My first book, Potions and Pageants is live on Amazon today. Wow. It is amazing to be sending this book out into the world! The book was inspired by my love of fantasy fiction and crime TV. The blend of creative influences that inspired it include so many of my favorite things: The Harry Potter Books, Agatha Christie’s Marple and Poirot, TV shows Like Monk and Psych. Even my love for Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars are in there somewhere.
Here’s a sample chapter for you to enjoy:
CHAPTER 1: PERCY & NAN
“Mr Bramble?” called Persephone Prince, fighting her way through the thorny blackberry bushes at the bottom of her garden to get to the underground house where her friend Mr Bramble lived.
Halfway through the thick brambles, Percy came to a sudden stop. A particularly spiky blackberry stem had become snarled in her long green hair. Wincing as she attempted to untangle it, Percy let out a few choice curses.
As she had no magic to speak of and no wand either, nothing happened. Certainly her hair did not magically untangle itself, and neither did the pesky thorns incinerate themselves, which she would have very much preferred. Not that Mr Bramble would like it if she had been able to achieve such a feat. He loved his brambles.
“Mr Bramble!” called Percy.
He did not respond.
Percy had a bad feeling about this. It had been three whole weeks since she had last seen Mr Bramble, the little heg who lived at the bottom of her mother’s garden.
Come to think of it, she hadn’t seen him since he had worked himself into a right tizzy of upset after Percy had fired Nanny Nora at the start of the month.
“He’s not there,” said a mournful voice in Percy’s ear.
Percy gave a start of shock. The blackberry stem, which she had almost managed to pull free, promptly became tangled up in her hair again.
“Darn it, Jeeves!” said Percy. “What have I told you about sneaking up on me like that?”
Jeeves, the family poltergeist, was floating beside her, completely at ease among the thorns, and wafting about in an airy-fairy fashion that she was sure was contrived to irritate her.
“That you don’t like it,” said Jeeves.
“Then will you stop doing it?” said Percy tartly.
“Never,” he said. “Your mother would definitely approve of me startling you every once in a while. She told me to keep my eye on you. Both of them, in fact.”
“Don’t I know it,” muttered Percy, yanking a strand of hair from the thorns with such force that quite a lot of it got wrenched out from her scalp.
“Ouch! Are you going to give me a hand or are you just going to float there?”
Jeeves reached out and began to patiently untangle Percy’s hair.
“What did you want old Bramble for?” he asked.
Jeeves was always curious about things that he knew perfectly well were none of his business.
“Never mind,” said Percy. “I’ve changed my mind.”
There was no point telling Jeeves that she had wanted to speak to Mr Bramble about her mother. If anyone knew whether the famous and fabulous and most excellent witch, Gwendolyn Prince, was going to come home for Halloween in a month’s time, it would be Mr Bramble.
Jeeves would get over-excited. He loved a good party, and the last thing she wanted was to listen to him talking night and day about Gwendolyn and her parties.
Jeeves finished untangling Percy’s hair. She fought her way back out of the bushes and emerged onto the lawn with a face full of scratches.
“You could have helped me out!” she said, knowing this would annoy Jeeves into leaving her alone.
She’d find Mr Bramble later, preferably when Jeeves wasn’t following her.
Jeeves went into a huff as expected, and Percy was able to leave him behind. She charged back into her house, which some people would call a mansion, and up to her room to change her clothes into something fit for Humble London. She needed a walk, or better yet, a drive. And damn the consequences!
When you were a Meek, you had to invent your own fun. It sucked to not even have enough magic to burn a bit of toast. Percy stomped down the stairs feeling bored. Nanny Nora’s absence made the house feel empty.
All this loneliness was almost enough to make her want to go to Humble High. But imagine having to go to school with Humbles who didn’t even know about the existence of magic or of supernatural beings! It sounded awful.
If only she didn’t have this ominous feeling growing inside her that she would never ever have any friends. Percy stalked out of her house, intent on making the feeling go away. And she knew exactly how.
Percy didn’t bother to tell anyone that she was leaving. Her mother, her only parent, was heaven knew where — probably somewhere hot and sunny that had a fabulous beach and beautiful people to look at and tasty drinks to stylishly sip. And Percy had decided she could look after herself now, thank you very much!
Nanny Nora had been the last in her long succession of nannies. Percy had fired her without her mum’s permission. But three weeks of being good just in case her mum found out was enough to drive anyone potty. It was time to blow off a little steam.
“Freedom!” Percy muttered, quietly shutting the front door behind her.
And then she screamed.
Jeeves had flown right through the door and her, making her feel she’d been doused in frigid water.
“What did you do that for?” she yelped.
Then she turned, half hoping to see Mr Bramble open the door, his little legs pumping as he tried to keep pace with Jeeves.
The little heg only came up to Percy’s elbow, and was in the habit of asking, “Where on the good green earth are you going?” whenever Percy left home in one of her moods, which he was very attuned too.
Percy hated it when little Mr Bramble was upset with her.
Her hopes were dashed. He was not there.
“Just where do you think you are going?” demanded Jeeves, with none of Mr Bramble’s cheery charm.
“To the Ice Cream Hut in Leicester Square,” said Percy airily. “Where a horrid girl called Octavia Smythe-Smith is having a charity quiz night. I was looking at a poster for it a few days ago, and can you believe she had the nerve to tell me that I couldn’t come? I’m going to show her that Percy Prince goes wherever she darn well pleases!”
What she did not mention was that there had been a boy with Octavia Smythe-Smith who had given Percy a sympathetic look. This sympathetic look had outraged Percy even more than the Octavia girl’s snooty attitude had. How dared he look at her that way? She was going to go to this quiz thing tonight to show him that Percy Prince was no one to be pitied!
Plus there had been something about this particular boy and girl that made Percy fiercely curious about them. They had been different to other people somehow. Percy hated when people were mysteries. She liked to know what was what.
Because of all the parties that Gwendolyn Prince liked to throw, Percy had met a great many different types of beings from the Eldritch and Witching communities. But she had never met any like these two.
It was not that they might be Eldritch or magical which had pinged her curiosity radar. It was something else. Something slightly ominous. And there was nothing Percy liked better in life than to stamp out any little niggles of curiosity that invaded her mind.
She planned on spending the night observing the two, and figuring them out like a puzzle and then tossing the solved puzzle aside.
“I’ve just put your lunch in the oven,” protested Jeeves. “Lasagna dripping in cheese, just how you like it!”
“I’ll have it later. I’m going out to do what teenagers do,” she told him. “It’s Saturday. We living have got to live!”
Thinking that this would likely send him into a huff back into the house, she bounced down the rest of the stairs.
“Mr Bramble is lost!” declared Jeeves in tones of horror, bringing Percy to a halt.
She turned to face him. “What do you mean he’s lost?”
She saw a passerby look at her curiously. Percy looked back until the woman hurried on. Humbles could not see poltergeists and no doubt the woman had thought Percy was batty, talking to herself. Fortunately Percy did not care much for a stranger’s opinion.
“Why didn’t you tell me that first?” she hissed.
“Because you never listen!”
“Isn’t he moping about in his house? He hasn’t been to visit me up at the main house in weeks!”
“I went to check his house. Floated right in. You know he doesn’t like me to do that, but I’ve been worried. He hasn’t even come to the kitchen for a meal ever since you fired Nanny Nora.”
Percy’s stomach lurched so hard it felt like it had dropped right through to the ground.
“Why didn’t you tell me that?” she demanded.
“Where he eats is his business,” said Jeeves sniffily.
Percy could tell that Jeeves was more annoyed than he was letting on. Jeeves loved to cook, but lamented it was no fun if there was no one to cook for, since he couldn’t very well eat his food himself.
“But how do you know he is missing?” she demanded. “He hasn’t… Oh Jeeves! He hasn’t gone walkabout?”
“A casserole was rotting on his kitchen table!” said Jeeves. “Mr Bramble would never let fresh food rot. It looked like it has been there for weeks!”
He looked at Percy with an expression of comical dismay, and then swept right through her so that he could swoosh out onto the street to look up and down it as if Mr Bramble might suddenly appear.
Percy gave a great gasp of shock, feeling like she had been plunged into ice water. She had barely recovered when Jeeves came back, his hands pressed to the sides of his head in a comical expression of horror.
“He’s not here!” he cried in despairing tones. “He’s gone!”
“Why would he be hanging about on the street?” said Percy impatiently, thinking rapidly.
This was terrible news. Mr Bramble was almost always in his garden if he was not visiting the main house where Percy lived. He very rarely went anywhere else. But sometimes he did go to see his friends. He also went on long walks to think. This was not a good thing for Mr Bramble because cities were terrible places for hegs.
Hegs loved nature and got disorientated in the absence of it.
Mr Bramble had gone walkabout a few times before and on three occasions he had become lost. Each time he had become so befuddled and panic-stricken by the traffic and the smog and smells and the thousands of people everywhere all looking at him with their suspicious eyes that he had ended up lost and homeless.
No food, no shelter, all alone out there in the great big world. Percy’s heart clenched at the thought.
The first two times she had searched for days before finding him. Each time she had eventually found him in Hyde Park, where he had taken refuge amongst the deepest parts of the greenery. The last time she had gone straight to the two places in the park where she had found him before, and been lucky to find him in the second.
Jeeves was floating back and forth, wailing, “Oh, Mr Bramble. Poor Mr Bramble! What will become of you?”
“I need to go,” said Percy hurriedly. “I need to find him.”
He followed her onto the road and when she stopped beside a car and started digging around in her bag for her keys, he looked astonished.
“You are not going in that horrendous contraption!”
“Do you want me to find him or not?” she demanded.
The previous week Percy had used her mother’s credit card to order herself a cheery sky-blue mini car. This was the benefit of having a mother who knew only how to use witching gold. Gwendolyn was in the habit of putting generous amounts of Humble funds into a bank account for Percy’s sole use, and had not yet realized that she had been providing far more money than an average teenager needed.
Percy had hired a university student who lived in her neighborhood to give her driving lessons up and down the local streets, and was sure she had the hang of it by now.
“Not in that thing!” said Jeeves. “It will be the death of you!”
Jeeves had died long before cars had been invented. He disapproved of many modern inventions, and had a particular dislike for cars.
“Relax, Jeevesy,” said Percy. “I’m an excellent driver.”
“You are not!” said Jeeves.
Unfortunately for him, Percy had found the keys and was already getting into the car. She gave him a little wave before driving off.
An hour later Percy was trampling through all of the densest bushes in Hyde Park and up along the various waterways, yelling, “Mr Bramble!” at the top of her voice.
Passersby stared at her but Percy did not care. She charged into an overgrown thicket of shrubs next to the Serpentine lake, shouting, “Pease Mr Bramble! I’m sorry I upset you! Please come home!”
Nettles stung her legs, the tiny barbs working their way into her tights, but Percy gave a great shout of relief.
Right next to the muddy banks of the lake was a tree, and sitting huddled by its trunk was a little figure.
He was draped in what looked like old brown sacks but Percy knew it was Mr Bramble right away because about twenty ducks and a couple of swans were clustered all around him.
Mr Bramble loved birds and birds loved Mr Bramble.
“Mr Bramble!” she shrieked, flinging herself through the crowd of waterfowl, ignoring their protesting quacks.
She dragged him to his feet and hugged him tightly, not caring that he was grimy and bewildered and trying to push her away. She even allowed a couple of tears to slip down her cheeks.
“Mr Bramble!” she said. “You promised! You promised not to do this again.”
Mr Bramble’s bottom lip was trembling, and he seemed to not know who she was.
She sank onto her knees so that her face was level with his and gently told him his name over and over. She reminded him of where he lived, who his friends were, and how he loved to eat Jeeves’s apple pies smothered in piping hot custard.
“I’ll have him make you one as soon as we get home,” she promised. “And I’ll sit and eat it with you and then we’ll tuck you into bed all cozy and warm. You’ll like that, won’t you?”
He wasn’t listening to her. He was listening to the ducks, who were quacking their complaints to him.
“Oh never mind these selfish ducks,” she said. “They’ve got all the park visitors to feed them bread. What about all your old bird friends in our garden? They’ll be wondering where you have got to. They’ll need you before winter comes. You had better come home now before they all fly away in protest.”
It took him several minutes before his big black eyes widened a little, and he asked hesitantly, “Percy?”
Percy nearly burst into tears.
Admonishing him gently to never go walkabout again, but knowing that he would and that she was going to have to figure out how to keep a closer eye on him, she guided him gently down the path towards the nearest gate out of the park.
When he saw the car his beetle black eyebrows waggled dangerously.
“But… But we’re not going on this mechanical contraption!” he said anxiously. “These wheels go too fast. So fast. They’re always trying to run me over!”
He looked so alarmed that she had to hold onto his arm firmly to stop him from going running back into the park.
“It’s the quickest way to get home,” she told him. “Don’t worry, Mr Bramble. I’m an excellent driver.”
She cajoled Mr Bramble to climb hesitantly into the driver’s seat and firmly shut his door, then went around to the driver’s side.
“There’ll be a bit of traffic,” she told him in a soothing voice. “But you’ll be safe inside here with me.”
Mr Bramble distrusted traffic even worse than Jeeves. He intensely disliked living in a city. Had the bottom of Gwendolyn Prince’s huge garden not been such a wild and wonderful wilderness, Mr Bramble certainly would not have chosen to live in London.
The knowledge that Percy had bought herself a car while he had been absent seemed to bring Mr Bramble back to himself a little.
“You should not be driving, Persephone Prince!” he admonished tremulously. “Your mother will turn me out of house and home if you come to harm. Until your mother sends a new nanny, I have to make sure that you stay safe.”
His rough little hands were clenched into nervous fists on his lap. His lip trembled as he remembered once again how Percy had fired Nanny Nora.
The mention of the nanny situation annoyed Percy so much that she was unable to stay silent.
“Mother is not sending a new nanny!” she said firmly. “I’m far too old for all of that. And anyway, as far as mother is concerned, I already have a nanny. Because I never fired my current one, did I Mr Bramble?” She gave him a stern look.
He looked despairing.
“You’re asking for trouble, Persephone Prince,” said Mr Bramble.
He had no idea her fateful his words would be. Ten minutes later, as Percy was navigating a particularly busy crossroads, a little white bunny rabbit hopped in front of her car.
Percy was too busy keeping an eye on the cars in front of her to notice, but Mr Bramble — who had a very close affinity with nature — noticed the rabbit right away, and let out a piercing shriek of panic.
At his yelling, and the frantic stabbing of his stubby little finger, Percy noticed the rabbit a moment before she was about to run over it, and yanked the steering wheel aside just in time.
The very moment she crashed, it hit Percy that she was in big, big trouble.
But for the moment it mattered little because her airbag had deployed, boofing her so hard in the face she felt her brains had been scrambled, and there was a horrible pain in her neck and chest, and she momentarily blacked out.
When she came back to consciousness she was most relieved to find Mr Bramble calling for her, “Persephone. You wake up right this moment! Oh, my little Persephone Prince, don’t be gone! Oh, what is your mother going to say?”
With a gasp of shock and horror, Percy sat bolt upright in the driver seat of her car, and patted her head to make sure it was still attached.
Then she patted little Mr Bramble on the top of his curly haired head to soothe his cries of alarm.
“I’m quite all right, Bramble,” she said in a croaky voice, “Thank gosh you’re okay. Are you okay?”
She looked at him enquiringly and was immensely relieved to see the little heg looked his usual round-faced self, not a spot of blood or a bruise marring his stout little body. She was particularly reassured by the look of dawning horror in his beetle-black eyes – which had no whites at all – as he contemplated the possible repercussions of this car crash.
Percy let out a peal of laughter. She could not help it. “Hells bells, what a pickle!”
“It’s not funny, Persephone Prince. We’re in for it now! Where is your thingum? Your lexxicity thingum? You call Nanny Nora at once!” he urged.
But Percy was too busy counting her lucky stars, and being glad she had not vanished up into the great big beyond, to pay attention. Plus, she was having a very difficult time attempting to stagger out of the car.
She threw her shoulder against her car door to try and open it, but the thing was crumpled and mangled, so she was forced to climb into the back seat, where she landed in an untidy sprawl. She lay there for a moment gathering her breath before exiting via the rear of the car.
When she had succeeded, she began to wish she had not. Because now she could see that she had not crashed into a wall as she had hoped, but into another car, which was a mangled mess a short distance away.
In alarm she ran over to it, and saw that the car she had crashed into contained none other than Nanette Gooding. Do-gooder Nanette Gooding, who Percy had once known very well indeed, but who Percy had not seen in five years.
Percy groaned. Her first thought was, of all of the people in all of the great wide universe, why did I have to crash into Nanette Gooding?
Her second thought was, almighty heckeries! Nan isn’t moving!
Nan’s mother, Mrs Gooding, was in the driver’s seat of that car, shaking the unconscious body of her daughter, and screaming, “Nan! My darling! Sweetie! Wake up!”
Nan’s airbag had failed to deploy, and a trickle of blood was sliding down her forehead. So when she sat up all of a sudden, her eyes as wide and round as saucers, Percy screamed.
So did Mrs Gooding. “Baby! You’re alive!”
Nan took a great big gasp of air and stared at her mother as if she had never seen her before in all of her life. She took a look around the car and out of the window and groaned as if everything she was seeing was an absolute horror. And then her eyes focused on Percy and they filled with rage.
“Percy Prince, you… You DEMONLING! You have ruined my life!”
Percy stumbled closer to Nan’s open window, and bending over until her face was inches from Nan, she whispered, “Oh shut up, Cherub! You’re perfectly alright.”
She did not mention how very immensely relieved she was at this fact, because this would have been a far too soppy thing to say out loud.
“I am not alright!” shouted Nan. “And don’t call me Cherub!”
The two girls stared at each other. Percy was five years taller and ganglier than she had been when Nan had last seen her, but her wild hair was as oddly green as ever. She was still as terribly, wonderfully Percy-like as ever.
Nan had changed. Her face might have been as big-eyed and cherubic as it had ever been, but her once bouncy riot of golden curls were now tame and neat, and so was the rest of her.
The moment of astonishment and shock of being so near death and finding themselves alive began to fade away. Both girls saw it in each other’s eyes. What was left was an odd and uncomfortable moment.
Many years ago, when they had been much smaller, Percy and Nan had been the best of friends. Two little toddlers who had giggled and held hands and got into all sorts of trouble and fondly called each other Demonling and Cherub.
But then they had grown up and discovered that though they were both the daughters of witches, that only one of them had the magic she was supposed to have and the other did not. And things had changed.
At a loss for anything to say, Percy spotted a lurid black and rainbow colored poster on Nan’s lap. She had seen it before.
“You’re going to that Ice Cream Hut Charity Quiz thing,” Percy said.
“Not anymore,” Nan said. “You’ve ruined it. You can never do anything right, can you?”
The moment the words came out of Nan’s mouth, her cheeks turned pink and a look of regret came into her eyes, for Nan Gooding was not the sort of person to say mean things.
But it was too late. Percy felt a stab of hurt, and took a step back.
“Sorry about your car, Mrs Gooding,” she said stiffly to Nan’s mother.
Now that it had been established that the occupants of both of the cars involved in the crash were largely fine, the two teenage girls were bundled into the ambulances which had just arrived and carried off to hospital. There, doctors deemed that their injuries were surprisingly minor for such an alarming accident and both girls were allowed to return home.
Late in the evening Persephone Prince trudged back into her grand mansion of a home, accompanied by the now tottering wreck that was Mr Bramble, who had suffered through a grilling by first the nurses and doctors and then by two Humble policemen.
Mr Bramble scurried as fast as possible through the house and into the gardens, where he vanished into the depths of the thorny bramble patch.
The policemen had been very suspicious of Percy with her green hair and unrepentant manner, and had blamed her oddities on Mr Bramble in his frayed brown robes. They had looked like they wanted to lock someone away, and they were thinking that someone might need to be Mr Bramble, who had been the only adult in the car at fault.
An escape had been made when Percy had feigned a fit of convulsions and then dragged Mr Bramble away from behind the curtained bed that the nurses had put her in.
An exhausted Percy now made her way to her kitchen, where poltergeist Jeeves was waiting with a pot of hot tea, a steaming lasagna, and a sympathetic look of epic proportions on his face.
Percy sat down and stared at her lasagna.
“Apple pie,” she mumbled.
But Jeeves knew his business well, and was already dishing up a huge portion of apple pie and custard. He swept through the garden door after Mr Bramble, intent on feeding the traumatized little heg.
He came back some minutes later and complained when he saw Percy had not taken a single bite of her lasagna.
Now that she’d had a moment to just sit and be quiet, Percy felt very odd indeed. In fact, she was beginning to feel not like herself at all.
The relief at having brought Mr Bramble safely home was overshadowed by a queasy feeling in her stomach and a sense of impending doom.
It felt like something momentous and terrible was rushing towards her like a great tidal wave.
She felt terrible about seeing Nan again like that after all these years. She had not thought this was how their reunion would go. She’d had grand ideas of somehow becoming fabulous, maybe even suddenly developing magic as wonderful as Nan’s in the interval, but this had never happened.
And it wasn’t the anticlimax of still being the same old Percy which was making her feel so awful. It was something else.
A very odd memory was beginning to take shape in her head. A memory of a time before she had even been born. A memory that surely could not be real.
She got shakily to her feet and said to the still fussing Jeeves, “I’m not feeling well. I think I’ll go to bed.” And promptly passed out.
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