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 🙂


Castle of Dreams – my own dream…

I use Grammarly for proofreading because… the grammar police can be vicious, especially where “errorists” are concerned;) …


Now I’ve posted that, of course, there will be oodles of grammatical errors in this post!

So, my Castle of Dreams series has had an impromptu hiatus of late, partly due to lack of willing victims, er…, sorry volunteers, but also down to my own lack of time.

You see, I’ve been in a bit of a dream-like state myself recently.

Those (few) of you that have read it will know that my book features one of my own favourite castles, which is just a few short miles from our family home.  The book features dreams, nightmares, magic, and a young girl on the brink of adulthood facing a reality that no-one would ever expect.  Kenilworth is a stunning castle, one of the best of the era that are left, but again I digress.

As any author will tell you, we write stories from our dreams, waking or sleeping, from wherever our minds wander to.  It’s a long journey, and the writing is the easy part.  Once that is done, and you’re at a stage where you’re prepared to admit to it, then you face the arduous, never ending journey of submissions, rejections, picking yourself up again to resubmit, until eventually you are fortunate enough to be accepted for publication, or you decide to self-publish.  The journey doesn’t stop there though, once it is published you have to do the most difficult part – market your work, and by doing so, making yourself a commodity as well, as readers want to know who you are..

Since the last post I’ve been doing just that – posting on various forums, and even giving my first talk at a library, as well as trying to focus on writing Book Two (no spoilers here though!).

But, as I think many of my fellow authors would admit, the thing we desire most from this journey is the feedback that someone, other than friends and family, has bought, read and most importantly, enjoyed, our book. After all, as J K Rowling said in 2012, “no story lives unless someone is prepared to listen”.

Then, in August, I got some incredible news.  “Leah” had been selected to be part of the autumn showcase for The People’s Book Prize.  Now this is just the first step for this prize, and being selected for Fiction in a quarter that also features the prize’s patron, Frederick Forsythe, is a tough group.  The winner of each category for each quarter goes through to become a finalist for the annual People’s Book Prize – and the votes are purely down to members of the public that vote for the books online.

But, to have been selected as part of the showcase of new and undiscovered works is, for me, huge.  Just the concept that someone thinks it is worthy of being featured sends goose-bumps down my arms, and having read the comments from votes I’ve already received, well that really is the stuff dreams are made of.

People have read, and enjoyed my book – if that doesn’t motivate me to write more, then nothing will!

To see the other wonderful books in this quarter’s showcase, and vote, please follow this link

And now for something completely different….

Over the last few months I’ve only really posted the Castle of Dreams series to this blog – I have found reading about others’ dreams, and what castles mean to them really interesting.

It became a bit of a guilty pleasure, as I would read it when it was submitted, and then get to see it through other people’s eyes when it posted and I received all of your lovely comments.

The last few weeks have been particularly frantic – I finished a postgraduate course I was studying (and passed), work has been busy, and my family life is as full as ever, so nothing has been posted for a while.

Imagine my surprise this morning to find that I’ve been nominated for an award for this blog series!

The fabulous Sophie E Tallis, who submitted entries for Week Nine AND Ten, has nominated me for … The Versatile Blogger 

So, here are the rules:

I have to say seven things about myself (if I can think of seven that is) and then nominate fifteen others for the award..

So, let’s get the boring bit over with first, here’s my seven things:

  1. At one stage in my life, I would read more than fourteen books in a single week.  I’m not sure where I found the time, but I did.  I’ve never lost that ability to disappear into a story for hours though 🙂
  2. I once met Ken Dodd , a British comedian, with a love of Notty Ash and Tickling Sticks.  He gave me an award for raising money to safe a local landmark aged 10, and I also got an original Tickling Stick.
  3. If you ever visit Dudley Castle, there is a plaque on the wall bearing my name, and thanking me for raising money at school to help them restore it (we collected aluminium cans in the days when you used to get paid for returning them).  Of course, you’d have to know my maiden name to know it was me… 😉  I loved Castles, even at that young age.
  4. One of my favourite childhood memories is going to visit my Grandparents – Nan and Grandad – on a Sunday afternoon.  Nan would always sneak me a treat of some kind, and I would eventually fall asleep with my head on my Grandad’s tummy.  Wonderful days.
  5. Our first dog was named Lady, after the dog in “Lady & the Tramp” – she looked just like her, and I was four and a half years old.
  6. The first album I bought with my own money was paid for half and half with my older Sister.  It was Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
  7. Last, but by no means least, I chose my University because I fell in love with the Mountains, the Sea, the pebble beach, and its’ own version of a Castle..

I think that is quite enough about me – hey, wake up you there in the back, this is the best bit…

In no particular order (and avoiding fellow bloggers who I know have already been nominated where I can:

  1. Amy Metz –
  2. Sarah Fae Graham –
  3. Andy Szpuk  –
  4. Gerry McCullough –
  5. George Polley –
  6. Marj Macrae –
  7. Hannah Warren –
  8. Will Macmillan Jones –
  9. Megan McDade –
  10. Sienna Logan –
  11. Sullivan McPig –
  12. Amy Sanders –
  13. E. B. Black –
  14. Jo Feliciani –
  15. RoseBuz –

There are many, many more I could list, but some I know have already been nominated, and I’m limited to fifteen…

But, as a sneaky cheat, I must mention the wonderful Alliance of Worldbuilders where Sophie and I first met.


And finally, Thank You Sophie 😀

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