Thursday 15 September 2022

Paul Taylor-McCartney, "Sisters of the Pentacle"

Congratulations to University of Leicester PhD Creative Writing graduate Paul Taylor-McCartney, whose debut children's novel has just been published!


Dr. Paul Taylor-McCartney is a writer, researcher and lecturer living in Cornwall. He recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing with Leicester University. His interests include dystopian studies, children’s literature and initial teacher education. His poetry, short fiction and academic articles have appeared in print and electronic form, including: Aesthetica, The Birmingham Journal of Language and Literature, Education in Practice & Writing in Practice (National Association of Writers in Education), Dyst: Literary Journal, Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, The Crank and Bandit Fiction. His debut children’s novel, Sisters of the Pentacle, was recently published by Hermitage Press. His website is here.

About Sisters of the Pentacle

Sisters of the Pentacle is set in the picturesque, coastal town of Tenby (Wales) and opens on twelve-year old Mary Harries, a practising white witch and recently orphaned. Each day she helps adult volunteers remove the corpses of plague victims from the town square and bury them on a nearby island. That is, until one day a prophecy is spoken that requires Mary to leave her home and journey into a mysterious ‘light ring’ she thinks is the work of fairies but is actually a wormhole connecting her world with a future version of Tenby. As the story unfolds, Mary discovers she is actually one of three female witches that the Mother Goddess has called upon to help save Earth from climatic destruction. Once united, the girls become good friends, master their powers and take on members of the Rees-Repton coven, malevolent witches whose aim is to re-assemble the Harries Sacred Pentacle and claim dominion over all mortals. 

Below, you can read an excerpt from the beginning of the novel. 

From Sisters of the Pentacle, by Paul Taylor-McCartney

Chapter One

Tenby, Wales, 1650

At first light, the winding streets of Tenby resemble a graveyard, eerily silent and etched in grey tones. Beyond the high stone walls that mark the town’s perimeter, villagers gather in their dozens. They shuffle forward in silence. Some crave news, others bear food parcels and all are desperate to let loved ones know they’re never far from their thoughts, for the town is in the grip of a terrible plague. Even the guards have their visors down to keep the contagion spreading any further than the boundary lines set out by Cromwell when he stormed the castle just two years ago and claimed it for England.

On the cobbled path that stops short of the town’s main gate, a twelve-year-old girl appears from nowhere. Grimy ankles and feet protrude from the dark cloak she hopes will hide her from prying eyes on the lookout for someone – anyone – to blame for the town’s current problems. She focuses on the guards, who know her well by now, confident they will merely wave her through so she can carry out her important work.

‘Look!’ one villager says, pointing directly at the girl and drawing the attention of others nearby. ‘It’s Mary – Old Nancy’s granddaughter. She’s a witch, I tell you! May the Lord strike me down if I’m telling a lie!’

Aggression soon ripples through the crowd like an incoming wave, taking everyone with it. Mary instinctively raises a hand to her face as the first of the missiles – a pebble from the nearby beach, she guesses – finds its mark and meets the edge of her palm, making her cry out in pain. As a Knowing One, she’s blessed with the gift of foresight, which she uses now to navigate a path out of harm’s way. She wants to defend herself, tell them that witches didn’t create the plague. Instead, she remains silent, slipping away from the crowd and into the town itself.

A cold wind whistles and moans, as if to herald a grim angel lifting knockers on doors and climbing down chimneys in search of more victims. Mary is carried along on one such gust, pausing now and then to slip into gaps between houses as a door creaks open, or a window slides upwards. Not so long ago, a witch could walk these streets with an easy mind. To some, they were even considered a force for good that could help a person in their hour of need. How times have changed for witchkind.

Mary soon arrives at the town square. All around her stand volunteers who’ve come to make themselves useful. Some are talking in small groups, others are stood away from people, preferring to work alone. Mary’s first task of the day is not for the faint-hearted but one she’s carried out many times before. She has to count the bodies of victims who have died overnight and been added to the pile, from a distance appearing like a jumble of unwanted clothes.

Wedged between one dead body and the next, she checks the children first. She hovers over each frozen figure like a guardian spirit. Occasionally, she stands aside so an adult can smooth their eyelids closed, something Mary finds she’s unable to do herself without crying.

Looking up, she sees Owen Stevens, a local farmer and one of her only friends. Mary watches in silence as he patiently moves corpses from the road and onto the back of his cart. He speaks seldom but when he does it’s always with authority. ‘Pastor says there’s no space left in the churchyard for new graves, so we’re moving these to Caldey Island, Mary. You can tag along if you like?’

To this point, the outbreak has claimed the lives of over three hundred locals. Among that number had been Mary’s very own mother and father, taken suddenly one night. The memory of discovering them is suddenly with her. She’d woken early to prepare them a special breakfast of eggs and bacon – their absolute favourite. She’d called out to them a few times and thought nothing of the peculiar hush coming from their room until she went to try to rouse them herself. But as she opened the door, she was confronted with the blackened, scorched skin of each lifeless body, their bedclothes twisted into knots and covered in a rancid liquid, as if her parents had been melted down as they both slept. Just like wax candles, Mary had thought at the time.

‘What’re you thinking about now?’ asks Stevens, snapping the young girl back to the present.

Mary lifts a wriggling baby from its dead mother’s breast and places it in the farmer’s hands, saying warmly, ‘They must have cast him out with his mother and now he has no one to take care of him.’

Stevens takes the baby from Mary and hands it to another volunteer, a woman whose maternal instincts and gentle smile seem to fool the baby into thinking it’s been reunited with its parent.

A short time later, Mary falls in behind Stevens’ cart. She thinks for a second she sees her parents among the pyramid of inert bodies, opaque eyes rolled back into each skull as if calling out to her. Water forms at the edges of her eyes, welling up from a place deep within her. Within seconds, she regains control, finally shaking free of the memory and raising her lamp high in the air. Against the silence, she calls out, ‘Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!’

Mary looks up at one window to spot a boy laughing to himself. Her right eye is already stinging with a ball of salty spit.

‘There you go, witch! I brung something out for you!’

Mary merely raises her right hand, using one edge of her cloak to remove traces of the boy’s hatred from her vision.

‘And there’s more where that came from!’ crows the boy. But, with a flick of her wrist, Mary uses magic to have a second bout of phlegm halt mid-air, about turn and land in the boy’s gaping mouth, making him tumble backwards into the inky darkness of the room beyond. With another flick of her wrist, Mary has two wooden shutters swing shut, thereby preventing the boy from causing any more mischief.

No comments:

Post a Comment