Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Thursday 28 September 2017

September's literary house

To The Hilt (Francis Thriller) by [Francis, Dick]

September always hits me like a brick – a brick wrapped in a few pretty scarves and one or two bits of rough sacking. There is never a hope of going to Bloody Scotland, and though there is sometimes a hope of fitting in a visit to one of the NEOS participants (North East Open Studios) it hasn’t happened often yet.

My September house, then, is an escape. I like Dick Francis’ books, always feeling that I learn something from them, but they are often based in quite urban settings even where stables are concerned: there’s a feeling of buildings and industry and organisation. In To the Hilt, though, we start where I am happier.

‘I drove my wheels northwards, at first along a recognisable road, then a roughly gravelled stretch, then up a long, rutted and indistinct track which led nowhere but to my unnamed house in the Monadhliath Mountains. “Between Loch Ness and Aviemore”, I usually explained, and no, I hadn’t seen the monster.

‘Whoever in the mists of time had first built my bothy had chosen its position well: it backed straight into an elbowed granite outcrop that sheltered it from the north and east, so that winter blizzards mostly leapfrogged over the top. In front lay a sort of small stony plateau that on the far side dropped away steeply, giving me long views of valleys and rocky hills and of a main road far below.’

(As this is a Dick Francis book, description breaks off here for a mighty scuffle between the hero and a bunch of passing recreands. It’s only when it’s time to tend to the cuts and bruises that we get to see more of the dwelling.)

‘About fifteen feet by nine, my room had been given a businesslike new roof, a large double-glazed window, and a host of anti-damp preservation measures in its rebuilt walls and flooring… Running water came from a small clear burn trickling through nearby rocks, and for a bathroom I had a weathered privy a short walk away. I’d meant at first to stay on the mountain only during the long northern summer days, but in the end had left my departure later and later that first year until suddenly the everlasting December nights were shortening again, and I’d stayed snug through a freezing January and February and had never since considered leaving.’

Oh, peace and quiet! But September is nearly over, October is shaping up to be busy too, and the third Hippolyta book, A Murderous Game, is almost at the end of its first draft. I’d better get on!

Friday 1 September 2017

Book Review: RavenSong

This was a really fast-paced book set in a future after 'The Bombings', an event which has meant that most of mankind lives in centres like New York where a barrier keeps out most of the radiation. Jackson, a dodgy businessman fighting nightmares related to his efforts to keep his peculiar powers under wraps, finds a woman in a box in the desert - as you do - and discovers that she has some very peculiar powers of her own. The government of course takes an interest, and the resulting action leads to both of them finding out a good deal more about their background and abilities - not quite enough, though, that there is not plenty of room for a sequel.

The pace was hot, the plot was sound, the characters worked well together, and the main two were very sympathetic, particularly Anna. I liked the underplayed descriptions of a world that was familiar enough but clearly gone wrong, and the hints of a magical authority operating alongside the government, as well as apparently a parallel magical existence. I hope to see another episode in the series soon.

More information:

Name: Raven Song
Series: Inoki's Game (Book 1)
Paperback: 290 pages
Published Date: March 14, 2016
Publisher: Lucid Dreams Publishing
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1944674004
ISBN-13: 978-1944674007

Book Blurb:
A century ago, the world burned. Even now, though rebuilt and defiant, civilization is still choking on the ashes.

Jackson, a smuggler, lives in the shadows, once a boy with no memory, no name, and no future. Ravens followed him, long-extinct birds only he could see, and nightmares flew in their wake. Once, Jackson thought himself to be one of the lucky few touched by magic, a candidate for the Order of Mages. He is a man now, and that dream has died. But, the ravens still follow. The nightmares still whisper in his ear.

Anna’s life was under the sun, her future bright, her scientific work promising. She knew nothing of The Bombings, the poisoned world, or the occult. One day, she went to work, and the next, she awoke in a box over a hundred years in the future, screaming, fighting to breathe, and looking up into the eyes of a smuggler. Anna fears she’s gone crazy, unable to fill the massive hole in her memories, and terrified of the strange abilities she now possesses.

The Coalition government has turned its watchful eyes towards them. The secret factions of the city move to collect them first. And, old gods stir in the darkness, shifting their pawns on the playing field.

If Anna and Jackson wish to stay free, they must learn what they are and why they exist.

Unfortunately, even if they do, it may be too late.

Raven Song is the first of a four book adult-oriented dystopian fantasy series, a story of intrigue, love, violence, and the old spirits in the shadows who wait for us to notice them again. Readers of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, and Charlie Human will enjoy this dark magic-laced tale rooted on the bones of what our world could become.

Author Bio:
​I. A. Ashcroft has been writing fiction in many forms for almost twenty years. The author's first book, written at age seven, featured the family cat hunting an evil sorceress alongside dragons and eagles. This preoccupation with the fantastical has not changed in the slightest.

Now, the author dwells in Phoenix, AZ alongside a wonderful tale-spinner and two increasingly deranged cats. Ashcroft writes almost exclusively in the realm of darker fantasy these days, loving to entertain adults with stories of magic, wonder, despair, violence, and hope, bringing a deep love of mythology into every tale penned. The author also loves diverse and intriguing casts of characters.

When not buried in a book, one might find Ashcroft learning languages, charting road trips, and playing tabletop RPGs with clever and fun people.

Contact the Author:

Quotes from Reviewers

“Fresh, futuristic, dark, scary, and thrilling all at the same time… Even people who don't usually read sci-fi/fantasy type stories will be able to feel grounded.”
– Sydney Scrogham, author of Chase


“This is a surprising book. Not because it is well written (it is) and not just because it has an engaging plot that keeps you reading and wishing for more but rather because it is such an unusual concept… an excellent novel that is well worth reading if you want something different to the usual tropes.”
– D. A. Lascelles, author of “Gods of the Sea “and Transitions


“The concepts of Chosen ones, superhuman magical abilities, world collapse and time travel aren't new, but Ashcroft gives them a special twist to create a story that is clever, intelligent, original and utterly engrossing.”
– Hannah Ross, author of the Quest of the Messenger series


“Raven Song does not wait long and throws the reader into an action adventure starring likable leads from the very start.”
– Moonike, Goodreads reviewer


“I will freely admit the chapter where the book shows Anna’s past made me tear up… even now as I write this I tear up a bit thinking of it.”
– taruofatlantis, Goodreads reviewer


“Jackson was such a realistic character that I could practically see him in front of me when I read about him. I could see his movements, mannerisms… feel his relief, fear and curiosity. He is a perfect character in every which way. Anna is a character with no memories of why she is where she is. Oh and also, she may have traveled in time. Her character develops so beautifully as the story progresses. I wanted to hug her and cry out "You go girl!" at many points in the story.”
– Uma, book blogger at Books. Bags. Burgers.


“The descriptiveness of these scenes is amazing and keeps you turning the page.... you get the sense of a meld between Mad Max and some drug addled dream sequence at times.”
– Mark, Goodreads reviewer


“What a dark and beautiful fantasy! I had wanted to read this one for a while, since I has first heard of it, but just got the chance, and I'm so glad I did! Richly written with an interesting plot and complex characters this is one for all you dark fantasy/dystopian/grimdark tales!”
– Stephanie, book blogger at Adventures Thru Wonderland


“Ashcroft has a brilliant imagination coupled with an eloquent writing style that draws the reader in, makes us feel a wide array of emotions, and holds us captivated to the very end. I anxiously await the next volume in this series.”
– K. McCaslin, Amazon reviewer


“Such beauty blooms in the language and such mystery envelops the plot that the more you read, the more you fall in love with the pages.”
– Gayathri, Amazon reviewer


“The story of Jackson and Anna is one that was both touching and action packed. Smartly written with a smooth voice and an incredible talent for world building and storytelling, the author has really captured a great premise here. In fact, I was thrilled to see that this was only Book One in a series. ”
– Judge, 24th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards


“This being a debut book, blew me away. I do not ever do book reviews, but I wanted to let those who read them know, you must buy this book. It is gritty, fun, full of drama, and a little bit of love. All of the elements come together and are beautifully married to create the dystopian world full of complex, and varied characters.”
– Amazon Customer, 5 star review

"A fresh and unique take on a dystopian world, Ashcroft has managed to take one of my favorite genres and breathe new life into it. With touches of magic in a world gone south, Raven Song is packed with adventure and intrigue. A page turner you won't want to put down..."
– The Faerie Review


"Urban fantasy lovers who like layered multi dimensional plotlines would surely like the author's page turning writing style."
– Saiswaroopa Iyer, author of Abaya

Quotes from the Book

Jackson let the implication settle on his shoulders, and his voice dropped to a whisper, even though no one was there to hear. “The Coalition wants to smuggle. With us.”
“They’re not here for our generous bulk discounts on three-day shipping, boss.”

And there, behind the glass, was no gun stash, no bombs, no drugs, no illicit data chips.
It was a woman, a young woman, eyes closed as if asleep. 
Jackson blinked.
“Well, shit,” Frank said for both of them.

Something in Anna snapped … She yelled like Nyx had, tears coursing down her face now, and slammed her under-exercised, desk-job fist into the glass.
Anna heard the crunch, and was certain it was her hand breaking. A throbbing numbness exploded up her entire arm.
She pulled her hand back, and under it, a thick crack had split the plate.

“What am I?” The question tore out of his chest in the wake of the jarring memories, and it left a cold, fearful hole behind.
“Ah. There it is. Good job.”
Jackson could hardly look now at the stranger’s jaunty smile. His heart beat faster with terror.
“Do you really want to know?” the man said.

The road was lined with an old wiry fence, which sagged and splintered in places, cordoning off barren, rocky land. Anna sipped her coffee and gazed absently at the fence and the road lines, watching them stretch forever into the horizon. The clouds had been flat wisps, the landscape a painting frozen in time. And then, she had seen them.
Nearly twenty of the massive birds were clustered on a segment of wire. She normally would have thought nothing of the flock. But, as she passed, in the span of half a second, they lifted their heads and turned with her, as if they weren’t twenty birds at all, but one mind in many bodies.
Her stomach made an apprehensive leap. Some old story in her memory surfaced. Omens of death. Ravens.

She bounded ahead of the soldiers, snagging a handhold in the maimed dirt. Her arms screamed as she pulled herself up, forcing her hands into new nooks, finding purchase for her feet. She never would have been able to do this in her past life. And yet, now, it seemed like she should, and she was hardly surprised when it worked.

The harsh arena lights were like the sun, drying Jackson’s blood to his skin. Flickers of black wheeled in his vision against the light. Then, they weren’t flickers anymore. They were dark-feathered birds croaking their song overhead, circling, watching.
His companions until the end. Always.

In the end, she didn’t have a plan.
But, she did have the inner voice that had urged her on when the NNSS was attacked. It was the same voice that saw her lead the breakout. You’re going to do it, the voice said. You don’t know how yet, but you will. You have to. Why else would you be alive, after all this? To die here?
Anna decided to call this voice courage, and she hoped it was right.


A boy lay on the broken sidewalk, eyes closed. He was pale and thin, looking not a day over ten years old. His half-clothed body shuddered against the chilly night air. His bony frame scraped against the grime of the street as he curled into himself, trying to keep back the cold. Overhead, the stars hung bright and lonely.

In the alley, almost invisible against the midnight darkness, a man stood tall over the boy. His well-pressed suit was as black as the shadows, as his skin, and as the raven on his shoulder. The way he hovered over the child, he seemed a strange guardian. But his eyes were turned upwards to the sky, away from the boy’s plight, as if it was no real matter. In those black eyes the stars were mirrored, impossible and brilliant. Those eyes stared back into the past, when the celestial lights were loved and revered, when each constellation had a story.

Once upon a time… this was when the world had sung to him, the dream-walker, the song-weaver, the star-stringer.

Once, before humans had forgotten his name.

Now, the starry sky was almost hidden by the glowing blue haze of the Barrier, a shield cast over what was left of the city: proud New York, ruined, rebuilt, defiant.

The stranger kept staring upwards into oblivion, even as the boy let out an unhappy whimper, chills wracking his weak frame. The raven flew from the stranger’s shoulder then, alighting onto the sidewalk, picking past the weeds and rubble. It rejoined its fellows who had settled amicably around the child, oblivious to the fact that ravens were all supposed to be dead. One hundred years ago, poison had leeched into the earth, into the grass, into the grazers, and into the corpses left behind. The blight spared little, its kind no exception. Regardless, this impossible creature affectionately brushed at the boy’s dark hair with its beak.

At the touch, the boy awoke with a start. His wide, uncomprehending eyes took in the world as he struggled to sit up, his head swinging around wildly; past awnings and high rises he had never seen, past scrawled words and graffiti he could not understand. He teetered to his feet, then fell back down again as his knees gave out, sending the birds around him into flight.

He saw no starry eyes in the darkness, no stranger standing nearby. He was halfnaked, shivering, hungry, and alone, his head aching down to his teeth. The nameless boy shook off the dreams he couldn’t remember and wondered where he was.

If there had been any passersby on that cold autumn night, they would have sworn that this boy hadn’t been there a minute ago, and no stranger or ravens had been there at all.