“Okay.” Emma rolled up her sleeves so they wouldn’t trail on the table. She slid the upturned scotch glass so the pentagram was centred within it. “Everyone put a finger on top of the glass.” We did. “Ready?” Without waiting for a response, Emma tilted her face towards the ceiling. “Is anyone there?” Nothing happened. “Is anyone there?” Emma asked again. She didn’t seem worried. I glanced at Dominic, whose face had fallen. “Is anyone there?” The glass began to inch along the surface of the paper, picking up speed as it slid towards the YES. Tamara gasped, going white under the makeup; that pale, she looked like a porcelain doll. Emma smiled, enjoying her moment. The guys watched with wide eyes. “Welcome.” Emma smiled. “What’s your name?” I studied the glass in its nest of fingers as it spelled out D-A-N-I-E-L. My eyes narrowed, searching for the whitening around the fingertips that would indicate someone was pushing the glass. Was that why Emma had turned off the light—to hide the tells? “Hello, Daniel.” Emma smiled again. “Daniel’s my spirit guide,” she added in an aside to the rest of us as the glass slid across to HELLO. I watched with a frown as the others asked questions of Daniel: where he was born, how he’d died, that sort of thing. I didn’t pay much attention; I was busy trying to see how the trick was being performed. It was a normal scotch glass and, if anyone was pushing it, they were being discrete. Emma was good. Finally, she looked around the table at us. “Daniel can act as our intermediary to the afterlife, protecting us from evil spirits. Do any of you have relatives who have passed over that you’d like to contact? A grandparent or anything?” “My grandpop’s dead, but he was an old bastard.” Kurt laughed. “I don’t want to talk to him. Besides, your Daniel wouldn’t let him through if he doesn’t like evil spirits.” Tamara shook her head; Dominic turned to me. “Isn’t your mother dead?” he asked softly. “Yes.” I looked away. I’d never known my mother. She’d died giving birth to me. But I didn’t like the idea of turning her into a parlour trick. Dominic saw my hesitation and looked sheepish. Emma brightened, though. “What was her name?” she asked. “Melanie,” I said reluctantly. “Melanie Blackman.” “Hey, we don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,” Dominic said. “It’s all right,” I said. It wasn’t real. It didn’t matter. “Melanie Blackman, are you there?” Three times Emma repeated the call, and, as before, the glass didn’t move until the third time. NO. “No?” Emma looked surprised—which was itself surprising, given she was the one moving the glass. “Melanie Blackman, are you there?” The glass circled away from the word and back again, rattling across the paper. NO. Obviously that wasn’t meant to happen. “Daniel, are you there?” There was a long delay while I imagined a sheet-covered ghost handing over the receiver of a telephone. YES. “Why isn’t Melanie Blackman there?” It wasn’t real. It didn’t matter. But I still held my breath as I watched the glass spell out the reply. S-H-E [SPACE] I-S [SPACE] N-O-T [SPACE] D-E-A-D.
“I’m not sure which is worse,” I whispered to Hamish, stroking his fur, “believing I killed my mother, or believing she abandoned me…and Dad lied about it.” Hamish didn’t answer. He was already asleep. “Well, you’re no use.” Against all odds, the steady rhythm of Hamish’s breathing lulled me into a doze. It seemed like no time had passed when I awoke to a change in light: my father’s large frame was in the doorway, blocking the light. “Isla? Are you awake?” His voice was tentative. “Yes.” I sat up, rubbing my eyes. Hamish grumbled a protest. “Can I turn the light on?” “Sure.” I blinked and stared at my father. He looked dishevelled and his eyes were wide, like he’d seen a ghost. He was holding the gift bag he’d given me on my birthday. “You left this at the restaurant the other week, when you went out for dessert with that boy,” he said, his voice strained. As confused and resentful as I was feeling right now, I still loved him, and his appearance worried me. “Dad, what’s wrong?” “Nothing,” he said. He was an even worse liar than Sarah. He came into the room and sat on the edge of the bed. “Here.” He tried to hand me the bag. Vomit burned the back of my throat, and I flinched back. He saw the flinch, and his face grew even more drawn. “Isla, take it.” There was an urgency in his tone that I neither understood nor liked. “No. Dad, what’s going on? You’re freaking me out.” He looked around the room. “Do you have any of my work in here?” The question confused me. I felt my cheeks warm. “Um, I’m not sure.” The answer was no. Pretty much every piece of ironwork he’d given me was in the shed. The rest I’d given away to friends. “Here.” He upended the gift bag. The heavy iron circlet tumbled into my lap. My stomach twisted with nausea so severe I clenched my teeth, afraid I’d throw up. Where the iron touched my thighs through the denim of my jeans it felt ice-cold, and yet it burned at the same time. I gasped, shoving it away from me and onto the floor. It singed my hand. “What the hell are you doing?” I jumped to my feet. Hamish leapt up too, yapping. Dad said nothing but the look on his face was wild, despairing. “You’re crazy,” I cried, fleeing the room. “Isla, wait,” Dad yelled after me. But I ran, snatching my bag from the hallway before rushing out the front door. I ignored the bite of tiny rocks on the soles of my feet. I had to get away from him, from everything.
“You should not be up here alone,” a voice said. Heart in my throat, I spun so quickly I nearly fell. Standing a few metres away from me was a figure in baggy jeans and a soft grey jumper. A hood was pulled up to cover his head, casting his face in deep shadow. “I’m not alone,” I lied, squaring my shoulders and putting one hand on my hip. The other I slipped into my jeans pocket, getting a good grip on my car keys. Natalie had told us after she did a self-defence course that the individual keys, protruding from a clenched fist, could serve as an improvised weapon. My heart raced so hard I was sure the stranger could hear it. “You are,” he corrected me. At least, I thought it was a he, judging by the voice. “My boyfriend has just gone to the bathroom.” Absurd; there were no public bathrooms up here. Before he could call me on it, I added, “It’s none of your business.” He wasn’t tall, which made me feel a little more confident. “It is not safe for you, lady.” What? “Who are you?” He hesitated, and I took a step forward. It was foolish, but I’d had enough tonight. “Tell me!” The stranger pushed his hood back. His dark eyes, fixed on my face, were the first things I noticed. They were large, like those of a baby animal that hadn’t grown into its skin. In the poor light I couldn’t determine their colour. His nose was small; his chin pointed; his skin pale and covered in delicate wrinkles, especially around the mouth and eyes; and his hair straight, either dark blond or light brown. And his ears…. They protruded from his hair, long and pointed, the tips a good hand span away from his skull.
Interview with Cassandra Page, author of ‘Isla’s Inheritance’
Can you tell us a little about ISLA’S INHERITANCE?
It’s a young adult urban fantasy set in Australia, and is about a girl named Isla (surprise!). Isla’s seventeen and a bit of a sceptic, in that she always looks for the sensible, mundane explanation for things—something her single-parent father has always encouraged. At a Halloween party, she agrees to take part in a séance because a hot guy she used to have a crush on wants to go; it’s a shock to her when the “spirit” they contact claims her mother isn’t actually dead, as she’s always been told. Of course, she doesn’t believe it at first, and is quickly distracted by said hot guy, whose name is Dominic.
Of course, that’s when things start to get interesting. 😉
Isla’s Inheritance is the first book in a trilogy. The other two books are coming out in the first third of 2015, which is both exciting and utterly terrifying! Getting everything ready is going to be a bit of a mad rush, but the flipside is that readers won’t have to wait years between instalments. GRRM, I’m looking at you!
I notice you write using Australian English spellings. Is the book written that way too?
Yes, it is. Even though Turquoise Morning Press is based out of the USA, the team decided that since the story is set in Australia, it would be more authentic to use Australian spelling and terms where possible. However, I did try and choose words that had common meanings, to minimise the chaos and confusion for readers. As an example, a thong in Australia is a type of shoe that I’m told is called a flip flop in the US. We’d never say flip flop here but, on the other hand, given what a thong is in other parts of the world, I didn’t really want people to get mixed up! There have been a few different decisions like that.
What is your favourite part of the writing process?
Writing the last few chapters of a book, definitely. I’ve drafted four now, and that’s always been the best part of the experience. It’s such a heady rush, seeing all the plot threads come together and the plot accelerate. Also, usually by that point I’m doing mean things to my characters, which is always fun!
The other thing is that it takes me a long time to write a first draft—somewhere between six and nine months—so it’s always satisfying to reach the end of that process. I’m a single mother and work full time, so I have to squeeze in my writing where I can: after my son’s in bed, on lunch breaks, that sort of thing. I also do a lot of plotting (and scheming) in the car.
Given the reference to iron in the blurb, it’s not a surprise to learn the “fantasy” part of your urban fantasy relates to the fae, which are part of European mythology. How did your fae come to be in Australia?
I decided very early on in the drafting process that I didn’t want cute Disney elves. Not that I have a problem with Disney—I’m a mum and therefore know the Frozen soundtrack verbatim—but I felt something darker than Tinker Bell suited young adult readers better. My ruling class of fae are renowned for their vanity, and their cruelty to those in their service. As a result, the fae in Australia are almost all refugees of one kind or another: “lesser” fae who want to live free of oppression.
Where in Australia are the books set?
They set in Canberra, Australia’s capital, which is, in some ways, an overgrown country town. What that means is we have a lot more green spaces than either Sydney or Melbourne do: reserves running through suburbs; low mountains covered in walking trails and with lookouts perched on top; parks for the kids to play.
It’s a great place to set a story when your supernatural population likes green spaces. Werewolves and fairies in particular would love it here—there are places with hardly any iron or steel, and green corridors a wolf could sneak through. I wondered at first whether setting a supernatural tale here would somehow lack credibility. But then I thought, if Sookie Stackhouse can run into vampires in a tiny town like Bon Temps, why can’t Canberra have its own supernatural stories, that element of magic?
When I see the sunlight sparkling off the surface of Lake Burley Griffin on a crisp autumn afternoon, or the glittering lights of the city from Mount Ainslie at dusk, I think that magic is already there. All I’m doing is telling people about it.
Cassandra Page is a mother, author, editor and geek. She lives in Canberra, Australia’s bush capital, with her son and two Cairn Terriers. She has a serious coffee addiction and a tattoo of a cat — which is ironic, as she’s allergic to cats. When she’s not reading or writing, she engages in geekery, from Doctor Who to AD&D. Because who said you need to grow up?
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