The Malignant Dead

First off, we’d like to thank everyone who has supported us in our fight against Facebook by signing and sharing our petition. After sending them Lynx’s passport and demanding the right to use our pen name, Facebook caved and let us back on, under our pen name. We won! Though we’re still keeping the petition going so others don’t suffer our fate.

Anyhoo, next month we’re hoping to release our plague doctor novella, The Malignant Dead. We’ve loved working on it and are excited to release it. In the meantime, here’s the first chapter. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

1645. The year Scotland died.

Glazed eyes of the dead watched the cloaked figure creep through Edinburgh’s cobbled streets, his beaked mask casting monstrous shadows that slunk along the crumbling walls. People edged away, whispering ‘Doctor Death’. Where he walked, Death followed.

Rotting bodies lay entangled in the alleys; the June sun and north wind conspiring to poison the air with the foul odour of decay. One body groaned as black rats investigated her. Although her flesh had decomposed, she was still alive.

Dirty white rags dangled from windows, like hanging men left on gallows for the city to witness their shame. Retching coughs and screams smothered the pitiful moans. Death no longer loitered in the shadows, veiled beyond people’s nightmares; he prowled the streets, taking people where they stood. There was nowhere left for them to hide.

The figure stopped at a door. Red paint dripped like blood from a mortal wound.

May the Lord have mercy on our souls.

The words scrawled above the foot-long cross filled McCrae not with hope, but dread.

McCrae touched the cross. “There is no mercy here.”

He wiped the paint on his leather cloak, leaving a scarlet smear. He must be mad. He wasn’t a doctor. He was yet to cure an infected wound, yet he hoped to cure the plague. He could not even see out of the damn mask. He adjusted it then leaned down to tuck his leather breeches into his boots.

He beckoned a watchman, who crossed the narrow wynd and unlocked the door, his pipe clamped between his teeth. McCrae stepped inside the tenement. Gloom swallowed him, the smell of putrefaction lingering despite the herbs hanging in the window. Smoke infused the air from the brimstone burning by the hearth.

The stench of Hell.

Mrs Calhoun emerged from the bedroom, her haunted eyes revealing Death had visited her home. McCrae nodded and entered the small room. Rancid odours stirred his stomach. A man lay on the bed, blankets clutched in his decomposing fists. A shrivelled rabbit’s foot dangled off a leather thong around his neck. His mouth hung open, as though Death came before he finished his scream. Pus from the burst bubo in his armpit trickled down his blackened, festering skin. Flies crawled over his face. The buzzing of their wings became the music to die to.

McCrae stared down at him, gripping his bag. His hooded cloak felt heavy on his shoulders.

“I had hoped you could help me.”

McCrae unrolled the man’s nightshirt sleeves then picked him up.

“Don’t do this.”

He turned. Mrs Calhoun blocked the doorway, fingering the heart pendant around her neck.

“I cannot leave him to rot. The infection could spread to you, if it is yet to take hold.”

“Don’t undertake this role. It is not worth it.”

“The Guild of Surgeons and Barbers’ apprentice fee is forty shillings. I cannot afford that on a market trader’s wage. I will quit once I have cured this pest and settled my debt with my friend James.”

“John did not see a penny of the wage the council promised. He ‘did not live long enough to earn it’.” She gestured towards her dead husband. “Do you know how long John was the plague doctor? A week. How long have you been the plague doctor?”

McCrae glanced at the man in his arms. “Doctor Petrie is my first patient.”

Mrs Calhoun’s eyes brimmed with pity. “How old are you?”

“Twenty six.”

“Do you know what awaits you?”

“I have read about the treatments.”

“You won’t find the cure amongst the pages of a book. All John’s superstitions – the chicken tail feathers, plague water and frogs’ legs he gave his patients – could not save him. That lucky charm around his neck could not save him. Nothing could have saved him. Not even you. His parents died three days ago. He could not save them. Next week, the new plague doctor will put you on the cart while your betrothed weeps at your bedside. Tell me then it is worth the money.”

Mrs Calhoun walked away as McCrae carried his predecessor to the door. He knocked. The watchman opened it and McCrae stepped into dying sunlight, where a cart waited. He laid John on the bodies then followed the cart. John’s glassy gaze fixed on him, as though forewarning him of the horrors to come. McCrae looked away.

A carriage jolted past, heading for the Flodden Wall, burdened with a family and their belongings. The mother averted her eyes and hugged a bairn to her, as though the mere sight of McCrae would infect her.

“You cannot outrun Death.”

The wheels of the next death cart rolling behind him drowned out the fleeing carriage.

A man staggered along Cowgate, weaving between the cattle before falling to his knees in the filth. He vomited; blood spattering his hands, the street, and the dead bairn he embraced.

McCrae’s cloak creaked as he knelt and reached for the bairn.

“No!” The man scrambled away, cradling her to his chest. “Yer the devil!”

“I’m yer only hope.”

McCrae eased the bairn from the man’s arms and placed her on a barrow between two dead women. The wheels trundled forwards, the death bell tinkling, the bodies’ limbs flopping with the cart’s jerky movements.

“Bring out yer dead!” echoed through the street.

McCrae helped the man up. “Where do you live–?”


William shuffled along Cowgate, which ran parallel to the High Street, and turned right into Borthwick’s Wynd. He stopped at a door bearing a scarlet cross. McCrae ushered William inside, motioning to a watchman down the street. He locked the door from outside. McCrae’s eyes slowly adjusted to the dim room, lit only by the hearth.

“I’m McCrae.” The large beak muffled his voice. Sweet herbs, dried flowers and bergamot oil masked some odours but nothing concealed death’s putrid perfume.

“You cannot help us, yer no doctor. Go back to yer market stall where you belong.”

“I’m the only one willing to help you.”

“Until the council’s money runs out. I want John.”

“John is dead. I can fetch his corpse from the cart if you wish but he will be as helpful to you as my family’s linen would be.”

Laboured breathing rattled from the bed in the corner. An elderly couple slept in another bed.

“Why do they lock us in?”

“Because if they didn’t, more folk would die.”

McCrae moved to the writhing fire and laid a poker in the flames. William wheezed, his legs buckling. McCrae crouched, removing a lance and a rag from his pocket.

“I’m sorry, this will hurt.”

He unbuttoned William’s shirt and pierced the apple-sized bubo in his armpit. William hissed as blood and pus burst from his decaying flesh. McCrae dabbed the weeping wound with the rag, swallowing the vomit threatening to choke him. Would he get used to the sights, the smells of this wretched disease? Would he live to see it cured? Or would he become just another corpse rotting in the pit while the city died above him?

“Why has this happened? We stopped bathing because Pastor Matthews said the dirt would keep the pest away and that God would punish us for our pride.”

McCrae examined William’s blackened fingers and green nails. “God punishes murderers, not folk who bathe.” He collected the poker.

William flexed his fingers. “What’s happening to them?”

“Yer body is dying around you.” McCrae wiped William’s brow then slipped a stick into his mouth. “Bite.” He thrust the glowing poker into the bubo, the rancid smell of burning flesh tainting the air. McCrae heaved, clenching his jaw to stop himself vomiting over his mask and his patient.

William screamed.

McCrae’s medical books and cadavers had not prepared him for treating the living dead. Corpses didn’t scream.

McCrae ran to the door, pounding on it like a still-warm body begging to be released from its grave. The watchman opened it. McCrae fell to his knees and tugged off his mask, vomiting into the dirt. He rested his hands on his thighs, gasping in the warm air. William’s decay festered in his nostrils. He heaved and spat.

The watchman chuckled. “They don’t smell like linen, do they laddie?”

McCrae wiped his mouth and shot him a contemptuous look. “They’re infected – what’s yer excuse?” He stood, pulling on his mask, and entered the tenement.

“Is anyone else infected?”

“My wife, Agnes.” William coughed, blood streaking his chin.

McCrae patted his shoulder with his gloved hand and approached the bed. The rough breaths of the dying had silenced. A woman on the straw mattress cradled a five-year-old lad. At the foot of the bed, an eight-year-old lass lay curled up, clutching a doll.

McCrae brushed the lass’s damp hair from her face. A small bubo lurked behind her ear.

She shrieked and wrenched back. “Mammy!”

“I’m a doctor,” McCrae whispered.

She gripped her doll, crying as he lanced the swelling. He examined the lad. Red roses covered his pale, sweaty skin. He hugged his mother, his eyes wide.

“Are they–?”

McCrae nodded. Tears trickled from William’s red eyes. McCrae checked Agnes’s pulse then lowered his head. “I’m sorry.”

“No!” William pushed McCrae aside and hugged his wife. “Agnes!”

McCrae grabbed the bed. His heart ached at the thought of losing Katrein this way. William collapsed, pulling Agnes into his lap. He sobbed, kissing her face.

“Bring out yer dead!”

“I’m sorry William. I must take her.” McCrae prised Agnes from William’s arms and carried her to the door. He knocked. The watchman opened it, covering his face.

McCrae whistled and the cart stopped. He laid Agnes in the back.

“You must be the new fella. You’ll get a reputation for killing yer patients.” The barrowman chuckled. Grey sprinkled his dark hair, like stray ashes had fallen from the sky from the remains of the witches Scotland had burned. Even with the black rag covering his mouth and nose, McCrae recognised Hamish Reid.

McCrae patted the grey pony, Bran, who shied away. “That’s why they call me Doctor Death.”

“McCrae?” Hamish peered through the beak’s round glass eyeholes. “Samhain’s not until October. There’ll be no begging and celebration this year.”

“There’ll be plenty of spirits to welcome.”

“You should see him without the costume,” Hamish’s twenty-year-old passenger whispered.

“How are you, Hamish?” McCrae asked.

“Better than my passengers. They’re a wee bit quiet today.” Hamish jerked his thumb towards his cart then elbowed the woman beside him. “Though Katrein’s broth is trying to kill me.”

“Every day it fails,” she replied. Hamish laughed.

“Katrein!” McCrae circled Bran, who nipped at him.

“Are you trying to frighten yer patients into their graves, Alex?”

“Some say evil spirits caused this, and the mask frightens them away.”

“You believe them? For shame. I thought you were a man of science, not superstition.”

McCrae helped Katrein down. She wore her black nurse’s habit, her soot-coloured hair escaping her cap.

“Why did you not tell me you had accepted?” she asked.

“You’d try to stop me.”

“I don’t want you to die. The thought of riding in Hamish’s cart with you dead in the back terrifies me. But you’ll be a wonderful doctor. Even if you look like a monster.”

“Folk will never accept me as a doctor. The way they would not be happy if the flescher became king.”

“You do not accept the role you were born into. Folk cannot understand that.”

“At least they don’t have to worry about you becoming king.” Hamish laughed. “Yer manners and fists would see you on the gallows, not the throne.”

McCrae smiled, though they could not see it. He stroked Katrein’s hair. “Stop riding in Hamish’s cart. The dead could be contagious. I don’t know what causes the plague, how it spreads. I refuse to believe this is an act of God.”

“Witchcraft,” Hamish said.

“It’s a disease, not a curse.”

“Just because you cannot see the world beyond this one, does not mean it’s not there. If they were not witches, why did the council burn them?”

“If this is caused by witchcraft, why did it not stop after Agnes Finnie was executed in March?”

“She’s not the only witch in Edinburgh.”

Katrein smiled at their exchange. “I’m treating a woman’s broken ankle in Grassmarket. Hamish is taking me.”

McCrae groaned. “Will you ever obey rules?”

She stood on her toes and kissed his mask’s cheek. “If you wanted someone obedient, you would not be marrying me.”

“Each one of my grey hairs is caused by trying to control this one,” Hamish said.

Katrein hitched her skirt and climbed into the trap. “If my broth hasn’t killed my cousin, the pest won’t kill me.”

Hamish leaned over and tugged McCrae’s beak. “Yer not putting me in the back of my cart, birdman.” He flicked the reins and Bran walked on. “Bring out yer dead!”

Katrein blew McCrae a kiss.

Searchers entered tenements, scouring for the dead, the dying and the diseased. One searcher emerged, her face grim as she painted a crimson cross on the door and hung a white rag from the window. McCrae sighed, each cross a stain on his soul. Paint dripped down the wood, bleeding into the words.

May the Lord have mercy on our souls.

Identity Theft

Just to let everyone know, Facebook has locked us out of our account and are demanding we send them Government ID before they let us back in. Facebook: we cannot send you Government ID of a PEN NAME. We’re writers. We want to be known by our writing profile, that is how you build up a following and readers. Our real identities are private and we will NOT be forced to put them online. Also, how DARE you, Facebook! You are a social networking site, not a fascist state. We have now lost access to our Calamityville Horror page and all the book pages we set up and we’ve lost access to fans of those pages. Those pages are still up, but we don’t have control over them now. Even if we were to set up a new profile, we have no way of becoming admins of these pages. Now they’re at risk of being hacked. The one good thing is that our friend, Wil set up our fanclub for us, so he has now made our sister admin of it, so she can control it. We can’t access all the others though. They have taken down our personal profile. Search for Cat Lynx Raven on Facebook. We do not exist anymore.

It seems they’ve done this before. There are reports from January 2013 and October 2013, where they targeted hundreds of people on both Facebook and Instagram. Facebook claimed they were legitimate requests. How can demanding we send some faceless social site private information be legitimate? What are they planning on doing with it? Selling it on to the highest bidder? How about you prove who YOU are, Facebook? Again, how can we send you proof of our pen name? They don’t issue driving licences and passports under pen names. We’ve emailed Facebook about this and have been spamming them on both our C L Raven and Calamityville Horror Twitter accounts.

We understand that it’s easy to set up accounts under fake names and that is how paedophiles and criminals operate, but there is a big difference between setting up a fake account to prey on people and setting up an account under your writing name. Facebook, all you have to do is Google us and you will see that every social media account we have is under our pen name.

Not only have we lost access to our pages, which we have worked hard on to build up a following, but we have also lost access to our friends. There are people we’ve known on there since we first joined Facebook. They’re not on Twitter. So now we have no way of talking to them. We’ve lost access to readers. This will affect our livelihood. We’ve lost access to Calamityville fans. How will the people who only like the Facebook page find out about us getting lost? Why are we being punished? We have never posted anything inflammatory or indecent. Unless they find photos of our pets offensive. Has someone reported us as a fake page? If they have, they will wish they’d never heard of us.

So if you wish to keep in touch with us, follow this blog or follow our Twitter accounts – @clraven @CalamityHorror or subscribe to our newsletter. You can also write on the C L Raven Fanclub and Calamityville Horror pages. We won’t see it but we’ll get people to check them from time to time and report back. We don’t see this getting resolved soon, if ever.

You want a war, Facebook? You’ve got one. You will not silence us.

**UPDATE** We’ve sent Facebook an IRS tax form with our pen name and date of birth, as they say that’s all they require, plus a letter from the IRS. They won’t accept it. So we’ve decided to fight back. We’ve started a petition to ask Facebook to allow writers/artists/actors to use their professional names on their personal profiles. You can sign it here.

News Round

It’s been a while *sings Stain’d* Damn. Now that song’s stuck in our heads. Anyhoo, we finally have some good news to share. After months of nothing but rejections, (think we’ve broken the world record for this in our 7 year career), our short story, Autumn of Terror, has been accepted for a Mammoth book of Jack the Ripper stories! It will be published in the autumn by Little, Brown, which makes it our biggest publication to date. We didn’t expect to be accepted, because we only found out about the anthology two weeks before the deadline, but Jack the Ripper is our favourite serial killer. In a totally non-creepy way. Our favourite book we own is a casebook with copies of his letters, postcards and the police reports. He was the first serial killer we learned about when we were kids and we’ve never lost our fascination. We watch every documentary filmed about him. Who’d have thought he would help us murder our way into Little, Brown? We should have written about him sooner. One day we WILL go to London and do a Jack the Ripper tour. Would dressing as him be creepy? We could dress as the prostitutes but we tend to trip over long dresses and we lack the cleavage to pull the dresses off. Plus we’re more believable as murderers than prostitutes.

To be honest, we’re convinced the editor is going to email us back and tell us he sent the acceptance by mistake. You know how easy it is to accidentally send a message to the wrong person. There were 34 authors accepted and 100 odd rejected. We’re always on the reject side so when an acceptance happens, we react in the same way as if the Supernatural boys were to ask us out – is this a joke? Seriously, someone’s paying you to do this, right? So far, we haven’t had that email. So now we’re worried that maybe he had 33 stories accepted and needed one more, so picked one at random from the reject pile. Or maybe ours wasn’t quite as bad as some of the others. Or it was filling a 4,000 word slot left open.

We’re the same in our personal lives too. Someone throws a missile from a car at us, or shouts abuse, we accept it’s part of being different. We’re used to it. We expect it and it’s not strange when it happens. We’ll shout stuff back, or kill them in a story. But if someone’s nice to us or compliments us, we don’t know how to handle it. Neen once told us that people in our Zumba class liked us. Our response was: “Why? We don’t speak to them.” And if we’re perfectly honest, we have no idea why our friends want to hang out with us so much. Surely they must be bored of our company by now. Trust issues? Yeah, we have a few :D

Southcart BooksSouthcart BooksAlso, our books are finally in a bookshop! Southcart Books in Walsall have agreed to stock them and the owner, Scott even made a lovely display of them on a vintage hostess trolley. We would have to sacrifice a small nation to an ancient god to get this kind of display in Waterstones. Though Waterstones, if you’re reading this, we’re not saying we’re against the idea…If you’re ever in Walsall, go check out Scott’s bookshop. It’s beautiful with lots of character and has really interesting books. It’s the type of bookshop all bookshops should aspire to be. If we lived closer, we would never leave it.

We’ve actually been working on old short stories recently, all from 2011. We dread looking at old stories because we’re convinced they’ll be crap and will need a lot of work. There are some stories on our hard drive that we have no idea what they’re about, it’s been that long since we looked at them. But we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the ones we chose and are now kicking ourselves for leaving them fester for so long. We’ve even been entering them in competitions. One was last submitted 7 years ago!  And it only went to one competition. Another one was submitted eight times and didn’t get anywhere, so it’s no surprise why we left it alone.

At the moment, we’re editing The Devil’s Servants, our novella set during the 1649 Edinburgh witch trials. It’s sort of a sequel to our plague doctor novella, The Malignant Dead, in that some of the characters return, but it’s a stand alone book too. We haven’t touched it since we wrote it in November, because we’d convinced ourselves it was crap. It was really hard to write and quite frankly, we’ve had more enjoyable tooth extractions. But we’d completed all our April deadlines and had nothing else to work on. Actually, it’s not as bad as we remember.

The Malignant Dead has a release date of June and will be the first in a series of historical novellas. They’re completely different to anything we’ve written. In a way, we think they might be our best work, but they’re so bloody hard to write! We’ve always put off writing historical fiction, despite our love of history, because if you get something wrong, people will make sure to tell you about it. We’re so paranoid about this, we even use an online etymology dictionary to make sure that the words we use were around in that time. It’s forced us to be creative with words as so many weren’t invented then. But the swear words were :D

We’re also appearing at two literary festivals! The Salem literary festival in East Budleigh on Sunday June 21st. Yes, Rosemary Smith invited us back, despite the fact last time we got lost walking a mile up a straight road trying to find Sir Walter Raleigh’s house, only for it to rain when we were a mile from the car, so we arrived at the festival soaking, muddy and smelling of farm animals. And we’ll also be at ChudFest on Wednesday July 8th. Kate McCormick, who writes as Elizabeth Ducie, invited us after meeting us at the Salem literary festival. Yes, she knew about our Raleigh-related disaster and still wants us at the festival. So should some disaster befall us on route to Chudleigh, at least she won’t be surprised.

If you want to keep up with the latest news and releases, sign up to our newsletter. You won’t get spammed. In fact, we use it so infrequently, we never remember how to work the damn site :D You’ll find out about new releases before anyone else and sometimes we even give you free stuff. Signing up won’t improve your life in any way, but we will save you when a sharknado happens. (We’ve seen the films and have the book, How to Survive a Sharknado so we are prepared for every unusual eventuality.) We will save our newsletter subscribers first ;) Everyone grab a chainsaw!

Play Time

Witches Abroad, Monstrous ProductionsAs many of you know, we’ve been in a play – Terry Pratchett’s Witches Abroad by Monstrous Productions. This wasn’t stepping out of our comfort zone, this was being picked up by one one those grabbers in arcades and being dropped into someone’s else’s comfort zone. One, we’ve never acted in anything and two, we’re not great in large groups of people. In fact, it’s only in the last week that we’ve felt able to be more ourselves around people and actually talk to the rest of the cast.

Witches Abroad

The marvelous crew. Top – bottom: Craig, Sam, Hitch, Alex, Sarah-Jayne (makeup) Hannah, Callum & Ruby

And we’ve been there since November! Bit late we know. Since we stopped participating in the warm-up games, we felt more comfortable and more part of the group. It sounds a bit backwards, but watching rather than participating makes it easier for us to bond with people because we lose the self-consciousness that participation brings, so we can be more ourselves. Though this kinda sounds stalkerish. *Adopts creepy voices* “we like watching you.” We’re also better when we’re in smaller groups, or talking two-on-one.

Witches Abroad

Alex as Desiderata

Wednesday was opening night. Weirdly, we weren’t nervous until about 3 p.m. Then we had to do our breathing exercises until we reached The Gate. Once we were inside The Gate, we were ok. Especially when we went and sat on the stairs by ourselves :D We joked on Facebook that we were being our usual anti-social selves, but really we find noise overwhelming so sometimes find small dark, quiet places to retreat to, such as woods, stairwells, morgue fridges… Ruby, who plays the maid Sam, did a fantastic job of making us look scary and keeping us company throughout the play. We had to practise the bows and were given a 15 minute warning. As some people were still having their makeup done, we put our wigs on ourselves. We got lost in all that hair. It took us so long to fight our way free and force the wigs into some kind of submission, we were late to the bowing practice. Curse you, wigs!

Witches Abroad

Isabelle and Callum as Dismass and Gammer

Straight after the bows, was the group photo. We were already at the back of the stage when everyone assembled. It wasn’t a deliberate ploy to hide, but when everyone gathered, we could no longer be seen. Which was fine until Craig noticed he couldn’t see us. Goddamn it. Why do people always notice when we’ve gone missing? It seriously hampers our plans and mischief-making. Though we weren’t the only ones hiding, were we, Ellen? ;)

Witches Abroad

Director, Amy and assistant director, Ed

Craig tried to persuade us to go down the front. We don’t mind being lost in a crowd in group photos, but there’s no way in hell we will ever stand at the front. Yes we are two of the shortest cast members, but no. Richard (who played various roles) did threaten to throw us over the top, so Cat warned him that we do indeed, bite :D People who don’t know us very well, don’t realise how bloody stubborn we can be. We got our own way in the end, as is proved by the group shot at the bottom of this post.

Witches Abroad

Lowri and Ben as Magrat and Albert Hurker

As soon as it got to scene 18 and we were waiting in the wings, the nerves hit. Luckily, Caroline, who plays Lilith is in the scene with us and she’s a lot of fun, so she helped distract us, as did Craig, who was operating the curtain in the wing Cat was lurking in. Our hearts were pounding the minute we walked on stage. We were certain the audience would be able to see them trying to break through their bony cages. Fortunately, we didn’t trip and the scene went brilliantly. There was even a startled gasp as Caroline offered the mice to us.

Witches Abroad

Caroline and us as Lilith Weatherwax and the Snake Twins

Witches Abroad

Zoe and Tony as Nanny Ogg and Jason Ogg

Our next scene, scene 29, could have potentially gone wrong. When Granny Weatherwax (Ellen) throws a mouse behind a curtain, we chase it. In the tech rehearsals, we nearly collided with speakers that tried to deny us entry. Luckily we had enough space and even managed to find the mouse. Each night, the audience seemed to like us scampering after the mouse. For scene 36, we came through the door by the audience. As we were waiting with Richard, who plays a guard in this scene, a member of the audience came out.

Witches Abroad

Matthew, Katya and Luke

He looked a little startled to see three cast members lurking. As he trotted down the stairs, Cat called “surprise!” When he returned to the audience, we were loitering by the door on the inside, surprising him again. It’s fun to see how many of the audience notice us standing amongst them. The hardest part about scene 36 (the ball scene) is when Lilith clicks her fingers and we have to freeze. Our eyes burn and it’s extremely difficult not to blink. We failed miserably at this as our eyes were watering and burning throughout the entire scene. But we survived the opening night! Only 4 more runs to go…Witches Abroad

Here’s the review Wales Online wrote about opening night. And here is the one from Mithril Wisdom.

Night 2 started brilliantly – we took Cards Against Humanity backstage. We have the bigger, blacker box with every expansion, including the two new ones. What started out with four players, soon turned into 14. Unfortunately, we only had 20 minutes to play, but it was still fun.

Witches Abroad

Antonio and Isabelle as a guard and the princess

We managed to sneak a look at our headshots in the programme before they were whisked away to be sold. We’ve been dreading them, because we normally take hideous photos, but Craig’s worked a miracle and they are actually decent photos. It’s a good job we didn’t spend money on smiley face cover-up stickers. Plus putting stickers over our faces in every programme would’ve been very time-consuming. We may have to hire him for our author events and Calamityville shenanigans.

Witches Abroad

Pat as Mrs Pleasant

Witches Abroad

Tony and Katya as Jason and his wife

Night 2 went really well. We weren’t as nervous and our hearts didn’t pound when we were on stage, so we consider that a success. We also haven’t face planted yet, though there’s still time. Our former psychologist, Neil came to this performance, so after our character photos, we joined him in the bar. We haven’t seen him since he retired in July, so it was great to catch up.

Witches Abroad

Jacky and Ben as the Honorable Douglas Incessant and Lady Incessant

It was only a few years ago that Neil had to fight to get us to go into Starbucks, now because of him, we’re in a play. We don’t have many talents in life, but alongside getting lost, getting locked in places is one of them. We usually get locked in pubs, bars or even bowling alleys with our mate, Andrew, and we’ve been accidentally locked in Pembroke Castle. This time, us and Neil got locked in The Gate. We battled with the locks, rattling the door and flicking up locks on the other door, only for the barmaid to come and press a button beside the door. It immediately opened. It’s not the first time during this play that we’ve embarrassed ourselves with a door.

Witches Abroad

Lucy and Lowri as Ella and Magrat

Night 3 was a little different. Or rather, our makeup was a little different. Zoe painted our teeth to look like we had pointy teeth.

Witches Abroad

us and our creepy teeth

We loved them. They were suitably creepy. In the other performances, we didn’t open our mouths, which made little sense when one of Nanny Ogg’s lines is: “I’ve never seen teeth like those on anyone before.” Now we could grin menacingly. We made sure to warn Caroline before our scene with her, so we didn’t freak her out when she offered us the mice.

Witches Abroad

Fenn as the woodcutter

When word spread about our teeth, other members of the cast wanted to see them. They were impressed and creeped out. Strangely, we found ourselves smiling more at everyone when we knew they found our teeth frightening. Before the show started, we nipped out with Ruby to get food, forgetting we were in full snake makeup. Oddly, we got less weird looks than we do when we go out normally. This says a lot :/ We once again had to fight with our wigs – the fringes were so long that when we put the wigs on, we couldn’t see our faces in the mirror to adjust them. We looked like Cousin It after getting struck by lightning.

Witches Abroad

Meg and John as ball guests

Backstage, we were treated to a unique experience – watching Death (Alistair) twerking by his scythe in full costume. It’s not something you see every day and we’re glad we got to witness it. This time whilst we waited outside the theatre doors with Richard before the ball scene, instead of frightening audience members, the three of us practised our serial killer smiles. Despite our snake teeth, Richard won.

Witches Abroad

Alistair as Death

Witches Abroad

Meg as Red Riding Hood

After the play finished, we met up Neen, and her wife, Zoe in the bar. We overheard a guy saying something about the snake twins and how different they look in real life because they’re Goths. By this point, we were dressed in our usual clothes and had removed all the makeup. Except the teeth. We loved the teeth and refused to wash them off.

Witches Abroad

Granny, Nanny and Luke as the wolf

He turned around and saw us sitting at the table behind him. So we flashed our pointy teeth at him. Rather than fleeing the bar in terror, he came over to speak to us. He said he really enjoyed our scenes and found it really creepy when Caroline pretends to feed us the mice. It seems everyone except us finds that scene unnerving. Maybe we’ve been snake owners for too long! He also enjoyed us scampering off after the mouse Ellen throws. He couldn’t believe how synchronised we were.

Witches Abroad

Ellen, Lowri and Zoe as Granny Weatherwax, Magrat and Nanny Ogg

Day 4 was going to be a long day. There was a matinee performance for the first time, as well as an evening performance. Between performances, we made a mad dash to our favourite chip shop, Younger’s, which is in Birchgrove. Not exactly near The Gate. We didn’t bother taking off our snake makeup. At first, the boys in the chippie didn’t seem to notice, which left us wondering if we always look this weird. But then one of them asked what the occasion was. When we explained we were in a play and we were the creepy snake twins, his response was: “of course you are.”

Witches Abroad

Caroline, Michael and Nick as Lilith, the Duc and Captain de Vere

We started the evening performance tweeting with a member of the audience, which was fun. Rules of Play were celebrating TableTop Day downstairs and it was really tempting to join them, as we were missing out on going to Counters, the board game event our friends run in Ponty. Unfortunately, the game event made things very difficult for us and Richard: when we were waiting to come on for the ball scene, we couldn’t hear a word that was said on stage. The three of us were pressed up against the door, desperately trying to listen for our cue to enter. Witches AbroadLuckily, Tony, who played Jason Ogg, was great at projecting. Usually we hear him clearly, but even he was almost impossible to hear. Thankfully, nobody left the theatre at that point, or they would’ve sent the three of us flying backwards down the stairs, with Richard’s spear tumbling after us and probably taking out someone’s eye. In the play, we can only be defeated by magic and being stamped on, but in real life, a door to the face would have done the trick. The matinee was filmed and will be posted on YouTube. We were nervous when we found out it was going to be filmed and were convinced that would be the moment we fall down the steps with our wigs skidding across the floor. Because this is what happens when we’re being filmed. In normal life, we never fall over, but as soon as the Calamityville Horror cameras start rolling, we turn in to trip hazards. Luckily we didn’t trip because we wouldn’t have been able to synchronise that.

Witches Abroad

Dominique as Mrs Gogle, Harry as the Baron and Nanny

And no, we never did get the hang of those damn wigs.

Witches Abroad

Ben, Richard and John threatening Granny with a terrible fate

Special thanks to Ruby, for not only persuading us to take part, but also for doing such a good job with our makeup and letting us know when our scenes were coming up. Thanks to Ruby, Zoe, Pat, Caroline and Craig for keeping us amused during rehearsals and throughout the shows. And thanks to Ellen for making us feel welcome and Nick for letting us keep the snakes :) Thanks to Amy for wanting us in the play, Ed for making rehearsals fun, and Hannah for making sure we were ok. Also, big thanks to our mum, Lynette, sister, Sarah, our mates Neen, Zoe, Tom, Amy, Bryn and Jo, our former psychologist, Neil and our zumba instructor, Julia and her two sons who came to see us. We really appreciate the support. Show week has been our favourite week of all. We feel we got to know people a bit better, even if it was a little late.

Witches Abroad

Fenn and John leading Terrence the toymaker to the dungeon

Over 700 tickets were sold for Witches Abroad, with the four nights selling out. £3,350 was raised for Alzheimer’s Research, which takes the total amount raised from all the plays to £11,000! Auditions for the next play, Night Watch will take place 11th-14th May (subject to change). Men especially are wanted! Email for an audition pack.

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Witches Abroad

Meet the monsters

Photos by Craig Harper

Dressing Up

Witches Abroad, Monstrous ProductionsLast night we had our very first dress rehearsal for Monstrous Productions’ Witches Abroad in The Gate Arts Centre. We donned our costumes and had to remove our jewellery. We feel naked without our jewellery. Then we utterly failed to put our wigs on. We’ve had short hair since we were 8 and dealing with long wigs was a…challenge. We got completely tangled in them. And that was after we’d removed all our rings. So the make up lady, Sarah-Jayne had to help us. After Isabelle, who plays various roles, had problems too, we created a hashtag – #wigissues which we will no doubt be using a lot. With the long silver wigs and white mascara Ruby (who plays maid Sam and will be doing our make up) lent us, one thing was clear: we have very dark eyebrows. We look like bargain basement Daenerys Stormborns. Might need to use the white mascara on our eyebrows. That’s ok, right? We never wear mascara but we assume it will work on eyebrows.

We were barefoot as we’re meant to be silent. And it worked. We joined the rest of the cast on the stage floor then terrified Harry, who plays the Baron. He hadn’t heard us approach, turned around and there we were, in Snake Twin mode. He jumped :D Usually it’s only Caroline (Lillith) we get to frighten so it’s nice to spread the fear around :D We’ve bought croc effect nail paint from Barry M so our toe and fingernails will look like scales. We know we’ll be too far away for people to see them, but we’ll know about them.

There’s one problem with us being barefoot – we’re even shorter. In rehearsals when we wear our boots, we’re not a great deal shorter than Caroline. But now we’re barefoot and she’s in heels. We feel we lose part of our creepy factor when we look like Oompa-Loompas that have been denied the sun.

It’s brilliant seeing the play all performed in costume. It’s like we’re watching it for real. For our final scene, we appear through a different entrance, so during the interval, we decided to explore The Gate so we could find our way round from our usual stage entrance to our final one. You know how good we are at getting lost and we don’t want to be wandering the Gate on opening night trying to find the right door. Because you know that will happen. So we scampered off backstage. It’s so much easier to scamper when you’re barefoot. We found the stairs so followed them then found ourselves by the toilets, so thought we’d make use of them. You know what’s like, sometimes you need to go but just can’t be arsed to make the effort, but there they were.

Germophobes might want to skip this paragraph. We scurried in, only to suddenly remember we were still barefoot. In public toilets. Luckily, the floor was dry and clean, but by the time we realised, it was already too late. And there was no way we were heading back upstairs for our boots. All we can say is, thank god we weren’t using the men’s toilets for once! Those who know us well know we have a tendency to use the men’s toilets if the women’s are full or if we fail to find them. Our advice is: always make sure you are wearing appropriate footwear when using public toilets. At least we weren’t barefoot in the toilets at the Smiley Cafe on the weekend. Our skin would had to have been acid dipped.

Craig, who played Mort, was taking photos of everyone, but fortunately, he didn’t get a decent one of us. That’s because 99% of the time, we take terrible photos. We’ve also managed to escape being in the other rehearsal ones :D Either that, or Craig’s realised that we take awful photos and has very kindly spared us by not posting them. Thanks Craig, we appreciate it :) We dread to think what our programme photos look like. Perhaps we should borrow the programmes and slap stickers over our pictures. Or better yet, cover them with photos of our snake, Charlie.


Charlie, ready for his close-up

The show runs Wednesday April 8th – Saturday April 11th with a matinee performance on the Saturday as well as the evening show. So please please please come. Even if it’s just to laugh at us looking like ageing drag queens. It’s a fantastic play and we’re not just saying that because we’re in it. We’ve seen it so many times now and we never get bored of it. Tickets are £8 available here or you can buy paper tickets from us.

Witches Abroad

Warlock says “come and see Witches Abroad.”

Long Road to Ruin

Yesterday was the Exeter Novel Prize ceremony. We went last year as our unpublished novel, Bleeding Empire was longlisted. We had a great time and got to meet authors we’d been friends with on Facebook for a while. We were introduced to a literary agent, and then we got invited to read at the Salem literary festival after meeting author Rosemary Smith there. There was also our now famous attempt at small talk by regaling the breeding habits of our African Land Snails. You can read it here.

This year, another of our unpublished novels, Silent Dawn, was also longlisted. So we drove to Exeter to attend the prize giving. We were really looking forwards to seeing our author friends again and meeting new ones. Events like this don’t happen often and after we’ve been having yet another crisis of confidence in our writing and sales, we needed this.

Fate as usual, had other ideas. If you’re expecting our usual post about how we set off of an adventure, get lost, hilarity ensues and it all ends in a funny blogpost, you’re wrong. Very wrong. We can’t find anything even remotely amusing about this, so we’re not going to try. Feel free to try on our behalf.

We’d dyed our hair for the occasion, we dressed in our finery (well, we had to wear our old ripped hoodies because our decent ones got soaked walking Bandit), and we set off. It was all going so well. The prize giving started at 2:15. We left Cardiff at 11:30. There was no traffic, it finally stopped raining and then we hit J22 on the M5. We needed to get off at J29. From cruising along at 70 mph, we suddenly found ourselves crawling at 10 mph before coming to a standstill. All three lanes were gridlocked. Unfortunately, Pinky was a bit to wide to weave between the lanes like a motorcyclist was doing. There were no warning signs of anything. This is the first weekend of the Easter holidays, so we expected some traffic, but only a few of the cars were laden down with kids and luggage. The only acceptable things to cause this much traffic are a zombie apocalypse or a naked Johnny Depp. Disappointingly, neither were in attendance. By the time we got to J23, it was 1 p.m. We tweeted saying we were either going to be horribly late, or not make it. The prize giving only lasts a couple of hours, so we had a very short window to make it. Our mum told us to just come home, but that meant we definitely wouldn’t make it. We were determined to try. We had no Wi-Fi, no 3G and for the first time ever, we’d left our trusty paper map at home. So we had no way of finding an alternative route. And even if we did, we were in the outer lane and couldn’t have crossed the two other lanes to even take a junction off.

Turned out, at J24, there were roadworks set out. And they’d closed one lane. Our lane. They only put up signs about this 2 miles from the roadworks. Except there WERE NO roadworks. They’d set out all the cones and closed the lane but was there anyone ACTUALLY working? No. So they caused all this chaos for nothing. If they are not working then they have no need to create such a massive traffic jam on the first weekend of the Easter holidays. Their level of stupidity is prize-winning. 2 p.m came. And went. And we were still miles away from Exeter. According to Google, this stretch of the M5 should take 20 minutes without traffic and is 19.3 miles long. We were queuing for 19.3 miles and it took us a damn sight longer than 20 minutes.

When we saw the signs for our lane closing, we moved over. Also, the wanker blossom in the BMW in front of us had left so much space in front of him, at least two coaches and the Great Wall of China could have fitted. And left space for souvenirs. It’s jackasses like him that make traffic queues longer. And did he move over in advance? No. He did the usual wanker blossom behaviour of coasting down the now empty lane and forcing his way in at the last moment, therefore jumping ahead of everyone who had obeyed the signs. We hope he suffers with an incurable itch and endless mouth ulcers. But in our experience, Karma only ever rewards the wankensteins of this planet.

Once we were finally free of the roadworks, the traffic magically cleared. There were no services now so we passed our junction and stopped at J30 for the services. We were now 16 minutes away but it was nearing 3 p.m. Except getting back to our junction meant we were now on the wrong side of the road. And it took us the wrong way down the A30. We pulled into a truck stop in Honiton at a place called the Smiley cafe. No-one was friggin’ smiling. The place was closed and the toilets were horrible. We finally got 3G to see how to get back. We were about 25 minutes away. It was now about 3:10 p.m. So it would take us 25 minutes to actually get to Exeter, and we had to find a car park on a Saturday and get to St Stephen’s church. And the ceremony was most likely finishing at 4.

General Pinkinton at the Smiley Cafe

General Pinkinton at the Smiley Cafe

You’re probably expecting this tale of woe to finish with us miraculously getting there, meeting lots of brilliant authors and recanting the whole sorry saga in a funny way. But that would be the Hollywood ending and like us, Fate doesn’t believe in happy endings. We sat in the truck stop for 45 minutes in complete silence, broken only by the Silent Hill alarm as Tom texted to cheer us up. Unusually for us, we didn’t have a tantrum and start ranting. Going to the prize giving was really important to us. We’d by-passed rage and plunged straight into despondency. We tried finding somewhere to go so our trip to Devon wouldn’t be completely wasted. Trip Adviser suggested cool underground medieval passages which we were tempted by but they were a guided tour and when we feel crappy, being around the general public is a bad idea. We didn’t want to go home and every place that sounded interesting meant being around people. So we sat there and did nothing.

We eventually drove home. If it wasn’t for the fact that we had arranged to be at Tom’s for D&D night, we might still be sitting outside the Smiley Cafe. Google maps finally decided to work and took us through country lanes and small villages, which was a welcome break from the M5. And traffic was still gridlocked from J23-25 on the M5. If we find whoever put those cones out, we will peel all their skin off…no. Peeling their skin off is too kind. It will come off in big chunks, causing less pain. We will use a cheese grater to remove their skin then pour fire ants on all their exposed nerves. They ruined our weekend. We don’t get to go to author events and the one that we could go to, we completely missed because of the twat bandits who decided to fuck up the M5. And they cost us a day’s work. Had we not tried to go to the event, we would’ve spent the day working, catching up on the 5 days of nothing from when our laptop was broken. And we can’t even claim the petrol on expenses because technically, we didn’t actually go to a work-related event. We just drove to Devon and sat in a truck stop. Which was closed. So we’ve lost time, money and a fantastic opportunity.

We stopped at the chip shop on our way home. Only for a big campervan to drive into the back of us at the traffic lights. The thought that ran through our heads wasn’t ‘shit we’ve been hit’, it was ‘really?’We’ve owned General Pinkinton 8 years. No-one has ever driven into him. And yesterday, of all days, it happened. Luckily there was no damage to Pinky. The guy’s camper was a bit crumpled. Pinky 1 Campervan 0. He was very nice and kept apologising and asking if we were ok. Well, we hate the world today and wish to inflict unimaginable torture on those who gridlocked the M5, but physically we’re fine. When we got home, Cat noticed her back was hurting.  She doesn’t suffer from back pain but ended up having to stand up for most of the evening because sitting down hurt too much. It’s fine now. Doing Lynx’s back physio exercises helped. We spent the evening at Tom’s and although he always cheers us up, we weren’t great company.

So our weekend is summed up by missing a great event thanks to the M5, followed by a car accident. Screw you, Fate.  Go pick on someone else for a change. We’re done being your bitches.

Mirror Image

Our lack of combat skills are so renowned, God forced us to fight ourselves. Turns out, our reflections are as bad as we are. After a week’s break, D & D was back and stranger than ever.

The Story so far: Escape from Fuck Mountain Crypt Keepers Campaign of Error Mining for Trouble D & D Disaster Class

When we left the last session, Lord Wolfy and Cassiel had wandered off to loot a store, while the rest of the group confronted the general, who wasn’t called Pinkinton. The most competent member of the group, Vena, threw a fire bubble at the general. The world went black. And there wasn’t a trip switch to fix it.

When the blackness had splintered, we discovered we were in a dome with mirrors. It was like being trapped in a nightmare. Crimthan and Indiana saw only one way to deal with this terror – they attacked their reflections. And missed. Frank was perturbed that this was their response to seeing their reflections. The others tried talking to them, but their reflections said the same things at the same time. Although there was something off about the reflections. They were the same but slightly different. We couldn’t tell the difference between the reflections and the real ones. Vena waved at hers. It scowled back.

Crimthan attacked his reflection. And missed. His reflection attacked him back. And missed. Not so dissimilar after all. Indiana attacked her reflection and missed with both daggers. As did her reflection. Lord Wolfy had a different approach – he asked DM whether his reflection was missing his penis. He stripped off to check. His reflection imitated him. DM: “your reflection is anatomically similar.” Pip: “I don’t want to think about what that looks like.” Lynx: “like a furry Ken doll.” Lord Wolfy decided seducing his reflection was the best tactic. Despairing, DM made him do a seduction roll. 2. His reflection punched him in the face.

So we kept attacking them. Cassiel successfully killed her reflection, which exploded into particles. Vena wounded hers but was then knocked unconscious by her reflection’s retaliation, so Cassiel killed the other Vena with an arrow that severed the reflection in two. Indiana attacked hers again, wounding it slightly then her reflection responded, missing. Cassiel “Both Rogues are bad! I’m attacking the worst one.” Luckily her arrow missed as she shot at Indiana. Crimthan critically wounded his reflection, eventually killing it. Crimthan’s reflection released a dark purple light before disappearing. Indiana’s reflection somehow succeeded in her attack, knocking Indiana’s HP to 1. So Crimthan killed the reflection, which emitted a green light as she died. Frank attacked his reflection. And missed. His reflection responded. And missed. After watching this dismal fight between two one-armed clerics, we all took turns to attack. We didn’t know which cleric we were attacking but it didn’t matter to us as long as a cleric got hurt. Cassiel’s idea of throwing both clerics to see which one we could throw better was not met with warmth. Eventually the reflection cleric died so Crimthan damaged Lord Wolfy’s reflection before Cassiel finished it off.

Then the dome began to splinter. So we attacked it. Swinging wildly around us at empty space. Indiana grappled Frank and threw him at the dome. He hit it and slithered down in a heap. Lord Wolfy decided to throw his scythe so Crimthan ducked and Indiana hid beneath the unconscious Vena. The scythe got stuck in the floor. Crimthan tried to take Vena’s magic ring to heal her, but the evil amulet around Vena’s neck glowed purple and Crimthan backed away. As Frank reminded him, bad things happen when purple is involved. Eventually the top of the dome cracked and we all jumped out. To find ourselves back in the room where the general was. He was in disbelief that we were the first heroes to defeat the mirror images. To be honest, we were a little shocked ourselves. Cassiel offered him a counselling service. We didn’t kill the general, but we did break him. As he sobbed his way out of the room, Indiana attempted a sneak attack. And failed.


D & D are moving! We have finally set up a new blog purely for our D & D campaign so if you enjoy reading these posts, come and give the new blog a follow. It’s still in its creation phase so watch it grow and go horribly wrong :D D&DDisasterClass


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