Welcome to my website. I write books for children and plays for children and adults.
Work in Progress - GREEN FIRE MAGIC (previously called The Hero of Esk) is a fantasy/adventure for middle-grade readers.
Here are some illustrations which helped me imagine the story.
Scroll down to read an outline of the plot and the Prologue and first chapter.
The island on the right is a map I've drawn of Esk. Pity the words are blurred. Neesha and her friends journey from the Academia in Ultima-Esk to the swampland, and all the way down the Esk River to Aqua-Esk and the Giant Sand Dunes. The meerkat at the top was the inspiration for a race of giant meerkat-like warriors called Pantherans who help Neesha and her friends defeat the bad guys.
BRIEF OUTLINE OF THE STORY:
On Esk one in every hundred babies are born with coloured skin. These 'bloom' children are sent to the Academia to begin apprenticeships. Those with purple skin study to be medical pothecaries. Those with blue tattoos become inventive techs. Green children train as spellbinders, the only guild with magic. Neesha, the main character, has green skin and amazing magical potential. She is fast-tracked into the Academia, the youngest apprentice ever. Being so young and celebrated, she has become arrogant, and has no friends.
After Neesha loses her magic she has to discover what she's really made of. She learns that everyone (even those without magic) have strengths, and finds that her power is greatest if she uses it for others.
Green Fire Magic begins when Esk is attacked by the tyrant Rom Barro and his allies the treacherous Var. The Var witch Drabani predicts that four will try to stop Barro: one who is wise, one who is foolish, one who is kind, and one with royal blood.
Academia apprentices are banned from joining the battle. Annoyed that she’s being treated like the other ‘lesser’ apprentices, Neesha disobeys the directive. She fires an Ignition Curse at the enemy which saves the life of Tamin, a Pantheran cadet, and is indirectly responsible for the capture of Rom Barro and the end of the war. Unfortunately her action also causes her Enabler, Dame Masselina, to be seriously injured. Neesha becomes a hero to the warrior Pantherans. But the spellbinders are not impressed and she’s severely reprimanded. Feeling hard done by Neesha storms off, galloping away from the Academia on her contrapony, Runt.
It isn’t long before the Var witch Drabani-of-the-bones captures Neesha and binds her with iron. The iron blocks Neesha's power and for the first time in her life she is without magic.
The Var kidnap two other apprentices – Indie, a street-wise pothecary, and Pendlebury, a rather solemn tech. Drabani announces the apprentices will be freed if Rom Barro is released. This is bad news as Neesha and the others believe Rom Barro aims to continue the war. Previously Neesha had been dismissive of apprentices without magic. Now she needs their help. Indie and Pendlebury are kind, clever and determined. The three work together and escape from the Var caves.
Deceitful Drabani pretends she still has the apprentices. Worried for their safety, Esk Council agree to her demand to release Barro.
Meeting up with Tamin, Neesha and her (now) friends travel to where the prisoner exchange is to take place.
Without her magic Neesha has shown leadership and courage. Facing Barro and the Var she makes a last desperate attempt to save Esk. The moment she realises that her power should be used to benefit others (not impress them) she is able to break the iron's spell. Her magic returns, stronger than ever. The enemy are defeated.
In the final chapter, the spellbinders apologise and Neesha agrees to return to her studies. She's learnt a great deal. Best of all, she has found three good friends.
The apprentices display all the qualities mentioned by Drabani during their adventure. Tamin is the ‘one with royal blood.’
At the moment the manuscript is approximately 45,000 words. Here's the prologue and first chapter. All the paragraphs and dialogue are indented in the original ms. I can't work out how to do it in this format. Sorry if it makes reading difficult.
GREEN FIRE MAGIC
The witch Drabani tossed the bones in her filthy hands. ‘Speak. Ask your question.’
'I am not sure…’ The Var King’s nervous voice echoed around the cavern. He rubbed a hand over his mouth. His teeth were rotten and ached painfully. ‘I can’t decide…‘
‘…whether we should help Lord Rom Barro?’ The witch was fast losing patience with the old king. 'If we do what he asks we can demand something in return. Something we have long waited for.’
‘The Academia!’ cried the king.
‘Yes, Esk Academia. We will bring the spellbinders to their knees and have our power again.’
Drabani’s answer pleased the king. A ferocious grin spread across his ruined face. ‘Throw the bones, Drabani. Show me the future.’
With a grunt Drabani lowered her massive body to the rocky floor. Her torn satin skirts spread around her like a muddy puddle. She began to sing, moving the bones in her hands, quickly at first and then slower. Slower still. Finally, she threw. The bones landed, bounced, rolled, and formed a pattern.
The king leant forward to see. Light wells had been cut into the ceiling of the cavern, but it was winter and the sunlight was thin. ‘What do they say?’
‘Patience.’ Drabani took her time reading the message. She paid particular attention to a tiny bone that was sticking upright. ‘Some things are clear. Others stay hidden. Yes, we should guide Lord Barro’s horde through the swamplands.’
‘We will be feared again!’ The king slapped the side of his rock throne triumphantly. ‘We will avenge the Clearing!’
Drabani frowned, staring at the bones. ‘As to success? Four will stand against us. Methera. Four. One who is wise, one who is foolish, one who is kind and one with royal blood. But they are young shortlifes. We are the Var, the Shining Ones, the Lords and Ladies. We must prevail.’
She heaved herself to her feet and left the cavern, moving remarkably fast for someone her size.
A flock of black and yellow birds perched around the marshy lagoon outside. When Drabani raised her arms, the birds wheeled to her, screeching.
‘My pets,’ she cried, ‘fly across the ocean. Take a message to Lord Barro.’ Her eyes flashed with malice. ‘There will be a great battle. Dark days are coming for Esk.’
A BLOOM CHILD
Neesha whispered words, stretched out her green fingers, and dissolved from the feet up, like sugar in hot water. In less than a second she had completely disappeared.
The senior who taught Covert Behaviour clapped her hands. ‘Excellent work, Neesha!’ Turning to the rest of the third-year spellbinders the senior cooed, ‘What a perfect example of instant invisibility. Quite exceptional.’
The third-years, sitting together in the spell dojo, huffed with irritation.
Neesha shimmered back into view. She took a seat as far from the others as possible.
Mud crabs and little fishes! They think I’m showing off.
Well, not much…
I can’t help being better at magic than they are.
Sometimes Neesha wished she was less extraordinary. If she made an occasional mistake she might fit in better. But that would mean denying her gift. Magic was as much a part of Neesha as her brown eyes and blue-green hair. Besides, nothing could compare to the buzz when words and sigils combined and her fingers tingled with power.
Neesha’s skin had shown bloom days after she was born. Even before she could walk she’d discovered how to animate inanimate objects. One day Mother found her sitting on the kitchen floor, giggling delightedly, as her outdoor clogs danced a jig all by themselves.
She attended school in the small two-roomed scola on the banks of Lake Treganowan, There she’d spend break times entertaining the rest of the children. With a flick of her fingers she’d make their winter scarves twist and turn on the pegs. A flip from her tiny hands had coats wrapping their sleeves around each other in a hug.
‘See!’ she’d say to the delighted audience. ‘My coat and your coat are best friends!’
When the Recorders arrived for their yearly audit the scola teacher introduced Neesha. The Recorders listened, watched, and wrote notes in their Book of Names, where the details of all new bloom children were entered. They left the scola shaking their heads. Neesha thought she had done something wrong. She wasn’t particularly worried, though, and at the end of the day skipped happily home to the farm.
The Recorders were there already, seated in the kitchen with her blood family: Mother, Pa and her three older brothers. She could tell they were in the middle of something serious. Pa was still wearing his heavy, working clothes that smelt of contrapony poo. Her brothers looked grim. The dinner stew bubbled away forgotten on the stovetop.
‘Neesha is remarkable,’ she heard the taller Recorder say. ‘We’ve never seen a bloom child so young, with so much untrained potential.’
Mother said, ‘Yes, she is special.’
‘Only one in every hundred children born on Esk display a bloom of colour, so all blooms are special,’ corrected the Recorder gently. ‘They are our treasure and our future. As you know, children with purple skin are trained by the pothecary guild. Those with blue markings become techs. Rarest of all are children with green skin, like Neesha. In time she will be a spellbinder, the only guild with magic.’
That sounded interesting. Neesha edged quietly into the room and clutched a handful of Mother’s thickly woven skirt.
‘There’s no rhyme or reason for bloom births,’ said the shorter Recorder. ’Sometimes a child has bloom parents. Often, like Neesha, they do not. If you are agreeable Neesha could begin her training immediately.’
Pa spoke up gruffly. ‘I thought Academia apprenticeships started when the child was twelve.’
The tall Recorder nodded. ‘Usually. You see, neither of us have come across anyone quite like Neesha. She’s a prodigy. We can guarantee she’ll be well looked after. One of the spellbinder Enablers would be delighted to take her under their wing.’ He smiled encouragingly. ‘We understand that losing your child is hard. Be proud of what she is and what she will become.’
Mother stroked Neesha’s hair. ‘You don’t want to leave us just yet, do you, sweetheart?’
‘For a holiday?’ Neesha frowned, not really understanding.
‘Nah. You’d live in the Academia and come home for holidays,’ growled her eldest brother, Nils.
That sounded like punishment. Neesha’s lower lip trembled.
‘My girl’s too young. Come back in a few years,’ Pa told the Recorders.
From then on Recorders made yearly visits, each time answering many questions from Mother and Pa. They taught Neesha a few easy spells − like the way to light candles using only her breath − and were constantly amazed how quickly and completely she understood.
By her nineth birthday she was ready to go. Her parents agreed, grudgingly.
‘If Neesha makes up her mind, no one can stand in her way!’ said Pa, struggling to sound cheerful.
The day she and the Recorders left, Pa gave her the best of his herd. A stocky little skewbald contrapony.
‘You can trust a contra,’ he said. ‘They’ll always bring you home.’
Neesha had twisted the pony’s white mane between her fingers, her tummy swirling with mixed emotions. She was nervous about leaving the farm, but excited that she’d be studying magic at the famous Academia in the far-off city of Ultima-Esk. She planned on being the best spellbinder ever and making lots of new friends.
. . . . . . .
Huh! Neesha kicked the sawdust on the dojo floor and glared at the other third-years. Nothing had worked out the way she imagined.
Bam-bam BAM! Bam-bam BAM! An explosion of furious drumbeats interrupted the Covert Behaviour lesson. The drums on the Observation Deck were usually beaten gently, to remind apprentices when it was time for dinner or class. This beat was different. Urgent. In her three years at the Academia Neesha had never heard anything like it.
‘Oh no!’ The senior’s green face turned pale. ‘That’s the crisis warning. You must all go to the Observation Deck immediately. Immediately!’ As the apprentices hurried from the dojo she raised her voice. ‘Remember you are spellbinders. Spellbinders always behave with poise and decorum. No pushing!’
It was a long climb up the Grand Staircase to the Observation Deck, and there was a lot of pushing. There was also much anxious discussion (‘A crisis warning? What can have happened?’).
No one said anything to Neesha as she battled through the crowd, using her sharp elbows to clear the way. The Observation Deck at the top of the tower was one of her favourite places. She’d spent many hours staring through the Sky Eyes at the city below and the land beyond.
Spring sunshine poured through the seven transparent walls of the Deck. The eighth wall was covered in charts of the double moons and the night sky. A teaching area with a podium and lots of bright cushions occupied one corner. Already the cushions closest to the podium were full of lounging green-skinned male and female spellbinders.
Neesha sat at the back, a little apart from the others. Which was exactly how she felt. She knew that some of the problem was her own fault. When she first entered the Academia the older girls had treated her like a cute baby sister. A few of Neesha’s piercing glares soon put a stop to that. As the supremely talent prodigy she didn’t appreciate being patted on the head and called ‘sweetie’! The rest of the problem was that many apprentices, and even some seniors, were jealous of her ability.
Dame Masselina stood near the podium, surrounded by anxious seniors. Masselina was the V.I.S. (Very Important Spellbinder) and the guild’s representative on Esk Council. She was also Neesha’s Enabler.
Neesha gave her a little wave and a smile. If it hadn’t been for Massey’s thoughtful care she would have felt even lonelier at the Academia.
The elderly spellbinder’s skin was olive, almost black. Much darker than Neesha had ever seen it. A sure sign Massey was seriously worried.
Unlike apprentices who wore gossamer thin tunics and leggings in a rainbow of colours, Massey and the seniors sported smart ensembles in black and grey. Fully qualified seniors braided and curled their hair in intricate, individual styles. Massey’s hair formed a towering lime-coloured pyramid on top of her head.
The drumbeats faded to silence. The drummers, muscular city folk, lit up long-stemmed clay pipes and settled back to hear the news.
With a swirl of her ankle-length skirt Masselina stepped to the podium and clapped her hands. Instantly all nervous chattering ceased. Apprentices sat up straight and bowed their heads to show respect.
‘I called this emergency moot because I have grave news,’ said Masselina quietly. ‘The tyrant Rom Barro has landed secretly on our island. That can mean only one thing. He is here to declare war.’
Apprentices turned to one another, shocked and confused. Not having a friend to turn to, Neesha was shocked all by herself.
Crab shells and slimy stones!