Jenna McCray’s first drink in Scotland. When the New Yorker find herself in the coastal village of Anand is a pint of Scottish-brewed heather ale, …Jenna McCray’s Taste of Scotland
2022: The Year of Birds
Hogmanay nears, as does what can barely be avoided — the annual consolidation, the ‘review’ as we step over the next threshold.
It’s been another year of tumultuous news and events stabbing the air in-house and in close proximity. Health issues have arisen in many, some near and dear, some farther but no less dear to me—several with fatal implications, where time somehow runs faster on the clock. My heart has shattered a few times. Such is the way it goes.
Covid hit my house with a bang. I was pregnant, and the baby, Averey, died inside my womb when I had the worst symptoms. Since our second bout in July, long Covid symptoms have persisted, including with my young children. The year that we hoped to grab some social normality has demanded much push.
One of the many benefits of home educating (not home-schooling) is that the pressure and stress on children not to ‘fall behind’ on a prescribed curriculum and being ‘marked’ by ‘poor attendance’ due to health issues beyond control is absent, avoiding undue pressure on my kids’ mental health, to which almost anyone who has been schooled and has health issues can relate. All public services in the U.K., including schools, seem to be on a steep downward slope, faster than ever before. The unrest is palpable. That being said, home educating isn’t all skipping through the daisies! Many days have their challenges, and being the literal full-time parent and educator is tiring — and that was before the long-covid fatigue. Still, we get each other through, and the alternative isn’t an option.
As always, writing has been a constant. Separate from my creative writing, it’s been my introvert-central-management system since childhood. Sketching is too.
Professionally, I have had the pleasure of editing works by some fantastic writers this year — some serious jaw-dropping, inspiring talent. One of the last short stories I edited had me reaching for my inhaler! That author painted a vivid anxiety, paranoia-ridden piece in their protagonist — I felt it all! The subversive angle of the work while playing off the backdrop was skilfully moving. I was in awe. In the massive catalogue of literary genres, the immense skill some horror writers portray is hugely underrated, all due to that simple label ‘horror’. You’ll find the asthma attack-inducing story in KJK Publishing’s The Horror Collection: Sapphire Edition.
This year Ruthann Jagge and I joined forces and created Brazen Folk Horror to share our collaborative works. We have been sharing weekly updates there and have many more ideas for the future. As with this site, readers can subscribe to receive those updates directly in their mailbox. The debut collaborative novel under our exclusive in-house imprint, Delevan House, releases on the 1st of February 2023, and the second book in that series is underway. I’ve shared before about how I adore working with her. We’ve each had much to contend with this year. At times, we’ve both been swimming against a ferocious tide, but we have prevailed and have created something unique from Scottish and Celtic folk inspiration. You better believe my girl and I are indeed Brazen as fuck.
Getting back into academic study has been challenging to make space for, but somehow It’s been working out, in sacrifice of sleep! I passed my first module and started my second towards my English Language and Literature degree. The second part has been immensely inspiring. I am enjoying it far more than I anticipated. It’s ignited old and new passions for my own language, those that I’ve been surrounded with and the broader scope of the world. I’ve been evaluating how this entwines cultural and individual identity. This leg of the course has lit a few fires.
Onto the books published under Clan Witch this year:
Asylum Daughter — my psychological horror novella set in Glasgow, Scotland. I’m proud of how this piece turned out. I loved writing it and got to exorcise the asylum.
The Crash of Verses by Rafik Romdhani — this is Romdhani’s second published collection. His poetry is among my favourites of recent years. If you have not read him, pick up this book. He is an exceptionally skilled modern poet.
Incesticide: Collected Horror — my second collection of short horror fiction. It includes nine stories featuring urban folk horror, a touch of splatterpunk and fairytale horror twisted with BDSM, among other assorted flavours for those who enjoy a taste of different things.
Clan Witch: Found Shadows, my collection of free verse poetry and drabbles. This brings together small pieces scattered with other publishers and some never before published poems. Not all truth and not all fiction.
There have been other written pieces published throughout 2022 in the form of short stories, poetry, articles, forewords and copy for other titles.
What about the birds? Birds have been a significant and symbolic component in my year. Before the baby was born, magpies started frequenting my garden. They never had before. In truth, I was never a fan of the species. (Largely due to a childhood memory or a magpie killing sparrow chicks in a neighbour’s garden. It was such a brutal attack, not for a meal or anything. It seemed to enjoy causing the suffering and instigating horror in the flock of sparrows screaming at the beautiful beastly creature.) Other corvids, such as their cousin, jackdaws, yes. But never the magpie. Of course, going through pregnancy and loss again, this felt strikingly symbolic. For the longest time, there would be one—a dark omen. One for sorrow… as the months have passed, groups of them now frequent the garden along with the smaller birds, which have their daily routines flying in for a feed and natter. Adopting ex-commercial laying hens scheduled to be slaughtered has been tremendously healing. We brought them home less than two weeks after our loss. Building for them and supporting their transition to domestic retirement felt like a productive and helpful use of grief energy. Then the hens have taken in robins. The birds have been inescapable and have become a significant feature of Delevan House too.
Life and creativity can be inseparable, at least elements of each. Twisting tendrils that reach out to be touched and woven into new patterns.
I am wrapping up, as I didn’t intend on doing this kind of update this year! There you have it, a wee mixed-bag summary of 2022. I best be off again, I’m currently hauled up with an unwell small. Her feverish chattering dreams spill out into the dark in a torrent, and I wish, as many parents do — I wish I could soak up the fever and take all the pains away, for always. But life has so much more of that in store. I will have to be content with holding her for as long as I can and as long as she needs.
The darkness is drawing in, approaching the longest of nights, and I wish for what I always do here and the world over, peace.
The month of Samhain 2022
Witches’ New Year approaches. With that, I’m Autumn cleaning, creatively speaking, at least. Washing away the dust of the summer fires, sweeping this germ-ridden circle clogged with ash. I say this with every positive intention, which in the current climate of my sick house, it’s not so simple. Some things are outwith control, but I try flow with, around, through it. (I may have recited ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ a few too many times).
Starting with the writing. I’ve taken part in only a few invite-only opportunities. This year, it has been difficult to say no, but something I’ve had to learn to do fast. It’s been challenging; each opportunity offered has been for a great project, and I am profoundly grateful to be asked. Short fiction writing has been on the back burner, which was always this year’s plan to invest in my degree studies and researching/writing longer works. Moving on, a quick recap of my own books released and scheduled to tie up 2023:
5th May 2022
Incesticide: Collected Horror
Short Fiction Collection
14th December 2022
Clan Witch: Found Shadows
Poetry and Drabble Collection
31st December 2022
There has been lots of work going on in Brazen Folk Horror, which I launched with Ruthann Jagge this year. Here we share regular updates on ‘The Making of Delevan House’. We have many plans to execute, so it’s a great space to follow. You are cordially invited! We expect you to put in some effort—get tight-lacing, break out the good cloak, your best finery, and you better buy an extravagant hat while you’re at it. It’ll be one hell of a ride! You will want to be watching for that pre-order date as soon as we announce it. In the meantime, come enjoy the brazen tease and seduction.
Well, it’s been tumultuous and stable on the homestead with no middle ground— a seesaw over starving shark-infested waters more than a rollercoaster. The pendulum never stops. My kids and I have been struggling with fresh ongoing health issues since the start of the year when we contracted that virus. It then came in for a second hit in July, which haven’t recovered from. Between chronic coughs requiring prescription medications, chronic fatigue and opportunistic germs that keep jumping on board because of compromised immune systems, it’s been a royal shitshow. With medical support services (the NHS) being abysmal. My family (I) also suffered another pregnancy loss. During the second bout of that virus, my baby’s heart stopped beating, and I gave birth four weeks later. We were (are) devastated.
Grief so intimate is a profound journey we carry with us throughout our time on the rock. Lives that were given a second chance coincided with the loss of my last baby, Averey. My family adopted a small flock of ex-commercial layers (Hens) from The British Hen Welfare Trust. I have shared little updates on their settling-in and shenanigans on social media. The ladies (our little Queens, as we call them. On account of naming them after Drag Queens: Jinkx Monsoon, Bimini bon boulash, Raja and Ginger Minj) are so very full of stories and have settled in as though they’ve always been part of the family. They are part of the clan. Some things are meant to be, and these Queens were never meant for slaughter.
Something about coming from 2021 into 2022 held promise and a thirst for change. More than a thirst, it was a drouth of dry agony. So many I know felt it—a need for rewiring, redirection, reinvention, or simply getting back on track. The year hasn’t quite lived up to the promise. Instead, it’s been more like treading water. Trying to stay afloat, and more, fighting to survive. I guess that’s life for the most part. An ongoing battle, with Jack-in-the-box obstacles springing forth at any given moment. Damn clowns. Tomorrow will be better.
The veil is thinning as the gears continue to cycle. There’s much reflection as we dare to lift the veil and step through the shadows, opening locked doors to visit with ghosts. This season welcomes the shadows, where the light and dark dance. It’s almost Samhain. Listen… whose voice can you hear calling from the ether?
Sweep the circle, burn the candles, lay out the feast, and set out coveted photographs and letters from the dead. They’ll be here soon. )O(
Mid Year Update
Talk about curveball 2022! Another year of madness! There were plans. Big beautiful plans! And while those plans still exist, there has been movement because of those unexpected transitions life has her way of throwing. Personally, I’ve had some family upsets which I predominantly have to deal with and process alone (my partner, of course, has supported as much as one can). I’ve angered, been frustrated, hurt, grieved, run myself in circles, hurt some more, and accepted. Because sometimes that’s all we can do. Accept to find crumbs of peace and carry on. It just takes a little time. It’s a process many are familiar with. It’s been heavy.
Following the acceptances of a triple-pronged hit, I’ve another unexpected ‘bump’, who made himself known in a dream. My kids are excited about another sibling to teach and get up to extra mischief with. Since I have complicated pregnancies, and this one has already given us some wobbles, I’m (again) doing everything within my control to keep this little one inside until late 2022, ideally early 2023. My cervix needs a mantra, and this is the last! The instant physical hit means I’ve been heavily fatigued, and as of that wasn’t enough, I’ve been hammered with mine and the kids’ second bout of Covid of 2022. Because I wasn’t wiped enough by the heavy graft underway in my uterus, I am zapped because my lungs are in battle, and my body feels like it’s been used as a punchbag.
Moving in from all of that, onto the writing front update:
My novella, Asylum Daughter, released on 8th May 2022.
Redesigned the cover art for Murmur: Collected Horror.
Launched Clan Witch Etsy store for book related merchandise and signed copies.
My short story collection Incesticide: Collected Horror is available for preorder, releasing on 14th December 2022.
My sassy, immensely talented, and inspiring co-author, Ruthann Jagge and I launched our website, BrazenFolkHorror.com, for our upcoming 2022 release, Delevan House and future projects. Ruthann also released her fantastic solo debut novella in January 2022, The New Girls’ Patient; if you haven’t read her, this is an excellent example of her extraordinary work that should be on any horror fan’s reading list.
I’ve still been editing work for other writers and publishers via Word Refinery and also published poet Rafik Romdhani’s collection, The Crash of Verses.
I am working on my degree course too.
The latest developments has zapped my study schedule. I hope to recover enough to make up for that soon. Deadlines are looming! Anthology wise, unlike in the previous two years, I have not responded to any open calls. My dance card has been packed. I have gratefully received several invite opportunities but unfortunately had to decline several. One that I was able to submit a piece to was with KJK Publishing’s The Horror Collection: Nightmare Edition, which has just been released. It’s the biggest collection of the twelve-book series and worth picking up for a good flavour of many popular independent horror authors currently putting our new materiel.
More still to come for 2022, and 2023 is also beginning to fill up with a couple of accepted invites, continued work with my brazen co-author in crime and at least one (hopefully two) solo release(s). One of which will be a collection of poetry and drabbles, Clan Witch: Found Shadows.
Another Lost Blog
‘I should be writing’
I haven’t written much lately and only have a few short story sub decisions outstanding.
Writing (with a specific purpose) has taken a backseat to everything else. Considering I’ve only been actively submitting work since the tail-end of 2019, this probably shouldn’t be as bothersome as it is (to me). This lull, this deeply uncomfortable, gut-churning, head-aching, creaky death-rattle vibe of a damned lull has created a fracturing within; what’s the harm in another one?
A couple of weeks ago, I could’ve screamed if I wasn’t so agonisingly audio sensitive — which hasn’t resolved yet. I’m sure the screaming would’ve shattered my pain riddled spine. I pictured the exploded shards; the bone shrapnel ripping through muscle and skin. My head hurts. I thought that maybe I needed a hit; a rejection, an acceptable, anything that might kick the cogs into motion — at least that’s where I was last week. Maybe something outward was needed to push a tangible, create type locomotion into motion. Even with that, time is a merciless taunter, and with too much else going on, there’s never enough of it. Though, writing is air. I am dependant on its ability to quench and quell things that nothing else can. I’m co-dependent on the pen even when words are just scrawled onto old paper and shut in a drawer. This digital tapping is a placebo. They say there’s a form of eternity in the code of numbers; to me, the figures are a mirage that melts away like ghosts.
I’ve not been writing (much) — it doesn’t mean I’ve been out of contact with the words. We’ve been serenading in other ways. Ways that should benefit the stories when they get their time again.
No Good Grief
Gnashing and gnawing at my innards
Viscera shredded; trauma tombs embedded
Stitch in bells, weigh down the nauseating flapping
Jangle a euphonious jingle
Steady placement of chinked shield
There my guilt brims
Shame for wishing away rapid cell division
Liquor and voluntary scalding
Natures way away
Life folding poured out
Out of Order; terror of disorder
For two, a freshly dug hole
The morning after
Nipping at heals with the snow
A hollow in another garden
There, a piece of my heart lays
A depression for my first’s succession
She wants to see my torment on display
To harvest in morbid grief games
Pretend she’s just the same
Yearning to reap from the suffering leaks of my soul
Observe my lamentations trapped in a fishbowl
To don a cape, be in control
Prodding my wounds, infecting
Imitation empath storing stories
Catalogued, indexed, held hostage
Latching of grief vampires
Sucking ephemeral life’s marrow
Chipping stones off my bones
An archaeologist scraping the shovel
No delicate brushing of bristles
Desecrating my pain
Self-appointed steward on my cradle’s grave.
Insignia Stories — Horror Matsuri
October is a bustling month on the calendar with an abundance of projects for artists and writers to get involved in (though we do tend to have those wheels well in motion long in advance.) I have learned this very quickly this year actively subbing.
I wanted to highlight some cool, free short fiction that Insignia Stories will be featuring, as well as hosting a Blog Tour of other writers throughout October! All features are Asian inspired work from drabbles, poetry, flash and short fiction.
One for writers and readers to check out! Information on how to get involved in the tour, as well as the publishing schedule, can be found over on Insignia Stories; https://insigniastories.com/horror-matsuri-2020/
I am delighted to be sharing some work as part of this tour on 17th October, with my dark fantasy piece, ‘Goddess in Motion,’ inspired by Javanese mythology.
You don’t have to wait until October though! There is plenty of free fiction published already, not to mention this month’s imminent release of South-East Asian Fantasy Drabbles publishing on 24th September! Link for that on my ‘Books’ tab.
I, oftentimes, have a conflict of mind and motion. In many ways, this current world pandemic crisis has enhanced this, for so many of us. On one hand, it has screamed; it’s time to take stock! Stop! Breathe! On the other, it has created a spiral of fractured thoughts, disconnected and sometimes just altered views of the same things. So many start-stops. Infecting the mind and the overused buzzword ‘wellbeing.’ I hoped to write more complete pieces this year for publishing – more than I have. Instead, I have poetry and paragraphs from different ideas piling up around me. It’s ok, though. Creating something is better than nothing when it comes to any artistic expressive outlet. Right now, here, there’s no rush to finish, no clock ticking at the side of my eye. Though there’s always a clock, a poltergeist sending dread up my spine, keeping me awake while much of my world sleeps around the tick-tock-mind-talking.
For a bit of escapism, I’ve been binge-watching ‘Dark’ – loving the time play in that. Also, currently reading too many things at once as usual, but the stand out is ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline. A tough book to put down – the OASIS, bleak dystopian reality and 80’s nostalgia is lots of fun to get lost in. The soundtrack this week has heavily featured – Tool, Blood Ceremony, The Blood Divine and Paradise Lost.