Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wildwood - out this week

by Janine Ashbless

My new Black Lace novel Wildwood is out in the UK this Thursday! It’s a contemporary paranormal about rival ritual magicians, the English countryside, scary fairies, a love-triangle and of course SEX. Lots of that. And by the end, well, I haven’t brought human civilisation to crashing ruin but let’s just say it’s not far off.

So here I am to tell you a bit about this novel in the hope you’ll rush out and buy it … Or at the very least enter the draw below to win a copy.

Personal Background to writing Wildwood:

This isn’t something I’ve talked about online before, but about 15 years back I went through a fairly serious bout of depression ("Fairly serious" as in, I didn’t actually end up dead). This is far from uncommon – especially, I suspect, among creative types. Luckily I had a doctor who told me to change my life and a partner who supported me in doing so. I quit my well-paid job and swore I’d never work in an office again.

As I recovered I decided I needed to work outdoors, so I got into practical conservation volunteering, attained my chainsaw certification, and finally launched into a 3-year diploma course in Amenity Forestry – looking after trees in parks, gardens and cities.

This was just a little weird because I was the oldest person on the course, the only female and the only one with any sort of prior college background. I had to keep up with a bunch of 18-year old lads putting up fences, climbing ropes, and cutting down trees. Oh, and swearing. Boy did my spoken language suffer! I learned a lot about what I could make myself do in the face of fear and exhaustion, if I was determined. And I came out at the end with the "best on the course" prize and a serious need to stop using the word "fuck" as punctuation.

Did I end up with a long-term career in woodland conservation like I planned? Did I hell. Those jobs are rare as hens’ teeth. I moved into museum work and then finally became a writer, where at last I feel at home.

But when it came to writing Wildwood I could draw on my knowledge and love for trees, and I could write the character of Avril – individualistic, determined, aware she stands out like a sore thumb - and quite possibly Black Lace’s only chainsaw-wielding romantic heroine. Of course she’s taller, stronger, cuter, tougher and less geeky than me, but that’s what fantasy fiction is about!

"You crave respect, Avril, but at the same time you want to be the most monumental slut." – Michael Deverick

The Plot:

Avril Shearing is a landscape gardener and arborist brought in to restore an overgrown country estate for the handsome and manipulative Michael Deverick. He seems very keen on her exploring a particular patch of ancient woodland for him.

But inside the wood lurks a tribe of environment activists led by the enigmatic Ash, who regards Michael as a mortal enemy. Avril soon discovers that there is more going on than meets the eye. Creatures that belong in dreams or nightmares emerge after dark to prowl the estate grounds, and hidden in the heart of the wood is something that Michael wants at any cost and Ash is determined to keep him away from. The two men are ritual magicians locked in a deadly battle for the Wildwood, and as Avril is drawn into their fight it becomes a battle for Avril herself.

And she wants them both. She disapproves of Michael but is drawn into his mindgames and can’t resist his sexual hunger despite her better judgement. She really likes Ash but he keep pushing her away and sends the most incredibly mixed messages – at one moment they are in each other’s arms but the next he treats her as an enemy.

How far will Michael go to get his way? Which man will she choose? And what lies in the heart of the Wildwood that is so important – to everyone?

The Men of The Wildwood

This is my photo-model for Michael Deverick – a wealthy stockmarket trader and 200-year-old magus. He believes in a world without rules. Vain, clever, manipulative and absolutely ruthless, he makes it his mission to push Avril’s boundaries, whatever they are. If there’s something she doesn’t want to do, he is determined to change her mind.

Good points: generous, sexually inventive, GSOH.

Bad points: he kills people who get in his way.

Michael in Action:

But when he arrived on my doorstep an hour later there was a woman with him. At least, it looked like a woman at first.

‘Who’s this?’ I demanded.

Michael leaned casually against the door so that she could slip past me. She was short – only up to my shoulder – and slight, with long black hair that looked like it had just come out of a swimming pool. ‘This is … Jenny. You can call her that.’ He stalked into the hallway. ‘I found her by the pond.’

‘What are you playing at?’ I was wearing only a light silk dressing-gown, which I wrapped around me self-consciously as I followed them back into the house. ‘Did you hear a single bloody word I said?’

‘Oh, I heard.’ Michael stood in the middle of my living room floor. Jenny had climbed onto one end of the sofa and was watching us from under hooded lids. She was wearing a dark green slip dress that seemed to be wringing wet even though I was certain it wasn’t raining out there. ‘You are extremely clear about the things you want. You’d like nice, fun, discreet sex with someone you like, who’ll treat you with respect and never ever interfere with the rest of your life. Am I right?’

My jaw sagged. ‘So why do you go out of your way to do just the opposite?’

Michael gave an infuriating smirk. ‘Do I?’

‘You know you do.’

‘And do you enjoy that bad sex with me?’

‘I hate it.’ My voice didn’t carry much conviction.

‘So much that you can’t wait for the next time. So much that you’d get on your hands and knees and beg for it if I told you to. You’re wet right now, and all I’ve done is walk into the house.’ He walked around me, hands in his pockets, and I couldn’t refute him. ‘What does that tell you about what you really want, Avril? What does that tell you about your rules?’

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t look him in the eye.

‘The barriers are all in your mind, Avril. You don’t need to fear what’s on the other side. All I’m doing is helping you break out.’

‘Right. They used to have a word for that.’



This is Ash, the tattooed "ginger Rasta" who is camped out in the Wildwood, trying to defend its secret from Michael. He’s a ritual magician too, and a lot older than he looks, and very conflicted. Not unnaturally he suspects that Avril is a tool of his enemy, being used against him magically, so despite being desperately attracted to her he can’t trust her. On the other hand, she is his only hope to defeat Michael so he has to persuade her to his side...

Good points: he’s trying to save the world, even if it kills him.

Bad points: a bit self-righteous

Ash in Action:

It didn’t deter him from his mission of taking me back to my cottage. He didn’t ask permission this time to enter, either, steering me right through to the bathroom. My blood leaped hopefully as he reached over and turned on the shower. ‘You’ve got to wash, Avril.’

‘Join me?’ I suggested, easing off my shoes.

Ash smiled and shook his head. ‘Come on.’

I stuck my lower lip out and backed up against the door-frame, refusing to oblige. I wanted to feel his hands on me and his skin against mine; there was an ache like hunger in my belly. ‘Make me,’ I said with a quick grin.

With a sigh, Ash began to slip the shirt buttons down my breastbone. I didn’t resist. I bit my lip and watched his face, fascinated, as he undressed me. He was acting like a responsible bloke looking after a very drunk female friend, all detached self-deprecating concern. I liked that, in a strange way. I liked the gentleness of his hands too, and the way he took his time. I liked the way he had to keep reminding himself to look away from my breasts as he slid the shirt off my shoulders and undid the webbing belt cinched at my waist. I liked the line of his lips and the fall of his hair against his cheek and the glint of the rings in the red-gold of his eyebrow. I wanted so much to touch him. But I didn’t dare, not after the mess I’d made of things last time.

Out of nowhere, tears welled up in my eyes. Christ; I am drunk, I thought in amazement.

The bathroom was starting to fill with steam.

Softly he let the trousers slip down from my hips and pool on my feet. There I was standing against the doorframe, naked but for my wine-red knickers, yet it was the desire in my expression that was the most shamelessly naked thing about me. His fingertips brushed my hip and he caught his breath. As he lifted his eyes to mine I saw my longing mirrored there, its edge as keen and cruel as my own.

‘Avril.’ The word was inaudible; I saw only the movement of his lips.

Oh God - I was on the verge of begging, and I mustn’t do that. ‘I dream about you,’ I told him, and something flickered in the depths of his eyes.

‘Do you?’

‘Do dreams matter?’

‘They can do. Depends what you dream.’

‘I dream we’re in the wood. It’s always the wood. Why’s that?’

So that’s Wildwood. It seems to have taken forever to have got to the shops, but I’m so proud to see it finally born! I’ll be running a longer, hotter excerpt in our August Smutslot on the 29th, but if you can’t wait there is an rather rude excerpt (featuring more of Jenny-from-the-pond) here in my blog archive. Or you could always buy the book…

Buy on Amazon UK : Pre-order on Amazon US

If you read and like it, please do me a favour and post an Amazon review!

Competition! I have one copy of Wildwood to give away this week. Just drop a comment on this post telling me which is your favourite tree and by the weekend I’ll pick a random winner.


Blog : Website


Dayle A. Dermatis said...


I'm amused by the title—my story "Return to Wildwood" in Sacred Exchangehas similar themes.

My favorite tree? I can only quote Heart:

I was a willow last night in my dream
I bent down over a clear-running stream
You sang me a song that you'd heard up above
And you kept me alive with your sweet-flowing love...

magdalune said...

The weeping trees of Kryndamar.

If you don't have to ask, then you're an enormous nerd, like me. :)

Olivia Knight said...

My favourite used to be weeping willows, like Dayle, but in the past couple of years I've fallen hook line and sinker for horse chestnuts. Heartbreaking, because they're under attack from bleeding canker, leaf miner moths, and a fungus, and no-one knows how to fix it.

I can't win, but if one of your magicians could have a go at saving the horse chestnuts...?

Woodman, woodman, spare that tree!
Touch not a single bough!
In my youth, it sheltered me,
And I'll protect it now!

- the owl in Asterix & Obelix

Janine Ashbless said...

I was a willow last night in my dream
Oh, that's perfect Dayle...

And Magdalune, I do have to ask!

magdalune said...

From the brilliant mind of Bruce Coville in his Aliens series. I'm partial to intelligent children's books, and Bruce Coville is one of my favorite fantasy/sci fi writers. :)

They're predatory trees drip water like tears and draw out your sorrows. They don't do it consciously - their victims die because they are too filled with sorrow to move, and they decompose into nutrients that the trees take in. All very beautiful, really.

Janine Ashbless said...

Magdalune - Cool! Thank you.

Willows have a bad rep in western folklore (cf. "Old Man Willow" in Tolkein) - due to having brittle branches, I suspect, which are liable to drop on you without warning. Or drop out from under you. There are old willows all along a riverbank near me and every winter some of them just break in half. On the other hand I've seen willow fences in damp land which have actually taken root and grown into trees. A metaphor for the chancey, easy-come-easy-go nature of life.

Janine Ashbless said...

Olivia, the bleeding canker thing in chestnuts is horrible - our chestnuts could go the way of our elms, which could be a tragedy. For those of you who haven't seen it, the tree dies slowly, producing little dark red nodules on the trunk which burst to release a bloodlike sticky liquid. It's like something from a ghost story. I wish my magi could fix it.

Nikki Magennis said...

Eco-porn! Fantastic. Congratulations, Janine.

and my favourite tree is probably a Spanish Chestnut, for the beautiful serrated leaves. Or maybe a plane tree, for the rainbow bark. Or - can I have three favourites? Sod it. I can't choose. Rowan, sycamore, oak.

Olivia Knight said...

You know, I was so caught up in horse-chestnut-sorrow that I completey forgot to say a) WOW. Yum. Gorgeous! and b) I do wish you'd stop plucking the ideas straight out of my head, sometimes even months or years before I have them... It all started when I tried to get dragon-porn past Adam and was told both that it wasn't allowed (non-human-head) and that you'd already done it. (I wrote The Dragon Lord instead, so perhaps I owe you one.) I was just beginning to muse happily on the possibilities of vast overgrown gardens on old estates when you told me about the publication of Wildwood. Harumph. But as I don't have your credentials (I do like gardening with a chainsaw, but have hardly studied it) you've probably done a better job than I would have. Now hold still while I have a quick rootle around your mind for another idea...

Your two heroes sound delicious, too. (Slight drawback about Michael killing people, but we all have our faults.) This line cracked me up: "You crave respect, Avril, but at the same time you want to be the most monumental slut." – Michael Deverick It reminded me of that line in Practical Magic: "Since when has it been a crime to be a slut, in this family?!"

Janine Ashbless said...

Rowan of course is a good Scottish tree, Nikki - proof against lightning, fire and witches (although as Avril remarks in one passage, it doesn't work against Michael).

Janine Ashbless said...

Olivia, I was head-over-heels in love with both my hero and my anti-hero while I was writing this. Am slightly disappointed that the HEA rule made me make a decision for Avril, instead of letting the 3-way tension go on...

Olivia Knight said...


Man, she cops off with the GOOD guy? Definitely didn't see that one coming.

I love fancying my heroes; they tend to be outstandingly upstanding chaps though. Definitely need to write more anti-heroes; they're great fun and the dialogue just streams. (Does Puki in Enchanted count as an anti-hero? Or is he just anti?)

Janine Ashbless said...

Did I say she went off with the good guy? I said she made a decision. It has HORRIBLE repurcussions. I think the lifespan of my HEA is probably about 5 minutes, before the shit really hits the fan.

Ah, if only I was allowed to write the sequel!

Puki is ... like some externalised rendition of all the voices in your head. Or a really really unpleasant therapist.

Olivia Knight said...

I haven't seen the bleeding horse chestnuts yet - then I think I would cry. Around here, it's mostly the moths and fungus affecting them. There's one in Christ Church which was fine last summer but now is slowly succumbing; for the one in my garden, I stripped any leaves with a hint of the disease and the rest seem to be fine now. It is, admittedly, quite small. Not really feasible with the big 'uns.

And next on Gardener's Question Time...

Hey! I've just had a brilliant idea! Do you think you could get them to promote Wildwood on Gardener's Question Time? We'd tap into a whole new market! Or cause a raft of premature heart attacks...

Olivia Knight said...

P.S. Puki is a runty little bugger is what he is. But my god, he cracks me up.

Kate Pearce said...

Loved this insight into your characters and the book sounds just FAB!

Tree wise I also love willows but I have a recent liking for the California Eucalyptus which smells so lovely when it rains.

Madeline Moore said...

Oh boy Janine, this book sounds terrific. Congrats. My favourite tree? Well, I am Canadian...

Land of the silver birch
Home of the beaver
Where still the mighty moose
Wanders at will
Blue lake and rocky shore
I will return once more
Boom-diddy-boom boom
Boom diddy boom boom

Janine Ashbless said...

No one's mentioned Beech! I love me a beechwood most of all.