Yep. Today I finished the first draft. Now I just have to edit it!

The current word count is 180,000 plus, so I am going to have to shed a lot of pounds (as it were).

I’m currently feeling slightly traumatised, because what do I do now?

Of course, there’s loads to do: some beta-reading I should have finished ages ago, and some reviews, and many things that have been neglected over the past few weeks while I tried to knock out the first draft.

So here is another excerpt from Chapter 3:

Annat released Yuste’s hand and stepped forward. Yuste felt the beat of their two hearts, slightly out of synchronisation with each other. She was aware of the unborn child in Annat’s body, so small it was barely human, curled up like a tadpole out of sight. A third heart starting to beat, a third shaman waiting to be born.

Yuste thought she could hear the sound of the sea outside, breaking at the bottom of the cliff. Perhaps there was a storm brewing, as the fisher-folk liked to say. A storm that might have made a sound outside, the banging of a door or a shutter, or a rush of wind through the trees.

‘Annat,’ she said. Her voice sounded hoarse, as if she had been smoking cigarettes. She did not like to think of herself as old; she was only forty-four, and her mother only sixty-four. How was it possible that she could feel such unreasoning terror of something she could not see?

‘Perhaps it’s a Tailypo,’ said Annat with a breathless laugh, recalling the grisly children’s story about an old man who cut off and ate the tail of a strange animal, only for it to come and haunt him. She repeated the creature’s words in a creaky voice, as Yuste had done when telling the story to her as a child.

‘“Tailypo, tailypo, give me back by tailypo!” ‘

‘Stop that!’ said Yuste, who was seriously unnerved. The story had made the children laugh, but it had also made them afraid to go to sleep without a candle in the room. The old house on the headland was remote and isolated; there had always been strange noises at night, even when Yuste and Yuda had been the children sharing the bedroom with the two beds. It struck her as absurd; her brother was now a ghost himself, and he had visited the house with his spectral companions. But then a visit from the underworld was not the same as a haunting; all shamans knew that their kind continued after death, it was the return to the upper world that was unusual.

Annat turned to give Yuste’s hand a squeeze. ‘I’m glad you’re here, Auntie,’ she said. ‘I don’t think I’d like to do this by myself.’

Yuste shook her head. ‘It is you that are protecting me, Natka,’ she said. ‘Boris would laugh – and be appalled – to see me tremble like this.’

Just as she finished speaking, they both heard the sound again. This time, it was not possible to deny its existence. It was not a knock at the door, but a scraping sound on the wood of the planks, a sound like claws.

‘Zyon,’ said Yuste. She felt her heart palpitate; there was something outside, something that she could not see, trying to get in. Her house was no longer safe; Boris was asleep upstairs, and her aging mother needed protection. They were both deeply asleep, vulnerable humans protected only by bedclothes that covered them while they dreamed. Yuste could almost touch the susurrus of their breathing and their untroubled sleep. But she was here in the dark with her niece, a woman carrying a child; she was alone, on the headland, with an old wooden door between her and whatever was outside.

Annat gasped, as if she were no longer amused by the memory of a childhood horror. And another unwanted thought came to Yuste – what was it that could frighten a shaman like Annat, one who had travelled through the underworld alone, and laboured there for seven years? She had seen sights that Yuste could only read about in the textbooks of shamanism, written by the Masters like Sorgay and Gulimche (who was a woman). These books had been written before the Masters sent Prakhash Sival, the teacher, to Yevropa looking for shamans to train.

‘We must look,’ she said, hearing the degree to which her own voice shook. If one used sprechen, one’s thoughts did not tremble, but the overlay of fear would be just as unmistakeable.

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