Sunday, July 31, 2011

Watcher's Web, Chapter 1 -- Patty Jansen

Today Toad welcomes Patty Jansen to the House of Toad, who shares the first chapter of Watcher's Web with us today. Thank you Patty!

Wherever Jessica went, people watched her.

Like those two teenage boys leaning on the fence, akubra hats pulled down to shade their eyes. One of them dangled a cigarette in careless fingers, the other swigged beer from a stubby.

Neither was watching her now, but she hadn't missed their gawking, nor their low voices barely elevated over the noise of bellowing cattle, shouts and truck engines.

Wow! See that really tall one?

Bloody hell, yeah.

How'd you reckon she kisses a guy? On her knees?

They laughed, and when she came closer, faced the yard to watch the cattle as if they had said nothing.

Jessica walked past them to the gate, glaring at their straw-covered backs. Well, I bloody heard you. She was used to it, anyway.

It hadn't been the worst thing people said about her. They hadn't said the words ugly, or creepy, or freak, but she had become used to hearing those words, too.

They went into a little hard spot inside her where she scrunched up the hurt, forgot it, and remembered that she might look like a freak, but when she helped John Braithwaite and his mates from the Rivervale Stud Farm at a cattle show and Angus went into one of his fits, they still needed her to get him into the truck without spooking him. No one else could do that. No one knew how she did it, and no one should ever know. Because no one was crazy enough to get into a pen with a stroppy bull, right?

Well, we'll see about that.

She grasped the top of the gate with both hands, stepped onto the middle bar and swung her foot over. Jumped. Landed in sun-baked mud churned with cloven hoof prints, and cow pats.
At least when Angus looked at her, he didn't hide his dislike. A beady eye rolled, a gust of hay-scented air blew from his nostrils. He stiffened, all fifteen hundred-odd kilograms of Brahman bull-flesh of him. Then lowered his head, horns poised.

Someone yelled, 'Watch it!'

No, he wasn't going to charge. He'd charge at the boys, he'd even charge at his well-heeled owner, but never at her. Call her arrogant, but she knew that, and how she knew it would remain a secret, too, thank you very much.

She stopped a few paces inside the pen and crossed her arms over her chest. Well, bugger that. She had a bloody audience. About twenty people, mostly men, sitting on the fence, with cynical hey-look-at-this-mate expressions plastered on their faces.

Beef cattle farmers, their lackeys and other hangers-on, those clowns who had partied in the pavilion last night, those who owned the bulls that had occupied the pens next to Angus'. All their animals were already in the trucks, ready to be taken home from the Pymberton show. None of them with a 'best of show' ribbon, like Angus, and none with a diva mentality.

It looked like the boys had been trying to get Angus to move for a while. The gate on the opposite side of the pen was open, the ramp in place. Brendan held the door to the truck, ready to slam it. Everything about his expression said, rather you than me. The coward.

'Come on, Angus, in you go.'

Men sniggered, including the two teenage boys. The one with the cigarette flicked ash into the pen and said something about a whip.

Now who was more stupid? Them or the bull? You did not frighten such a prize animal if you could help it. He might bolt and injure himself. An unsightly gash would take him off the show circuit for months. Sheesh!

Jessica reached through the fence into the bucket she had dumped there. Her hand came away black and sticky with molasses. Angus loved it.

She inched closer, holding out her hand Come on, look me in the eye, if you dare.

Angus blew out another snort, as if he knew what was coming. Backed into the fence. Met her eyes.

Jessica exhaled. Her breath seeped from her in tendrils of sparkle-filled mist, which sought out Angus' fur and crept over his grey-mottled back, a bit like glitter-glue, but alive.

Jessica lunged for the rope that dangled from Angus' collar. She couldn't quite reach it, and while Angus backed further away from her, scraping along the fence, he planted his hoof on the end of the rope, squashing it neatly in a fresh pile of dung. Just her luck.

A bit closer.

She pulled the mist tighter around him, so his coat sparkled and glittered with lights. His outline became fuzzy. She didn't know what to call it, and had learned not to talk about it to anyone. It wasn't that she could communicate with him, but she could tell him what to do. Sort of. In a weird way she couldn't explain in words. The mist soaked up emotions, as far as bulls have emotions, and dampened them, and she could override them with her own. If it worked.

Her audience had stopped talking. Anyone who watched always did that, even though they couldn't see the mist and didn't realise it influenced them. That was just as well, because she was making an idiot of herself. Angus was being bloody stubborn, his head still lowered, trampling the rope further into the shit. Something must have spooked him badly. Maybe it was the yapping from the dog pavilion. Well, she and Angus seemed to have something in common--she didn't like lap dogs either.

But he was going to get into that bloody truck, preferably before she missed her flight back to Sydney. All kinds of hell would break loose if she wasn't at the school basketball team meeting that night.

Jessica focused on Angus' beady eye and let out another deep breath. More sparkling vapour flowed. Pinpricks of light soaked into Angus' mottled fur. Angus relaxed, stuck out his head to nuzzle her molasses-covered hand.

But then. . .

The threads solidified and the mist spun into tightly-coiled cords, which wove into a formation like a spider's web.

What the hell . . .?

She froze, staring at the writhing construction. It looked like someone had cast a living net over the bull, made of sparkling mist that yanked and stretched of its own volition, or . . . as if something pulled at the other end. There were shadows in a nebulous space over Angus' back, and male voices, just outside the edge of hearing. The web vibrated and strained.
A tug of war between herself and . . . Who was pulling the other end?

In her panic, she broke loose from the construction. The shadows at the other end of the web faded. The strands dissolved into mist once more.

A wet nose touched her palm and Angus' rasping tongue curled around her wrist. The molasses was clean licked-off, but he probably liked the salt of her sweat, because her arms glistened with it. She hoped no one noticed.

Her legs still trembling, Jessica pulled the rope and inched towards the gate. Angus followed her meekly, up the ramp, into the truck, where one of the boys was ready to tie him up.
The onlookers applauded.

Jessica leaned against the truck, forcing herself to grin at her audience.

'Can anyone give me a lift to the airport?'

* * * *

About the author:

Patty Jansen is a writer of primarily hard science fiction, space opera and daft fantasy. She is a winner in the Writers of the Future contest, and her story This Peaceful State of War has been published in their 27th anthology. Patty has also published stories in the Universe Annex of the Grantville Gazette and Redstone SF, and local anthologies and magazines, such as Dead Red Heart, Tales for Canterbury, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Patty blogs at, about science, writing and about why elephants aren’t big enough. You can also sample some of Patty’s fiction at Smashwords ( ) or Amazon ( ).
Watcher’s Web is available on:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Meet Noor Jahangir

Today I welcome an old friend of mine, Noor Jahangir, to share a little about his novel, The Changeling King, which was recently released. Welcome, Noor, and thank you for stopping by.

Give us a little background with regard to The Changeling King. What's the story about?

The story follows the intersecting adventures of six teenagers, spanning both time and space. The book starts with Vasch and his war-band of trolls arriving on Earth through a magical gateway. Vasch’s primary mission is to kill a boy called Adam Phelps, because of who the boy will become one day. The gateway was opened on the Earth side by a demon, but the backwash of the energy unleashed travels along the lay-lines and opens a second gateway about twenty miles away. The second gateway is buried beneath the mud at the bottom of a lake. Nathan Celic, his brother Logan and their girlfriends, Salina Phelps and Katrina Standbridge, are out swimming in the lake and get sucked through. They wake up to find themselves prisoners of an alien race called the Alvor, on a world called Eridani.

Salina’s kid brother, Adam, witnesses the whole event from the lakeshore. Karen Rainbow, the detective investigating the case doesn’t believe Adam’s version of events, but when a series of gruesome killings begin, she knows there is a connection between the kids disappearing and the murders. She takes Adam into protective custody and flees across the moors with Vasch and his warband in pursuit.

The sixth teenager is Sultan, a Mughal prince born several hundred years before Adam and the others. He has been trained in statecraft, martial arts and Sufi mysticism. His father’s small kingdom is caught between the machinations of the East India Company and the Mughal Emperor, Akbar. Sultan witnesses his father’s assassination and flees into the jungle. With the hunters closing in on him, he desperately turns to his mystic skills and accidentally transports himself across the cosmos and through time to Eridani; only to be captured by a troll.

Bringing all these story arcs together is the Trollking, a changeling child born amongst the alvor and abandoned in accordance with their traditions. The child is raised by trolls and quickly rises to dominate them, before betrayal sees him return to his place of birth in chains. The changeling discovers his heritage and escapes the city with the aid of a goblin shaman, only to return years later at the head of a horde of trolls and goblins. Now the changeling has reined over Northern Kryllon for a century. His demon allies have warned him that his death will come at the hands of a human child from Earth. So the Trollking sends his most trusted warrior, Vasch, to eliminate the threat. Tortured to the point of madness, Sultan languishes in the Trollking’s prison. And the only gateway back to Earth is the Trollking’s throne room.

Who are some of your literary influences and what aspects of their writing speak to you?

I think the earliest literary influence, indeed the one that first made me aspire to write was CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe, which obviously comes through in the whole crossover thing. But I doubt anyone can write in the fantasy genre without also being influenced by JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I like to think that I’ve read quiet widely in the fantasy genre and when I wrote the original draft of The Changeling King I was reading David Gemmell, Raymond E Fiest and David Eddings.

David Gemmell’s characterisation, his ability to make men with the quality of legend in them come across as flawed humans is something I wanted to emulate. I hope I’ve succeeded in making my characters think, speak and behave in a manner that real people in similar situations would, rather than a bunch of cardboard cut-outs or caricatures of real people. I also love Neil Gaiman’s and Orson Scott Card’s work. Reading their writing is like eating high quality chocolate truffles. I’ve also enjoyed reading George RR Martin, James Barclay, Brent Weeks , Scott Lynch and a few months ago began the Robert Jordan marathon, The Wheel of Time. Non-fantasy influences include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which continues to influence me and Sidney Sheldon’s sharp sentences and break-neck pacing.

Who is your all-time favourite fantasy character and why does he/she appeal to you?

I’ve got a few favourites, but it’s a throw up between Aragorn from LOTR and Tenaka Khan from David Gemmell’s The King Beyond the Gate. Both of them are lethal with a sword in their hands, but have an inherent nobility and strength of character. Both are also quite tragic figures. The former because he is the heir to a lost legacy and in love with a woman doomed to outlive him, and the latter, because he is caught between two cultures and is forced to choose one over the other. Other favourite characters include Lady Mara of the Acoma from Raymond Feist’s and Janny Wurt’s Empire books, Durzo Blint from Brent Week’s Nightangel trilogy and David Gemmell’s Druss the Legend.

What are some of themes prevalent in The Changeling King?

There are two major themes laced through the whole book. The first is the familiar seen as the other, by viewing our world through Vasch’s eyes, and the other made familiar, through Nathan and the others adjusting to Eridani. The second theme is the longing for home. I wrote the first draft whilst I was at an Islamic boarding school, constantly homesick, and since the age of 11 have never really returned to live at my parent’s home again. I guess that’s why all my characters are homesick too. Vasch wants to go back to Eridani; Sultan wants to go back to Azamabad; Nathan, Logan, Salina and Katrina want to go back to Earth; Adam wants to go back to his mum; and even the Trollking has made his city of birth his capital. There are other themes too, like the absent father and mysticism, that readers will have to figure out for themselves.

Which character in The Changeling King is closest to your heart, and why?

Argh! That’s like asking me which of my kids I love the most! I like most of them, but if I have to choose . . . When I started writing The Changeling King originally, it was Nathan, because he most embodied me at that age. But now, it’s a throw-up between Vasch, because despite being a bit of a monster, he’s a good guy trying to make sense of the world, and Sultan, because he has a sense of duty that forces him to do the right thing, even if he wants to do the opposite.

Essentially, they both have a lot to learn about life and hopefully, over the next few books in the Trollking Saga, they will work it out enough to be happy with who they are.

How did you pull together the ideas for the novel? Was it a gradual realisation for the story or a sudden burst of creative inspiration that *this* was the story you were going to tell?

It started with one idea, with Nathan, Logan, Salina and Katrina playing a game that malfunctions and sends them to Eridani (Tron anyone?). Luckily, several rewrites of the book have created a more unique event to get them to the other world. The rest of the story came through unplanned and unstructured, like a fever that I had to get out of my head by writing my fingers raw. But then a decade of re-imagining and learning my craft has refined and built the story up to what it is today.

Some of the story arcs and characters, e.g. Karen, Sultan and Vasch, were born in the later rewrites. Even the Trollking’s back-story was a late edition. As for whether this was the book I ‘had’ to write, well, my brother’s recently commented that now that I had that gorilla off my back, I could start writing something decent.

Now that The Changeling King is complete and available, do you have anything else in the pipelines? And can you share a little about the story?

I have a few projects running simultaneously, including a non-fantasy YA series and a grown-up fantasy novel. But the most relevant one I suppose is the sequel to The Changeling King, currently titled The Renegade Prince. It’s difficult to say much without ruining the ending of The Changeling King. What I can say is that whilst the original was based predominately on Kryllon, the second book will explore the world of Eridani a lot more. There will be two strong female point-of-view characters and the Earth-side story will also continue. A host of new characters will be joining the cast and the main villain will be the son of the Trollking.

Where can people buy your books or follow your updates?

The Changeling King is available to purchase from the Kindle store and from Smashwords: The book is currently available at a discounted rate through the Smashwords Summer/Winter sale. You can also download two other short ebooks for free; Trial by Fire and The Dvargar of Amundborg. You can ‘Like’ me on my Facebook page, my author’s page on Goodreads, follow me on Twitter @noorjahangir, or follow my blog at and visit my website

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Review: The Caretakers

Title: The Caretakers
Author: Adrian Chamberlin
Publisher: Dark Continents Publishing

Blurb: Hear the screams. Feel the pain. Face the evil.

As a Cambridge College celebrates a midwinter feast, four uninvited strangers uncover a devastating secret. A secret that must never be revealed… for the love of humanity.

Andy Hughes: a man with a dark past and an even darker future. His search for a missing student will lead him to a confrontation with an evil beyond human imagining…

Rob Benson: a van driver who discovers a dead wild boar in the back of his Transit. A boar that just won’t stay dead…

Jennifer Callaby: Andy’s estranged girlfriend, who discovers the shocking truth of The Caretakers — and the sacred task that they perform…

Jason Franklin: a prisoner who holds the key to the fates of them all, and who may well be their only salvation — if he doesn’t destroy them first…

A disturbing thriller that questions the nature of evil and the price to be paid for the continued survival of the human race – a price that, for some, is too great to pay…

The Caretakers… a Master’s Degree in terror.

Review: The Caretakers plunges readers into a visceral world of horror situated in the fictional college of All Souls in Cambridge. Adrian Chamberlin knows his stuff with regard offering a well-realised setting. Those who’ve read his short story, The Bodymen, in Dark Continents’ The Spectrum Collection, will pick up on certain themes involving delivery truck drivers, forklifts and dead beasts. But any more said on that and it will ruin the nasty surprise. The Caretakers offers a Cambridge you’ve never seen before and, thankfully, never will. All Souls College is suitably gloomy, with a dark history hidden behind the clunch stone walls.

Overall, Chamberlin’s prose is tight, highly descriptive and fast-paced. There were times when I felt he could have gone for a tighter third-person point of view, when viewpoint characters withheld key information as a method to build tension, but the fast pace and incipient sense of horror carried the story through. If gore isn’t your thing, watch out for the finger- and eye-violence. Chamberlin delights in a bit of well-aimed splatter, which had me wriggling in horrified delight.

The main characters, Andy and Rob, are fully developed and, although not likeable, at least admirable. Both go through hell, in some cases almost literally, in an attempt to overcome the evil they have inadvertently been tangled in. At times I felt Chamberlin could have cut back a little on the amount of secondary viewpoint characters he employed, but overall he’s handled the large support cast well with a high degree of authenticity in such a way that you can’t help but engage with them.

The Caretakers combines Lovecraftian themes with the Green Man myth in a reversal of female energies being active/destructive and male energies passive/fertile. The cosmic entity Andraste, is suitably frightening, especially with how she demands that her victims “sing” for her in a novel form of torture that will stay with me for a long, long while. Themes of death/rebirth abound, often in rather grisly situations.

As with all the offerings I’ve encountered from Dark Continents Publishing, The Caretakers is a return to horror in the classic sense. If you’re looking for a gritty, bloody and thought-provoking horror offering then this title will remain in your mind long after you’ve turned the last page. This is a strong first offering for a novel-length work and it can only get more dark and terrifying from here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bloody Parchment horror anthology

We interrupt the usual Toad's Corner schedule with news hot off the virtual press about the SA HorrorFest Bloody Parchment anthology volume one, which was released this past week. This marks the fruits of the first short story competition hosted by the SA HorrorFest in conjunction with its literary component, Bloody Parchment, which began life as a horror reading event each year at the Book Lounge in Cape Town.

While many of the contributors to the anthology are South African, the competition is open to any writer of horror fiction around the world, the winner receiving free edits for his or her novel- or novella-length work. A selection of the top stories will appear in the next anthology, when it is released.

Download your free copy of Bloody Parchment, volume one here.

If you are a writer of short horror fiction (entries open to stories of up to 3 500 words, as well as flash and drabbles), you are welcome to check out our submission guidelines. The closing date is October 31, 2011, so you have ample time to get cracking with those scary tales.

Feel free to mail me at nerinedorman (at) gmail (dot) com if you have any queries.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Daniel Rambin, vampire sidekick

Today I welcome Sonya Clark to Toad's Corner. She's blogging about one of her characters in the ass-kicking urban fantasy novel, Mojo Queen. Welcome Sonya, and thank you for taking some time out to chat with us.

Early on in the writing of Mojo Queen I knew main character Roxie Mathis needed a best friend. In a moment of mad whimsy a thought occurred to me: vampire sidekick. Gasp! you say, and what kind of sacrilege is this?! Who makes a vampire the sidekick instead of the hero?

Someone fed up with all the brooding, romantic, jailbait-obsessed, oh-so-serious vamps filling up paranormal fiction, that’s who.

Thus was born Daniel Rambin. Although he does hit a few of the standard vamp qualifiers – he’s hot, he’s sexy, he’s dead – he’s not quite a typical vampire either.

The sensibility and world I was creating with Mojo Queen didn’t call for vampire politics or any of the usual types of bloodsucking plots, especially since Daniel is a sidekick. He enjoys tagging along with Roxie on her paranormal investigations, and occasionally he likes to blog about the jobs. He is a beverage connoisseur as might be expected but he’s also a foodie, even though he can’t eat. He likes to take Roxie out to eat and he’s inordinately fond of the Food Network.

Almost right away I realized I had an issue that needed to be dealt with: I had to get rid of any possibility of a romantic relationship between Daniel and Roxie. Roxie would get a love interest, sure, but I didn’t want it to be her best friend and I didn’t want to go down the well-trod path of the love triangle. The perfect solution presented itself. Daniel would be Roxie’s ancestor and they would tell people they were cousins.

Since Daniel was the sidekick he had to have some wacky character traits, the best one of all being his love for belting out classic country songs at the top of his off-key voice. Blame that one on too many over-heated montages set to twee emo or Hot Topic goth, with the vampire walking through the night all brooding and, um, brooding. My vision of Daniel included him singing Conway Twitty in a karaoke bar, flashing a smile at Roxie that bared just a hint of fang. Most of all I wanted Daniel to be a fun character, not like a lot of other vampires.

But he is still a vampire. There came a point in Mojo Queen when I knew that needed to be shown and it chilled me to write the scene. Suddenly I began to see Daniel in a new light. I stopped thinking of him as a wacky sidekick, a character I made up just for a laugh. The more I thought about him the more I wondered about that seemingly goofy choice to make him a fan of classic country. I strongly associate country music with family.

Roxie’s “living” family want nothing to do with her so Daniel is all she’s got. Family are supposed to be the people you can trust the most, and Daniel is that to her. But he – like family – is also the one who could hurt her the worst. There’s a lot of cheese in classic country, but when you look below the surface there’s a lot of darkness too. A lot of murder ballads hidden under the beer soaked cheatin’ songs. Without even trying, I had found the perfect music to correspond to Daniel.

That darkness is part of what brings Roxie and Daniel together. They share a deep bond in their love of the night, the ease they both feel in the spirit-filled dark. Daniel doesn’t have to hide his fangs and Roxie doesn’t have to hide the fact that she can see auras and spectral energy. They are open with each other but Daniel still hasn’t told Roxie everything about his past. Sometimes when he grabs hold of my imagination and whispers possibilities to me, I think about Daniel’s history. His life as a man, his transition to vampire, and what led him to seek out any descendents. Daniel may not be the protagonist or the love interest of Mojo Queen but he is deeply important to Roxie. As I’ve explored his character more he’s become deeply important to me, too. He’s one of my favorite characters I’ve created so far.

Oh, one more thing to tell you about Daniel: Roxie calls him “bubba.” But she is the only one allowed to do that. Anybody else tries it and they might get to see his fangs - without a smile.

Mojo Queen is available from Lyrical Press. Learn more about the author at (including free reads featuring Roxie and Daniel.)