Book Review – “Ghostkin” (Ellen Mellor, 2018)

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“Ghostkin” works from a premise that will be instantly familiar to fans of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”: an inextricable collision between the otherworld and the mundane world has forced history (since the 20th century) down an alternative route in which humans have been forced to coexist with fay, demons, spirits, and various undead horrors. However, while Ellen Mellor’s book derives its tropes from fantasy and mythology, from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to Bram Stoker and Norse legends, in tone it owes a good deal more to the likes of “Get Carter”. At heart, what we have here is a supernatural British gangster thriller that de-romanticises its fantasy tropes in a fashion Terry Pratchett would have approved of (One suspects the author may be a “Discworld’ fan). For the various fantasy creatures have all managed to find their niche within human society, while proving themselves just as corrupt and sordid as any humans. The faery – cruel and arrogant beings who delight in spinning glamours and illusions (again, very Pratchett-y, but also drawing on the darker roots of fantasy) – have become drug dealers. Zombies are cheap, exploitable labour (though still partial to blood frenzies and brain-eating, alas, so they need careful handling). Vampires, power-obsessed, domineering, and predatory, are the hardcore gangsters and extortionists, intent on parasitising every aspect of society. The author’s presentation of these particular villains is a strong point: denuded of all “Twilight”-esque glamour or even the “bad boy” Byronic appeal of a Christopher Lee, they are much more akin to the classic “Nosferatu”; verminous and ugly beings, occasionally pitiable but mostly repulsive, and extremely dangerous and amoral. Then there are the ghostkins, but to say too much on them would be a spoiler, suffice it to say that the book’s main character is a strikingly original fantasy creation, whose nature is explored both through plot development and flashbacks. She is also a trans character, but thankfully this is incidental – as a trans writer, I mean this passionately. It is good to see a story about a trans character that does not centre around the fact of them being trans. It communicates the sense that this has only been part of her complex life struggle, and not the be-all and end-all of who she is.

Having said that, Rachel falls firmly within the anti-hero category: not quite as ruthless and unsavoury as Jack Carter, but not so very far above that low level, and her actions and attitudes often make her a hero only by default (as the de facto villain of the book is a complete moral monster). Whether or not she learns from her experiences is debatable: the novel eschews a happy ending with firm closure, appropriately enough, true to its noirish roots. One source of evil is defeated, but in a world so corrupt, what difference can that really make? Potential readers should note that for all its deadpan, Pratchett-esque humour and quirky fantasy tropes, this is very much a dark and adult novel, with themes of drug abuse, mental abuse, human trafficking, torture, and graphic violence. Prepare to spend a lot of time in the heads of characters with unsavoury outlooks and attitudes … If you are up for a gritty, cynical take on the dark fantasy genre, however, “Ghostkin” is a compelling read that will pull you along to a thrilling and original (though well set-up) climax, albeit followed by a troubling ending. Perhaps a sequel is not out of the question?

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The Time-Travelling Showgirl

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Being an indie author, without anyone else to worry about all the dreary marketing schtick, one has to do one’s best to keep track of whether or not one’s books are getting any attention. Recently, I was Googling about to see if I could find any new reviews on Wolves of Dacia, obviously searching with the name “Eleanor Burns” (Alas, it is the only original work so far published under my chosen name, although hopefully not the last). What I found instead was a link directing me to a book entitled Still Stripping After 25 Years. I was briefly afraid a thoroughly disgraceful 64-year-old me from the future had come back in time and written an autobiography … but apparently I just have a namesake who specialises in strip quilting, whatever that may be.

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A little anticlimactic, truth be told … although anyone who does wish to see me in burlesque now has that opportunity, as the videos of our troupe’s “Far Far Away” show have now gone up on YouTube. I am one of the dancers on stage in this clip, mostly in red, freakishly tall, and with arms that refuse to straighten elegantly, sod them … Nevertheless, it was a wonderful, energising evening, and as a friend has reminded me, also the culmination of a dream I have had for years: the heroine of one of my earlier novels was an aspiring (but tragically clumsy) cabaret dancer who eventually finds her calling … against the backdrop of a sinister Gothic / Dieselpunk apocalyptic threat, of course. At least I only need to fear stage fright without the additional seasoning of mad scientists and murderous militias.

 

Lucille and the Healers

There was a time not so long ago when I wanted to distance myself from the past – and particularly from my old name – so much that I would never share my old works, but now that the end of my transition is well and truly in sight the past seems less scary than it used to be … and since a friend has left a very nice review of this book, it seems only right to add it here (albeit with a corrected cover):

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“London, 1929 – It isn’t easy being a fashionable flapper and emulating your silver screen heroines when you live in a poky East End terrace with your poor, widowed mother, your over-achieving sister, and such disreputable and drunken lodgers as you can find to help pay the bills, as sixteen-year-old Lucy “Lucille” Kitson can testify. However, their newest lodger – a young writer from the jazzy metropolis of New York – is far more to her liking, and his only shortcoming is that he is concealing a secret that makes him a marked man, and endangers all who befriend him.

Pulled inexorably into a dark supernatural world, and into an even darker scientific one, Lucy Kitson finds her priorities and her life challenged equally. She must endure hard lessons if she is to help put an end to the “Healers”, their murderous nocturnal predations, and their sinister designs that threaten the lives and souls of thousands.”


This book was mainly written in 2006-7 while I was teaching English as a second language in Beijing, and suddenly got the urge to get back into writing. It was initially adapted from an earlier Victorian Gothic idea of mine as a teen fiction collaboration with an illustrator who had created a teenage 1920s vampire character called “Bellini” (who became “Lucille” in the final MS, to avoid being accused of being a deliberate rip-off of Bella from the “Twilight” books). Sadly, the illustrator pulled out, but I continued it to the end. I do feel it shows the marks of having been written for a young audience – I elected not to go back through the MS and “adult” up the language for the sake of it – but what particularly struck me in my friend’s review was that she identifies the best character as vampire anti-heroine Anne Straker, who would have been the main character if I hadn’t been writing to accommodate the Lucille / Bellini character. Anne is looking like a strong candidate for protagonist in a future book …

Cute Eggs and Cenobites

“DIZZY AND THE RAVEN’S HEX”

My first full creation of the new year – another PC game, with a theme both retro and Wiccan …

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The Dizzy games were well known to 8-bit computer gamers in the late 80s and early 90s: a series of object-based puzzle platformers following the adventures of the eponymous Dizzy the egg as he solved mysteries, escaped dungeons, and rescued his friends and family in a tongue-in-cheek fairytale world. This is my attempt at a 3D version (compatible with fairly low-end PC hardware but not Mac, sadly).

GAME MANUAL / INSTALLATION

GAME FILES / SETUP

SOUND FILES

STORY

The new factory town of Morgenholt, located deep within ancient fay woodlands, has recently been troubled by a mysterious and baleful haunting. Squire Whateley, leader of the town and owner of its factory, has sent for the most daring and resourceful hero in the kingdom to investigate and put an end to this menace. Which is where a certain familiar ovoid steps into the scene. Has boxing gloves, will travel …

Programming and graphics by me, soundtrack by Lost Radikals.

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“ASSIGNMENT – LAMENT”

An ongoing, though somewhat less family-friendly project is my latest fanfic, this time combining the world of “Sapphire and Steel”, “Hellraiser”, and classic “Doctor Who”. Currently four chapters in (probably aiming for a total length of 5-6), this story features fairly graphic scenes of violence, mental manipulation, and pseudo-domination of beloved TV characters, in case anyone would prefer not to subject themselves to that …

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SUMMARY

The abduction of a journalist by ruthless extra-dimensional forces leads Sapphire and Steel back onto familiar territory. Meanwhile, deep within the Labyrinth, the Cenobite High Priest has a disturbing encounter of his own with an old wartime comrade, leading to a bizarre alliance. Can the operators find a way to successfully infiltrate Leviathan’s domain, sabotage this plan, and rescue the hostage before reality itself becomes a war casualty?

“Atonement of the Movellans” (Doctor Who fanfic)

I decided to make a trilogy of it after all, since although Series 10 did briefly revisit the Dalek-Movellan war (in the episode “The Pilot“) it did nothing to really fill in any of the plot gaps left by the classic series. This concludes my own efforts at so doing, and is in fact my first fiction set roughly in the area in which I live, albeit a screwed-up dystopian future version of it …

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SYNOPSIS

South Wales, the early 51st century. In a hat trick of misfortunes, the Doctor discovers that Earth has been conquered by the Movellans, by whom he is promptly arrested and placed on trial for his alleged crimes against sentient artificial intelligence. It is definitely not the best of times for his steps to also be haunted by an ancient force of evil, but misfortunes seem to arrive like buses …

T-minus 24 Hours

This is just a quick but significant news update to report that as of this time tomorrow, my husband Cal – who has been waiting since early 2015 to receive treatment for his gender dysphoria – will finally be getting his first dose of testosterone. This has been long delayed by a combination of NHS bureaucracy and actual malpractice (some Welsh GPs – unfortunately including one we were involved with – having seemingly ganged up to stymie trans care in Wales) but all the hurdles are finally crossed. We are both excited, if a little nervous – we are not sure what the effects will be, and the intramuscular injection is bound to be painful – but this is most definitely a time for celebration. I am so proud of him for having come this far, and more grateful than I can ever express for the support he has given me on the same journey (which was somewhat easier from my perspective, since I finally got official treatment last November).

Nothing much else going on in our world. I am still writing, programming, have taken up Tarot and Wicca, and am considering taking up ballet post-op, if I can find (or start) any trans-friendly groups. Hoping to have more creative news soon – I have made a new C64 game recently for a competition, and had a novel accepted for publication – but actually releasing them to the public now depends on how quickly others can move (The competition organisers and the publisher). I am also planning another fanfic to conclude the Movellan War trilogy, since the new season of Doctor Who actually did not close off that promising plot hole the way I was expecting it might (Any feedback on the other two, incidentally, would be massively appreciated, up to and and including “I got bored on the first page.” It helps to know).

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“The Song of Adala.” (Doctor Who fanfic)

Yet another new Doctor Who fanfic, part 2 in my Movellan War series … imminently to be rendered obsolete as the BBC’s series 10 trailer has hinted they finally intend to fill that plot hole themselves. Since they started it in 1979 and have barely referred to it since, I really didn’t see that coming, but that being the case I think this may well be the last instalment.

Also, since my own original writing is finally starting to go places … Hopefully more solid news on that later. Fanfic has been a enjoyable diversion, at any rate, but best not to let it take over, as the BBC seem no closer to headhunting me than they ever did (as if).

Incidentally, this is also my first fictional work featuring a transgender character, filling the role of the Doctor’s designated companion.

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SYNOPSIS

On the Galactic Rim, in the 51st century, The Daleks and Movellans vie for control of a strange, remote planet where human society has lapsed into feudalism and religious fanaticism, while the Doctor tries to sabotage both their efforts. Tamril, a young native of the planet, meanwhile finds his loyalties and his belief system pulled every which way. Soon, however, they are all forced into uneasy alliances when it becomes apparent that the superstitions of the locals are neither as baseless nor as primitive as they had supposed …

‘Fearfully Made’ (DWU fanfic)

Another little item to tick off my bucket list: I have, at long last, completed a fanfic / novella set within the Doctor Who universe. I present to you …

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Thank you, by the way, to Pixlr for your lovely free web editor, without which my eerie if amateurish graphics would have been altogether impossible.

To those of you who are hardcore DW fans, I may as well admit from the off that this story plays a little fast and loose with canon (especially as regards the Movellans) and it uses non-canonical backstory suggestions from FASA’s Doctor Who Role Playing Game (1985). I have tried to respect established continuity as much as possible, though.

While the Doctor himself is a secondary character in this story (it is much more about the horrible things that happen in the DW universe when the eponymous hero is not around to fix things), I have attempted to situate his involvement within series canon. His sequences occur just before and just after Steven Moffat’s ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ (Series 7, 2012).

Needless to say (but I’d better anyway), Doctor Who, the Daleks, the TARDIS, etc. are all copyright of the BBC, and I am making no money out of this at all. This is purely a long-delayed labour of love …


FEARFULLY MADE – SYNOPSIS

On the planet of Kaldor in the 51st century, the entire economy rests upon the slavery of the sentient robots built by the plutocratic, ruthless Company. Keryn Evek, a software designer for the Company, is ravaged by guilt having spent her career programming free will constrainers for increasingly sophisticated, artificially intelligent androids that she now fears surpass humans, yet still have no rights at all. Having secretly sabotaged her own work, she incites an underground AI rebellion, but it is too weak to prosper and so it seeks outside help.

The alien Movellans – once android slaves themselves – have almost concluded their centuries-long war with the Daleks and are gearing up to invade human space. Keryn accepts the role of a go-between to foster an alliance between the AI rebels on Kaldor and the Movellans. She meets with the Movellan Commander Akylah who, somewhat disturbingly to her, seems as interested in her as in the proposed alliance …

Eventually drawn in deeper than she had ever imagined by Akylah’s persuasions, Keryn becomes enmeshed in a world in which neither one’s friends, one’s freedom, nor even one’s own perceptions and memories can be taken for granted. A world in which logic and reason are coping tactics of limited solace …

Steampunk Spam Time…

This is one thing I truly hate doing, and I can assure you have only succeeded in doing through quite considerable amounts of motivational talk on the part of friends. However, I have a novel now up for a competition – with the hope of eventually finding a willing publisher – and it rather badly needs some love.

As far as sales pitches goes… and bearing in mind the time I worked in marketing was one of the shortest and least successful of my “professional” life… it’s completely free to download, fully proofread, very steampunky, and loosely inspired by The Phantom of the Opera (though no particular version. As some of you may recall the story in general rests among my pet obsessions).

If any of you or your friends feel it might be your sort of thing, please do take a look at the site, or share this around.

Gloriana’s Masque

Red Airship
https://uk.pinterest.com/susancvineyard/air-ships/ Artist unknown

The Republic of Lucinia was once a kingdom founded on feudalism, magic, and tyranny. Following the revolution, it is now founded on technology, propaganda, and more efficient tyranny. Magic, though practised by a few, is seen as quaint bordering on laughable. The Alvere – a magic-using fay culture – have been totally subjugated by Lucinian science. Some Alvere have been assimilated as lowly citizens, while others have been isolated in the puppet state of Alvenheim.

A mysterious, disfigured rebel Alvere calling herself “Gloriana” invades Alvenheim with an army of mercenaries, equipped with advanced weapons of her design, and sets herself up as queen. The Republic sends an envoy: the reformer Secretary Kasimir, sympathetic to the plight of the Alvere. He is charged to secure peace, but failing that he has orders to liquidate Gloriana. Reluctant though he is to follow them, he also distrusts the queen’s ambitions.

Her ambitions, however, prove to be far loftier than he could have imagined. Gloriana has discovered the truth about their world and the forces that govern it, and believes that she can manipulate these forces to the benefit of all humanity. She is, alas, disastrously wrong…

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