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Read ‘The Key of Alanar’ Chapter Four: “The Gift”

This is the final chapter in an extended preview of The Key of Alanar! If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out the PrologueChapter One, Chapter Two and Chapter Three. Set ten years after the events of the opening chapters, this opens with a disturbing vision and sets up the core events of the book. It’s David’s nineteenth birthday and a gift is about to forever change his life–and the fate of an entire world…

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Chapter Four
THE GIFT

Year of Alejan, 15,009

David knew he was in mortal danger. The darkness was impenetrable and smothering, the air thick, musty and cold; the silence broken only by the drumming of his heartbeat and the uneven motion of his breath as it passed in and out of his body. 

Although now a young man on the verge of adulthood, David felt as vulnerable and defenseless as a child as he crouched down low, praying that he would remain unseen by whatever it was that pursued him. He could feel its presence all around, an ancient, primordial evil, lurking amid the blackness; reaching out, sensing, searching—for him. There was no escaping it. It was too strong, too powerful, and it was getting closer by the second. Closer and closer…

Overcome by desperation, David realized that he couldn’t give in to it. He had to do something: he had to try to escape. He picked himself up from the ground and began to run. Squinting in the dark, he could barely see more than an arm’s reach ahead, but he relied on every other sense, not least his intuition, to guide him. He got only a fleeting sense of the environment around him as he ran: cavernous, cold and forbidding.

The moment David started to move, he had made himself visible. Behind him the enemy’s minions gave chase. Demonic shadow men, they were little more than soulless husks, like corpses animated by whatever dark force was pursuing him.

Hastening his pace, David raced as fast and as far as he could until he was forced to stop dead in his tracks. The path ahead was obscured by a gaping abyss. There was nowhere left to go.

Staring ahead, he saw a figure appear on the other side of the chasm: a girl, illuminated by a pale white light. She was around his age, perhaps seventeen or eighteen, dressed in a blue-violet tunic and trousers, with dark locks of hair falling to her shoulders. She reached out her arm and called to him from across the abyss: “David!”

He didn’t know why, but she seemed intimately familiar to him, as though he’d seen her face a thousand times before. But where? Struggling to process his memories was like trying to piece together a thousand half-forgotten dreams. Whoever she was, he knew that she was there to help him. If he could just get to her…

But almost the moment he stopped his pursuers were upon him. He felt their nails digging into his skin, drawing blood as they grabbed hold of him and reeled him back. With deformed faces contorted with malice, their was skin pale, thin and blistered, and their eyes sunken, reddened and leaking pus. He tried to fight them off, to break free of their grasp, but they were too strong and they quickly overpowered him. A pair of bony hands grabbed his throat. He struggled as they tightened their vice-like grip.

As he choked, David felt a wave of darkness crawling over his skin, penetrating his body and mind, seeping into and overwhelming him. It consumed him from the inside out, like a cancer devouring him until there was nothing left but a void of blackness.

* * *

David sat bolt upright in bed, his skin covered in sweat and his chest heaving for breath. Disorientated, it took him a moment to realize where he was and what had happened.

A dream…it was only a dream. It had felt so real, the images and sensations so intensely vivid. His pulse racing, he felt nauseous and his throat was tight and constricted, as though someone had indeed been trying to strangle him.

He crawled out of bed, feeling as though he’d been mauled by a wild animal. Wiping a band of sweat from his forehead, he pulled back his curtain and peered out the window. It was still the middle of the night; the velvet black sky punctuated only by the twinkling of distant stars.

David lit an oil lamp and carried it through the house to the washroom. He set the lamp down by the basin and poured some water from the ceramic jug. Splashing his face with the cool water, he tried to wash away the nauseating sense of terror.

He dried off his face and hands and filled a large glass with water. He was about to take a sip when something caught his eye. It was his reflection in the mirror. Somehow drawn to it, he gazed into the mirror as if seeing his own reflection for the very first time: his tousled shoulder-length dark hair framing a tanned, square-set face, illuminated by the flickering lamplight. His glistening dark eyes seemed to draw him in, as if they were a gateway to a whole other dimension; a hidden world that seemed to promise answers to questions he hadn’t yet dared ask. He snapped out of his strange reverie when he inadvertently tipped his glass and spilled the water.

By now he felt calmer and the specifics of the nightmare that had so disturbed him slipped away like grains of sand through outstretched hands. Returning to the warmth of his bed, he was soon overcome by a wave of sleepiness and any lingering thoughts pertaining to his dream were dispelled as he drifted into an altogether more restful sleep.

* * *

David awoke to the sound of birdsong and rays of sunlight streaming through his window. As he got up, washed and dressed, he could recall vague fragments of a disturbing dream he’d had during the night. But before long it was relegated to the back of his mind as he began to anticipate the day ahead. It was a special day, for it was his nineteenth birthday, and it would be a busy one too. As it was harvest season, he’d spend the morning laboring in the fields. It wasn’t a job he particularly enjoyed, but all the islanders worked together to assist the farmers, such being the ethos of life in the community.

It was the afternoons that David truly lived for. That was when he worked with Janir, training as his apprentice. From the moment he’d first met Janir all those years ago, David had been determined to spend as much time with him as possible and to learn all that he could about him. He was delighted when Janir had accepted him as his apprentice and his training had begun about a year ago. Thus far his lessons had been fairly rudimentary. Janir had educated him in the uses of various herbs and roots in medicinal application and given him lessons in physiology, nature and methods of healing. All of this interested him, but David was certain that the truly fascinating lessons were yet to come. He was convinced that Janir’s knowledge extended far beyond the mixing of herbal remedies.

Letting out a yawn, David put on a sleeveless white shirt, buckled the belt around the waist of his black trousers and reached down to lace up his boots. Ready for the day ahead, he went through to the kitchen where his mother was preparing first meal. She looked up, the corners of her eyes creasing as she smiled. “Good morning David, and happy birthday!” Arms outstretched, she reached out and gave him a warm hug.

“Thank you.”

“Nineteen years old,” she said proudly. “I can hardly believe it.”

Of course it wasn’t his real birthday, for that was as much an unknown as the place of his origin. Rather it was the anniversary of the day his father had found him on the mainland. “What are we having for first meal?” he asked.

“Your favorite, of course: junjat with olak. But first, I have something for you.”

Jesanda picked up a wooden box from the table. David looked at with curiosity, wondering what could be inside. Jesanda opened the box and held it out for him to see. It was an amulet: a turquoise crystal shaped like a half moon, attached to a silver chain. The smooth, transparent stone was engraved with a symbol: what looked like half a star, suggesting the amulet was incomplete, that it had been broken in half. “What is it?”

“When you were a baby,” Jesanda began awkwardly, “when your father found you in the forest of Senrah, this was the only possession you had with you aside for the blanket you were wrapped in. You were wearing it around your neck, although of course it was far too big for you at the time.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about it before?”

“Your father and I decided to safe-keep it for you until you were old enough. We both agreed that on your nineteenth birthday you’d have come of age to receive this part of…your inheritance.”

David didn’t know what to say. He was fascinated by this missing link to his past. He was also a little annoyed that it had been kept from him all these years. It was his, after all. Yet another secret kept from him. But he could see how difficult this was for his mother. She had never been comfortable when it came to discussing his true origin and this was clearly a difficult occasion for her. Deciding not to make it any harder on her, he set aside his grievance.

“Maybe I should have given it to you sooner, I don’t know,” Jesanda said, as if having read David’s mind. “It’s been difficult knowing how best to deal with things. But you’re nineteen years old. You’re a young man now. And this belongs to you.”

Jesanda held out the box. David reached over and picked it up. The moment he touched the amulet a jolt of electricity surged through his body. He yelped and staggered back, dropping it to the ground.

“What happened?” Jesanda gasped, reaching out to steady him.

David looked down at the amulet, lying upon the floor at his feet. “I don’t know. When I picked it up, I felt this…surge…”

“That’s never happened before.”

He reached down to pick it up. At first he was cautious, testing to make sure it wouldn’t shock him again. Fortunately it didn’t, but as he lifted it he noticed something strange. “Look! It’s changed color.” The stone had changed from its original turquoise to a deep violet with dashes of sapphire.

“That’s never happened before either…”

David was baffled and intrigued by the object. It was almost as though it was alive. He wanted to know everything about it; what it was, what it symbolized and why it had been left as his sole possession in the world. Jesanda however seemed unnerved by it. It was alien to her and served as a pointed reminder that so too was her son. It represented a part of him that she’d spent many years trying to forget, perhaps for fear that she might one day lose him. “Do you want me to put it somewhere safe for you?” she asked, holding out the box.

David shook his head. “No, I want to wear it.” He undid the clasp on the silver chain and handed it to her.

“Are you sure? What if it shocks you again?”

“I’ll take that chance.”

With a barely concealed frown, she took the amulet and fastened it around his neck. David looked down at the crystal hanging over his heart and felt a measure of excitement. It was as though he’d been reunited with a missing part of himself.

Swept up in the moment, he failed to heed an ominous feeling deep inside. On some unconscious level he knew that the moment he’d taken possession of the amulet, some kind of danger had been stirred: a danger that would soon catch up with him, with devastating consequences.

* * *

By the time David left the house, the suns were already blazing against a clear lilac sky. The air was fresh and invigorating, scented with the late-season blossom of the tuanya trees lining the streets of this, the island’s east side. Proudly wearing his amulet, David made his way to work, passing through the centre of town and taking the road leading off to the farm.

“David,” he heard a voice call from behind. Turning around he saw his friend Darien. Darien was about four years older than David and was one of the most popular young men on the island, a fact largely accountable to his roguish charm and lithe good looks. Taller and more muscular than David, Darien had long black hair tied into a ponytail, mischievous dark eyes and an air of confidence and self-assuredness that people found either endearing or arrogant.

“You’re actually on time for once?” David laughed mockingly. “What’s farmer Doran going to think? Something must be terribly wrong with the world if Darien’s on time for work.”

“I wouldn’t want to get myself a reputation for being predictable now, would I?” Darien shrugged as he caught up with David. “So birthday boy, how does it feel to be nineteen years old?”

“I don’t know, it feels good.”

“What’s that?” Darien motioned to David’s amulet.

“A present from my mother.” David held up the amulet. “Apparently, this was the only possession I had when I was found in the forest of Senrah as a baby.”

“Nice,” Darien said, raising an eyebrow. “You know you’re bound to attract the girls’ attention with that. Even if it’s only because they’ll be jealous of it.” As Darien laughed, something caught his attention. “Speaking of girls…look.” Ahead of them, a young woman appeared from  one of the side-paths leading from the farm house, carrying a wicker basket. Darien’s eyes lit up. “It’s Janna!”

Janna was the life-long object of Darien’s affections and it wasn’t difficult to see why. Even when wearing only simple overalls she had the ability to turn heads, for she possessed a captivating, exotic beauty. With wavy blonde hair, she had a tanned complexion that accentuated her alluring blue-green eyes. David didn’t know that much about Janna other than the fact she was around Darien’s age and worked in her father’s bakery in the town square. David recognized some traits in her that he could relate to himself, particularly from his childhood. She seemed quite shy and spent most of her time alone. While she was friendly and polite, she clearly disliked being the centre of attention and spent much of her time trying to fade into the background. Perhaps she would have been more successful had she not been blessed by a beauty that drew attention rather than deflected it.

“I’m going to ask her,” Darien said.

“Ask her what?”

“What do you think? If she’ll go to the Festival dance with me!”

“I’ll believe that when I see it. You’ve been saying you’re going to ask her for weeks now.”

“And I will. I’ve just been waiting for the right opportunity,” Darien whispered. He grinned boyishly as Janna approached. “Good day, Janna!”

“Good day,” she replied with a slight air of nonchalance.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

David smiled politely and, taking Darien’s lead, stopped to talk to her. Janna didn’t seem particularly keen to engage in conversation, but nonetheless felt obliged to stop. “Yes,” she replied, looking up at the cloudless purple sky.

“So what are you doing this morning?” Darien asked.

“I’ve been doing some deliveries for my father. And you?”

“David and I are just on our way to the farm. We’re working in the fields again today. It’s been really busy with harvest and all.”

Though David was by no means an expert on girls himself, he knew that such banal small talk was not the way to win a woman’s heart, especially a woman who posed as much of a challenge as Janna. Darien was going to have to try a lot harder than this. “It’s the Festival next week,” Darien blurted. “I was wondering if you would…if you would like to go to the dance with me?”

There was an awkward pause as she considered her response. “Thanks for the offer,” she said with a genuine smile. “But I never go to the dance.”

Darien however was not going to give up without a fight. “But you really have to make an exception this year. You’ll enjoy it! I promise you.”

“Is that so?” she said. “What makes you so sure?”

“Because I’ll be with you!”

Janna smiled and rolled her eyes, which probably wasn’t the reaction Darien was hoping for. “You never give up, do you?”

“Oh, I give up. Just not when I’m so close to achieving victory.”

For a moment, David could see that Janna was actually considering Darien’s offer, as if part of her was tempted to say yes. But ultimately something stopped her and whilst her final answer was delivered gently, it was nonetheless resolute. “I appreciate the offer, but the dance isn’t my kind of thing. I hate big gatherings. I’m sure you’ll have no problem finding someone else to go with.” She paused for a moment. “If you’ll excuse me, I really have to get back to work. Have a good day.”

“You too,” replied a crestfallen Darien.

Janna smiled apologetically and set on her way. “Don’t worry,” David tried to console his friend. “She’s right, you will find someone else.”

“But I don’t want anyone else. I want her. And I haven’t given up on her yet.”

“Come on, we’d better be going.”

“Have you found a date for the dance yet?” Darien asked as they started walking.

“Didn’t I tell you? I asked Cara yesterday and she said yes.”

“So what do you have that I don’t have?” Darien frowned.

David shrugged. “I suppose I just don’t set my sights on impossible goals.”

“I don’t believe in impossibility. I’ll win her over in the end, you’ll see. I guess I just need to readjust my strategy.”

“You don’t have a strategy…”

“Yeah, and what would you know about it?”

“What would I know? I’m the one with a date.”

“Let’s just get to the farm, all right?” Darien huffed as they continued down the road. “My day’s off to a bad enough start without you making it worse.”

* * *

The morning passed quickly, with David in high spirits. His thoughts kept returning to the amulet. It was a link to a world he had long dreamt of as a child. As he’d grown up and made a life for himself on the island, it was a dream he’d more or less abandoned. The practicalities of day-to-day life and his responsibilities on the island had served as a barrier to his dream of setting out into the world and finding his true home. And after all, he’d come to accept where he was and what his life was to be. His romanticized childhood fantasies had long ago been set aside. Yet this amulet served as a reminder of who he really was and had reawakened an old yearning to unravel the mystery of his existence.

Farmer Doran provided refreshments at midday, after which the morning workforce finished up and left to attend their other duties. All able-bodied islanders had a job; a person’s vocation usually determined by the family line of work. For instance, Darien came from a family of fishermen and it was a job he loved; indeed, he wasn’t truly at home unless he was out at sea. Most people were happy to follow in the family tradition, although some opted for a different line of work. David was one such example. When Janir arrived on the island he quickly became renowned for his skills as a healer and following the death of Sania some years back, had been appointed the island’s head physician. David was honored to be have been accepted as Janir’s first and so far only trainee.

After making plans to meet up at night for his party, David said farewell to Darien. He hurried through the Sharedo forest and down to the eastern shore of the island, where Janir still resided in one of the caves. Although the island council had offered him a ‘proper house’ on several occasions, Janir had stubbornly refused, insisting that he was perfectly content with his current dwelling. The cave suited him well and was a home that he had made quite his own. He’d explained to David that it made him feel connected with nature and also provided him with a solitude he relished.

“Janir,” he called as he entered the cave, eager to show Janir the gift from his mother, wondering if he might recognize where it came from.

Janir was nowhere to be seen. As David surveyed the cave he was again struck by what an alluringly otherworldly and mystical place it was. Lit by a number of oil lamps and candles, the shadows of the furniture and decor danced across the stone walls, which were draped with tapestries and the rainbow silk that had always mesmerized David. Alongside various trinkets and ornaments from far-off lands, crystals, geodes and bouquets of flowers provided vibrant bursts of life along the tables and shelves.

Assuming that he was in the back compartment of the cave, David peered through and found Janir sitting cross-legged upon the ground, cradling a spherical metal object in his hands. It was the arcane timepiece he had been working on for several weeks. Janir seemed entranced by the rhythmic swing of the pendulum. Sensing David’s presence, he looked up. “David,” he said. “Forgive me, I must have lost track of time.” He stood up, placed the timepiece upon a nearby table and took a deep breath.

“Is everything all right?” David asked, noticing that Janir seemed out of sorts. For a start, it was most unlike him to have lost track of time. Janir was ordinarily a man two steps ahead of time.

“I don’t know,” Janir said, narrowing his eyes. “Something isn’t right. Something has changed…”

“What?”

“I can’t tell yet. But it’s something important. I could see it in the stars, I could sense it in the darkness and I can feel it in the air. It’s subtle as of yet, but even the subtlest of changes can yield the most far-reaching of consequences…”

David had no idea what Janir was talking about and he knew that he wasn’t likely to be more forthcoming anytime soon. So he opted to change the topic of conversation. “Do you notice anything different about me today?”

It took Janir a moment to refocus his thoughts and notice the crystal around David’s neck. David watched as Janir’s eyes fixed upon the amulet. He remained silent as he moved closer to inspect the talisman, cautiously lifting it up, drinking in every last detail. “Where did you get this?” he asked in a hoarse whisper.

Janir listened as David explained the story behind the object. “So what do you think? Do you recognize it?”

“I don’t know,” Janir said, still unable to take his eyes off the amulet.

“Have you seen it before?” David pressed. “Or anything like it?”

“No. No, I’ve never seen craftsmanship of the like.”

But David knew that he was holding something back. Janir raised his hand to his forehead and ran it over his greying hair, which was tied behind his neck in tight plaits. David studied his face, desperately trying to gauge what he was thinking. His forehead was creased and his eyes distant. “How could I actually have forgotten?” he whispered to himself before turning his attention back to his young protégé. “David, I need some time to meditate on this. We will discuss it later.”

“Why not now?”

“It is not the place of a student to question his mentor. I need some time alone. I must find the answers before I can possibly hope to share them.”

David nodded in reluctant compliance. “When will I come back?”

“Shall we say tomorrow afternoon, same time as usual?”

“But you’ll be at my birthday celebration this evening, won’t you? It’s in the town square. Everyone is coming.”

“Oh…yes. Yes, I shall try to make it,” Janir responded. But David could see that his mind was elsewhere.

Without another word, David bowed before his teacher and departed, confused and discontented by his reaction. Trudging his way back through the forest, his eyes were drawn back down to the violet crystal. He hadn’t known what Janir would have to say about it, but he hadn’t anticipated such a strange reaction. Janir seemed shocked, even scared by it—and David had never seen Janir scared by anything.

* * *

The taste was bitter. Nevertheless Janir chewed and swallowed the perota root. It had been many years since he had last traversed the inner planes and he felt the need of a medicinal aide. He soon felt the effects of the drug as it coursed through his nervous system. He assumed his meditative posture and, closing his eyes, tried to focus his mental energy upon reaching the gates of Shanadon.

And, soon enough…

His mind became the universe…

And the universe became his mind.

“Welcome back, Janir,” he heard an echoing voice.

Janir found himself on an endless stretch of beach. Beneath the cloudless lilac sky the tide was far out, the water a glorious cobalt blue, the sand luminous golden-white, each grain shining as though it was a whole world of its own. In front of him appeared Delei, his guide. She looked just as he remembered her: radiant and ethereal, draped in flowing white robes, her silver hair cascading over slender shoulders. Yet there was something different about her. She exuded anxiety and concern, two emotions he would previously have thought as being antithetical to her very nature. “It has been a long time,” she said.

“It has. For which I apologize…”

“You tried to ignore it. You tried to forget. Only now you can do so no longer. The time has come, Janir.”

“For what…?”

“The endgame: the final battle in a war that has been waged for countless eons across innumerable universes. The end draws near. Victory or defeat will soon be decided.”

“Then it’s true, isn’t it? The prophecies were correct. He is the one…”

“You already know this to be true.”

“Yes, I suppose I’ve known it all along. As I settled into to life on the island it became all too easy to forget; to forget the things I’d been told and to ignore what was standing right before me. But when I saw him with the Key, I knew I could no longer deny the truth, or hide from the inevitable. Please, Delei, tell me…tell me what I must do; tell me what I need to know…”

“Ten years have passed since you left the outer lands behind. In that time much has changed…”

Janir saw images flash before him: images of places and lands he had once known, including Taribor, his homeland. A spiraling black cloud engulfed the cities and towns in a pall of darkness. He saw the soldiers of the enemy—bleak, terrifying and inhuman—marching across the land…armies numbering in their tens of thousands…massive airships looming over the cities, obscuring the suns…processions of troops trampling through the towns, weapons in hand, killing anyone who stood in their way. A feeling of terror accompanied the images: stark, primal fear, exacerbated by the helplessness of defeat…

“The Alliance has continued its conquest of the inhabited territories,” Delei told him. “Its power has grown exponentially in terms of territory, military strength and technological advancement. They stand on the verge of world domination. But as you know, world domination is not enough; and the Alliance is but the instrument of a much darker force. Alanar is being torn apart, Janir. There is only one hope…”

“David…?”

“Yes. The Key has been awakened—and they know it has. They have been silently lurking in the shadows for centuries, waiting for this moment, watching for this signal. Now they know that the Key exists they will find it…and soon. Danger stirs and it will not take long for that evil to find what it seeks.”

“What must I do?”

“Prepare. Events have been set in motion to assist you along your path. You must wait until you receive the appropriate signal and then follow the directions you are given. You must trust us implicitly, Janir. Everything depends upon it.”

* * *

David relied on the moonlight to guide him along the darkened forest path. His birthday celebration was now over and everyone had gone home, their bellies full after a hearty meal and their spirits satisfied following a night of song and dance. Not every birthday was celebrated in such a manner but one’s nineteenth was considered a significant occasion, marking the true onset of adulthood. It was therefore customary for family and friends to gather for a big celebration: one with plenty of food, drink and merriment.

Jesanda had pulled out all the stops to ensure that the party was a success and David had thanked her for such an enjoyable evening. He had eaten all he could manage, drank perhaps a little too much wine, received a number of wonderful gifts and had fun sharing stories and laughter with his friends and fellow islanders. No so long ago he’d have found being the centre of such a social gathering uncomfortable and awkward, but the fact he had enjoyed it so much highlighted just how much he’d relaxed into island life.

His only disappointment was that Janir had failed to turn up. David had mentioned the party to him several times now and he had agreed to attend. It was unlike him either to forget or to go back on his word. Given his puzzling behavior earlier that day, David was concerned. So, as his mother and the others headed home, David decided to go and check on him. Something wasn’t right; he could sense it. Janir’s mysterious behavior and cryptic comments began to play on his mind.

All around him the trees stretched up like tall sentinels, the canopy of leaves waving in the evening breeze. The stars sparkled like static fireflies in the sky, alongside the moon, a silver orb that bathed the forest below in a translucent glow. Aside for the rustling of the trees and the cooing of a distant owl, silence pervaded.

Striding through the forest, David began to feel as though someone was watching and listening amid the silence; straining to catch every last whisper in the breeze. It’s just because it’s dark, he chastised himself. Don’t be such a child.

But rationale failed to placate the uneasy feeling in his belly. As he quickened his pace, he heard a noise. There was someone here. Their presence was unmistakable. He could feel eyes drilling into the back of his head. He spun round, but there was nothing to see. Hastening his speed, he again heard a noise behind him: footsteps crunching on the fallen leaves carpeting the forest floor.

Someone was following him.

He began to run. But in the darkness he could barely see where he was going and, his senses dulled by one too many glasses of wine, he tripped on a stray log and came crashing to the ground.

As he looked up he caught sight of his pursuer: a man, unrecognizable in the shadows, bearing down on him. David recoiled, but his assailant reached down and grabbed his arm, yanking him off the ground.

Unsteady on his feet, David tried to free himself, but the man held him firm. A wave of dread swept over him as his eyes settled on the man’s face. David had never seen him before. Whoever he was, he did not belong on New Haven.


It doesn’t end there! The story has only just begun. The Key of Alanar is now available to buy on Amazon and multiple retailers in both paperback and ebook format. Visit the official launch page for buy links, background information and much more! ad2

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Read The Key of Alanar, Chapter Two: “The Storm”

The preview of ‘The Key of Alanar’ continues. In case you missed them, you can still read the Prologue and Chapter One. Picking up where the first chapter left off, young David had decided to flee the island that has been his home as far back as he can remember, in search of his true home and true family. Storm clouds are gathering, however…

stormy

Chapter Two
THE STORM

Had he not been blinded by the impetuousness of youth and the emotional turmoil that clouded his judgement, David would have known to heed the warning signs and at the very least postpone his departure. But instead he turned a blind eye to the ever-darkening skies and the imminent storm that was brewing.

The rain fell lightly at first, but it wasn’t long before it lashed down in torrents, filling the bottom of the boat, stinging his skin and soaking him from head to foot. He wasn’t far from the island when the storm swept in and a blanket of cloud enveloped him, obscuring visibility. The wind howled and the waves took on a nightmarish life of their own, thrashing against the boat and further drenching the panic-stricken boy. He clung to the wooden hull, frozen by fear as the boat lurched from side to side. He didn’t know what to do except hold on tight.

The storm intensified. The wind screamed its howling wail as waves pummeled the boat. Nauseous and dizzy, David could barely see anything as the oars were snatched off the boat. He was helpless and entirely at the mercy of an opponent he could never have imagined would pose such a virulent threat: nature itself.

As the boat filled with water, David knew that it would only be a matter of time before it sank, capsized or was ripped apart by the waves. Whatever happened, he would surely drown, for there was no way he could hold his own against the might of this foe.

Please. Someone help me…!

Wave after wave crashed over him. He choked, coughing up the salty water, still clinging with all his might to the battered vessel. Though unable to think clearly, one thought flashed through his mind and it was a thought of disbelief: This can’t be the end. Can it?

David was uncertain how long he spent clinging to the boat, eyes closed as the waves and rain lashed over him. Time blurred; each moment stretching into an eternity. He veered between hopelessness and desperation, praying—to who or what he didn’t know—that he’d be okay. Pleading, begging, willing to do anything just to survive…

Perhaps someone or something was indeed listening to his prayer, because something remarkable happened to change his fortune. At first he thought it was his imagination, but he became aware of a light, some way off, piercing the veil of darkness. Yes, it was definitely a light of some kind and it was getting brighter! It was soon accompanied by a voice, shouting above the roar of the storm—a voice calling his name. “David!”

He could barely believe his eyes when he saw a boat emerge through the screen of rain, mist and water. It was one of the island’s fishing boats; a vessel larger and sturdier than his rowing boat, but still taking a beating from the storm.

“David!” This time he recognized the voice. It was his father, Jon. His father had come to rescue him! But how? What was he doing out here? Squinting to see through the dim light, he could make out a handful of men on deck, frantic in their efforts to steady the boat. Two men stood on the edge of the deck, one brandishing a mysterious light that cut through the darkness like a knife. The other man, who David quickly realized was his father, called out to him: “David, can you hear me?”

“Yes!”

“David! You have to listen to me! I’m going to throw you a line. You have to catch it. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” David spluttered, spitting out a mouthful of water as another wave crashed over him.

But what sounded like a simple task was altogether more complicated in the eye of the storm. The first attempt to pass the rope was a misfire. Despite Jon’s best effort to throw the line, the wind and rain deflected his aim and the rope doubled back and smacked against the side of the fishing boat. Taking heed, Jon tried to coincide his next effort with a lull between gusts of wind. Sure enough, it was a more successful throw, but he still missed his aim and the rope landed in the water. Jon reeled it in and made several more attempts before David successfully caught it. “I’ve got it,” he shouted to his father, keeping a tight grasp of the rope with one hand, clinging onto the hull of the boat with the other.

“Tie it to the mooring ring at the bow! Make it tight!”

David edged his way to the metal lock at the front of the boat. The waves continued striking the boat, rocking it precariously, forcing him to struggle to keep his balance as wall after wall of ice cold water crashed over him. By now the bottom of the boat was full of water. David knew the vessel wouldn’t withstand much more of this assault.

In these conditions, a simple task like tying a rope to the boat was anything but easy. His hands were numb and he could barely see through the stinging rain. He fumbled desperately as he tried to tie down the rope. He eventually managed to tie a knot, which he doubled up and checked and rechecked. “I’ve done it!” he called back to his father, still incredulous that his father of all people had come to rescue him.

“We’re going to pull you in,” Jon shouted. Aided by the other men on deck, Jon was about to reel in the boat when the storm struck out with its most brutal outburst yet.

David bore the brunt of it. Although it happened at dizzying speed, time somehow splintered and David experienced it in agonizing slow motion. An immense wave exploded over the boat. Losing his grip, David was swept back as the boat split in two; his body slamming hard against the hull. As the boat lurched again, David was rammed forward, his head colliding with the edge of the bow. The last thing he was aware of was a sharp pain and choking as icy water filled his lungs. His consciousness ebbed away and everything went dark.

He awoke with a sense of drowsiness and disorientation. His head was throbbing and his body aching all over. He had no idea where he was or how long he’d been unconscious. He found himself on an unfamiliar bed with a blanket draped over him. His water-soaked clothes had been removed and he was wearing an oversized shirt.

Despite the struggle to move, he propped himself up and looked around. The rocky walls were those of a cave, but this wasn’t just any cave. Tapestries and fabrics of shimmering rainbow color adorned the craggy walls, bringing what would otherwise have been a dank cave to entrancing life. An assortment of potted plants and flowers lined the chamber, providing dashes of green, blue and red. A stack of unpacked crates lay against the far wall alongside an old wooden table. David’s eyes were drawn to the tabletop, which contained a number of exotic-looking artifacts including crystals of varying sizes and colors and a collection of glass jars containing herbs and liquids. A dozen or so white candles illuminated the cave.

“I see you are awake.”

David jumped, startled by the unfamiliar voice. A man stepped out of the shadows and into the flickering candlelight. David stared at him in surprise. It was someone he’d never seen before. Carrying himself with dignity and elegance, the man was perhaps in his mid to late forties, tall and of average build; his face rugged yet kind, a tanned complexion accentuating his emerald eyes. He wore a neatly-trimmed beard and his long, greying hair was tied back in plaits. His style of clothing was different to that of New Haven. He wore a navy tunic and trousers with a long dark grey cloak fastened at the neck by a gold broach. Whoever he was, he exuded gentleness, power and a foreignness that intrigued David. “How are you feeling?” the stranger asked as he drew closer.

“A bit dizzy…my head hurts,” David croaked in response. “Where am I?”

“Somewhere safe,” the man said as he pulled an empty crate alongside the bed and sat down upon it. “Do you remember what happened?”

Making an effort to gather his thoughts, David cast his mind back. “The storm. I was caught in the storm…” It all came back to him. “But my father was there. He was trying to rescue me…I can’t remember anything after that. What happened?”

“You lost consciousness. We managed to pull your boat in. By that time the storm had begun to subside and your father managed to get you aboard.”

“So you were on the boat with my father?” David asked. The man nodded. David could stave off his curiosity no longer. “Who are you?”

“My name is Janir.”

“Where are you from? I’ve never seen you before. And where are we?”

“This is my new home,” Janir replied. “I arrived on your island only a few days ago. Your island council granted me sanctuary. I came from a land far from here.”

David felt as though he’d been struck by lightning. Could it really be true? Could he finally have met someone from the outer lands? What was he doing on New Haven? Where was he from? What was life like out there? He had a thousand questions…

As if sensing David’s racing mind, Janir smiled and held up a hand. “There will be time to discuss everything later. I am a healer. We brought you here so I could treat your injury. Your parents are waiting for you outside. I imagine they will be eager to see you.”

Janir stood up and was about to leave, when David stopped him. “Wait. It was you I saw yesterday at the edge of the forest, wasn’t it? You were watching me. I saw you out of the corner of my eye but when I turned a split second later, you were gone.” He narrowed his eyes, his forehead creasing as he stared up at the stranger. “What were you doing there? Why were you watching me?’

Janir paused a moment, as if considering how to respond. “Yes, I happened to be in the vicinity,” he admitted. “And I noticed you standing on the hilltop. You seemed upset. I was concerned about you.”

David knew that there was more to it than that. As if piecing together a puzzle, he was struck by a sudden realization: “You knew—you knew what I was planning! That I was going to leave the island. It must have been you that told my father and brought him to rescue me…?”

Janir said nothing. An enigmatic smile played across his lips and his eyes twinkled in the candlelight. “Your parents are here to take you home. You have a concussion and will need to rest for a few days, but you will be fine.”

“Will I see you again?”

“Yes, I will drop by to check on you,” Janir said as he disappeared back into the shadowy tunnel.

“Wait,” David called after him, but he was gone. There was still so much he wanted to know. He couldn’t believe it. Aside from the the Alazan merchants that traded with the island, Janir was the first outlander that David had ever met.

“David,” he heard his mother’s voice. Looking up, he saw both her and his father entering the cave. Jesanda raced over to the bed and embraced him with such force that it almost knocked the breath out of him. “Oh David, thank the twin suns,” she exclaimed as she continued to hold him. He relished her embrace; it was almost as though he could feel her love and affection washing over him as well as her elation at seeing him unharmed.

“David, we were worried to death,” his father said. It showed on their faces too. His father looked particularly strained: his broad-set face pale and drawn and his sandy-brown hair disheveled and damp.

David felt a surge of guilt at knowing he had been the cause of their pain. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

His father, who had also changed his clothes and was wearing a tunic and trousers similar to the clothing worn by Janir, reached out and wrapped his arms around his son. “I thought we were going to lose you,” he said as he pulled back, a slight wheeze in his voice as he spoke. “You’ve no idea how scared we were.”

“David,” Jesanda began awkwardly. “What were you doing? In the boat, I mean. Where were you going?”

Part of him was tempted to lie. He didn’t know if he had the strength to deal with this particular confrontation right now. Yet it was something that had been ignored, denied and repressed for too long. Now was the time to finally get it into the open and deal with it. “I was leaving,” he said bluntly.

“Why?” Jesanda’s eyes widened.

“Because I don’t belong here.”

It was his father that responded, perhaps a little too defensively. “What are you talking about? Of course you do.”

“No, I don’t,” David said, his voice rising. He could feel the fire in his belly as he looked up at them. “Don’t lie to me! I know…

Silence followed. David averted his eyes, shifting his gaze to the silk tapestry on the wall across the from the bed. There was nothing more he could say now. All he could do now was wait for them to respond. It was Jesanda that spoke first. “David…” she whispered, her eyes welling with tears.

Jon put his arm around her and looked down at David. “Who told you?”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s true, isn’t it?”

Jesanda reached out to take his hand. “David, we never intended you to find out, not like this. Not until you were older.”

“But I had a right to know. And in a way I always have known. I’ve always felt like I’m an outsider, like I’m not really welcome here…”

“That’s not true. You’re our son and we love you.”

“No.” He pulled his hand back from her. “I’m not your son—not really. I need to know the truth. I need to know who I am.”

Again there was a long silence in which the only sound David could hear was the beating of his own heart. It was almost a relief when the silence was broken by his father. “Very well, David. We were going to tell you this when you were older. But it seems the time has come sooner than we’d anticipated…”

“Jon,” Jesanda interrupted, turning to him pleadingly. There was fear in her misty brown eyes; the fear of losing her only son. But she knew that the truth could be withheld no longer so she acquiesced, letting Jon continue. There was no going back now.

“Eight years ago I was part of a trade expedition to the mainland,” Jon said as David listened intently. “We met the Alazan traders at our rendezvous in the forest of Senrah. Everything went as planned and we the exchanged goods as usual. Afterward, when we were on our way back to the shore we heard something in the forest. At first I thought it was the call of some forest animal, but as it got louder we realized it was the cry of an infant. We followed the noise to its source and found, lying in a clearing and wrapped in a golden shawl…a baby.”

“Me,” David whispered.

Jon nodded. “Yes. To this day we don’t know who left you there or why. We spent hours searching, but there was no one within a radius of several miles. Eventually darkness began to fall. We knew we couldn’t leave you alone in the forest, so we took you with us back to New Haven. We returned to the mainland for the next few days, looking for signs of whoever might have left you. But there was nothing. It was a mystery.”

“So someone abandoned me…? Why would they do that?”

Jesanda sat down on the edge of David’s bed. “We asked ourselves that a thousand times, David. But the truth is we may never know.”

“What happened then?”

“Well, obviously someone had to take care of you,” Jon said. “Your mother and I longed to have children, but we were unable…”

“Until fate delivered a beautiful little boy into our lives,” Jesanda said, her face lighting up with a proud smile. “It was the happiest time of our lives. We adopted you, pledging to take care of you and to raise you as our son.” She paused, carefully considering her words before she continued. “And David, in every way that matters, you are our son. I never want you to forget that.”

David didn’t know what to say.

“We knew this day would come,” Jon said. “We dreaded it. Maybe we should have told you sooner. Maybe that would have made it easier. We know how confusing this must be for you. We know that part of you will probably always be curious about your origin. And when you’re old enough, if you still want to set out and discover the truth for yourself, if that’s something you really have to do, then we won’t stand in your way.”

“But for now,” Jesanda said, “you have to know that we love you. That’s all that matters. You mean everything to us.”

David’s vision blurred. A teardrop tickled his skin as it rolled down his face and dripped off the edge of his chin. He didn’t know what to think anymore. But as his parents embraced him, he began to wonder if perhaps he’d been wrong. Perhaps this was his home after all, and he just hadn’t realized it.

It had been a fateful day and would take time to integrate what had happened and all that he had learned. In spite of this, he somehow assumed that life would return to normal. He was wrong. Life would never be the same again, as he would soon discover.


If you are eager to read more, The Key of Alanar is now available to buy on Amazon and multiple retailers in both paperback and ebook format. Visit the official launch page for buy links, background information and much more!

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‘The Key of Alanar’ is Officially Released Today!

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Hi everyone! It may be Monday morning (ugh!) but it’s also 14th September, a day I’ve been looking forward to for some time now! I’m delighted to announce that The Key of Alanar is now available online from multiple stores in both ebook and paperback format. You can also order it through your local bookshop or library, too!

My website has been updated with full details about the book, including information on the characters and setting. You can also order a SIGNED COPY directly from me. All you need to do is select your region and click ‘buy now’ and your payment will be processed via Paypal. It really is as simple as clicking a button. All orders will be promptly dispatched and will include a free bookmark. Click here to visit the Key of Alanar launch page!

Here are the direct links to Amazon and Amazon UK. There are more purchase links on the launch page.


Synopsis

Lasandria. An ancient civilization, consigned to oblivion by the greed and power lust of its own people.

The coming apocalypse heralds the arrival of a new evil that will ravage the world of Alanar for an entire age. Yet on the eve of Lasandria’s destruction, the ethereal overseers of the mortal realm grant a dispensation—a promise of hope for the future.

That hope lies with an orphaned teenager named David, born some ten millennia later; a boy whose isolated and uncertain existence leads him on a journey upon which hinges the fate of not just his world, but countless others.

On the run from a brutal military force, David’s quest is one born of shattered dreams and tainted by the thirst for revenge. As an inter-dimensional war that has been waged since the beginning of time threatens to consume his world, the dark force that destroyed Lasandria lurks in the shadows, ready to take possession of the one thing that will either save Alanar or destroy it: David.


From the official press release…

SCOTTISH AUTHOR RELEASES LIFE-CHANGING NOVEL 20 YEARS IN THE MAKING

Sometimes perseverance really does pay off. Scottish author Rory Mackay has spent two decades working on a single novel: The Key of Alanar, an ambitious fantasy/science-fiction thriller with a metaphysical twist. Originally conceived when the author was still in high school, it’s a story that has been with him most his life—and a story that has changed his life.

While Rory spent years developing the ideas behind this and subsequent books in the planned series, little direct progress was made on the book as he focused on education and work. A chronic illness brought him to a crossroads in life and enabled him to rediscover his true passion as a storyteller. Determined to pursue his dream in spite of all challenges, Rory continued working on the book through countless drafts, rewrites and edits. In the meantime he had another novel published in 2013, Eladria, a critically acclaimed prelude to The Key of Alanar (available from Cosmic Egg Books – and currently on a 99p / 99c sale!).

Finally released this month, The Key of Alanar marks the completion of a 20 year project—and one that helped the author through some difficult times. Rory’s work reflects his interest in the potential of mythology and fiction to elevate mood and consciousness: to make people think, to inspire, provoke and ultimately to heal.

An action packed, emotionally charged adventure, The Key of Alanar has an element of philosophy subtly woven into the narrative, serving as an exploration of life, death, reality and how, on a personal level, we can move beyond grief and suffering to become all that we are capable of being. A tale of transcendence and redemption, The Key of Alanar is a book that will likely stay with the reader long after they have read the last page.

Watch the official trailer! It truly captures the epic, cinematic scope of the novel:

Click here to visit The Key of Alanar launch page, for order links and to purchase a signed copy!

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Stay tuned for exclusive extracts in the next few days and some cool behind the scenes information on the making of a book!

An author in the spotlight: Rory Mackay answers 4 questions!

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Nothing beats the power of a good question. Questions make us think, reflect and explore things in different ways. I’m all for questions, and I always endeavour to give good answers! So here I am taking part in a challenge I saw online several months back, in which an author answers four simple questions. Well, I’m an author, and without any further ado, here are the questions…

When did you begin writing?

I’ve been writing since childhood. Creativity was an innate and essential part of my nature as far back as I can remember. When I was younger I was more visually focused, as I loved drawing and painting. What I did was always connected with storytelling, however. I created characters, worlds and adventures and made my own comic books from the time I was about 7 or 8 years old. My longest running series was called King Croc, a quirky and comical fantasy series about a reptilian anti-hero whose job was to conquer the galaxy but who really couldn’t be bothered. He would rather sit at home eating doughnuts that conquer planets. Who wouldn’t? I still have some of those comics in a drawer.

When I was in my teens I began work on a very different project; laying the groundwork for what would eventually become the novel I am about to publish, The Key of Alanar! This was originally intended as a serialised television series or series of movies, but not knowing how to even begin with such a lofty project, I decided to make it a series of novels instead. Having worked on this for the best part of my life, and invested so much time, energy and love in it, I’m truly excited that I am finally able to share this creative vision with the world. (The Key of Alanar is already available to preorder on Amazon for a 14 September release!)

What inspired me to write my first books?

I grew up with a great love of science fiction and fantasy. Already something of a dreamer, it really stirred my imagination and I loved nothing more than to transport myself to other worlds, times and places. But for me the genre was far more than simple escapism. Even in my early teens I really loved that sci-fi and fantasy could be used as a means of exploring ideas, themes and human potential. I was always a bit of a deep thinker, and I loved when books, films and television had a little depth; a purpose behind telling a story.

As I grew up, I became fascinated by mythology and archetypal tales of heroic quests and journeys. Initially my first series of books was called ‘The Journey’, as a reflection of the journey we all take through life, in search of happiness and wholeness. I wanted to explore what makes us tick, and why we live as we do. I didn’t just want to entertain people, I wanted to make people think and say something about life. The development of my books ran parallel to my development as a person as I grew up, learned, experienced many things, and ultimately devoted myself to the pursuit of spiritual knowledge, truth and understanding the nature of life and who we are. I like telling fantastical stories that fire the imagination, stir the emotions and, above all, make people think. In my view, the greatest stories inspire, challenge and enlighten. They are stories that heal. They leave people the better for having read them; a kind of gift shared between author and reader. That is why I wanted to write and why I still keep writing.

How do you write?

I need to be clear about what I’m writing before I start the first sentence. I learned early on the necessity of starting with a blueprint, or at least a firm plan of how the novel will begin, develop and end. My stories are quite complex and multi-layered, so I need to make sure I’ve worked everything beforehand or else I would be liable to write myself into a sticky corner and waste significant time on something that just doesn’t work out. One day I’d actually like to just start writing with no idea in ind how it will end, but it certainly won’t be for my current series, which requires forward planning. There are simply too many balls to potentially drop otherwise!

So, I wait for the ideas to start flowing. It’s almost like my mind is working on the story even when I’m not consciously thinking about it. There comes a time when I can feel the creative energy flowing and I just sit down with paper and a pen and allow the ideas to spill out. I get them structured into a clear framework, and then, when I’m satisfied with what I’ve got, I start writing away. First drafts are usually best written as quickly as possible, to keep the creative momentum flowing smoothly. Then I’ll write three, four or more subsequent drafts and spend a long time editing. With my first published novel, Eladria, I spent one year writing the first few drafts and then another 18 months or so editing and polishing it. As Phyllis A Whitney said: “a good book isn’t written, it is rewritten.” The key is really in taking that mud-covered diamond and scraping and polishing it until it gleams.

Do you have any writing advice you would like to share?

Yes. Write because you love to write. Have no expectations. Follow your passion and pour your heart and soul into it. Don’t expect anything back; even if you write a complete masterpiece, there are so many books being written and published right now that it’s hard to get anyone’s attention. Have no expectation, but stay true to your own unique creative vision. Write a story you feel needs to be told. Share ideas, share experiences and dreams and thoughts. Write a book that will make the world a better place for your having written it. Think of it as part of your legacy, which it is, and make it as wonderful as you can. Don’t rush it necessarily, take your time and let your heart guide you. Whether you then sell ten copies or ten thousand, you’ll have contributed something special to the world. And that why being a writer is one of the coolest things in the world.

Rory’s Writing – Four Questions, Four Answers! – Blog Tour

Howdy! First of all, I know things have become pretty quiet and sporadic on the blog front, for which I apologise. There are a number of reasons for this, but  I will try and contribute more often to the blog, even if it’s just in the form of ‘baby blog’ entries. I also intend to get caught up with everyone else’s blogs as soon as I can.

Without further ado — I’m very grateful to Rohan Healy for awakening me from my blog slumber by tagging me for the Blog Tour! Rohan is a multi-talented guy, musician and author of several non-fiction books as well as an action-packed science-fiction novel called “Gyaros: The Mice Eat Iron”, all of which I have read, enjoyed and highly recommend.

As for the Blog Tour, I’m delighted to have been included. It’s quite simple — I have four questions to answer. So, here goes…

Question 1: What am I working on?

I am working on my second novel, The Key of Alanar, which will hopefully be published later this year or early next year. It is the second novel in The Alanar Ascendant series, the first being Eladria. This book has a long genesis; it’s a story I first started working on when I was only 16. I actually originally wrote the book between 2001 and 2007, but it was never published. I’ve gone back and rewritten it substantially. The story is the still same more or less (it’s a good story! haha) but I have added different elements and fleshed a lot of things out. It’s essentially a different book and I’m very pleased with it so far. I’m now about a third of the way through it. I’m several months behind for various reasons, but I am not rushing it. I want to do it right. I can’t wait to finally share this book with the world; the stories, world and characters are very special to me and have been with me most of my life.

Question 2: How does my work differ to others of its genre?

My books combine fantasy with science-fiction in a way that’s fairly fresh, I think. They also have a certain metaphorical, allegorical component to them. If you look beneath the surface, the stories I write deal with philosophical, spiritual and existential themes and issues. But rather than bash the reader over the head with this, I try to weave these themes rather subtly. For instance, when it came to Eladria, most readers just seemed to enjoy it as an action-packed adventure story, while others also picked up on and really engaged with the philosophical content. Someone actually told me the book had really helped them and changed the way they look at life. So, I think my work can be taken on multiple levels; the reader can engage with it on whichever level they want.

Question 3: Why do I write/create what I do?

I don’t know. Why do birds sing, I guess? It’s just part of me. It’s what I do. What I have to do. I’ve always had stories in me; stories that gripped, captivated and consumed me — and which wouldn’t let me go until I’d found some way to get them onto paper. There’s nothing particularly glamorous or exciting about writing. It’s a hard slog, to be honest but I couldn’t live without it. As Rohan said in his answer, it’s as natural to me as breathing.

Question 4: How does your writing/creating process work?

I come up with a story and spend a lot of time working out the details before I write my first word. I learned a long time ago the necessity of having a fairly clear blueprint before you start writing. That doesn’t mean I can’t make changes as I go along, but I always need to have a clear outline of the beginning, middle and end, and how I’m going to join all the dots. I like to be clear about what the story is about and why I’m telling it and how the characters change, grow and develop as the story unfolds. To me the plot and characters are of equal importance and are inseparably interwoven. When it comes to writing, I just shut myself away, sit and type. It’s helpful to have a daily page quota, which is usually 3 pages a day. Then when it comes to the endless rewriting, again I just have to shut myself away and go over it again and again until I’m happy. During the rewriting stages I often listen to music, usually ambient electronica or other instrumental music that enhances the mood I’m trying to create in whichever part of the book. It’s just really a case of write, write, write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

So, finally I’m gonna tag three other authors and invite them to take part in the Blog Tour, answering the questions themselves:

Adrian Lupsa

Julianne Victoria

Barbara G Tarn

Have fun guys 🙂