excerpt: the flowers of time

As promised, this week I have an excerpt from The Flowers of Time for you. Set in the 1780s, in England and Northern India, the main characters are Jones, a non-binary archaeologist who has lived in the mountains for most of her life, and Edith, who is a botanical illustrator.

If Pater hadn’t made Jones promises to leave straight after the funeral, she wouldn’t have gone at all.

“You promise?” he’d asked, again and again as his strength waned in the flicker of the butter-lamps. “You promise you’ll go, Frank? You need to get away. Take the green-bound book and go.”

“Yes, Pater,” she had reiterated again and again. “I promise. I’ll go. I’ll go straight down to Bombay, to John and Richard. And I’ll take ship as soon as I can. You’ve already written to Aunt Caroline, I sent the letter myself. I’m ready.”

She had been sniveling to herself as she spoke, hoping he wouldn’t notice how distressed she was in the dim light. She didn’t want to be having this conversation at all. He looked yellow-faced and sunken-cheeked even in the daylight and in the flickering light of the dim lamps at night it was worse. He was already corpse-like.

He moved a thin, clawed hand to cover hers. “My dear, I love you so much. I have perhaps done you a disservice by not sending you home to Caro before now, when you were younger.”

“I didn’t want to go,” she said, roughly. “It’s all right, Pater. I’m all right. I’ll go, as soon as is possible.”

“I should never have kept you out here, once I realized that the book has some truth behind it,” he said. He had been rambling a little about his books in the last week or so, as he had become weaker. “You must take it back with you. And put it in the library at Stamford Hall. That’s where it came from. Put it in the library, up high, on one of the top shelves to the left of the arched window. Use the ladders. And then it will be safe.” He drew a rattling breath. “Promise me, Frank.”

She turned her hand over beneath the fragile skin of his own on the counterpane and clasped it carefully. “I promise, Pater.”

“And don’t do what I did,” he added in a harsh whisper. “Don’t search for the source. All these years,” he said, “All these years I have been following the trail, looking for the source. And now, here we are. And it’s not a source for good, my child. It’s not a source for good at all.” He was lapsing in to rambling again. “I want you away, Frank. I want you and the book safe.” Finally he slipped in to the restless sleep that was consuming more and more of his time. She bent her head over his hand as she clutched it. He was the only family she had ever known and she was terrified to lose him.

“It won’t be long now.” The soft voice of one of the older monastery healers came from behind her in the slow Bhoti they used with her. “But you know that.”

She turned slowly on her stool, not letting go of her father’s hand, and nodded. “Yes. I know. Thank you, Jamyang. I do appreciate everything you are doing for us.” Kalsang was behind him, she noticed, his apprentice and shadow. “Thank you for helping him wash earlier, Kalsang.”

“You are most welcome, Jones.” Kalsang nodded with all the formality a teenager could muster.

“He wants me to go home. To England. To my aunt.” She swallowed and looked up. “It’s all arranged. He’s written. Sonam will take me down to Bombay.” She heard Kalsang’s indrawn breath of shock. Bombay was months of travel away. She had only been once herself, about fifteen years ago, when Pater had made the trip to take some artifacts down to send home.

“Will you come back?” Jamyang’s voice was unchanged, still calm and unshocked.

She met his gaze. “Yes. Yes. He wants me to stay in England a year. So I can learn where I come from.” She disengaged her hand gently, not waking her father, and stood. “He’s right, in a way. I should know. But my home is here. And my work is here. His work. It’s so important the people at home in England learn about the wonderful things here in the mountains. There are buildings and people here that people in England never even imagine. Things so old, so precious! I want to keep documenting it all, keep exploring.”

Jamyang watched her, with a small smile and then patted her arm. “You are a good person, Jones,” he said. “You are your father’s child. Franklin has been my friend for decades now, since you first came here when you were a tiny child after your mother died.” He stepped forward and took her hand. “We will welcome you back when you come, child. You will always have a home here with us. But do as your father wishes, now. Take the book he speaks of back to England. And leave it there. He has protected you from it for this long. Now, your protection must rest on your own shoulders.”



Next week, my monthly ‘what I’ve been reading in July’ roundup!

research rabbit-holes for june

The last few weeks’ research rabbit-holes have been pretty varied. I’m still flailing around in the Himalayas and in eighteenth century India for Flowers of Time and on top of that I’m still fact-checking for Inheritance of Shadows.  This is the stack of reading I took away on holiday last week.

It turns out that Rob in Inheritance needs to know about Trench Code, which I didn’t even know was a thing until I started researching codes used by the British in World War One. I’m reading Secret Warriors by Taylor Downing to get some background on Rob’s career in Signals. Or… was he involved with something more Intelligence-led? I’m also reading A Country Twelvemonth by Fred Archer to give me a chronological background to the farming year in the 1920s and I may give Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee another read – I haven’t touched it since it was one of the set texts for my O-levels in 1986. Although I enjoyed it before then, deconstructing it for an exam completely soured me to it.

The pile also includes a couple of books about Kew and Marian North, who was a Victorian plant collector and illustrator. Edie in Flowers of Time is inspired by her, although Edie predates Marian by a century.

Tabs open in my browser this morning include Keeping Clean in the Eighteenth Century, Ladakh, the index to Lady’s Magazine, a google search for images of deserted forts of the Himalayas, a page about the monastery of Phugtal Gompta, the abstract of an article about eighteenth century circulating libraries, and (still) the article about the eighteenth century seed trade, because I keep going back to it to absorb a bit more.

That’s it for this time!

works in progress: progressing, and that’s about all

I’ve done a load over the last month, but not much of it actual writing.

Because of the shenanigans with MailChimp pricing levels, I’ve ported my newsletter over to MailerLite, which I think will be a good thing long term, but was a pain in the neck to do at the time. And I’ve done the same for Mr AL, who has a much more complex set-up than I do, so it took ages. That done, I’ve also set myself up a proper Ko-fi page that will act as a sort of combination of things I blog here and exclusive content that first goes out to newsletter subscribers.

I’ve also committed to doing some posts for the Queeromance Ink Blog, about author-life in general rather than more bookish things. This involves me sitting down and actually writing them, but they’re coming together in my head.

Which brings me to actual writing! Inheritance of Shadows has another three thousand words, which went out yesterday – newsletter usually goes out on the first Tuesday of the month, barring disaster. If you’d like to get the monthly installments of Matty and Rob’s adventures, just hop on here. You will also be able to follow on Ko-fi as a supporter if you’d rather do it that way. I’m reading Secret Warriors: key scientists, code-breakers and propagandists of the great war by Taylor Downing as background, because Rob needs to know some stuff and I need to know the stuff before he can know the stuff. It’s fascinating.

Flowers of Time has had another few thousand words, but I’m still sidetracked by Katie Hickman’s She-Merchants, Buccaneers and Gentlewomen and feel like I need to get that under my belt before I write any more. I’m writing completely outside both my historical period and my geographical area and I don’t want to mess either up.

This month promises to be more of the same, hopefully with less opportunities for prevarication. Watch this space!



work in progress: The Flowers Of Time

Currently laboring under the title ‘The Flowers Of Time’, my work in progress is set the Himalayas in the 1780s and follows the adventures of Edith and Jones, respectively a lady botanical illustrator and a non-binary archaeologist, who take on more than they bargain for as they come up against The Border during their travels.

“Shall we go down?” Edie asked. It had been a two hour ride. She could do with a break before returning to camp. “Are we going to relocate the camp up here for a few days?”

“Perhaps. I want to see what he was exploring. In the notebook he writes about chambers in the hillside that he thought were used as dwellings. But after Mama… he didn’t write any more.”
Edie bit her lip. “Are there still bandits around here? Is it safe?”

Jones patted her hip. “I have my pistols, don’t worry. And Sonam reckoned that the new King in Leh is still vested in making the roads safer. It was getting better even before I left and when we were planning back in Srinagar, he said that trade is increasing along the Silk Route again because of the regular patrols. And we have Marcus.” She gestured at the dog.

Edie wished she had Jones’ easy confidence. She turned Donna’s head down the animal-track that Jones was following, watching Jones’ easy seat in the saddle, feet braced against the slope. Edie couldn’t quite bring herself to shed her skirts and ride astride. Jones didn’t even think of it. She sat straight in the saddle, loose and relaxed as her pony carefully picked his way down the faint track. Edie did her best to emulate her. It wasn’t that she was a bad rider, she just wasn’t as confident as she could be.

I’m roughly a third of the way through my estimated word-count at approximately twenty-two thousand words, so I’m getting there slowly!


research rabbit-holes

One of the things I find most difficult about writing in a period or place I don’t know all that well is research. Not because I find research hard… although it can be. My issue is that I find I get sucked down rabbit-holes and dead ends in to fascinating articles on subjects I have no need to know about in depth.

Image by ardilladecolores from Pixabay

Today for example… Himalayan mountain sheep, Argali, which led me in to an article about Himalayan grass populations. Then eighteenth century shoes, which morphed in to three articles on seventeenth century Civil War uniforms. And I am still digesting this fascinating article about the eighteenth century garden flower seed trade.

My work in progress is a whole new era and location for me – the Himalayas in the 1780s – and it’s taking me ages to get to grips with the setting of the story. I was going to spend April doing Camp Nano and get the first draft sorted by the end of the month. That is not happening – life, children, chickens, all that good stuff has pretty much overwhelmed me. But I’m plodding along now, back in my thousand-word-a-day groove, or close to it and it’s just a matter of time.

I’m also working on my serialized sequel to The Gate, the continuing adventures of Matty and Rob, that will be released to newsletter subscribers as I go. (Please do sign up if you’d like to be included in this!). This doesn’t require quite so much research because I am already comfortable writing in that era after two full-length books and the short story, so fingers crossed I can keep it going.