“Maybe it’s the very presence of one thing—light or darkness—that necessitates the existence of the other.”
— Jessica Shirvington
Heroes and villains are typically defined in opposition. The hero becomes a hero because the villain gives them a reason to do something heroic. And villains make things interesting. They push other characters out of their comfort zones, forcing them to discover things that would otherwise remain hidden. Without conflict, there would be no story.
I’m at the beginning of a new book right now, and I find myself in need of a villain. When it comes to the writing process, I’m not a natural planner (unfortunately!) which means I discover each story one chapter at a time. But it helps if I have something to write toward, and that’s why I try to figure out the villain first.
Taking my most recent book as an example, Lost in Magic’s prologue introduces Averine and her father. I knew Averine’s father would be the villain Kellan ultimately had to face. However, I didn’t know the villain’s identity or how Kellan’s and Averine’s paths could possibly cross. Wanting to know the answer motivated me to keep writing.
It got me to wondering about the key ingredients that make for an interesting fictional villain. Of course, I’m not an expert, and I can only speak from my own experience, but my list includes the following four things:
What’s the villain’s endgame, and why are they pursuing it in the first place? In their eyes, their choices should be defensible. They are the protagonist of their own story, with an agenda that lends a certain logic to those choices, even if it doesn’t excuse them.
“I need to know what happened, but she can’t tell me. She’s too damaged. And if she could? Would it make a difference? Would I understand? Would I understand the depth of grief and fear that could’ve led her to take my entire life away from me?”
— Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon
Every hero deserves a worthy opponent, and a hard-won victory is a lot more satisfying. If the villain is so powerful that you can’t imagine how on earth the hero can ever beat them, then it sets the scene for something unpredictable and engaging.
“Rhen coughs again, wetly, and presses his forehead to the ground. He’s coughed up enough blood that a dark pool sits beneath his jaw. […] ‘Make your request,’ says Lilith. ‘I grow bored, girl. Rhen knows what happens when I grow bored.’ She jerks his head back and he makes a sound I never want to hear again.”
— A Curse so Dark and Lonely, Brigid Kemmerer
Determined villains drive the story. The stakes are raised when the audience knows a change of heart is impossible.
“The Darkling would not hesitate. He would not grieve. His darkness would consume the world, and he would never waver.”
— Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo
When there’s a heartfelt connection of some kind between the villain and the hero—be it family, or perhaps a former friendship, or a romance that ended badly—everything is more complicated. It gives the villain’s motive an extra edge, and it really puts the hero’s conviction to the test.
“Cinder studied her aunt. […] Her trembling lip and defeated shoulders. She was too exhausted for even her glamour. Too weak to fight anymore. A shock of pity stole through her. This miserable, awful woman still had no idea what it meant to be truly beautiful, or truly loved. Cinder doubted she ever would.”
— Winter (The Lunar Chronicles), Marissa Meyer
What makes for a memorable villain in your opinion? Would your list be different from mine? A great villain sets the stage for the hero to shine. A lot of my favourite books and movies became my favourites because of the villains as much as the heroes. And now I’m off to write a new prologue so I can discover another villain for my characters to face! Thank you very much for visiting my blog today 💕.
Under the trees
light has dropped from the top of the sky,
like a green
latticework of branches,
on every leaf,
drifting down like clean
A cicada sends
its sawing song
high into the empty air.
The world is
a glass overflowing
— Pablo Neruda
I have a small update about the Light Mage books, which gives me an excuse to post this beautiful poem about the magic of light. Because I already shared Spell Tracker from start to finish on this blog, I can’t put it into Kindle Unlimited the way I have with all of the Androva books, so I decided to make Spell Tracker and Spell Mason free to download in other sales channels (per the universal book links below).
The final book in the trilogy, Spell Master, is likely to be the next story I write, but I’m really excited to continue the Beyond Androva series too. Perhaps I’ll swap back and forth between them so I don’t have to choose! Thank you for visiting my blog today, and I hope you liked the poem 💕.
Tuesday, 8 June 2021
“There are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.”
― Leo Tolstoy
Love is an enigma. It can be the best thing that ever happened to you, or the worst. It’s impossible to plan for, and it can’t be controlled. I guess that’s why love is such an enduring theme in storytelling. It’s endlessly complicated.
I’m a hopeless romantic. I enjoy reading and writing stories where love shows up to challenge the protagonist. And love is on my mind right now as I consider which book to write next. It’s a choice between the fourth Beyond Androva story and the conclusion to the Light Mage trilogy. The former will begin with the love story that happened off the page in the previous Beyond Androva book, and it has a real ‘enemies to lovers’ vibe (fun to write!). The latter concerns two characters who deserve to find their way to a happy ending because they’ve been mad about each other almost since the day they met.
In the name of writing research, today’s post is a collection of ten beautiful poems about love. A few of them are famous, others are less well known, but they all capture something of the pain and joy that love can bring. And because I’m such a Shakespeare fan, he gets to open and close the list! I hope you enjoy the poetry, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today 💕.
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
— William Shakespeare
and if you are to love,
it does not steal the night —
it only unveils the beauty
of the dark.
— isra al-thibeh
and you call him quite in vain,
if it suits him not to come.
― Ludovic Halévy
What was that sound that came in on the dark?
What is this stance we take,
To turn away and then turn back?
What did we hear?
It was the breath we took when we first met.
Listen. It is here.
— Harold Pinter
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
— W. B. Yeats
So deeply I never thought I would
I love you
More than you will ever know
So much more than I can show
I love you
I believe in you and me
With all my heart until infinity
— Ann Hirsch
The world seems
when you are
next to me.
As though my senses
— Blake Auden
Into my heaped-up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can't help
Dimly seeing there,
And for drawing out Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find
— Roy Croft
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.
— William Shakespeare
Thursday, 3 June 2021
Saturday, 15 May 2021
Averine watched as the hint of golden light disappeared behind the mountain. Her last sunset. She had not made a habit of staring at sunsets before this one. And yet, when the fiery colours filled the sky, she felt a pang of regret, knowing she might not see them again. She set her jaw, pushing the emotion away. Regrets were manageable. Regrets wouldn’t keep her from the cure, but dying would.
Shadows gathered as the light faded, hiding the rocks and grass on the mountain’s slopes beneath a veil of darkness. She drew up her knees, looping her arms around them as she leaned into the corner of the window seat. The Gallium Dagger lay on the table where her father had placed it after creating the message she would leave behind. Its magical energy shone brightly in the gloom, reminding her that she was almost out of time. The Stasis Spell had to be applied tonight. Before the deadly mage-sickness attacking her body reached her heart.
With a sigh, she turned back to check the horizon. A breeze found its way through the partially open window, lifting the curtain of reddish-brown hair resting against her collar. The last of the light had gone. Averine reached to close the window, carefully pushing aside the sprawling blue leaves of the vines clinging to the exterior wall. Though much of the city was in ruins, her father’s house was still standing due to the extensive use of Protection Spells—a privilege of his position. It was hoped the imminent truce would enable rebuilding to begin. After forty years, the war was finally over. And everyone lost, thought Averine bitterly.
The door opened. It was time. She was trembling a little, but her fear did nothing to lessen her resolve. This was the only solution. To Averine’s disappointment, her father wasn’t alone. He was accompanied by the alchemist, Averine’s least favourite person by a considerable margin. Both of them were wearing titanium gloves that shone silver in the semi-darkness.
“What’s she doing here?”
“I’m not taking any chances with your life,” her father explained.
“It’s bit late for that,” said Averine.
“I know,” he said. His face tightened. “I am going to put this right, Averine. You will wake up, and you will survive. We will find a magician whose force field is undamaged to administer the cure.”
The alchemist smirked. “We’ll find them. Especially with that message of yours. Who could resist such a heartfelt cry for help?”
“Shut up,” said Averine fiercely.
“So authentic,” the alchemist continued. “No one would ever suspect.”
Averine’s eyes narrowed. “Suspect what?”
“Marath, don’t,” said her father with a scowl.
The alchemist, Marath, gave him an assessing look, her grey eyes expressionless. “Your father and I disagree on something.”
“On what?” said Averine. “Father?”
“He thinks we shouldn’t tell you the cure will kill the magician who administers it. I think we should. What’s your view?”
“Marath!” said her father.
“Is this true?” said Averine, backing away. “Is it?”
Marath didn’t answer. Averine’s father examined his shoes.
“Is it true?” Averine repeated, her voice raised.
Her father gave a heavy sigh. “It is. But you have to understand, the cure could save everyone. Half of the world is already dead. What’s one more life if we can save the rest?”
“Are you going to warn them?” said Averine.
The silence that followed her question was as good as any confirmation.
“I’m going to change my message,” said Averine. She turned to the table, and Marath and her father exchanged a glance of perfect accord, stepping forward together.
“I won’t let you send someone to their death without giving them all the facts. I have to—”
Averine broke off with a choking sound as Marath flicked a thin titanium rope around her neck and tightened it. Her father grasped her shoulders and dragged her to the table, pinning her to its surface while she kicked and arched her back in a desperate attempt to escape.
Marath picked up the dagger and held it to Averine’s struggling body. It burned her skin through the tailored grey shirt she wore, and she froze, her eyes wide and bloodshot. Marath didn’t hesitate. The second Averine stopped moving, Marath drove the dagger straight into her heart.
Friday, 23 April 2021
Time’s thievish progress to eternity.”
— Shakespeare, Sonnet LXXVII
1 A New Home
After swallowing the bitter-tasting remedy that would suppress my force field, I gathered every scrap of my remaining bravado and painted it across my features like a mask. I hoped it would last until I was alone. The one thing that could make today worse would be stepping into the Dimension Cell having shown my audience how scared I really was. Xytovia only knew how it had come to this. I swallowed again, willing my heart to stop beating so fast. The sensation of my magic dissolving was like an icy fog swirling inside my head, so cold it made my teeth ache.
With a little more flourishing than was strictly necessary, Hilton Vierre, the senior magician, adjusted his cuffs and prepared to create the necessary spell. He was a pompous fool. The accuracy of the symbols was what mattered, not how stylish his hand movements looked while he drew them. There were no reporters here. Who was he trying to impress? I glanced at his deputy, Ava Pationne, a tall dark-haired magician with refined features. Surely not.
Hilton lowered his arms, and the symbols glowed purple and silver where they’d been engraved at chest height on the bark of the largest tree. A shimmering doorway rose up from the dark-blue earth. I averted my gaze. I knew what was on the other side. The doorway led to an empty square chamber, ten feet wide by ten feet tall, sustained by the living magic in the trees, and magically programmed to exist in a never-ending time loop. It was the doorway to my future.
At least my family had remained in Vayl City. I was glad they weren’t permitted to make the trip into the xyleander woods to see my sentence carried out. It was a lot easier to hide my feelings now that I was alone with the six officiating magicians. My mouth curled. Six. That was twice the number they needed. Even if I put my mind to it, I couldn’t overpower more than two of them. No, they wanted to dine out on the story of how they were here when I walked through that door.
I had no false modesty about anything, and certainly not my magical ability or my notoriety. This day, the day I was to be finally imprisoned, had been kept secret from the citizens of Vayl because public opinion regarding my guilt remained divided, and the vote to condemn me had been passed with a majority of just two. I’d spoken passionately in my own defence, arguing that I was a victim of circumstance and not a criminal. There had been calls for a recount. There had been a petition signed by some very well-known citizens, magicians and cotidians alike. My face and my name were everywhere: in newspapers, on flyers. I’d heard someone was planning to write my biography.
The only recent likeness of me had been produced by Vayl City College a few months earlier in readiness for my graduation. If I’d known what the likeness would eventually be used for and how many people would see it, I would never have posed that way. Even to my own eyes, I looked arrogant, but I’d received a lot of letters expressing support. There had even been a few declarations of love.
During the rare moments we’d succeeded in ignoring the ongoing trial to talk about more ordinary things, my brother had teased me about the love letters. I’d pretended to be flattered, but in fact, I was more than a little annoyed. I hated being judged on the basis of my looks and a few sensational newspaper articles.
Recalling yesterday’s editorial in the Vayl City Chronicle, a publication known for its exaggerated headlines, I scowled. The reporters were not something I would miss. Kellan Bavois, his dark eyes flashing with a defiance undiminished by the long legal process, continues to protest his innocence. It is this reporter’s understanding that no further interviews will be granted before his imprisonment, though the Board of Mages refuses to confirm the date. Dare we hope that the authorities might listen to reason and give this intriguing young man the benefit of the doubt? Watch this space!
I was all out of hope. According to the laws of the land, a majority was a majority, no matter how small, and the board was determined to uphold those laws. I was going to be made an example of. My sentencing had been intentionally postponed by a week. A week during which I’d turned seventeen years of age and become eligible for the maximum one-hundred-year Dimension Cell term.
I stood straighter and tried to ignore the disorientation inside my head. For the first time in almost five years, I had no magic. I’d always used magic instinctively, right from the day my spark had ignited, and its loss was jarring, impacting my senses as if the world had gone dark or silent. When I tried to project my force field, the stupid dizziness increased. I curled my toes inside my boots and gritted my teeth, staring at the ground until my vision cleared.
As expected, the symbols stitched onto my shirt collar and cuffs had stopped glowing. My mother had created a complicated and unique design made from all of the various symbols that signified protection, ignoring me when I told her there was no point. Without my magic, they were nothing more than embroidered shapes.
It was early morning. Fat drops of water glinted on the waxy surface of the xyleander leaves, evidence of the overnight rainfall. There was a chill in the air and a pale quality to the daylight. Autumn sunshine slanted through the trees’ branches, highlighting their distinctive purple colour. Winter was a few weeks away.
There would be no seasons inside the cell, no colours, and no change in temperature. Each day would be spent surrounded by four blank walls and only my thoughts for company. Every morning I would be returned to the same moment. Over and over. Physically unchanged. Whereas outside the cell, time would continue to pass. I looked at the wet leaves, wondering if I would forget what purple looked like, or the way my favourite drink tasted, or the crunch of frost underneath my boots on a cold morning. What about my sister’s smile? My best friend’s terrible jokes? I scowled again. Don’t get emotional. Sentiment won’t help anything.
“Open your shirt pocket,” said Hilton.
“I was searched before we left,” I said. I pushed my black hair off my forehead. It was too long. Scheduling a haircut hadn’t seemed important.
“You misunderstand me,” said Hilton. He extended his hand, opening his fingers to reveal a small polished crystal, round and flat and sparkling with magic. Layers of intricate symbols had been carved into its centre, too many for me to decipher. His voice softened in an imitation of sympathy, but his eyes remained cold. “This goes into your pocket. Had you forgotten?”
I had. I stared at the Death Charm with sudden loathing.
“If you wouldn’t mind,” added Hilton, meeting my gaze. The man’s anticipation was almost palpable. He expected my resolve to crumble at the reminder of what I was facing.
“I wouldn’t mind at all,” I said, holding out my hand. Hilton made a tiny magical cut in the centre of my palm—enough to release one dark red drop of blood. He pressed the crystal against it, and I watched with morbid fascination as the crystal changed colour, giving off a steady hum of energy only I could feel. It set my teeth on edge. It made my stomach clench.
After the drop of blood had been absorbed, I tucked the Death Charm into my pocket with careful fingers. To my relief, I didn’t fumble the buttons, even though inside I was quaking. When I spoke, I kept my voice level. “It’s not as if I ever plan to use it.”
“Oh, we’ll see about that,” said Hilton.
I was so annoyed, I barely heard Ava’s disapproving murmur. “Hilton.”
There was no way I was going to let him get the upper hand.
“Who’s ‘we’?” I said. I hid my anger behind a small smirk. “You won’t. Not unless you plan to live to the age of…” I paused. “One hundred and seventy? Seventy-five?”
A flush of red climbed from Hilton’s neck onto his cheeks. His iron-grey hair seemed to bristle with indignation. “I’m forty-six,” he said.
I pretended to be shocked. “Excuse me. My mistake. Perhaps you’ve been working too hard. The stress of the trial and all. You’ll still be dead long before you find out what happens to me.”
“I don’t care what happens to you!”
Arching an eyebrow, I refrained from answering, choosing to let the man’s red face and raised voice speak for him.
“Enough,” said Ava. “Kellan Bavois, in accordance with the laws of Vayl, you have been tried and found guilty of the murder of your grandmother, Opal Bavois, and you will serve one hundred years in this Dimension Cell as punishment. The board grants you mercy in the form of a Death Charm. You may use the aforementioned charm to escape the cell at any time.”
I just managed not to scoff. Mercy. Right. Whatever helps you sleep at night.
“Do you wish to make a final statement for the record?” she asked.
I shook my head. You’ll be dead long before you find out what happens to me seemed like a decent enough parting shot. I was tempted to tell them I was innocent, but I’d said it many times already. It would make no difference. I wanted it to be over. I wanted to escape the semicircle of magicians with their curious eyes. This would be the last moment for a very long time when I could still choose for myself. Suddenly, it seemed important that I enter the cell of my own accord rather than at the request of Hilton Vierre. I turned on my heel to face the shimmering doorway, and after barely a second of hesitation, I walked through.
The chamber on the other side was quiet, unnaturally so. I huffed a quick breath, reassured when the sound emerged as normal. My mouth lifted in a wry smile. At least I could talk to myself.
Cautiously, I took a couple of steps, looking left and right and up and down. The walls were uniformly beige except for a faint shadow indicating where they met the floor and the ceiling. My neck and shoulders prickled as if I’d been touched by a spell, and I spun around to find that the doorway had disappeared. They hadn’t wasted any time.
I reached out a hand. The wall was cool, smooth, and depressingly solid. It felt like stone. It wasn’t, of course. It was magical energy that had been made to resemble stone, and I wouldn’t have been able to punch my way out even if the wall had looked and felt like tissue paper. But the stone ensured I would never mistake it for anything but the prison it was. It was lucky I’d never been claustrophobic, but even so, the lack of any visible exit was unnerving.
When I checked, I discovered the entire cell was the same. The floor was just as solid as the walls. Sleeping was going to be uncomfortable. I was dressed in a dark green shirt and a pair of black trousers, and I had no coat or sweater I could use for a pillow. I supposed I could choose to stay awake. After all, each morning the time loop would reset to the moment I’d entered. I wouldn’t age. I wouldn’t die from lack of sleep, or from thirst or starvation. I wouldn’t run out of air. My punishment was complete isolation and the knowledge that everyone I cared about would carry on living without me.
Dimension Cells were a new kind of magic. I was the third prisoner to have earned the rather dubious honour of inhabiting one, and the youngest, and the one with the longest sentence. Never let it be said that Kellan Bavois does anything by halves. I shook my head and pushed the thought away. I sounded like one of the newspaper editorials I hated. I paced the cell, getting to know its dimensions while checking in vain for weak spots with an occasional kick. The buckles on my boots clinked together.
I told myself I could do this. One day at a time.
— Meister Eckhart
After a long winter in lockdown, spring has almost arrived in South East England, and the later sunsets and warmer temperatures are very welcome 🌸. It feels like a good time for my annual blog post about stories with amazing beginnings. You know the ones I mean—stories that are immediately intriguing, and you just have to keep reading to find out what happens. Here are ten more YA books I added to my TBR list because I loved the way their stories opened. I hope you enjoy my choices, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today! I wish you happy reading for the rest of 2021 💕.
Writing update: Lost in Magic is going well and remains on track for publication in the first half of 2021. I hope to have a confirmed release date soon.
Friday, 19 February 2021
“The memory has as many moods as the temper, and shifts its scenery like a diorama.”
― George Eliot
This quote sums up the protagonist of my latest book in more ways than one! It’s a challenge to write a character whose perception of the world and himself shifts back and forth, especially when the setting is entirely fictional.
An imaginary world has few limitations when you’re making up the story as you go along. In one sense, unlimited options are great because you never run out of things to write about. However, the story still needs to hang together in terms of its mood, tone, and visual imagery. That’s when it helps to have an aesthetic. And, let’s be honest, they are a lot of fun to make!
Sunday, 24 January 2021
When the landscape is decorated in soft layers of ice crystals, it’s like a touch of natural magic. Everything looks different, and it feels as if anything is possible. Today's blog post comes from a very snowy South England, where the wintry weather in the woods reminds me of one of my favourite poems by Robert Frost.
Here are four poems, including Robert Frost’s masterpiece, that capture the mystery and wonder a little snow can bring. The photos were all taken this morning, and as you can see, my cat was happy to come exploring too! Thank you very much for visiting my blog today, and I hope you enjoy the poetry 💕.
Writing update: Lost in Magic is going well. Kellan is getting himself into a whole lot of trouble though!
It powders all the wood,
It fills with alabaster wool
The wrinkles of the road.
It makes an even face
Of mountain and of plain, —
Unbroken forehead from the east
Unto the east again.
It reaches to the fence,
It wraps it, rail by rail,
Till it is lost in fleeces;
It flings a crystal veil
― Emily Dickinson
Lovely and chaste like smooth white sand.
A veil of wonder laced in light
Falling Gently on a winter’s night.
Graceful beauty raining down
Giving magic to the lifeless ground.
Each snowflake like a falling star
Smiling beauty that’s spun afar.
Till earth is dressed in a robe of white
Unspoken poem the hush of night
― Linda A. Copp
Turning tree stumps into snow men,
And houses into birthday cakes,
And spreading sugar over lakes.
Smooth and clean and frosty white,
The world looks good enough to bite.
That’s the season to be young
Catching snowflakes on your tongue.
― Ogden Nash
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
― Robert Frost