The Making of Delevan House #21

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The Making of Delevan House #21

Possessed and Obsessed

I have been immersed in creativity while juggling the craziness of everyday life and spanners. Over on Brazen Folk Horror, Ruthann Jagge and I have been actively sharing updates with readers weekly for five months now. With only three pre-release updates left to go, our novel launch is imminent!

My adrenaline is at full whack. We have joked about being possessed by our characters, but it’s most definitely an obsession at play too.

For readers who may not yet have picked up a title from either of us and you’d like a sample, then a great place to start before our collaborative novel lands is our debut novellas released just last year.

The New Girls’ Patient, Ruthann Jagge

Jamie Carver is an inexperienced young woman eager to change her life.
Recently certified in nursing, she’s the new girl working at a facility for the elderly.
When her favorite patient dies, the frail woman leaves her a handwritten recipe book as a final thank you.
Dark secrets of Elizabeth’s life hide between the pages.
One evening, a pair of dangerous men intent on learning Elizabeth’s secrets to steal her fortune brutally abduct Jamie and two of her girlfriends.
They trap the women deep in the cellar of a crumbling mansion, where their survival depends on each other. They must unravel a shocking family history before sunrise or die.
Can Jamie rely on her friends, or will she resort to calling on unnatural forces to help overcome her captors and stay alive?

Asylum Daughter, Natasha Sinclair

Bella Mills survived the brutal slaughter of her family by a madman.
Only 11-years-old, she was assaulted and left for dead.
Twenty-three years later, the past returns in the form of her devil, free of his chains.
A disturbing family history full of dark secrets and seduction unfolds as Bella seeks answers.
When she discovers the truth about her mother, locked away without mercy in the notorious Lochwood Asylum, Bella realizes that terrible ghosts of the past hold the key to her future.
Can she escape their power over her?
A novel of psychological horror, and poetic intrigue, sprinkled with the supernatural.
Bella Mills is “The Asylum Daughter.”

From those and those who are already familiar with us as individual writers, you will see that we are wildly different in style. You’ll be amazed how we’ve come together to create our co-written Brazen Folk Horror debut novel with Delevan House. We each brought something new out in the other, creating a collective voice we hope our readers will enjoy. It’s all for you!

The work has been constant, and neither of us has been able to ‘switch gears’ for long from our feisty cast. The anticipated release of Delevan House is only just the beginning.

Now, I really should study! Badb village has unleashed a storm in my head. It needs tae haud its wheelset! Just for a wee while.

In the meantime! Read! Follow! And if you are inclined, please share your thoughts in a review.

Much love and a bit of mayhem!

Natasha )O(

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.

Natasha )O(

Editing Software

Author Advice

In times when the costs of everything are skyrocketing, and artists have a hard enough time as is. I implore my fellow writers, even if you’re commanding the mammoth task of editing your own work, do not rely on editing software. It’s a mistake that your work and reputation will suffer for. Can your career afford that? Even premier-rated software is a poor substitute for the human eye and mind. This is especially true of fiction works.

I repeat: Editing software is not a substitute for an editor. It cannot take the place of an editor.

As a freelance editor, I often take on projects where I am the sole editor. Many independent writers, independent publishers and small presses can only afford one editor, whether in-house or by hiring another independent like Word-Refinery. This makes the process different to large house publishers, where multiple rounds are passed through multiple eyes, which incurs greater costs.

In the business of freelance editing, this is where, as an independent, editing software can be a helpful tool. To act as another pair of ‘eyes’ for the independent editor after they have completed their edits.

This is how I utilise such software – as a tool at the end of the more critical manual edit.

This software does not understand tone and the expansive varieties of Englishes. These softwares lack awareness of genre targets. They lack the ability to support the development of a text so that it reads in a way that leaps from the page and is not ‘flat.’ These softwares often apply sensitivity alerts which can strip a piece of its integrity, style and diminish the author’s voice.

Even if you cannot afford to hire an editor, editing software is not a substitute for an editor, even at a premium rate.

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:

Asylum Daughter
Novella
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(

“Validate Me!”

I’m not going to blame social media—thats just a channel of increased visibility for that desperation. Where people drag others down to try to elevate themselves, it really can be a toxic, stinking cesspit. Too many unchecked egos, or it’s where ego can be worn unfiltered. Feeding the insatiable beast.

The writing industry (specifically in the Horror genre) seems to be on an endless stream of needless drama lately. And little gatekeepers running rampage with their thumbs. Is it attention-seeking?

I think, in part, it probably is. A clambering of voices and opinions striving to make noise, be noticed, relevant, screaming for validation. Am I doing the same in writing this?

First off, everyone is fucking offended online all the damn time. Perhaps, as I’m Scottish and we’re known for having crass, sarcastic, satirical and ‘offensive’ senses of humour, I find it pretty absurd. Getting upset over memes or something written in fiction and then having a gripe online. Gate keeping art? What is this supposed to achieve other than ‘awareness’ of your delicate sensibilities? Art and humour shouldn’t change because someone doesn’t like it. Regardless of what that art or humour may be poking fun at. Is comedy dead?

Don’t read it.

Don’t view it.

Keep calm and scroll on.

Also, I will never understand the utter desperation to be validated by a publishing house, whether small press or traditional. I’ve read plenty of books I didn’t enjoy that have been self-published, small press, and traditionally published. This also goes to the point mentioned above about bringing down others based on such a false idea that one is better than the other. Talk about arrogant and pretentious. Unfortunately, a common trait I’ve noticed over the few years I’ve been involved in the sector. These apparent ‘discussions’ and ‘queries’ within online writing community groups are pointless. But then, doing a bit of quiet, independent reading doesn’t stir up attention.

Self-Publishing (Independent)

‘An indie author is a writer of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry books who self-publishes their own work and retains and controls their own publishing rights.’

Small (Independent) Press/Publisher

‘Smaller publishing company which, like the big conglomerates, commission books from authors and publish at the company’s expense. If very small, they are called micro-publishers.’

Traditional Press/Publisher

‘-a particular kind of publishing service, that licenses publishing rights from authors and handles the publication tasks in return for a large percentage of the revenue.’

Hybrid Press/Publisher

‘-combines elements of trade publishing and self-publishing services in the same contract. Hybrid publishers have very varied business and publishing models but most function like trade publishers, except that their authors subsidize publishing costs.’

*Above definitions from Alliance of Independent Authors

Clan Witch: Found Shadows

I’m sweeping the circle. The bones and remnants of word fusions are being expelled to make way for new spells. This collection is set for release in Hogmanay 2022. The preorder is live now.

Digital ARCs will be available well in advance of release, if you are a reviewer who’d love a first look at Clan Witch: Found Shadows, my mailbox is open for enquiries to be added to my priority early reader list.

Clan Witch: Found Shadows, releasing December 31st 2022

Synopsis (subject to tweaking)

Do readers buy poetry from undead poets?

There’s nothing quite like picking the prose and verses of the dead like vultures. There’s freedom in that unpicking, with no one alive to contest, at least not the mind which birthed them.

Sinclair consumes written and spoken as she does in its lyrical form, dressed in music and paint. Dancing to the beat or screaming into the voids of despair. Here, Sinclair presents Clan Witch: Found Shadows, no music, no paint, just words. A mix-tape of drabbles and anarchic free verse poetry..

The writer still lives. Perhaps you’ll read her unruly verse before the witch is dead.

Cover image from Christy Aldridge of Grim Poppy Designs

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.

AI & Digital Art – Opinion Post

It all kicked off on social media for a 24-hour period, which turned into outright bullying. It was a witch hunt, and the bandwagon was a disgusting display of how quickly negativity spirals in the digital age. There’s been a lot of it lately. Being new to the Twitter platform, it seems like a source for much of that ‘hate’ energy. Perhaps I’ve just not been exposed to that much (thankfully)! Anyway, I posted my tuppence worth on Facebook and thought I’d share here since it’s topical within book publishing and is unlikely to disappear any time soon.

The advancements in technology are astounding; we can all agree. The changes in my lifetime that have opened doors for global collaborations and distribution of art, music and literature are beyond what we could have imagined only a few decades ago. Technological advances have indeed made as many as it has broken.

From handwriting to typewriters to computers and printers. Pigeons, boats, airmail, fax, email and instant electronic delivery of words and art. And as difficult an adjustment as some changes may be at first, many ultimately embrace them.

We’ve been carving art from rock with stones since man stood upright. How much art and expression have changed is magnificent, and none of the changes takes away from how inspiring those first scratchings of creativity and communication embedded into our history, into the rocks, the bones are and always will be.

I remember turning my nose up at ‘digital cameras’ and ‘digital art’ when they were developed. I admit my attitude then lacked maturity, and there was perhaps a bit of snobbery. Now, I have a digital camera permanently attached to my hand! There’s magic in a dark room and effects that cannot be achieved any other way. You know what, it doesn’t have to be one or the other — I appreciate both art forms. And I like that people can capture crisper ‘memories’ in photos without professional skill. It’s (arguably) more accessible.

Going after AI is like going after anything else that was once ‘new’ before it. No, it’s not the same as paint on canvas or a human digital artist layering and developing elements to create a unique piece. It isn’t supposed to be either!

I don’t think any creative should be threatened by AI technology (at this point).

It seems that folk are so quick (on social media) to jump on the attack. Pitchforks out, ready for the witch hunt, taking it out on someone entirely undeserving. Whatever happened to the old sentiment ‘if you’ve not got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’?

And for all of us working in independent/small press publishing, in whatever role, I wonder what we would be doing without technological advancements. Digital artists would not exist. Self/Independent Publishing would not exist as it does now. Haven’t we each experienced archaic attitudes looking down their noses at our work at one point or another? It seems a somewhat hypocritical thing to go on the attack for.

Image generated using text prompted AI

Cancelled!

I wrote my first short story of 2022 and submitted it to a publisher at the weekend.

My aim this year was always to pull away from short story writing (and submitting) to focus on longer works, my coursework and editing.

And I’ve stuck to it pretty rigidly, even when declining offers is painful! But spreading oneself too thin degrades everything.

I’m not going to go into the details of this short story, but I will say that its content, along with recent conversations with other writers, got me thinking; If I had a higher readership, I’d be cancelled.

I know there are many faux pas and taboos that change over time, and my work constantly bears the weight of uncomfortable themes. Horrifying right? One of the reasons I now include content warnings is to support readers sensitive to particular themes. It is not a poor taste marketing strategy. It is genuinely to deter readers that could feel hurt by my work. If I’m doing my job correctly, my work (in horror particularly) should be uncomfortable.

Over the last few years, there has been a notable request for ‘diversity’ from publishers demanding representation from marginalised groups — in a writer’s personal circumstances and in the characters we create to tell our stories. In this quest, many are outright discrimination, the very thing they claim to be trying to ‘correct’. ‘We demand diversity and representation unless you’re a cis white male’ being the most prominent. How dare they! On top of that, these diversity thumpers are dictating the presence of character archetypes in a creative’s work! ‘No LGBTQI+ representation? Better squeeze one in there, to keep everyone happy.’

Well, quite frankly fuck that! I don’t fall in line with any dictatorship! And it has zero place in art of any kind!

I am anti book banning.

I am anti art burning.

I am anti-censorship.

I am anti-dictatorship.

If you don’t like an artist’s material — don’t buy a ticket, don’t read their work and don’t dictate how anyone else should feel about it! Such arrogance is deeply misguided and kills art. It doesn’t promote it; it doesn’t promote equality or diversity. You’re foolish if you think that it does. The great tapestry of creative output is the very definition of diversification and multicultural without a pre-set dictated agenda!