Twenty-five thousand words into a new book always feels like a significant point, moving from the beginning into the middle. It’s far enough in that I feel I don’t want to give up because of the amount of work behind me, but it still feels like there’s a long way to go (and knowing my books, it could be a very long way.) And it’s the point where I feel I can start talking about it in public beyond a vaguely muttered “I’m working on a Thing, it’s too new to talk about…”
So here it is in all its first draft roughness – a world-first extract from my EIGHTH (wow!) novel, which has the working title of Islespeaker – if I had to describe it at the moment I’d say its kind of Mortal Engines meets Earthsea with lingering descriptions of dead bodies and a lot of large flightless birds. It’s also the first book I’ve written that isn’t set in the world of the New Kingdom – this is a bit more technically advanced; there are guns and printing presses and paddle steamers, but I don’t think it’s Steampunk. Not sure what it is yet, to be honest. But it’s going to be fun finding out!
The Artisan Rose threw a shadow across the shifting surface of the ocean, reflections of starlight sparkling and shimmering around her hull. Phosphorescence banded the shore in great strands of iridescent green, silver, lightning-blue. Tiny creatures feeding off the flanks of Atalay, and when Essie dipped her hand in the water and lifted it, pure light dripped from her fingers onto the shore. She stripped down to her undergarments, stashing them under a rock so she would be able to find them later, and walked out into the bay until the water swirled around her waist, a cooling relief after the heat of the day. She dived under to wet her hair, screwing up her eyes against the sting of salt, and struck out towards the boat.
A rope ladder always hung down the back, next to where the dinghy was tethered when the vessel was away from the harbour. If Essie had thought about it, she could have taken the dingy from where it rested on the shore and rowed out to the Artisan Rose. She had learned to sail in the dinghy, her father beside her since she was six, on her own since her ninth birthday, and she regarded it as hers since Carolanne had left home. But tonight she had needed to feel the sea on her limbs, and nestle in the warm belly of her father’s fishing boat.
She felt the aura around the Artisan Rose stir sleepily as she threw her legs over the gunwale and dropped down onto the deck. She pictured her yawning and blinking sleepily, groping around in the dark…
Essie? That you, sweetheart?
“I’m afraid so, Rose. Mind if I bunk here for a bit?”
Sure, honey. You feel sad. Something happened?
Essie sank down onto the deck, night-cooled wood beneath her hands. The deck of the Artisan Rose was always cold, always a little slippery, but right now she felt like more of a home than the ranch house. She felt the deck beneath her warm in response, and she stroked the wood as if Rose could feel it, as if she wasn’t the spirit of a murdered saloon girl sung by the Islespeakers into the fabric of her father’s fishing boat. When she was alive, Rose had been a friend of her mother, and she had been always singing, always dancing, forever crafting things with her nimble hands to sell in her little booth Flora had allowed her to set up at the end of the bar. That was before Essie was born, before her killer had ended her life with a glass to the throat during a winter night that had lasted for days, when the island had been far to the north of the world.
Rose had no family, and Luala had begged the Islespeakers to sing her spirit into the boat her new husband was building, that she might live on if her spirit was willing. It was a rare favour, but everyone had known Rose, and everyone mourned the injustice that had taken her from them. There wasn’t a house in town that didn’t contain some of her handiwork, and she was missed so much.
All this was ancient history to Essie. She had always known Rose as her father’s boat, found it hard to even imagine her as a living woman. But there was still life in her, and it was that life that warmed Essie now as she sat on deck, wondering if she should go back and face her parents.
“Rose, I think I’m in trouble…”
Is it a boy?
Essie’s face burned. “Not that kind of trouble.”
You want to come below, tell me about it?
There were lights sweeping the shore. Probably not looking for Essie, but the idea of being below decks felt like a good one. Besides, there was tea down there, and biscuits. Essie crossed the deck, keeping low just in case, and at her touch the hatch door came open and soft light blossomed up from below to illuminate the short ladder.
Just doing my job, Essie darlin’.
Once she had heated the small brass samovar over the oil stove in the cabin and trickled out a cup of tea, Essie retired to her bunk, lulled by the rocking of the boat beneath her. It was easy to forget, for a moment, how much trouble she might be in.
As usual, please excuse first-draft clunkiness. I hope that whet your appetite enough for you to throw fun-size Crunchies at me to encourage me to get on with it!