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.

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

Castle of Dreams – Week Ten

Good evening, and welcome back to the Castle of Dreams blog series, I hope the change in weather has inspired your own dreams!

This week sees the return of the wonderful Sophie E Tallis, author and illustrator of The Darkling Chronicles. Sophie is one of my favourite debut authors, and another fellow member of the wonderful Alliance of Worldbuilders – regular readers of this blog will recall her submission last week, which was a factual piece about her own Castles of Dreams

This week however I am delighted to be able to give you a preview of Book One of the Darkling Chronicles, White Mountain.

Chapter Fifteen: The Silent Watch     (Author’s Original Text)

 Wendya had had another restless night and woke early. Her room was cold. The city lay silent and pensive. She peeled back the bed sheets and wrapping herself in a beautifully embroidered quilt, she stepped over to the window. Opening the shutters she could feel the icy air against her skin. Her eyes were sore. She instinctively touched her face, and realised that she had been crying in her sleep.

The olive light outside, not yet dawn, seemed more welcoming than the empty darkness inside. Listening carefully she could just hear the rumblings of Gralen down the hall, his snoring echoing through the heavyset walls, bringing her a measure of comfort, amidst the strange surroundings. She opened the heavy latch on the door, being careful not to make a sound, and left the chamber. Beyond the narrow hall, which stretched the length of the guest wing, lay a series of corridors and stairs. With little direction she headed toward one of them. Feeling the roughness of the hewn stone steps beneath her bare feet, she followed the staircase down until it hit its first opening, a small landing which led to a low arched door and out onto the battlements. She pushed at the door and was suddenly in the chill of the open air.

            The crenellations rose and fell in reassuring uniformity, but it was the view Wendya was drawn to. The hills and plains stretched out in an endless blur of blues, violets and greys. Everything looked ordered and peaceful as if the coming storm were just a fleeting nightmare that would vanish with the sun. Wendya strolled along the parapet watching the dark immovable line of the distant mountains, their tops shrouded in mist, their feet plunged in shadow, disappearing amongst the dusky dales and foothills. She found a sheltered spot out of the wind and nestled between the battlements, the cold stone feeling unusually smooth and polished beneath her toes. She sighed heavily. Her heart ached at the danger they all faced…

As she let her mind drift she was suddenly aware of hundreds of shadowy grey figures moving in endless and soundless streams along the city walls above and below her. The ‘Silent Watch’ continued their vigil, each cloaked and keen eyed soldier a member of the city guard, each pair of eyes relentless and fixed on the skies and lands around.

Photo of Mount Cook aka White Mountain - Copy1

Sophie that was wonderful, Thank You so much!

To find out more about Sophie and her writing and her artwork, follow these links:


Author Blog:

Book FB Page:

Author FB page:

Amazon UK:

Amazon US:


Online Artwork:

See you next week!

Castle of Dreams – Week Eight

Hello again.  Firstly let me apologise for the slight hiatus in this series, “Worlds Apart – Leah” has been on tour, and in fact today is the very last day.

More about that in a separate post, as I’m sure you would like to hear from this week’s guest author.

This week I am delighted to welcome Kay Kauffman, a fellow member of the Alliance of Worldbuilders.  I asked Kay what she would like me to tell you all about her, and I quote:

“A geek to the core, I reside in the midst of a corn field with my husband & four kids, where I pen fantastical tales of twue wuv and procrastinate online.”

I don’t think that needs any further comment, do you? 😀

Kay’s piece comes from the world within her wonderful book The Lokana Chronicles, so without further delay, let’s go straight to it.


Eridani Tolhana wandered through the great palace, seeing it as if for the first time.  Though she had lived in the great walled city of Lokana all her life, everything suddenly felt new and different, and it was all Michael’s fault.

Nothing had felt right since he’d shown up.  His strange dress, his even stranger actions, and the way he somehow knew the secret language that only she and her mother understood made her uneasy right from the start.  But she couldn’t stop thinking about him; everything she saw seemed to remind her of him, making even her home feel…foreign.  It was no longer the comfortable place she had grown up knowing.

Michael’s face drifted through her thoughts as she meandered down the Grand Corridor, and she tried to block it out.  She didn’t want to think about him, especially not after the argument she’d had with her parents.  They’d forbidden her to see him again.  It had been centuries since a princess had been locked away in one of the dungeons in the old stone towers of the palace, but she wondered if her father would keep her there if she defied him in this.  What a silly rule, anyway, she scoffed silently.  The palace may be large, but I’m bound to run into him eventually, no matter how careful I am.  What then?  I can’t avoid him forever.

The painted eyes and stone faces of her ancestors watched her as she passed them by.  The hairs on the back of her neck rose to attention and she quickened her pace.  She hated the Grand Corridor with its memorial to all the rulers of old and avoided it whenever possible; why she had chosen to wander through it today when she didn’t have to was a mystery even to her.  The tapestried walls of any other room or hallway were far more welcoming, she thought, without the prying eyes of the dead watching her every move.

But as she left the Grand Corridor, her thoughts returned to Michael.  Specifically, her thoughts returned to the way his arms felt when they had been wrapped around her and how she hadn’t wanted him to let go of her.  Light spilled out into the hallway from the rooms beyond as she continued on toward the patio near the library.  Maybe some fresh air will help.

Eridani emerged a few moments later into a sunlit courtyard surrounded by flowers and trees.  She loved the palace gardens as much as her mother and grandfather before her and often sought the comfort of nature when something troubled her.  The flower fountain her mother had planted as a girl was one of her favorite features; she used to sit for hours inhaling the sweet scent of the roses as they waved back and forth in the summer breeze.

But today, the roses could not soothe her, and all the sunlight and blue sky in the world were not enough to rid her of the feeling that something very bad was about to happen.


Kay that was wonderful, Thank You.  I’ve always loved reading your work.

I hope you all enjoyed that as much as I did – to read more about Kay and her work, take a look at these links here:






I look forward to talking to you all again soon.

Castle of Dreams – Week Seven

Hello again!

I hope you all enjoyed Lisa’s Timeless view of an Irish manor post last week?

This week I thought I should treat you all to my very own castle of dreams, or perhaps I should say Leah’s nightmares?

Kenilworth Castle is one of the most magnificent castle ruins in England. An English Heritage site, it combines renovated buildings as well as those left to ruin.

It once stood, surrounded by a man made lake, in an Estate covering over 4,000 acres of predominantly hunting grounds. Owned by many rich and powerful families it was also visited by Queen Elizabeth the First.

So, why is it special to me I hear you ask? Well, I’ve been fortunate enough to live here in Warwickshire for most of my life, and I have many fond memories of family walks, through the dark and brooding ruins, or the grounds with our pet Spaniel frolicking around us. The Boxing Day duck race, and Pooh sticks under the bridge are all part and parcel of the fun. Now it is home to Abbey Fields, one of the best sledging areas in the region when we are fortunate to have enough snow. My daughter is now the one building wonderful childhood memories of Kenilworth, as I hope generations will to come.

To find out more, take a look at their website

Anyone who knows the Castle and town will recognise it easily from my book, but, given that this blog is about dreams, I would like to share a small passage from Leah, showing an unknown side to this magnificent castle..

Worlds Apart – Leah.. An excerpt.

We were back at the castle, in one of my favourite spots with the huge old tree shielding the area from the worst of the elements, and the grass around it continually trying to defy any attempt at cultivation. I looked around, concerned that a member of the public would spot us. How on earth could I explain the appearance of my Mother to another human being? But as I looked at her, I realised that she had transformed, into the familiar body that I loved so much. Unless they knew, anyone watching us right now would simply see a mother and daughter enjoying the ruins together.

Or so I thought.

That is, until Mom walked behind the tree, pressing one of the iron support bolts in the ruins, she opened a doorway into the ruin that I had never seen, or at least never noticed before. As we entered I saw a steep flight of stairs descending in a spiral, and I followed my mother cautiously, wary both of where we were going and what was about to happen.

Although we passed a few more of the Seraphs, none seemed to either acknowledge or be concerned by our presence, and I couldn’t help wondering if the image of my mother that I could now see was some kind of projection – so that humans saw the human image, and Seraphs saw one of their own. I wasn’t going to get that answer quickly though, as we descended further into the darkness.

Finally, she led the way into a small room. Faint daylight streamed through a vent near to the ceiling, but it was not big enough to provide the light that filled the room. I looked around, at the light coloured, gothic style chairs and table. Every flat surface had glass globes standing on it, each one containing what I could only assume was a candle of some sort, as the entire ball was filled with golden light.

She gestured to one of the chairs, and reluctantly I sat down. The last thing I wanted right now was a simple cosy chat. I needed answers, not platitudes.

“Be patient, Leah, all in good time” came her response. I looked at her in surprise, I could have sworn that her mouth had not moved, and yet I’d heard her voice clearly.

“Stop fighting it Leah, you know what’s happening.” There it was again, and this time I knew that she hadn’t spoken, I’d been looking directly at her.

“How…what is happening?” I asked, attempting to follow her lead. She smiled at the attempt, despite the fact it had half been thought, the other half said.

“Take it slowly sweetheart, you’ve a lot of catching up to do. First I need you to drink this, it will help you to relax and access your powers. I shall then take us both on a journey so that you get your questions answered.” She responded.

Despite everything that had happened, and all that I had seen, I instinctively accepted the warm drink that she offered.

The scent of herbs filled my nostrils – I could detect rosemary, ginger, wild mint and a few others that I could not name. It was invigorating at the same time as calming. As I sipped, the warmth coursed through me, every nerve was awake, and yet I did not feel agitated. Instead I felt alive, more alert than I had ever felt before. I waited, expectantly, anticipating a story that revealed the truth. The reality was completely different.


Sorry folks, have to end it there, I can’t go spoiling the story now can I?

If you’ve enjoyed it so far, you can buy the book here:

UK and Europe


My website is here

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I hope you have enjoyed sharing my Castle of Dreams. See you next week.

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