Book Readers Corner
Introducing Kate Haley – Book Author and all round gamer.
After meeting Kate at the Wellington Armageddon this year we purchased her first illustration and boy what great entry into the “War of the North” series.
I sent Kate a small questionnaire. Have a read and get some insight into her love of books and writing.
#1: Was this years Armageddon your first year as a stall participant?
Yes, it was. I have attended multiple years before with friends, but this was my first time working at an Armageddon.
#2: How long have you been writing books?
I’ve been writing for years. When I was a little kid I would dream up stories, and I wrote all through school. Once I reached university, I realised that if I actually wanted to be a writer I would have to finish some of the many books I had started. So I finished my first novel when I was 18, and I have written another dozen books in the decade since then.
#3: What inspires you most about writing your books?
The characters. I enjoy writing people that feel fun and interesting and real. I want them to feel like friends, the kind of people you want to read about and hang out with. The kind of people who make you keep picking up the book, and reading and rereading until it falls apart, just because you want to visit them. That is what my favourite books do for me, and what I want to emulate for others.
#4: What drew you into writing?
A lot of things, I think. As a child, I was drawn to creating lots of imaginary friends and sending them on cool adventures – which is why character is still so central to the development of my stories. However, these days I feel like no one is writing the stories I want to read, so I’m forced to write them myself.
#5: Roughly how many books will you publish in this series? (including the already published ones)
There are seven books in this series. They are all written. The first four are already out, five will be out very soon, and all seven books will be out by Christmas 2020! They are available in ebook and paperback on my website www.katehaleyauthor.com
#6: Tell us more about yourself?
I sometimes worry that there isn’t a lot to say outside of books. I have dedicated myself rather single-mindedly to fiction and fantasy. When I’m not working, I spend a lot of time reading, watching TV, kicking back with (predominantly old) videogames, and playing tabletop RPGS with friends. I love travelling and visiting new places. Before the world shut down, I came home in January from a big trip through Scandinavia, Turkey, and Egypt which was incredible. I suppose you could say I have spent most of my life looking for my wardrobe (of the Lion and Witch variety).
#7: Lastly, would you be open to sharing some of the shorts or possibly write ups on our website/ page?
Yeah absolutely. There is a mailing list on my website that you can sign up to for free War of the North short stories, which are pretty cool, if I say so myself! Here is the first one titled Ice in his Lashes, which you can get your own copy of through the mailing list – where it comes with an accompanying painting!
A short story
Ice in his Lashes
They used ice crystals to freeze the bodies. Elvac didn’t know how it worked. It was magic they mined from the mountains up north. Sabeh, his best friend, was from there and could probably tell him all about it. Except, now that he had a reason to care how it worked, he didn’t want to know. It didn’t matter anymore.
Not everyone was brought back. Many of the priests and priestesses of Sunne sailed to the South, into the heart of the battlefield, to send the souls of the dead back to their gods. The war had been raging for five years, and it did not look like it was slowing down. Hundreds had never returned.
Elvac’s father had been shipped back, frozen solid inside a canvas bag. Tiny flecks of ice still clung to his lashes when they unzipped him. Elvac had stood there, holding his sobbing mother, and felt nothing. His father was dead. Sunne’s clergy had brought back the body, frozen in a bag like a sack of meat. The body was in a good condition. It had been frozen soon after death and shipped back quickly. He could almost have been sleeping, but for the frost on his skin and the ice in his lashes. The ice in his lashes. It sparkled. It was all Elvac could see. It was so beautiful. So picturesque when nothing else was.
His mother, Gemie, grieved. She wept like her husband had just died. She hid her face in her son’s shoulder when they showed her her husband’s body. She clutched her handkerchief to her face when they buried him. Elvac had stood beside her. He had felt Sabeh’s hand on his shoulder. Their friend Satinka had been at his side with her tiny hand holding his. He had been surrounded with support, and under no illusion. His father had died a long time ago. When Sunne’s clergy had called for soldiers to fight off the monsters of the South, Elvac’s father had been one of the first to sign up. He had wanted to fight to protect his home and his family. Elvac had been reading the philosophies of long dead soldiers to understand, and now he did.
But every year his father had left on a ship. Every year he had come back for brief stints, safe and happy with the memory of his time at war erased by the church’s amnesia drug. They said that drug was the war’s greatest hero – that it gave soldiers their lives back. Elvac’s father wore scars he couldn’t explain. There were times when his hands trembled, and his body twitched, and his eyes glazed with a darkness that provoked terror. And every year he returned to fight. Elvac and Gemie stayed home and lived quietly in the silence of his absence, waiting for the day when he would never come back.
Now that day had arrived, and nothing had changed. Elvac watched his mother grieve and felt nothing. They would go home just the two of them. She would cook dinner while he did his homework, and then he would set the table. They would eat together, and she would ask him what he was working on and how school was going and how his friends were… It would be like every day of the last five years since his father had first boarded a ship to the South. They would still live in his silence, except now they would do it forever.
The thought haunted him. It crept up and followed him through the first week. Sabeh and Satinka staved off reality. Class with them was like a safety bubble. It never lasted. Every time he came home and caught his mother weeping, the inside of his throat would swell shut. His chest would tighten like a clamp. He couldn’t stand to see her like this. He couldn’t bear the thought of the years sliding by like this while he stayed trapped, unable to help her. Unable to fix this.
That night he lay in bed and listened to her cry through the wall. A fury burned through his veins. It felt like fire under his skin. He hated the monsters that had started this war. He wanted to march down there and kill them himself, but you had to be 21 to enlist. He still had to wait 4 more years. He hated the Church for letting his father repeatedly sign up year after year. Finally, he hated his old man for abandoning them like this. For going off and dying and leaving his mother. Elvac could cope. He was angry and he could shrug off his father’s death. His mother couldn’t. It wasn’t fair.
He sat up in bed and pushed his long blonde hair from his eyes. He lit a candle, and the light spilled over the dresser beside his bed. A small tattered blue book sat there. He didn’t know if his anger ebbed when he saw it, when he touched it, or simply in the moment he had caused it to be illuminated, but when his fingers caressed it and brought it off the dresser he knew he wasn’t angry anymore.
It was the book of philosophies he had been reading. They were written by a man long dead. A soldier from a region far to the north that Elvac had never been to. Someone who had fought and died for his people hundreds of years ago. He was called Nagatoa-Zu, and the core of his belief system was the necessity to be a shield for the ones you love. Elvac had first read the book a few years ago. It had helped him understand then. It helped him understand now.
He was angry at his father for leaving. For dying. For making Gemie cry. He was angry at himself. He wanted to be the shield. He wanted to take up his father’s sword, slay the monsters of the South, avenge his father, and be the shield for the ones he loved. He wanted to protect Gemie and Sabeh and Satinka. Four more years. He began counting down the days.
Another week passed. The weather turned. Winter brought a freezing cold. It hardly ever snowed in this city on the coast, but it hailed, and Elvac saw the dirty frozen slush in the gutters with new eyes as he travelled to his classes. Ice was everywhere. Horses and carts rumbled by and crushed it into melted wet puddles. Even the air felt frozen. It was like the entire city had been placed under the magic of the of the ice crystals. Every time he closed his eyes he saw ice in his father’s lashes.
Satinka was worried about him. He sat with her and Sabeh in the old library. Their books were spread over the table in the corner as the storm lashed the window. Her dark eyes were penetrating as she commented on his lack of external grief.
“What does grief look like, Tink?” Sabeh asked pointedly. “When my brother died I hid in a closet for three days. I don’t think you can do it right or wrong. It just is.”
“I’m just worried about you,” Satinka directed her reply to Elvac. She spoke with a soft sincerity that made his chest ache.
“I’m fine,” he assured her for what felt like the hundredth time in the last two weeks.
They had talked about it when it had first happened. Sabeh had been sympathetic, but they knew if it had been his father he would have thrown a party. The fact that Sabeh lived as far from home as it was possible to be without leaving the Great Realm was not lost on his friends.
Satinka’s father was a priest in Sunne’s capital city, and the two wrote to each other every week. Yet, every time she met Elvac’s eye, he felt like she knew. There was an understanding and empathy there that couldn’t be faked. She knew what it was like.
She didn’t bother him about it again while they sat there. When they moved to leave for class that afternoon, Elvac told them he would meet them there, before ducking away towards the bathrooms. He told them to save him a seat, but he never showed up.
Afterwards, Sabeh and Satinka stood outside the halls, under the veranda. Satinka carefully adjusted the deep hood of her cloak. The weather was dry for now, but she wore the religious make-up of a Daughter of Sunne and didn’t want any future rain to ruin the paint.
“He probably just went home to see Gemie,” Sabeh defended, hunching his shoulders against the weather.
“Probably,” Satinka replied, pulling her cloak tightly around herself and heading off for the day too.
Elvac was standing on a hill overlooking the grey stone city while the icy wind tangled his hair. The graveyard had quadrupled in size in the last five years. Most of the headstones were small and simple. Paid for by the Church which ran the state. They were neat and ordered and uniform. Hail clumped around them in sparkling clusters. Elvac stood and looked down at the grave at his feet. Fragments of ice covered the bare soil which had been too cold to grow new life. Two weeks on and he was still frozen.
He didn’t hear her approach, but he sensed her presence. There was something warm about her. She radiated serenity, especially for one so tiny. The girl stopped at his shoulder with her heavy cloak pulled tightly around her, and followed his gaze with her own.
“Does Gemie know you’re coming up here?” Satinka asked gently.
“No,” he replied in a matching tone.
She didn’t say anything, but nodded. Her tiny gloved hand crept into his. His fingers were stiff from standing in the breeze, and her hand was toasty warm through the fabric. She squeezed his hand once. He squeezed hers back.
“I dreamt about him last night,” Elvac admitted. “He was giving me advice. I don’t remember what he said or what it was about. I just woke with the sound of his voice in my ears.”
“That never goes away,” she sighed. “Sometimes the years pass and you realise you haven’t been thinking about them, but then something will happen and it comes back fresh and sharp. Sometimes that something is a dream.”
Elvac nodded. He didn’t ask how she knew that. If she had wanted him to know she would have told him. Either way, he trusted her. It sounded true. He looked down on the grave and squeezed her hand again as he steadied his breath.
She looked up at him. Her expression was no longer concerned. It was a strange mix of comforting and regretful. She watched him with large eyes full of love and friendship. Full of understanding. There was ice in his lashes.