If you loved TSBTS…

Here are six books I think you’ll love if you enjoyed reading The Sky Beneath the Stone.

Secrets of the Last Merfolk by Lindsay Littleson

They gave you the box, they gave me the key.
The merfolk exist, and they want us to find them.

New friends Finn and Sage discover an incredible secret: real merfolk live under the wild waves off the Scottish coast. The sea-people are brave, proud, powerful — and in grave danger.

Can Finn and Sage help defeat a terrifying enemy before the last of the merfolk are lost forever?

Why I loved it: beautiful Scottish coastal setting, two friends on an outdoor adventure, mythical creatures!

Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna

Cassie Morgan has run away. After seven years spent waiting for her mother to return, she flees her dreary boarding school and sets out to find her. But the world outside her school is full of hidden magic and children have been going missing.

With the help of a talking cat and a flying broom, Cassie escapes to the enchanted village of Hedgely. There she will begin her training in the practical skills of witchcraft with the Hedgewitch, who watches over the Hedge, the vast forest that marks the border between England and Faerie.

Why I loved it: such immersive nature detail, alternative history, practical magic and a liminal forest.

The Hunt for the Nightingale by Sarah Ann Juckes

Ten-year-old Jasper has been waiting all spring for his beloved nightingale to return to his garden and sing. But it’s not there, and neither is his sister, Rosie. His parents seem sad and preoccupied, so gathering his courage, his backpack and his treasured Book of Birds, Jasper sets out alone on a walk to find them both.

The expedition takes Jasper through town and country, meeting a host of characters who are also searching for lost things. Helping his new friends, Jasper begins to see that he may not find what he is looking for when he reaches the journey’s end, but even in the darkest of moments, a nightingale’s song can be heard somewhere.

Why I loved it: an outdoor adventure, emotional themes sensitively explored, birds, birds and more birds!

The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange

The Lake District, 1899

The Earl is dead and cruel Cousin Clarence has inherited everything. Twelve-year-old Lady Agatha Asquith is cast out of Gosswater Hall to live in a tiny, tumbledown cottage with a stranger who claims to be her father. Aggie is determined to discover her real identity, but she is not alone on her quest for the truth. On the last day of the year, when the clock strikes midnight, a mysterious girl of light creeps through the crack in time; she will not rest until the dark, terrible secrets of the past have been revealed …

Why I loved it: Cumbrian setting, very practical protagonist, an old manor house setting and a spooky island on a lake.

The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle

When Fionn Boyle sets foot on Arranmore Island, it begins to stir beneath his feet …

Once in a generation, Arranmore Island chooses a new Storm Keeper to wield its power and keep its magic safe from enemies.

The time has come for Fionn’s grandfather, a secretive and eccentric old man, to step down.

Soon, a new Keeper will rise. But, deep underground, someone has been waiting for Fionn. As the battle to become the island’s next champion rages, a more sinister magic is waking up, intent on rekindling an ancient war.

Why I loved it: a real-life setting imbued with magic, timey-wimey stuff, totally heartwrenching conclusion.

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson

They call me Yanka the Bear. Not because of where I was found – only a few people know about that. They call me Yanka the Bear because I am so big and strong.

Found abandoned in a bear cave as a baby, Yanka has always wondered about where she is from. She tries to ignore the strange whispers and looks from the villagers, wishing she was as strong on the inside as she is on the outside. But, when she has to flee her house, looking for answers about who she really is, a journey far beyond one that she ever imagined begins: from icy rivers to smouldering mountains meeting an ever-growing herd of extraordinary friends along the way.

Why I loved it: heroine on an epic adventure, enchanted forest, stories retold, magical transformation.

These are just some of the brilliant MG books I’ve been lucky enough to read lately. If you have recommendations for more books along these lines please do send them my way!

April Events

(Kelpie evidence spotted this week at Longniddry)

Hello! I’ll be in various places around Scotland talking about The Sky Beneath the Stone in April, starting with the book launch at my local, wonderful Lighthouse Books in Edinburgh on Friday 1st April at 7pm. Free tickets are available or you can contribute £3 which is redeemable against a copy of the book.

It’ll be a busy weekend because we have our first roller derby game for over two years on the Saturday and then on Sunday 3rd April I’ll be at Moat Brae in Dumfries as part of Big DoG Festival! The event is at 2.30pm and costs £3, and amazingly there will be actual birds of prey you can meet in the garden afterwards.

At the end of the month I’ll be over in Glasgow running a couple of workshops for the schools programme at Wee Write on the 28th April. More information is available here.

You’ll be able to buy a copy of the book at all of these events, and in the meantime you can always pick up a copy at your local indie bookshop or order a copy through my Bookshop.org affiliate page. 10% of author royalties will always be donated to Cumbria Wildlife Trust so they can keep doing the amazing work they do.

If you have read and enjoyed the book it would be so helpful if you could take the time to leave a review or share it on social media!

Until next time xo

Blog Tour

Starting on publication day (24th Feb) The Sky Beneath the Stone is going on tour! I’ve written some guest posts and there’ll be a couple of reviews and a Q&A too.

These are the links to the blogs – check them on the dates above to see the posts.

My Book Corner – Review

Armadillo Magazine – “One Step Beyond the Garden Wall” – guest post about anxiety

Kelpies – Features for Teachers

K & O: Bonkers About Books – “Animal Connections in The Sky Beneath the Stone” – guest post

Charlotte Somewhere – “Magic Under the Fells” – guest post about folklore

Roaring Reads – Seven Stories Q&A

To all the blogs above, thanks for having me and featuring TSBTS!

Kelpies have made an amazing interactive map of Underfell for you to navigate your way around Cumbria’s subterranean fairy realm, and a beautiful downloadable poster.

One last thing – I am counting down the days to publication on my Instagram with some throwbacks to growing up in Cumbria.

6 days to go!

*POSTPONED* Events at St Giles Cathedral

Please note this Saturday afternoon’s events have been postponed – check back in a little while for the new date and further info.

In the run-up to World Book Day on the 3rd of March, and The Sky Beneath the Stone‘s official launch date on 24th February, I’m doing an event at St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh! Two events to be precise, this Saturday 19th February at 1pm and 2.20pm.

We will be mapping our most magical places, creating characters and writing a story with the help of some props and prompts! The book is aimed at ages 8 and over but the event will be suitable for the whole family.

Links here for 1pm and 2.20pm.

Hope to see you there!

Giveaway

I’m giving away an early signed copy of The Sky Beneath the Stone on my Instagram account. A winner will be selected randomly and announced on Monday to celebrate one month until publication!

Make sure to follow the rules if you want to enter. This giveaway is open internationally!

To enter click here (you do need an Instagram account for this one).

Good luck!

2021 Wrap-Up

I’m not going to comment on the state of the world (except for that) but I am doing a lot of chilling this festive season and looking forward to 2022. Plus I’m about to turn 30 (flirty and thriving)!

I was planning to do a lot of visuals but honestly I’m a bit wiped so I’m just gonna list some of my favourites from this year, in no particular order, and intersperse some pics of our adventures in France. My parents were living in their campervan when Covid started so they’ve ended up settling in rural France. We came over in early December before the borders closed, but we’ll be home for New Year’s.

Pre-orders

You can now pre-order The Sky Beneath the Stone! Preferred options are direct from Kelpies or through my Bookshop.org affiliate page. I’ve heard tell that Aussies have been ordering from Booktopia. I’m not sure when you’ll be able to order through your local indie bookshop but it can’t hurt to check with them!

Books of the Year

Adult / Non-fiction

  • Know My Name by Chanel Miller
  • Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty
  • Sword Stone Table: Old Legends, New Voices edited by Swapna Krishna and Jenn Northington
  • Drowned Country by Emily Tesh
  • Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
  • Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard
  • Solar Storms by Linda Hogan
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • Fathoms: The World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs
  • Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee

Children’s / YA

  • Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone
  • The Song That Sings Us by Nicola Davies
  • The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson
  • Across the Risen Sea by Bren MacDibble
  • Secrets of the Last Merfolk by Lindsay Littleson
  • Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
  • Greenwitch by Susan Cooper

I watch a lot of films and don’t keep track of them very well but some of my favourites from this year have been Dune, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Raya and the Last Dragon and most recently Don’t Look Up and The Matrix: Resurrections.

Some of my highlights of 2021 have been getting to hang out with my parents for the first time since 2019 and my whole immediate family for the first time in years, starting a business with one of my best friends, training to be a Marine Mammal Medic and helping in the aftermath of Storm Arwen, travelling in the Highlands and managing to do some normal things with friends whenever we were actually allowed. I even went to roller derby training a few times!

Have a restful holiday season and Happy New Year!

Kelpies Catalogue & Reading Video

I received my first finished copy of The Sky Beneath the Stone at the end of last week and it is more magical than ever!

The Kelpies Spring-Summer 2022 Catalogue is out now and has a very colourful spread about TSBTS. I can’t get over how surreal it feels.

For the catalogue I recorded a reading from Chapter 2, ‘The Hole in the Wall’. I had to rearrange a lot of furniture and even take apart an armchair and put it back together to build my set! My phone also ran out of storage several times but I got there in the end.

In the bottom right you can also see a present from Laurel – a tin that opens to show the hole in the wall and Underfell beyond (plus Callum sitting on the wall).

Exciting times, but now I should really be getting on with the next book!

Witchtober

Over the past month I have been writing a piece of flash fiction every day, using prompts from @willowandroxas on Instagram for #WillowWitchtober. I have really been feeling the spooky season this year so even though I think the challenge is mainly aimed at visual artists, it seemed like a lot of fun to write about different witches every day for a month!

When I was younger I used to scribble short stories all the time, but in my twenties I seem to have been mainly focused on writing and redrafting a few big projects so it was a nice change of pace to exercise my imagination and come up with new ideas every day. Some might even become longer stories down the track, who knows?

Here are a couple of unedited pieces I wrote this month and a few photos from my October camera roll.

Glass

“Pass it to me.”

Niamh extended her hand and Cole dropped the object he was holding into her palm. Niamh had half a second to take it in – pale blue glass, frosted white and edges smoothed by years beaten on the sea floor – before the memory took her.

A glass bowl, held in two pale, soft hands. Glass – not very practical for a sea voyage, but nothing about this young man was particularly practical. He lifted one of his hands to pluck a gleaming gold hoop earring from the collection of jewels the bowl held, but as he reached up to his ear he set down the bowl – and the memory was severed.

But Niamh was still holding the smooth piece of sea glass, and she could feel the other pieces that had once made up the bowl as if they were tugging her on strings, reaching for the shard in her hand as though to make the bowl whole once more.

Niamh closed her fingers around it, and with her other hand pointed out to the horizon.

“Set a heading!” Cole called, and the crew leapt into motion.

Grave

Calla was out of breath by the time she reached the windswept hilltop. Though the graveyard was protected by trees, wind rattled through their branches. The sound in the winter forest was like teeth chattering.

She approached the overgrown grave and lifted the bunch of flowers from her basket. Out of season, but that hadn’t been a problem for her. She knelt down in the grass and plucked the flowers one by one from the bunch, setting each stem to the ground and calling down its roots until it stood firmly before the mossy grey stone. Calla had been cultivating the moss over the past few years, and now she saw a sprout of ivy peeking out of the soil. She reached out and encouraged it up the curved edge of the gravestone, emerald leaves unfurling around the name etched into the stone.

“There you go, Gran,” Calla said, settling back into the twilight.

“Thank you, my dear.” The voice shivered through the leaves.

Pet

Claribel sat beside the fire, feeding it pinecones, her eyes glazed. It was coming up on a decade since that wizened old man had imprisoned her in this cave. Though she had used her abilities to fill the place with comforts, she had never succeeded in breaking the enchantment that held her captive.

There was still time, of course. What was ten years when you’d lived 800 already? An evening, maybe. The passing of time didn’t disturb her the way it had as a young woman. Back then the world had been filled with infinite possibilities and there could never be enough time to see them all through. But as she’d aged those endless opportunities had faded away, unimportant, as her life and her cares crystallised. No; she could wait.

Still, one did get lonely eventually. And though she was in no doubt that eventually she’d find her way out of her cosy prison and make that wizard rue the day he’d turned his tricks on her, it would be nice to have some company in the interim.

The embers cracked and threw up sparks, catching her attention. Her eyes came into focus on the burning logs in the hearth. She twirled her fingers, gently coazing the blackened wood into form, a smile pulling at her lips as the creature took shape. A head like an arrow, its eyes glowing embers. The lithe body and flicking tail that brushed over the fire, coal-black.

She held out a hand and the flame marten flowed up her arm like lava, its paws pleasantly hot, and settled in the crook of her neck.

Cover Reveal – The Sky Beneath the Stone

One week ago today the magical cover for The Sky Beneath the Stone was revealed on My Book Corner!

I hadn’t dared to imagine that the cover would be so beautiful, so full of wonderful details from the story, in such a gorgeous style. Thank you so much to the illustrator Diana Renzhina and the team at Kelpies!

More info about the book is now available on my Books tab above(!) and on the Discover Kelpies website.

Copies will be available for pre-order after Christmas and the book is officially released on February 24th 2022.

I’m so excited! I think I must have used that word more times this year than ever before. Except maybe the year I got married… maybe.

A Guide to Inglewood Forest

My partner Laurel and I released our first tabletop RPG collaboration on Friday! Well, that’s not strictly true as I did do “assistance and additional research” on her game The High Seas, but this is the first one we’ve developed from scratch together.

If you don’t know what any of this means, a tabletop RPG is a game you can play with friends around a table (or on discord/zoom etc in these times) with pencils, paper and dice. Dungeons and Dragons is the most famous example. It’s basically like group storytelling which is what I love about it.

A Guide to Inglewood Forest is a setting guide, so it isn’t a game in itself. Last year I ran a session of a Robin Hood themed game called Merry Outlaws for some friends. The setting I developed as background for the story was Inglewood Forest, the most northerly Kingswood in England during the later medieval period (and in Cumbria, where I grew up). It also has its own famous outlaws, Adam Bell, William Cloudesly and Clym of the Clough.

After the game Laurel and I expanded the setting, adding descriptions of the seasons, places, notable characters, wildlife and plants. The guide is designed to be used in conjunction with Merry Outlaws or similar medieval RPGs, basically to help you add detail to your game and give some story prompts.

This was a really fun project to work on between drafts of different books. You can buy it for $3.50 and for every copy sold we put up a free copy for anyone who can’t afford to buy it.

For more information visit the game page on itch.io.