The Sin Eater’s Daughter, in picture form. OR: Look At This Collection Of Pictures Which I Assembled Instead Of Writing A Post, Even Though Writing A Post Would Have Probably Taken Less Time.

Ok so, I haven’t blogged for ages, which is ridiculous because a lot of really brilliant things have happened. I could have blogged about all of the events I’ve done; festivals, bookshop talks, conventions. I could have blogged about how I fell down on the floor, screeching, when I found out I’d been nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Award (THE CARNEGIE AWARD), and also shortlisted for the North East Book Award 2016 (SHORTLISTED). There’s some stuff I can’t talk about, and kind of want to, but will hopefully be able to soon.

There’s some non-book related stuff too, like how I gatecrashed Trevor Nunn’s War of the Roses aftershow party, or how I got to hang out with Leigh Bardugo and she bought us flower crowns (that is a bit book related, actually). I went to Wales with Sara Megan and Katie Webber and we had a right old time (also, pretty book related). I’m going to New York next week (will end up being book related, bet you 20p).

All stuff I could have written a post about. But instead, I give you this graphic representation of The Sin Eater’s Daughter. Which to be honest, probably took longer to source and sequence than writing would have.

Twylla's move to the castle

castleTwylla's fall

flowers dying

queen 2

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Lief's seduction Twylla falling  
kiss  Merek's rage queen gifmerek 1   green eye tear fall gifdandelion two

The Sin Eater’s Daughter Book 2 – The Sleeping Prince

It is my absolute pleasure and delight to finally be able to share with you the title and covers for my second book, THE SLEEPING PRINCE.

Ever since her brother Lief disappeared, Errin’s life has gone from bad to worse. Not only must she care for her sick mother, she has to scrape together rent money by selling illegal herbal cures. But none of that compares to the threat of the vengeful Sleeping Prince whom the Queen just awoke from his enchanted sleep.

When her village is evacuated as part of the war against the Sleeping Prince, Errin is left desperate and homeless. The only person she can turn to is the mysterious Silas, a young man who buys deadly poisons from Errin, but won’t reveal why he needs them. Silas promises to help Errin, but when he vanishes, Errin must journey across a kingdom on the brink of war to seek another way to save her mother and herself. But what she finds splits the world as she knows it apart,  and with the Sleeping Prince drawing nearer, Errin must make a heartbreaking choice that could affect the whole kingdom.

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On the left is the UK cover, and the right, the US.

Once again the cover art was designed by the legendary Jamie Gregory at Scholastic. Thank you, Jamie, for once again making me cry with joy, and for capturing my vision of the story in a single picture. And massive thanks to Lucy Powrie for hosting the cover reveal on UKYA Chat.

And finally, you can still vote for The Sin Eater’s Daughter to win the Edinburgh Festival First Book Prize. Here is the link to vote for it, and you’d be making a tiny, angry goth uncharacteristically happy if you did.

An Eventful Year

6tag_060315-090456I’ve been very lucky, in my debut year as an author, that I’ve been invited to appear at some seriously spectacular events. From Hay Literary Festival, to YALC at LFCC, right up to Edinburgh Book Festival, I’ve had an amazing year – with many more events to come; YA Shot at Hillingdon, author panels at Waterstones, and more to be announced soon.

So I thought, given my experience in this, that I’d offer some of my top tips of how to behave at festivals and events.

Here, for your reading pleasure, is Melinda Salisbury’s Top Five Things NOT To Do At Events.

Don’t threaten to set fire to all men.

At Nine Worlds a few weeks back I was lucky enough to sit on a panel talking about the roles of female characters in YA, and what needed to happen to ensure that female characters were given the depth and range of characteristics that male characters were allowed to have. My answer: Burn all the men currently running the world and making it difficult for real-world women to be treated as well-rounded humans, and the growth of fictional women will follow. It was fine in the context of the panel, very impassioned. In the bar afterwards when I hissed it in author Den Patrick’s face, it took on a less empowered, and more sociopathic vibe. I don’t think we’re going to be friends.

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“How is she getting good words to come out of her mouth?!”

Don’t tell everyone you got your agent because you summoned Satan.

This was at YALC, at LFCC, when an audience member asked how we all got started in publishing. I don’t know what happened here. I don’t know how those words came out of my mouth. It’s not even like I was the last person to answer so I had to come up with something good. They just fell out of my mouth.

… Like Satan had put them there…

Don’t proudly announce to a full house “What’s worse than incest? THIS BOOK!” whilst holding a copy of your debut novel.

See above. Also at YALC. I can’t explain this either. But I implore you not to do it. Please.

Don’t misspell someone’s name in a signing, then insist they take your chair and sit down, mortified, while you send your editor to buy them a new copy of the book.

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Sorry everyone

YALC again. Despite the gems that came out of my mouth during the panel, I somehow wound up with a pretty long signing queue. And by and large it was going really well until I accidentally misspelled a reader’s name. She was fine with it, but no, that wasn’t enough for me.

First I tried to leave the signing to go and buy her a new copy, only to be talked down by my editor, who insisted she go instead (so I could, you know, sign stuff).

Realising the girl and her sister would have to wait until Emily returned with a new copy, I stood up, grabbed some chairs from behind the tables and brought them to the front of the queue, forcing the poor girl and her sister to sit down and wait while I got on with signing, interspersed with sporadic grovelling. So they had to sit there, in full view of everyone, until lovely Emily brought me a new book over, so they could go through the rigmarole of actually getting it signed.

I later realised the girl had marked the page she was up to in the copy I mutilated. Which I didn’t even offer to give back to her.

Don’t wander the aisles with the chocolates left for you and your fellow panellists at events.

At Hay Festival, we had to sit onstage and wait for people to arrive and I got really nervous watching the room fill up. When we’d first arrived, the sound engineer had miked us up and told us to help ourselves to the chocolates on the table. So, whilst waiting for the audience to finish coming in, I had the brainwave of taking the chocolates around the audience and thanking them for coming, leaving Cat Doyle and Katherine Woodfine staring helplessly after me. I got halfway around the room before the sound engineer stopped me, confiscating the chocolates and scowling “We get to eat those if you don’t.”

At the end, when he was taking the mic off of me, he muttered “I knew you’d be trouble.”

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Horns

I can only assume this was because I also spent the entire panel wearing a pair of ram horns and at no point explained why. For the record, it was a dare. A reader named Nicole who was attending dared me to wear them in return for some Welsh Cakes. Guess who had Welsh Cakes for supper that night? This ram.

I could offer some other advice, like don’t shame your brother when he’s the only person in the audience who hasn’t read your book. Don’t announce at your launch that you’re ‘a bit peasanty’. Don’t share with the audience at an event that you violently threw up before you came onstage because you were so nervous. Or offer to do an interpretive dance of your book, rather than reading from it. But I think you get the gist. Don’t be me.

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Roll on YA Shot!

Happy Birthday, J.K. Rowling

We all know I love Harry Potter. And I thought about writing a post on why it means so much to me.

But it’s easier to show you.

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Muggle Mayhem, 2009

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The Hogwarts Express, 2007

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Harry Potter Studios, 2014

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The latest Platform 9 3/4, 2014

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Harry Potter Studios, 2014

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LeakyCon London, 2013 (the day I signed with my agent!)

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Harry Potter Studios, Opening Day 2013

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Harry Potter Studios, Opening Day, 2013

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Harry Potter Studios, Opening Day, 2013

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LeakyCon 2011, Florida

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LeakyCon 2011, Florida

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LeakyCon, 2011 Florida (with bonus John Green!)

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LeakyCon, 2011 Florida

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Lizzy’s 21st Birthday, Platform 9, King’s Cross

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The Deathly Hallows pt 1 premiere, 2010

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The Deathly Hallows pt 1 premiere, 2010, I camped in Leicester Square. It was hell.

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Post Infinitus 2010,

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Infinitus, Florida 2010

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Infinitus, Florida 2010

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Infinitus, Florida 2010

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Snow Ball, Edinburgh, 2010

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LeakyCon London, 2013. Me signing as a Beater with the Holyhead Harpies!

Because it brought me these people. And these times.

Happy Birthday, J.K Rowling.

And Happy Birthday, Harry Potter.

Eat Worms

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What do I do when someone doesn’t like my book…

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Only joking! My, how we laughed…

When I was little, my sister taught me a fun song. This is it:

Nobody  loves me, everybody hates me,
Think I’ll go and eat some worms.
Big ones, fat ones, slimy ones, squidgy ones,
Watch how they squiggle and squirm.

Bite them, crunch them. Yum! They’re lovely!
Throw their tails away.
Nobody knows how much I grow,
Eating worms three times a day.

So now you know. When I find out someone doesn’t like my books, I go and eat some worms.

Metaphorically, of course.

The first time I realised that someone had read The Sin Eater’s Daughter and hadn’t enjoyed it, I was, of course, crushed (the special kind of Goodreads-rubbernecking-review crushed). Whilst I knew it wasn’t a jolly romp, or a break-neck-paced thriller, it was the kind of book I knew I’d love to read.

And therein, dear reader, lies both problem and salvation.

I wrote the kind of book I wanted to read when I was a teen. Because I’d never found myself in a book – never found that one character I could relate to, or be inspired by. I hadn’t found that person who could be my WWTD? model (What Would They Do?). The girls in the books I read were so feisty, and super-smart, and brave, and had brilliant loyal friends, and they could fight, and protect themselves. They were never unsure, rarely afraid. They were everything I was not.

So I wrote it. I wrote about a young woman who was frightened, and powerless, and trapped. And alone. I wrote about how much she had to work to overcome that. And how hard it was. And I did it in a fantasy world because they were the worlds I loved best of all.

When I first read back over the final version of The Sin Eater’s Daughter, I wished so much I could take it and put in the hands of myself at fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. Young Adult Me needed to read that book as badly as Adult Me needed to write it.

So I guess if people don’t like it, or don’t ‘get’ it, it’s probably because they’re not the target audience for it. They’re not the people I wrote the book for. Slipknot make music for people that love metal – I doubt they sit at home brainstorming how to convince a bunch of jazz fans that they have a genuine message. Marvel Studios make films for people that love superheroes, I suspect they’re not overly concerned with converting World Cinema fans to the joys of Antman. So I think there’s no point in doing anything when someone doesn’t like it. It wasn’t for them, that much is clear, and now we know it, we can all move on.

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This was my signing queue at Hay Literary Festival. So I can’t be doing too badly…

I’m lucky, because since the book has come out, not one single day has passed without me getting a tweet, or an email, a Tumblr ask, or even a comment here, from someone that loved it, and wants to know what happens next. So I know that it is getting to the right people. That the people I did write it for are reading it, and connecting with it. You can’t ask for more.

It’s ok if not everyone likes it, because I didn’t write it for everyone. I’m writing for a very specific audience, so of course there will be people – mostly people over 18, I expect – that won’t get it. But I have to say, I’m a lot more interested in the people that do get it, and it’s them I’m going to keep writing for. My target audience.

So I’m going to eat all the worms – every worm I can get my hands on – and I’m going to grow big and strong on the back of it.

That’s what I do when someone doesn’t like my book; I grow from it.

Can we stop, with the idea you can’t stop.

I have just had to put down a book I was reading and it has made me immeasurably sad, and incredibly angry. I was excited to begin this book, I’d read one other by the author and enjoyed it; I liked the themes of the book; I’d heard good things about this one. I was set on enjoying it, but now I know I’m not going to finish it. I’m not going to name it, or the author, as my problem isn’t with either of these in any particular sense.

My problem is with the idea that sexual aggression is sexy. That being unable to control your temper is desirable. That manipulation is normal. That coercion is healthy. That instances of this are indicative of a woman’s attractiveness and perfectly ok, even aspirational.

Let me tell you straight up that in a healthy relationship where there is respect and caring, that violence, manipulation, coercion and aggression of any kind have no place. Not in familial relationships, not in friendships, and not in romantic ones.

And yet this myth keeps being recycled, that the threat of being overpowered is alluring.

It’s 2015 and we’re still there.

After Steubenville, after Delhi 2012, after the celebrity sexual assault scandals across the globe, work is still being published in which men are physically domineering and demanding and the heroines swoon at them. And we have to shut this idea down because it is dangerous and it is never more dangerous than when we’re telling young women that it’s not. That it’s actually ok.

When I was a young adult, I didn’t have all that many friends. I was kind of awkward, and a bit weird, my interests didn’t match those of my peers. So books were where I went to figure things out. Walking in a character’s shoes meant I could rehearse situations that I hadn’t come across – might never come across – but books provided me with a chance to do that. To test the waters, and the boundaries. To channel the heroes and heroines I loved best in my own life. To try on difference personalities like armour, or a fake-fur coat, or an evening gown, or a mermaid tail. To become the self I wanted to be.

They taught me to be brave, to ask questions, to say yes, to say no, to speak up, to stay quiet, to rush into something, to bide my time. Without realising it, and certainly without their permission, I allowed all the authors I read to become my parents, my brothers and sisters, my friends. I took their unintended advice, I learned from them and it’s something I’m painfully, painfully aware of now I write myself. That there might be young people out there who read my work and do as my characters have done. I’m not saying they will, or they should, but I never let myself forget that when I put things out there I am making a statement and people will read it.

So I’m so disappointed that work is being published still that perpetuates the ideology that if a man growls or shouts at you, smashes up a room, pins you against a wall, or tells you that if you carry on being intimate they won’t be able to stop, it’s normal. It’s ok. To me, that sends a reckless, dangerous message to young women and men.

I can promise you, from experience, that someone smashing things in front of you isn’t sexy. Being shouted at by someone who outweighs you won’t make you horny as hell. It will make you whimper, and cower, and possibly cry. And that is absolutely and undeniably the very opposite of sexy.

I can promise you that either party can stop at any point during sex, whether clothes are on or off, or bits are touching, or have been touching for a while. Sex isn’t a tsunami of inevitability, it might be frustrating to stop but you sure as hell can, and you better well had. And there should never be a suggestion that you can’t. Or won’t. Because then it’s no longer sex and becomes very definitely rape.

We have to stop teaching our young people that these behaviours are ok. It is not ok when a little boy pulls a girl’s hair in the playground, don’t tell your daughter it means he likes her. What is means is that he needs a bloody good talking to about keeping his hands to himself unless expressly invited to touch. Don’t let your sisters believe it when their boyfriends tell them it hurts them to not touch them, that by not allowing them a triple A pass to their bodies they’re being cruel. Don’t let your friends shake it off when they tell you their partner threw a vase against a wall and then told them it was because they loved them so much it drove them crazy. No. No. No. This is bullshit. And we have to say that, and keep saying it until it finally sinks in.

It is 2015 and we have to stop telling the girls and women in our lives that this behaviour is normal. It’s not. So can we stop writing it into our stories, showing it on our screens, singing about it wistfully? Can we stop romanticising abuse please?

And fyi, if a man EVER says to you he won’t be able to stop if you keep going, you knee him in the balls and ask if he’s sure.

UKYA Day!

Today is UKYA Day. And I am a UK YA author. And being part of the UKYA community is a massive part of my life now – it’s my watercooler, it’s my office, it’s my after-work drinks, my Christmas party. Writing can be incredibly lonely, but thanks to the UKYA community, I feel as though I have colleagues. And those colleagues have become friends.

I thought a lot about what to write for my blog post today. Should I write about how grateful – and stunned – I am to have been welcomed so warmly into this community, and supported by other authors, bloggers, bookshops, publishing people and, of course, readers? Should I write another emotional post about what books mean to me, what stories mean to me? Should I use this opportunity to overshare a little more of my bizarro life?

I decided not to. I decided that today I’d do something with the thing that brought me into the UKYA community, which is of course, the book I wrote. What I’m about to share are some of the deleted scenes from the very first incarnation of The Sin Eater’s Daughter. I’m not going to give much context for them, suffice to say they never made it to the final version, for one reason or another, and I hope you enjoy them.

Happy UKYA Day!

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‘I’ll take you back now, my lady,’ Lief says, turning to lead the way.

I shake my head, wanting to stay in the sunlight for a little longer.  ‘I am not quite ready.’

‘Dorin said I was to take you back.’

‘And so you will.  But I’d like a few more moments to finish my work.’

‘My lady, I must insist you come with me back to your rooms,’ he says.

For a moment I stare at him, both amused and annoyed at his attempt to command me.  It’s been a long time since someone, save the Queen, told me what I must do.  When he stares back at me, his eyebrows raised, I draw myself up to my full height, though my head would barely reach his shoulder if we were to stand back to back.  ‘Lief, I will finish my work.  Then we will return.  Let that be an end to it, please.’

I’m sure if he could he’d take my arm and pull me back inside, his lips are parted, his eyes flashing.  Then he lowers them and his head drops into a bow.

‘Yes, my lady.’

I can feel him brooding behind me and I deliberately take my time sketching the flower.  He moves around, pacing the pathway, transferring his weight from foot to foot, sighing occasionally.  Each time he reminds me he is there I rip the sheet I’m working on away and begin again.  When he huffs I spend five whole minutes drawing a single boom.  When he scuffles his boots in the stones I tilt my head and consider the scene before me, my head rested on my hand, my face the very image of contemplation, save for when I cannot stop myself from smiling.  It becomes a game, though one he doesn’t understand straight away, and for each sign of impatience he displays I level back at him a gesture of serenity.

He finally makes the connection between his own actions and mine and he stills.  For a time I draw, trying to faithfully render the flower, trying to mimic the delicate strokes of Merek’s drawings.  At last I have a picture I am not ashamed of and I gather my things and rise.  I don’t speak to Lief as I pass him, keeping my chin tilted upwards.

Lief’s footsteps are loud behind me, the stamp of an angry child, and I consider stopping abruptly, or wheeling around to catch him off guard.  It would be amusing to see him stumble away from me.  But I don’t know him well enough and, despite Dorin’s assurances of his swiftness, it could go badly wrong if I he didn’t stop when I did.

**********************************************************************************

2)

On the pretext of wanting to make sure things are set for Dorin’s return I make Lief take me down into their quarters.  My guards keep their quarters in the room below mine, at night they sleep in shifts, one on sentry duty before my door, the other asleep in the room below until it is time to change.  I’ve never been there before, never needed to with a guard outside my door at every moment but now it is just Lief and I make him show me Dorin’s bed, telling him order a new pillow, an additional blanket.

I try to hide my curiosity but I’m surprised that he seems to keep nothing personal on his side of the room.  Both men have a small stub of candle on the wooden chairs by their beds; Dorin’s also contains a small dagger, a rag he presumably uses to polish it, and a battered tin soldier.  But Lief, as yet, has done nothing to carve out the space and claim it as his own.

I think he might be embarrassed about my being here.  As I fuss with Dorin’s pillows I can feel his eyes resting on me, watching me.  The room is not untidy, in fact, it is too orderly.  Dorin and Lief’s room is crisp, the blankets folded back to reveal smooth mattresses, pillows plumped and clothes hidden neatly away.  When I had brothers they left a trail of devastation in their wake, dropped handkerchiefs, small toys made of matchsticks and horse chestnuts, apple peels and orange pips.  Though my guards are grown men, not boys, the neatness of the room is still a surprise.

‘You keep it well,’ I say to him.  ‘I had no idea men could be so neat.’

‘I haven’t used it much.’

‘Do you not miss your old home?’

‘No.’

‘Is Tregellan very different from here?’  I have been planning to ask him this since we started talking, hoping he’d tell me all about the land, give me some stories I can feast on when I’m alone.  I had hoped that he would have something Tregellian in his room that I could look at, but there’s nothing.

‘Not really,’ he says.

‘Will you tell me about it?’

‘Forgive me, my lady, but I’d rather not talk about it.’

He hurries me from the room as soon as he can, back to my pretty prison, and I return to my screen and gazing out of the window.

 

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3)

‘Do you feel better now?’ Merek asks as we walk briskly through the knot garden, trying to keep the chill at bay.  The seasons are changing rapidly, the smokiness of autumn is in the air, the leaves on the ornamental trees beginning to turn tawny and gold under the sullen sky.   Rowan berries are bright scarlet on the trees that line the walkway.  The winter will be harsh, even by Lormere’s standards and I hope Tregellan has a warmer climate.

‘Better?’

‘After last night, and this morning I suppose.’

My cheeks flush and he smiles.  ‘You did not embarrass yourself, if that’s what you think.  Mother said that on the whole she believed you handled it with grace, considering what a shock it must have been.’

‘Yes,’ I turn to look at the small hedges that line the pathway.  ‘It was a revelation.’

‘I did mean what I said.  I do want to make you happy.  You’ve saved me, you see.’

‘I know.’

‘Do you?’ he stops and takes my clasped hands in his and I fight the urge to pull away.  ‘I don’t believe you do, Twylla, but I will show you my gratitude every day for as long as we both live.  I owe you so much, and I will repay it.  Anything you want, ask and you shall have it.  Nothing is too good for you now.’

I shake my head and he tugs my hands again.

‘I mean it, Twylla.  I do.’

‘I know, Merek.  It’s still a lot to take in.’

‘But good?’ he asks earnestly.

‘For so long,’ I begin, ‘for so long I have been pulled one way or another and always told what I am to be and what I will become.’

‘I know,’ he soothes, misunderstanding me.  ‘It was the same for me.  But you and I can make things our way now, we will rule and no one can tell us what we may and may not do.  We are the keys to each other’s freedom.  No more will you have to do anything other than what you desire.’

How am I to stay angry at him, to despise him as Lief so clearly does, when he thinks we are saving each other?  He means to offer me the world and I cannot tell him I do not want his world, that this is just another in a long line of roles I am told I will fulfil.

‘You’re too good,’ I say and I mean it.

‘I don’t believe anyone has ever thought of me as good before,’ he smiles.  He steps away and I watch him bend and examine the flowers.  He’s so different here with me in the gardens.  He smiles and the smile reaches his eyes, he jokes and is earnest and kind.

A cold tap to my nose makes me look up and a second raindrop falls onto my forehead.  I drop my head and then the heavens open.  Merek and I look at each other, rain soaking us before he grabs my hand and begins to run, pulling me back towards the castle, my cloak flaring behind me like a pennant.  I fumble to raise the hood but we’re moving too fast, the rain drenching us in a matter of moments, the white of Merek’s tunic turning transparent under its weight as we race through the garden, up the stairs and into the hall.

When I look at Merek he’s laughing, his face full of joy, his dark curls dripping onto his face.

‘Mother would be furious,’ he grins.  ‘How undignified of us to be caught in a rainstorm.’

‘We had very little warning.’

‘We ought to have known, Twylla.  We ought to have been able to command the sky to cease immediately.  What kind of rulers will we be?’

I smile back at him.  ‘Very damp ones.’

‘If I were the rain I would chose to fall on you, queen or not,’ his smile is wide and I blush at his flattery, until a forced cough makes me turn.

Lief stands there, his face white and blank as he stares at my hand, still in Merek’s.  Worse than that is the Queen’s face; she is staring at me with naked hatred and I grip Merek’s hand tighter.

‘There you are,’ she says coldly.  ‘I was beginning to wonder if I’d have to send the dogs to find you.’

She makes to attempt to mask the threat there and my throat tightens as she continues.

‘It would be a terrible pity if Twylla also caught a chill and I had suspected the weather would turn.  Had you not fled the solar I might have told you.’

‘We’re fine, Mother,’ Merek says, his smile wiped from his face as he shakes his head, showering his mother in droplets from his hair.

‘And yet you look soaked through.’

We all look at Merek’s chest, the taut lines of his body visible through the material that clings to him and again my skin fills with heat.

‘I can find a dry tunic, I’m sure.’

‘Have some brandy, see to it the girl does as well,’ the Queen replies coldly before turning on her heel and leaving us.

Merek watches her go with a smirk on his face before turning back to where Lief has edged to my side.  I watch as Merek and Lief stare at each other, watch as a shadow passes over Merek’s face before he lets go of my hand.

‘We should change,’ he says to me, reaching out to undo my cloak.  He bundles it up and thrusts it into Lief’s unprepared arms as he passes.  ‘Dry this,’ he commands.  ‘Twylla, I’ll see you in the solar shortly.’

Then he is gone, leaving me with my furious lover.

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4)

The cell door is thrown open and one of the guards firmly takes my arm.

‘Is it time?’ I ask, ashamed of the tremor in my voice.

They do not respond, leading me out from the cell, out of the dungeons, towards the main door.  Their faces are grim, as if they have no taste for the task they must perform but will do it nevertheless.  The light outside is dim, dawn light, and I know it’s time and my heart thuds violently beneath my ribs.  I am not sure if my legs will hold me for much longer.  I won’t be able to run.

We do not go out of the main doors, turning to the south instead and I speak again.

‘Where are you taking me?’

Again there is no reply, just the relentless passage through the castle.  The corridors are empty of people, all of the doors are closed and there is no one to ask, no one to see my fear, or shame.  I realise everyone must assembled, that the Queen does mean to bring the court to watch.  I wonder if the maids have already been into my solar to divide my things between them.

We walk through the abandoned Great Hall, the large fireplace empty of flames, the candles in their sconces unlit.  Up the stairs towards the royal solar and fear fills me again.  Why am I being taken there, what can the Queen or Merek have left to say to me?

The solar is empty and the guards march me towards the window.  For a second I am convinced that they will make me sing, one last time, but the guards push me down onto a chair.  My hands are pulled behind my back and tied and then they lift the chair and carry it to the window.  Far below, a hasty gallows has been erected on the lawn outside the castle and I see the sun fading over the forest on the horizon.  Sunset.  Not sunrise.

Immediately I begin to struggle, to try and tip the chair.

‘His majesty says you are to watch.  He will talk with you afterwards.’

‘No,’ I say and then I am screaming it at the top of voice, over and over, no, no, no, I will not watch and they cannot make me.  I will close my eyes and I will turn my face and I will rip my soul out of my body if that is what I must do but I will not watch him be hanged, I will not watch them take his life in front of me.

Is this his idea of kindness, to spare us the dogs but to hang him in front of me?  ‘Tell him I’ll marry him,’ I beg the guards.  ‘Tell him now, tell him I’ll do anything to not see this, to stop this, please, I beg you.  Fetch the Prince – the King! Fetch Merek! Merek! Merek please!’

My pleas fall on deaf ears and the guards remain at my side as I weep and struggle.  Then there is a boom from below, the sound of a drum beating slowly.  My heart adjusts to beat in time with it, each drumbeat a heartbeat, each thud a second of life that Lief has left.  And though I swore I wouldn’t look, when the drums begin I cannot tear my eyes away.  The view is obscured by the side of the tower, I can see only the steps that lead up to the gallows and part of the crossbeam, but I can see the executioner standing to the side, his face hooded, his arms bare and meaty.

This cannot be.  It cannot be.  But it is and there he is, being led out, a white hood over his head, clad in a long white shift that covers him head to foot.  He stumbles and I lean forward but his guards right him and they continue the slow march to his death.  They aid him up the steps and I see the executioner step forward and take his shoulders, guiding him out of my sight.

The drums beat faster, as does my heart and I cannot stop watching, hoping for a miracle, a bolt of lightning from the Gods to strike the executioner dead and burn the rope that is surely draped around Lief’s neck now.

There are three sharp drum beats, and silence, and then the executioner steps back.  I see a barrel spinning off to the right, rolling off of the gallows onto the grass and then there is nothing.  After a moment, the executioner turns away, removing his hood and taking a swig from a tankard he had left on the side of the gallows.

It is done.

I am numb.  I thought I would scream, I thought I would feel it when his soul flew out of his body, I had thought to hear the crack of my heart as it broke when he died.  But there is nothing and I slump in the chair.  The guards untie me, skittering away from me in case I lash out at them once I have my freedom.  I do not have the energy to lash out at them, or rage at them.  Instead I sit, my eyes closed, his face imprinted on my eyelids; the wide, toothy smile that meant he was teasing, his bright green eyes, soft in the light of early morning, blazing when he came to my bed that night.  All gone.

When I am alone, I stand and brace my arms against the side of the window, pressing my face against the cool glass.  I cannot see Lief, I do not know if they have cut him down or whether they have left him there for the crows.  I don’t know why they hanged him nor why I’m here.  I don’t want to be here.  I wonder how much it would hurt, to die falling from this tower.  It would be a slap in the face to the Queen and I would not have to endure another moment here knowing he is in the world no longer.

The door opens behind me before I have time to test my resolve, but I do not turn.  I do not want to see Merek now.  I thought we had reached an understanding, come to a place where we respected each other.

‘Twylla,’ he says, shutting the door softly behind him.

I shake my head in irritation.

‘Twylla,’ another voice says, a voice I’d not thought to hear ever again. I turn sharply.

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I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the world that almost was. Massive, massive thanks to the ever-extraordinary Lucy Powrie, for organising today, and all of the UKYA chats. She works endlessly and tirelessly to promote and celebrate UKYA and there would be no UKYA community without her.