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Character Spotlight: Ishtar

This lovely elf features in For Such a Time as This, one of my not so short fantasy shorts. It’s the third tale of Ethanar and although she seems like a very inconsequential elf, she’s actually a very important person in a line of elves and monarchs who shape the entire world through the ages. My favourite book in the Bible, Esther, inspired her and some of her tale.

Ishtar doesn’t think too much of herself. She starts off as a slave and is mostly just getting on with her life and trying to do a good job. She’s not unhappy but you wouldn’t really call her happy either. Most importantly she’s obedient and worked out at an early age that if she does as she’s asked, doesn’t complain to much and is polite to those around her she can get through life without too much fuss and attention being brought to her. Of course this is made easier by her owner being someone easy to work for but she still gives him no reason to be unsatisfied.

Her story is pretty much about life and the way it occassionally decides it’s had enough of things the way they are and throws a curve ball to see how you respond. That’s exactly what life does to her. It plants an idea in her owners head and events continue to transpire and attentions continue to be drawn her way until her obedience and aquisence leads her to the King and her new life.

Sometimes life just puts you in the right place at the right time, and coupled with the right attitude, magic happens.

Character Spotlight: Christopher

This is a character how actually appears in a lot of my works although he goes unnamed in several. He’s sort of like an Angel but has a brief time on earth as a Nepharil in Innocent Hearts. I’ve always been a little unsure exactly what I wanted to do with this character and it’s the reason he’s unnamed in so many of his appearances. If I want to decide that it’s a different character in the other stories I still can.

His biggest role is in Innocent Hearts and it’s where he is named and definitely flesh and blood. As a Nepharil he is a human with wings. The Nepharil were a group of humans who were gifted wings by Tanayth as a reward but they’ve since lost their respect for the creator of their world. Christopher is an exception to the rest of the controlling male dominated Nepharil society and does what he can to re-address the balance, while waiting for the right time to go all out to change his society.

This is mostly what Learning to Fly is about. He does what he can to help his niece and give her a strong position. He also helps Bronwen in The Path Home. Letting her go, despite his brother’s desire to kidnap the unfortunate half-elf.

At some point I’m hoping to write a sequel to Innocent Hearts and Christopher will be the main character in that sequel, making him my second male character to take on a male lead role.

Christopher has been the rock in Liza’s world her whole life, her teacher, mentor and the widowed husband of another Nepharil she had a lot of respect for so he’s definitely the gentle leader type.

In The Path Home a different side of him is seen. He’s the warrior in his golden armour with his large sword and quick reflexes. Someone not to be messed with.

All of these traits will hopefully be shown more in his sequel but that won’t be out for a while. It is still in the works though.

For Such a Time as This + Free Stuff

It’s my birthday today! Yup I have one of those things too. It’s the one day where I like getting attention and all that sort of stuff, but in true hobbit style I’m giving stuff away today, you know the sort of present like stuff.

The first of the things I’m giving away today is Wandering to Belong, my fantasy short! You can pick up a copy on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk (or any other amazon ebook store) and you don’t have to pay a thing.

Also I’ve got an excerpt of my latest release, For Such a Time as This, for you to read below, you can also get that on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

***

“Ishtar! Grab the damson pudding, over there, that’s it,” the bustling older cook yelled as he added two more jugs of wine to the trolley in front of him. Ishtar did as she was instructed, placing the dish in the final space on the laden vehicle.

She leapt out of the way as Malden pushed the little cart towards the door. He would take it up to the waiting room right outside the dining hall, giving Ishtar and the other assistant cooks a moments respite.

Ishtar slowed her pace as she checked on the hot puddings still cooking in the oven. In less than half an hour another damson pudding, two more cherry and almond cakes, four giant apple and cinnamon pastries and a cocaya bread and raisen pudding would go up with another large helping of red wine.

She gave the other three females a few instructions as they waited for their chef and master to return. Despite Ishtar being a simple slave like the other girls they did as she asked without complaint or fuss.

Not wanting to be idle when Malden returned, Ishtar rolled out more pastry into a long rectangular shape. The pastries seemed to be a favourite with the guests Andreas was entertaining that day. She sliced up the soft dough while her mind drifted to other things. She had made this dish so many times she could do it in her sleep.

Malden returned as she was ladling the apple mixture into the centre of the final of the six pastries.

“Good, good Ishtar… Where’s the cinnamon. Ah here it is, sprinkle that on them. Kimi, put that over there, good, good. Now let’s get started on another… Thank you Penalay.” Malden continued on telling his assistants what to do as he bustled around as well.

For the next twenty minutes all of them rushed around the kitchen preparing, stirring, slicing, mixing and fetching to create another trolley laden with food. The task of pre-empting what the feast would run out of was their sole purpose.

When Malden left with the next serving Ishtar paused to slow her rapid breathing. Her feet ached and she silently said a prayer to Tanayth that the feast would end soon. They had been in the kitchens for the last fifteen hours and there would be at least two hours of tidying and preparing for the following day.

Ishtar almost dropped the pudding she was retrieving when Malden came rushing back in. His slender frame quivered before her and no words came out of his opening and closing mouth. Her eyes went wide; silence was not normal. She rushed the dessert onto the nearest surface and went to him.

“Fetch that stool Kimi,” she said as she took his arm to support him.

“No, no, I am fine,” Malden found his voice and waved everyone away. “We can stop cooking. The feast is over.”

All the girls smiled and put down their tools. Ishtar stood waiting for Malden to explain what had happened.

“The Queen, she… she didn’t come.” He paused and she opened her mouth to ask what he meant but got no further. “King Andreas sent for Hasina and she refused him. She would not attend the feast.”

All the girls gasped.

“What did the King say?” Ishtar’s eyes were wide with fear.

“She’s to be beheaded. Immediately.”

The three girls whispered amongst themselves and Ishtar put her hands over her mouth to stop herself from making any embarrassing sounds.

“All of you can take a break for a few minutes. You’ve all been working very hard today.” Malden turned from them and busied himself tidying his kitchen. The three younger slaves rushed from the room, still talking amongst themselves. Ishtar gently tidied beside Malden, stacking the empty bowls as he put their contents in containers or the bin.

She watched him while she worked. His hands shook as he fought to keep going. If she kept busy near him she knew that he would soon tell her everything he was thinking.

“Why didn’t she do as she was asked?” The King doesn’t like to look the fool and his advisers are even worse. Listen carefully Ishtar, don’t ever give the King reason to be angry with you or ever upset his favoured people.”

“I won’t Malden. I’ll always do what you tell me to. The King thinks you’re the best chef in existence and we’re all leading easier lives because of it.”

Ishtar pictured her little room on the floor above. She had the good fortune of Malden’s favour and Malden had the King’s. Very few slaves had their own private rooms.

Malden had been kind to her ever since she had arrived, showing her how to hide her elven nature so none of the humans realised she wasn’t one of them as well as teaching her to survive. He had warned her several times of what they would do if her true race became apparent.

She stood a little taller than the other human girls her age, but being thinner stopped anyone being too suspicious. She had dyed her silver hair a dark brown and wore a head band to hide the points of her ears. No one even suspected.

“Go on girl, take a break with the others,” Malden said as he shooed her out of the room. She soon found Kimi, Penalay and Olivian sitting in the nearby courtyard. They looked up at her as she came over to them with a thousand questions on their young faces.

All three were younger than her and had been captured together from one of the last human settlements that stood against the King. As such they had known each other before arriving. Whenever anything happened they always banded together to talk about it.

Ishtar found it difficult to get to know them. They were strange to her and she had been alone for a long time, but Malden encouraged her to make an effort and the girls were always pleasant to her face.

“Do you really think that Queen Hasina will be beheaded?” Kimi asked. All of them had wide eyes that darted around the courtyard, almost expectant of someone jumping out from behind the trees to behead them too. Ishtar couldn’t help smiling at their naivety. The kitchen was a world apart from the King himself.

“I think so, she disobeyed the King,” Ishtar replied.

“But doesn’t he love her?”

She shook her head.

“Even if he did he would need to show he cannot be disobeyed. But there is no need for you three to fret. We are all safe here with Malden. He has looked after me since I was five. He will look after all of you as well.”

Ishtar went and sat with them on the stone bench. The conversation subject changed to their cooking and the feast they had managed that day.

A few minutes later all their names were called from the kitchen and the trooped back to their work. Malden and his helpers would need to get some of the food prepared for the following day.

The King always requested a particular cake in the afternoons and the fruit in the recipe would need to soak in brandy all night; and the pastry and dough would need time to settle.

Ishtar threw herself into the last of the day’s tasks with as much effort as she could muster. The sooner everything was done the sooner she could rest her feet. Rushing around the whole day had caused the arches in her feet to ache remorselessly each time she put weight on them.

Malden continued his running commentary of the activities and requirements of the kitchen to the four girls. They all worked hard but Ishtar the hardest. Her stamina kept her going longer than the others and the heat from the many ovens affected her the least of all of them.

“Put that over… that’s it, thank you Ishtar,” Malden said as she pre-empted his command. “Now where’s that fruit mix?”

“It’s already finished and soaking,” she replied, pointing to the bowl Malden sought.

Two hours later Ishtar swept the last of the dust, flour and dropped food out of the door into the courtyard for the birds. Malden was the only person left in the kitchen with her. Everyone else had been allowed to go off to sleep.

As soon as she had finished her final task of the day she put her hand to her forehead and wiped away the few beads of sweat which adorned it.

Taking her by surprise, Malden hugged her. He then held both of her hands in his and looked at her, a gentle light in his eyes and a parental smile on his face. She waited, expecting him to explain his thoughts but he did not. Instead he let her go and waved her out of the room.

“Go on now, go get some sleep.”

Ishtar did not need telling twice. She scurried off to her little room as fast as her weary legs could take her. Fortunately, she did not have far to go. Her private room sat only a flight of stairs and short corridor from the kitchen. It nestled in the wall of the great castle and had just one small window to the outside, not that she was ever there when the sun was up to send any light through it.

She sank into the straw mattress on the wooden bed frame, which creaked and groaned in protest of even her light body. A small set of candles lit the otherwise dark room, casting an ever changing and flickering glow over her few possessions.

In one corner stood an old wooden wardrobe. Its surface had lost any varnish it had once been covered in and Ishtar had to avoid getting splinters whenever she opened it. Her desk sat beside and appeared to be the newest of her furniture even though it had been Malden’s father’s for twenty years before she had been born.

On top of the desk sat Ishtar’s most treasured possessions; her sewing box and materials. She made clothes and other pretty accessories when she had free time from her duties, although that was seldom.

Malden had given her a few small coins for mending some clothes of his and a few more when she had made the uniforms the new girls had needed. It had not been much as the King frowned upon the slaves making money but it had bought her everything she’d needed to make the few things she could make time for.

Ishtar rarely got to wear the items she made but it didn’t stop her making them anyway. Her latest creation was an elegant dress, similar to something she had seen the previous queen wear once. It had a flowing floor length skirt which tapered backwards into a small train and a deep v neckline.

However, the dress was not finished. The hem was many feet long and she only managed a few minutes sewing each day by candlelight. If Malden knew she was making herself late for bed every night making the dress he would get angry and stop giving her any money at all, so she only did a little here and there to not arouse suspicion, and tonight she wouldn’t do any. The feast had gone on so long she needed to sleep.

The Plan: May 12

Last Month

I had a very busy but fairly relaxed month last month and pretty much did everything I wanted to so here’s the bullet list.

  • Wrote approx 12k words by hand
  • Typed approx 25k words (including emails and blogs)
  • Spent approx 40 hours marketing and promoting
  • Worked about 40 hours for red feather
  • Read for about 40 hours
  • Sent 44 emails

As you can see it was fairly low key, mostly promoting and I worked alone a lot this month. Not much communication with others except for marketing and promoting purposes and I finished quite a few books.

I finished the short story/novella I was working on as well as finished the 2nd draft of Sherdan’s as you can probably see from my new progress bars on the right. I also helped the author Andrew Bellingham with the book launch for his first ebook, Elsa’s Reality.

In the promoting side of things I had an interview featured on another author’s blog, probably the most fun interview I’ve ever done here. I also had Innocent hearts featured on a blog in a list of young adult fantasy stories here.

Sales are up again and have for the fourth month in a row over doubled the year before with twice the number of ebooks so progress is still being made.

This Month I want to do all the research for novel 4. I have a feeling it’s going to require more than the other books I’ve written so far but I don’t want to say any more then that at this point.

My editor has also informed me that he’s almost finished with Chains of Freedom so I’m hoping to have that back shortly so I can do the edits and get it out to my proof readers. I probably won’t start the next novel until I’ve done that. But basically if you’re eager for more work, hurry my editor up!

I’ve also got a few days off this month around the first bank holiday so I’m going to go explore some countryside and refuel my creative batteries a bit.

The Plan: April 12

Last Month

I had a reasonably productive month finally. It’s felt a little like wading through mud this year so far but things are improving and the sun came out, which always helps.

Here’s the bullet list:

  • hand wrote just over 6k for Sherdan’s prophecy
  • hand wrote approx 11k for For such a time as this
  • Typed approx 30k (including blogs and emails)
  • Spent about 30 hours reading
  • Spent about 10 hours working for Red Feather
  • Spent about 15 hours working for Flight
  • Spent about 20 hours marketing
  • Sent 112 emails

I finished Sherdan’s Prophecy in first draft! That was a really good moment as it has been the hardest book to write so far emotionally. There’s some great stuff coming up if you’re following the blogged chapters, if not I’d seriosuly encourage you to do so. It’s my best work to date I think.

I also got started on a new short. I decided I wanted to do something a bit lighter before starting my 4th novel so I picked one of the old short ideas I’ve had on my possible list for a few years and started penning it down. The advantage to it being an older idea is that it’s had plenty of time to stew around the inner workings of my brain so it’s been a nice easy write so far and I think I’m a little over half way through that.

Both With Proud Humility and Innocent Hearts have had reviews each on amazon.com, another 5 star one for With Proud humility and a 3 star for Innocent Hearts. I am pleased with both of those as the main complaint with Innocent Hearts is that it’s too short.

Sales are also continuing to rise after the post Christmas slump that seems to be characteristic. April was one of my best months for sales last year so it will be interesting to see this new months sales now I have two ebooks and a good few more positive reviews.

This Month I’ve been told by the doctor’s to take it easy. Seems my body isn’t happy with the levels of stress so I’m not meant to do anything to stressful and I have to get more exercise. Thankfully it’s not the middle of the winter so the thought of more exercise doesn’t seem to unappealing.

Because of that I’ve delayed the start of my 4th novel a little. I’ll probably plan to prepare it but I doubt I’ll now start it until may. In the meantime I’ll pootle along with my short and see how that goes.

In terms of the secret project I mentioned last month I’m pleased to finally say that it’s my publishing company branching out into a new author. As of mid April I’ll be one of two authors published by Red Feather Writing, the other being a very gifted writer called Andrew Bellingham. He’s starting his career with a young adult fantasy short called Elsa’s Reality. I’ll post again with cover and blurb etc a little closer to the release date but needless to say we’re both rather excited.

Hopefully next month I’ll have a bit more news about my next release as well and be able to pin down a more accurate time frame for a release date than soon.