In the words of Stephen King: Books are a uniquely portable magic. Escaping into a book is as easy as opening (or clicking on) the cover. It doesn't cost much, and there's very little in the way of limits about where you can go and with whom.
Once a year, I create a blog post that illustrates the importance of opening lines when choosing a new book to read. Without going into detail about the challenges our world is facing right now, it seemed like a good time for this post. As before, the ten YA books in the following list all have one thing in common: I decided I was going to read them before I'd reached the end of the first page.
“Stories want to change, and it is a librarian’s job to preserve
them; that’s the natural order of things. The Unwritten Wing of the Library,
for all its infinite magic and mystery, is in some ways a futile project. No
story, written or unwritten, is static. Left abandoned too long, and given the right
stimulation, a book goes wrong in the head. It is a story’s natural ambition to
wake up and start telling itself to the world.”
“One day there was, and one day there will be. This is the
beginning of every story. Once there was a world called Kelanna, a wonderful
and terrible world of water and ships and magic. The people of Kelanna were
like you in many ways—they spoke and worked and loved and died—but they were
different in one very important respect: they couldn’t read.”
all, they did not expect her to live past the next morning. The hands that
tugged ivory combs through Shahrzad’s waist-length hair and scrubbed sandalwood
paste on her bronze arms did so with a brutal kind of detachment.”
Hadfield is disintegrating around me. Black arcs of quantum lightning
are melting the ship’s hull to slag. My spacesuit is screaming seventeen
different alarms, the lock on this damn cryogenic pod still won’t open, and that’s
the one thought blaring in my head.”
begun sounds cooler than the
more normal has begun, because if you say it right, you sound like a
lone surviving knight delivering dire news to a weary king on the brink of
defeat, his limp hand raking his face with dread. The final breach is begun,
your grace. The downfall of House Li is begun.
the king in that scenario, by the way, raking my face with dread.
dreams of marrying a prince—except for me. I am nothing more than a pawn for my
mother’s revenge on the seven kingdoms. For she was betrayed by those close to
her, scorned by her true love and cast aside like garbage. In return, she
raised her adoptive daughters to be as beautiful as diamonds, cold as ice,
formidable like the ocean, and as wicked as they come.”
all the awful things demons do, keeping Latin alive when it deserves to be a
dead language might be the worst. To say nothing of ancient Sumerian. And
ancient Sumerian translated into Latin? Diabolic.”
was outlawed in all four kingdoms—and that was putting it lightly. Legally, magic
was the worst criminal act a person could commit, and socially, there was nothing
considered more despicable. In most areas, just being associated with a
convicted witch or warlock was an offense punishable by death.”
What's more important to you as a reader? Is it that the protagonist needs to be fascinating and the villain complicated? Or do you prefer a fast-paced adventure with an unexpected twist at the end? I was thinking about my own reading preferences in advance of today's post, and I came to the conclusion that I'd take both 😏. If I had to choose, I guess I have a preference for characters over plot because it's rare that I fall in love with a book without falling in love with one or more of the characters too.
It's a widely-accepted truth that most writers have a natural bias toward either plot or character. You obviously need elements of both in order to create a satisfying story, and therefore it can take some work to maintain a balance. As we head into the month of March, I'm in the early stages of writing Engraved in Magic, the second book in the Beyond Androva series. I got to wondering if my bias is plot or character.
My instinct told me it was character because I can't plot stories in advance. I haven't given up trying, but for now, I really can't. And the more I thought about it, the more certain I became. I've always started with the character(s). Jax, for example, showed up in my head right at the beginning of Stealing Magic. His appearance and personality were fully formed, whereas the plot of Stealing Magic was invisible to me. I discovered it chapter by chapter as I wrote it. It grew up around Jax and Shannon. They made it happen because of their choices. I did take some guesses as to where the story was headed, but those guesses were so far off base I'm too embarrassed to describe what they were!
I asked my beta readers for their opinion, (a small sample size, but they know my writing pretty well), and the answer was split 50:50. So I guess there might not be a definitive answer...
In conclusion, I will try to keep a balance between the two. It doesn't matter if my characters come first, as long as they always bring a plot with them for me to discover while I'm writing. In fact, a mysterious new character has just turned up in Engraved in Magic during Chapter Six, and I'm pretty sure he has an intriguing and potentially dangerous backstory. I don't know what it is yet, but I'm sure I'll find out! Thank you very much for visiting my blog today and happy reading 😊.
My current work-in-progress is a continuation of the Beyond Androva series with book two: Engraved in Magic. Although Matched in Magic's ending definitely wasn't a cliffhanger, there are a few in-progress elements that I intend to develop during Serena's and Art's next adventure. Art is taking over the role of narrator this time. He and Xytovia both have a lot to figure out, and that’s without the added complication of a new villain. So far, the story is going well, but of course nothing is happening the way I expected! If you’ve seen any of my other posts about writing, you’ll know I’m not a plotter—though I wish I were.
I put together a new aesthetic this weekend to help me organise my ideas about the story and the look and feel of Xytovia. The purple trees show up again, as you can see, and my characters also discover a new kind of magical symbol. Its purpose is linked to an interesting (and potentially dangerous) time in Xytovia's history from before the war. I hope you enjoy the pictures, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today ☺️.
In the UK, our shortest day of the year happened on December 21st (with less than eight hours between sunrise and sunset). The woods outside my window are quiet and full of bare branches. However, as demonstrated by this photo from New Year's Eve, there is still life alongside the hibernation. Nature never stops creating, no matter how inhospitable the climate might be ☺.
We're a few days into a new decade and new beginnings. Today's blog post contains some quotes that describe this time of year and the way it makes our hopes and dreams seem a little more accessible.
“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go. They merely determine where you start.”
— Nido Qubein
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
— C.S. Lewis
“Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”
— Carl Bard
“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, "It will be happier.”
— Alfred Lord Tennyson
My only resolutions for 2020 are to (somehow!) find more time for reading and writing, and music, and being outdoors. I'm not going to be too prescriptive this year in terms of the number of books I hope to release because I want to enjoy the writing without worrying too much about the deadline. But I've already started the second book in the Beyond Androva series, and it will hopefully be released in the summer of 2020. Art is telling the story this time. He's going to pick it up at the exact moment Matched in Magic ended. I'm going to finish with one last quote that explains why I love reading so much. Thank you for visiting my blog today, and I hope the New Year brings you good health, happiness, and lots of memorable moments ✨.
“Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, challenge. They help us understand.”
— Janet Litherland
For my final blog post of 2019, I'm very happy to be able to share an interview with my friend and fellow writer, Anke Schönle. Her first book, A Brighter World, has recently been released, and I was lucky enough to be able to read it before everyone else ☺.
A Brighter World is a contemporary novella-length story for adult readers. I've included the description below, but the Look Inside feature on Amazon (here) is a great way to discover the first three chapters for yourself 📖. You can also visit Anke's website for more information about the book including some exclusive bonus content!
A Brighter World, by Anke Schönle Benjamin is at the low point of his life when he meets therapist Alexander Senne. Senne tries to help the young man, but then their relationship develops differently than expected. Interior monologues, dream sequences and flash backs run through the story and lead to the reader often knowing more than the characters. A story about identity and family, hurt and trust.
And now, on with the interview. I hope you enjoy meeting Anke, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today!
How much of yourself is reflected in this book (for example: professional expertise, personality, or other) and how?
I was recently told Alexander "sounded" like me. Quite a lot of my personality, my family background, the way I grew up went into him, other parts of me are reflected in Benjamin. I used to think that using myself as a foundation for a character was somehow cheating, but in the end we write what we know—from our own experience or from people we meet. There's this great line:
"I'm a writer. Anything you say or do can and will be used in a story", and that's so true. I always carry a notebook...
If you could spend time with a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
Definitely Alexander. I'd shadow him to watch him work with his patients. I considered studying psychology for a while and it still fascinates me. I just hope it wouldn't be one of his migraine days.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I hope they can relate to at least one character, feel their pain and share their hope, and find a part of themselves in them. Maybe, just maybe if they had a bad start in life like Benjamin, the book can give them a little hope of things getting brighter. And even Alexander has his own demons that he overcomes with Benjamin's help. Looking at the dark parts of one's life can be painful, but with the right people to lean on I think we can start to heal.
Can you tell us about your cover?
It was designed by my friend Wendy. She's in the UK and I'm in Germany so there was no sitting at a table and discussing drafts—and still we found the final version quite fast. Her first draft matched the picture in my head very well, so it was basically a matter of adjusting colours and details. The idea was that Benjamin starts from a dark point in his life and experiences a better, brighter world once he lets Alexander in, so they walk towards that brighter future side by side.
Sum up your book for Twitter: 280 characters or less.
Oh boy. I love twitter, but being brief isn't my strong suit (unless I'm writing. I'm a lazy writer. Less is more and stuff). How about:
Benjamin meets Alexander at the low point of his life, but when he starts trusting Alexander, things begin to look brighter. A story about hurt and trust, family, identity and overcoming your demons.
Wow that wasn't even 280!
How do you select names for your characters?
I hate that part! Usually it takes me forever (finding titles is just as bad by the way). But the routine I've developed goes something like this: if character A is based on real life person B, take B's name and change it in at least two stages. For example if the real life person is called Steven, I might go Steven -> Stevie Wonder -> Wanda -> Fish called Wanda -> Jamie Lee Curtis, and the fictional character might end up being called Jamie, Lee or Curtis. Yes, it does take forever! Usually after spending some time with my characters I forget their names' origins. In the case of Ben and Alex I did it for their last names. No, that's not true. Alexander's I just stole directly from a real life person!
How long have you been writing?
The first memory I have of trying to write a book I must have been nine. My mother accused me of plagiarism (absolutely justified) and that was that for quite a while. I wrote my first poem at seven, at fourteen I regularly wrote poems and song lyrics, and in my twenties I discovered fan fiction. I've been writing ever since, but I had to turn forty before I published my first novel.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Music has always played a big role in our family, so I learned a few instruments and sang in different choirs. These days it's mostly singing (classical in a big concert choir and pop in a band) and some trumpet. I read, but not as much as I would like to, I spend a lot of time online, I like to travel, I like going to the movies and to the theatre, I paint, I entertain our three cats—oh and to earn a living I'm a speech therapist, which I do like most of the time.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
I loved it. There's a scene in the book where Benjamin describes himself as a young boy, and that's 100% me. I was always reading. I would get a pile of books from the library every week, people would give me books for my birthday and for Christmas—my granddad was a bookseller, and no way would anyone in my family have said no to another book. My aunt had a ton of books and comics that I was allowed to borrow whenever I wanted. I wouldn't go anywhere, not even for one night, without packing at least one book.
Favourite class in high school. Why?
German and English. Those were the intensive courses I chose for my A-levels. It basically meant reading for ten hours a week, and I was reading all the time anyway, so why not read what was on the curriculum and get decent grades for it? Bonus: field excursions to Berlin and London.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I have half a dozen ideas, including trying to adapt "Wie einen seine Mutter tröstet" for the stage—just to see if I can do it and because I love theatre. The project I'm spending the most time on at the moment is a story that will most likely be published online as a fan fiction. And I just finished an online writing class with Neil Gaiman that I still have a ton of homework left from.
Bonus question: You’re stranded on a desert island—which character from your book do you want with you? Why?
OMG Ben. It has to be Ben. Why?? Because he's hot! We'd have a great time. It's a tropical island, right? Nice beaches, crystal clear water, no sharks please. On second thought Angie would be very tempting, too. (She’s a side character that doesn’t get a lot of screen time but boy do I remember the woman she’s based on!) Can I have them both?
Up to and including Monday 30th December 2019, the Legacy of Androva series will be at a special price on Amazon! Stealing Magic, Capturing Magic, and Seeking Magic will be FREE and the other four books in the series will be priced at $0.99/£0.99 on Amazon US and UK.
You can find The Legacy of Androva: Books 1 -3 here:
Happy December! ☃ Today's blog post is a new short story in the Legacy of Androva series. I've been so busy finishing Matched in Magic that it's been a while since I had time to create any bonus content. But I miss the characters, and I jumped at the chance to write about them again as soon as I could ☺.
The question I get asked more often than any other is: What happens to everyone after the series finishes? I am certain that the answer wouldn't be "a quiet life"! I was curious about what I might find if I visited Jax and Shannon a few months after the end of Connecting Magic. It turned into a Christmas short story.
You can access other Androva bonus content here, including an earlier Christmas short story that was set after Seeking Magic. I hope you enjoy the new story, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today!
“I’m so bored.”
“How, exactly?” asked Shannon, her brown eyes glinting with amusement as
she looked at Jax. “We have loads of spells to practice before our assessment on
Friday. And I know you’re still struggling with that remedy combination.”
Jax huffed. “I didn’t say we weren’t busy. I said I was bored.”
“This is our chance to graduate fourth year six months early,” she said.
“I thought that’s what we both wanted.”
Shannon closed her textbook and put down her pen. It was a cold December
evening on Androva, and she and Jax were studying in the kitchen of Mabre
House. They’d left the Training Room when Shannon pointed out that although she
enjoyed Combat, it was also one of the Six Disciplines where they already
excelled. She wanted to finish her final History paper. Each underage magician
in their year had been assigned a unique project, and Shannon’s was to research
the Sygnus symbol she and Jax shared. She’d discovered the seven-pointed star
had something of a volatile past.
Thanks to Shannon’s influence, the large kitchen windows sparkled with
Illumination Spells resembling green and gold snowflakes. There was a matching Fire
Spell flickering in the hearth and a few festive ornaments on the windowsill.
Revus, Jax’s father, wasn’t a fan of excessive decoration, but he’d made an
exception for the Terran Christmas that would take place the following week.
A row of shot glasses containing various remedies was lined up on the
large wooden table in front of Jax. At least, they were supposed to contain
remedies. But only the first three out of seven glasses were glittering with
magical energy. Jax had abandoned his assignment and was staring into the Fire
Spell. His black hair—too long as usual—was falling into his eyes. Green like the fire, they narrowed a little when Shannon chuckled. “Something funny?”
“Admit it,” she said. “You’re struggling to be an ordinary magician.”
He turned his head. “I beg your pardon? There’s nothing ordinary about
Shannon grinned. “I meant our lives are normal now. We haven’t been in
danger for ages. And part of you misses the excitement.”
Jax opened his mouth and closed it again. “I don’t miss nearly dying,”
he said eventually.
Shannon didn’t reply, wondering if Jax could hear the uncertainty in his
voice. She’d half expected this. Living a quiet life didn’t come naturally to
him. Their only challenges of late had been faced within the walls of the
Seminary of Magic, creating new spells and trying to decide which of the Six
Disciplines they wanted to specialise in for their fifth and final year.
Penny, Shannon’s best friend, had already settled on Manipulation, even
though she wouldn’t finish her fourth year until the following summer. Her
boyfriend, Darius, was going to join her. Jax, although he’d outwardly
expressed support for his friend, had been shocked. He and Darius had always
planned to specialise in Combat together. Darius’s confidence and creativity
had grown significantly in recent weeks, and Manipulation was a good fit for
him. But Jax couldn’t help taking Darius’s change of heart personally.
Shannon hadn’t decided. She enjoyed everything. It was fun. A lot of
fun. But it was also safe. Predictable. Very different to the way things had
been just a few months earlier. For Shannon, the novelty of being a magician
had yet to wear off. She didn’t think it ever would. Jax’s perspective,
however, was literally a world apart. He wasn’t bored so much as unsettled
about his future. If there were no rules he wanted to break, and no adventures
to be faced, and no mysteries to solve, then what was he supposed to do?
Jax got to his feet and walked to the window, raising his hand.
Absent-mindedly, he projected his force field and added a few more snowflakes
to the centre of the glass. “It’s not unreasonable to want a change of scene.”
He looked at Shannon and lifted his chin, his expression slightly defensive.
“It doesn’t have to be a deadly one.”
Again, Shannon said nothing as she tried to figure out what Jax meant by
a change of scene. They travelled back and forth between Terra and Androva
every couple of days and visited Imbera occasionally too. Three worlds would be
more than enough for most people. Unless… unless he was talking about something
else. She bit her lip.
Jax met her gaze. A half-formed snowflake, glowing in his palm,
flickered a few times before disappearing. “Um… I’ve changed my mind,” he said
hastily. “Forget I said anything.”
“Changed your mind about what?” asked Shannon.
There was a short silence.
Androva help me, thought Jax. She thinks I’m immature and completely
irresponsible. And she’s probably right.
It’s me he’s bored of, thought Shannon. He wants a change of scene from me.
“Well,” she said brightly, “I think I might go back to Terra. I have to
write a conclusion to my paper, and my argument on how the Sygnus wars started
is still kind of weak.”
Shannon gathered up her possessions, keeping her head down so her long
brown hair covered her face. She tried to push her textbook into her backpack,
but it got stuck on one of the inside pockets. Gritting her teeth, she pushed
harder, determined not to give in to the wave of emotion making her eyes sting.
Finally, the book dropped into place, and she turned to leave.
Jax withdrew his force field, having been halfway to projecting the
Communication Spell. Telepathy could be good or bad, depending on the
circumstances. It was impossible to lie. He decided on reflection that he
wasn’t quite brave enough to experience Shannon’s thoughts about him first-hand.
“I’ll message you,” he said awkwardly, shuffling his feet.
“Whatever,” said Shannon over her shoulder.
Shannon went down the winding staircase to the portal room with heavy
steps. The more she thought about it, the more she decided Jax had a point. Their
lives had been all about studying lately. She couldn’t remember the last time
they’d done anything spontaneous. She thought back to the Valentine’s Day
surprise she and Penny had organised. That had been a very long time ago. She
took out her phone.
“Do you think I study too much?”
“Lol, is that a trick question?” Penny replied.
Shannon looked at the screen, her heart sinking.
“You love studying,” added Penny. “And you’re graduating
early. Which is awesome. What’s the problem?”
Shannon remembered the guilty look on Jax’s face as they’d said goodbye.
“I think Jax is bored of me.”
“What??? Did he say that??”
As Shannon finished reading Penny’s reply, her phone started ringing. “Hi,”
she said, her voice subdued.
“Are you OK?” said Penny. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. Can I come over?”
There was a pause. “I’m… er… I’m not at home,” said Penny.
“Oh. Where are you?” said Shannon.
Another pause. Then there was the sound of Darius laughing. “Just tell
her,” he said. “You can’t hide it now.”
“Well,” said Penny. She sighed. “We’re kind of in Rome at the moment.”
Shannon thought she’d misheard. “Rome. You mean… Rome, Italy?”
“Yeah. We were talking with Galen about how he and Claudia met, and what
Ancient Rome was really like, and how the Colosseum at Christmas is supposed to
be amazing—which it totally is, by the way—and there’s this place that does the
best chocolate gelato ever, and you know how much Darius likes chocolate, and…”
Penny trailed off. “Shannon? Are you still there?”
Shannon sat down on the bottom step and wrapped her free hand around her
knees. “I’m here,” she said quietly.
“We would have asked you, but we thought you’d be…”
“Studying,” said Shannon.
“Um, yeah,” said Penny. “Well, you were, weren’t you?”
Shannon didn’t answer. She felt slightly sick. I want to be in Rome with
my boyfriend, she thought. I don’t want to study my life away.
“What’s happened between you and Jax?” said Penny gently. “There is no
way he’s bored of you, you know.”
Darius agreed loudly in the background.
“I’m not convinced about that,” said Shannon. “You weren’t there. You
didn’t see him.”
She was so caught up in the conversation, she didn’t hear Jax descending
the stairs above her. When he sat down and his shoulder brushed her arm, she
exclaimed in shock, jumping to her feet.
“Shannon?” said Penny.
“I… I’m fine. Jax is here. I have to go.”
“OK. Send me a message as soon as you can,” said Penny before
Ten minutes earlier…
As soon as he was sure Shannon had gone to the portal room, Jax sent a
message to his father.
“Are you home?”
Jax’s phone indicated that Revus was typing. Three dots appeared and
disappeared several times with no sign of a reply, and Jax scowled at the
screen. “Yes or no would do, Father,” he muttered. “You don’t have to write me
an essay every single time.”
“Yes, I am indeed at home. You would know this if you bothered to
walk down the corridor to my office instead of relying on your Terran device to
do everything for you.”
Just managing to refrain from sending his father an eyeroll emoji, Jax
put down his phone. He needed Revus’s help. This wasn’t the time to get into an
argument. He left the kitchen and made his way to his father’s office. It was
cold away from the Fire Spell, and Jax pushed his hands inside his pockets,
hunching his shoulders. When he reached the heavy wooden door, it was slightly
ajar, but he lifted his hand to knock anyway, knowing it was what Revus
“Jax?” said Revus.
Jax pushed the door wider. Revus was sitting at his desk holding a piece
of paper and frowning. Jax recognised the Seminary of Magic letterhead. “What’s
that?” he asked.
“Professor Alver’s report,” said Revus.
“What? I haven’t had my assessment yet,” said Jax. He remained in the
doorway, giving the paper an uncertain look.
“I know,” said Revus. “This is a draft. He wanted to make me aware of
“Do I get to read it?” said Jax.
“Do you want to?”
Jax half smiled. “That depends on what’s in it.” He knew he’d been
distracted in his classes, even though his spellwork remained good. If the
report said what he knew to be true—that he lacked direction and commitment—he
wasn’t sure how he would feel. Losing both Shannon’s and Alver’s good opinions
in the same evening was a horrible prospect.
Revus, typically, kept his expression neutral, giving Jax no clue as to
whether the report was good or bad. “You can read it if you wish,” he said.
Jax tilted his head. “But will you project a Distraction Spell for me if
I wish I hadn’t?”
“I was joking,” said Jax.
“Were you?” said Revus.
His father knew him too well. As did Professor Alver, unfortunately.
“I don’t want to read it,” said Jax abruptly. “I came to ask you
something. I’m going to sign up as a Council intern. Will you be my sponsor?”
At first Revus was lost for words. Of all the things he might ever have
expected Jax to ask him, this would have been bottom of the list. The idea that
his son might voluntarily sign up for a work placement in the Androvan
government was unthinkable.
“Are you sure?” Revus managed.
“I’m sure. I want to prove to you and everyone else that I’ve changed. I
know you always hoped I would follow you onto the Council. Well… maybe I will.
I’m sixteen now. It’s about time I outgrew my reputation.”
“Is this really what you want?” said Revus.
“Yes. And I know it would make you happy. Wouldn’t it?”
Revus hesitated before nodding. He opened his mouth to say something
else, but Jax started speaking first.
“Great,” said Jax. “I’ll fill in the forms tomorrow. Thank you, Father.”
He left the office at a run, making for the portal room in the hopes of
catching Shannon before she made it all the way back to her house.
“Hey,” said Jax.
“Hey,” said Shannon warily.
Jax held out his hand, revealing the dark-blue glow of the Communication
Spell. Shannon swallowed, gathering her courage before she put her hand in his.
Five minutes later, having caught up with everything from each other’s
perspective, they started kissing. A jumble of words and emotions continued to
spill between them via the spell.
“I will never be bored of you. Never, never, never,” said Jax.
“I don’t want you to change who you are. I miss the excitement too,”
The kiss became more intense. Shannon wrapped her arms around Jax’s
body. He cradled her jaw in his hands, tilting his head and closing his eyes.
Eventually, they broke for air, their force fields lighting up the portal room
with a bright silver glow.
“I love you,” said Jax.
“I love you too,” said Shannon.
They laughed, both a little breathless, then kissed again.
“Shall we forget studying for tonight and open a portal to Rome?” said
“Yes,” said Jax. Then he hesitated. “Just as soon as I’ve spoken
to my father. I can’t let him think… it wouldn’t be fair.”
He retraced his steps to Revus’s office while keeping hold of Shannon’s
hand. When he knocked again, there was a pause before Revus answered. Jax
thought his father muttered, “Thank Androva,” but he couldn’t be sure. “Jax, I
hope that’s you,” said Revus in a louder voice.
“Yes,” said Jax, entering the room. He squared his shoulders. He’d never
hesitated to face up to the consequences of his actions, and he wasn’t about to
“About that internship,” he said. “I—”
Revus held up a hand to stop him and wordlessly handed over the draft
report from Professor Alver. Jax held the piece of paper so that Shannon could
read it too. A few words caught his eye, such as “disengaged” and “performing
spells mechanically albeit to a high standard” and “lacking innovation.” His
chest tightened as he continued reading. He was accustomed to getting bad
reports for behavioural reasons. But he’d never had negative comments about his
magical ability before.
“In conclusion,” Professor Alver had written, “I recommend that Jax takes
a temporary leave of absence from the Seminary after his assessment. Jax is a
brilliant magician, but he needs a change of scene to rediscover his enthusiasm
for life, and magic, and the future.”
A change of scene, thought Jax. Overwhelming relief made him close his
eyes for a second. When he looked at Revus, his father was smiling. “Alver is
right, isn’t he?” said Revus.
“I had my suspicions,” Revus went on. “But they weren’t confirmed until
your rather incredible suggestion a little while ago.”
Revus raised an eyebrow as he regarded his son, and Jax bit his cheek to
keep from grinning.
“I am told there is also a draft report from Professor Lenora for
Shannon,” said Revus. “It points out that she is trying too hard to prove via
excessive studying that the…” Revus paused. “Let me get this right. That the astonishing
and unprecedented power of her force field is not a risk. It is recommended
that you both take some time off.”
Shannon squeezed Jax’s hand, using the Communication Spell to share her
own relief. It was mixed with excitement and a little apprehension. Jax didn’t
hesitate to show her that his own feelings were much the same. “Together,” he
“Yes,” she agreed.
“Would you really have gone ahead with the internship?” asked Revus.
Jax glanced at Shannon, then back at his father. The memory of
disappointing the people he cared about wasn’t going to fade any time soon.
“Yes, Father. I would have done my best to see it through.”
Revus cleared his throat. “I’m very proud of you, Jax. You have nothing
to prove. Not to me or to anyone else.”
Jax’s green eyes widened. “Thank you,” he said.
“And Shannon?” said Revus. “I trust you.”
Shannon exhaled slowly. “I appreciate you saying that.”
“Go on, then,” said Revus. “I’m sure you both have somewhere you’d
rather be than in my office.”
“No offence, Father, but we do,” said Jax with a grin. “We really do.”
One week later, on Christmas Eve, Jax and Shannon were standing near the
top of a snowy mountain in Northern Finland. A little way behind them was the
tell-tale shimmer of an open portal. Below them, a waterfall tumbled down the
mountainside toward a large icy lake. Above them shone the Northern Lights in
vivid blues and greens, transforming the night sky into something magical.
“It’s like the whole sky is covered in an Illumination Spell,” said Jax,
his breath a cloud of white in the cold air. “If you told me it was magic, I’d
“I guess it depends on your definition of magic,” said Shannon. “The
Northern Lights are scientifically explainable. Who knows? Perhaps our force
fields will be the same one day.”
“Not mine,” said Jax.
“Of course not,” said Shannon. She laughed. “Science is no match for the
greatest underage magician the world has ever seen.”
Jax gave her his trademark mischievous grin. “You said it.”
Shannon put her hand into her pocket. “We should probably do this before
we freeze,” she said, taking out a small scroll tied with green-and-gold
“OK,” said Jax. He removed a folded note from his own pocket. The paper was
extremely creased and had a small tear down the middle. “Give me a minute,” he
said. His eyes glinted silver as he hastily projected a couple of spells to
turn the note purple—Shannon’s favourite colour—and transform it into a
perfectly-folded paper star.
“Nicely done,” said Shannon, grinning.
Having successfully passed their assessments with distinction, Shannon
and Jax had agreed they didn’t need or want the added stress of finding
Christmas gifts for each other. They’d spent the days leading up to the
twenty-fourth of December travelling the Terran world for fun. Now they were
about to exchange ideas on how they could spend their leave of absence. The aim
was to be creative but sensible.
Shannon unfolded her paper star. “Go to Imbera and see if we can find a
real dragon,” she read.
Jax untied his ribbon. “Convince Galen to give us the coordinates to one
of the other worlds,” he said slowly.
They looked at each other. Jax started laughing and a few seconds later
Shannon joined in.
“So much for sensible,” said Jax.
“Apparently you’re a bad influence,” said Shannon.
Before Jax could deny it, she kissed him, pushing her hands into his
hair and leaning in. Jax responded with enthusiasm. It would be an interesting
New Year no matter what they decided. But for now, there was only the snow, the
glimmering sky, and a perfect Christmas kiss.