Thank you for stopping by my blog today! Happy New Year to you – I hope 2016 is a great year. Thank you to Ashley Reader Granger for organising this blog hop.
I’d like to tell you a little it about one of my books, Her Dollmaker’s Desire. I wrote it in response to Decadent Publishing‘s submissions call for retellings of fairytales. The only catch? They got to assign a random fairy tale! I got the little known “Dance, Dance, Doll of Mine!” by Hans Christian Andersen and didn’t really look back. I’m not sue it’s entirely true to the original – Andersen’s 49 lines left me with a lot of scope, but I tried to tease out some of the same people and magic he captured in his tale.
I have one copy of Her Dollmaker’s Desire up for grabs (in the format of the winner’s preference). For your chance to win, please leave me a comment with your opinion on author newsletters. I’m kind of considering starting one, but have no idea if many people read them before they get deleted and what you like to read about or otherwise find in your newsletters. 🙂 Closes 9am GMT 18th January 2016.
Rule number 123: Once upon a time is for fairy tales, not for broken ex dancers who live at home with Daddy and a textbook evil stepmother, and who only manage to get through life by counting every single step.
Amy knows her rules inside out…who to spend time with, what to eat, what to drink and what to do – until danger shows up in a leather jacket on a shiny chrome motorbike. Suddenly, breaking the rules seems to be all she can manage no matter how hard she tries, and her rigid control starts to slip.
Peder’s violent past has shaped him into the man he is, much the way he has learned to shape dolls with the help of his grandfather. He used to have only one rule in his life, courtesy of his absent brother and their shared gang past. When Amy is sent to write an article on his grandfather and his history of doll making for a paper her father’s company owns, she captures Peder’s interest and his heart. After his brother makes an ill-timed return and issues an instruction that threatens his future with Amy, Peder becomes trapped in a fresh web of lies and family ties. He must decide if he should start breaking the rules he didn’t know he lived by to take a chance on a future with Amy while knowing he could still lose her if she finds out.
Is Amy brave enough to put her faith in Peder, and can he overcome his past and convince Amy to follow their destiny, rather than her rules?
Once upon a time, down the darkest of winding cobbled streets, sandwiched between a tarot reader’s grimy window and a closed, exclusive clothing boutique stood the plainest of doors. Made of faded and splitting dull-brown worn oak, only the gleaming brass handle suggested anyone ever used it at all.
Amy Nelson looked at the door and then at the address Mick, her editor, had shoved into her hand as she left the office. She shrugged in defiance of her churning emotions. Pride…fear…the name didn’t matter when they were equally as painful to swallow. Fleeing home from London with a vow never to return had been humiliating enough, but being sent back within a few years—even for just a day—at the paper’s expense, burned. Melodramatic vows were no use when they could be so easily overturned. Worse, she’d spent the best portion of the morning seeking out a remote backstreet where she stood equal chance of being accosted by a mugger…or by a rat.
Working as the entertainment correspondent on the small-enough-to-be-insignificant local newspaper her father’s company published sounded far more appealing before she arrived on the first day and started the job. She’d pictured herself taking occasional calls from above-themselves am-dram groups about their next big show or reviewing random sleep-inducing monologue performances, not turning into the most inept of newshounds when Mick needed to fob something off to the most junior employee.
“Make the best of it!” her father commanded when he steamrolled through her quiet depression and magicked a position available in his usual controlling yet distant way. Her stepmother gave her the silent treatment until she signed the contract of employment, and her father called his parental duty done. Easy for him to say when everything he touched turned to gold. Nothing about being an ex-dancer qualified Amy to write or even think she could—not even on her stellar days. Her shoulders slumped. Such was life, though, and her life usually meant not getting a choice.
If only she’d rescued her last precious drops of self-preservation and taken the time to read the fine print. She thought she’d clocked in as a trainee-journalist, but if she failed at stringing words together in a pleasing way, she had the vague idea she could be demoted to the person typing up the company’s daily sandwich order or traded for three fine goats and a handful of magic beans…because no one would want to be caught suggesting they fire the CEO’s daughter.
In truth, though, she’d have done herself a huge disservice if she tried to argue her way out of this assignment. She gave way to a huge inner squee. As a little girl, she’d lusted after the beautiful dolls made by the magical and mysterious man called Tobias, even if she hadn’t pictured his beautiful creations starting life in a hole-in-a-wall down a grime-filled alley on the way to nowhere.
She shook off her melancholy. The street hadn’t become any more appealing for standing in it. Ignoring the tingling sensation along her spine and a misplaced premonition of change, she raised her hand to knock. Before her knuckles made contact, the door swung inward, and she would have struck the face of the man emerging from the darkness beyond if he hadn’t been the size of a six-year-old child. She moved out of his way to let him pass, recoiling even more when she noticed the electric blue tarantula crawling out of his tangled grey beard to sit on his shoulder.
“Nice to see you again, Nicodemus.” A heavily accented voice spoke from a little way inside the building, and a stooped, elderly man with a time-lined face but the dancing, bright-blue eyes of an ageless sprite stepped forward. His grey hair, thick on his head, hadn’t seen a brush in a few weeks if not several months.
He turned his attention to her, his sudden, sharp gaze unnerving. “Are you Amy? I’ve been expecting you. Told my friend Nicodemus we had an appointment this afternoon. He’ll be expecting all manner of stories the next time he passes this way.”
Amy glanced over her shoulder at the little man hobbling away on stiff but sure legs and shuddered in revulsion at the flash of blue still at his shoulder as he disappeared into the gloom. She conjured up her brightest business-like smile and held out a professional hand to the man who’d spoken to her, even though she wanted to shriek a little bit and fangirl in his doorway or ask him to make her a doll of her very own.
“And you must be Tobias the Dollmaker? I’m sorry—I’ve never known your last name, and my editor didn’t pass me one, Mr…?” She made a pantomime of riffling through the pages of her notebook.
In truth, Mick hadn’t even given her a correct first name right when he mentioned the assignment. Did Tobias even have a surname? Bloody hell. She wasn’t even in the door yet, and she was messing up her first interview. She’d never heard a last name associated with him. Maybe he started the celebrity trend of using one name.
“Not to worry, not to worry. I’ve been Tobias the Dollmaker far longer than I ever used any other names. I’m not sure I remember, myself.” He gave a lusty cough into his pristine handkerchief as he shuffled away from the door, gesturing for her to come in. “I see you found my little workshop without difficulty?”
Amy’s smile tightened as she remembered too much walking, her leg aching with the effort, and the clouds of grime setting up a comfortable home in her aura. “No problem at all,” she agreed.
A claustrophobic corridor led from Tobias’s front door to an uncarpeted staircase. Narrow shelves competed for wall space, and, on each, stood rows of dolls. Amy turned away from the miniature figures crowding around her and cringed under the weight of so much judgment.
Wooden dolls with random tufts of straw-like hair fashioned in decaying parodies of long-past state of the art hairstyles butted up against eerie little creatures—pale perfection in their heyday, probably—growing yellow with age. Their fixed faces and sharp stares watched her pass, and she shivered, pulling her coat more closely around her.
“It’s a touch small these days, but old men like me don’t entertain much, so I make do.” Tobias twisted his fingers together as the top of the stairs opened straight into another little space where yet more shelves and their residents fought with life’s usual clutter.
Amy’s eyes widened. “How do you manage to relax with all of them looking at you?” Her voice came out as a squeak, and she cleared her throat as she forced herself to remember she’d scored an unbelievable opportunity to interview a mythical figure from her childhood, regardless of what Mick thought he handed out.
“You may say they look at me…. I prefer to think they simply watch over me. We’re old friends. I’ve cared for all of them these many years, and now they do the same for me.” Tobias sat on his shabby sofa and bent to a battered copper kettle on a grate over an open fire. “Forgive the lack of modern conveniences”— he offered a vague gesture around the room—“I find my antiquated ways work better than exploring for the electric kettle every time I want tea. Can I make you a cup while we talk?”
Amy gave a bemused shake of her head, horrified at her sudden lack of words and journalistic intent, before she snapped her mouth closed and pulled her attention from the rows of dolls.
“Ahh, smart girl. You must be waiting for the kiksekage. I sent my grandson, Peder, out for some a moment before you arrived.”
Amy nodded at his ready excuse for her rudeness and offered another polite smile before pulling her bag higher onto her shoulder. Nowhere looked clean enough to put it down. “Do you mind if I…?” She gestured around the room.
“By all means. Go and meet them. Perhaps you’ll find a new friend?”
Her foray into journalism could wait while she tiptoed around Tobias’s room, for just a few minutes, anyway. The excited child who would have given up every birthday wish to get within smelling distance of this workspace would never let her forget the missed opportunity to exercise professional nosiness if she didn’t at least look.
“Wow. I haven’t seen most of these dolls before, and I thought I knew all of your work.” Her incisive and thought-provoking journalistic line of thought never ceased to underwhelm her. “I…um…what made you decide to exhibit them?”
He laughed, the ready sound musical. “Just as you said. I may very well be the only one who has ever seen all of my creations. It feels like the right time for a change.”
She cast her glance from every petite face to each delicate hand. Some of the dolls she’d never seen before were super-creepy, even though she could acknowledge their lifelike beauty. She caught sight of a doll with a particularly malicious smile. “Ew!” She coughed. “Ooooo!” She cleared her throat and hoped her shock at discovering a miniature chamber of horrors came out as delight. Some of them only lacked their little axes and cutthroat razors, though.
She walked to a different shelf with a deliberately casual air and massaged her thigh, working hard to control her ever-present slight limp. This shelf…this set of dolls was different again. The feeling here could almost be described as friendly. She stopped, and surprised herself by bending to examine a beautiful ballerina doll, her tulle tutu alive with movement she wasn’t capable of making, her features lit with recognition received from the crowd she couldn’t dance for. Lost in her thoughts of the past, Amy reached to grasp the ballet dancer’s tiny form.
“I’ve brought the cake, if you want to come and sit with us for your cup of tea?” A new male voice, deep and confident, startled her.
She jumped and straightened, coming nose to nose with the unhinged grin and vacant leer of a circus clown.
A gasp tore from her lips. “Oh my God.” She backed into something warm and solid, and shrieked before spinning round.
“Sorry. Sorry…it’s just me.” The man’s eyes, rich with the colours of wild woodland moss, held an unexpected glint of danger. She shivered as an electric jolt shot straight through her when she met that green gaze. It glimmered with mischief and laughter, and he didn’t look quite as sorry as he should have.
Reflex led to her almost leaning into his strong grip as he reached out to steady her. Almost. She tugged her arm away and held out her hand.
“Pleased to meet you.” Superficial manners and years of rules kicked in, and she averted her gaze from the man who hadn’t introduced himself, and especially from his dangerous eyes. Her heart continued to race over her close encounter with the clown…yet the warmth in her arm lingered where the man had wrapped his strong fingers around her.
“Quite,” came his polite reply, and the obvious disinterest in his tone echoed through her, but what had she expected? Rule Number 15: Know your place, always.
She sneaked a quick look at him, and his very attractive lips upturned in an amused smile. One she almost returned, while wishing he’d speak more words once she could hear him over the rushing of blood in her ears.
His voice melted her, creating sparks and exploring long-forgotten depths of attraction. It made promises for ways they should spend time together he couldn’t even be aware of, and she wanted him to talk forever. She took an uncertain step away. Space seemed necessary…safe.
She took a last look at the grotesque clown, able to see a bit of Jonathan in the twisted features if she squinted, and crossed to Tobias in three short strides, her limp under control over the tiny distance.
She tugged a small, dusty stool from underneath a shelf, wiped the seat with a tissue she dug out of the bottom of her bag, and sat on a carrier bag she kept tucked away in her pocket. Grit and grime and germs. Better safe than sorry. She closed her eyes and counted to five. Five—the business alternative to ten. Quicker, less noticeable, when she needed to get hold of herself fast. When she opened her eyes again, she found Tobias looking at her in expectation, curiosity sharp in his wise gaze.
The other man’s expression soured, darkness and brooding replacing his earlier amusement and spoiling the beautiful curve of his mouth. Amy watched his lips as he spoke. “That’s Lise-Moér’s. No one sits there.”
Tobias looked at him. “Now, now, Per. Where do you expect her to sit? On her thumb?” He laughed, his sound of merriment at odds with the other man’s unexpected mood change. “Thank you for fetching the cake. Now, if you will please serve us instead of leaving a fine-looking cake like an ornament to be enjoyed yet never touched, we shall eat while we drink our tea. Some things are not meant to be merely looked at or to gather dust, but to be used and enjoyed…or, in fact, to be eaten.”
I hope you enjoyed the excerpt. 🙂
For your chance to win a copy, please leave me a comment with your thoughts about newsletters and a way for me to contact you if you’re the winner. Closes 9am GMT 18th January 2016.
After you’ve left your comment, continue with the hop and go to visit Bonnie Paulson.