Spreading the happiness!

I am so pleased to tell you that the new website is here: www.thelastchangeling.com and to celebrate, I’m offering the eBook at a massively discounted price!

Simply go to Smashwords – the link to the book is here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/436906
Enter this code: MJ77D at the checkout, and get your ebook copy of The Last Changeling for 70% off the full retail price.   In the US that’s something like a dollar and a dime, in the UK it’s just 63p!

Smashwords offer versions for lots of devices including Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iphones and many more.
This offer expires on the 20th of October 2014 and only works for The Last Changeling by F.R.Maher.  Happy reading!

A Little Taster…

The follow up to The Last Changeling continues to grow, albeit slowly… for now, just for you, here’s a taster from the very first chapter of Book Two….!

D has just emerged from a Public Inquiry into an incident in Book One, The Last Changeling:

D made his way towards Westminster Bridge.  His uneven, loping gait carried him far and fast whilst he considered the nature of secrecy.
It bound his entire existence.  Everything he did to keep people like those gossipers safe, depended upon it.  Yet it was a fragile thing.
A single snowflake fluttered down and alighted gently upon him. D paused and studied the speck of white slowly melting into the black wool of his sleeve.  Nestling there, it struck him as a good match for his thoughts.  Secrecy was like snow, it built up in layers until you had a thick, seemingly stable covering.  All it took for a disaster was for a weak layer to be incorporated into the pack.
Then there would be an avalanche.
Everything he was facing now – the multiple public and private inquiries, had all stemmed from one member of D9 breaking away and trying to force such a collapse.  A torrent of news had hit the internet and only extreme vigilance, together with some cunning misdirection, had buried the most compromising information.  The rest had been left, hidden in Plain Sight for anyone to see.  Stories so sensational, they openly invited scornful disbelief.
D sighed, and stood, looking out across the broad sweep of the Thamesat the skeletal ellipse of the London Eye.  The Houses of Parliament were behind him, still enshrouded in scaffolding following their bruising encounter with the metahominid hordes.  D wearily stretched his neck, bending his head so his left ear touched his left shoulder, listening as his bones cracked loudly.
A sparse scattering of snowflakes fluttered and fell, and then no more.  D raised his odd eyes to the heavens.  The sky had taken on a greyer tint, and the light was lemon yellow.  The bulging clouds were holding onto their payload of snow for now, but the strange storm-light promised there was more to come.
He plucked himself from his reverie, and started again across the bridge.  A sudden scurry of wind whipped his straggly black fringe away, and he noticed the young woman walking towards him, pushing a buggy.  Stranger still, she seemed to have noticed him.  She made direct eye contact for a split second, before scurrying past, furiously stabbing the buggy ahead of her on the pavement like a weapon.  D continued but his pace quickened.  In that instant of what almost seemed like recognition, his precision memory had recorded her every detail.
Late twenties.  Medium height, slender build. Dark grey eyes. Skeletal face,  high forehead, long thin nose, overly large mouth.   No makeup.  Thin, straight  shoulder length hair, originally well cut, now grown out.  Natural mouse overlaid with chestnut dye. Good colour, possibly a vegetable dye.  Professional looking application suggests she used a salon.  Re-growth reveals she hasn’t been back in at least four months.  Thin, cotton summer dress, pale green print with white daisies.  Pale beige knee length mac, belt missing.  Black leggings and grey converse trainers.  Size five.  Well made clothes.  All out of season, suggests she has not had the money, or possibly, the inclination, to buy more.  Bracelet style tattoo of stars in red and purple on left wrist.  Out of place with elegant clothes suggests early error.  Wild Child rebelling against moneyed family perhaps? Further evidenced by two piercings on each ear, no earrings. Unwashed hair and dark ringed eyes, but no obvious signs of drug misuse. Creased boutique carrier bag beneath buggy suggests she’s had money but not now.  Similarly, flexible pushchair is expensive, and no older than two years.  Likely to have been acquired for this, her first child…
Then D’s inner analysis finally got to the meat of the matter:
…Except the thing in that buggy is no human child…
As he hurried away, D turned, carefully casual, to cast a glance back at her.  She had stopped now and unaware of his observation, was staring across the broad parapet.  She was un-strapping the thing that was lolling the pushchair.
He assessed his options.  He couldn’t approach her, he didn’t want to spook her.  He worked out how long it would take to get into position.
Time enough.
He loped along the bridge.  In that time, she had lifted the small body clear of the buggy, and had placed it on the parapet.  The thin tide of people swept uncaringly past.  Londoners and tourists alike, no one seemed bothered there might be a problem, much less a potential tragedy unfolding with the junkie and her kid on the bridge.
D quickened his already furious pace.  If she threw that thing into the water, she would never be able to get her real child back.  He began to run.
He raced away from her, in the opposite direction, off the bridge and down, barely registering the distant rolling crash and rattle of skateboarders in the Queen Elizabeth Hall undercut.
Within three minutes of first sighting her, he was beneath the bridge.  It was low tide.  He slid and skidded down a set of greenly slurried steps.  Then he struggled out of his huge coat, cast off his big boots, and crunched painfully across the stony debris field of the foreshore.
He hadn’t time to worry about what liquid-dwelling enemies might be lurking in the freezing waters, he hurled himself in and struck out toward the centre of the bridge.  Much faster at swimming than walking, he finned his huge hands and quickly battered his way through the Thameschoppy green wavelets.  The elegant flattened arches of Westminster Bridgerose above him and as he looked up, he saw something spinning through the air.  A small, floppy bundle cart-wheeling through space.
Leaping like a sea creature, he exploded out of the water and caught the thing by its hooded jacket.  At his touch, it opened its sickly yellow eyes and hissed.  D quelled his desire to dunk it and held it high above the river.  It was struggling now, but he held it firmly.  As he turned to head back, something bigger plummeted down and smashed through the surface just behind him.
In one fluid movement, D spun, stuffed the creature beneath his arm and struck out towards the still foaming disturbance where the young woman had jumped in.  Gasping, she popped up again almost beneath him.  Her wide eyes were fixed and terrified, her frantically flailing arms betraying her as a non-swimmer.  Instinct made her crane her neck to keep her head above the water, but she was choking and wildly overcompensating.  D calmly grabbed the back of her coat collar before she could sink again and pulled her face clear of the surface.  She responded by clinging to his arm with a desperate strength.  Hampered by her and the squirming creature pinned beneath his other arm, D made slower progress back to dry land.
By now, some people above had spotted the vacant buggy and were staring down into the water and pointing.  D’s feet hit the bottom still some distance out, but the woman made no attempt to stand and he was forced to drag her like a sack along the rough stones and shingle crusted mud to the shore.  He dumped her just clear of the water.  She didn’t make a sound, she simply lay shivering amidst the stinking river detritus.  Before putting his boots back on, D grabbed his coat and wrapped the thing firmly inside it.  Already he could hear a distant siren.
He looked back at the half drowned woman.  There was nothing he could say.  They both knew she hadn’t tried to kill her child.
Her real child had been taken from her months ago.
Out of the sightline of the gathering spectators on the bridge, he clambered quickly back up the steps.  If that poor woman was ever to be reunited with her lost baby, he would have to move quickly.
The yellow-eyed thing swaddled in his coat was still moving, but D was keenly aware that normally, he should have been barely able to hold onto it.
Something was very wrong.
D loped back across the bridge, heading towards his car.  Despite being clad in baggy wet clothes, and carrying a moving black bundle beneath his arm, still his strange skill at not being noticed held and indeed, no-one took much notice of him.   A little way along the bridge, he skirted the gathering crowd.  The attending police officers and bystanders circled around the empty buggy, were too distracted watching the woman below them being lifted onto a stretcher to register him passing by.
For his part, D was too busy to pay much heed to them.  His mind raced ahead.  Locating a lost human child, stolen away and hidden in a hill fort or barrow normally took weeks of careful research.  By the look of the thing in his coat, it would have to be accomplished far more quickly.  Before it died.  If it did, there could be no exchange.  Assuming it survived, then there was still the actual rescue mission to be executed – a swap involving the restoration of the baby’s sickly metahominid counterpart back into its proper environment and the recovery of the human child it had replaced.
D understood there was no way of knowing how long it would take to accomplish.  All he knew was that if the malign thing he was now carrying beneath his arm through the busy Londoncrowds died, then the stolen human child would remain trapped in the wrong world forever.
He returned to his old battered Saab to find a parking ticked gracing its windscreen.  That was the least of his troubles.  Opening the boot, he dumped the dark bundle inside, reconsidered, and grabbed it back out again.  He needed to keep it where he could see it.  It was risky, but he put it in the passenger foot well.  Holding his breath, he finally turned the ignition key.  Whilst the engine hummed into life, he tensed, waiting for a reaction, but none came.

Too unwell to react, the changeling lay motionless.                                         © FRMaher 2013
That’s your lot for now!

Away with the fairies…. at the fairy festival

A week has slipped past and I still haven’t recovered from the mayhem that was the Legendary Llangollen Faery Festival.

As co-organiser it’s my job to… well… organise!

Over the past year I have liaised with craft workers, musicians, healers and readers to put on a ‘fairy-friendly’ festival in the beautiful setting of Llangollen in North Wales.

Bearing in mind The Last Changeling is hardly fairy friendly, it might seem that I have been dancing with the enemy.  Indeed, I never thought people who really believe that fairies are sweet creatures, far removed from the malign metahominids of folklore and my fiction, would ever view me and my book with anything less than open hostility.  Luckily they are only interested in fairies and fey culture being promoted, so if I just happen to be the conduit for that to happen, then they are inclined to forgive me.  Actually some of them prefer their fairies to be somewhat, ‘kick ass!’

So over two hundred craft workers, healers, fortune tellers, live-action role players, musicians and speakers descended upon us last weekend, all with a mind to have a good time, sell their wares and enjoy everything fairy.  They pitched tents and stalls and some set up inside the huge tented arena of the Llangollen Pavilion…. and all this with the threat of the tail end of Hurricane Bertha looming and poised to strike!

Saturday dawned fair and a glorious day was enjoyed by hundreds of visitors.   Wishes were posted on the wishing line for the fairies to collect and grant, and the wing and wand making workshops were spectacularly busy.  Circus skills were taught, the mystery of how to play a didgeridoo was revealed and live music and wonderful food was enjoyed. The stallholders did a cracking trade and the little, (and large), ones had their faces painted and were told some amazing tales by expert storytellers.

Then came the rain at teatime … and because the arena is so huge, most of the outside stalls moved inside for the next day.  We only had the vintage funfair and three stalls go home – all vowing to return next year.  That night we all danced at The Grand Faery Ball, so no-one much cared what the weather was doing outside!

Fervent spells were cast for good weather for the Sunday.  After a rain lashed night, the water stopped pouring from the sky  just eight minutes after the event opened again.  There were a few squalls in the afternoon, one huge gust of wind, and that was Bertha’s last farewell!

We all survived and are already planning for 2015!

Danced to Death….

‘Went the day well?’  I hear you ask…

The launch for the paperback edition of The Last Changeling was excellent – not least because I was presented with a rather nice bottle of champagne! Yummy!

I was surprised to find that when it came to it, I was quite stressed at being interviewed in front of an audience.  Thankfully only my nearest and dearest detected this, but I found the process distinctly ‘counter-British’.  We are raised to be discreet and ‘showing off’ is discouraged.  I can only think that early conditioning was kicking in!

Interestingly, one of the questions I was asked was all about early influences…

 A June baby, I started almost a year earlier than some of my classmates, so I first read Laurel and Gold Readers II when I was about 4 or 5, in my much loved village primary school.  When they had a book sale I was thrilled to have my very own copy to keep.
Despite being quite old by the time they came into our little hands, Laurel and Gold readers were like a Readers Digest for very small children.  Bound in green cloth with gold lettering, they featured traditional tales,mythology, short essays about natural history and some actual history, plus a poem or two.  All beautifully illustrated, I adored them.

 It just so happens that the image from a book I read as a child has stayed with me.  I dug the book out the other day, and here is the intriguing image

The unseen hands stealing the baby must have sown an early seed that grew to flower in The Last Changeling.  Imagine how shocked I was when I turned to the story of The Wood Maiden…  here she is with Betushka, a girl she entices to dance…

But it’s these lines that really astonished me… imagine having them in a children’s book today…
Danced to death!  Extraordinary!  All these years these ideas have been running around in my head! 
So the influences started pretty early I guess… 
As I love the nonsense that we insist on calling ‘co-incidence’, here’s something else.  Today on BBC Radio 4, the afternoon play ‘A Time To Dance’ was all about the idea of people dancing themselves to death.  Have a listen on the BBC iplayer, it’s an excellent play: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b015mzl8

Fantasy Becomes Reality

I am officially ‘following my dream.’ I have taken the leap of faith, given up the pesky ‘part time’ job that was taking up too much time and I am now a full time writer.  As a direct consequence, I been surrounded by nothing but love and support ever since.  Thank you Universe.

Today I was paid for a poem I had quite forgotten I’d written, well over a year ago – and asked for more.  That felt very good indeed.  Tonight I will be onstage in Liverpool, (actually a little way under Liverpool  – at the entrance to the fascinating Williamson Tunnels), reading from The last Changeling and addressing an audience of fantasy thriller fans… it’s been something of a journey so far I can tell you!

What I can’t tell you, much as I’d like to, is how to follow your dream.  All I am doing is following my nose and occasionally taking inspiration from others who have taken the same course of action in deciding to shape their lives rather than let others do it for them.
As Marianne Williamson famously wrote: 
When we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
All we are ever meant to be is happy, nothing more.  If someone looks at something I have written and feels some kind of a connection, then that is wonderful.  If they read my book and for a short time become so engrossed they are entertained and forget their cares for a while, then that’s ‘mission accomplished.’  It is a beautifully balanced exchange of energies as we co-create the story – I write the words and you provide the pictures in your mind.  Wow… this is the BEST JOB EVER!!!
So, if you want to, try tuning in and turning on your own heart-light… you never know where its light will guide you.

A series of fortunate events…

“My dear fellow,” said Sherlock Holmes, as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at baker Street, “life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.”

I am living in ‘interesting times,’ both a curse and a blessing I suppose.  It started with someone being quite mean on Facebook.  I have been hacked, and for a while, a background picture quite refused to appear.

It was chosen because of the perfectly balanced look of the picture – draw a horizontal line two thirds down the picture, and in that top segment you have a charming watercolour of a woodland scene.  The interest is focussed in the foot of the painting, where the fairies glide beneath the leaves.

I looked for it again and found an extraordinary coincidence.  Having put the picture up a little over a year ago, I was unaware that it had been painted by Richard Doyle.
Richard ‘Dickie’ Doyle.

He was an illustrator who designed the banner for Punch magazine – which was used for 100 years.
All rather ironic when you see how Punch lambasted Dickie’s nephew about his belief in fairies, for Dickie Doyle was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s uncle.

Anyone reading this, who has read The Last Changeling, will by now be beginning to sit up!  This is where the ‘coincidences’ begin to rack up and I begin to wonder if I am being led deeper down this rabbit hole of otherworldly stuff.

The first picture ‘Under the Dock leaves,’ really put Dickie Doyle on the map as a fairy painter.  After that, Dickie illustrated the beautiful edition of In Fairyland, a series of Pictures from the Elf World which is still held to be one of the most breathtaking examples of high Victorian story books for children.  It features the William Allingham poem, ‘Up the Airy Mountain,’ the first poem I ever learnt by heart, taught to me as a child by my father, an Irishman from Kilkenny – and which I have referenced in ‘The Last Changeling.’

Dickie’s same illustrations were also used in ‘The Princess Nobody’ by Andrew Lang.  I am currently studying an interesting book called ‘The Secret Commonwealth of Elves Fauns and Fairies’ by Robert Kirk, a seventeenth century mystic and priest who allegedly was taken away by the fairies.
The foreword was written by the same Andrew Lang.

So, back to the Doyle’s… we have a nephew and an uncle, both highly educated men, both with a strange fascination for fairies.  I followed a link to another page about Conan Doyle’s father, Charles Altamont Doyle, (who co-incidentally married a woman from a Kilkenny family).  Charles was also fixated with fairies and ended his days in a Scottish lunatic asylum.  In 1977 a book of his illustrations came to light and was printed in the UK.  The strange thing is that I have that book, but I had quite forgotten about it.  It sits beside me as I type this.
I know there are such things as families who believe that they have all been ‘taken’ at some time.  Some can quote abduction stories that go back for generations.  It’s interesting that here are three members of the same family with the same, strange otherworldly interest…

Apart from using ‘Altamont’ as Sherlock Holmes alias in ‘His last Bow,’ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was understandably reticent about his problematic father.  Dickie didn’t mention him either.  Yet both brother and son promoted and celebrated fairies.  Almost as if they were colluding to make Charles’ interests seem normal and unremarkable.

So if a family can draw down these influences, what about specific locations?
I am wondering about this because of William Allingham, writer of the poem, ‘Up the Airy Mountain,’ husband of the famous ‘chocolate-box’ cottages painter, Helen Allingham, of all the places to live, this Irishman settled, for a while, in Witley, Sussex in 1881.
This is all within 9 miles of other intriguing locations in The last Changeling, in what I am beginning to think of as ‘The Fairy Line,’ as the three points line up quite nicely…

Allingham’s home is point A on the map, it  borders Lea Park, later Witley Park, home of the man airbrushed from history, Whittaker Wright – see my previous post about ‘Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Infamous Neighbour,’ (point B) and is less than six miles from Hindhead where Arthur Conan-Doyle wrote the Hound of the Baskervilles exactly twenty years later, (point C).

This has all left me reeling.  There is more… I will post again when I can, but for now I have to get on with Book II …

Is that really you, George R R Martin?

It’s been… to put it simply, a bit of a strange week…

On Tuesday I was called to audition for a tough quiz show ‘The Chase.’  (Brit show, Google it).
Much to my amazement I passed.
Whether the day dawns when I will actually face a Chaser – and manage to remember a little more than my own name – remains to be seen.  I have been told, ‘it’s how the questions fall…’ ‘you either know them or you don’t… blah … blah…’

All I know is that it has already been a life-changing experience.  Now, everything has significance, an extra meaning… after all, it might come up as a question!  I am normally unreasonably curious, but that trait has now gone into overdrive… Overdrive?  Bachman-Turner Overdrive, the band beloved by Stephen King… bet you didn’t know he liked them, did you, hey?  See?  It’s like a reverse Tourettes where random things are hastily sucked into my brain rather than being shouted out…

So, in the midst of all this barminess, I decided to put the picture of my book in the Sarasota bookstore, Bookstore1, on Twitter.  You know the one, it looks like this:

And I tweeted this: (you can probably see for yourself who favourited it… )

 …But before he favourited this first tweet, I tweeted thus:

Then I wandered over to my email and found the ‘favorited by….’ messages… 
O – my – giddy – Aunt!  
George R R Martin had favourited, (yes with the ‘u’, I am a Brit after all), TWO tweets!!!!  
So, naturally I tweeted this:
…and do you know what?
He favourited THAT one as well!  
By now, as perhaps you can imagine, I am developing a heart flutter and an inability to breathe or concentrate… what was the name of that band again?  
Hang on a moment… what is my name again?
I had to go and lie down in a darkened room… well a pub actually, but it’s the same thing, surely?
Soooo, I had a medicinal ‘latte’ and tweeted this:
…and do you know what?
I can see you’re getting the hang of this, you’re smart, you know?
Yep.  This got favourited again by George R R Martin.  
Sooo, I think I can finally understand why people have long, one-sided conversations with their deities.  It feels good.  The best bit is the mystery of it all.  Are they there or not? 
Is it him?  Or is it a random piece of cunning programming pulling my chain?  Has it been created to react to a name?  Drooling like a Pavlovian dog every time it finds George R R Martin mentioned?
George R R Martin
George R R Martin
George R R Martin
Sit!  Roll over!  Lie down!  Goood doggie!

But, what if it IS really him?  This is where it gets quite strange in a wonderful way.  I am indeed having a one-sided conversation with a seriously interesting and powerful individual, who, like a capricious god, has a quirky take on most things.  This is the guy who tweeted to J.K. Rowling that the series would have been better if Harry had been killed off in the first book!  
Whilst we mortals all run around going ‘Eeek!’ at that, it’s different in the vast, echoing libraries of Valhalla that these literary deities inhabit.  I rather think that might just appeal to her slightly wicked sense of humour.

Forgive me, great deity of G.O.T., I am babbling… 
better go now and research my own name and other likely questions for the quiz….
Like I say, it’s been a bit of a strange week…

In between Ursula Le Guin and George R R Martin!

Here are the nice plinths in the bookstore window…  …wonder what’s on them…?

Oh, yes, that’s The Last Changeling…

And… what’s over here…?
In the Classics section… eh?… Classics?? Now that is classy!
In between Ursula Le Guin and George R R Martin….  The Last Changeling… Wow!!!  So humbled…

Thank You!

Heyyyy, you!  Yes you!  Thanks for reading this and, in case you bought it and are now reading The Last Changeling, a hearty ‘thank you’ for making The Last Changeling….
….wait for it…

 Amazon #1 Bestseller in Folklore in the UK!

… And a great night was had by all…

Last Thursday I did a ‘soft launch’ for the new paperback version of The Last Changeling… it was a good excuse to have a bit of a party and celebrate with good friends, old and new.

The venue was perfect.  A quirky vintage tearooms in Llangollen, in Oak Street, the very street where one of the main characters, Watkin, uncovered yet more secrets about the mysterious D9.  Indeed the armourer Aled may well have been there, but it was hard to see him -must be something about his meta blood!
These are all gone, sold and bearing my scribbled name…
 and these are all gone too… and they were delicious!
The next signing will be in a bookshop… and I bet it won’t be half as much fun!