Guess what time it is, folks! It’s time to get a sneak peek at my upcoming queer urban fantasy novella, Labours of Stone (arriving 20th November, 2021)! Why today? Well, the sky has been shifting between a bright blue and a strange overcast pink, I’m almost finished with my formatting, and I’m snuggled up in a blanket with Mr Kit. Basically, it’s a heckin’ good day and I wanted to share some joy!
If, after reading the lil’ section you find below, you decide you’d like to read on, Labours of Stone is currently available for pre-order in ebook form here. Paperbacks will be available from the 20th of November (just 21 days to go…assuming this English student can do basic maths). You might also want to grab you free ticket to the Labours of Stone book launch, featuring myself, Rue Sparks (The Fable of Wren, Daylight Chasers), Lou Willingham (Not Quite Out) and Jaimie Schock (‘The Talisman War’ series). I’ll be reading another short snippet from the book, and then the panel and I will be answering all your burning questions! Grab your ticket here.
Now, without further ado, welcome to the life of Ephra Stone:
Labours of Stone: Opening Pages
Baby vomit pink, Ephra Stone decided. That’s the only way to describe it. It’s baby vomit pink.
Ephra was staring intensely, and with a considerable amount of resentment, at the ceiling of his publisher’s polished London office. When he was forced to think about it, Ephra knew it wasn’t really the obnoxious shade that Halwyn Tân had chosen to decorate with that made him resent the ceiling’s existence. No, it was how often he found himself staring at it, puzzling over the exact right phrase to describe it.
He had never even wanted to be a romance novelist in the first place. Ephra had always intended to write the next great piece of literature. In fact, he had. He’d written a beautiful and immersive 100,000-word tome to rival the Odyssey. But no-one would publish it.
His first romance manuscript had been cooked up largely drunk, a week away from eviction, with the sweat of desperation dripping from his brow. When he’d finished, he had taken a walk of shame to his local coffee shop and slipped down the back as quickly as possible. He had settled himself into a corner, laptop out, empty reusable cup on full display, hoping that no-one would notice he hadn’t purchased anything before he could log onto the Wi-Fi and send out his query. He had hesitated wildly, telling himself it would be the worst mistake of his career, but inevitably he had pressed send.
Fast forward for what seemed like an eternity, and Ephra was working on his fifth trashy romance novel. The preceding four had contained almost the exact same plot and glove-puppet characters. All he did was re-skin the story with a new setting and different coloured hair. Halwyn loved it. Ephra was his –
Ephra jumped, righting himself in the low bucket seat as Halwyn entered. He tried not to balk at the lilac suit and candyfloss tie the man was wearing, instead grumbling, “Morning, Halwyn.”
“Morning!” Halwyn replied brightly, marching around his desk. “Remind me, Ephra, why are you here today?”
Ephra sighed. “You said you had something urgent you wanted to talk to me about.”
“Oh!” Halwyn said, then paused, eyeing the contents of his desk. He slammed his hands down, making Ephra jump again. “Oh, yes! I remember now. I wanted to check if you’re on track for your draft deadline?”
Ephra grimaced. He wasn’t, but that was no reason to drag him across London during Monday morning rush hour. “Halwyn, how is that urgent?”
“Because, Ephra, I thought I’d pre-empt the little tantrum we had last time, make sure there are no ‘messes’ heading my way, and remind you you’re under contract and –”
“And if I don’t get a wiggle on, you’ll cancel our contract and ask for my advance back.” He mimicked Halwyn’s broad Welsh accent. “Yes, Halwyn, I know. And you promised me you wouldn’t bring up last time.”
Halwyn lowered his voice. “I might well have done, but there’s no need to be a prick about it, Ephra. You make me a lot of money, but you know I won’t tolerate bullying. What’s the company motto?”
Ephra rolled his eyes. “We love love.”
“Yes, we love love. Not mocking imitations of our colleagues.”
Ephra took a deep breath in and slowly released it through his teeth. “I’m sorry, Halwyn.”
“Thank you.” Halwyn grinned at him. Sometimes, out of the corner of his eye, Ephra could swear the whole row of teeth looked like fangs. “Now, how is the book going?”
“So you’ve not written anything yet?”
Ephra knocked the heel of his shoe against the magenta carpet. “Not yet, no.”
“Right, well then. I’ll have a thousand words by tomorrow morning, please.”
“You’ve got to be joking!”
“I couldn’t be further from joking, Ephra. This time the cancellation threat is very real. Management are beginning to question if the amount you bring in balances against the overtime they pay me to chase you. So I am going to get you on track. Do you understand?”
Ephra growled and began to scramble out of the low chair with little grace. He shook out his long coat and smoothed down the lapels, then remembered how short the coat made him look and wished he’d stayed seated.
“Ephra, I asked you a question.”
“God, Hal! Yes! Fine, you’ll have your bloody book on time!” Ephra snarled. “But do me a favour and get rid of the baby vomit on the ceiling, will you? It’s driving me batty.”
Halwyn looked up in confusion. “What baby vomit?”
Ephra growled again and stalked out of the office.
As he always did after a crummy meeting with Halwyn, Ephra got off the tube at Knightsbridge Station, bought a terrible and incredibly expensive coffee from the high street, and made a rapid beeline north towards the park. He headed straight for the edge of the Serpentine, slowing down with a deep exhalation the moment he saw the water.
It was November and the air was bitter, but the sky was crystal clear. There weren’t many people wandering around the park in the middle of Monday morning, but a couple of boats full of rowers cut through the glassy water, sending waves skittering across the surface. Ephra stopped for a moment and watched them speed along. He imagined what it would be like to feel the cold air whistling across his broad cheek bones, tousling through his dark, scraped-back hair. He yearned to be out there with the rowers, but of course, he didn’t even know how to swim.
He took a swig of his coffee, made a face, and began to stroll along the underbelly of the Serpentine, his ultimate goal a scraggy old flat above a shop in Bayswater. He made a lot of money for Halwyn, yes, but the contract he’d signed had been for five small advance payments and crappy royalties. It was more money than most writers made, but most writers weren’t pumped like machines.
Ephra shook his head clear. He had to stop thinking about work when he wasn’t working. He had to try and find some joy in life again. He took another sip of coffee. Finding a better coffee shop should also be on the priority list, he thought. His stomach growled. I guess food would be good as well.
He plodded along a bit further before musing aloud,“Maybe a little love for myself would be quite nice, too.”
A fluffy little song thrush perched on the fence chutted at him. Ephra stopped. He quickly looked around to check no-one was coming and then said, “No, not really. I don’t think I’ve ever been in love.”
The bird chirped at him again. Ephra frowned. “Well, to have been in love you have to have found someone, connected with them, said the words, and then you have to be willing to fight for that, right? But I’m knocking on thirty and terminally single. Every time I meet someone and think, maybe, maybe this will work, something gets in the way.”
“Tweet?” The thrush turned its head, as if asking a question.
“Sometimes it’s a new job on the other side of the planet, other times the one that got away comes back right as things are getting interesting. The last time an actual war started up the day I was going to tell this soldier guy I was seeing that I wanted to be exclusive. I was a wreck after that one.” Ephra took a deep breath. Moaning at some poor bird wasn’t really helping anything. “Sorry, little fella. I’m being miserable, aren’t I?” Ephra looked around again, and offered the song thrush his finger.
He found the birds in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens were alarmingly tame. They often landed on him if he stood still long enough, and despite how frequently he vented his frustration to them, they rarely flew away. The thrush hopped up onto his finger. Ephra put his coffee down next to the railing and petted his new feathered friend with his thumb.
Halwyn’s motto, ‘We love love,’ span around Ephra’s head. The truth was that Ephra Stone, the great romance novelist, didn’t ‘love love’. Ephra didn’t even know love.
Ephra scoffed, shook himself again, and said to the bird, “I really need to stop thinking about work. No wonder I can never get any sleep.”
The thrush chirped twice and then fluttered off his hand. Ephra grabbed his coffee. When he looked up again, the bird was back on the fence. It chirped and hopped away a little. He took a step forward and it flew off. Ephra felt a strange impulse to see where it was going. He jogged steadily after it, until it disappeared into the landscaping next to the Serenity statue.
Ephra came to a halt, panting. Well, that was silly, he thought. At least I got some exercise in, though.
He took a moment to admire the shining green statue in the morning light, then took the path to the right, along the river’s edge, craving the extra breeze off the water. He was almost to the Serpentine Bridge when he heard the first yell.
“Sticks! Sticks! Where are you, Sticks?!” It was a male voice coming from the block of bushes and trees to his left, where the song thrush had hidden itself.
Surely there’s no shortage of sticks in there? Ephra mused and snorted.
Then a man came tumbling out before him; a tall, lean, sun-kissed god, with a flop of unkempt curls. Ephra had about a second to think, Oh, no, before reaching out an arm to stop the poor guy from falling straight into the river. He launched his terrible coffee into the water in the process.
“Shhhhugar,” said the man. “Oh, good heavens. I’m sorry! Are you alright? Oh, no, your coffee. I’m so sorry!”
Ephra blinked at him, unable to think anything other than, Oh, no. No, no, no. I didn’t really mean it. Stupid bird. No.
If you made it this far, I really hope you enjoyed the ride so far! Drop a like if this lil’ book is now on your wishlist 😉
Stars and Sunshine,