get a ticket. I wonder what the place looked like a century ago, and what those Doctors and nurses would think if they saw it now. I often let my mind wonder this way. It’s easier to think about pointless nonsense than think about the ever increasing anxiety at the thought of a parking ticket, or the many other possible scenarios which regularly clog up my mind. The Doctor says I focus so much on the ‘what ifs’ that I miss out on the here and now. No shit.

I pass two men wearing hard hats and high vis vests, sipping from steaming paper cups. They stop talking, watching me pass. Do they know? I can feel their eyes on the back of my head, boring holes deep and inescapable. I hate that feeling of judgment, the idea of people sizing you up and deciding you have come up short. Dr Ferguson told me, ‘No one is thinking that about you. They have their own battles to fight.’ I think that’s bullshit. Everyone judges everyone else, all the time. Hell, I’m guilty of it often enough. No, it’s easier to retreat and withdraw, than risk rejection.

It starts raining. The entire colour of the sky seems to change in an instant to a dark and foreboding grey, casting a dull filter over everything. Bloody Irish weather! There’s a large oak tree nearby, and I make a b-line for it, taking shelter under its thick canopy. I hate the feeling of water hitting my face; it makes me shudder. I won’t even let it land there in the shower, choosing instead to bend and twist at odd angles while washing in order to avoid it. I try to think of things like this as personality quirks or cute little foibles, but they aren’t. They are dumb and annoying, and they make everything harder. Sometimes I feel like my own mind is against me.

Huddled against the trunk, I hear a faint noise, a kind of chirping, nearby. I look around, and near the tree, under a bush, I find a small bird. It’s brown and mottled, with little flecks of green throughout. Is it a greenfinch? I’m no ornithologist. It’s looking right at me, still chirping, flapping just one wing in a panicked motion, causing it to bob and thrash but not actually go anywhere. It’s other wing stays against it’s little body, and it’s breathing heavily. It must have hurt it’s wing poor thing. I step towards it and it flinches, backing away.

“It’s ok sweety, I won’t hurt you. I just want to help.”

What am I doing? I’m talking to a bird, as if it can possibly understand what I say. All it knows is that it’s small, and I’m big, and I could kill it easily if I were so inclined. It’s a familiar feeling to me, that overwhelming helplessness. I’m not sure what to do. If I leave it here, it would inevitably be killed by a cat, but if I take it home what exactly can I do for it? I’m not a vet. I have no idea what to do with an injured bird. Shit…I’ll have to leave it.

“Sorry.”

Now I’m apologising to it. If Dr Ferguson could see me now, she would probably have me committed. The rain has become a slight drizzle now. I should make a dash for it before it picks up again. When I was little, I thought rain was God draining his bath water. Mental illness aside, I have always been a bit odd. I get three or four feet before I stop. I can just make out the little cheep cheep of the bird now, and the sound causes me physical pain; that familiar stabbing pang of guilt. I can’t leave it, I’m a vegetarian for God’s sake.

It’s further inside the bush now. I have to get down on my hands and knees to reach it. It takes me four attempts, but I manage to catch it with my leather jacket. I’m now mucky and dishevelled. I look like I’ve escaped from the hospital. This is quickly becoming one of those days.

I don’t know how to hold it. I need to hold it tight enough to keep it trapped within the fabric, but I’m afraid if I squeeze too hard, I’ll kill a bird and ruin my favourite jacket in one go. It’s getting colder. Without my jacket, goose pimples appear all over my outstretched arms, little droplets of rain clinging to the hairs like spider webs. I begin to do a half walk half run towards the car, but stop when I realise how ridiculous I must look.

When I finally reach my car, I realise my keys are inside my jacket pocket. Great! I just about fish them out, almost dropping the bird, and climb inside. I don’t have a bird cage or cardboard box handy, but I do have an extensive collection of rubbish lying about, including a brown paper bag from yesterdays sandwich. Better than nothing. I keep meaning to clean my car, but it inevitably gets put off; too much self pitying to do. There’s bird shit on my jacket and I know the little bugger did it deliberately. I’m beginning to think Hitchcock was right.

I start her up, and edge my way out of the space. Thank God it’s not too busy. Heavy traffic gives me anxiety. In fact, most things give me anxiety, that’s who I am now: Miss Anxiety. Some kind of

mental illness pageant winner. Heaters turned full blast, I flick through the radio channels until I find one playing music. I hate radio DJs; they talk so much shit and expect people to jump through hoops for the privilege of a mug and pen. No thanks. I like music, especially something I can sing along to. It offers temporary relief from my thoughts. Intrusive thoughts, that’s what Dr Ferguson calls them. Involuntary thoughts which are often unpleasant and are always difficult to eliminate. I call them Dick head thoughts, because thinking them makes me feel like a dick. If people could hear what was going on up there, what insignificant, meaningless thing I was panicking about today, they would try to avoid eye contact and walk very quickly in the opposite direction.

We are on the carriageway now. I keep looking over at the bag, I’m not sure why, it’s hardly going to fly off. But I need to know it’s still there, still safe. I do this with people sometimes too, reaching out to my boyfriend in the darkness, checking that he hasn’t left me. There is a small fear, ever present at the back of my mind, that everyone will some day realise what I already know about myself; that I’m worthless.

It takes longer to get home than usual. Despite Northern Ireland being perpetually damp, every driver seems terrified of a little rain water on the road, and slows down to the speed of molasses. I get road rage, yelling obscenities at people who can neither see nor hear me. It makes me feel better; regular, small releases of pressure are better than one sudden explosion. By the time I get home, it’s beginning to get dark.

I carry in the bag and carefully place it on the kitchen counter. What now? I didn’t think this far ahead. A quick google search brings up various unhelpful pages, plus the number for the USPCA. I don’t understand how people survived without google. I read once, that we are losing our ability to retain information, because it is so conveniently located at all times, in our pockets. I am guilty of this. I have a memory like a sieve and without my phone telling me where to go and when, how to get there and what groceries I need to get, I dread to think where I would be. Lost and hungry I assume.

“Hello USPCA, my name is Jack. How can I help you?”

“Um, hi, yes, I’ve found an injured bird and I was just wanting some advice on what to do.”

“What kind of bird?”

“What?”

“What kind of bird is it?”

“I dunno, a small one.”

“Well, what does it look like?”

“It’s small with a kind of browny, greyey greeny coloured body and a little fat beak.”

“Hmm that doesn’t really narrow it down does it?”

He sort of scoffs at this, as if he is being incredibly witty. I’m losing my patience.

“Does it matter? I just want to know what to do. Surely the advice is the same whether I have a blue tit or a bald eagle?”

“Well bald eagles are native to America.”

Seriously? Could this man be anymore of a pleb? I don’t suffer fools gladly. I’m not overly fussed on people in general, but I am particularly averse to condescending jerks. I don’t want to say something I might regret, and I still need the information.

“It’s hurt it’s wing. I’ve managed to catch it, but I’m not sure what I should do now.”

“Oh dear, well more often than not, being caught by a person or animal actually kills the bird. Shock you see. You should have left it, and just observed it.”

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

“Well I didn’t provide remote observation, I caught it. What do I do now?”

“Place it somewhere outside, where it can leave if it wishes, but where it is also safe from cats. If it is fit, it will fly off of it’s own accord. If not, take it to your local vet. There isn’t much you can do with wild birds if their wing is damaged, so it would probably be euthanised.”

“Well that hardly seems fair, can’t they splint it or something?”

“I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that for birds.”

He scoffs again and I immediately hang up. Smug bastard. I stand a moment, staring at the bag, still unsure what to do exactly. Could I have killed it with good intentions? I peer inside. It’s moving, but it looks scared. I feel like shit.

Without anything else to go on, I take the bag outside to the garden, along with a shoe box, in which I place a few pairs of socks in lieu of saw dust or straw, and a bottle top filled with water, and I place the bird inside it. I leave the lid off, so it can fly off if it wants to, if it can. Then, I sit down beside it, keeping guard. I can’t leave it. I’ve basically boxed up a packed lunch for one of the

neighbourhood cats. At least the rain has stopped.

We sit watching each other, sizing each other up. I wonder what it thinks I am? A predator? A friend? I don’t want it to be frightened. If it does die, I want it to die knowing some kind of kindness. I lean in and gently stroke it’s feathers, “Shhhh, it’s ok. You’re ok. It will be fine.” I speak softly, like a mother reassuring a crying child. I hear words coming out of my mouth that have been said to me so many times over the years; words I never believed. “It’s ok, you’ll be fine.” I suppose that’s just what you say to someone when they’re sick or upset, even if you don’t necessarily think it’s true. It’s kind.

It closes it’s eyes, and it’s breathing steadies. I watch it sleep. I know it’s just a bird, it’s not even my bird, but I genuinely feel upset at the thought of it dying. Sometimes, I imagine things which are unrelated, are signs or signals from the universe. Dr Ferguson calls it ‘magical thinking’, like those people who think if they don’t flick the light switch on and off fifteen times before they leave the house, their family will die. I think, everything is a sign that I’m a failure, that things will always be this way, and they’ll never get better. I want the bird to get better. I want to get better.

I hear my mobile phone ring inside the house. It will be fine for a minute. ‘Mum’ flashes on the screen. I take a deep breath.

“Hey mum.”

“Did you go to the Doctor today?”

“Yes.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“Are you feeling better?”

I wish it was that easy. I’m the only person in our extended family who has suffered from mental health issues. My mum is used to applying plasters and administering medicine. She doesn’t understand how long this process could take to work, if it works at all.

“I feel the same, but it was only my third session. You have to give these things time.”

“Are you taking your tablets? You know what your memory is like.”

“Yes mum.”

I’ve lived away from home for years, but she still treats me like a child, checking I have clean clothes and I’m eating right. I hate it and crave it at the same time; it’s comforting to know a safety net exists. As I listen to her unsolicited advice, I see movement from the box outside. A small flutter at first, before the bird manages to jump out of the box. I watch it try out it’s wings, moving them back and forth, hovering a foot into the air before coming back down, then two feet, then onto the glass table. I can’t hear my mum now. I hold my breathe, and stand as still as a statue, terrified I’ll spook it and ruin it’s recovery. After a minute or two, it simply flies away. I run outside, but it’s already gone, a black dot in the sky.

“…but you know that right?”

“What’s that mum?”

“You know you can get through this? You’re going to be alright.”

I smile, “Yeah, I’ll be alright.”

Christmas Gift Guide Part 2: Perfect presents for the book worm in your life!

My last Christmas gift guide was such a huge success, that I thought I would do another one!  There are so many amazing book related products and shops out there, I could never fit them into one blog post, so sit back and relax, because I have everything you need for the bibliophiles and nerds in your life!

  1. Book Subscription boxes continued

As I said in the last gift guide, there is literally a box to suit every taste and personality!  Whether you are a horror fan, a fantasy fanatic or lover of Young Adult, there is something out there for you.  I love the idea of these as a gift, because it lasts beyond Christmas and spreads the joy for longer!  It is the literally the gift that keeps on giving!  So here are a few more examples for you!

Owl Crate: This is the ultimate subscription box for fans of Young Adult.  Every month,owlthey hand pick the best of the newly released Young Adult novel, and give you a hardback copy, along with three to five other bookish goodies, all of which are tailored to that month’s theme.  The theme for December is ‘Seize the day’ which is perfect, because you can seize the day and get yourself one of these awesome book boxes!  They retail at $29.99 per month, and there’s even a junior version available for the little bibliophiles in your life!  Photographed (by @mlovesreading) is the Mythical creatures box, and it looks BADASS!  Definitely going in my letter to Santa!!

lit crateLit Joy Crate: This US based book box contains a carefully chosen, new release novel plus a bunch of extra bookish goodies to bring your reading experience to life.  The best bit is that they do a box to suit every age, from kids, to middle grade and finally young adult, and you can even buy past boxes from their shop, so if you have missed any of their amazing themes, you can always catch up!  Boxes cost $29.99 a month and I think they are perfect for the little book worms in your life!

Vellum Box:  This subscription box is just getting started, and it’s one with a difference, because each month you get a unique and exclusive bookish t-shirt, along with two to four other book related goodies! The best part?  Each month, the t-shirt is designed by a different artist, so you get a one off design that supports artists within the bookstagram community!  Sounds good right?  Boxes cost $29.99 for regular sizes and $31.99 for plus sizes!

2. Bookish Clothing

They say you should wear your heart on your sleeve, well why not wear it right across you chest instead?  No, this doesn’t require any surgery or permanent ink tattoos, it just requires a kickass t-shirt to declare your nerdy soul to the world!  Everything from logos to quotes are available out there in every colour and design you could possibly want, so get shopping!

litLit Emporium: This site really is a one stop shop for everything bookish.  From jewellery to stationary and notebooks, they have everything your little bookaholic heart could desire.  Some of my favourite items, are from their clothing range.  Featuring authors such as Mary Shelley and Sylvia Plath, as well as some badass book worm motifs,  they are stylish and unique and would fit perfectly in any bibliophile’s wardrobe.  And at £15.00 for a tee and £25.00 for a sweatshirt, and free standard shipping on orders over £10.00, they’re affordable too.  My personal favourite?  The Frankenstein heart motif.  I dare you to visit and not buy something!  So many things from this shop feature on my wish list, it’s hard to keep track!

Vivlyo: This US based site features a huge range of bookish tees.  They feature authors poe shirtfrom Shakespeare to Bronte, in simple and modern motifs, in every colour you could possibly want.  They cost $28.00 and would satisfy any book worm.  This store also features their simple, bold designs on prints.  Starting at just $12.00, these would look great in the home of any book lover.  My personal favourite is this Edgar Allen Poe shirt and the Sherlock Holmes print.

Check them both out now!

3. Quirky Prints

I love nothing better than a great piece of art, and frankly, the nerdier and the quirkier the better!  Who wanted to have the same thing as everyone else on their walls, when you can have a lovingly created, original piece of art featuring some obscure literary or televisual reference.  Perfect!

Yandrawsamon: Yannie is a friend of mine, and I simply had to introduce you to her dumblegorgeous shop.  She creates the most unique and original artwork, covering all your geeky obsessions, from Studio Ghible to Stranger Things, you can purchase prints or original pieces of art on her Etsy store.  My personal favourite has to be this quirky Harry Potter print, because who doesn’t love a good play on words?  There is a whole series of Dumbledore puns, starting at £12, and the best part is that the proceeds from every sale goes to fund and train new Guide dogs.  So not only do you get to give your friend (or yourself) a gift, but in doing so, you give the gift of a friend, and a vital support, to someone in need!  Magic!

Tula Makes: I came across Tula in my bookstagram travels, and immediately fell in love 11
with her sweet and unique designs.  She makes stunning prints and bookmarks, which truly are one of a kind.  Are you a Harry Potter fan?  Perhaps you adore Stranger Things?  Tula captures these fandoms perfectly, but in such a sweet and magical way.  I am OBSESSED with this Eleven print, I mean look at it!  It’s awesome!  She also makes the sweetest bookmarks with little tassels on them, and I am a sucker for a tassel.  CThis print is only £4.79!!  Check her out immediately!

 

hogwartsFour Seasons Fox: This is another shop I discovered on Bookstagram, and fell immediately in love with.  Based in Luxembourg, they have prints to suit every nerd and bookaholic, from Doctor Who to Harry Potter, your geek dreams will come true.  Check out this gorgeous Hogwarts print, costing just £2.29! Bargain!  The shop also contains notebooks, enamel pins and calendars and is definitely worth a visit!

 

4. Stationary 

Us book worms love nothing better than a nice journal or pen, because the only thing better than reading a book, i.e. writing your own!

Icey Designs: This is the ultimate stationary shop for book lovers.  They produce the most bbgorgeous journals and notebooks, in every style and genre you could ask for, along with kickass planners, pencils and even enamel pins and candles.  One of my personal favourites if this stunning Beauty and the Beast journal at $15.00, and I could go mad buying their pencils and enamel pins.  Their prices are really reasonable and their products super stylish, so perfect for the list makers and obsessive compulsive organisers out there (me lol).  Check them out!

4. Something different

braceletDillon designs Jewellery: These stunning and unique jewellery designs are just swoon worthy!  Each beautiful piece is hand stamped with your favourite literary quotes, and would compliment any outfit.  Check out this stunning Jane Eyre quotation bracelet at just $16.00!  Along with their amazing jewellery, they also produce keyrings, dog tags and even bookish tees! I have recently found out I have the privilege of becoming a rep for this wonderful business, which means as my readers you get 15% off with my exclusive discount code MARIE15…so what’s stopping you?

Punky Pins: Your one stop shop for a truly badass range of patches, stickers, keyring, pinjewellery and as the name would suggest, an epic range of enamel pins!  Each one is so unique and fun, and is guaranteed to brighten up even the most boring of lapels.  Take this awesome ‘The Book was Better’ pin as a prime example.  I can guarantee there isn’t a book nerd alive who wouldn’t jump with joy at finding this bad boy inside their stocking this year!  And at only £7.00, it’s also a total bargain too!  Head to their site now and see their huge range of beautiful goodies, and watch as your shopping cart grows and grows!

Amos Plush: This page features a range of Harry Potter enamel pins, as well as theharry cutest plush toys EVER!  The hand made Harry Potter plushes are honestly so adorable, you will scream when you see them…I mean look at Harry here!  Amazing!  Unfortunately, the plushes aren’t for sale too often, but find solace in her epic enamel pins!  One of my all time favourites, is mad eyethis adorable Mad Eye Moody pin badge, with a 3D eye!  Too cute.  Pins range from $8.00 AUD for seconds and $12.95 AUD for the more elaborate one .  She has advised me her stock is a little low right now (so get what’s left while you can) but she will be restocking in the new year, so watch this space!  The best part?  International shipping is dirt cheap at only $3.50 AUD worldwide!  So, no excuse not to buy really!!

 

wesGroundhog Day Crafts: I found this shop on Instagram, and I am so in love with their amazingly quirky designs.  Their embroidery hoops feature felted portraits of anyone and everyone your heart could possibly desire.  I am a huge Wes Anderson fan, and I am in love with this Bill Murray hoop!  If you want to buy something truly unique and special for the bookend in your life, then this is where to go!  You could get a Harry Potter portrait, or perhaps your favourite hobbit?  Prices are on request and vary based on the design.  Ranging from $120 to $200, these are obviously not a small gift, however when you think of the hours and love put into each amazing design, plus the fact that you would own a one off, original piece of art, and it’s actually a massive bargain! One day i will own one on my wall!  One day!!

 

 

Christmas Gift ideas for bookworms and bibliophiles!!

It’s that time of year again folks!  Time for eating, drinking and generally being merry, for Christmas parties, silly jumpers and TV specials, for family visits and party games, slush and snow and winter coats, and of course, PRESENTS!  I don’t know about you, but one of my very favourite parts of the holidays, is giving gifts.  When I find something unique and special, that suits a person perfectly and makes them smile and laugh, well I just adore that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you see their faces light up.  Saying that, finding that perfect gift for that special someone, can be somewhat stressful.  So, in this edition of my blog, I am writing to give you some pointers in that particular area, and I am sticking with my particular area of expertise: Book worms.  Being one myself, I know what will make our little book addicted hearts skip a beat, and it doesn’t have to break the bank!  So have a look through my very own gift guide, and see if anything tickles your fancy!!

  1. Book Subscription Boxes!

Any bibliophile out there would be ecstatic to receive a book subscription box.  You can pretty much find one to suit any taste, from classics to Young Adult, from Horror to Fantasy, there is a book box out there to suit everyone!  They range in price, but are usually around the £25-£30 mark.  This does not include postage, so check that before you order.  The boxes are bulky, so postage can be expensive, so I recommend opting for a book box in your own country.  You can purchase most as a one off, or in a package of several months.  I don’t have the space to feature the full list of what is available, but here are some of my favourites!

The Once Upon a Book Club Box : This is a book box I can recommend personally!  It is book boxbased in the USA, with the boxes costing $34.99 each.  It is a book box with a twist.  Instead of a normal book box, with a series of themed gifts within, this box is all about immersing you in the featured book.  Along with the carefully chosen book, you get five gifts, all of which are wrapped and marked with an individual page number.  Once you get to that page in the book, you open that particular gift, and within you will find a unique item which is linked directly to that particular point in the book.  I found the book, the gift choices and placement and even the packaging and wrapping to be spot on!  For a full review of the box I received, check out my previous blog entry.  Good news is, if you fancy this box, you can get 10% off any purchase with my unique discount code MARIE10!

Prudence and Crow: This is a Vintage book club box based in the UK, and retails at £15.00 prudence and crowper month.  Inside, you receive a vintage paperback book in the genre of your choice (you can pick between Classic, Science Fiction, Thriller, Children’s or random) a handmade book bag, a library card and a selection of surprises.  If you follow me on Instagram, you will know what a fan of vintage fiction I am!  Perfect for any fellow collectors!

They sell individual vintage books and you can also choose to receive a random vintage book only, minus all the other bits and pieces, all wrapped up for Christmas for just £6 (available until December 5th)!  Bargain!

Bookish Flickerings: Based in Holland, these one off boxes feature candles, teas and bookishflickeringunique and carefully sourced items related to that month’s theme (pictured is the Harry Potter Themed box).  This is one of the most reasonable of the book boxes, particularly considering all of the goodies you get!  A full book box comes in at only £20.46!  Postage can be combined, and is not that expensive, so perfect for any European and UK residents.  Best of all, you can buy the individual items from each of the boxes…so if you don’t want to spring for the whole box, you can just buy that candle you have your eye on, or that tea which sounds too good to be true!  I have already personally placed orders with this one and can’t recommend it enough!

Nocturnal Readers Box: For the lover of all things ghoulish and horrifying, this awesome nocturnal boxhorror themed box based in the USA, retails at $35.00 a month and features awesome hand selected items surrounding that month’s theme, such as badass pin badges or creepy socks.  The box photographed is the July box, entitled ‘The Feast’ and as you can see, you get a lot of ghoulish gear for your dollars!  Alongside the monthly subscription service, you can also purchase individual items from the shop separately.  Perfect for the dark and twisted people in your life! (Like me…hint hint Santa!!).

 

Letters Lit:  This US based company is an anomaly on this list because technically it’s not letters lita book BOX but a book LETTER.  This unique and inspired idea means that you get all the joy of a subscription box, but at half of the cost (because of reduced postage).  Each month, a letter is themed around a particular book and features loads of gorgeous bookish delights within it, all lovingly wax sealed inside the envelope!  Letters retail at $16.99 a month (Bargain!!) and are perfect for any fans of classic literature and all things vintage! Definitely on my wish list!

 

2. Book Marks

It seems like the obvious gift I know, but book marks make the perfect gift or stocking filler for any book worm!  They are not only inexpensive, and practical, but these days, with the amazing artists and craftsman out there, you are basically buying a little book sized piece of art! Plus, being small and light, postage is not really an issue!

Louise’s Make Believe: This US based shop features designs which are so unique and louise 3stunning, they are almost too pretty to put inside a book!  I have several and they are displayed in a frame on my wall, they are that gorgeous!  You can see the effort and love that goes into each one of the artist’s prints and book marks! Available through Etsy, bookmarks average around £4.69, a bargain! Plus, you can get 10% off with my exclusive discount code MARIE10!

Keep an eye out for the Luna Lovegood book mark- my personal favourite!

 

Millie Rose Designs UK:                     This company has a range of lovely goodies, but the focus of this millie2post is their hand stamped metal book marks.

Each one has an inspiring phrase and a colourful tassel, which just makes me fall in love with them.  You can even personalise them if you like, and get the name of your bookish friend on one, or perhaps their favourite literary quote.  I have a couple myself and they are so pretty!  Available on Etsy, they retail around £8.00 for the small ones and £15.00 for the larger ones!

3. Bookish Jewellery

Now every lady, book worm or not, is a fan of jewellery, but for the true bibliophile, onlyfangirl book themed jewellery will do!  Yes, you can get jewellery for all of your favourite books, and again, with the item being small, postage isn’t such an issue.  Take for example the fabulous Fan Girl Pixie Jar, a unique, Canada based shop on Etsy selling hand crafted, book themed jewels!  I have several of her pieces and they rock!  So whether you are a fan of The Hunger Games, Harry Potter or Peter Pan, she has something for every book lover.  Plus, you can receive 15% off with my exclusive discount code MARIE15!  Perfect!

4. Bookish Candles

Everyone loves a scented candle.  They fill your house with the sweetest smells, and provide that comforting, homely glow!  Nowadays, not only can you get unusual scents and styles, but you can even get candles themed around your favourite books or fictional characters!  Perfect right?

As mentioned above, A Bookish Flickering sells the candles featured in their boxes bookishcandleindividually.  Take Hogsmeade, a Harry Potter Themed candle described as smelling like ‘Woodland Walks and Rainwater’…sounds heavenly right?  Or what about The Burrow which smells of ‘candied clementine and apple pie.’….delicious!

They retail at £7.91 each and postage can be combined.  Bargain!!

Madame Fiction: A UK based seller, her stylish candles feature unique blends of scents madame fictionperfectly matching the book themed.  Take for example ‘Circus of Dreams’ consisting of slated caramel, smokey wood and pistachio.  Heavenly!  I have personally sniffed one of this retailer’s candles and they are as yummy as they sound!

Candles retail at around £11.50 and are available through Etsy.

My Burning Classics:  This French based company hand pours classicstheir lovely candles into Mason style glass jars which just look stunning.  You can buy individual candles at €9.00 each, or opt for boxes containing multiple candles.  They too have themes around your favourite literary characters and fandoms.  One of my personal favourites are the Hogwarts House candles, available individually, or all four for €33.00.

5. Book themed Teas.

C.S Lewis once said, ‘You can never get a cup of tea large enough, or a book long enough to suit me.” and this is a sentiment I definitely share!  There is nothing better than reading a good book while sipping a lovely, cosy cuppa…but what if the tea itself was book themed?  That takes it up a gear!

Try for example, UK based shop The Rosie Lea Tea company.  They feature gorgeous teas rosie leathemed after your favourite fandoms, authors and fictional characters, all hand blended and packaged.  One of my favourites has to be the Harry Potter potions set, retailing at £12.00.  They range in price depending on the amount of tea ordered.

I know I keep mentioning a bookish flickering, but I have just butterbeerhad the privilege of becoming a rep for this fledgling company and I am a huge fan, having ordered some of the tea myself!  Bags retail at a bargain £3.26 each.  I have ordered the Harry Potter themed teas myself, including a butterbean flavoured tea and a pumpkin spice flavoured tea!  Can’t wait to try them!

6.  Book Buddies

What exactly is a book buddy I hear you ask?  Well, any true bibliophile understands the pain and horror of dogeared and creased books.  Book buddies are essentially a little sleeping bag for your books, to keep them safe in your bag.  Genius right?

Melvis Makes: Every book bag, Christmas decoration and book buddy is hand made here in the UK, and features a huge range of prints and themes.

They range in price from a small one for £11.50 to an extra large for £15.50.  Most notably, there is a massive range of Christmas themed fabric, perfect for a Christmas present!

Because these items are just fabric, postage isn’t a huge issue either!

Sweet Sequels: I simply had to mention this shop, because I pretty much want sweet 1EVERYTHING in it.  Based in the USA, each of the stunning designs is hand painted onto muslin fabric before being digitally copied and printed on other fabrics, and then hand sewn into your chosen book buddy, quilt of baby muslin.  The designs are just spectacular, and I urge you to check them out!  You can also buy prints for around £7.82 if you want to display these beauties on your wall, which trust me you will!  Book buddies retail at around £21.11.  One of these bad boys is definitely featured on my Christmas wish list, that’s for sure!

7. Something totally different

These shops provide something so unique and awesome, they cannot be categorised!

House of Worry Dolls: I know what you are thinking…why would my book worm friend doll2want a doll?  But trust me on this, as soon as you see these unique, handmade designs, you will need to order yourself some!  Based in the USA, this company creates whimsical worry dolls from your favourite literary characters and books, such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, as well as TV and Movie fandoms like Star Trek and X-Files.  I mean look at this Snow White and Maleficent…how could you not want these?

You can even order customised dolls, or a family portrait, which would make an incredibly unique piece of art on your wall, and a great talking point!  Prices depend on whether you order a single doll or a set.  On my wish list for sure!

Hairy Potter: A must for any Harry Potter Fan!  Based in the UK, the Hairy Potter makes unique Harry Potter themedhp pottery, as well as cards and even hand carved magic wands.  The owner said he was disappointed with a lot of the Harry Potter merchandise available, as it looked plastic and modern, in other words, nothing like something you would find in the world of Potter.  His aim was to create items which look like they were purchased from Diagon Alley, and he has 100% succeeded.  He makes everything from signs to Christmas decorations, and everything is just stunning…I mean, how could you not want this hanging on your tree?  I own a multitude of his pieces and will continue to collect because they honestly rock- I cannot recommend him enough!  Prices depend on what you are purchasing, but he is not expensive at all.  PM him for orders and enquiries!

robertaLast, but definitely not least, I had to mention my dear friend, the very talented Roberta Marina.  She makes hand sewn embroidery hoops in every colour and theme you can think of.  She takes personalised orders, so can make the item to your specifications…so if you want a Harry Potter hoop or a Hobbit hoop, she is your woman!  I own two of her embroideries, and I pretty much order one for every friend’s birthday and Christmas presents!  Prices range from £12.00 to £20.00 depending on the amount of work involved and she ships internationally!

 

 

 

 

 

Interview: Veranda Kuhar Studios.

I am so excited to announce that I have the privilege of working with the fantastic Veranda Kahur Studios on my first novel, ‘Broken Mirrors.’  With their help and expertise, my dream of having a published book will come true, and I cannot thank them enough for taking a chance on an unknown writer like me!  To celebrate our collaboration, I thought an interview with the founder of this independent, fledgling business, the gorgeous Veranda herself, would be perfect, so you guys can discover them and the great work they are doing for yourselves!

verandaI guess the question most writers will want to know, is what is it exactly that you guys do?

The goal of our company is helping independent writers with things they don’t like to do, don’t want to do, or aren’t very good at. Editing, helping with your self publishing, cover art, promoting your book, etc. Some writers just want to write. They have no interest in going line for line and checking for every little grammatical error, and they don’t have the first clue as to how to create the chapter illustrations they wish they had. We want to help you create the best work that exemplifies you.

What Inspired you to create this business?

I have been wanting to start a studio for a long time.  I tried Etsy a few times, and I realized my work just doesn’t sell. My work isn’t “paint on a canvas and someone will hang it in their homes” kind of stuff. I was asked to illustrate a children’s book, and I loved the process so much and saw all the positive feedback on it, and I realized something like that is more my talent. I looked around trying to find someone else who needed an illustrator and then I met my partner Richard. He is my editor, and a writer. He has several books on Amazon, and I designed a cover for his most recent book. I loved the process, and I realized this was where I should concentrate my talents on. I love books and reading but I can’t write to save my life. So this is how I can dive into this world of self published writers.  In the process Richard realized he didn’t like what he was doing for work either and asked me how I felt about having him do editing and formatting, and a few other things and I thought, wow this is going to be awesome. This can be a full service company for Indy writers, and we can do what we love by helping others do what they love.

What is your favourite part of the process?veranda 2

I think so far my favorite thing is the positive feedback from a handful of people we have begun this process with. The searching for and recruiting Indy writers, who just love to write. I’m getting to know some really awesome artists from all over the world, and team up with them to create something completely unique. I also am so excited to commission some amazing covers. I’m a painter, I love to do it and paint everything by hand, which while some may say is old fashioned, I think its something that is rare and there is definitely a market for.

If you could change one thing about the Writing/publishing industry today, what would it be?

If I could change one thing about the industry I suppose it would be the way “good” work is sold. It irks me the way social media algorithms, and the amount of views/reviews you receive determines your success level. It has very little to do with the work itself. I mean, if we are being honest with ourselves, we have all read that one book that is super popular and you get done reading it and you think “What the hell did i just read? And how did someone make millions off this?” and then there are these little guys, who have a basic cover and no publisher but their book is just AMAZING. In order to be successful you need more than just the talent to write. You need to be able to create a product that people are attracted to, you need to make a name and label for yourself, you have to have a decent understanding of social media and how to get your numbers up on Amazon and Goodreads. Because of this so many great writers go unnoticed.

What kind of books do you personally read and enjoy?

This is such a difficult question for me! I definitely go through phases. I would have to say my all time favorite genre is dystopian fiction. I like a great story about someones theory for the future, where we may all end up one day, and especially I like these things when it is believable. My second favorite would have to be history, specifically Early American history (thanks Lin Manuel Miranda!) and historical fiction. I do, however also enjoy the occasional YA, and of course books written by Independent authors. Stories by people who just love to tell stories.

What are your top tips for aspiring writers?

Tips for aspiring writers is tough, as I am not a writer. Actually, I cant write to save my life which is strange to me since I can read all day long, lol. However, if we can broaden the term to aspiring artists? And entrepreneurs? Because that’s what this is isn’t it? It is marketing and sales. Its taking your unique product that you love to create and selling it, and hopefully making enough to live off your passion. So my tips for aspiring artists and business people are as follows; 1) Create what you are called to create. I had so many more people interested in my work the day I stopped wondering what people wanted my work to look like, and just made it the way I wanted it to look like. 2) When it comes to writers, remember that your product cannot sell itself. With painting this is easier, someone sees a painting they like, and the buy it. But with books, you have to get a person to pick it up before they can start to read it and be interested in it. It has to be attractive. Make it attractive. And 3) Id say one of the most important things is to learn how to use the internet. Social media can and will take you a long way, but you have to know how it make it work for you.

What in your opinion are the biggest barriers to getting published?

I have never traditionally published a book myself. However I’ve seen the struggle some of my writer friends have gone through. A few have been successful, but mostly its submit and submit and submit to company after company, and if you’re lucky they may send you a rejection letter, but usually you just never hear anything back from anyone. Its a tough route to take. I even know of one guy who submit a children’s book to a few publishing companies, and no joke, they stole his idea, changed it just enough to avoid copyright, and its now for sale at Barnes and Noble. (I may or may not have mailed them 6 hissing Madagascar cockroaches as revenge. But probably I did.) So the way I see it, self publishing is the best route to take. You are completely in control of your product, you cant be undersold, its YOUR WORK and that keeps the art alive.

If you are a writer, of many genre or style, and would be interested in working with Veranda and her team, then check out their website! Or alternatively, you can contact them at verandakuharstudios@yahoo.com.  If you fancy reading the first chapter of my book, Broken Mirrors, click here!!

 

The End of Temperance Dare: A Book Review.

Hello readers!  If you have been following my blog recently, you will see I received a book subscription box by the fabulous people at the Once Upon a Book Club Box.  It’s finally time to review the box’s book The End of Temperance Dare by Wendy Webb and also review the box itself!  First up, the book…So what’s it about?

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When Eleanor Harper becomes the director of a renowned artists’ retreat, she knows nothing of Cliffside Manor’s dark past as a tuberculosis sanatorium, a “waiting room for death.” After years of covering murder and violence as a crime reporter, Eleanor hopes that being around artists and writers in this new job will be a peaceful retreat for her as much as for them.
But from her first fog-filled moments on the manor’s grounds, Eleanor is seized by a sense of impending doom and realizes there’s more to the institution than its reputation of being a haven for creativity. After the arrival of the new fellows–including the intriguing, handsome photographer Richard Banks–she begins to suspect that her predecessor chose the group with a dangerous purpose in mind. As the chilling mysteries of Cliffside Manor unravel and the eerie sins of the past are exposed, Eleanor must fight to save the fellows–and herself–from sinister forces.

I loved the way the book brought together the past and the present, revealing just enough about both in order to carry the story along, keeping you interested but not revealing too much.  It ticks all of the necessary horror boxes: A large, historical building where lots of people died?  Tick.  Unpredictable weather which cuts off the people within from the outside world?  Tick.  Members of staff which clearly know more than they’re letting on?  Tick.  A group of apparent strangers brought together by unknown forces for nefarious means?  Tick.  It practically writes itself.  Was it scary?  Sadly not, but that may have more to do with my tolerance levels for all things grotesque and horrifying than the writing itself.  I rarely find books scary.  But it certainly is atmospheric, with Webb creating enough suspense to keep you coming back for more.  Certain aspects of it were predictable, and I worked out one of the twists from the start.  But the ending was very original and I genuinely didn’t see it coming.  In fact, she managed one of those rare and awesome writing moments when the reader gets to the ending, is surprised by it, and then finds themselves going over the book in their mind, realising they had missed so many clues.  I respect any writer who can manage that!

I have a few small criticisms.  First, the whole incident is kind of ’rounded off’ at the end, book boxand it feels rushed.  I personally think a few additional chapters would have provided a satisfactory conclusion for the reader without losing them.  I also think that it could have done with a little more carnage.  I don’t want to give many spoilers, but victims are put into a shocked, catatonic state, literally paralysing them with fear, when perhaps, I would have just killed them off.  But again, maybe that’s just me and my love of the dreadful.

Overall, I found this book thoroughly entertaining.  I looked forward to settling into bed with it each night, and at certain points, I genuinely couldn’t put it down.  I definitely recommend it of you fancy something on the spooky side.

photo 1What about the box itself?  In a word: AWESOME!  If you missed my previous posts, the Once Upon a Book Club Box is not your average book subscription box.  Along with a great book, you get a selection of gifts, all of which are individually and lovingly wrapped, and marked with a page number.  Once you reach the right page, you open your gift marked with that particular page number and inside you find a surprise which is tailored to that part of the book.

If you have the box, and haven’t opened all of your gifts yet, stop reading now because there are spoilers ahead!  Obviously, my gifts were tailored to The End of Temperance Dare.  At one moment in the book, the main character takes a long and much needed bath containing bath salts, so when I opened my gift, I found some sweet smelling bath salts just for me!  At another point in the book, the main character finds herself so engrossed in what she is doing, she loses time, and is amazed photo 4to look at the clock and find much more time has passed than she thought.  When I opened my gift, I found a super cute clock!  When the main character opens a letter, I too get my very own copy of that letter.  When makeup is applied within the story, I opened my gift to find my very own set of makeup brushes, and finally, as the main character writes in her diary, I open my own pen, with one of Macbeth’s most memorable lines inscribed on it, ‘By the pricking of my thumb, something wicked this way comes.’  It’s very obvious how much thought and effort has gone behind each and every gift choice.  Even the way in which they are wrapped and labelled is so beautifully and carefully considered.  I found that each gift helped immerse me in the story, and they became a photo 3little goal for reading, some exciting little surprise to reach before I put down the book for the evening.  It was like a box that kept on giving.  Unlike other subscription boxes, where you open and see everything at once, this one lasts as long as you want it to so you feel like you are really getting value for money.  I know some people can’t resist, and open all of the gifts at once (and I can’t deny I was tempted) but I was glad I kept them all as a surprise because each one genuinely put a smile on my face when I got to open them.  In a nut shell- I loved it!  And I definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking for a bookish subscription box.  If you decide to give it a go, you can get 10% off with my exclusive discount code MARIE10.

 

 

The Magic Box Part 2: A Short Story Inspired by the Once Upon a Book Club Box Subscription.

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Hello readers!  We have officially made it past hump day, and are well on our way towards the weekend.  And I have the perfect thing to get us through the rest of the week- Part 2 of my take on a classic fairy tale, inspired by a very special book subscription box.  If you are unfamiliar with the Once Upon A Book Club Box subscription box, it is a monthly subscription box which contains a carefully chosen book and a series of wrapped gifts, each one marked with a specific page number.  When you reach that number, you open the gift, and it will be tailored to that specific point in the book.  It is a very immersive experience and I have enjoyed it immensely- the full review of the book and the box will be up next week.  I felt inspired by this immersive experience, and posited the question: What would happen if the box LITERALLY immersed you in an adventure, and that each gift was your tools to survive?  The first part was posted last week, and this is the final part of the story.  I hope you like reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it!  If you like the sound of the Once Upon a Book Club Box, you can get 10% off a subscription with my exclusive code MARIE10!!  Happy reading….

The Magic Box

Part Two

The woods began to darken slightly, shadows lengthening, branch like hands spreading across the forest floor. After a few minutes, she came to another clearing, almost a perfect circle formed by the gap in the trees. In the centre, stood a statue, twice the size of Ella, made of dark, grey stone. It was cracked in places, aged, ivy climbing it’s way up and twisting around the figure which stood tall and wide. It was a man, with broad shoulders and long hair. He wore some kind of uniform, and held a sword aloft. She stared at him a moment. He had a handsome face, and his eyes stared off into the distance at some unknown object.

She went to walk around it, and suddenly the sword dislodged and landed in front of her, mere feet from where she stood. She fell back in shock, scrambling away from the gigantic stone blade. Then it spoke, a deep voice, echoing through the trees. “Only the worthy shall pass.” She lay still a moment, feeling her heart beat, which had suddenly began to crash within her rib cage, begin to slow again along with her breathing, as the sword was slowly brought back into it’s original place, and the statue became still and lifeless once more.

Swallowing hard, she dragged herself to her feet, and approached the statues base, being careful not to walk beyond it. She noticed what appeared to be writing on the stone base, so slowly, and carefully, keeping one eye of the stone warrior, she pulled the ivy off, revealing the message beneath. “Only those who have worth of self shall pass beyond this point.” She read it out loud, hoping she could decipher some hidden message or discover the answer to a secret riddle, but no answer came. She continued, talking to herself, for she had resigned herself to the fact that she was going insane anyway, and thought she might as well go the entire way and seek her own counsel, “What does that mean?”

“It means what it says.”

She leapt back, expecting the sword to once more make it’s way towards the earth, and was surprised to find that, not only did it remain in place, but the stone face was now staring down at her.

“But what does it mean, ‘worthy’? What makes someone worthy or not?”

“You’re asking the wrong questions.”

“What is the right questions?”

“You’re asking the wrong questions.”

She began to find his deliberate vagueness irritating, impatience growing along with the darkness. She closed her eyes, exasperation succumbing to weariness. How long had she been in this place? For the first time since her Father had passed away, she found herself missing home.

She reached into her apron, and finding the small round parcel with gold spots, she tore the paper off with one swift movement, revealing the gift within. In her hand, she held a compact mirror. It was gold in colour, and on the front, there was the image of a rose, with maroon red petals and dark green leaves. She ran her finger along the smooth, enamelled surface. It reminded her of her mother, who always carried one. Ella opened it, so her own eyes stared back at her. Only those who have worth of self shall pass. Slowly, she began to understand.

“Who decides who is worthy?”

“Now, you are asking the right question.”

“I decide. That’s what it means isn’t it? I decide if I am worthy?”

“That is correct.”

It sounded so easy on the surface, to decide that about yourself, to give yourself credit, to believe in your own self worth, but reality is a different matter. Ella had spent most of her life being told she was a thorn in her families side, a pebble in their shoe. Her step mother had reiterated time and again what a burden she was on her. The sad truth is, that if people tell you you are worthless often enough, you yourself will start to believe it.

She thought of her mother, of how kind and beautiful she was, and of her father, such a clever and loving man. Tears began to fill her eyes. In an instant, she imagined a life where they had been able to watch her grow, a world where every day, they had told her how much they loved her, how perfect she was to them. Tears forced their way from her, snaking their way down her cheeks, and almost as quickly, tears of sadness became tears of anger. What right had her step mother to treat her the way she did? Not once had she given cause for such bile, never had she deserved such mistreatment. For years, she had cooked and cleaned after her and her two lazy, idiot daughters, and not once had she been told thank you.

“I am worthy…” It was spoken so softly, that the words were barely audible to Ella, but she realised, once they were spoken aloud, that they were words of truth. And so, she repeated them, louder, “I am worthy,” and then louder, “I am worthy,” until she was shouting at the stone knight, tears of anger rolling down her face, “I AM WORTHY.” It turned it’s face towards her, as if it had only just noticed her existence.

“I am worthy. I may not be the best of my kind, but I am a good person. I am kind and loving, in spite of the way I am treated by others. I am just as worthy as any other soul who may come by this place, and you shall let me pass. Do you hear me? You SHALL let me pass.”

Without waiting for a response, she walked around the base, passing the large gouge in the earth’s surface, marking the spot where his sword had fallen, passing the statue entirely. In fact, so determined was she to walk where she pleased, that before she realised it, she had walked so far, the statue was no longer visible amongst the trees. She stopped, leaning against a nearby tree, the bark rough beneath her hand. She withdrew the mirror, and with the small amount of light left, she looked at her own reflection and smiled. She decided there and then, that she would no longer take the insults and the cruel jabs. She was Ella. She was her Mother and Father’s daughter, and she was worthy.

Darkness had fallen on the forest. Ella tread slowly and carefully, moving from tree to tree. On more than one occasion, she felt eyes watching her from the black, following her, observing her. At one point, she thought she had seen something moving, but forced the idea from her mind, trying to hold on to what little strength and courage remained within her. She could not stop to rest; she had no provisions, no shelter, no food, and even if she did, the dangers of her surroundings were completely unknown to her, her environment totally alien. She had to keep going until the final task, she had to get home. As if to reassure herself, she touched the last parcel, turning it over and over, feeling it’s weight in her hand.

After walking for what felt like hours, she began to feel her eyes growing heavy, her feet weary of their trek. She began to fear she would never leave this place, when a light appeared in the distance, stark and bright in the enveloping darkness. She approached cautiously, glad she could once again see her way. As she neared, she realised it was several torches, the flames causing shadows to pulse and vibrate. Even from a distance, she could feel their heat emanating through the thick forest, and she suddenly realised how cold she had been.

The torches were staked into the ground. There were three in total, each in front of a tree, and each tree containing a door. She walked from tree to tree examining each door in turn. The first, made of a dark, mahogany wood, was carved with hundreds of faces, all of which were distorted in pain or twisted with fear. She shuddered at the sight of it, and quickly moved on to the next one, deciding a closer inspection of the first was unnecessary. The second was metal, silver in colour, with chains decorating it, some of which had shackles hanging from their ends. Moving quickly to the third, she found a dark stone door, engraved with thorns and skulls. Each door seemed as unappealing as the other, and Ella began to pray this was not her final task.

Suddenly, the flames of each torch grew, as if being encouraged by invisible bellows, and a booming voice came from nowhere, echoing all around her, making the source impossible to discover, “CHOOSE.” The flames remained tall, casting a heavy, smoky heat all around. She remained firmly planted to the spot, fear gripping her, as she made the impossible choice between whatever was there with her, in that terrible place, or to face whatever horrors awaited her behind each door. Shock had paralysed her, and growing in volume, and impatience, the voice sounded again, “CHOOSE.”

“Please…I…”

“CHOOSE.”

She swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly dry. She took a deep, slow breathe, and steadied herself against a nearby fallen tree, staring at each door in turn, none appealing to her in any way.

“Please, where do they lead?”

Laughter filled the air, not just from one voice or one person, but dozens of different creatures all laughing at once. It came from all around her and lasted several seconds before suddenly ceasing. Then, another voice came, this one higher in pitch, more feminine, with a sharp edge to it, each syllable leaving a mark.

“That’s the game. You choose, without knowing, because really, it doesn’t matter.”

“I don’t understand.”

There it was again, that laughter, those dozens of voices building quickly to a crescendo.

“Of course you don’t. You’re a weak and stupid child, I’m surprised you even made it this far.”

Anger began to build within her, “I am not weak.”

“You are weak and pathetic. This is the only time you have even ventured from your tiny little life. You hate your existence and yet you do nothing to change it, and that it why it doesn’t matter what lies beyond each door, because no matter what it is, no matter what challenges you will face, you will lose. Whichever door you pick, you won’t be strong enough. Whichever door you choose, the ending is the same.”

The laughter came again, this time lasting much longer. Sometimes, it would seem the invisible beings taunting her, were right beside her ear, and then in a split second they were somewhere else, further away. Each one felt like a stab to her heart, and angry tears began to fill her eyes. She closed her eyes, a memory burning bright behind her eyelids. Her step mother had found her crying in the barn after her step sisters had tripped her up in the mud and told her she should sleep with the pigs. She had a sly smile on her painted lips, and her eyes glinted with hatred, “I’m ashamed to call you step daughter. Such a weak and pathetic little creature, such a burden. If it wasn’t for the memory of your father, I would have cast you out years ago. But we all know what would happen if you left this place…you wouldn’t last a day in the world beyond this village. My daughter’s were wrong about one thing though, you are no pig, although you certainly look like one. Pigs at least have intelligence.” And with that, she had left her crying, alone in the dusty shadows of the barn.

But her step mother was wrong. She had faced creatures beyond the imagination of most, and survived. She had discovered courage and strength within herself, which she never knew existed. Ella proven herself worthy, and no band of disembodied brutes would convince her otherwise. She pulled the third package from it’s hiding placed, and tore the paper off. Inside was a heavy brass key, polished to a gleaming shine. The teeth of the key were more elaborate that any she had ever seen, and the elaborate knot at it’s other end was quite beautiful.

Every door seemed equally menacing, and so she decided on a whim to choose the middle door. She had no idea what she would find on the other side, and she would never know if this had been the right choice, but she had to make one, and whatever she faced, she knew in her heart, she could stand her ground. The laughter died off, and before any of the voices had the chance to speak again, she turned the key. The door opened of it’s own accord, and a bright, blinding light flooded into the black void of the forest, illuminating every knot in every tree, and every pine needle or spiders web within it’s reach. She closed her eyes, the brightness almost paining her, and she felt herself being pulled within. It felt like she was falling, air rushed around her head and her body became weightless. The light made it impossible to open her eyes, and so she continued to fall into the unknown, dreading the inevitable impact to come. And then, it stopped.

Slowly, she opened her eyes and found herself on the straw bed floor of the barn. Light was streaming through holes in the wooden ceiling, and particles of dust danced and tumbled in the beams. The familiar smell of hay and horse manure filled her nostrils, and she could feel the weight of her own body once more. Ella lay there for several minutes, wondering if it had all been a dream, until her hand found the three objects within her apron, tracing every part of them with her fingers: a box, a mirror and a key. She smiled. It had all been real. Magic was real, “You were right Father.”

“Who on earth are you talking to?” She jolted upright with a start, that familiar voice bringing her crashing back to the here and now. Her step mother stood at the door, the light behind her, casting her in an ominous shadow. It made her look even more evil than usual, “I asked you a question child. Who were you speaking to?”

“None of your business.”

Shock spread across her face, furrows and lines lengthening and shortening as the shock subsided into rage, “How dare you speak to me like that you insolent little brat.”

“No, how dare you! How dare you treat me like a servant! How dare you abuse me and treat me like dirt! How dare you step mother!”

Ella had never seen her step mother so enraged, and at one point she thought she saw her eye twitch. She stomped towards Ella, until her nose almost touched hers, spittle hitting Ella’s face as she yelled, “How many years have I put up with you burdening this family? How long have I put up with you out of charity? How long have I fed and clothed you out of the goodness of my heart?”

“You have no goodness in your heart.”

“Well, I never…”

Ella began to close the gap between them, her step mother moving backwards to increase it again, as bewilderment replaced anger.

“How long have I put up with you? How long have I cooked for you and cleaned for you? How long have you treated me like a servant, like an animal? How long have you degraded me and bullied me? Well no more. I am no longer your punching bag.”

Ella had forced her back so far, her step mother suddenly found herself forced to sit on bails of hay, almost toppling over them entirely. Ella didn’t wait for a response, she no longer cared what her step mother had no say to her. As she pulled the heavy door completely open, her two step sisters bolted upright, having been caught eavesdropping. They did not wait to feel the lash of Ella’s tongue, and both immediately turned and ran towards the house. Just as she was about to step outside, her step mother spoke once more, her voice transformed from a shrill and domineering tone, to that of a meek child, “You won’t make it out there. You aren’t strong enough.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. I am strong, I am brave and I am worthy.”

And with that, she left. She walked away from the only home she had known her entire life, she walked away from her only family and she walked towards a new life. A life on her terms, a life worth living. She saw Jacob appear on the path, a bunch of wild flowers in his hand. She smiled to herself. She had no idea what awaited her out there, but she knew that whatever it was, she could handle it.

The End

The Magic Box Part 1: A Short Story inspired by the Once Upon a Book Club Subscription Box.

magic box

Happy Hump day everyone…it is half way to the weekend, and I have a treat to get you through the rest of the working week!  Tonights blog features part 1 of a very special short story, called ‘The Magic Box.’  If you missed my blog on the 26th of October, go check it out now, because it features the unboxing of a very special monthly subscription box: The Once Upon a Book Club Box.  This is a very special book subscription box, which creates an incredibly subversive experience.  In a nut shell, not only do you get an amazing and carefully chosen book, but you get a series of gifts, tailor made for that book and individually wrapped.  You are prompted to open each gift in turn, by the page number it is associated with, and the gift is something directly linked to that specific part of the book.  It truly brings the book to life, and I am enjoying it immensely so far (keep an eye out in a week or two for a full review).

Inspired by that immersive experience, I thought to myself: Imagine if the book box actually pulled you into your very own adventure?  Happy Reading…

The Magic Box

Part One

Ella stared hard at her reflection, willing herself to transform into another person, to suddenly wake up in another life far away from here shaking off this one like a bad dream. But no amount of wishing would bring about the changes she so desperately craved, she had long since given up on magic and other childish ideas, and so, she wiped the soot marks from her tear stained cheeks and went to feed the chickens and muck out the pigs.

It hadn’t always been like this; she had been happy once. When she was small, and had both of her parents, life was wonderful. She remembered games and laughter and softly spoken words to sooth her sores or rock her gently to sleep. First she lost her Mother, a kind and warm woman, who sang constantly and gave the best hugs. Then she lost her Father, a clever man who laughed at his own jokes and told the most fantastical bed time stories, of ancient magic and adventures in foreign lands. Before he departed, he provided her with a Step Mother and two sisters. Selfish and spoiled, they treated her like a servant, not family, and reminded her constantly of what an inconvenience she was.

She sighed wearily. She wished she could run away, but where would she go? How would she survive? The world was so big to a girl from a small village. She had heard the town cryers bringing news of pirates and highway men, of thieves and murderers, of cut throats and tricksters of the highest order. She wouldn’t last a day.

The familiar whistling of Jacob, the postal boy, snapped her back to reality. He was approaching her from the path, a smile on his face and a bounce in his step. Ella liked Jacob, he was sweet and honest, and unlike so many people from the nearby town, he treated her like an equal, not something to be ignored or overlooked.

“Good morrow Ella, ’tis a fine morning.”

Almost out of habit, she turned her face towards the sky, and assessed the pureness of the blue, the absence of cloud, feeling the warmth of the sun on her skin.

“That it is Jacob. What news have you from town?”

“Well, the Mayor announced a posh dinner for all the well to dos, the blacksmith had two horses stolen and someone pilfered the head from the statue of Sir Lancelot from the town square. Apart from that, just the usual comings and goings.”

Another sigh escaped her lips. She yearned for something bigger than this repetitive country life, something beyond her village, perhaps even beyond the walls of the town. She yearned for escape.

“There is something unusual to report however…,” a sly smile began to spread across his face, which widened as he spoke, “…and I think, no I’m sure, it will bring a smile to your face.”

She waited a moment, anticipation swelling, until impatience burst forth and spilled from her lips, “For heaven’s sake Jacob, out with it.”

He pouted, feigning upset, before pulling a parcel from the well worn leather satchel he carried. It was wrapped in brown paper, tied in twine, nothing unusual about it, until one looked closer at the name inscribed in slanted gold writing, the name of Ella Decor. Shock quickly subsided, replaced by overwhelming excitement, as she snatched it from Jacob’s hands. She held it tightly, assessing it , as if at any moment it may begin to tick and explode. She had never received a single letter, never mind a package. Her heart faltered slightly as she wondered if, perhaps, it was some trick being played by her Step Mother. Jacob as usual read her mind, and placing his hand on hers, he quietly said, “There’s only one way to find out.”

She kissed him on the cheek, only momentary contact but with a lasting effect as his face reddened and shyness spread across his face. She ran towards the barn, knowing there she would never be disturbed, imagining a million scenarios, each as unlikely as the next. Jacob watched her skipping away, growing smaller with distance, and he wished more than anything that he could be brave enough to tell her how he feels. But the moment was gone and his chance had passed, and so, with a heavy sigh, he carried his heavy load to the next farm; there was post to deliver.

She landed on the pile of hay with such force, it sent up a cloud of dust and scared the horses nearby. They quickly quieted, although they made their annoyance known with the occasional huff and puff. Oblivious, Ella clutched the parcel, staring at the gold lettering, tracing the letters with her finger. She wanted the moment to last, but excitement overtook her and she tore the paper off in one quick motion, revealing a box beneath. It was pink in colour, the colour of wild roses, and it was painted to resemble a book. On the front, where the cover of the book would be, were the words, ‘Once Upon a book box.’ She stared, confused, turning it over and over in her hand. She had never seen such a beautiful box, and she couldn’t imagine who would have sent it to her. She read and re-read the title, but the words held no meaning.

And then she noticed it, right at the back, in tiny writing, ‘Fairy Godmother Industries.’ She recalled her father’s stories, of magical creatures granting wishes to those in need, of pumpkin carriages and midnight dashes. She shook the idea from her mind as ridiculous. There was no such thing as magic. And yet, something about the box called to her, a whisper in the wind, barely audible. It told her to open the box. Slowly, she opened the lid, but before she could see what it contained, she was blinded by a light, emanating from within it, brighter than any candle or flame. She covered her eyes and fell back, hitting the soft earth with a thud. She could smell moss and rain water, and could feel soil beneath her face. It took her a moment to realise that this was not the bare wood floor of the barn. She blinked hard, circles of light still swimming in her vision, and saw above her a blue cloudless sky where the barn roof should have been.

Slowly, she sat up, taking in her surroundings. She was in a thick, dark forest, ever green trees as tall as houses flanking her on either side. She could hear birds singing nearby, and could feel the damp earth underneath her. It smelled of pine needles and there was an early morning chill hanging in the air. The only familiar sight was the box, it’s pink colour a stark contrast to its brown and green surroundings. She picked it up, and three small parcels fell from the open lid, and landed on the earth beside her. She examined them in turn. Each was wrapped in a different coloured and patterned paper, tied with the same twine as her package had been, and on each, hung a cardboard label. The first was small and thin, and felt heavy for its size. It was wrapped in silver paper, and the label read, ‘Number 3.’ The second was slightly larger, but much lighter. It was wrapped in a pink tissue paper with white stripes, and the label read, ‘Number 1.’ The third was round, wrapped in brown paper with gold spots, and the label unsurprisingly read, ‘Number 2.’

Perplexed, she pulled the now empty box towards her, and examined inside. On the lid, in the same slanted gold writing as her own name had been inscribed, was a message from the sender, ‘Dearest Ella, I have heard your cries and I will grant your wish. Take the gifts on your journey, and open them when the time comes. Do not open them before, or out of order, or the spell shall be broken. I believe in you, love from your Fairy Godmother. P.S. I can only take you so far, you have to do the rest on your own.’ She read those words a dozen times, she shook the upturned box, and read them again, but none of them made sense. The words were familiar, but their meaning was a mystery. How could this be? She looked around her and thought, for the first time, that perhaps her father’s stories were more than they had seemed, perhaps magic was real.

Gathering the packages, she placed them inside her apron pocket, and not knowing where to go, she chose a direction, and began to walk, hoping that she would find the answers she sought, or at least, perhaps, find her way home some how. The dry needles crunched underfoot and a slight mist hung amongst the trees. “This must be a dream.” She said it out loud, to no one in particular, hoping in doing so, she could convince herself. She pinched her arm, and immediately felt the short sharp pain emanate from that spot. She did not feel reassured.

She felt like she had been walking for quite some time, when she began to hear voices. She crept forwards, using the thick foliage as cover, until she came upon a small clearing. Within it was three of the ugliest little creatures she had ever seen. They came to waist height, and had warty, wrinkled skin and mud coloured eyes, a row of horns was visible along their hair line, and they had rows of sharp yellow teeth. They were laughing in grunt like spasms, while they threw something from one to the another, although Ella could not see what it was. They reminded her of the tales her father told, of ogres under bridges or goblins inside dark caves.

Suddenly, the smallest and fattest of the three, missed it’s target, and the object they were throwing landed on the earth and rolled towards the bush Ella was using as camouflage. It was a glass jar, with a number of small holes drilled into the gold metal lid. Within it lay a tiny girl, with lilac hair and two large oval shaped eyes the colour of lavender flowers. She shone and glittered within the jar, creating the illusion it contained a candle, and most astonishingly of all, she had two large dragon fly like wings protruding from her back, which glistened with all the colours of the rainbow when they caught the light. Ella had never seen a fairy in real life before, but she knew straight away what it was. The poor creature looked sickly, and sorrowful, and no wonder, with three little monsters throwing you around like a ball.

The skinny ogre, with long, greasy hair, shuffled towards her hiding place and picked up the jar. It stopped suddenly, staring right at her, sniffing the air like a dog on the hunt. “Come Tobias, bring her here. I haven’t had my fill of fun yet.” It was the largest of the creatures, who wore armour made of wood and rope. The skinny ogre let out a huff, before turning back to the group.

Their game began again, their laughter growing with every throw, and before Ella could stop herself, she was running towards the short, fat one, brandishing a large branch as a weapon. The element of surprise aided her with the first assailant, as he fell to the earth with a pained cry, a stunned expression on his ugly little face. The second attempt was not so lucky. She swung towards the skinny, greasy one, once, twice, as hard as she could, but it managed to jump back, narrowly missing a thump to the face. She stood over the jar, trying to protect it without letting go of her make shift bat and her heart sank as she realised she was surrounded. She now stood between all three, the fat one having recovered from his initial shock, green blood oozing from a cut on his forehead. They snarled, and growled, circling her like a pack of dogs.

Panic began to rise in her chest, and she could hear her own heart beating inside her skull. She swung the branch wildly back and forth, trying to keep them back as they circled. The largest ogre raised his fist, and they came to a halt, “What manner of creature are you?”

Her panicked mind swam, so she barely managed to answer, “Ella.”

“I’ve never ‘heard of an Ella. Your awful ugly things Ella.”

The others snorted a laugh.

“Why have you attacked us, Ella of the shadows?”

“I couldn’t stand there and let you torture this poor fairy any longer.”

He laughed, the others joining in.

“And you’re gonna’ stop us eh? You, and your twig?”

They laughed again, this time louder.

“That fae be ours, we caught her fair and square. Walk away from the jar now, and we won’t eat you.”

Her mouth felt dry, and her palms were sweating, the branch becoming heavy in her arms.

“What do you want with her?”

“Supper.”

The laughter started again, and the small, fat one, flinched towards her so she swung wildly in his direction on reflex. They laughed all the louder.

“When you eat a Fae, you eat it’s magic. I wonder what happens when you eat an Ella?”

She heard the skinny one licking his lips, her heart beating so hard within her chest, she feared it might burst through her ribs.

Just then, she felt something vibrating from inside her apron pocket. In the excitement, she had forgotten about the gifts. Could this be the moment she needed to open parcel number 1? There was only one way to find out. She threw the branch at the leader, sending him falling back with a thud. Grabbing the jar, she ran between the other two, narrowly missing being grabbed, and began to run. She swapped the jar for the parcel, and tearing the paper, discovered a brown, glossy box within. On the lid, in shiny brass, was the picture of a bee. She could hear them gaining on her, so she opened the box. Suddenly, a swarm of bees flooded from within. There was thousands of them, and Ella had no idea how they could have all fit within such a small box. The swarm grew to form a black cloud, blocking what little light made it through the thick canopy of trees. The cloud flew and moved as one, a sentient, black cloud. Suddenly they came together and formed the shape of a human head. To Ella’s utter surprise, the mouth then moved, and buzzing, static words could be heard. “Why have you disturbed us?”

“Please, I need your help. I am being chased by monsters. They are trying to kill me and this fairy.” She held the jar up to where she supposed eyes should be, but realised the foolishness of her actions. There was thousands of tiny eyes looking at her from within the swarm. She could hear them close now, any second they would appear and attack her.

As if things couldn’t become stranger, the fairy within began to buzz in a language Ella could not understand, although she supposed it was Bee. Suddenly, the face shifted, and became angry, before the swarm moved at speed in the direction of the three ogres, now mere feet from where Ella stood. They split, surrounding all three, as they batted and swung to no avail. Their cries could be heard for several minutes, as they ran away, the swarm following, until the noise died away with distance.

Ella fell to the earth, panting, tears of relief filling her eyes. She scrambled to open the jar, and gently poured the fairy onto a soft bed of moss nearby. After a moment, it spoke, it’s voice soft and melodic, “Thank you Ella of the shadows.”

“It’s just Ella actually.”

“Thank you Ella Actually.”

She opened her mouth to correct her, but thought better of it.

“What were those things?”

“We call them Dwellers. They live in the swamps, and poison the earth with their bile and hate. They have no magic, and so, out of jealousy, they steal it from other creatures. That’s what I told the bees. Many of their kind have been killed by the Dwellers.”

“Bees are magic?”

“Of course they are, haven’t you seen the honey they create? The flowers they grow?”

Ella had never thought of it before, but she supposed bees were magic.

“You have great courage, Ella Actually. In your land, you must be a great warrior”

“No, I’m just a servant. I’m nobody.”

“Don’t ever say that about yourself. It takes great courage to stand up to bullies, and even more so when it is to save another. You are kind and brave, and I thank you with all of my heart.”

It’s wings began to move so quickly, only a blur could be seen, and the fairy flew towards her face, kissing her lightly on the cheek. Warmth spread throughout her body, emanating from that spot, and she suddenly felt filled with happiness and love.

She began to fly away before Ella could gather her thoughts, “Wait! Where am I?” She could just make out the voice, though she could no longer see it’s owner. “The wayward woods.”

“How do I get home?”

No answer came, and after she had taken a moment to collect her thoughts, she picked up the now empty box and placed it back inside her apron pocket. She had no idea where she was in relation to where she had began her journey, and so, once again, she simply chose a direction, this time the opposite way from where the Dwellers had been chased, and she began to walk, wondering if, this wasn’t a dream, then perhaps, she had lost her mind.

Part two will be uploaded soon! Subscribe to my blog so you never miss a post!