An Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Brenda Novak and Professional Reader’s Box Giveaway!

brenda 1I have no doubt you have heard of the author Brenda Novak.  She has written over sixty books, sold millions of copies worldwide, topped the New York Times and USA Today Bestsellers lists and won award after award, including The National Reader’s Choice award, The Write Touch award and the Beacon Award for Published Authors.  In fact, you probably have at least one of her books on your shelf right now.  But did you know that, not content with merely taking the world of literature by storm, she also has started her own Global book club, as well as a monthly subscription box?  Me neither, but that’s how I got the chance to chat with Ms Novak.

If you aren’t already aware, I am a dedicated Bookstagrammer.  Basically, I take pretty pictures of my favourite reads and nerd out with other book worms around the world.  Geeky I know, but it’s a great community (if you aren’t already a part of it, definitely give it a look, and me a follow!) and you get to meet so many amazing people.  Enter Brenda Novak.  I was approached by her wonderful daughter Alexa to publicise ‘The Professional Readers Book Box’ and of course, I jumped at the chance.  They sent me February’s Valentine’s Day themed box, and I am truly in love (wait until the end of the article for a quick run down and review of the box as well as a chance to win one of your own!).  But not content with merely discussing the box, I chanced my arm and requested an interview with Ms Novak herself, and amazingly, despite her insane schedule, she agreed!

So grab a cuppa, kick back, and enjoy….

Let’s start with a brief introduction…who is the team behind Professional Readers Box?

I’m a New York Times Bestselling author of over sixty books. I curate these “professional reader” boxes each month with my daughter, Alexa Novak.

For those of us unfamiliar with the Professional Readers Box, can you explain a bit about it?

The Professional Reader Box is a subscription box that brings two autographed books to your door each month–one big name author and one up and coming author I’ve hand selected–along with other reader-related items.

It would be remiss of me not to ask a couple of writing related questions, while I have the ear of the Legendary author that is Brenda Novak! You have written over 50 books, and sold millions of copies worldwide, tell me, what was the biggest hurdle you faced to getting your first book published, and how did you overcome it?

Getting the time to research and write was probably my biggest hurdle. I never dreamed I’d be a writer, but when I caught my daycare provider drugging my children with cough syrup to get them to sleep all day while I worked as a loan officer, I quit my job to stay home with them myself. I still needed to figure out a way to help provide for the family, however, so I was looking for something I could do at home. My sister had given me a good book–Jude Devereux’s KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR, and I loved it. I remember closing that book and thinking, “I wonder if I could do this!” I started right away, and spent the next five years researching the Victorian area (the time period of my first book, OF NOBLE BIRTH) and teaching myself the craft of writing. Meanwhile, I had two more children to give me a total of five, so you can see why getting the time to learn and create was a hurdle!

What is your writing process? Would you plan your book out before writing it, or is it more of a stream of consciousness style process?

I’m more of a “pantser,” which is the name bandied about among writers for someone who doesn’t plot. I start with the conflict of a story–something I think would be very interesting to explore–and then I decide what kind of characters would be most challenged by that conflict. The plot grows out of the characters.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

When I first started writing I had THE GREAT IDEA. It was based almost entirely on a title that popped into my head one day—OF NOBLE BIRTH. This title lent itself to a very specific theme: whether one is noble or not depends on the heart and not the pedigree. That was the message I wanted to deliver, and I knew the best backdrop for a story with such a message would be a historical setting where the caste system was firmly in place, so I decided that my book would be a historical romance set in Victorian times,

but I soon realize that was NOT the only idea I would ever need if I wanted to make my living as a published author. In order to build my career, I needed to write another story, and another, and another. In other words, I had to develop my imagination, turn it into a deep well of ideas from which I could draw time and again.

I didn’t know how I was going to do this but, fortunately, our brains are very adaptable. The more I demanded that my imagination deliver IDEA NUMBER 2, the harder it began to search. Before long, my mind turned into a “sifter.” It sifted through everything that came my way, every conversation I overheard, every funny anecdote I was told, every movie I saw, every newspaper article I read, every true crime show I puzzled over until I could pull an attitude from one character I’d come to know via a TV show, mix it with a situation my mother had mentioned the week before last, throw in some of my personal experience and…I was off and typing.

Have you ever suffered writer’s block? If so, how did you get beyond it? If not, what is the secret to writing over 60 successful books without suffering from it?

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. But there are days when I get stuck, when my story seems to be turning to drivel or I can’t get it to hold any emotional tension. That’s when I know something is wrong. I’ve taken the story where it wasn’t meant to go, for lack of a better way to describe it. Fortunately, there are ways to get myself “unstuck.” Experience has taught me to mentally step away from the manuscript and look at it from a macro perspective, always asking myself, “Where did you go wrong?”

I start from the beginning and check the story as a plumber might check a series of pipes for leaks. I feel my way along, testing the story to see if it’s still “holding water.” I read, consider, read, consider and read some more until I find the “break” or part that isn’t in harmony with my intuition. Sometimes I do this by reading the manuscript aloud to my husband and asking for his input. Then we both look at the reasons my story isn’t coming together. Maybe I’m forcing my characters to do something these types of characters would never do. Maybe I’m ascribing a certain trait or pathology to my villain that just isn’t ringing true. Maybe I’ve veered too far away from my “core story.” It’s a bit of a hassle to go back, and definitely risks some unraveling and rewriting, but if I take the time to do this I almost always find the point that’s troubling my subconscious and interrupting my ability to proceed. Then I can fix it.

What advice do you have for young, aspiring writers?

Over the years, I have often been asked what piece of advice I would offer someone who is just starting out in publishing. I have always said I can boil it down to just one word, and that hasn’t changed even after 50+ books and nearly two decades. Believe. It’s really that simple. If you truly believe in yourself and your talent, you will be motivated to actually sit down and write the book instead of only dreaming about it.

You will be driven to seek out any help you may need (research or craft-related) to make it the best you can create. You will follow through with marketing ideas until you sell it (or self-publish it), and you won’t give up if you don’t immediately reach your goals. Belief drives the entire engine—especially through the rough spots.

Ok, back to the Professional Readers Box…What Inspired you to create this service?

Once I started my online book group on Facebook, I wanted to “add value” to becoming a member, and I did that through developing various programs. We have a Book Buddy Program, a monthly reading challenge, a commemorative pin for anyone who has read more than fifty of my novels, etc. The book boxes are just one more fun thing we offer to make it even more enjoyable to belong.

How do you go about curating each box? Do you pick a theme and then choose your book, or is the box built around a selected title?

I choose the books first. I fill out the schedule a year in advance. Then we choose items that will either go with a generic reading theme (like March’s box, which is all about reading in the tub and includes a pretty robe), or we focus on one of the books (like we did when we created our Whiskey Creek box). Sometimes we even focus on the closest holiday, like we did for our October, November and December boxes.

If an author or a business would like to collaborate with you on a box, is that something you would be interested in? If so, how would they go about arranging that with you?

Sure! I’d entertain submissions/ideas. We are very picky about what goes in our boxes, so it would have to fit with the theme and be of a certain quality, but I’m always interested in taking a look at new ideas and collaborating with others. There’s a contact link on my website, so I’m easy to reach.

How do people subscribe to the Professional Readers Box?

There’s a store right on my website at People can save a few bucks by signing up for a yearly subscription, or we have monthly subscriptions available. We even sell individual boxes, although it’s best to get a subscription because we sell out well in advance, and a subscription is the only way to guarantee getting one.

brenda 2Some invaluable writing advice from a true expert!  But what of the box I hear you ask?  Well, each box contains at least one book, often autographed, and a selection of bookish goodies chosen around that book.  My box, being Feburary’s, was all about Romance.  Along with two amazing books, All We Know by Jamie Black and The Secret Sister by Brenda Novak herself, I got some handmade chocolates from All things Chocolate in Georgia, powdered donuts (which as an Irish lass I have never actually tried this American treat, but I will definitely bee seeking them out again in the future), socks which say, ‘If you can read this, bring me chocolate’ (excellent advice), a beautiful wooden sign which reads, ‘It doesn’t matter what the question is, chocolate is the answer’, a date suggestion kit, and a make your own valentine’s card kit.  All of these goodies came beautifully packaged in peach coloured tissue paper and frankly, it was an awesome Valentine’s day gift to receive through the mail.  I couldn’t recommend the box enough, and the next one looks even better if that were at all possible.  You can check out how to order your own here.

It gets better though, you could win your own Professional Readers Box!  Just head to my Instagram to find out how to enter the giveaway!

Book Review: Death Row by Christian Sterling.

deathrowFor tonight’s blog post, I am reviewing Death Row, a novella by Christian Sterling.  The book follows Charles Colter, an inmate at Greenwood Federal Penitentiary, during his final days at the prison.  Charles is an artist, happiest when he is able to pour himself onto a canvas, and through his art and internal monologue, we see inside a man desperately trying to make peace with his life; the decisions he has made in the past which have led to this point, as well as the uncertainty of his future.

I hate reviews which include spoilers, so I will try to give my opinion on the novella without ruining it for anyone.  I will say this though, there is a twist which I never saw coming and one which I found slightly disappointing at first, but perhaps that’s the sadist in me.

Anyway, to the review:  Charles is a well developed, believable and most importantly likeable character.  For much of the book, the reader is unaware of what he did to deserve his stint in prison, something which should be of importance, but instead you find yourself liking Charles too much to care about what he did to deserve punishment.  I like the Charles we see now, introspective and regretful, so I’m not bothered about the Charles whose decisions led him to that prison cell.  In a nut shell, Sterling is great at character development.

Despite most of the book lacking any ‘action’ per say (bar one sadistic shiv wielding prisoner), being very much grounded in reality in all of it’s brilliant boredom, the storyline is genuine and compelling enough to keep you reading.  All of it takes place in a routine, a pattern from which Charles wishes he could escape, and his yearning for colour in a world of beige not only makes Charles a relatable character, but also means that simple and often overlooked details, become something beautiful and interesting.  Sterling’s attention to detail is outstanding and allows the reader to paint a vivid image in their minds.

My only negative, which I have alluded to at the beginning, is perhaps the book’s message is a little too optimistic for me.  I do however think that’s more to do with myself and my own cynical view of the world than an actual issue with what is, overall, an incredibly well written book.  I definitely recommend this as a quick and interesting read.

The Season by Sarah Maclean: A Book Review.

Hey fellow Bookworms!  It’s almost the weekend, when we can read as late as we like without fear of an early start the next day.  For tonight’s post, I am reviewing ‘The Season‘ by Sarah Maclean.  For those of you who follow my blog, you have seen that this was the book chosen for January’s The Letter’s Lit subscription (If you fancy seeing all of the bookish goodies I received as part of that subscription, check a couple of posts back).  So what is it about?  Let’s check our friend, the blurb:

theseasonSeventeen year old Lady Alexandra is strong-willed and sharp-tongued; in a house full of older brothers and their friends, she had to learn to hold her own. Not the best makings for an aristocratic lady in Regency London. Yet her mother still dreams of marrying Alex off to someone safe, respectable, and wealthy. But between ball gown fittings, dances, and dinner parties, Alex, along with her two best friends, Ella and Vivi, manages to get herself into what may be her biggest scrape yet.

When the Earl of Blackmoor is mysteriously killed, Alex decides to help his son, the brooding and devilishly handsome Gavin, uncover the truth. But will Alex’s heart be stolen in the process? In an adventure brimming with espionage, murder, and other clandestine affairs, who could possibly have time to worry about finding a husband? Romance abounds as this year’s season begins!

I am going to start with a couple of things, which although very minor, I found irritated me greatly whilst reading ‘The Season.’  The first is a phrase, used at least a dozen times per chapter, ‘Whispered conspiratorially.’  Every character spoke this way in almost every conversation, and it got to the point where I thought I had just invented a new drinking game: have a shot every time you read that phrase and you will find yourself hammered by Chapter 2! Honestly it was just beaten to death and I found it bugged me.  Again, this is very minor, but something worth raising nonetheless.

The second thing, is the dozens upon dozens of references to Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice…I get it!  This was the inspiration for the book, but stop with the name dropping.  In fact, take out the whole spy bit, and this book is pretty much a facsimile of Pride and Prejudice, just not as good.  Smart, ambitious young woman who refuses to marry?  Check.  Handsome, wealthy, male love interest who is stubborn and proud?  Check.  A series of misunderstandings which create that will they, won’t they question for the main part of the book?  Check.  Happy ending where they finally end up together? Check.  Early 19th century setting complete with balls and manor houses?  Check.  There is even a rogue male character and an overbearing pushy mum.

Saying that, the book is fun, lighthearted and entertaining.  Obviously Maclean could never reach the dizzying heights set by Austen, but if you are a fan of Austen or classic Romance literature in general, I think you will like this as well.  The defiant young women leading the charge are well rounded characters, along with the men who constantly underestimate them.  The Spy storyline offers enough suspense and adventure to keep you interested, and although it’s a fairly predictable read, it is also an entertaining one.  And let’s face it, who doesn’t love a bit of Romance?

Overall, I would recommend it if you fancy something fun and frothy, perhaps as your holiday beach read.

The Sacrifice by Alec Caruso: A Book Review.

Hey everyone…I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and are looking forward now to a great New Year!  I was spoiled rotten!  Santa brought me lots of wonderful bookish goodies, I got to spend time with loved ones, I ate far far too much and I even got some time to sit and read, one of my favourite things to do!  What did I read you ask?  The Sacrifice a debut novel by Alec Caruso, the pen name of the very talented writing team Rachel Mehal and Keith Bruton.  To find out more about them, and purchase your own copy, head to Amazon and their website.

So what is the book about?

sacrificeLondon, England. Dr Ted Conway has committed suicide. A case that should be easily closed.

After a forced break, Detective Inspector Reo Yoshima is thrust back into work, overseeing the the suicide of Dr Ted Conway, only to discover that things with this case is not what it seems to be. Trying to determine the unforeseeable truths from hidden lies, clues start finding their way together. As the case begins to unravel, it forces Yoshima into a whirlwind of discoveries, sending her to Cologne, Germany.

At first, I found the book slightly disjointed.  It cuts between the aforementioned Detective Rei Yoshima in London, to detectives in Germany, a couple with fertility troubles in London and news bulletins about the Syrian refugee crisis with no apparent connection or Segway.  There is also the fact that the reader’s perspective shifts between so many characters, in London and Cologne, that sometimes it can get confusing. However, slowly, the seemingly disconnected chapters link in to each other, and all of the pieces come together to form one big picture.

This is also when the book begins to pick up pace as well as increase in action and excitement.  It was definitely worth reading through to this stage, and the final chapters certainly tick all of the necessary boxes you want from a crime thriller…Guns?  Check.  Fight scenes?  Check.  Murder and kidnap?  Check and check.  It will certainly satisfy even the most fussy of thriller fans.

It also likes to keep you on your toes, and have you guessing at who is involved in the overarching conspiracy.  I don’t like to write a review with spoilers but I will say that, whilst I guessed who was good and who was bad early on, I was unaware of their motivations until the big finale and I always love a twist I didn’t see coming, so points for that.

The lead character is very real, strong but fragile, broken but trying to mend, she is likeable and believable, and more importantly she is badass.  I hate weak and wobbly female leads, and Rei Yoshima could never be accused of either of those flaws.   However, I was frustrated with a lack of revelations about her past.  Although certain small titbits were revealed, it’s very sketchy, and although I understand this is the first in a series and the reader is meant to wait until the proceeding books to find it out, I still would have liked more.

The one negative I have to raise, and I am very aware of my own issues in this area, is the grammatical errors throughout the book.  I am not the best speller, but even I spotted these glaring mistakes.  At one point an entire paragraph is repeated, accidentally printed twice.  A minor thing really, but it bugged me a bit. Saying that, if in a review, the only big criticism you have is with the spelling, then it must be a pretty good book!

Overall, I think it’s a very entertaining crime novel, which would be a great holiday read or something to pick up for a long journey or on the commute to work, perfect for any crime fiction fan.  So give it a read, and let me know what you think!




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?

photo 6

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.


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.”



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?”


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!