Welcome to my website. I write books for children and plays for children and adults.
Work in Progress - GREEN GIRL MAGIC (previously called The Hero of Esk) is a fantasy/adventure for middle-grade readers.
In late 2019 it received a ms assessment from Writers Vic which began : ‘There’s plenty to like about this story about a gifted magician-in-the-making who learns that, in the end, all people have strengths and teamwork creates a result that is more than the sum of its parts.’
This is a pretty accurate summing up of the theme.
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 Sri Lanka upside down, my idea for the island of Esk. The meerkat at the top was the inspiration for a race of giant meerkat-like warriors called Pantherans who help Niska and her friends defeat the bad guys.
BRIEF OUTLINE OF THE PLOT:
On Esk one in every hundred babies are born with coloured skin. These 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. Niska, 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 takes herself too seriously and has few friends.
Green Girl Magic begins when Esk is attacked by the tyrant Rom Baro and his allies the treacherous Fey. The Fey witch Drabani predicts that four will try to stop Baro: 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, Niska 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 Baro and the end of the war. Unfortunately this action also causes her Enabler, Dame Masselina, to be seriously injured. Niska becomes a hero to the warrior Pantherans who are a cross between cats and meerkats. But the spellbinders are not impressed and she’s severely reprimanded. Feeling hard done by Niska storms off, galloping away from the Academia on her contrapony, Runt.
It isn’t long before the Fey capture Niska and two other apprentices – Indie, a street-wise pothecary, and Pendlebury, a rather solemn tech. The Fey announce they will free the apprentices if Rom Baro is released. This is bad news as Niska and the others believe Rom Baro aims to continue the war. Although Indie and Pendlebury do not have magic they are kind, clever and determined. The three work together and escape from the Fey caves. Deceitful Drabani pretends she still has the apprentices to trade.
Meeting up with Tamin, Niska and her (now) friends travel to where the prisoner exchange is to take place.
Niska leads the others tobogganing down a massive sand dune, exposes the fraud, and foils Baro's escape. Enraged, he seizes her. Realising her magic is strongest when it’s used unselfishly to help others, Niska draws together all her power and transforms into a pillar of green fire. Rom Baro is burnt and beaten. Esk is saved.
In the final chapter, Niska and the spellbinders are reconciled. She’s come to realise that she is more than a magical prodigy. Magic is a part of her, but other things like friends and family are just as important.
During the adventure the apprentices display all the qualities mentioned by Drabani. Tamin is the ‘one with royal blood.’
At the moment the manuscript is 46,130 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.
A WINTER PROPHECY
The witch Drabani tossed the bones in her filthy hands. ‘Speak. Ask your question.’
The Fey King sat on a throne hacked from living rock. He rubbed a hand over his mouth. His teeth were rotten and ached painfully. 'I am not sure…’ his voice echoed around the limestone cavern. Light wells had been cut into the ceiling, but this was winter and the sunlight was thin. ‘I can’t decide…‘
‘…if we should help Lord Rom Baro?’ the witch completed the question with an irritated snap. She was fast losing patience with a king who was growing old. 'If we do what he asks we can demand something in return. Something we have waited for these many years.’
‘The Academia!’ breathed the King.
‘Yes, the Academia,’ said Drabani. ‘Then we will bring the spellbinders to their knees and have our power again.’
This 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 from hand to hand quickly at first and then slower. Slower. Slower still. Finally she threw. The bones landed, bounced, rolled and formed a pattern.
The King leant forward, batting away the smoke from a miserable fire. ‘What do you see?’
‘Patience.’ Drabani took her time reading the message. She paid particular attention to a tiny bird bone that was sticking upright. Finally she heaved herself to her feet. ‘Some things are clear. Others stay hidden. Yes, we should guide his horde safely through the swamplands to attack Ultima-Esk.’
‘We will be feared again!’ The King slapped the side of his rock throne triumphantly. ‘We will avenge the Clearing!’
Drabani stared at the bones and frowned. ‘As to success? Four will stand against us: one who is wise, one who is foolish, one who is kind and one with royal blood. But they are young shortlifes and we are the Fey, the Shining Ones, the Lords and the Ladies. I will have my pets send Baro our answer.’
She glided out the cavern, through an archway and up narrow steps, moving remarkably fast for someone of her size. A flock of black and yellow birds were perched in mangrove trees near a marshy lagoon. Drabani raised her arms and the birds flocked to her, wheeling and cawing.
‘I have work for you,’ she crooned, eyes alight with malice. ‘There will be a great battle. Dark days are coming for Esk.’
Niska whispered the words, stretched out her green fingers, and began dissolving from her feet up, like sugar in water. In less than a second she had completely disappeared.
The senior teaching Covert and Concealment clapped her hands. ‘Oh, excellent work, Niska!’ Turning to the other third year apprentice spellbinders, waiting their turn on the bench around the spell dojo, the senior cooed, ‘What a perfect example of instant invisibility. Quite exceptional. Once again our prodigy has scored top marks.’
Niska shimmered back to visibility, wishing the Academia tutors wouldn’t make such a fuss. Although she liked being praised, it didn’t help her fit in. The third years raised their eyebrows and moved together leaving a very obvious empty space at the end of the bench. Niska kicked miserably at the sawdust on the dojo floor and took the space. She stared at the high padded walls, which had been scorched here and there by mis-sent curses, determined not to show her hurt.
Everyone thinks I’m showing off. I’m not, really. Well, maybe a little…
Niska loved learning magic, feeling the buzz every time the words and sigils combined in a new spell or charm. She’d always had the gift, even before she knew what it meant. One in every hundred children born on the island of Esk showed a bloom of colour. Children with purple skin trained to be pothecaries. Those with blue swirls and circles imprinted on their pale skin became techs. Rarest of all were green-skinned spellbinders, like Niska, the only ones with magic.
There was no rhyme or reason to the births. Sometimes the child had bloom parents. Often, they did not. Niska was from an outlier family, with no history of bloom, who ran a farm near Lake Treganowan breeding and training contraponies.
Almost before she could walk Niska had been delighted to discover that by the merest movement of an arm she could animate inanimate objects. She’d sat on the kitchen floor, giggling delightedly, making her outdoor clogs danced all by themselves.
When Niska started at the tiny two-roomed village school, she entertained everyone animating winter scarves and coats. With a flick of her fingers she made the scarves twist and turn on their pegs. With a flip of her tiny hands she magiced coat sleeves to wrap around each other.
‘See!’ she’d say to the grinning audience. ‘My coat and your coat are best friends!’
The day the Recorders came on their yearly audit, the school teacher brought Niska to them. The Recorders listened and watched. They wrote long notes in their Book of Names, the manuscript where the details of new bloom children were entered. They left shaking their heads. Niska thought she must have done something wrong. She wasn’t particularly worried and skipped home, only to find that the Recorders were there with Mother, Pa and her three older brothers. The dinner stew bubbled away forgotten on the oven top. Her Pa was still wearing his heavy, farm clothes that smelt of contrapony poo. The brothers looked grim. Something serious had happened. Niska edged close to her parents and clutched a handful of Mother’s skirt.
One of the Recorders smiled at her kindly. ‘Niska is extraordinary,’ he said, and went on to explain that they’d never before found a bloom child so young, with so much untrained potential. If her parents were agreeable Niska could enter the Academia immediately.
‘I thought Academia apprenticeships started when the bloom was twelve,’ said Pa gruffly. He grasped his wife’s hand so tightly his fingers (and hers) were white.
Another Recorder nodded. ‘Well, yes, but you see, none of us have seen anyone quite like Niska. She’s a prodigy. We can guarantee she’d be well looked after. One of our senior Enablers would be delighted to take her under their wing.’ ‘What do you think, sweetheart?’ Mother turned to Niska. ‘You don’t want to leave us just yet, do you?’
‘For a holiday?’ Niska frowned, not really understanding.
‘Nah. You’d live in the Academia and come home for holidays,’ growled Pa.
That sounded like punishment. Niska’s lower lip quivered.
‘My girl’s too young. Come back in a few years,’ Pa told the Recorders.
So they did. From then on the Recorders made yearly visits, each time answering tons of questions from Mother and Pa. They taught Niska a few charms, like how to light candles using only her breath, and continued to be amazed at how quickly and completely she understood the mechanics of magic.
When she was nine Niska decided it was time. She joined the Academia as the youngest apprentice ever.
‘When my girl makes up her mind, no one can stand in her way!’ said Pa proudly, and also sadly. The day she left Lake Treganowan with the Recorders, he gave her the best of his herd, a stocky little skewbald contrapony.
‘You can trust a contra,’ he said. ‘They always bring you home.’
Leaving the farm was hard. Everyone acted brave and talked about the holidays when she’d be back. Niska’s tummy was a twist of emotions. She was sad, nervous about the future, and above all excited to be going to the famous Academia. She planned on making lots of new friends.
It hadn’t quite worked out that way.
. . . . .
Bam-bam-BAM! Bam-bam BAM! The Covert and Concealment lesson was interrupted by an explosion of drum beats. Niska knew all the different drum beats that called spellbinders to dinner or moots or classes, but she hadn’t heard that beat before.
‘Oh!’ the senior cocked her head to one side, listening. ‘Something’s happened. Something serious. The seniors are calling an emergency moot. Everyone – to the Observation Deck! Young ladies, young gentlemen - remember you are spellbinders. Spellbinders always behave with poise and decorum. Don’t push!’
Her words were lost under a rising swell of nervous whispers. The third year class left the spell dojo with poise and decorum. Then totally forgot these things, and joined the crowd of apprentices shoving their way up the Grand Staircase.
It was a stiff climb to the top of the tower. Niska’s calf muscles were burning by the time she reached the Observation Deck, one of her favourite places in the Academia.
Spring sunshine streamed into the massive octagonal room through eight see-through walls. Screens covered with diagrams of the phases of the two moons occupied the centre of the space. Positioned near the walls were Sky Eye scopes. These clever tech inventions had a long scope with a seat attached and could swing in a complete circle.
In a corner of the Observation Deck was the teaching area, with a podium and lots of rainbow-coloured cushions for students. Already the cushions closest to the podium had filled up with green-skinned spellbinders lounging elegantly. Niska sat at the back, by herself, a little apart.
Senior spellbinders bunched together in an anxious group around Dame Masselina. Masselina was a V.I.S. (very important spellbinder) and the guild’s representative on the Esk Council. She was also Niska’s Enabler, and Niska gave her a little wave. If it hadn’t been for the daily rides on her contrapony, and Massey’s thoughtful care - and of course the wonder of magic lessons – the Academia would have been a miserable place.
Massey’s skin had turned olive, almost black, much darker than Niska had ever seen it, a sure sign the elderly spellbinder was seriously worried.
Unlike apprentices who wore gossamer-thin tunics and leggings, Massey and the seniors sported stylish ensembles in black and grey. Each senior had their hair braided and curled in an intricate, individual style. Massey’s formed a towering pyramid on top of her head. Apprentices copied the seniors and also braided their hair elaborately. But no matter how long she spent in front of the ‘vanity’ mirrors, Niska’s blue-green mop was never as neat as the older girls.
With a swirl of her ankle-length skirt, Masselina stepped up to the podium and clapped her hands. Instantly all chattering ceased. Everyone liked Massey who was always calm and sensible. The apprentices sat up straight and bowed their heads to show respect. Niska tried to do the same and ended up in an uncoordinated sprawl. Due to a recent growth spurt, she was one of the tallest apprentices, all long legs and elbows.
‘Don’t worry, Niska,’ Massey had comforted. ‘You will soon grow into your height.’
The sooner the better!
The tall drums faded to silence. The drummers, muscular city folk, lay down their beaters and lit up long-stemmed clay pipes.
‘I have grave news,’ said Masselina quietly. ‘This morning, during a lesson on geomancy, Master Aven’s students trained the Sky Eyes towards the swampland. They saw ...' she paused, collecting herself. 'They saw that an enemy has landed secretly on our island. The tyrant Rom Baro and his murderous horde. I am afraid, in a few short days, Esk will be at war.’
Apprentices turned to one another, shocked and confused. Not having a friend to turn to, Niska was shocked all by herself. And angry.
Mud crabs and little fishes! Evil Rom Baro wants to invade my island? No way!