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For Free, for Everyone, the Prologue to Witches of Lychford: Night of the Gnomes!
And if you like it, subscribe to the series which starts in June!
I’m going to be writing a serial on Substack, a sequel to my bestselling Lychford series of rural fantasy novellas! (Though it’ll be absolutely fine for those who haven’t read the books too, because we’ll re-introduce the whole concept. Though you will be spoiled for what’s happened previously.)
Lychford is a little modern-day market town in the Cotswolds that borders many of the hidden worlds of the supernatural, the lands of the fairy folk, of demons, of a whole array of magical creatures. Protecting it are three very different women. There’s a lot of comedy in this series, mostly about the clash between everyday life and the world of magic, but there’s also some dark heartfelt emotional stuff and some real-world commentary on what life in such a town is like right now (because I live in such a town). It’s at the cosier end of the Urban Fantasy genre, but it’s in the country, so I call it Rural Fantasy.
I’ve missed writing about Lizzie, Autumn, new coven member Zoya and their increasingly-large supporting cast of town councillors, pensioners and creatures of the night. I’m also looking forward to the rollercoaster of having to put fingers to keyboard on a regular basis.
The new serial is entitled Night of the Gnomes, and it’ll begin in the first week of June.
I’ll be sending out four 1000 word + episodes every calendar month (not necessarily weekly, but they’ll all have arrived by the end of each month). Night of the Gnomes and possibly a second story will run for a year, then I’ll reassess how successful this experiment has been, but rest assured the story won’t stop mid-way, and if it’s worked out fine I’ll continue with another Lychford tale after that point.
To get this Lychford serial, just sign up for the paid option on your subscription. It’s $8/month or $80/year.
And of course you’ll continue to get the Friday Newsletter and all the other content for free.
If you’d like to catch up on the Lychford series up to now, five novellas have been published by Tor.com. You can find them all here at Bookshop.org and support UK indie bookstores, or here are links to the first one at Amazon US and Amazon UK.
And here, to whet your appetite, is the Prologue, for free, for everyone!
In the last few years, life in the little Cotswolds market town of Lychford had become a lot more complicated.
A lot of this complication had happened all at once, in that extraordinary half hour when a shower of rain had given everyone who’d got the water on their skin the ability to see magic and monsters and much else that was terrifying and wondrous, all of which was, apparently, real. All of that stuff, the inhabitants of Lychford had subsequently been told, had in the past been noticed, confronted and defeated by a select few. Now it had become everyone’s problem. Which was better. Possibly? At any rate, everyone now had a story about how their cat or lottery ticket or uncle had gone missing back in the day, and how that all now made so much more sense.
Another great dollop of complication had arrived with what everyone now tended to call ‘the incident’, that time with the, err, angel and oh dear perhaps Satan and, you know, the end of the world?
These complications were reflected, as a lot of local life was, in the conduct of the meetings of the Lychford Town Council.
Loz, the Town Clerk, had been in the role for nearly two decades, and part of her was sort of pleased that her job had, in the last year or so, taken a violent turn toward the inexplicable. Another, bigger part of her was absolutely bloody appalled by it. ‘Any other business?’ (which was what the Chair said once they’d got through the agenda at every weekly Council meeting) had previously been her favourite phrase. It had meant that in five minutes they could all go down the pub. Now it was an invitation to partake in mystery and imagination, a phrase akin to ‘once upon a time…’ and it regularly signalled the start of three hours of surreal group therapy.
From the looks on the faces of her fellow Councillors at this particular meeting in the Community Centre, the dreaded phrase having just been uttered, they had all started to feel the same way. Apart from Jim, of course. Jim was the sort of older gentleman who favoured russet trousers as if that made him a bit of a rebel and wore his bushy antenna-like eyebrows and sprouting ear hair like badges of pride. At this precise moment he was doing that most awful of things in the moment after ‘any other business’: he was grasping the lapels of his tired old jacket. Oh, he had other business all right. ‘Madam Chairwoman,’ he began –
Loz minuted it on her tablet as ‘Chair’ as said Chair literally rolled her eyes.
‘- I have tried to deal with this situation. I have tried to find common ground with it. But it is with much sorrow that I now see no alternative but the ultimate sanction. I wish to have it recorded in the minutes that I’m against.’
‘Against what?’ said the Chair, Carrie Anne Christopher, her voice inclining, as it always did in reply to Jim, toward the full Importance of Being Ernest. She had recently left the Lychford Festival Committee in order to join the Council and had looked vaguely suspicious when the existing members other than Jim had immediately encouraged her to become Chair. Now she was discovering what all that had been about.
‘Against all these changes. Against the so-called magic. And the strangers. And the way our lives have been turned upside-down. And how none of it has done a damn thing to fix the potholes.’
Loz kept a calm expression on her face as always as she tapped in the exact words, because Jim always read the minutes, and would send her notes. She had been recording his thoughts for the best part of her two decades and, though she had been tempted, and never more so than now, she had never added an adverb of any sort. She was starting to feel that alone should put her in line for a CBE. How Jim could refer to regularly seeing strange beasts flapping their way overhead, the woods lighting up like a celestial rock concert and the random appearance in their town of everything from rains of frogs to baked goods which hummed Gilbert and Sullivan as ‘so called’… well, hers was not to reason why. And ‘strangers’ was one hell of a way to refer to the weird beings that every few weeks ventured into the town, sometimes at night, sometimes in the broad daylight on market day. Unless Jim was referring to the tourists from Bristol and London and dear God, Glastonbury, who’d heard about the impossible things that were whispered to have happened here and came to seek them out and not buy anything. Loz’s own viewpoint, which she was pleased to never have to express at these meetings, was that what the new ‘Wise Woman’ Autumn Blunstone and her friend the vicar Lizzie Blackmore and that new one behind the counter at the magic shop, Zoya Boyko, said was simply true: that Lychford lay on the borders of many mystical realms, accessed through the woods, and that those borders were now wide open. She could understand someone who hadn’t felt the rain still not getting that. But Jim had been standing there outside the chip shop in that downpour with his eyes bulging out of their sockets. It was perhaps more a matter of perceived duty for him, she thought. It was as if he felt who he was demanded he be angry at anything new. The rain and all that had come after had been just too much of an affront to his aging self-image. It had, perhaps, put a sort of reality other than his own at the centre of the world.
‘I’m not sure,’ fellow Councillor Sunil Mehra, another new recruit in the wake of ‘the incident’, carefully began, ‘how one can be “against” something that was literally the weather. It’s just how things are now.’
‘To be fair,’ said Jackie Parker who ran the nail salon, ‘Jim’s against a lot that’s just how things are now.’
‘Sunil, my friend,’ said Jim, ‘you are not an objective commentator, considering your… relationship with the late so-called “Wise Woman” whose shenanigans with the so-called supernatural started all this–’
‘Before you say one word about Judith,’ said Sunil, sounding dangerously mild, ‘consider how often she saved your behind and that of everyone else in this town and the world. And the great service you’ve always had at my restaurants. Previously.’
‘Everybody!’ shouted Carrie Anne Christopher, ‘please! We’re only two minutes into Any Other Business. Your protest at the rain has been minuted, Jim- ’ Loz allowed herself a little smile at that. ‘- And we are moving on. Anyone else?’
‘I think this situation has a lot of upsides,’ said Matt Coomby. Matt was a Liberal Democrat who’d moved into one of the more upmarket New Builds a few weeks before the rain. He’d been in London on business for the downpour, and so hadn’t been affected himself, but his partner and their toddler had been, and ever since he’d been finding bloody upsides about the situation on a regular basis. ‘We need to think about making the most of our tourist potential, give those who come to see spooky stuff a focus, so they don’t go wandering about with the wrong expectations.’
‘You mean… create a place for them to mill about aimlessly that actually makes the town some money?’ Carrie Anne Christopher sounded as if, to her surprise, one of her fellow Councillors had actually had a good idea.
‘If you want,’ said Matt with a shrug. ‘Also, more electric car points.’
It was at that moment that Dave the Mayor entered. Dave Awlish was a builder, with the slim muscular body typical of his trade, the sort of physique that seemed weirdly impervious to beer. Loz always perked up when he made his entrance. He was actually meant to be here for the whole meeting, but, with only a few weeks of his term left to go, he’d started to arrive later and later. His rather wonderful shoulders looked to be carrying a greater burden with every passing week. ‘Sorry I’m late,’ he said, his accent redolent of the town, the countryside around it and the particular working-class wealth of the subculture of builders who made Lychford their home. ‘Are we in… any other business?’
Carrie Anne Christopher looked daggers at him. ‘Oh we so are. There are things you need to sign off on, Mr. Mayor, Jim is protesting at the weather and Matthew has had a good idea.’
‘Oh ah,’ said Dave, sitting down with a guilty schoolboy look. ‘So what’s the general feeling about the gnomes?’ The meeting fell entirely silent. The Councillors looked at each other in puzzlement. Loz wondered if and how she should record this eerie moment in the minutes. Dave’s expression grew solemn. ‘My fellow Councillors,’ he said, ‘has nobody mentioned the gnome in the room?’ And he nodded toward a corner.
Everyone looked over to the corner where indeed there stood a gnome. It had in its hands a tiny notepad and seemed to have been caught in the act of taking its own set of minutes. It looked as surprised at having been noticed as Loz was at its existence, presence, and the fact that up until now none of them had noticed it. ‘Oh,’ it said, ‘don’t let me stop you.’