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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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25

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 …

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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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22

Jumping Hoops – A Rant on the Welsh NHS

Today, as I learn that my legal caseworker is leaving her job and my MP can’t be of any help in local health issues, I am far from being in the best frame of mind…

Let’s quickly recap… Early last year, my husband and I went to our GP to finally pursue gender reassignment, as is our right under NHS protocols. However, the NHS in Wales is more restrictive than its English counterpart, as the GP correctly informed us, and accordingly set up the various hoops that we would need to jump through to receive treatment. These were…

Referral to the community mental health team for assessment.

Referral from the CMHT back to the GP.

Application to the “gatekeepers” (nothing to do with Ghostbusters) for funding.

Once funding obtained, referral to the West London Mental Health Gender Identity Clinic – the only one available to Welsh NHS patients.

A year’s waiting from said referral to our appointment times.

First GIC appointment.

…and that is as far as we have got, at present. However, our first appointments did go very well, and as far as London goes we have no complaints. The clinicians we saw were sympathetic and eager to help, and in my case even provided me with a prescription for HRT to be handed to my GP. Hormone therapy is, of course, an essential first stage of transition, and one that patients in England (and even some Welsh health boards) can obtain even before their first appointments, to dissuade them from self-medicating on internet-bought hormones… which I have been doing for over a year now. My GP, unfortunately, said that they could only help with authorisation from London, so you can imagine how pleased I was to finally obtain some.

Having imagined that, you can now imagine how displeased and shocked I was when my GP practice – a Cardiff Bay-based clinic that had been recommended to me as trans-friendly – still refused treatment. Their latest justification is that there are proposed changes to the Welsh gender identity care pathway, and they want those implemented before taking the responsibility. They assured me it would not take long.

About a week ago I went to a trans information meeting hosted by a local NHS official, who spoke on these proposals and told me they may take up to three years to implement… though she did also tell me – as one might expect – that my GP is making pathetic excuses, and has a responsibility to treat their current patients according to the existing gender care provisions. Also, much to my surprise, she informed me that our GP had lied when they claimed there was no provision for speech therapy under the Welsh system – though both Cal and I had expressed a great interest in it.

She even told me she would be in touch to help me challenge this state of affairs… but unfortunately was not. I have since told my caseworker and my MP – to the sad lack of effect stated above – and contacted my Welsh Assembly Member, but have heard nothing back. That leaves me, at present, at a bit of an impasse, where all I can think to do for now is express my dismay and disgust that things have had to come to this. Unless the local health authorities will support Cal and I in our transition, there is nothing much London can do all by itself (monitored HRT being, as far as I know, still being a prerequisite for surgery, and Cal not being able to self-medicate in any case – testosterone being far too dangerous to take without professional help).

Our worst fear, though, is that they are playing for time, hoping that if they can stall us for long enough then inevitable NHS cuts will impact on the whole gender care service and they will simply be able to deny us care and get us off their monthly budget for good. Paranoid of us? Possibly, but that practice hasn’t exactly been enthusiastic or sensitive in helping us. I recall asking them if they could prescribe Vaniqa hair reduction cream just after my GIC referral… only to be answered with a blunt “we can’t give that to men.”

Though, to be fair, one doctor down that practice has been sympathetic to us both, though the last thing he said to me was “the squeaky wheel is the one that gets oiled.” Cryptic at the time, but in retrospect we both think he was giving us broad hints that the system is not our friend, and we will have to fight tooth and nail if we want to see this through. Not something I excel in, but I guess it can’t hurt to learn.

If anyone has any suggestions for our next manoeuvre in this battle, please pass them along. I could use some fresh perspectives after today’s disillusionments.

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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

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…

9

“Wolves of Dacia” – Call For Readers

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Finally, I have a finished draft of the vampire novel I have been wittering on about for ages. If anyone is interested in reading it and offering me whatever feedback they feel able to, good or critical or scathing, please drop me a PM. Synopsis follows…

Genre – Dark Fairytale / Dieselpunk / WW2

Pages – 409

Words – 176,988

Berlin, 1933: Andreea Petrescu, a Romani gypsy biology student, is expelled from university by the Third Reich. She returns home to Transylvania, to face a grim future of poverty, misogyny, and the stigma of having associated with outsiders: a fact her insular community regards with distrust. Just before she returns, her mother – a gifted medium – strikes a terrible deal in order to protect her.

Eight years later, Andreea’s circumstances have only worsened: her mother is dead, her father is unsupportive, her community is as estranged from her as ever, and fascism has spread to Romania. The Nazi-allied government takes measures to deport gypsies to concentration camps, forcing Andreea and her father to go on the run from the SS. Their flight leads them to seek refuge in ancient catacombs, where they soon discover that they are not the first to have taken shelter.

Though her superstitious father is repulsed by their discoveries, the scientifically-minded Andreea finds herself fascinated, and drawn into the activities of the mysterious resistance unit that has set itself up in the area, and of their leader, the charismatic and ruthless Miss Bendice. She seems eager to recruit the brilliant young fugitive to her cause, and offers Andreea a unique opportunity to escape from her degrading circumstances, but at no insignificant cost.

As Miss Bendice’s hubristic plans escalate to a world-threatening climax, and as the SS death squad closes in, Andreea finds herself caught in the vice. Forging unlikely friendships with a naïve Wehrmacht lieutenant, an amnesiac teenage vampire, and a scatterbrained Welsh parapsychologist, she finds her knowledge, her courage, and her integrity put to the test as she struggles to survive, save her loved ones, and stay true to her principles, though it may entail sacrificing everything she has dreamed of.

© Eleanor Burns, 2016.

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Gothic Dieselpunk

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Manchester Mk1 Computer, late 1940s

…and if that isn’t a mouthful of a name for a genre, I don’t know what would be.

I am conscious this has recently turned into a blog for my weird artistic pursuits rather than for anything directly related to my transition, but so be it. Since my fiction has for many years been a channel (or a coping strategy) for my gender dysphoria, it may as well have its due as long as there is no more obviously relevant news, and real-life news has been pretty scarce for both the hubby and I of late.

This novel I am currently working on is now in the 90% region of completion, so I will fairly soon be pleading for readers… For the present, however, I would just appreciate opinions on this synopsis. I will be using this, or something like it, to pitch the finished story to potential publishers and / or agents, so please tell me if it fails to grab, or share any advice you may have for improving it (and be as harsh as you please).


Wolves of Dacia (Synopsis)

Berlin, 1933: Andreea Petrescu, a Romani gypsy biology student, is expelled from university by the Third Reich. She returns home to Transylvania, to face a grim future of poverty, misogyny, and the stigma of having associated with outsiders: a fact her insular community regards with distrust. Just before she returns, her mother – a gifted medium – strikes a terrible deal in order to protect her.

Eight years later, Andreea’s circumstances have only worsened: her mother is dead, her father is unsupportive, her community is as estranged from her as ever, and fascism has spread to Romania. The Nazi-allied government takes measures to deport gypsies to concentration camps, forcing Andreea and her father to go on the run from the SS. Their flight leads them to seek refuge in ancient catacombs, where they soon discover that they are not the first to have taken shelter.

Though her superstitious father is repulsed by their discoveries, the scientifically-minded Andreea finds herself fascinated, and drawn into the activities of the mysterious resistance unit that has set itself up in the area, and of their leader, the charismatic and ruthless Miss Bendice. She seems eager to recruit the brilliant young fugitive to her cause, and offers Andreea a unique opportunity to escape from her degrading circumstances, but at no insignificant cost.

As Miss Bendice’s hubristic plans escalate to a world-threatening climax, and as the SS death squad closes in, Andreea finds herself caught in the vice. Forging unlikely friendships with a naïve Wehrmacht lieutenant, an amnesiac teenage vampire, and a scatterbrained Welsh parapsychologist, she finds her knowledge, her courage, and her integrity put to the test as she struggles to survive, save her loved ones, and stay true to her principles, though it may entail sacrificing everything she has dreamed of.

© Eleanor Burns, 2016.


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Christopher Lee as Dracula – just because nobody else ever looked that good or ever will look that good as a vampire…