Castles of Dreams – Ayla Nightshade (AFE Smith)

Many of you will recall the series “Castle of Dreams” that I ran a while ago, featuring many talented authors, and their own Castle of Dreams. Some were real, some from their books, and others were completely written new for this blog.

It was a great success, but, like many other things, there are only so many other authors that are prepared to write a piece on a castle.

This week however I have reinstated it for a very important reason. My friend and fellow author AFE Smith wrote a piece for the original series, and I’m delighted to welcome her back this week.

Why, you might ask…

Well, her first novel Darkhaven, which I had the honour of reading original excerpts from on the Harper Collins author community website “Authonomy” a while ago, is released by Harper Collins on 21st July 2015, if you can’t wait that long, then you can get it in e-book form from 2nd July 2015.


I’m absolutely thrilled for her, and anxiously await my pre-ordered copy through the post so I can read the final version.

So I’m honoured to welcome AFE Smith, and of course Ayla Nightshade to the Castle of Dreams:

Andrea ran a lovely series called Castle of Dreams here on her blog in 2013. In it, participating authors talked about their favourite castle – you can read my original post here. So when she suggested that I ask one of my characters to talk about what castles mean to them, I thought it was a great idea! Here’s Ayla Nightshade, one of the protagonists from my new book Darkhaven, to talk about her own castle of dreams.

I don’t live in a castle, not exactly. Darkhaven is a tower, a seven-sided tower with a central courtyard. And it’s more likely to give you nightmares than happy dreams. Blackstone has quite a sinister effect when a whole building is made out of it. I wouldn’t have thought anyone down in the city looks up at Darkhaven, here on the hill, and wishes they could live in it. In fact, I daresay they avert their eyes and thank the elements they don’t have to get too close. My father isn’t exactly known for his hospitality.

Still, castle or tower … it’s all the same, to the people outside it. They don’t realise that when I hear the word castle, I think of adventure and romance – the kind in all the stories my mother used to read me. Whereas Darkhaven … well, Darkhaven is the opposite of that. For me, Darkhaven is more like a prison than anything.

It wasn’t like that when my mother was alive. Oh, it was still dark and gloomy, with rooms that were too big for the human inhabitants and nothing of softness or comfort about it. Yet my mother filled the silences. She made even the austere walls of Darkhaven seem welcoming. I wouldn’t mind living here so much, if only she were still alive. But she’s gone, and without her, there’s no-one to talk my father out of his obsessions. He’s ashamed of me – of what I turn into – and until recently, he’s been determined to keep me hidden. Not that his new scheme is any better …

But let’s not discuss that.

The thing is, Darkhaven is my home. I don’t want to be anywhere else. I want to be here, only I want here to be different. So if you ask me to imagine my ideal castle – the one I daydream about – it is Darkhaven after all. Except it’s a Darkhaven that no longer exists. It’s a place from my past, a place that lives on only in memory, a place where my mother is still alive and my father can relate to me and my brother Myrren as people instead of a pair of disappointments. I find it sad that my dream is already in the past, because it means I have no hope of returning to it.

Still. Maybe the only perfect places are the ones we can never get to.

Thank You Ayla, that’s a wonderful piece, so evocative. If, like me, you can’t wait to know more, you can find out more aby following the links below to buy the book itself:


Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.
When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?
Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.

Harper Collins  


Barnes & Noble

Google Play



I think it’s time we found out a little more about Ayla’s creator, the wonderful AFE Smith,
A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.
What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.

and yes, I do know what that secret is 🙂


On the wings of dragons

I’m not really classed as young anymore, yet I still feel far too young to be writing a blog post like this.

There’s often a debate about those friends that we don’t “see” are really friends.  If most of your contact is online, how can you really be close to someone?

My answer to that, for what it is worth, is it depends how you view friendship.  If it is simply someone to go for a drink with and gossip with, never talking about anything more serious then whether the latest film has the right lead male, then I guess online friends aren’t so good.  But if friendship is having someone you know you can talk to, rely on to be truthful even when the truth hurts, and to support and encourage, then often someone at the other end of a message is just, if not more valuable.

Me?  I value people who take me as I am.  People that I can chat too, about daft things and serious things, and that understand that I’m there for them if they need me, and when they need me.  I need to know that they offer the same for me, but understand that sometimes I need to be quiet, because what I’m going through needs to be processed before I can talk about it.  Whether we speak daily or occasionally, that friendship never changes.  Does that make me selfish?  I don’t know, but that’s what friendship means to me.

Why I am raising this today?

On Wednesday evening I glanced briefly at my Facebook author page.  My daughter was happily playing with her Dad, building one of the many presents she had a Christmas, so I had a rare five minute to myself.  What I saw changed everything.  The rest of this week has been a blur, and led to a lot of soul searching; and yes, a few tears too.

You see I saw a simple message on my wall reading “RIP Lindsey”.  My heart fluttered, that awful stone sinking feeling you get at the thought of bad news.  I clicked on the page the post was made to, thinking, or rather hoping, that it was some joke, maybe someone had beaten her at archery…

What I saw there my brain failed to process.  A few, and only a few, posts expressing grief.  Still, hoping for a miraculous mistake, I posted a message to The Alliance of Worldbuilders, had anyone heard off Lindsey since New Year’s Eve, the last time I had heard off her?  Then I cautiously, hopefully posted a comment within one of the posts – could someone pm me and let me know what happened…


Despite the sharp grief that came with it I will be eternally grateful to Lindsey’s friends Charlie Upton and Martine Barons, who both responded quickly, and privately with the news I’d been dreading.  Lindsey had died on Sunday 5th January.

Always upbeat, always seemingly positive, this dragon-loving, warm hearted author was gone. Losing someone you love is never easy, but somehow I always feel worse for those that have lost at Christmas and New Year.  For Lindsey this means though that she’d had one last wonderful day with her children, walking on New Year’s Day.  Suffering a ruptured aneurism later that day she was admitted to Walsgrave Hospital, and seemed to respond well to surgery at first.  She died, five days later with her family by her side.

That’s important to many people, but for Lindsey I know it would matter most.  You see one of the strongest things we had in common, was our love of our families.  I remember when Lindsey lost her own Mum, how she coped with it, and how her foremost thought was to support her own children through it.  The last thing on earth she would have wanted to do was cause them any pain, but they will also know that throughout their lives she gave them her all, and loved them eternally.

Who is Lindsey? Picture

Lindsey J Parsons, author of The Return of the Effra series.  Talented author, artist, archer (even winning medals for the Stratford Archers), loving mother and friend.  To read just a little of her enviable talent, take a look at Week Four of my Castle of Dreams series.  She was all of these things and more, and I’m proud to have known her and been able to call her my friend.

Since Wednesday, the news has spread amongst the Alliance of Worldbuilders, the online group of authors from across the world that we belong to.  The grief has been strong, fresh and raw.  Some only knew her through our common love of all things fantasy, others were much closer to her than I.  But one thing is common, our sense of needing to do something.

For now, we’ve all changed our profile photos to an image that Lindsey created for the alliance.  So appropriate to who we are, it also seemed a small, but fitting tribute for the immediate.

For the future, who knows, we’ve got ideas, and when the time is right I’ll share them here.  But in the meantime, take a look at the work of this wonderful woman.  You won’t regret it.

If you’re still reading this, by now you will be wondering why the title to this post?  Fantasy lovers are all different, we have a lot in common, but there are things about fantasy that some love and others less so.  My own passion is magic and castles, the two are inseperable, as you’ll know if you’ve read Leah.  Lindsey loved all things dragon – even having a stone dragon on the cornice of her roof at home!  I’ve had this quiet thought in my head ever since I started to come to terms with her loss, which is a journey I’ve yet to complete.

Lindsey, I hope you are now flying on the wings of dragons.  Rest in peace my friend, and know that you were loved.

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