The Delevan Diaries

Desperate for book II? Preorder the eBook here. To secure your co-signed softcover or hardcover now, email us at brazenfolkhorror@gmail.com with your…

The Delevan Diaries

Art Inspires Art: Incesticide

I was asked recently about the cover for Incesticide: Collected Horror, so I’m sharing a wee bit about it here.

Music is a massive part of my life, inspiring me when I work. It helps me find grounding when the the Earth has fallen from my feet, and I can’t find anything else to tether onto. Art is a wonderful way of distracting us from pain or helping us face and conquer the demons taking up space. The title was chosen in homage to Nirvana — I am a huge grunge fan, and it is one of my comfort-food genres, so it felt natural to fall into that.

The artwork followed the title. What’s more grunge, punk and indie than doing it all myself? I love to paint too. I guess the creative streak is profoundly ingrained in my wheelhouse, even when I suppressed those urges in years gone by. I took this idea and continued my homage to the title. I didn’t overthink it and just went with the flow, inspired by and creating my spin on Kurt Cobain’s cover art for Nirvana’s Incesticide.

Dandelions (dandelion wishes) are my favourite flower. The invasive weed wields healing properties. Her seed is carried in the sweep of a breeze, and she’ll resist suppression, taking deep root wherever seeds land. She’ll bloom through cracks in the concrete — nature dominating and cleaning the disaster of man. I replaced Kurt’s poppies with dandelion seed heads. Though this element is scarcely visible on the Incesticide: Collected Horror book cover, as the figures took central focus on the wraps.

Those two forms: I switched the small figure to the opposite arm and painted them with only a loose nod to Cobain’s originals. I fleshed out my forms but maintained a skeletal accent to the larger figure. For the small child figure, I wanted to recreate that mannequin/doll base but with a dance that quietly echoed the larger one. I think they quickly transformed into ‘mother’ and ‘child’ when painting them, more so when I stepped back and saw a ghost of my daughter’s face in that child form. My ‘koala baby’. With that, it made sense that’s where my paintbrush went. That revelation then paints more sense onto the wide-eyed, dishevelled ‘mother’. The art for Incesticide became personal. Perhaps a bit of a mirror to PND. A little horror of life that has nothing to do with the collection’s contents.

As well as the Ts and Hoodies on my Etsy, prints of the Incesticide artwork are available if you find me skulking in the shadows with my books and other entwined wares at some cool events this year.

The Gothic Market

#BeBrazen Saturday

Last week we shared some insight into one of our most loved characters, The Threnody. The character who haunted Ruthann’s dreams, demanding to be …

#BeBrazen Saturday

The Cast of Delevan House #9

One Should Keep Walking from a Walker We all know the easy analogies…like a month to a flame…stand too close to the fire, and you’ll get burned…on …

The Cast of Delevan House #9

The Cast of Delevan House #7

Mairi Pivona (Voni) McQueeney was born under a crescent moon on a Wednesday. At the time, no one celebrating the birth of the screaming girl knew …

The Cast of Delevan House #7

Time is Money

It fills me with terror when I see short turnaround periods offered for manuscripts on some freelance service platforms, where folk offering many different services can utilise to garner business. Often a guaranteed timeline is presented upfront without assessing the writing requiring the work. Is it arrogance or ignorance of editing skills involved?

Editing speeds vary from person to person. Yes! this is a set of skills that requires the human brain, not AI, not an app!

Multiple factors feed into how long a project will take, such as the type of editing, word count, language(s) used and the overall condition of the manuscript. Another critical factor is the editor’s familiarity with the writer’s work. The more familiar, the more we know the nuances and common errors that arise and the slicker one can become in completing a manuscript.

When I see small house publishers or independent writers churning out book after book, I wonder how much time is spent on this essential process and how many passes a book undergoes before publication. I also wonder ‘who’ is editing. It’s a dangerous assumption that any writer or reviewer can also be an effective editor. Editing is far more than reading and spotting the odd typo. Unfortunately, the latter is a common ignorance in particular writing circles and some so-called ‘editors’.

As a serious writer with pride in your work, you should consider these questions too. Consider what an editor and publisher can genuinely do to add value to your process before signing a contract.

From my desk (and I’ve already explained how many factors play in), I average 1k-2k words per hour. I reiterate this is editing, not reading.

As a simple example, a 60k manuscript = 60 hours of work. What would you expect to be paid for working 60 hours?

This little example is worth considering when you are pricing an editor — who will have additional tasks before the edit begins on your piece. The essential set-up stages also cost them time. And as the saying goes, in business, time is money.

When I set up my editing business, Word Refinery, I offered introductory rates. As a passionate freelancer and supporter of creatives, I supported small publishing houses with additional discounts at my own expense. Independent businesses incur more costs than just time — which is one of the most valuable commodities. And, of course, the cost of everything is rising worldwide. With that, Word Refinery fees are under review.

Professional relationships between writer and editor or publisher and editor require a two-way level of respect. Fees are an integral component of that.

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(

Trust, Value, Editing

I will admit something that, like so many independent writers, can be torn apart. And I also acknowledge there can be pitfalls – some gatekeepers regard this audacious move as career suicide regardless of experience or qualifications.

Not only do I professionally edit works for other writers, businesses and publishers, but I do something else regarded as a grave sin.

I, as a writer, self-edit, and I publish it!

I must be insane, right?

Imagine an artist controlling their art! Ensuring every stroke of the brush is theirs. The absurdity!

Editing is an independent skill in writing. This is a fact. With that, it is true that an editor isn’t necessarily a skilled storyteller and vice-versa. These can be common misconceptions. I have read poorly self-edited work and work edited by so-called editors who were glorified spell-checkers and saw themselves as prescriptive grammarians, thus stripping a piece of style and substance. Editing (in the independent writing and publishing world) is a highly sought-after skill and grossly undervalued.

I have spent much of my life writing and editing across many forms, and when I began publishing books in 2018, I honestly did not consider passing them through an external editor’s desk. Ignorance at the time was perhaps in part to play. I, admittedly, did not consider hiring an editor as part of the process. And now, with a couple of years of publishing experience where I have learnt something new with every title and even when working with others, would I change it? Personally, no.

Why? Well, I’ve worked with editors and writers who take prescriptive approaches, and in such methods, so not hold a place in creative writing. I’ve also been ‘edited’ by terrible communicators who have ignorantly ‘corrected’ spellings of Celtic or Scots words to a form of English, thus destroying critical seeds of the story and publishing their mistakes in my work under my name. An editor’s job is to polish and enhance, to bring out the best in a writer’s work, not diminish their voice and make them look stupid. I’ve learned many lessons from both. In my writing and skilled self-editing, I’d rather make my own mistakes that I can correct than have someone else do it and not take responsibility and rectify their shortcomings.

Rigid, prescriptive processes can have their place when writing for a corporate audience and developing educational materials, in which I have much experience. But artistically, a prescriptive approach to editing has no place; one size does not fit all.

My choice to self-edit is not one I take lightly. As a freelance editor, I am not ignorant about the depth of such a task, and as with any other piece of written material that crosses my desk, I consider, correct and develop: punctuation, spelling, syntax, morphology, overall structure, make cuts of redundancies, tautologies and lines or passages that don’t drive the story forward, and of course, consider developmental opportunities, and the author or publisher’s specified needs and style which I always discuss prior to working with them. I consider the narrative voice and those of the characters to ensure they read authenticity. And another vital component is style — a piece of creative writing should have rhythm and motion, like a great painting or music. If it’s rigid and static, as it would be following a prescriptive approach, it would be stale.

Even with such vigorous attention to my work and my clients, I am not infallible. No editor is, and I don’t trust anyone who portrays themselves as so. Neither should you.

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.