Please welcome author Jessica Rowan to my blog. Be sure to check out an excerpt of her book, The Circle of Candles, after this short interview. (Can’t wait to get her book? It is available on Amazon.)
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m British, originally from the south-east of England. I’m currently in central Europe teaching English as a foreign language and carving out time to write and play music (I like to sing and play a little guitar). My writing often revolves around my love of nature and animals – I had a dog for eleven years who sadly died and I now have three adopted stray cats and am trying to resist the temptation to adopt a new dog. I’m not sure how long I can last out…
What inspired you to write this book?
I woke in the middle of the night with the opening scene of the book in my mind’s eye. I saw a dog watching a silver flame descending from the ceiling onto a sleeping girl’s hand, giving her the ability to speak with him. I didn’t know who they were or what was happening – I had to write the book to find out!
Did you base any of your characters on real people?
No, absolutely not. I think the only person they resemble are perhaps parts of myself – Amy’s love of animals and nature, Robin’s myopia and annoying quality of being so precise about everything, Alex’s sadness at his parents’ separation – it’s all tiny bits of my own life that I unconsciously used as inspiration. It’s only afterwards that I realised. I don’t think I could ever write about other people I know – I would feel like it was a betrayal of trust somehow.
Is there a specific place in the house (or out of the house) that you like to write?
We have a tiny house so most rooms have more than one purpose. I often sit at the kitchen table – it’s quiet and warm in the winter, plus I can see down the garden and look at the trees to give my eyes a rest from the computer screen. I sometimes go into town to the library, especially for reading through some chapters and getting a fresher insight for edits and rewrites.
What book are you reading right now?
I’m currently reading The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.
Do you have an all-time favorite book?
One book? Can I have three? Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights – I read and studied it at school and it’s still a firm favourite. A more modern novel I really enjoyed is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and I also love Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island.
CHAPTER ONE – The Flame
Grey wasn’t a young dog. That’s not to say that he was old, certainly not, but he frequently nodded off in front of the television, his joints ached a little more than he would have liked and he definitely preferred to sleep uninterrupted through the night. None of this would stop him from protecting Amy, of course. Nothing would ever stop him from protecting Amy.
So when this not-young but certainly-not-old dog was roused in the middle of the night, he felt just a little bit grumpy. He pulled himself up out of his basket to pace the attic room, tail moving low and slow. He pressed his nose to the wooden floor and sniffed back and forth, casting a furtive glance at the bed. Amy was fast asleep as usual, her tousled hair escaping in blond curls from the top of the duvet, her breathing deep and regular.
The dog cocked his head and scanned the darkened room, holding his breath and listening intently. Nothing. But he knew something had woken him, a smell or a difference in the air.
All at once he heard a faint noise, a small sound like the burst of a tiny flame springing to life above him. Grey looked up just in time to see a pin-prick of light appear in the dark-beamed ceiling. He growled softly as it descended, a silvery glow gliding downwards. It had sounded like a flame because that’s exactly what it was; a silver, flickering flame falling gently. Down and down it came, a huge journey for such a tiny thing, until it landed on the back of Amy’s hand and instantly disappeared without a sound.
Grey sniffed Amy’s skin where the flame had been, a soft growl subsiding in his throat. He gently licked her hand and stood for some time with his head cocked to one side. His hackles gradually smoothed and, as there seemed nothing else to do, he got back into his basket and sighed.
‘Did I hear a noise, Grey? What was that?’
‘Nothing, Amy, go back to sleep.’
‘But I thought I heard someone strike a match and something touched my hand…’
‘Don’t worry, I’m looking after you. Go back to sleep.’
Amy sighed and rolled over. She peeped over the edge of the bed at Grey curled in a tight circle, his nose tucked under his tail.
‘I was dreaming you were talking to me again, Grey. I do love you so, you soft old dog.’
‘I love you too, Amy.’
The girl looked down at Grey, her eyes big and round in the darkness of the night.
‘I said I love you too, Amy.’
‘You said… you what?’
The girl jumped out of bed, lay down on the rug in her nightdress and wrapped her arms around the dog’s shaggy shoulders.
‘You can understand me? You can speak to me?’ She pulled away and looked at him for several moments. ‘I don’t believe it! I just don’t…’
She hugged him, burying her face into his fur before pulling away to stare at him again.
‘Nip me, Grey,’ she said, shaking her head in disbelief. ‘I must be dreaming. I’ve dreamt for so many years that you could talk. Nip me!’ She burst into a fit of giggles as the dog softly nibbled her hand with his front teeth.
‘Okay, that’s enough. So I’m not dreaming. Ow, stop! That hurts!’ The girl looked down at her hand and squinted in the low light. ‘What’s that?’ she said, jumping up and running to the window. She wrenched back the curtain to allow the moonlight to stream in and held her hand up to the light. There, glistening on the back of her hand, was a small, silvery mark in the shape of a flame. She stared over at Grey once more, her eyes shining, and spoke in a very small voice.
‘What is it, Grey?’
The dog just looked at her and shrugged his shaggy shoulders.
The wind had picked up so suddenly in the street that morning, no one was prepared for it. Women tried in vain to button up their children’s coats, men’s ties and jackets were whipped into the air and some people swore that whichever way you walked, it always seemed that you were fighting against the wind. A white-haired woman came out from a side alley, pursed her lips and peered at the wind-swept pedestrians and the litter swirling like confetti in the air.
Just an old lady, doddering along in a flimsy beige raincoat with a wicker basket on the crook of her arm. But if anyone had bothered to look they would have seen that not a single hair on her head moved and her coat hung straight down, completely undisturbed by the wind.
‘It must have begun,’ she muttered to herself as she shuffled up the road, joining the people battling their way to work and school.
‘You’re looking pleased with yourself. What have you been up to?’ Amy’s dad came into the kitchen and ruffled her blonde curls. For once, Amy didn’t pull away or complain. She just smiled up at her father, her eyes sparkling.
‘Nothing, Dad, just feel happy today. Do I have to have a reason?’
Her dad chuckled and began putting out cups and cereal bowls on the kitchen table. ‘It’s just good to see you smiling, that’s all, love.’
His eyes shone as he looked back at his daughter, then glanced quickly towards a small photo in a silver frame leaning against the white china plates on the sideboard. It was a picture taken on a family holiday, a slender blonde woman squinted into the sun on a beach, smiling and cuddling a young Amy in one arm. Her other hand grasped the lead of a scruffy young grey dog who was trying desperately to wriggle out of his collar.
‘It’s been a while since any of us have had much to smile about…’ Dad’s voice trailed off and he changed the subject. ‘Got anything planned today? I thought we could go out, make the most of the weekend. The weather’s turned a bit stormy but we could go somewhere in the car if you like?’
‘I don’t know, I’ll have to talk to Grey first,’ Amy said, then put her hand over her mouth. ‘I mean, I’ll have to walk Grey first and well, you know…’ With that, Amy jumped off her stool and hurried out of the kitchen, Grey close at her heels.
Her dad watched her and shook his head, smiling to himself as he put her unused bowl and cup back on the sideboard. He picked up a remote control and switched on the television in the corner of the kitchen. A middle-aged man frowned and stared into the camera.
‘…we’re currently suffering the worst autumn weather since records began, with severe gales turning to rain, plummeting temperatures and even some early falls of snow in certain areas.’ The man frowned even more deeply and turned his back to the camera, circling his finger vaguely over a map behind him. ‘The Met Office has issued a warning for our region, severe storms are forecast causing gale-force winds during the night and…’
Amy’s father sighed and hit the off-button on the remote and the weatherman and his map shrunk instantly to a tiny dot and disappeared.
‘What’re you staring at, old woman?’ spat the tall, pale stranger, his silver-blue eyes glittering as he strode past the bus stop.
‘I’m looking at someone else who isn’t moved by the Wild Wind,’ the woman answered, her voice high and clear above the gale. She studied the man’s motionless black leather coat and his long, fair hair that lay lank and still across his shoulders.
‘So? This is nothing. You want to see a real storm, one that will even blow your blue rinse around? Wait until tomorrow, old woman.’ He stood for a second longer before striding off, leaving the woman staring at his back.
‘Ah, we’ll see about that. We’ll see which way the Wild Wind blows in the end,’ muttered the woman to herself as she hoisted her basket up onto the bus.
Three days had passed since Grey had spoken his first words to Amy. To put it more correctly, three days had passed since Amy had started to hear Grey speaking. He swore that he’d been talking to her for years, ever since he was a puppy and had first arrived at her home.
‘You just didn’t seem to understand me,’ he said in his soft, gravelly voice, ‘Well, some things you got, like when I wanted my dinner, that you seemed to understand. But anything more complicated seemed to go over your head. I wondered if you weren’t just a little bit simple…’
Amy giggled and wrapped her arms around his shaggy neck. She loved Grey’s sense of humour and they spent hours talking and laughing. They had to be careful though that no one else heard. Amy had become convinced that other people could only hear her speaking and she didn’t want a reputation as a crackpot, so most of their conversations took place at night in hushed whispers. This was one of those nights, but it was getting late and Amy was tired.
‘Let’s go to sleep now, Grey. We can talk more tomorrow. Dad’ll be out all afternoon.’ She patted the dog’s shoulder and was just reaching out to turn the bedside lamp off when a dark shape scuttled across the rug and disappeared under the bed. Amy let out an involuntary squeal and tucked her legs up under the covers, shuddering all over.
‘What are you squealing at? You scared me half to death!’ A small, slightly irritated voice came from under the bed and Amy’s eyes widened in astonishment. Grey moved closer to the bed and sniffed gently at the rug.
‘Who’s that? Who’s there?’ asked Amy gently.
‘Me, of course!’ The small voice sounded totally exasperated now. ‘What is it with humans, huh? You’re so huge, scare the bejeebers out of me, and yet you squeal whenever you see one of us. Just your foot is a whole lot bigger than me, possibly even your toe. And don’t even show me your slipper! More of my close family and friends than I care to count have come to a bad end under a well-aimed slipper. Poor old ma and pa – both victims of slipper-death. And all us children to feed…’
There were sounds of sniffing and a stifled sob as Amy shuffled across the bed to dangle her head upside down and peak over the edge. She saw a large spider, his dark shape cowering in the corner and she watched it raise a spindly leg to wipe away a tear from one of its many eyes.
‘Oh don’t cry! I’m so sorry…’
‘Well, I’m not blaming you personally for anything, Amy Fey, that’s for sure,’ the spider looked straight at her and held her gaze with several beady eyes. ‘You’re well-known as being thoughtful and gentle with my kind. You may not remember, but you scooped me out of the bath with a glass several times this year. Most people would have just washed me down the drain…’ Tears were welling from the spider’s eyes once more. ‘You’re well-known and well-loved, Amy Fey… just stop it with the shuddering.’
‘I’m sorry, it’s just a natural reaction. But you’re right, it’s silly.’ Amy looked again at the spider and this time she didn’t shudder, not even a tiny bit. He was actually quite cute, with his furry legs and sad expression in his numerous eyes. ‘But what I don’t understand is how we can talk to each other.’ She turned from the spider to Grey. ‘Does this mean I can talk to all animals?’
The dog and the spider both looked at her and shrugged their shoulders.
When Amy Fey awakes in the night with a silver flame burned on the back of her hand and the ability to converse with Grey, her pet dog, she can’t imagine that this will be the beginning of a perilous adventure that will test her strength of mind, body and character. She soon finds out that Grey isn’t the only animal that has a word or two to say to her – from Marmaduke, the overly-emotional spider under her bed, to Seff the giggling centipede, all the creatures are there to tell her a tiny piece of the puzzle that she, a newly-appointed Flame Bearer, has to solve. Her grandmother, always enigmatic, often absent when most needed, knows more than she is telling, and her dead mother seems to have taken a secret or two with her to the grave.
Amy’s quest to find out her family secrets and to fulfill her role as a Flame Bearer takes her to the Circle of Candles, a dazzling ring of towering silver-flamed candles, taller than the forests that surround it. An irritable guardian, a talking statue named Pierre, must be appeased and later saved from destruction, puzzles must be solved, and the purpose of the Circle must be revealed. The journey takes Amy into a magical world, desperately seeking her beloved runaway dog, where she meets with other Flame Bearers and animals.
The Flame Bearers must work together to save the Circle from destruction by their nemesis Yotin the Pale One. They discover that the Circle is the fountain of happiness for the world, the source that people tap into when they love and laugh, and without it the human race would live out its days in abject misery. Pale Ones thrive on these negative emotions and desire only one thing – to destroy this source of joy and feed on human despair until the end of time.
About the Author
Jessica Rowan is a Brit, currently lost in central Europe. She shares her tiny house and wild garden with her husband, a glaring of cats and numerous interlopers including stray dogs, hedgehogs, rabbits and a passel of pigeons.
Jessica was reluctant at school but found a love of education later in life, now spending her time writing, playing music and teaching English. She likes the colour blue, reading late at night, buttered toast with marmite, strong PG Tips tea and the smell of a freshly-walked wet dog.
You can purchase The Circle of Candles on Amazon.