At long last, I am finally releasing my first ‘proper’ full length book! As I wrote previously, this moment has been a long time coming and so it feels pretty exciting to be able to hold an actual physical real-life book which I wrote!
The book which is ready to buy now is the first in a series of adventure stories aimed at both children and adults alike. The second book (The Cannibal Water-sheep) will be released in July and the third (The Nith Jewels) will be ready to buy in October. And then I’ll make a start on the forth one…and the fifth, and so on.
Please click on the link below to purchase your copy of The Mirror Realm from my Etsy shop. I have included the first 3 chapters of the book below to get you started!
Chapter One – 2018
Goodbye Granny Knowe
Just at the time of year when the earth was renewing itself, Granny Knowe was dying.
Outside, the impending promise of spring had transformed the winter air as new life began to reveal itself all around the cottage. Fresh snowdrop shoots and crocuses were peeping up from the lawn under the old sycamore tree and the ewes in the fields were growing bigger by the day; even the first green blades of wild garlic were poking up between the rocks by the burn. All was becoming quite beautiful once more, just as the old lady was fading away.
Morris, the old lady’s grandson, knew what was happening, even though no one had explained it all to him. But he had heard the hushed whispers between the grown-ups when they thought he wasn’t there; too young to understand, he’d heard them say at the mention of his name, and so, for the most part Morris stayed on the sidelines, in the shadows and out of the way.
But fortunately for Morris Knowe, and for his friends who lived across the burn, they had access to a vast and wild landscape all around their homes which provided more than enough space for them to stay out of the way, sometimes for days at a time. The Library Moor, and the forest beyond it was their territory; it was their playground and their wild space and, despite everything else that was happening, Morris was always grateful to have the wilderness on his doorstep.
The temperature had taken a sudden dip on the frosty February morning when Morris was sent up to his Granny’s room. As he slowly made his way up the stairs, he had a sudden sickening sense that this would be the last time he would see his beloved Granny – so intense was the feeling that by the time he reached the top of the stairs it seemed as if his legs were made of jelly. He gripped the banister to steady himself as he took a deep breath.
When he had regained enough compose to continue, Morris made his was quietly down the landing and knocked gently on the door of the end bedroom, willing the churning in his stomach to be gone.
“Come in dear boy”, came the cracked and frail-sounding response from behind the door.
With a gentle nudge the heavy wooden door swept back across the brown carpet and Morris entered the room he had been born in; the room which had once been his parent’s room and the one in which his Granny now lay dying. The jelly legs and the churning stomach begin to settle as he looked at the warm smile spread across the old lady’s face.
“Sit, sit child”, Granny Knowe said, motioning for Morris to sit at the end of the bed in which she lay. Morris obeyed, feeling happy to be in his Granny’s company after being told to stay out of her room for so many past weeks.
“How old are you now, young Morris?”, the old lady asked as she pushed her weak body further up the pillows.
“Nine Granny”, Morris replied quietly.
“Ah, so you are boy, so you are. Ah well, nearly ten then. Old enough now, old enough. I would have waited until you turned ten, but I’m sorry to say I won’t make it, my darling boy”. She went quiet for a moment, as if lost deep in thought.
“There is so much I want to say, so much I need to tell you. Will you listen carefully whilst I try and explain as much as I can?”
Morris nodded and squeezed his Granny’s hand. The old lady looked intently at her grandson, her blue eyes brightening as her focus grew strength and her dimpled smile began to broaden.
“You have many adventures ahead of you my dearest Morris, many adventures indeed. But first you must learn the rules before you can begin. And I’m afraid there are many rules for you to learn, and very little time left for me to explain it all”.
Morris leaned in a little closer to catch the floating words of his Granny’s lilting voice.
“Do you believe in magic, Morris?”
Morris hesitated, taken aback by the unexpected question. “Ummm, I guess so. Maybe. Like, wizards and fairies? Is that what you mean?”
“Perhaps”, Granny Knowe replied mysteriously. “But more than that. I’m talking about a deep magic, a magic so powerful that it can create Mirror Realms”.
“Mirror Realms?”, Morris interrupted quizzically. “What on earth are Mirror Realms?”
The old lady let out a soft chuckle, amused by Morris’s choice of phrase. “Mirror Realms, my dear boy, are places which reflect distorted versions of our world and offer answers to the deep-rooted mysteries of this land. These other worlds can only be found in special places which exist alongside our own, and only a chosen few ever cross the Line into the Enchanted realms”.
“Are you saying that I am one of those people?”, Morris asked. He wanted to be able to understand whatever it was that his Granny was telling him, but a troubling thought niggled at him: was this all just the confused ramblings of a dying person?
“Before I tell you anything else, the most important thing for you to understand is that the realm of which you will soon learn of must be kept secret – it is for the chosen few and no one else. You may select a small group of trusted friends to share the secrets with and to join you on your quests, but beyond this you must never speak of the Enchanted world to anyone outside of your group. Do you understand this, Morris?”
Morris nodded slowly as he contemplated the words his Granny had spoken.
“Go over to the dresser”, Granny Knowe said, rather pointlessly raising a finger and pointing towards the only dressing table in the room. “Open the bottom drawer and take out what you find”.
Morris dutifully obliged. The drawer needed a firm jiggle before it opened to reveal a battered red file crammed full of papers. A thick rubber band stretched around it, seemingly holding the whole thing together. Morris lifted the file carefully from the drawer and carried it over to the bed.
“Within that file you will find everything you need to know about the parallel world which lies alongside our own, and of the missions which have been undertaken by myself and all the previous Protectors of the Enchanted Forest during our Supermoon adventures”.
“The Enchanted Forest? Supermoon adventures?” Morris repeated with a tone of confusion. “Where is the Enchanted Forest? And am I now a protector of it?”
“Indeed you are, my boy, indeed you are”, Granny Knowe said with an almost youthful glint in her eyes. “And, if truth be told, you’ve known about our Mirror Realm all your life – you will not have realised at the time, but I have been preparing you for these missions since you were a babe in arms. Many of the stories I told you at bedtime when you were small were tales of the Enchanted Forest”. Morris looked squarely at his Granny and suddenly noticed how the deathly, ghostly pallor of her face seemed to have gone, and in its place was the bright sunshine smile and the twinkling eyes that he knew and loved so well. It was almost as if talking about these Mirror Realms was making Granny Knowe well again.
“Do you know what a Supermoon is, Morris?”
Morris thought back to the space project he did at school just before the holidays.
“I think I do”, he replied slowly, “Is it when the moon is at its closest point to Earth and looks really big?”
“That is exactly right, dear boy. A Supermoon signals that the doorway between our realms is open. And when the moon is full and the time comes for you to cross the Line, the forest which you know as Brideshead will transform into the Mirror Realm of the Enchanted Forest, and although the two places may look similar in some ways, you’ll soon find out about the many differences between the two realms”.
“I’m confused, Granny”, Morris said, almost apologetically. “Do you mean that Brideshead Forest and this Enchanted Forest are the same place?”
“In one sense, indeed they are”, Granny Knowe replied, “And in another sense they are not. They reflect one another, but without the existence of the Enchanted Forest, then in time Brideshead would wither away and eventually become a toxic No man’s land. This why it must be protected. Always.”
As quickly as the old lady’s face had brightened up just a few moments before, now it had reverted back to an ashen, sickly tone, and her gleaming blue eyes took on a haunted expression. Morris knew then with a mournful certainty that this day would be the very last time he would hear his Granny’s voice, there in her room.
“What did you mean when you said I would need to cross a line to get to the Enchanted Forest?”, Morris asked, trying keeping his voice strong and steady; he didn’t want his Granny to see how worried and sad he was.
“Ah yes, dear boy. The Line is the gateway – the portal into our Mirror Realm. It is the crack between the realm of the real and the realm of the enchanted and it is where you will slip through upon deciding your quest”.
“Deciding my quest? What does that mean?”
“In order to enter the Enchanted Forest, you must first choose a mission – something which you wish to discover or learn about; a mystery which links reality with the enchanted. Think of a legend – any ancient tale that you know of – and the Mirror Realm will reveal the truth of it. More often than not, the forest may even offer you the opportunity to make right something which has been disturbed on this side of the Line. Harmony and balance between our realms are of great importance”.
Morris wished so badly that he understood what his Granny was saying but the more she spoke, the more confused he became. And then, just as he was about to ask the old lady another question, there came a sharp rap-rap at the door which swung open before either Morris or Granny Knowe had a chance to speak.
“Come on now lad”, Morris’ father said sternly, stepping into the room, “let your Granny rest now”.
Granny Knowe reached out and brushed the top of Morris’ hand with her feather-light fingertips. He looked again at her face and saw how hollow her eyes seemed, and how unnatural the colour of her skin was. The intense sadness which Morris felt made his stomach tighten and caused a sudden soreness in his throat as he struggled to hold back his tears.
“I…need…to…tell you…about…”, Granny Knowe’s voice was becoming distant now, barely more than a whisper and each word was spoken with great effort. Her eyes closed for a moment and Morris felt as if his heart was going to fall from his mouth. He needed more time!
“Mother!”, Morris’ Dad, Archie, cried out in alarm as he rushed across the room to her side. Morris moved back to give his Dad space just as the old lady’s eyes opened again and she let out her familiar soft, sweet chuckle.
“Don’t fret so, boy!”, she scaled with a smile, giving Archie a weak dismissive hand gesture. “I’m just a wee bit tired, that is all”.
Archie turned back to Morris. “Go on now lad, get outside and wait for me there. I need some help sorting out the fence in the bottom field. Your Papa’s gone down to the village to pick up Granny’s medicine, but he should be back shortly. Go on now, I’ll be out with you in a few minutes”.
Morris stood up from the end of the bed, walked around his father and silently kissed his Granny on her forehead, his throat still tight and scratchy and his eyes stinging from the salty tears which pooled up behind them.
Just as he began to straighten up, the old lady whispered close to his ear; words spoken so quietly that Archie didn’t even realise she had spoken.
“It isn’t goodbye. Be sure to find Strix and I will see you very soon.”
Strix Aluco stood at his front door and looked down from the mossy mound and out across the Wasteground, all the way down the valley. So crisp and clear the morning was, he could see right down to Poet’s Wood with the rising domes of Renwick and Cameron Hills beyond.
“Buddy! Bandit!”, Strix called out into the wide landscape before him. “Where have they got to this time?”, he muttered to himself. He turned to pass back through the front door of his little bothy home when all at once two cats came scampering up the mossy mound. One was a mass of silky black fur with a tail like a feather boa, while the other was a portly black and white fellow with big yellow eyes.
“Oh, there you are, you two”, Strix cried. “You shouldn’t go off for so long on your own like that! How many times do I have to tell you?”
“Sorry Strix”, the black fluffy cat purred, “We didn’t mean to worry you – we were just having an adventure”.
“It was so much fun!”, the tubby monochrome cat giggled. “We rolled down the hills and climbed up the rubber trees. I was really brave”.
“Very good”, Strix sighed, “But I have told you many times not to go wandering off without at least letting me know where you are going. The forest may be beautiful, but there are hidden dangers lurking everywhere. There are parts of this land which you must not venture into. Always remember that.”
The cats both bowed their heads in remorse. They did not wish to upset their master.
“Come on inside now”, Strix said with affection, “I’m sure you’ll be wanting some breakfast after your early morning adventures. And I want to hear about everything you’ve been up to”.
The inside of Strix Aluco’s little forest home was a very special sight indeed. Lining the walls of the wooden structure, stretching from floor to ceiling were shelves and cupboards; more shelves and more cupboards than one could have imagined would have fitted in such a small space. Books, trinkets and boxes and all manner of odds and ends, some bits organised methodically and some stacked and stuffed into any available space. Tattered flags and tarnished bells hung from the ceiling rafters, upon which were pinned with hundreds of postcards, envelopes and faded photographs.
At the far end of the room a twig-filled hammock spanned one corner of the space, positioned up high, close to the rafters with a narrow rope ladder leading down to the wooden floor. In the centre of the room sat a pot-bellied iron stove, with a chimney rising up through the ceiling like a great metal column. A comforting fire blazed merrily, the sound of crackling logs filling the room. The cats seated themselves in the armchairs positioned around the stove whilst Strix busied himself with mugs and pans in the little kitchen space.
“So come on now, I want to hear where you naughty kitties got to this morning. Did you meet any other forest dwellers on your travels?”. Strix bumbled back over to the cats with a wooden tray laden with mugs and a plate piled high with lumpy biscuits.
“Ooooh, thank you Strix”, Buddy said happily as he scooped up as many of the biscuits as his little paws could manage. “What sort of biscuits are these Strix?”, the cat asked, already halfway through the first one.
“Badger and neon berry”, Strix replied proudly. “It’s not often I manage to catch a badger round these parts, so I thought I’d make us a few special treats”.
“Mmmmm, these are delicious”, Bandit murmured, her mouth full of crumbly, meaty biscuits.
“Why, thank you, dear girl”, Strix said. “But enough of the niceties – I am still waiting patiently to hear of your tales!”
“We did meet some other creatures”, Buddy said, wiping his mouth with the back of his paw. “And it was all perfectly polite and friendly until Bandit managed to insult them”.
“It wasn’t my fault!”, Bandit retaliated, “How was I to know the difference between a centipede and a millipede if I’ve never met either creature before?”
Strix laughed. “Oh dear, oh dear. But tell me, where did you meet these proud insects?”
“On the Meadowlands!”, Buddy replied gleefully. “Ah Strix, it was so beautiful up there!”
“I tried to catch a flannelflax for you”, Bandit said, “I wanted to bring it back as surprise, but the silly birds kept running away”.
“Ah yes, the golden flannelflax is not the easiest prey to catch, especially before nightfall”, Strix said, “but thank you for your kind thought, my friend. I shall perhaps fare better on my hunt tonight”.
“Buddy is right though”, said Bandit, “the Meadowlands were really lovely. I can’t believe we haven’t been up there before”.
Strix set down his mug on the tree stump coffee table and leaned forwards with a serious expression crossing his face. “You didn’t go up Snake Pass, did you?”, he asked sternly.
“No Strix”, replied Bandit. “We went up Van Zandt Hill and over and down Holly Hill. We remembered what you said about the Jester”.
“Good, good”, said Strix. “I am pleased to hear you at least listened to me on that matter. But tell me, did you learn anything from your new insect friends before you managed to upset them?”
Bandit leapt down from the armchair. She curled her tail around a log in the basket which sat beside the stove and slung it into the fire. The flames crackled happily, grateful for their feed.
“Well,” said Bandit as she settled back into the chair, “the insects told us that a Protector from across the Line has left the Earth realm forever. They said they’d heard it from the Reverend, but they didn’t know which Protector it was”.
Strix Aluco remained silent for a moment, lost in his thoughts as he stared at the orange-red flames. “If this news is true then it means we’ll soon be receiving a visit from the new Protector – or Protectors”. He leaned forwards, picked up the fire poker and jiggled it in the burning logs, spreading out the glowing embers.
“I just hope that, come the next big moon, whoever crosses the Line understands just what they are getting themselves into!”
Chapter Three – 1987
The heavy trucks rumbled up the newly laid track, which cut a wide gravel strip up through the fields and along Kirk Water. Work had begun on the new sections of forestry plantations in the valley, spanning right across Library Moor, causing this usually deserted landscape to become a noisy hive of activity.
A bulky mountain of a man wearing a high-vis vest (which was clearly two sizes too small for his mammoth frame) strode over to one of the muddy excavators and signaled for the driver to cut his engine. In his gloved hand he carried a clipboard which he liked to think gave him an extra air of authority.
The man looked down at the paper and scanned the typewritten words. The heading across the top read Library Moor, Kirkbride – Planting schedule – Commencing operations Feb 1987. He looked up and frowned.
“What ya doin’ on this part of site, Kenny?” the man with the clipboard shouted up to the cab of the excavator. “You need to be further down that way!” He pointed down towards where the little stream of water ran down the hill towards the road.
The man in the excavator jumped down from the relative warmth of his cab. It was a freezing morning which was making working conditions even harder than usual; the last thing Kenny needed was having to deal with Frank right at the start of his shift, especially after the wild weekend he’d just had.
“I thought we weren’t supposed to be planting down that far?” Kenny questioned. “Isn’t that site protected by the heritage folks?”
Frank waved his hand dismissively. “We’ll fudge the archeologist reports”, he said gruffly, “We’ll tell ‘em that no evidence of historical worth was discovered down there. We can’t afford to wait around”.
Kenny wasn’t so sure this was the right thing to do, but who was he to argue? – Frank was his boss, after all.
“Right you are, boss”, Kenny said as he began to climb back up to the cab of the excavator.
Frank looked around to check there was no one else in earshot. “And Kenny”, he said, speaking quieter than he had done before, “If you do happen to notice anything unusual down there, just keep your mouth shut and keep digging. You got that?”
“Yes boss. Loud and clear”, Kenny said through gritted teeth as he slammed the cab door shut.
It was a little over an hour later when Kenny levered up the bucket of the excavator and spotted the bones. He knew instantly from the colour and shape of the unearthed objects that they were not rocks; they were undoubtedly bones, and lots of them.
He spun the boom of the excavator around and lowered the bucket back down, its teeth pulling up a great chunk of earth which he moved swiftly to the growing mound of peat and dirt beside the machine. More bones. Kenny shuddered; he knew enough about basic human anatomy to know where the bones had come from, even from his lofty position up in the cab.
One more time, he thought, and then I’ll get out and have a proper look. Kenny repeated the routine, lowering the jerking bucket and dragging out another great mass of damp, frosty-topped earth.
And then, just as he was raising up the boom, there in front of the excavator, no more than six feet away, all at once a huge circle of ground collapsed in on itself as if an invisible meteor had struck Earth.
Kenny gawped at the scene in front of him for a few seconds before his survival instinct kicked in and he frantically reversed his big yellow machine, language spilling from his mouth which would have made a nun blush.
Without realising what he had done, in his haste to move back from the terrifying crater which he had just created, Kenny backed the excavator over the section of ground where some of the exposed bones lay, crumbling them to dust as it went by. But at that moment it was not the discovery of the bones which was at the forefront of Kenny’s mind.
He switched off the noisy engine of his machine and slowly climbed down onto the messy, muddy ground. With trepidation he moved forwards, keeping his footsteps as light as possible in fear of more of the land beneath him falling in on itself. He bent down to pick up a long stick which he proceeded to use in the same manner a blind person uses a cane, tapping the earth gently in front of himself before gingerly placing a foot down onto the uneven ground.
When he finally reached the edge of the crater, he lowered himself down, crouching in the mud, gripping at a grassy clod of earth to steady his shaking body. He edged forwards as far as he dared to go and peered down into the great hole.
Kenny swore. Loudly. He swore many times as he took in the sight before him. The crater was at least forty or fifty feet deep – more than twice the height of an average two-story house, and with roughly the same size diameter, but it was what was in the crater which caused Kenny to swear.
There, sitting in the crater was a building. And not just some old cottage or sheep stell- no, this ruinous structure had quite clearly once been a church. Kenny peered down through the partially collapsed roof and saw what looked like an alter beside a cracked-open tomb. Around the ruin he noticed slabs of pale stone which he quickly realised were gravestones.
“Holy mackerel!”, Kenny exclaimed out loud. He thought back to what his boss had said – surely Frank wouldn’t expect him to keep his mouth shut about something as massive as this, would he?