The one where I answer reader questions

a woman's hand holding a cup of coffee and an open book with the words answering reader questions

One of the lovely things about seeing my books in the hands of readers is that the conversation doesn’t end when they turn the last page. So many readers ask me questions about my books and writing process. That might be as part of a book review, in an email, or as a comment on social media. So I thought I’d take the time to answer the most frequently asked questions here on my blog.

Are Haven Wakes and Magic Bound set in our world?

While the setting of the Haven Chronicles is similar to what our future may look like, there are definite differences. For a start, there are place names like Caercester and the Black Strait that are versions of places in our world.

The technology in the world of the Haven Chronicles, such as the vast number of robots, suggests that the world of the novels is on a slightly different and sometimes more advanced scientific path to our own.

So no, Haven Wakes and Magic Bound aren’t set in our world. Instead, they take place in a twin (but not identical) world to the one we know.

Do you already know what will happen at the end of the series?

Absolutely, but I can’t say I’ve known about it from the start. The idea developed as I wrote Magic Bound and then book three. Something happens at the end of Magic Bound that starts a series of events and sets one of the characters on a completely new path. Not even my publisher knows about it.

So yes, I know how the series will end.

Where do you get your character names from?

Some characters, like Hartley Keg, turn up ready named. I have no explanation for how my imagination does that. Other characters take a little more thought. I’ll generally start with a name search based on the meaning of that name. Does it match the personality and other details of the character? The sound of the name and its rhythm matters too, especially when adding a surname to the mix.

I sometimes use names that I already know; some are even from my family tree. Or they might be completely new to me and found by searching for a name that means ‘river’ or ‘warrior’.

Do you have to read the Haven Chronicles series in order?

You can find the answer to this in my March blog post.

What inspired you to write Haven Wakes and Magic Bound?

I’ve blogged about what inspired me to write my novels, Haven Wakes and Magic Bound, in the run up to the release of each book. Here are the links to those blog posts:

Haven Wakes

Magic Bound

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If you have any more questions about my novels, please do ask. You can drop me an email or contact me through Instagram, Facebook, or X/Twitter.

A catch up in May

a table laid with pretty cups and saucers and other crockery, flowers, against a pretty countryside setting, and the words A catch up in May

It’s been over a year since I’ve written a catch up post, so I thought it was time to do another. So grab a cup of what you fancy and find a comfy seat. Here’s what’s been happening in the life of Fi.

Book 3 of the Haven Chronicles

The second instalment of the Haven Chronicles, Magic Bound, was released in 2022. Since then I’ve been planning and writing the third novel. A couple of months ago, I emailed off the first draft to Burning Chair. I always find this stage rather nerve-fraying, but thankfully they loved it. Phew!

Right now, I’m editing that version. Nothing major. Just a tweak here and a jiggle around there. The target is to finish those edits by the middle of June and have it back in the hands of Burning Chair for the next stage. Wish me luck.

Books 4 and 5

While I waited for Burning Chair to get back to me, I got on with planning book 4. I made my characters suffer plenty in book 3, but book 4 takes that to the next level and over the horizon. More travels, more peril, and much more heartbreak.

Book 5 will be the last instalment of the Haven Chronicles. I’ve always known how I want to end the series so large chunks of the final book are already planned out. It’s going to be an emotional one, both for the characters and me, but I feel that it’s a fitting and deserved end(?) to Steve’s journey.

Something completely different

Once I’d finished planning out book 4 and was waiting to hear back from Burning Chair, I started on a fresh writing project. It’s a fantasy novel, this time for grown-ups, and the first of two. I already know what I want to call it but I’m not going to share that just yet.

There are links in the novel to a couple of characters who appear in the Haven Chronicles, but other than that it’s a story of its own. What can you expect? Well, there’s:

  • an almost new main character (you met her once in the Haven Chronicles)
  • a brand new, powerful villain unlike anything I’ve written about before
  • an old hotel in a wild, rural setting
  • family ties and romantic challenges
  • long hidden secrets laid bare

Short stories

Or rather two collections of short stories. I’ve already written two short stories set in the same world as my novels, and plenty more fantasy short tales too. The plan is to create two collections: one of stories that relate to the Haven Chronicles, and another of fantasy stories that don’t tie into the series.

The first collection will be a companion book to the Haven Chronicles that reveals more about many of the side characters, their back stories, and adventures.

Who knows what will make it into the second? I’ve lots of tales to choose from. The title of the collection? It has to be Magical Possibilities.

My 2024 reading challenge: progress and what to read next

a pair of glasses and an open book on a bed with the words My 2024 reading challenge progress and what to read next

Back in January, I set myself a challenge of reading 12 books in 2024. That may not seem like a lot to many readers, but it’s a realistic figure for me. I do struggle to fit in daily reading time around my copywriting business, working on my novels, doing family stuff, and sleeping. So reading one book every month seems do-able.

To date, I’ve finished:

  • The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
  • Perfect Day Pocus by Bella Colby
  • Back From The Dead by André Spiteri
  • Sandcastles by Lily Lawson
  • Blackbirch The Beginning by K M Allan
  • Master and Apprentice by Susan Mansbridge

You can find all of the related book reviews over on my Instagram account.

That’s six down, six to go.

My current read is All The White Spaces by Ally Wilkes. Here’s the blurb:

book cover of All the White Spaces by Ally Wilkes

In the wake of the First World War, Jonathan Morgan stows away on an Antarctic expedition, determined to find his rightful place in the world of men. Aboard the expeditionary ship of his hero, the world-famous explorer James “Australis” Randall, Jonathan may live as his true self―and true gender―and have the adventures he has always been denied. But not all is smooth sailing: the war casts its long shadow over them all, and grief, guilt, and mistrust skulk among the explorers.

When disaster strikes in Antarctica’s frozen Weddell Sea, the men must take to the land and overwinter somewhere which immediately seems both eerie and wrong; a place not marked on any of their part-drawn maps of the vast white continent. Now completely isolated, Randall’s expedition has no ability to contact the outside world. And no one is coming to rescue them.

In the freezing darkness of the Polar night, where the aurora creeps across the sky, something terrible has been waiting to lure them out into its deadly landscape…

As the harsh Antarctic winter descends, this supernatural force will prey on their deepest desires and deepest fears to pick them off one by one. It is up to Jonathan to overcome his own ghosts before he and the expedition are utterly destroyed.

After I’ve finished reading this brilliant novel, the remaining five (of 12) will be:

  • The Great Big Demon of Flint Hall by Peter Oxley (hands up, I’ve already started reading this on my phone when I’m out and about)
  • The Supper Club Murders by Victoria Dowd
  • Shockwaves by Suzanna Williams
  • The Gaia Effect by Claire Buss
  • The Year Before The End by Vidar Hokstad

That’ll be my 12. I’m a little ahead so who knows, I might even exceed my challenge. Fingers crossed.

Do you need to read the Haven Chronicles in order?

Quite a lot of readers have asked me this question, so I thought I’d answer it here on my blog. Just in case you’re new to my writing, the Haven Chronicles series is made up (so far) of two books, Haven Wakes and Magic Bound. The third book is currently with my publisher, Burning Chair. There’ll be two more books in the series after that.

I think the reason that many fiction series can be dipped into wherever you want is that they’re so well known by the reading public, from the characters, to the world where the story takes place, and the overall feel of the books. There’s an element of familiarity that bridges any gaps lost by not reading earlier books in the series.

When it comes to the Haven Chronicles though, I think the greatest reading experience will be gained by starting at book one, Haven Wakes. Here’s why:

Getting to know the characters

In Haven Wakes, the characters are new to the reader and to each other. We get a first impression of them all. For instance, the first time you see Hartley Keg, he’s dressed in an apron and offering breakfast to Steve. That initial impression (if I’ve done my job right) is of someone who is easy to get along with, welcoming, a little comical, and nearly always thinking about food. The reader gets to know Hartley and the other characters as Steve does. And of course, we get to know Steve too.

By the end of Haven Wakes, we know the characters a little better, and we’ve seen a subtle change in Steve too. We know what he’s capable of and how he may act in the future.

In Magic Bound, we learn more about the characters’ back stories, see their interactions evolve, and watch them grow and develop with each new challenge they face. The Steve we know by the end of Magic Bound is more confident, braver, and more decisive than the boy we first meet in Haven Wakes.

World building

Haven Wakes provides a snapshot of Steve’s high-tech world – where most people own a robot (or two) – and the hidden magical underbelly that Steve discovers. We get the chance to run around the city of Caercester and delve into the magical community of Darkacre.

In Magic Bound, that knowledge is the starting point for an adventure that takes Steve and his friends beyond the city limits. We also learn more about the magical community and their history.

In the third novel, our characters venture even further and discover so much more.

Haven Wakes provides the foundation of your understanding of the world, rules, and culture of the Haven Chronicles.

Story arcs

Each novel in the Haven Chronicles has its own individual story, but there’s also an overarching storyline that runs throughout the series. While dipping into the Haven Chronicles at any point will provide you with a treat of an (individual) adventure, you may miss out on the storyline of the entire series. Each novel provides a basis for the next novel and a step further along the overall story arc.

Breadcrumbs

When I say ‘breadcrumbs’, I mean clues. I know how the series will end. There’ll be a massive reveal in the final novel and so far, I’ve scattered a number of breadcrumbs through Haven Wakes, Magic Bound, and book three. There’ll be more in book four too.

So if you jump in at books two or three, you might miss some of those lovely breadcrumbs and the chance to carry out a little deduction.

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You are, dear reader, free to read the Haven Chronicles in whatever order you like but I hope I’ve proved my point that starting at Haven Wakes is a good idea before moving on to the second book and beyond.

Fantasy novels with a touch of romance

slivers of 5 book covers, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Ninety Five Percent Human by Suzanna Williams, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, and Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

There’s a long-standing tradition of romance playing a part in adventure storylines. Whether it’s the chivalry of King Arthur’s court or the love between Rose and the Doctor in Doctor Who, romance is often key to creating a rich and enjoyable plot. Done well, it can provide character depth or increase the stakes without getting in the way of the protagonist’s quest.

When it comes to fantasy novels, you’ll often find a budding romance or a long standing love affair in amongst the adventure of the piece. Here are my top five fantasy novels (okay, four fantasy and one sci fi) that feature a good dollop of romance alongside an exciting storyline.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The circus arrives without warning. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

Against the grey sky the towering tents are striped black and white. A sign hanging upon an iron gates reads:

Opens at Nightfall

Closes at Dawn

Full of breath-taking amazements and open only at night, Le Cirque des Rêves seems to cast a spell over all who wander its circular paths. But behind the glittering acrobats, fortune-tellers and contortionists a fierce competition is underway.

Celia and Marco are two young magicians who have been trained since childhood for a deadly duel. With the lives of everyone at the Circus of Dreams at stake, they must test the very limits of the imagination, and of their love.

Find Erin’s website here: https://erinmorgenstern.com/

The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger

Clare and Henry met when Clare was just six and Henry thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty.

Impossible but true.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is the international bestselling novel of a time-altering love. Henry is a librarian who suffers from a rare condition where his genetic clock periodically resets, finding himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. Meanwhile, Clare is an artist waiting all her life for her great love Henry to appear. In the face of this force neither can prevent nor control, Henry and Clare’s struggle to lead normal lives is both intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

Find Audrey’s website here: https://www.audreyniffenegger.com/

Ninety-Five Percent Human by Suzanna Williams

Save the girl. Accidentally trigger alien invasion. Stop ruthless alien warlord from killing the human race. This teen’s life just got complicated.

Joe longs to rebuild his failing family farm. But despite the long hours he works in the fields, everyone tells him it’s a crazy impossible goal for a sixteen-year-old. Then he rescues a mysterious girl who urges him to fight for his dream, and Joe realises his ambitions might now include this quirky stranger.

Sarah has resolved to kill herself. She’s an alien/human hybrid sent by hostile aliens to test the viability of life on Earth, and she doesn’t want the death of the human race on her conscience. Scared and alone, she hurls herself into a raging river, only to be rescued by the cutest earth boy. Living on the most beautiful planet in the galaxy just got a whole lot more desirable.

Working side-by-side on the farm, Joe and Sarah grow closer. But when more aliens arrive and Sarah’s secret is revealed, will their love be enough to keep them together as they fight to save the world?

Find Suzanna’s website here: https://suzannawilliams.com/

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

As children, sisters Gillian and Sally were forever outsiders in their small New England town, teased, taunted and shunned for the air of magic that seems to sparkle in the air around them. All Gillian and Sally ever wanted was to get away.

And eventually they do – one marries, the other runs as far from home as she can manage.

Years later, however, tragedy will bring the sisters back together. And they’ll find that no matter what else may happen, they’ll always have each other. An enchanting tale of love, forgiveness and family, Practical Magic is beloved of readers of all ages.

Read my book review of Practical Magic here.  

Find Alice’s website here: https://alicehoffman.com/

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

‘Crivens!’

Tiffany Aching put one foot wrong, made just one little mistake . . .

And now the spirit of winter is in love with her. He gives her roses and icebergs and showers her with snowflakes, which is tough when you’re thirteen, but also just a little bit . . . cool.

And if Tiffany doesn’t work out how to deal with him, there will never be another springtime.

The Word Wizard is no longer with us, but a website is still run in his name (and with the permission of his estate). You can find it here: https://terrypratchett.com/

Fi Phillips: the story so far

photo grid of Fi Phillips, Haven Wakes, Magic Bound, and the words Fi Phillips: the story so far

It’s my first blog post of the new year, so I thought it was time to have a catch-up and reintroduce myself and my books.

My name is Fi Phillips. I’m a fantasy author, freelance copywriter, wife and mum, and slave to a dog called Bailey. I live in North Wales, just over the border from Chester. My novels, Haven Wakes and Magic Bound, were released by Burning Chair Publishing in 2019 and 2022.

Want to know more about my novels?

Haven Wakes blurb

When his uncle dies, Steve Haven finds himself the guardian of a strange artefact known only as the Reactor. But there are people out there who want the Reactor: dangerous and powerful people, who will stop at nothing to get it.

Steve is dragged into a race against time to save two worlds from an evil he could never have imagined and, in doing so, is forced to rely on people who, just a few days before, he would never have believed could exist.

Magic Bound blurb

The magic returns.

When Hartley Keg and Blessing go missing, Steve Haven once again finds himself plunged back into a hidden world of magic. Teaming up with the darkling, he finds himself on the run from the Council and their enforcers, the Hidden, as he seeks to keep safe those that he holds most dear.

Things are complicated further when a new player emerges: Parity, who are far too keen in the Haven Corporation, and the magical device which nearly led to its destruction.

What follows is a race against time through a series of worlds, each more fantastical and dangerous than the last, as Steve and his friends try to keep one step ahead of their pursuers.

Haven Wakes and Magic Bound by Fi Phillips on an abstract magical background

Book 3 of the Haven Chronicles

Last year was all about finishing the first draft of the third book in my futuristic fantasy series. I achieved that goal just before the end of 2023. On New Year’s day, I took up the reins again and began the first round of edits. I’m twelve chapters in so far.

The plan is to finish editing the first draft by the end of February at the latest, and then send it off to my publisher. Fingers crossed.

After that, I’ll be planning out book 4 in the series.

What else?

To date, I’ve written a short story and a novelette set in the same world as my novels. ‘The Hidden Knowing’ is available for free to new subscribers to my author newsletter. ‘A Shadow Falls in Darkacre’ was a Christmas subscriber freebie in 2022 and 2023. I immensely enjoyed investigating side characters and plotlines in both tales, so I’d like to create more short stories centred around the magical community of Darkacre. The plan is to eventually publish them all in a collection of Darkacre tales.

You can also find my writing in two anthologies: 2020 Together and 2021 Still Together. Both raise money for the NHS charities.

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So that’s me, Fi, and my writing so far. And if you’d like to find out how I became a writer, hop on over to my About page.

6 reads for winter

a hot drink and a blanket with an open book and the words 6 reads for winter

One of the best things about the winter season, even when the weather is rainy and miserable, is that it gives us the perfect excuse to snuggle up indoors and get some reading done. And even if we don’t get snow – it came and went here in North Wales over the course of one day – it’s fun to visit wintry worlds where the snow reaches up to your knees but you don’t have to worry about hypothermia and cold toes.

So here are my six winter reads.

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

I’ve been reading Terry Pratchett novels for years (and years and…) but this was the first Wee Free Men novel that I bought. I’m currently reading The Shepherd’s Crown which is the last of the Tiffany Aching novels and it’s just as enchanting. But I’m telling you about Wintersmith in this blog post, so here’s the blurb:

Tiffany Aching put one foot wrong, made just one little mistake . . .

And now the spirit of winter is in love with her. He gives her roses and icebergs and showers her with snowflakes, which is tough when you’re thirteen, but also just a little bit . . . cool.

And if Tiffany doesn’t work out how to deal with him, there will never be another springtime . . .

Crackling with energy and humour, Wintersmith is the third tale in a sequence about Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men – the Nac Mac Feegles who are determined to help Tiffany, whether she wants it or not.

Hogfather (also) by Terry Pratchett

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Yes, it’s another Terry Pratchett novel and this time, it’s the Word Wizard’s take on Father Christmas. I loved both this novel and the TV version of Hogfather with David Jason as the man himself.

Here’s the blurb:

‘Twas the night before Hogswatch and all through the house . . . something was missing.

Superstition makes things work in the Discworld and undermining it can have consequences. When Death realizes that belief in the Hogfather is dangerously low, he decides to take on the job. But it’s just not right to find a seven-foot skeleton creeping down your chimney and trying to say ‘ho, ho, ho’.

It’s the last night of the year, the time is turning, and if Susan, gothic governess and Death’s granddaughter, doesn’t sort everything out by morning, there won’t be a morning. Ever again . . .

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

It may be an old one, but A Christmas Carol has to be on any list of winter/festive novels.

Scrooge learns his lesson as the three spirits take him on a merry haunt to convince him to change his ways.

My favourite film or TV version has to be Scrooged with Bill Murray.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

This is probably my favourite Poirot novel by Agatha Christie, closely followed by Death on the Nile and Curtain.

Snowed in on the Orient Express train with a cast of suspects, victims, and supposed allies, Poirot is tasked with solving the murder of a thoroughly unpleasant individual.

My favourite TV telling of this has to be the David Suchet version.

A Christmas Aether by Pete Oxley

Written as a companion to the Victorian sci fi/fantasy series, the Infernal Aether, A Christmas Aether features three short stories.

In ‘A Christmas Aether’, Augustus Potts, beaten and bloody amidst the demon-infested London East End, is visited by three familiar spirits who reveal terrifying insights into the past, present and future. Can Augustus save himself before it is too late?

In ‘The Ballad of William Morley’, a zealous police officer struggles with personal loss in the midst of increasing unrest resulting from the Aether’s demonic invasion. Can he retain his sense of right and wrong while everything crumbles around him?

Finally, the newly rediscovered scientific/occult document ‘The Potts Demonology’ provides valuable insights into the changes which took place in the late 19th Century, as well as the creatures which forced this chaos onto the world.

A Shadow Falls in Darkacre (by me)

I’m finishing with a novella that I created for subscribers to my author newsletter last Christmas. Set in the world of my novels, this adventure takes place the year before Haven Wakes begins and in the days leading up to Yule. Yes, Hartley Keg is there of course, and Blessing and Frobisher, but there are plenty of new faces too, both good and questionable.

If you’d like to read A Shadow Falls in Darkacre, sign up for my mailing list before 22nd December. You’ll receive a free short story to say ‘thanks’ and I’ll post the link and password to A Shadow Falls in Darkacre in the newsletter that goes out on Christmas Eve.

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Whatever you read this festive season, all the best for the holidays and a most marvellous new year.

Looking back over 2023

2023 over a bookish background

November has rolled around so quickly, and the end of another year is in sight. So it’s time to look back at how 2023 has treated me.  Here’s my yearly review.

Book 3 of the Haven Chronicles

I greatly admire those authors who can write novels quickly, but I’m afraid I’m not one of them. I like to set up a roadmap for each novel before I begin, and research the hell out of locations and technology that will play a part in the story. That burns through a couple of months, which means that I didn’t start writing the third book in the series until autumn 2022.

2023 has seen my novel develop into an international adventure that takes Steve and friends on land, sea, and air journeys to fresh horizons. They’ve made new friends, encountered old foes, and discovered a little bit more about each other too. The end of book 3 is very close now. I just have an escape to plan, a sacrifice (for one of my characters) to make, and a final encounter to describe.

I’m a reader too

While I didn’t meet my target of reading 12 books in 2023, I did finish:

I reviewed all of these delights over on Instagram.

Blog, blog, blog

I publish a new blog post every month. In 2023, these were my personal favourites:

And I treated you to a three-part short story for Halloween: Four old ladies walk into a pub.

Three lovely bloggers and fellow authors interviewed me this year too. First up was the Big Bearded Bookseller, followed by author Karen King, and finally the folks at What We Reading.

A new way of writing

This year, I discovered the #7DayTale write-athon on Twitter/X. Write a piece of flash fiction, or a poem, or whatever you want really, to that month’s theme in one daily tweet for seven days. I blogged one of my tales in May.

While I won’t revisit some of my tales, I’ll definitely turn a number of them into full short stories. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of the reduced character count and the camaraderie of writing my tale alongside other storytellers.

Life of Fi

Away from writerly stuff, 2023 has been all about just getting on with things. It hasn’t been a bad year, but it definitely hasn’t been restful either. It’s totally my own fault as I gave myself more writing to do (#7DayTale and a few short stories) and a new craft business to run (you’ll find plenty of bookmark and charm pictures over on my Instagram).

I’d like to say I got a rest when we went on holiday but with four adults in a cruise ship cabin, one of whom suffers from sea sickness, it was a fun but eventful trip. We even discovered our new favourite place to visit as a family, Lisbon in Portugal. And yes, that is a bus travelling down a river. We were in the bus floating behind.

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So that’s it, my hectic 2023. I’ve fitted a lot into it and there’s even more to get done before 2024 shines over the horizon. And to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Four old ladies walk into a pub – Part Three

4 empty chairs with a table by a roaring fire in a quaint pub, lots of Halloween decorations

“That was easier than I thought,” said Babs.

“Too easy,” said Sheila.

“He won’t be a happy chappie,” said Constance.

“I don’t think he really does happy,” said Gwen.

The Graveyard Tap sat, unsurprisingly, on the border of a graveyard. From there the main road in town led up to the shops or down to a grid of residential streets. With the shops all closed for the evening, the four friends headed down the hill.

Gwen and Constance walked arm in arm, mainly because Constance wanted to enjoy the solid state that Halloween always loaned to her for twenty-four hours. She’d return to passing through walls and spying on the pub’s locals tomorrow.

Besides the Graveyard Tap being Constance’s haunt, it was used for the HAGS yearly get-together because of the delight that the locals took in celebrating Halloween. External Christmas lights were switched on, but Santa and his reindeers were replaced by ghouls, ghosts, and grinning devils. Pumpkins, carved into cute or demonic designs, guarded every doorstep. The pavements were filled with an onslaught of trick-or-treating children and their teen or parental guardians. For one day of the year, all things scary were celebrated.

“So cute,” said Gwen as they walked past a trio of children who were all dressed as fairies.

“I prefer them,” said Sheila as a teenage zombie fought to separate two warring demon toddlers.

“Oh, how pretty.” Constance pointed to a boy and girl who held a plastic bucket of sweets between them. Their faces were painted like colourful skulls, adorned with flowers. The girl had marigolds in her hair. “I do prefer the Mexican approach to Halloween costumes.”

“Dia de los Muertos,” said Gwen. “That’s what they call Halloween over there.”

“I still prefer Samhain,” said Sheila, grinning as another fight broke out, this time between two teens. “Reminds me of the old days. Good and bad.”

“Do you smell that?” Babs took in a deep, shoulder-raising breath. “Someone’s lit a bonfire.” She pulled her coat closer. “Is it just me or has it suddenly gone cold?”

“Good evening, ladies, again.” Mr Mortimer appeared to have recovered from the incident with the chicken leg. If you looked very closely, there was a broken blood vessel in one eye, but the blood was deep purple instead of red. “Shall we get on with this?”

“But we were having such good fun,” said Gwen. “Babs, can’t you do anything?”

Babs turned to Sheila. Sheila sighed and rolled her eyes. She looked around at the trick-or-treaters, weighing up her options.

“Please don’t hurt us,” she cried out, pressing her hands together and raising them in a feigned expression of appeal. “We’re just four old ladies. We can’t defend ourselves against a brute like you.”

A couple of the parents turned around to watch, gave Mr Mortimer the once over, and then returned their attention to their sweet-hunting children

With a tut, Sheila tried again. “No, no, you shan’t take my friends.” She flung herself across Babs, shielding her friend with her arms. “Ravish me if you must. But leave them alone.”

A group of teens edged closer, rather confused by the sight of a sweet-looking old lady thrusting her chest out at a strange man in a top hat. A couple more parents turned to watch.

“Ravish you?” said Mr Mortimer. “I don’t-”

“These are innocent women,” Sheila cried, looking at the passersby. “They don’t deserve to be manhandled.”

“I don’t think it’s working,” said Gwen as the passersby continued to pass on by. “Sheila’s knack at inciting a crowd isn’t what it was.”

“Maybe this will help,” said Constance.

Hunching down in the shadow between Gwen and Babs, Constance wrapped her arms around her head. When she looked up again, her elderly countenance had been replaced by that of a five-year-old girl dressed in a blue gingham dress.

“He’s hurting my grandma,” she wailed as she rushed to Sheila’s side. “Don’t let him hurt my grandma.”

“What are you doing to her?” One of the parents, a woman in her thirties trailing a little boy dressed as a werewolf with her, stepped in between Sheila and Mr Mortimer.

“Don’t you worry, sweetie.” A teenage girl bent down to reassure Constance. “We won’t let him hurt her.”

“I think you’d better go.” One of the dads got involved, prodding Mr Mortimer in the chest. “We don’t like perverts round here.”

“Pervert?” said Mr Mortimer. “I’m not a pervert. I was just-”

“We know what you were doing.” Another dad joined the first. “It’s not right.”

“And we’re backing away, backing away.” Sheila took Constance’s hand as the two of them retreated from the growing, cat-calling mob.  

“Everyone together,” said Gwen, reaching out to them all. “Quick, while nobody’s looking and Mr M is busy.”

“What do you have in mind?” said Babs as the four of them formed a ring.

“You’ll see.” Stepping on tiptoes, Gwen closed her eyes, hummed a couple of notes, and said, “Fairy dust and moonbeams bright, cloak us now in veil of night.” She clashed her walking stick on the tarmac. A sprinkle of sparkles scattered up into the air before floating down to cover them all.

“That’s a bit twee,” said Sheila.

“Well, I am a fairy godmother, dear.”

The sound of the crowd who surrounded Mr Mortimer dropped and muffled as if the four ladies had stuffed cotton wool in their ears.

“Has it worked?” asked Constance, now back in her elderly form. “Can they see us?”

“I’d say not,” said Babs as a child crunching on a lollipop walked between their legs without a glance at any of them. “But just to be safe.”

She picked up her walking stick and pointed the tip into the night sky. A cool breeze circled the four of them, riffling their hair and making them shiver.

“Over rooftops, chimneys high, on the wind now let us fly.”

Constance and Gwen both let out a little ‘oh’ and a giggle as the four friends lifted off the ground. It wasn’t until they had reached the rooftop of the Graveyard Tap that Babs lowered her cane.

“Nicely done, Babs,” said Gwen.

“Not so bad yourself,” said Babs.

“I suppose we’d best not hang around,” said Sheila. “Just in case he comes back.”

“I don’t think the townsfolk will let him,” said Constance. “But you’re right. Better safe than non-existent.”

“Same time, same place next year?” said Babs.

“Of course,” said Constance.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Gwen.

“I suppose so,” said Sheila.

Four old ladies walked into a pub on Halloween, but it was a witch, a ghost, a demon, and a fairy godmother who left that night. And Death, of course.

*

Happy Halloween.

Four old ladies walk into a pub – Part Two

4 empty chairs with a table by a roaring fire in a quaint pub, lots of Halloween decorations

“Expecting someone?” Sally handed out plates of food from the trolley. “Chicken drumsticks?”

“That’s for me, dear,” said Babs. “We’re not expecting anyone, no.”

“Meat pie?”

“Me please,” said Constance.

“Here you are. That gentleman by the bar’s been watching you all. Don’t you think he looks dapper? Or maybe it’s his Halloween get-up. Fiery wings?”

“Me.” Sheila held out her hands. “I’ve been looking forward to this all year.”

“That leaves the sugar-plum pudding for you.” Sally left the custard-swathed dessert in front of Gwen. She handed them their cutlery, carefully reversed her trolley out of the tight space, and nodded to a figure by the bar.

“Blimey,” said Babs. “I didn’t expect to see him tonight.”

“Really?” said Sheila with a chicken wing in her hand. “Seems like the perfect night for him to be out and about.”

The man at the bar smoothed down his thinning white hair as he laid his black top hat on the bar. He was parchment pale and smartly dressed in an old-fashioned suit that was so dark it almost seemed to be a hole, or an absence, or at the very least, disconcerting. He wore a ruby red waistcoat and matching cravat that only accentuated how pale he was. Small-framed, round, silver spectacles perfectly perched on his nose with no arms to support them. His eyes were an icy blue, his face gaunt and angular, and his nose long and hooked. His lips were thin and grey.

He bowed his head to them, picking up his hat and pressing it to his chest as he walked across the pub in a stiff, unnatural fashion.

“Ladies,” he said as he drew up a chair and sat. “This is a pleasure.” As he spoke, a goblet of deep red wine appeared in front of him on the table. His voice was dry and raspy, as if he couldn’t quite catch his breath. “I’ve been looking for you. All of you,” he said.

“How lovely,” said Gwen as she plunged a spoon into her pudding.

“You’ve given me quite the chase,” he said, lifting the glass to his lips for the smallest of sips. “I do hope you won’t give me any trouble,” he finished as he returned the glass to the table.

“Trouble? Us?” said Constance. “We are nothing if not ladies.”

“Debatable,” he said. “No offence intended.”

“Tough. I’m offended,” said Sheila. Hot sauce coated her chin, giving the impression of congealing blood.

“Now, now,” said Babs. “Mr Mortimer is only doing his job.”

“I’m so glad that you understand. Shall we?” He looked towards the door leading to the street.

“You know, Mr Mortimer. I appreciate you’re busy, but could we finish our food first? It is the last meal that we’ll ever eat after all.”

“Except for me,” said Constance. “I haven’t eaten in centuries, but I do enjoy the smell and look of a decent meat pie.”

“And this is very good pudding,” said Gwen. “Dreamy, in fact.” She smiled the sweetest of smiles.

“Well.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a fob watch, which he considered with a raised, pale eyebrow. “I suppose there’s no rush. My next appointment isn’t for a while.”

“Chicken drumstick?” said Babs, holding one up.

“I don’t usually…” He stared at the chicken piece as if it was something both alarming and alluring. “I don’t have the constitution, you see.”

“Oh, go on,” said Gwen. “Our treat.”

“Well, if you insist.” He took the chicken drumstick between thumb and forefinger. “Bones, meat, and bread crumbs.” He gave it a sniff. “Can I eat it all?”

“Absolutely,” said Babs. “The bones are the best bit.”

“But-” Constance began, halting only when Gwen kicked her under the table.

“Thank you.” He bit into the chicken drumstick, teeth passing through flesh and bones alike. “I didn’t expect it to be crunchy,” he said, raising a hand to his mouth. “Is this normal?”

Most people who are choking on a chicken bone go red in the face to begin with, but Mr Mortimer wasn’t most people. Instead, his face changed from white to grey to a rather attractive shade of lilac. His eyes flicked from side to side as his hands wavered in the air.

“Not to your taste, Mr Mortimer?” said Babs. “Have a sip of your drink.”

Mr Mortimer shook his head and pointed to his throat. He weakly slapped his other hand on the tabletop as his eyes began to bulge.

“Don’t worry, ladies. I’ve got this.” One bright spark who had dropped into the Graveyard Tap for a swift pint on the way to a Halloween party hauled Mr Mortimer to his feet. “We’ll have you sorted in no time,” he reassured as he wrapped his arms around the choking man’s torso.

By now, every head in the pub was turned towards the incident. The bright spark’s friends had crowded round for support, cheering each attempted Heimlich thrust. No one noticed the four old ladies as they sidled around the edge of the bar, coats in hand, and left the Graveyard Tap.

To be continued…