Stranger Than Fiction: The Shed Story

At the end of Chapter 50 of St Mallory’s Forever!, there lurks an innocuous reference to just the sort of thing you’d expect to hear in a comic YA mystery set among the hi-jinx of an all-girls boarding school.

Someone got themselves locked in the gardening shed a couple of years back, and there was complete pandemonium until she turned up in the dining hall about an hour later.

Fun fact: that’s not an amusing comic interlude invented purely for a quick giggle and a pleasant sense of irony. It’s a true story.

One of mine, actually. And here’s how it happened.

Back in the Upper Fourth (Year 8 to all you ‘normal’ people out there), someone decided it would be a good idea to have one of our Latin lessons swapped out, bi-weekly, for an hour spent in the greenhouse out the back of the boarding houses. Why this decision was made – and why the first lessons began in the frostiest November since Jack Frost went on a year-long bender – I will never know.

I’ll confess here and now that I’m no great horticulturalist (read: wouldn’t know her geraniums from her marigolds on a good day), but the lessons themselves weren’t so bad. We never actually managed to grow anything, but it was nice to get outside and have a chance to talk about something other than the finer points of Ovid for an hour.

This particular debacle fell in about the fifth week of term. As was my wont, I had been relegated to digging bulbs out of what we hoped would become the tomato patch, and so was rather keen to rid myself of dirt and debris before heading off for lunch.

The sink in the greenhouse stood behind the door. Yes, there was a sink in the greenhouse. Yes, it was strange. Yes, it was bizarrely placed.

Yes, I blame the sink for everything.

Sorry, I digress. I was at the sink, washing my hands and contemplating the prospect of the lasagne waiting for me in the dining room. So engrossed was I in these mouth-watering fantasies, that I did not hear the fateful click. The click, that is, of a key exiting a lock.

By the time I turned back to the door, teacher and class both had vanished, and I was stuck.

What followed was a fairly bizarre thirty minute interlude of jumping up and down in the middle of the greenhouse (hoping to get the attention of the lunchgoers through the window in the boarding house beside the gardening patch), searching in vain for something to use as a lock pick, using anything I could find in the hopes it would make a decent lock pick, discovering that trying to take the lock apart with a screwdriver was no more useful than the previous strategy … and charging the door with a pitchfork.

The last option came to me purely in the hopes that the sound would carry to the grounds staff clipping the hedges off the main road. It didn’t work, but it made me feel a lot better. From what I can tell, the marks were still in the door until the greenhouse was taken down last year.

In the end, I resorted to James Bonding it out of a window – a highly inelegant process, given that I was fairly tall for a 12-year-old and the window was not designed with escape attempts in mind.

The best part of the story? There had not been any debacle whatsoever over my disappearance. On the contrary, no one had even noticed I had gone. I’d been ticked off on the lunch register on the assumption I’d gone to wash my hands – oh the irony – and no one had thought to wonder why the dining room was so oddly quiet.

Suffice to say it was a bit of a surprise for all involved when I came talking in an hour later and declared to the room at large: “I’ve been locked in the garden shed for forty five minutes!”

I did not notice the innaccuracy of my measurement of time. What I did notice, just a moment too late, was that there were three people sitting at my housemistress’ side at the main table. Two parents, and an eight-year-old prospective student.

The fact that I was taken out of the room and sternly told off for upsetting the guests seems reasonable, but I was still rather indignant about it. It wasn’t exactly my fault, after all.

Suffice to say, it was no great surprise to anyone that these gardening lessons were discontinued at the end of that year.

Curse that conniving sink.

* * *

Well, what do you make of that, readers? Reckon any of your stories, from school days or otherwise, can match up to the strangeness factor of The Great Shed Debacle?

There are, of course, plenty more little easter eggs just like this one lurking behind many a line of St Mall’s. Reckon you can spot any more? Suggest them in the comments, and I might just make a little series out of them. Or I might just do that anyway, because I think they’re funny.

~ Charley R

Advertisements

On The Origins Of Tim

‘St Mallory’s Forever!’ Trivia: Episode 1 ~ In which Miriam takes you ‘behind the scenes’ for some trivia and amusing information about book one.

Warning: this post may include mild spoilers for St Mallory’s Forever! for those who haven’t yet read/finished it.

If you’ve read the reviews of St Mall’s that have been left on Amazon and Goodreads (some are excerpted on the “St Mallory’s Forever page and in the right-hand sidebar of this blog, which I redesigned because I was procrastinating on writing a Classics essay last week. Which, for the record, is also what I’m doing right now), you’ll see that a lot of people have commented on our use of geek culture etc throughout the story. It’s true – there are overt references to Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Star Trek, among other things. There are also covert ones, and most of them relate to Tim Morrigan.

I’m responsible for naming him. This wasn’t a deliberate decision – we didn’t sit down and say, “Hey, Miriam, do you want to invent the antagonist of book one?” (Collaboration over distance means I don’t think we ever ‘sat down’ and discussed anything, although Charley and I did meet up in the summer and we talked about book two then.) I don’t even remember if he was originally meant to play the role he played: I think we had some inkling that he’d be a significant ‘baddie’, but nothing concrete.

So his introduction happened to fall in a chapter that I wrote, which meant I needed to name him. He’s introduced to us as Tim Morrigan, but as those who have read the book will know, he is also known as Ben Phillips. For the benefit of those who haven’t, or haven’t yet got that far, I won’t go into the details of how that came to be – simply why those names were chosen in the first place.

And it’s at this point that I display what a total nerd I am, since his name is actually a threefold joke.

Joke one: it’s a play on Jim Moriarty.

With all the Sherlock references that went into St Mall’s and the fact that we wrote it at a time when I was working my way through all the Sherlock Holmes books, it seemed like a good plan for the bad guy to evoke the idea of Moriarty. I went with the BBC Sherlock “Jim” instead of “James”, though, and that’s where Tim came from. “Morrigan”, on the other hand, has a similar phonetic structure to “Moriarty” and is also an Irish word.

Joke two: it’s a reference to the Morrigan.

The Morrigan is one part of the Irish triple goddess of war, death, destruction etc. She’s a shape-changer, which is fitting for a devious and mischievous character. She’s associated with general misery, and interacts with the hero Cu Chulainn. Some theories associate her with the Welsh Morgan le Fay, though they don’t have a lot in common, even taking the French ‘Vulgate Cycle’ of Arthurian legends into account.

… I think my nerd is showing. I recently wrote a research project about women in mythology, so I was examining that particular comparison. Don’t worry if that went straight over your heads.

Basically, the Morrigan is a troublemaker, a shapechanger, and a nasty piece of work.

Joke three: it’s another Sherlock reference.

You know we were talking about BBC Sherlock? Well, that means Benedict Cumberbatch is involved. And you see, his full name is Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch, which meant that Tim/Timothy was easily paired with Ben/Benedict. He references his older sister as a factor in the name choice, and given that she’s probably about the age of most Sherlock fangirls, it makes perfect sense that she would have done that deliberately.

I mean, I’m neither confirming nor denying that she did, or that she even likes Sherlock. But it’s a possibility, isn’t it? (The answer is right there in the book, if you’re looking for it. I was wondering if the others would notice.)

Okay, but what about Phillips?

I don’t remember where the Phillips came from. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t motivated by a desire to include the dreadful amazing pun in the title of chapter 64 (or 65 if we ever fix the fact there are two chapter 12s in that edition, hee hee): “IT’S PHILLIPS, TIM, BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT.” Being, of course, an extra-nerdy joke on the Star Trek quote, “It’s Physics, Jim, but not as we know it.”

Like I said, pretty sure that wasn’t the motivation – just a result that I was very pleased with. I remember sending Charley that chapter and babbling incoherently about the title because I was unbelievably proud of myself, despite knowing that 90% of people wouldn’t even pick up on my genius.

She appreciated it, though.

It might have been that it went well with Morrigan, because it does. It might have been an entirely random name plucked from the ether. Possibly I was looking at my bookshelves and saw the Mortal Engines quartet by Philip Reeve – I have a habit of naming characters after authors. Helen and her mother both owe their surname to Jonathan Stroud, as it seemed appropriate and fit well with both their names, and it’s probably just as well nobody else’s surnames were left up to me or we’d have an entire library of them.

Notably, Philip Reeve and Jonathan Stroud used to be on the same bookshelf which was opposite my desk, although it’s now moved, and I think they were named at about the same time, so I’m going to assume that’s the reason. It’s not quite as entertaining as the rest of his name, but hey, we got four jokes out of it and that’s fairly good going for a single character.

This has been St Mallory’s Forever! trivia. Next time, I’ll probably be talking about Helen, unless there’s anything else you want to know – in which case, please feel free to leave comments!

Charley, In Short

Would you look at that! Not only does Miriam manage to regenerate the blog’s theme, earn us five more followers – hello lovely people! – but she also manages to do it with a magnificent pun in the title!

Well then. I suppose I’d better follow her illustrious example and reintroduce myself, for the benefit of you awesome people who might have forgotten exactly who this strange human is that’s been gabbling at you through the interwebs for the past two weeks.

So… who the blazes are you?

Image

Here I am in 2012! Looking relatively sane in a picture for once.

I’m Charley Robson; student, geek, sausage enthusiast, and author.

I’m the middle installment of the St Mallory’s arrangement, and currently halfway through my first year as an undergraduate of BA English at Exeter University. I’d make a joke about selling my soul to the government to pay off my student fees… but I’m pretty sure I never had one. A soul, that is. More on that later.

What are you doing here?

As the content of my previous posts has likely made obvious, I’m the member of this triumvirate who actually attended a boarding school. Like St Mallory’s, it was a small, single-sex establishment lurking in the idyllic English countryside, and absolutely chock-full of all the charmingly bizarre things you expect of such a place.

Little known fact: my history in education is more akin to Xuan’s than anyone else’s. The boarding school where I concluded my education was the last in a long succession of educational establishments – at least nine, at the last count – attended by myself as I tumbled in and out of cardboard boxes, following my father’s peripatetic job with the Forces.

Wait … go back to the bit about the soul? That’s to do with writing, isn’t it?

Oddly enough, it is. Though I can’t claim quite the same level of productivity as Miriam when it comes to my own work, what books I have managed to write, despite their wild variations in genre, theme and quality, have all been in unified in revealing that I have a marvellous predilection for cold-hearted murder. And wanton destruction. Sometimes at the same time.

I read pretty voraciously, both prose and poetry, and so my taste in authors is extremely varied; from J.R.R. Tolkien to Terry Pratchett, and Lord Byron and the Romantics to Shakespeare and back again, with a detour via Cicero and Scott Lynch if you fancy stopping for a coffee. I’m a great believer in reading, at least partially, as a form of escaping the dull and difficult fish bowl of reality for somewhere much more exciting and/or deadly. Preferably both.

As a result, I would call the majority of my non-St-Mallory’s projects ‘fantasy’, some of a more traditional sort than others. Mostly, though, I aim for interesting characters, engrossingly complex plots, shameless escapism, and making Miriam cry. Don’t feel sorry for her. She does exactly the same thing to me.

Okay … so what else do you do, when not writing?

Image

A more recent picture, from November last year. There are an alarming number of pictures of me with silly things on my head.

Unlike Miriam, I have the musical talent of a particularly dim pigeon – but that didn’t stop me taking to the stage, playing nought but villainous nasties and nasty villains since about the age of nine.

I did, admittedly, take singing lessons for a year, but despite having a top range that makes Alvin and the Chipmunks sound like deep-throated baritones, I’ve got nothing on Freddie Mercury.

Beyond that, I’m usually found indulging my not-so-inner voracious geek. You know you’re a proper geek when you’re on the committee for the Tolkien society, helping to arrange a trip to Rivendell (or the real-life inspiration for it, anyway). I’m also a fan of Doctor Who, Game of Thrones (yes, I’ve read the books. Yes, it gets worse.), Merlin, or just about anything that will present me with some nice historical weapons to drool over.

I have a thing for catapults. Don’t judge me.

Of course, when I’m not feeling up to braving the terrors of the wet and windy outside world, you will probably find me lurking about on…
– My Blog
– My Facebook Page
– My YouTube channel

That’s all from me this week! I’ll be back again in the near future – stay tuned!

~ Charley R

A Joyful Return

Charley’s been great at regenerating the blog with a few new posts over the past fortnight or so, but I’ve been conspicuously and embarrassingly absent — especially as it was my idea to start blogging more often! I’m very sorry about that.

It occurred to me that we’ve been absent for a long time, and it’s reached a point where the ‘author bio’ at the back of St Mallory’s Forever! is probably outdated and incomplete, so unless you know us from elsewhere or read our personal blogs, you’ll know very little about Charley and me as people. Therefore we thought we’d reintroduce ourselves and our interests.

A vaguely sensible picture of me -- this has got to be a first!

A vaguely sensible picture of me — this has got to be a first!

Who are you?

My name is Miriam Joy and I’m eighteen years old. I’m the youngest member of the St Mallory’s writing team, although even I’m a legal adult now, which is mildly hilarious. I’m a writer, student, dancer, musician, blogger, feminist, tea-drinker, and huge fan of puns. Seriously. The title of this post should have given that away.

The St Mallory’s series is set in a school. What’s your education background?

I go to a state school, a grammar school in South-East London, where I’m studying for my A-Levels, and I take English Literature, Classical Civilisations, French and Music. Don’t let anybody tell you that Music is easy: it’s certainly the hardest subject I chose to take, and I regret it on a daily basis. With any luck, I’ll be studying at the University of Cambridge from October, although of course I have to get the grades in my exams this summer for that to be possible!

Which of your hobbies contributed most to the book?

I’m the musical one of the group, so those who’ve read St Mallory’s Forever! will be able to guess that I contributed a lot to Helen’s chapters, particularly where there’s anything technical going on. I had to teach Charley that violin strings aren’t made of plastic, for example, and I regularly mock her when she sends me chapters that display her ‘musical illiteracy’, as she calls it. I leave the lacrosse side of things to her – and indeed anything about boarding school.

Mind you, I'm quite short, which might not help.

Mind you, I’m quite short, which might not help.

I used to play the violin, flute and piccolo, but unfortunately strained my wrists badly last year and haven’t been able to play since July, forcing me to abandon the violin two weeks before I was due to take my grade eight exam. Such is life. In order not to fail the performance unit of A-Level music, I recently took up singing, and I’ve also just started playing the Celtic lever harp, because why play a small instrument like the piccolo when you can play something that goes up to your shoulder?

Actually, my passion as far as music is concerned lies in folk music, so while I’ve got enough orchestral experience to last me a lifetime and I can write the Classical side without too much difficulty, I much prefer playing traditional folk tunes. I play the tin whistle, too, but I don’t tend to count that among my accomplishments because most people look down on whistle players. No idea why.

What else do you do in your free time?

This was me in 2011, when I still had super short hair.

This was me in 2011, when I still had super short hair.

My love of performing arts isn’t confined to music: I also dance. After a brief stint as an Irish dancer from 2009-2011, I retreated to the infinitely less odd world of ballet, and this year I’m dancing the role of the Cat in my dance school’s production of Peter and the Wolf. I’m also part of the dance troupe for our school production of Fame!, which is entirely outside of my comfort zone as far as technique is concerned, but I think it’ll be a great learning experience. And of course, school productions feature prominently in St Mall’s 2, so it’s all research. (I promise we’ll have a title soon.)

I’ve never really had the opportunity to act as such, though I’d be interested in it, and I’m a massive fan of Shakespeare. Hamlet’s definitely my favourite – I empathise a ridiculous amount with Hamlet as a protagonist, and my theories regarding Ophelia are slightly unusual but I promise you, well backed up with the evidence.

Other than this series, what do you write?

My writing is predominantly inspired by my interest in early/medieval history and mythology, particularly Celtic. An example: I’m currently working on a research project about the position of women in Celtic and Norse society as shown by the mythology of those societies, so if that doesn’t sum me up as a person, I’m not sure what does. As a result, my writing is usually tragic and involves fairies – in fact, one of my long-term projects is a series I refer to as Death and Fairies, so there you go. At the moment, I’m mostly focusing on an action/adventure novel about modern-day knights, and I hope to pursue a traditional publishing route with that.

I also wrote a poetry collection. That was a thing, recently.

What’s your favourite thing to read?

I think my favourite genre of books would be fantasy and all its many permutations and subgenres. In my experience, it provides the best and most cutting social commentary, especially when it’s disguised as humour, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. They’re a fabulously amusing critique of the human race, and I love that about them. Fantasy’s often dismissed as a childish genre, not as serious as litfic or something like that, but I think that’s completely erroneous, because it allows us to step entirely outside of our society and values in order to look at them from another perspective. That’s probably one of the reasons I write so much of it, too.

Mind you, I also like historical fiction, although when it revolves around real people I somehow always manage to run into spoilers simply by researching the period. I was devastated when I found out that Camille Desmoulins was executed while I was still halfway through reading A Place Of Greater Safety… And YA fiction will always have a place close to my heart. A lot of people look down on books written for teens – the same way they look down on teenagers in general life. However, it’s such a massively broad category with so many genres within it, and a lot of my favourite books have been YA because there are often fewer boundaries.

I think what I’m getting at is that I read a lot.

What’s the most important thing to you when writing?

I’m passionate about diversity and representation in books. I definitely feel that literature – including, or perhaps especially, books aimed at younger readers – needs to represent all sorts of people. I think pop culture needs more admirable female characters, more queer characters, more disabled or chronically ill characters, more racially diverse characters … and it should go without saying that their stories shouldn’t revolve around that aspect of their life! You might see some of that sneaking into the St Mall’s series, although obviously it’s set in a girls’ school, so clearly we’re going to need admirable female characters or we won’t have any characters at all.

Anything else you want to tell us about yourself?

Two-in-one photo: archery while dressed as Eponine for World Book Day 2013.

Archery while dressed as Eponine for World Book Day 2013.

When I’m not writing, dancing, playing music (which happens less often now because of my hands), or attempting to realise my dreams of becoming a lady knight (which has involved archery and occasionally horse-riding and will hopefully one day also include armoured combat), I make YouTube videos and watch TV shows that break my heart, like Hannibal or Vikings. Occasionally I dress up as fictional characters, too.

Next time I write for this blog, I’ll share with you a few pieces of trivia about the series … like where Tim’s name came from, or why Helen’s playing the particular pieces she’s playing. In the meantime, though, Charley will probably be writing a post similar to this for herself. See you soon!

— Miriam Joy

To Have And To Hold

Yes, you guessed it — this is not a Valentine’s Day post, but a post to let you know that as of today, you can now actually buy a copy of St Mallory’s Forever! which is like, a physical book.

Exciting, right?

For me, personally, this is a pretty significant thing. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve dreamed of being an author, and that always meant physical books. E-books are awesome. I love e-books. Of course, back then I had no inkling that one day a lot of books would be available only in a digital form, so it was a very different vision I had inside my head.

Even so, I’m grinning like a weirdo at the idea of being able to pose next to a copy of a book that I wrote (because somehow, holding a Kindle up isn’t quite the same!).

It’s a little more expensive than the e-book, which is obviously to do with printing costs. As a print on demand book, we can’t do print runs of ten thousand and then sell them off cheap. But, I’m sure I speak for the others too when I say if you have a copy, and you ever see me (in the street or something), I’d be more than happy to sign it.

I’ve been practising and everything.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to work on my “posing next to books” smile.

— M

UK Paperback
(I’m sure there’ll be a US one soon, but there isn’t as of writing this post. Stay tuned!)

3, 2, 1… LIFT OFF!

What’s that excitable post title about? Why, it can only be that St Mallory’s has finally come out!

St. Mallory's Forever!

Yes. It has. In fact, St Mallory’s Forever was technically published on the 21st January, which means — get this — that I was still sixteen. By about five minutes, if Mark is correct about the timing. See, my birthday was the 22nd, and I was due to be turning seventeen. Still fairly young to be published, but who wouldn’t leap at the chance to be published at sixteen, instead?

“Miriam,” you’re saying, “if St Mallory’s was published on the 21st, why are you guys telling us to hang on and wait for news? Why haven’t we got it already?”  (Or you might not be saying. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not spying on all my readers through their webcams.)

Well, we did what’s called a ‘soft launch’. For a start, Amazon took a while to upload it, so it didn’t go live until the morning of the 23rd. And at the time of uploading, we hadn’t quite finished proofreading and formatting, and we weren’t sure there wouldn’t be  random glitches, like finding unexpected QQQs around italics.

Yesterday, therefore, Charley and I had downloaded it to our Kindles and were frantically reading through, keeping note of any typos or formatting errors (which I was doing on my phone, and I do not recommend it, but I was in school and had no choice), and Mark was updating it. In theory. As a matter of fact, he lost the internet for an entire day, because of his location, which made it even more stressful.

Oh, and then he wrote a foreword, and told me until I could see that foreword when I clicked “Click To Look Inside” on Amazon, I couldn’t tell you it was out.

Nevertheless, somebody clearly bought it because we managed to get into the Top 100 in Kindle Store > Books > Fiction > Children’s Fiction > Literature > Humourous — a fairly narrow category, I imagine, but we stayed on that chart all night, which I figured was pretty impressive.

Today I got online and checked the ‘click to look inside’ … and there was a foreword. And the blurb had been uploaded. Okay, so it wasn’t quite linked to my Amazon Author page (but will be soon), but other than that, all seemed to be ship shape.

It was official. St Mallory’s Forever was published and available. Is published and available, I should say.

And I decided to rob Charley of the joy of telling you it’s been released, mainly because, well, I got there first.

St Mallory’s Forever! is available on Amazon UK and Amazon US. I don’t know for certain about other platforms yet, but I know Mark said they might take a little longer, so I will update this post with links asap!

Edited to add: BARNES & NOBLE

Thank you all for your support thus far. I hope you will stay with us for the rest of the series… and remember, if you like the book, Amazon reviews are always appreciated. 🙂

— Miriam Joy

St Mallory’s Forever! – the blog tour!

As I type, we are moments – perhaps more literally than one would think! – away from releasing our lovely wee creation to the world.
As you have probably gathered by our  VERY long radio silences, we’ve been an industrious lot during this time. Not in the least because Miriam and I had a bash at what I like to think of as a sort of baby blog tour.
Curious? I hope so.
  • If you’d care to know, there’s a pretty wicked Interview With the Notebook Sisters, which is full of all sorts of tasty tidbits that we didn’t tell you about in the process of writing St Mall’s.
  • Not long after, I wrote a Post for Pure Grace, which is likewise full of wonderful goodies. And there’s a puppy in it too!
  • While not specifically on the tour itself, Saffi’s Promo Post is worth a look. Not in the least because you’ll get to meet our lovely publishers and experience their awesomeness firsthand!
  • Random Writing Rants were also very kind to step up, and the equally wonderful Miriam has done a wicked post for them on the how and why St Mall’s came to be. She’s also much better at explaining things than I am, so you should totally go and check it out.
  • And last, but certainly not least, the lovely Taylor over at Taylor Lynn Books has kindly hosted another Interview With Charley. If you ever wanted proof that interviews are awesome, this is the place to go.

In the meantime, stay tuned on our Facebook page, or our personal blogs should you happen to follow them, because those who lurk well will be among the first to know when St Mallory’s Forever! goes live.

~ Charley R